The Sun Singer's Travels

Malcolm R. Campbell's World

Archive for the tag “writing”

What are service publishers?

Service publishers are akin to vanity publishers in that they will print or publish whatever you have for a price. They will not pass judgment on it and they don’t care if it sells. The difference here is that you know from the get-go that they are selling services, not dreams.

via Service Publishers — a la Carte for Authors ‹ Indies Unlimited ‹ Reader — WordPress.com

Should you consider a publisher you have to pay? Hard to say, especially as writing gurus start telling self-published authors they need better editing, formatting, cover art and promotion plans, none of which are free.

Melissa Bowerstock tells us that service publishers and vanity publishers aren’t the same because vanity publishers are selling dreams and service publisher are selling services. Before you say, “oh, well that’s just semantics,” consider the fact that service publishers offer a “menu” of services from which you can choose while vanity publishers offer you a package that may or may not include services you don’t want.

It’s worth looking at because self-publishing really isn’t free if you want your book to have a chance of selling well.

–Malcolm

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Sometimes, it’s hard to concentrate on writing

Life gets in the way.

One of our three 15-year-old cats died last week of a blood clot that shut down a major artery. There’s no warning with this problem, somewhat common in cats. The house feels emptier now. The two other cats are more clingy than usual, though our intuition tells us they’re more accepting of the natural order of things than my wife and I are.

Meanwhile, my favorite place on the planet, Glacier National Park, Montana, has a dangerous fire on its western side. The Sprague fire has already burnt down a historic chalet (Sperry) that was built by the Great Northern Railway (now BNSF) in 1913. The fire continues to spread behind high winds and dry conditions and is now threatening Lake McDonald Lodge.

Sperry Chalet

I keep checking the news as well as the InciWeb site for updates. At my age, I could do little or nothing if I were there. But still, I feel that I should be there. That’s lunacy, of course, but feelings often come in out of nowhere.

As writers, we face all kinds of distractions. I came home from a week-long vacation in North Carolina where I saw the eclipse with my family, ready to write. The vacation was a better tonic than any doctor could have prescribed. But now these worries have gotten in the way.

Writers are more or less human, I guess.

Meanwhile, I appreciate all of you who downloaded free copies of Mountain Song and The Sun Singer during the Dog Days of August Sale August 28-31. Thank you!

Malcolm

 

Trying to re-discover the joy of writing

Contrary to popular belief, most fiction writers don’t start out dreaming of becoming the next John Steinbeck or J. K. Rowling. We start out because writing a story that springs from our imagination is a joyful experience. That’s it. Some of us find agents and are published by HarperCollins. Some of us find small, boutique presses that publish five to ten books a year. And some of us publish directly on Amazon. Most fiction writers don’t make enough money to live on from their novels.

Those who do, whether it’s by luck, talent, and/or a flair for publicity are rare, rather like the number of sandlot baseball players who make it into the major leagues. Most don’t.

We’re happy, many of us, if we can sell several hundred copies of a novel and then move on to the next book. Unfortunately, Amazon has thrown a wrench into the works even though they court indie authors. The best we can figure out is that it has changed the algorithm that controls book rankings to favor large presses and/or higher priced books.

Here’s what that means for the rest of us. Used to be, we could reduce the price of our novels to 99 cents, run a modest ad in a readers’ newsletter, and easily sell 25-50 copies or more. This would cause our books to rise in the rankings enough to be spotted by people who hadn’t seen the ad, so we’d get additional sales during the following days at the full price. With the new algorithm, our books don’t rise much in the rankings, or if they do, they quickly drop back to their pre-sale level, and there are few residual sales. This leads to fewer reader reviews and fewer reviews means even lower rankings and fewer sales.

A writer friend and I talked about why neither of us has made any progress to speak of on or novels in progress. We realized that our fixation on “the Amazon problem” has killed our joy of writing. Yes, we’re both pissed off about our fixations. We think we should be able to keep writing and not worry about sales at all because the act of writing is where the fun is. However, one has to have some sales or s/he runs in the red when you consider the cost of ISBN numbers, copyright registration, cover art work, and an editor to weed out the typos, and office supplies.

All authors have to consider the business side of their art, like it or not. That is part of being a writer. Those of us who write, knew going into this sloppy business that the deck would always be stacked against us in favor of the BIG PUBLISHERS, BIG AGENTS, and BIG AUTHORS. No, we’re not happy about that, but before “the Amazon problem” emerged, we could at least be content with selling a reasonable number of copies, attracting some nice reviews, and having a group of readers who looked forward to our next book.

So it is that my writer friend and I really need to ignore sales. That doesn’t mean giving up our blogs, websites, Facebook announcements of new books, or Twitter accounts. It means remembering why we’re doing this, writing, I mean. We joke about getting a call from Oprah letting us know our latest book is her new book club pick or that Warner Brothers just bought a $10,000 option on our latest novel. We’re not masochists who want to live in poverty for our art.

In spite of a strong reliance on our imaginations for concocting novels and short stories, we are capable of being realistic about our place in the writing universe. We didn’t set out with a John Steinbeck of J. K. Rowling goal. We need to remember that when we start agonizing about Amazon’s new algorithm that helps the rich and famous become more rich and famous. Let it go, I want to say. I never planned to become rich and famous. (Frankly, I don’t think I could cope with it.)

We like to tell stories. We’re happy while we’re telling them and we’re happy if  a few people find them and enjoy the novel or short story. That’s where the joy of the work is found. Sure, I have to give a wink and a nod to book promotion, but if becoming a slave to it is destroying me–and the books I want to write–then to hell with sales figures.

Okay, enough is enough. I’m taking a one-week vacation to the mountains. When I come back, I’m ignoring Amazon, the number of copies I’ve sold, and the number of reader reviews I have. None of that matters. Actually, it does matter, but I’m going to stop focusing on it and do what I want to do: write.

–Malcolm

 

 

Tick off a writer and s/he will kill you in the next book

Or so they say.

Okay, it could happen, perhaps it has happened, and–if so–it might happen again.

Truth is, authors are influenced by everything that happens to them, the people they know, the offices where they work, the regions where their families came from and where they grew up, and by all the places they’ve visited. The rely strongly on these even though their fiction may well be a long way from autobiographical.

I’ve written novels and short stories set in the Florida Panhandle because I grew up there. I’ve used Montana because I worked there and have been back for numerous vacation visits. Decatur, Illinois, has figured in my stories because my mother grew up there, we visited my grandparents there while I was growing up, and one of my brothers was born there. So, it’s fun using my knowledge of these places–and, the little known legends from these places–in my stories.

None of my friends, family or enemies has been killed off in any of my books.

Like many people who have visited Paris, London, and Berlin, I have often thought about getting a story in one of those places–or, maybe a scene. I set a couple of scenes in the Netherlands because I worked there one summer while in college. As for the other places, I think I would be behind the eight ball trying to catch up with the common knowledge about those places that’s firmly known by those who did live there and/or who have spent a considerable amount of time there. It’s very difficult–if not impossible–for an author to write a credible story set in a known place if he doesn’t really know that place.

There are a lot of reasons why my Conjure Woman’s Cat and Eulalie and Washerwoman novels are set in the 1950s. Primarily, it’s because the racist situations my characters fight against were common then. But there’s also another reason: that’s when I lived there, and I haven’t been there since 1986.  My knowledge of the Florida Panhandle as it is now isn’t strong enough for me to write a book set there in 2017.

One can get around this to some extent if one gets a grant that includes travel, if one has a bestselling author’s budget and can travel there or pay a staff to travel there. You’ve probably heard the expression many times that “the map is not the territory.” Likewise, I think that–for a writer needing facts that are only apparent when s/he lives in a place or can afford extensive visits to a place–the Internet is also not the territory. One cannot Google his or her way into knowing what a native knows.

I’ve never felt limited by restricting my self to places I’ve lived or worked or seen extensively during trips. The joy for me is having a wealth of information that can become part of the stories in such an organic way that no reviewer can say “my research shows.” That usually happens when a writer doesn’t really know a place, does a lot of expensive research, and tries to jam it all into a novel whether it naturally fits or not.

One of my characters in the 1954-era novel in progress just took some photographs on a Florida road with a Brownie Hawkeye Camera. I’ve seen that road and I took pictures in that area with a Brownie Hawkeye when was a kid. I still have the camera. Using such details–things that relate to my life and experiences–is a lot more satisfying than writing down the names of people who tick me off so that they can be “taken care of” in my next novel or short story.

At least, this is my story and I’m sticking to it.

–Malcolm

 

 

Briefly Noted: ‘Florida’s Wetlands’

What does an author do when s/he can’t visit the locations used in a novel? One could hire a team of researchers or use Google Earth to look at the chosen place. Using a guidebook such as Florida’s Wetlands is an easier way. The guidebook won’t tell you everything, but it may tell you enough to accurately sketch in the world where your characters live.

Publisher’s Description

“Taken from the earlier book Priceless Florida (and modified for a stand-alone book), this volume discusses Florida’s Wetlands, including interior wetlands, seepage wetlands, marshes, flowing-water swamps, beaches and marine marshes, and mangrove swamps. Introduces readers to the trees and plants, insects, mammals, reptiles, and other species that live in Florida’s unique wetlands ecosystem, including the Virginia iris, American white waterlily, cypress, treefrogs, warblers, and the Florida black bear.”

This wonderful guide is enhanced through its use of short descriptions, easy-to-navigate sections, photographs, and lists of the flora and fauna in Florida’s variety of swamps and marshes. These lists make it easy for the writer to find additional information on the Internet about a particular tree, fish, flower or bird. Once you know these names and the habitats they call home, it’s easy to do follow-up research online or in other books for more details. In Florida, for example, you can use the information gleaned from this book to explore the online Florida Natural Areas Inventory or the detailed information you can find from a specialized guidebook such as Florida Wildflowers: a Comprehensive Guide by Walter Kingsley Taylor.

Such books, and the sites they’ll lead you to, are windows into a world that’s out of reach due to time constraints, health, jobs, and family responsibilities. And then, too, you’re writing a novel and not a habitat handbook, so you don’t need lengthy and/or definitive descriptions of your locations.

Fortunately, writers can find such popular guidebooks for most states and countries.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Eulalie and Washerwoman,” set partially in the wetlands of the Florida Panhandle.

 

Contests: hard to win but worth the effort

Lenz

Shortly before my debut YA novel was published in 2016, I spoke to a local writer’s group about my path to publication. Year by year, I recounted the numerous ups and downs of my lengthy journey. After describing a series of setbacks and close calls with agents and editors, I finally recognized that every face in the audience looked absolutely horrified! From then on, I’ve given a swift summary instead: over ten years, three manuscripts, two agents, far too many rejections, just enough praise, and numerous contest finals and wins that validated my work. Indeed, I ultimately found my agent and publisher through contests.

via The Power of Contests: Create Your Own Luck | WritersDigest.com

Some writers say contests are scams because they think the organizations managing them are getting rich off the entry fees. I don’t agree, and was happy to see this “Writer’s Digest” post by Kristin Bartley Lenz about their value.

She not only shows us how contests helped her, but adds three tips to help other writers navigate the world of competitions and increase the odds of getting a foot in the door with a win.

–Malcolm

Does one need to feel numb before writing a sad scene?

Probably not, but it helps.

It’s rather like sadistic directors during the years of the Hollywood studio system telling child actors and actresses their puppy died to get them to cry for a scene in which they needed to cry.

Goodness knows, today’s headlines are enough to make one feel numb, lonely and a bit hopeless about the state of things.

I have a sad scene staring me in the face, one in which I want the hopelessness of the situation to be thicker than fog. I’ve been avoiding writing it. I knew what it needed, but I wasn’t numb enough to create that.

So, to solve the problem, I raced through two, high-adrenaline, page-turner spy books. You know the type: ISIS vs. the U.S., Russia vs. the U.S., the kind of books where the authors explain weapons and commando methods in detail, the kind where both the good guys and the bad guys kill a lot of people like they’re just playing a video game.

The books are a rush, but when I’m done reading, I feel numb, wondering whether such tactics are what we need to keep a democracy safe. Human life in these books is very expendable. Now I’m depressed enough to write the scene.

It’s almost like somebody told me my puppy got run over.

–Malcolm

Does writing bring catharsis?

I was influenced years ago by Richard M. Eastman’s Writing as a Discovery of Outlook. Eastman believed that writers don’t know precisely how they feel about a subject until they’ve written about it. This idea came to mind as I read “Maggie Nelson: ‘There is no catharsis… the stories we tell ourselves don’t heal us’” in The Observer.

Nelson (“The Argonauts” and “The Red Parts) wrote about the trial and conviction of Gary Earl Leiterman for the 1969 murder of her aunt, Jane Mixer. In The Observer article, she said of The Red Parts,  “I felt horrible after I finished it, and it was difficult to read from [publicly]. The book is really a long critique of catharsis. But the irony is that my catharsis was writing down that there is no catharsis. The stories we tell ourselves don’t heal us, but I also think that if I hadn’t written it, I wouldn’t have processed the experience: writers tend to be people who process things by writing. The problems of the book don’t weigh on me so heavily now.”

Writers and others are often encourage to create journals, essays, articles and even fiction as a way of “freeing themselves” from the angst of personal tragedy. I’ve never found these solutions to be successful. But as Eastman and Nelson suggest, I understand the situations much better after having written about them. No, there wasn’t a monumental epiphany or catharsis even though I felt after writing that I understood myself and the situations better.

Perhaps writing serves as a more complete therapy for others. I’ve heard that it does, though I’ve yet to meet another writer who was, so to speak, “going nuts,” wrote about the causes of his or her discord, and ended up cured. Perhaps that’s too flip. Maybe we simply get a little better–and that’s good enough.

What about you? Do you keep a diary and does it help you over the rough spots? Or, perhaps you found that fiction works better or, perhaps, becoming involved in a nonprofit dedicated to a problem you faced or encountered that includes your writing essays and grant applications.

As for me, the writing helps even though it hasn’t been a cure.

Malcolm

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.

Malcolm

 

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?

Malcolm

 

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