The Sun Singer's Travels

Malcolm R. Campbell's World

Archive for the category “Authors”

Buy It or Review It (Or Preferably Both)

If you are a writer, ask to be paid for your work. If you are asking a writer to appear, pay them. If you read a book, pay for it. If you accept a free book, post a review. Anything else is eroding the careers of writers everywhere.

via Buy It or Review It (Or Preferably Both) | FundsforWriters

This post, from several days ago, is in many ways about writers helping each other and notes that many people–including those on writers’ Facebook friends lists or who follow their blogs–sign on to accept a free copy of a book but then never read it, much less review it.

As Hope Clark mentions, it’s bad enough when a reader requests an ARC (advance readers copy) and then never posts a review; it’s worse when another author does it.  An Amazon-style review can be posted in a few minutes and it can make a big difference between the success or failure of a mid-list or an emerging author’s work.

We need to help each other and keep our promises.



Are writers outsiders?

“Writers are outsiders. Even when we seem like insiders, we’re outsiders. We have to be. Our noses pressed to the glass, we notice everything. We mull and interpret. We store away clues, details that may be useful to us later.” – Dani Shapiro

I’m not sure the answer is a simple yes or no.

In contrast to Dani Shapiro’s statement, Joe Bunting in Are the Best Writers Insiders or Outsiders? says, “Perhaps the insider/outsider question is a false dichotomy. If Cormac McCarthy can write masterpieces in his solitude and Salman Rushdie write them while dating supermodels and going to international parties, then maybe it’s not about being in or out. Perhaps the secret is to never stop being you, whether or not you’re inside or outside.”

Maybe Joe Bunting’s “you” can change personas and step into the mix and be a part of it when necessary or watch from the sidelines and observe when necessary. Or, maybe it comes down to whether a person is an introvert or an extrovert, facile or clumsy in social situations, or easily moves between a huge number of friends or feels more comfortable spending most of his or her time with a small group.

We’re always observing, I think. To some extent, that puts us somewhat outside. We do store away clues, as Shapiro says. In Bunting’s post, it’s not surprising to read that J. D. Salinger and Thomas Pynchon are among the outsiders–far outside, as it turns out. Or, that F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Mark Twain were considered insiders.

When I read an author’s novel, I don’t know if s/he’s an insider or an outsider in any social group, town or career. I might leap to conclusions if I thought about it and consider those who write literary fiction to be outsiders and those who write romances and thrillers to be insiders. But, I might be wrong.

Perhaps insider vs. outsider doesn’t matter. Maybe the true consideration is: who do you need to be to write what you want to write?

Personally, I need quiet. I don’t want every week to be filled with dinners, barbecues, parties, movies, and day trips. That’s what works for me. Maybe you need a lot of activity, friends trooping through the house 24/7 and a full dance card, so to speak. If it works, what more could one want?

The late William Trevor (“Love and Summer”), a prolific Irish writer believed that “writers were outsiders, that they had no place in society because society was what they were watching.” I can understand the feeling even though I’m not convinced all writers feel this way.

If you’re a writer, how do you feel about this? (Yes, I know, maybe the insider/outsider discussion is about as meaningful about the old debate about how many angels could dance on the head of a pin.) But I’m curious. Can you “make the scene” and still write about it or do you have to stand amongst the wallflowers and watch it before you can write about it?



Writing is not a calling

Working in the creative field is unusual in that we are driven to create, regardless of the outcome. But is it sacrilegious to want to earn a living from our artistic endeavours? The sooner we start treating writing as a profession rather than an unpaid calling, the better.

– Evie Gaughan in Fiction writers are real people too

Most people I meet day to day have no idea I’m a writer. Why not? As Evie Gaughan suggests in her wonderful essay about seeing writing for what it is, I don’t fit the mold.

I shop at regular stores. I’m not J. K. Rowling rich. I drive an old car. I don’t walk around quoting books. I don’t have a tattoo that says something elitist or precious like “take me to the library.” In fact, I dislike tattoos.

On the off chance somebody finds out I am a writer, they don’t say, “Wow” and run over to Barnes & Noble and buy my books. Why not? Because I’m a regular person and don’t seem like a writer. (So, how good could those books be?) Plus, they haven’t heard of me or any of my books. So, I’m not a real writer because if I were, they’d see my books on the grocery store shelves or find me listed on a bestseller list.

I have always wanted to say that these incorrect assumptions about writers and their books hurt the art and craft of our work because most writers will never be able to support themselves from their fiction. Being treated as “special” makes life harder.

We have regular jobs, and now that more and more people are expecting e-books to sell for 99₵, it’s more necessary than most readers suspect to be a teacher, civil servant, retail worker, or a laborer of some kind to make ends meet. But Gaughan has said what I might have said if I’d spent several hours working on this post. And, for those who don’t like the article, she takes the flak and I don’t. <g>

The few people who meet me who finally believe that I am a novelist start acting “funny.” Like I’m as unpredictable as a pit bull and might kill them. Like they have to clean up their act as though I’m the parson. Like they can’t speak because what do they know about language? Like I’ll put them in a book and turn them into hookers and con men and people who need to be in jail. Frankly, I want to shout, “For shit’s sake, just stop it.”

But, you know how people are when they’re acting “funny.” They pretend like they’re no acting “funny.” If they think you think they’re acting “funny,” they deny it and start acting totally insane. Sure, this provides good story material but it makes meaningful conversations more of a challenge.

So, thank you for your wisdom, Evie Gaughan. I hope some people will hear you and, you know, won’t start acting crazy–that’s the last thing any of us want.




Promotions: What Type to Use When

“As indie authors, we have a wealth of types of marketing and promotional opportunities available to us. However, some types aren’t as effective as others, and some are more effective when you’re farther along in your career. As a newbie, where should you concentrate your efforts? As a more seasoned indie, what will boost you to the next level of visibility and sales?

“Here’s one list, together with our recommendations for when best to employ each type. Some are free; some, not so much. I’ve included a $ next to the ones that will cost you money.”

via Promotions: What Type to Use When – Indies Unlimited

Authors constantly debate which promotion strategies really work. Sometimes, those with high acclaim seem to have worn themselves out before most of us find them.

A lot of Indie authors are reporting that sales are down. Some blame a change in Amazon algorithms which purportedly favor the higher priced books from large mainstream presses over the modestly priced books that are self-published or that come from small presses.

Lynne Cantwell has done a great job compiling a list of strategies to try. Regardless of whether (or if) Amazon is tweaking its site to make more off the higher priced books, we still need to get the word out–and, perhaps, raise our prices.


Do we really need to see Sylvia Plath’s private letters?

A story in The Guardian, “Unseen Sylvia Plath letters claim domestic abuse by Ted Hughes,” focuses on letters Sylvia Plath wrote to her former therapist between 1960 and 1963, the last of which was sent a week before her suicide.

Sylvia Plath – Wikipedia photo

Scholars have sought information about this period of the author’s life for years and are drooling over the secrets contained in correspondence that isn’t part of any official public record (such as court proceedings) in hopes of understanding Plath, her poetry, and her marriage better. Frankly, I think the right of privacy shouldn’t end with a person’s death–and that goes to show that I would never make a literary scholar.

Fortunately, the letters won’t become wholly public yet because there’s a legal dispute over who owns them that may take a while to resolve. But the story in the Guardian gives everyone the gist of what, in my opinion, the public has no right to know.

I’ll stipulate that literary scholars and critics have always tried to more deeply understand authors’ influences, motivations, and output by looking at their lives through a microscope. This looking almost always includes studying and publicizing diaries, letters to friends and family, correspondence with agents and publishers, and other details that (when created) were considered to be private.

While the literary world sees the publication and analysis of such materials as scholarship, I see it as voyeurism that’s no higher in purpose than the scandal-oriented publications on display next to cash registers at grocery stores and gas station convenience stores. Sure, the analysis is usually better researched and better written, but it displays information that was never meant to be displayed.

Money often seems to drive such efforts. Person A, who was a close friend of Famous Person B, has a  box filled with the letters they received from that well-known author, actor, or artist. They see that they can make a lot of money by offering them to the public through an auction house. A scholar, museum or library archive buys them, Person A (who is now rich) believes without guilt that s/he has done nothing wrong, and the content of those letters is now open to everyone.

Unless Famous Person B tells Person A that it’s okay for the letters to be shown to biographers or donated to institutions engaged in scholarship, I believe such letters should be destroyed. They were never intended for public consumption and the death of Famous Person B doesn’t change that fact. Prying into an author’s private life may, indeed, shed additional light on his/her works, but the end does not justify the tawdry means.



Books for Writers

“We updated our Resources page at the website, so take a look. These are gold nuggets of how-to books for writers that I’ve vetted, often used, many of which are on my book shelf right now that are too dog-eared and highlights to give away. Great avenues for eager writers to get grounded in how to do this writing thing right. ” – Hope Clark at Funds for Writers

I have nothing much to add here except the link:

and, to say that I also have a lot of these books on my shelf. My favorite is “Writing the Breakout Novel,” in part because it takes a different approach from many of the how-to books I’ve seen over the years.

Happy reading,


Add a few fun facts to your media kit

“People love reading fun facts, like these, about their favorite authors:Stephen King said that if he had the chance to live his life all over again, he wouldn’t change a thing, except he’d want to appear in an advertisement for American Express.”

Source: Dress Up Your Author Media Kit with “5 Fun Facts You Didn’t Know About Me” – The Book Designer

When I was interviewed once for a local newspaper, naturally they asked about my latest book. But they also wanted a human interest approach. That makes those being interviewed more approachable, especially when the very human thing is rather universal.

I agree that this can spice up a media kit or a website or a blog post as long as it doesn’t get out of hand and make your look like an amateur rather than a professional writer.


Why The NEA Is So Vital To America

“The NEA’s Creative Writing Fellowships enable recipients to set aside time for writing, research, travel, and career advancement. While this nealogosupport – both financial and non-financial — can be important at any stage of a writer’s journey, it can be particularly encouraging to someone just starting out, trying to gain recognition and get a foothold on what a writer’s life can be. Examples of this abound. Take Alice Walker: she received her NEA fellowship in 1970; in 1983, she became the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize in fiction for “The Color Purple.” There’s also Louise Erdrich, Michael Cunningham, Maxine Hong Kingston and current Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Hererra. More recent fellows include Celeste Ng, Major Jackson, Sandra Beasley, Teá Obreht, and Justin Torres.”

Source: Why The NEA Is So Vital To America – Culture –

If you’re an emerging author–or would like to become one–the NEA offers some programs that might help you. Check out their grants here.

You may also find their news and publications useful. (Check out their literature page.) The arts are what we do. The National Endowment for the Arts is one of our valuable resources for networking, information, trends and financial assistance.


Yes, life can knock the words out of you.

“Point of all being – I stopped writing. What I had written when I returned to the page to rewrite I didn’t like. I didn’t feel like I was at that place anymore because I wasn’t. My life, my experience, my hopes, my dreams had changed. It took me awhile to stop lamenting and look forward.”

– River Jordan in Life Knocked the Words out of Me

I was happy to see author River Jordan’s post. While it was hard reading that life’s troubles had taken away her words for a time, it was wonderful seeing that she had fought back and had new words flowing across the page.

stormyweatherShe shared something a lot of authors won’t talk about: the fact that bad things can stop a writer from writing.

If the author of The Miracle of Mercy Land and The Gin Girl could be stopped in her tracks, than any of us could. A recent article in a writer’s magazine said we should write through our troubles. Perhaps there are times when we can. Gurus say that writing is a business and that we should write every day just as those who work 9-5 jobs go to work every day even when they’re feeling blue.

Writing every day is a crock of an idea for a writer to follow when s/he is down and out and finds the words have been knocked out of him or her.

Today is the 31st anniversary of the Challenger disaster. I saw it happen on TV. I hope the other writers who saw if in person or on television didn’t slog back to their dens and continue writing as usual. I felt the same way on 9/11. I was already at work when the horror began. None of us got a lot of work done that day.

Personal slings and arrows impact us, too. Deaths in the family. Sick spouses and friends. Lost pets. The best writers are, I think, very intuitive, often empathic, and so it is that their strengths become stumbling blocks in stormy times because the vibes/impressions/intuition are simply off or off the scale.

When writers share the fact that there are days when they cannot write and that there are days when they finally dredge up wht wherewithal to begin writing again, the rest of us feel stronger for knowing it.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of The Sun Singer which is free on Kindle January 28 and 29.

Dear Nora and Catherine



Listen, I understand that romance authors have to use authors’ photographs on the back covers of their novels that make them look like the kind of people who know something about romance.

But give me a break. Catherine, you’r older than I am, yet your picture on the back of the FBI thriller Nemesis makes you look 20 years younger.

Nora, you’re a bit younger than me yet–as I’ve often mentioned to my wife–I think you’ve been using the same high school yearbook photograph on your novels ever since, well, high school. I should compare the picture on the back of Island of Glass with your Montgomery Blair High School senior picture.

On the other hand, my author’s photograph is almost as bad as my driver’s license photograph. You can take that to mean I look like I just got out of prison and immediately turned to alcohol and TV dinners as my new lifestyle of choice.



If you ladies want me to think you look like the images of yourselves in those photographs when you gas up your cars and buy fresh radishes at the local farmer’s market, I don’t believe you. Yet, far be it from me to suggest that somebody took your driver’s license photographs and photoshopped them into stylish wonders suitable for the cover of “Vogue.”

If you subscribe to AARP magazine–and I’m sure you do–then you know that the back page of the magazine shows a lot of elderly people under the guise of “look how great these people look.” If you really look like one of those people, you have my compliments.

Just tone it down a bit because an everyday guy like me can’t compete at the bookstore with a goddess.



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