The Sun Singer's Travels

Malcolm R. Campbell's World

Why Your Book Distribution May Be Disappointing

“This is for all of the authors or presses that wonder why their books aren’t appearing in stores; aren’t being sold in e-book form on but are on Amazon; aren’t available for order if a store wants to get copies; and any other question that might arise regarding the overall concern of “why isn’t my book selling?”   The answer is about book distribution and sales: just because a book is distributed, doesn’t mean it is actually in a store.”

Source: Publishing 101: Why Your Book Distribution May Be Disappointing – Where Writers Win

As I my publisher says, do your homework before you commit to a distributor, publishing method or platform (or anything else). In this case, does the distribution system you like actually say it can place your books in a bricks and mortar store?

The fact that one of its books might have ended up in a store some years ago is not a guarantee. The bottom line, of course, is that your paperback book must be returnable. If it isn’t, few stores will even take a look.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Sarabande” and “Conjure Woman’s Cat.”

If they ban it, readers will come

September 25 − October 1, 2016

Once a year, we call attention to the fact that some people don’t want you to read certain books. Those people must be scared you’ll learn something, have too much power when given the right to decide for yourself what to read, or that you’ll actually agree with those books. We don’t need that approach to reading in this country.

On the other hand, banning stuff tends to attract people to it that didn’t know anything about it before the ban. Bummer.



Books I like browsing – ‘Wicked Plants’

One neat book on my herbs shelf is Amy Stewart’s Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln’s Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities, a compendium of plants that can do bad things to good people (and bad people as well). This illustrated book is not only fun to read, but very handy for an author who often mentions native plants in his fiction.


My wife an I are among those infected with a reference books addiction since both of us have been known to start reading dictionaries and encyclopedias when words and articles catch our attention while we’re looking up something else.

With Stewart’s book, for example, you might be looking up a poisonous plant you’re already aware of and stumble across something like white snake root. Most people don’t know the name, even though it sounds nasty.

I refer to white snake root in my novel “Conjure Woman’s Cat” since it’s collected and used in various hoodoo applications. It’s also dangerous via our food supply, a fact you know in spades if you have dairy cattle or dairy goats.

This close relative of boneset was responsible for the deaths of a fair number of people during the 19th century because cattle and goats grazed on it, resulting in the toxin tremetol getting into the milk. As the book notes, the disease called “milk sickness” was “so common that the names Milk Sick Ridge, Milk Sick Cove, and Milk Sick Holler are still attached to places in the South where the disease was rampant.”

Abraham Lincoln’s mother Nancy Hanks died of milk contaminated by white snake root. The plant’s association with milk sickness wasn’t clearly accepted until the 1920s even though Dr. Anna Bixby figured it out in 1834 when “women doctors were not taken seriously.”

Reference books are a fact of life for authors. I discovered when I was growing up that my folks’ set of encyclopedias could on some days be as addictive as a novel. This little book by Amy Stewart is, however, a gold mine for authors who write stories about protagonists who want to hurt their enemies and some members of their families.


 National Book Festival – Library of Congress – Sept 24th

natlbook2016“The 16th annual Library of Congress National Book Festival will be held at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center on Saturday, Sept. 24, from 8:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. NOTE: No outside food or drink may be brought into the Convention Center. Food and drinks are available at the center, and there are many restaurants within walking distance.”

Source: Festival Information | National Book Festival – Library of Congress

If you live in the D.C. area, this is a wonderful opportunity to meet some of your favorite authors (120 will be there) and hear some interesting discussions about books and publishing.


A note from your sponsor (AKA, me)

  1. The publisher and her editor have the manuscript for Eulalie and Washerwoman, the sequel to Conjure Woman’s Cat. It came out 10,000 words longer than the first book, but that’s okay. Meanwhile, I’ve been talking to the artist about cover ideas. With a little luck, the novel will be available before Thanksgiving.
  2. I really enjoyed this magical realism novel. I wish I'd known about it when it first came out.

    I really enjoyed this magical realism novel. I wish I’d known about it when it first came out.

    A writer friend of mine who hasn’t written anything for a while is writing again. Best news I’ve heard lately. I really like her books and feel that my life isn’t quite as sparkly and wonderful when I don’t have a new one to read. She tells me she’s having fun with the novel. That’s a good sign.

  3. When I lived in a close-in Atlanta suburb 25 years ago, I was a member of an eclectic writing group that met at a bluesy cafe that specialized in tasty craft beers. When I moved away from the Atlanta metro area, I lost track of the other members. A few days ago, I discovered that one of them died five years ago. Had I known at the time, it would have been a shock. Finding out after the fact is horrid, I think. Making it worse was the fact that the page on her former employer’s website that had the announcement included a link for more information. The link didn’t work.
  4. If you’re interested in writing magical realism, here are a few ideas in a post on my other blog: Writing magical realism: step-by-step suggestions.
  5. Writing teachers have told us for years, “show, don’t tell.” That’s probably good advice even though most of a novel can’t be showing our it would be so long people would be scared to buy it. Is the best form of storytelling really the painting of a word picture? This author suggests that it may not be: IS “SHOW DON’T TELL” A UNIVERSAL TRUTH OR A COLONIAL RELIC?
  6. redphoenixSomehow, I’ve gotten hooked into the Dark Heavens series of novels by Kylie Chan. As usual, I’m late discovering these since I’m cheap and seldom read books in hard cover. They’re set in Hong Kong, a place I enjoyed visiting when I was in the navy, and feature Chinese gods, martial arts, a lot of humor, and intrigue. I’m currently reading Red Phoenix.
  7. Looking at the news, it appears that the Chinese space station is going to fall to Earth late next year. I’m not taking any precautions because I believe that if one’s number isn’t up, everything will be fine. If you have other beliefs, you might want to see if the basement of your house is stable because it’s going to fall somewhere. One of my Facebook friends suggests that there’s a novel in that story, but that’s not my kind of stuff. I might read it if one of you writes it! Also, I’m superstitious. That means the darned thing will fall on my house if I started writing about it.
  8. Surprisingly, the winner of the Kindle Fire Tablet from my publisher’s newsletter subscription drive never claimed her prize. If she doesn’t, you have another shot at at it.
  9. If you haven’t visited my website, here’s the link. Yes, I know, I should update it more often, but you know how it is.


Always at loose ends after finishing a book

The work in progress always takes center stage.

ghostlightOnce the manuscript is turned over to the publisher, that stage gets rather quiet, almost like a theater at night with nothing but the ghostlight providing enough light to move around without tripping over something.

While there’s still work to be done (edits, proofreading, description, cover art, promotion), I always feel at loose ends. I suppose it’s that way with other major projects whether one is cleaning out the attic or garage or building a shed for yardwork tools.

This would be a great time to tidy up my den, go through filing cabinets looking for stuff that ought to be thrown away, polish up the web site, or write blog posts with titles like “Always at loose ends after finishing a book.” Trouble is, it’s hard to concentrate on them because when one is writing a book, one becomes addicted to writing the book. When the book project changes from author to publisher, not writing the book is like giving up cigarettes or maybe heroin.

Maybe this is why some writers drink. If one stays drunk for a few weeks or so, s/he won’t feel at loose ends. Tempting, but I don’t think that’s how I’m going to handle this loose ends thing. Some writers have lists of the books they want to write, complete with either scribbled notes (while drunk after finishing the last book) or outlines and synopses. I don’t. I’m a one idea at a time kind of person. Sure, I often joke about tossing out books with titles like Lust Behind the Billboard, but I’ll never do it.

Other ideas:

  • Take up bird watching. (Unfortunately, most of the rare birds are in Walmart and I really don’t like going there.)
  • Clean out the garage. (I have no idea where to put all that crap.)
  • Go through filing cabinets. (After cleaning out one filing cabinet drawer this morning, I was so bored, I almost started writing a cautionary tale called Lust Behind the Billboard.)
  • Dress up like John Grisham and shake people’s hands at bookstores. (Naah, the police would probably show up and then the whole thing would get on CNN when a novice journalist writes a story called “Author John Grisham Thrown In The Slammer.”)
  • Do what I’ve always wanted to do. (Too old to do it.)
  • Borrow a time machine, go back in time, and change my birthday so I’m young enough to do what I always wanted to do. (When this happens in novels, hideous things happen. Just look at the mess in Stephen King’s 11/22/63 when some guy goes back to Dallas to save Kennedy.)

That’s all she wrote, idea-wise. Plus, I know better than to tinker with loose ends. When I was little, my mother and grandmother got really pissed off whenever they saw me pulling on a loose thread in my favorite shirt or sweater. (“Malcolm, you ignorant slut, if you pull that thread, the whole shebang will unravel.”)

You’re in a world of it whenever the whole shebang unravels.



Why an Indie Author Must Hire a Proofreader

“Struggling with the decision to hire a proofreader?

“It seems like it should be a no-brainer. After all, who can possibly write a novel while they’re busy checking grammar, punctuation, and spelling? Certainly, not me. But as indie authors, we’re on a tight budget. So, is this really where we need to put our money? After all, how many mistakes can you really have in one little book?”

Source: Five Reasons Why an Indie Author Must Hire a Proofreader – Where Writers Win

I’ve gotten used to the fact that as a writer, I’m the worst person in the world to search for errors in my own work. I can’t see the forest for the trees because I’m seeing the forest (the story) so clearly that details such as misspelled words and incorrectly capitalized names just disappear.

Those mistakes can hurt your book because most of us grew up with professionally published books from BIG PUBLISHERS where editors, copy editors and proofreaders swarm over every syllable of the manuscript before it gets to the reader. It’s impossible to replicate all the supporting talent if you’re a one-man or a one-woman show.


P.S. A note on terminology: copy editors edit copy, which is another word for your manuscript. Then, whether you’re using offset printing or publishing an e-book via Kindle, the formatted (or typeset) material is what the proofreader looks at. A proof is a copy of the manuscript as it will look on the page or the screen once it’s published.

What do you polish when you polish a manuscript

The best part of polishing a manuscript prior to sending it off to the publisher is finding scenes or descriptions that work so well that it’s almost like somebody else wrote them.

The worst part is finding a lot of typos that should have been caught before.

When it comes to crossing things out, I’m especially sensitive to words and phrases that were fresh when I used them in chapter one, but suddenly lose their appeal if they show up multiple times throughout the book. I’m not talking about the pet phrases some characters often use; more so, the phrases I have over used. Whenever I think I’ve done this, I use Word’s search feature to tell me how many times the word or phrase appears. Sometimes I’m shocked and go back through the manuscript getting rid of most of those occurrences.

Another thing that I often stumble on is the consistent use of dialect. For example, let’s say a character tends to clip the “g” off the ends of words, as in givin’ and helpin’. Since I don’t typically type those words this way, I have to look at that character’s dialogue very carefully to get rid of instances where I put the “g” there instead of an apostrophe.

Some of my tightest fiction comes when I enter a contest or submit to a magazine that has a word count limit. I tend to write past the limit and then pare down the work. Try this and see if it helps you. You might be surprised at the number of superfluous words that routinely creep into your sentences. When a good writing teacher sees wordiness, s/he might scribble “prolix” or “wordy” in the margins of your paper. Being forced to cut out words shows you how many of your words you really didn’t need.

I also look for:

  • Your manuscript needs to look better than your car!

    Your manuscript needs to look better than your car!

    Typos to fix and verifying unusual words that Word claims are misspelled even when they’re correct.

  • Dialogue that seemed clear when I first wrote it that isn’t clear later.
  • Inadvertent changes in a character’s eye color or hair color or some other descriptive adjective or statement. (My editor once asked me if a character’s new eye color was symbolic or a mistake. How did I miss that?)
  • The spelling of proper names. For example, “Appalachia” has a double “p,” while “Apalachicola” has only one “p” even though they’re pronounced the same. And, authors Thomas Wolfe and Virginia Woolf spell their last names differently. (As we learned in journalism school, it’s a sin to misspell a person’s name.)
  • If you have a lot of characters, you might want to create a timeline for when all of them were born, got married, and died. Otherwise, it’s very easy to get their ages wrong sooner or later in the manuscript or (worse yet) have somebody giving birth to a child before she was born herself. (Jame Smiley must have created an impressive chart for her characters while writing her three-book “Last Hundred Years Trilogy” that followed several families over the course of a century.)
  • Since I mention flowers and trees in my work, I always go through the manuscript again and verify that the flowers I say are blooming really do bloom in the novel’s location at a specific time of year. The same goes for mentioning when young birds leave the nest, leaves change color, or typical weather conditions occur. Unless you’re a wildlife specialist, checking the accuracy of such things is important. The same can be said for jobs/fields/hobbies your characters have that you weren’t familiar with prior to writing the book. Is everything accurate? (For example, a lot of people assume that if you throw a handful of cartridges into a fire, bullets will come flying out of there like they were fired from a gun. They don’t. It’s easy to check things like this and a bad mark if a reader or reviewer catches a silly mistake.)

Most of us have our blind spots. We know there are words we typically misspell. We know there are phrases we overuse. We put apostrophes into places where they don’t belong and leave them out where they’re needed. Of course, it’s always good to have a copy of a style manual nearby! And, as many others have said, all of us need a good editor to look over our work because no matter how much polishing we do, we are always seeing the story first and the words (and the misspelled words) second.

For a writer, happiness is a clean (or mostly clean) manuscript.


A Minority View: I don’t believe in first drafts

Here’s the prevailing wisdom dispensed by almost every writing instructor, coach, guru and bestselling author in the country: Finish the first draft first. Don’t stop to edit anything. Rush ahead at flank speed to get the story down on paper. Do not pass go, do not collect $200 and do not ever stop what you’re doing in chapter fifteen to go back and tinker with something you wrote in chapter two.

If you’re a writer and if the prevailing wisdom works for you, keep doing what you’re doing.

I prefer to edit, tinker and rewrite as I go so that by the time I reach the end of the story in my DOC file, what I have is not a first draft but a very close version of the final story. I do not see stories as linear even when they are told in the standard, beginning/middle/end format. Everything everywhere in the work influences everything else in the work. I miss these influences any time I try to write an entire first draft before going back to change earlier chapters.

Haiku Example

Consider this English translation (without any concerns about syllable counts) of a famous haiku by the master Matsuo Bashō:

old pond
a frog leaps in
water’s sound

I've put this in an Old English font because I think it's as out of date as the font. Click on the graphic to see where it came from and the tips being offered (which I also think are all wrong).

I’ve put this in an Old English font because I think it’s as out of date as the font. Click on the graphic to see where it came from and the tips being offered (which I also think are all wrong). I left the green line beneath “The Good News?” because I don’t think it’s good news.

Whether or not one is using the English approach to the haiku by writing three lines of five, seven and five syllables, the intent of the poem is the juxtaposition of images/thoughts/moments that typically show two versions of the same thing even though they might initially appear divergent.

I seldom write poetry, but as I look at this, it’s impossible for me to contemplate writing a haiku or even a quatrain without being able to see the entire poem on my screen at once and to “be allowed” to tinker with the lines in any order I want to tinker with them. However, if one were writing this haiku the way people are told to write novels, they would supposedly write one line per page during the “rough draft stage” so that they couldn’t see the beginning while they were working on the middle and the end.

The story’s words are as interdependent as the haiku’s words

When I’m working on a novel, I see the entire story at once even though the words fill many pages.  When I first think of a story idea, it has no more clarity than an out-of-focus memory of an event that happened many years ago. As I work on the story, things come into focus in all parts of the story, not just in the last lines I typed on a page well into the novel.

Rushing ahead with what I have so far when I sense earlier sections that need tweaking seems as nonsensical as travelling from, say, Chicago to San Francisco and realizing some six hours into the trip that you made a wrong turn in Iowa and are rapidly approaching St. Louis, many miles off course. What would you do? Depending on maps or GPS (which you should have turned on before now), you would have the option of backtracking and getting back on the route you intended to take or finding a way to head west on other roads. The third option would be to forget San Francisco and continue driving south until you reached the Gulf of Mexico.

But what if this is a novel? There are a variety of options: Write about a fictional trip to New Orleans,  show the protagonist badly off course en route to his/her goals and figure out how to get him/her from St. Louis on out to San Francisco, or go back to the chapter where the wrong turn was made and erase everything after that.

It’s hard to say what makes a better story. Assuming the original story idea is still sound, it seems pointless to me to continue writing the first draft once I see I’m in the wrong place. Or, if I rush ahead with the draft, perhaps I don’t know I’m in the wrong place and keep on writing more chapters that will have to be thrown out later. So, in seeing the novel all at once as more and more of the parts from beginning to end come into focus, I bounce all over the manuscript long before I reach the end of it, changing this and changing that rather than continuing to forge ahead even though what I should have said earlier has a profound effect on what I’m writing as I near the ending.

I seldom find anything as extreme as my Chicago to San Francisco example. Usually, it’s smaller details. For example, I need for something to happen in Des Moines that will foreshadow something that will happen in Cheyenne. However, when I was in Des Moines, I didn’t “see” that and now that I’m in Cheyenne, I really need to go back and change the Des Moines scenes before I can refer back to them in this latter stage of the book. It’s easy to see this in a haiku because you can physically see the entire poem at once. It’s harder to see when writing a novel if all you’re thinking about is the chapter you’re writing now rather than considering the impact on the current scenes from all the scenes earlier in the manuscript.

Since I do not plot or outline novels, I never know where they’re going (more or less). As  where they’re going starts coming into clearer focus, so does where they’ve been. So, I’m always polishing where they’ve been so that like the haiku, the book ends of all of a piece. I can’t do this with the “write the first draft first” approach because with ideas flying around inside my head, I won’t remember a lot of them unless I type them into the manuscript right now.

I love the chaos of this. In fact, I depend on it.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the magical realism novella “Conjure Woman’s Cat” and the heroine’s journey fantasy “Sarabande.” Click on “Malcolm” to visit Campbell’s website.

Top Five Ways to Have an Awful Book Cover

“I’m constantly looking at book covers as part of my “job” here at Indies Unlimited. On top of that, I run into authors posting their covers in groups all the time, asking for input. So I see a LOT of covers. And most of them all have the same issues.”

Source: Top Five Ways to Have an Awful Book Cover – Indies Unlimited

Like K. S. Brooks, I wonder why we see the same nasty issues causing horrible book covers when there are so many of us pointing out why those book covers are horrible: like dark type on a dark background or light type on a light background.

She may have a good idea. Since some authors aren’t following any of this advice, maybe the thing to do is right a post that suggests doing all the wrong things in hopes that fractious, roll-your-own-disastrous book cover will stubbornly go out and do the opposite things.

You might want to show this post to the usual suspects on your Facebook friends list.

My brother, who’s an artist and who’s taught art at the college level, once told me that unlike other prospective talents, our ability to draw or paint gets stuck at a grade school level because the schools don’t teach much art. So why are we doing our own covers?


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