The Sun Singer's Travels

Malcolm R. Campbell's World

Archive for the tag “readers”

Dear Reader, you write half of every book

“I like to think of it as a kind of pact between the writer and the reader. The feeling that in each sentence, in each paragraph, the reader gets some beauty from the book in exchange for some darkness that grows in his mind. Or he gets some darkness from the book that obliges him to looks for some beauty in his surroundings. So there is this balance that keeps the reader awake because half of the story is actually happening in his mind. Rebecca Solnit says ‘a book is a heart that only beats in the chest of another,’ I love that feeling as a reader. And I am always trying to create this when I write.” – Samanta Schweblin (“Fever Dream”) in her Full Stop interview.

No, you don’t get half the royalties, so don’t ask.

But, dear reader, as writers, we give you a playing field for your imagination. We provide half a story, so to speak, and you fill in the blanks with whatever frightens you, arouses you, amuses you, or leads you to God.

Storytellers and readers have always shared the responsibility for the final work even though some writers don’t admit it and some readers chafe when asked to do too much.

When we’re feeling good–confident, perhaps–we don’t sell it out. We give you room to work, to explore, to discover what we can never tell you. When we were young and didn’t yet feel secure in our words, we tended to take more than our half of the bed. Later on, we stop hogging all the covers and write all the better for it.

Of course, if you’re feeling lazy, then you can go to the beach reading shelf and find something easy. That’s okay. We read books off that shelf, too. We do hope that, from time to time, you’ll grab your share of the imaginary world and show us what you can do with it.



Book blogs come and go while the blog directories don’t seem to notice

If you’re a reader, you might have a few book blogs to visit every week for comments about books you’re thinking about reading. If you’re a writer, you hope to find people who like reviewing the books in your genre who will consider your latest novel for review.

As I mentioned briefly under “Musings” on my other blog, I’m not going to submit any book I write to a blog with a goofy name that sounds like it’s written while somebody’s frying eggs or sitting on a riding mower. Yes, those blogs may have a fair number of followers, but a positive review from them can’t be quoted anywhere because goofy names don’t stack up well when the competition is quoting from magazines, newspapers and blogs with professional names.

blogclipartAll this comes to mind again because I’ve been looking for bloggers that might want to review my work. Unfortunately, some of my favorite blogs from a few years ago have closed down while others have made it harder for writers to get a foot in the door.

So, the next places I turn to are blogging directories, some are run by professional authors, editors and reviewers, and others run by people who read a lot and who kept a record of their links.

What surprises me is that a fair number of people with websites listing bloggers, don’t keep their directories current. Sure, since the directory is free and might have a hundred listings, it’s a lot of trouble without compensation to go out there every month and see if the links work. That’s too bad because bad links are not only a waste of time, but they show the kind of laziness on the directory owner’s part that suggests they’re not actively looking for new links either to keep the place up to date.

I wish I’d kept a record of the number of blog links that ended up on screens like this yesterday and today while I was making the rounds:

  • The blog’s last post was several years ago.
  • The blog is officially closed because the blogger got too busy but has been left online so people could get to the archives.
  • A 404 error message.
  • A message that says “this domain is for sale.”
  • A change in policy indicating that the blog now has nothing to do with the blurb in the directory that supposedly describes what it offers.
  • Porn and other clickbait junk.

Naturally, my saying all this isn’t going to fix anything. But if you’re a reader or a writer who’s looking for new blogs, I’m not going to say “I feel your pain” because why would I want to do that? But I do understand your discouragement when you spend several hours looking and are lucky to come up with only one or two possibilities.


What can you find on this blog?

See Any Content You Like?

Promotional gurus have mixed ideas about the purpose of an author’s blog. Most of them say it should showcase the author’s work one way or another. After that, opinions begin to diverge.

  • One track supports the notion that an author’s blog is primarily intended to attract authors, editors, publishers and others in the publishing industry.
  • Another track suggests authors should focus on the kind of content, themes and ideas that are important to their work in hopes of attracting readers.

Even though you”ll find a few reviews here and some writing ideas as well, I prefer the second approach. I already have a publisher. I’m not looking for freelance writing opportunities from magazines and websites who see content here and want to pay me to write more about it for them. I’m not looking for co-authors or the editors of anthologies who might want to morph the material here into something else.

Apparently, this blog doesn’t fit a traditional niche, the evidence being that the posts are all over the playing field and that the two most popular posts are The Bare-Bones Structure of a Fairy Tale and Heave out and Trice Up. Off hand, a post about fairy tale structure and a post about Navy slang aren’t even in the same universe.

Aha, but there is a connection. I served in the navy and wrote a novel (At Sea) inspired by my experiences. And, I have written fairy tale/folk tale material into my magical realism (Eulalie and Washerwoman) and my fantasy (Sarabande) novels.

Hero’s Journey

herothousandfacesIf this blog has a niche–other than my books–it’s the fact that it promotes the strengths of the individual against the system as well as the power of the individual to find his/her true mission and authentic self. Most of my books focus on that idea in varying ways. So, if you have read this blog–and my Malcolm’s Round Table Blog–for a while, you will have found references to Joseph Campbell (The Hero With a Thousand Faces), to books about the somewhat different heroine’s journey, and to related myths, books and writing techniques focused on this structure.


treeoflifeYou’re also going to see content in this blog about magic, and by that, I generally mean almost anything that has yet to be defined by modern science. This includes a wide group of subjects, in addition to the hero’s journey, that focus on personal transcendence. How to you find yourself? How do you unlock your hidden gifts?

It also includes folk magic, which many people dismiss as mere superstition, because I see those beliefs as a part of my philosophy that each of us creates our own reality using the tools we are the most comfortable with. For one person, that might mean the mystery school structure of, say, The Rosicrucian Order (of which I’ve been a member for 50 years). For another, that might mean meditation and relaxation techniques such as those taught via The Silva Method, shamanistic journeys, spells, affirmations, the law of attraction, various methods of positive thinking, or one of the organized churches. Needless to say, my paranormal books, fantasies, and magical realism develop magical themes.


Marianne Williamson quote

Marianne Williamson quote

People tell me that I have a dark sense of humor. I think they’re right. So, you will have found evidence of that on both of my blogs through the fake news stories written by Jock Stewart (my alter ego) and promotional  blurbs about my satirical novel Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire. This satire stems from my 1960s anti-war protesting days’s belief that the foibles of the establishment need to be made clear, and that humor is sometimes a good way of doing that.

So, when it comes down to the question of “What Can You Find on This Blog?”, the answer is how to be a hero or heroine using satire and/or magic to triumph over the the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. In that very general statement, I hope you find something you like and even a few things you were looking for.


You published a book? Yawn. . .

I recently read that the major reason people don’t buy your new book is indifference.

Some say it’s price. Some day it’s because you’re unknown and the readers’ to-be-read list is already filled up with mainstream authors from traditional New York publishers. Some say it’s because self-published and small-press books aren’t even seen (ads, Facebook, major review outlets) by prospective readers. All true. But still, if you haven’t given them a reason to care, they’ll remain indifferent to it.

Most regular readers can afford your book because most of them are buying a lot of higher priced books from big publishing from authors they have already come to know and trust.

So, how do we become one the authors in the know-and-trust group?

Everyone and their brother has talked about the value of a good story, a carefully selected genre, an eye-catching cover, and a well edited book. So, there’s no need for me to say all that again.

Since most of us don’t have the clout to get free New York Times or Kirkus or Publishers Weekly reviews or to hire a publicist who has reporters calling to set up author interviews, that leaves us to some extent with the social media where most of us probably need to be doing more than we are to interact with people.

As Mark David Gerson reminds us in his new book Engage!: Winning Social Media Strategies for Authors, the social media are social and that means interacting with the people on our friends’ list rather than displaying a list of our recent activities, an occasional buy-my-book post, and a lot of cat pictures.

We’re all busy, so when we’re not creating Facebook status updates or sharing, we’re mostly clicking LIKE. This is a short-sighted approach. When somebody comments on a post of ours, clicking LIKE doesn’t cut it. As Gerson says, Engage with them–that is, converse. When you see a post on another person’s profile, LIKE is the easy way out. Make a comment even if it’s simply “great news.” Better yet, if the subject is something you care about, ask questions and share helpful links.

How does this help? People get to “know you” and that leads to them trusting you when you say you have written a book that really does deliver on its promise to entertain them. Basically, we have to do what bestselling authors don’t have the time or inclination to do: spend time with our prospective readers. If we do that, we’ve gone a long way to counteracting those indifferent yawns and persuading them to spend some time reading our books.


Four of my Kindle books are FREE during my Halloween sale 11/28 through 11/31: At Sea, Waking Plane, Dream of Crows, and Willing Spirits.


How to write a decent guest post

When a famous author’s fans go to his or her blog or website, they want to know when the next book’s coming out, when and where the author will appear next, and what the author’s been doing. If you’re not a famous author, most people won’t come to your blog or website to read about you. Quite likely, they won’t go to a book blogger’s site to read about you either.

guestpostThose who follow blogs usually read what they read because they like the blogger’s point of view and his or her posts about books they might like to read. When a book blogger asks you to write a guest post, you have an opportunity to draw in readers (and keep them reading) by providing content they find interesting.

I read an author’s guest post this morning and was flabbergasted when it turned out to be a sales pitch for his book. Most people don’t go around looking for sales pitches to read any more than they watch TV commercials on purpose.

Yes, you are doing the guest post in hopes of selling a few copies of your book. However, if the post is directly about your book, you’ll lose most of the blog’s readers for the day, none of whom will buy your book.

If you think about why you use the Internet, you’ll see why this is true. Sure, sometimes we’re surfing around just killing time, but we stop and read when we find something that interests us. Otherwise, we’re on line for a reason…looking for the latest news…keeping up with our favorite subjects…researching our next book or a term paper…looking for books by our favorite authors. Plainly said, when we search the Internet for something to read, watch or listen to, we take an all-about-me approach.

If your guest post is all about your new book, you’re writing about what you like and not about what your readers like–unless you’re already famous. A decent guest post can certainly mention your book, though it’s helpful if the host blogger introduces you with a line like, “Today’s guest is the author of the new mystery novel ‘Guns Along a Dark River.”

Okay, so what do you write about?

If you research author guest posts, you’ll find a lot of advice on line. My suggestion about this comes from noticing which of the guest posts on this blog and on Malcolm’s Round Table get the most hits and comments. The guest posts that do best are those about a subject the writer is passionate and knowledgeable about, one that is often related to his or her latest book in some way.

A great example of this is author Dianne K. Salerni’s May 2013 guest post on Malcolm’s Round Table called “Mortsafes: Protection FROM the Dead or FOR the Dead?” This post continues to get a lot of hits two years after it appeared.


Graveyards are spooky. Why would somebody put a metal fence around a grave? Even the term “mortsafe” seems a little strange. So she wrote an interesting post and people keep stopping by to read it. When they do, they see that her books We Hear the Dead and The Caged Graves might also be just as fascinating.

You can write posts related to your book regardless of whether it’s fiction or nonfiction.

  • Did you learn something interesting while writing your book, or did something wild and crazy happen while you were on a research trip? If so, write about what you discovered or what happened to you while you were a hundred miles from home.
  • Is your novel’s theme something that’s in the news, say, refugees or terrorism, perhaps. While an overly political guest post about these subjects won’t help you, you can probably find human interest stories that draw in readers.
  • If your book has a strong focus on a specific field or avocation, you can probably write an interesting post about, say, how to sell used cars, how to mix conjuring herbs, how to create the perfect meal on a budget, or where to find the best deals on books or houses or lawyers.
  • If the blog where your post will appear is somewhat literary, the last thing you want to do is imply your book is just as great at John Grisham’s books (even if it is.) But you can still talk about books, authors and writing tips.
  • In my books, I focus a lot on the stories’ settings. You can do this, too, if the setting is dangerous, odd, unusual and/or a place reader might want to visit.
  • When I wrote a book called The Sailor, I wrote several posts about navy slang. Those continue to be some of my most popular posts even though the novel is out of print. What slang, techniques, or practices are common for people in careers such as that of your novel’s protagonist?

The author’s first duty in writing a guest post is creating a well-written article that brings the host blog a lot of hits and that shows prospective readers of your book that you’re an interesting writer. When you do this, you give the blog’s readers something to talk about, think about, tweet about and share on Facebook.

Give the readers something they like and some of them will ultimately buy your book. Write a sales pitch, and quite likely none of them will buy your book or even read the entire guest post.


A plague of genres

“It is not your business to determine how good [your work] is; nor how valuable it is; nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours, clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.”  – Martha Graham

Years ago, many of the books that are now placed into genres were classified as “general fiction,” while the books that were placed into genres were often considered to be overtly commercial.

Things have changed. Now, publishers and readers expect most of the books they read to be classified by genre. Genres aren’t just respectable, they’re mandatory. The good thing is, genres embrace a lot of wonderful writing.  The bad thing is, the existence of genres makes things difficult for writers whose work cannot be easily classified into a genre or that contains plots and themes typical of multiple genres.

Genres help publishers and bookstores sell books. They help readers find the kinds of books they like to read.

Now we have this

Now we have this

At the same time, genres can also scare readers a way when a book is classified into a genre that those readers never read. Once you say a book is historical romance, you not only attract those who love that, but send away those who don’t like historical novels or romances. If the book fits the genre, then perhaps the genre helps more than it hurts. If it doesn’t fit the genre, the readers who would otherwise like to read it will never consider it.

I’m as likely to read Basil Johnston as Stephen King, Jeanette Winterson as Harlan Ellison, Barbara Kingsolver as Patricia McKillip, Andrew Vachss as Parke Godwin—in short, my criteria is that the book must be good; what publisher’s slot it fits into makes absolutely no difference to me.”  ― Charles de Lint

There are no rules (yeah, right)

If I hadn’t become an avid reader and an aspiring writer at an early age, my high school and college English literature classes would have scared me away from both. I didn’t like the regimented way those classes were taught and consider the teachers and lesson plans and state testing rules that support such methods to be one of the primary reasons we see horrible reading statistics for people once they leave school.

To counteract this, many writing coaches these days are fond of saying “there are no rules.” (I happen to believe that.) Aspiring writers are urged to let the story—or, perhaps, the story’s characters—spin out what happens in a natural way rather than boxing up the creative process with rules.

Unfortunately, there are rules, and they are imposed on us—in part—by the plague of genres. Each genre has rules. If you break them, the magazine editor, publisher or agent who sees the story will reject it. I once submitted a short story to a magazine. They rejected it with a handwritten note that informed me, “We love your writing but the women in our stories aren’t allowed to think XYZ.”

I disliked the concept of genres before I saw that rejection slip. I despised the concept ever after because I thought it placed too many restrictions on plots, characters, themes and writing styles while spoon feeding readers who really needed to learn how to feed themselves, much less claim their lives had been ruined because a writer who didn’t know the rules didn’t end his/her romance novel happily ever after.

Those who support genres often dodge the rules problem by saying those of us who don’t like genres are snobbish. That’s possible, but it’s usually not true. We just don’t like the rules and the great harm they do to the writing process.

I am one of those who fully expects today’s genres to be broken down into more and more sub-genres, each with its rules, laws, precepts, character traits, etc. I can visualize genres in which dogs are not permitted to have fleas and cats aren’t allowed to purr.

Soon, we'll have this

Soon, we’ll have this

Yes, Virginia, there are publishing realities, but we have, I think, taken the genre thing a bit too far. This forces writers to play to the audience and to shape their art into a growing list of prospective reader demographics. Soon, perhaps, novels and short stories will be supplied by computers. By then, it will be too late to stop the plague of genres. We’ll all be addicted.


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