Friday, April 08, 2011

First Book Charity Drive

Like most authors, we love it when people read -- especially when they read our books. This time, it's about kids and a project called First Book and Joe Konrath started the ball rolling with his pledge to donate $500 to the charity if his book reached the top 100 on Amazon. His book, Origin, has since reached his goal and $500 has been donated to First Book. That is just the tip of the iceberg.

Other authors have joined the cause and are offering their books for 99 cents with a pledge of either $500 or $250 to First Book if their books reach the top 100 on Amazon. Check out the listing and support these writers. Most of all, do it for the kids.

When a child learns to read and has his own books to read, his life changes in unimaginable ways. I gave -- and still give -- books to my children and to my nieces and nephews, books they still cherish. One of my nephews, Anthony, is writing his own trilogy and has been working hard at it for a couple of years. When he was little he told me he wanted to be a paleontologist (he loves dinosaurs) and a writer just like me. He doesn't study dinosaurs, but he does write and continues to dream of having his books published and read. It's the same dream I had when I was a child and books took me to exotic places and opened my imagination.

To that end, I have decided to join the drive to help out First Book and bring books to children. Among Women will remain for sale at 99 cents on Amazon and, if it reaches the top 100 in April or May, I'll send First Book $250. If Among Women reaches the top spot in April or May, I'll add another $500 for First Book. It's all in a good cause -- reading and books. This is one bandwagon I hope a lot of authors jump onto. I'm jumping on now. In addition to helping children, you'll get a chance to enter a different world in Among Women, a New Orleans you don't see when you're a tourist.

When you give a book to a child, it is a gift that never gets old or tarnishes or is forgotten. The gift of reading and books is the gift that keeps on giving. Books need authors, but most of all they need readers. Plant the seeds early. Donate to First Books and spread the word.

Edit 04/09/11: The more I think about First Books and what they do, the more it makes me see that I could do more. So, once this current charity drive is over, I'll pledge 10% of all royalties on sale of all books to First Book paid quarterly. In this tough economy, someone has to stand up for the children and books, and I'd like to be the first.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Elbow Room

On Castle this week, the murder centered around a body shoved into a pizza oven and nearly burned beyond recognition. The owner, Authentic Nick, whose real name was Ralph, was certain the culprit was one of his three competitors, each with their own Nick's Pizza store and a different version of Authentic on one of the four corners on Mott Street. Each of his competitors had once worked for Ralph and had stolen his recipe to create their own empire, and thus the pizza wars. Their tactics were strictly sophomoric: soap in the pizza sauce, flaming bags of poo, etc. No one admitted to having put the body in Ralph's oven, which was admittedly the best and served as a way to ruin sales. After all, who wants a pizza cooked in an oven that also cooked a human being?

As I watched the show, I was reminded of the tricks that writers will pull on each other to thin the field of competition, like bad mouthing someone's hard work when there is no reason to do so or spreading untruths about their competition's personal life. As hard as I try to understand, I just don't get it. I thought we had matured past the need to ruin the competition. There is room for us all and I've found the best revenge is not living well but writing well.

As in the case of one upset writer who carried on a virtual shouting match with a reviewer, it seems there really is no such thing as bad publicity -- at least for the reviewer. Everyone wants to read the exchange and find out what there was about that particular writer that was so nuts. First of all, she should never have taken on the reviewer. That was bad form and highly unprofessional. The only other worse thing the author could have done was lampoon the reviewer in series after series of articles in order to shore up her self esteem. Honey, it was just one review. Fix the problems and move on.

As a reviewer, I have had to consider first whether or not I should review someone who has hurt me personally and tried to hurt me professionally. If I cannot be completely objective, then I don't do the review. Fortunately for me, I have had to deal with this situation very few times. Since that reviewer didn't know that particular author personally or professionally, and since she had approached him for a review, the point of whether he could be completely objective is moot. However, I doubt he will consider reviewing any more of her work and there is little doubt that she will approach him again, even though the review was on the whole a good one.

What we need is more professionalism and less of the schoolyard rivalries in writing. Authors and reviewers have enough problems finding room for their work; they do not need to squabble with their colleagues. There is plenty of room for all writers, even the bad ones, who make the good ones look that much better. All we need to do is keep a few rules in mind.

1. Don't engage the reviewer except to thank him for the review and move on. You'll gain notoriety, but it won't be the good kind. Instead, thank the reviewer for his time and take a good hard look at the comments to see if you could improve the work.

2. Make your work error-free. You've written complex and interesting characters, plotted flawlessly and written sparkling dialogue, but don't forget the basics: grammar, punctuation and spelling, and get rid of all the typos whenever you find them. This is easier with self-publishing. And make sure you use the correct words. For instance: You sight a gun, but you work at a building site. I recently found that mistake in a work I'm currently reviewing from a respected and award-winning author. We all make mistakes.

3. Be professional. It doesn't hurt to mind your manners and keep professionalism uppermost in mind. It's like wearing a suit to a first interview instead of your favorite jeans and a T-shirt or simply treating everyone around you, especially those that can help or hurt your career, with respect and honor. An interviewer asked the Queen Mother of England why she never spoke in public. She told him it was because she didn't want to give a bad impression or give anyone the chance to misquote her. It's like the old saying about appearing stupid and then opening your mouth to remove all doubt. The Queen Mother was reportedly one of the most intelligent and politically astute women of her time.

It's simple when you get right down to it and it boils down to the Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It is also true for writing. Do your job. Do it flawlessly and treat everyone with respect and professionalism. How hard is that? With a good attitude and professional matters, there is elbow room for us all.

Monday, April 04, 2011

The Eyes on Amanda Hocking

Everyone is talking about Amanda Hocking and her $2 million deal with St. Martin's Press. The news has even reached Europe and the United Kingdom, and everyone has advice for her.

In a recent post by Alan Rinzler in his blog The Book Deal authors and agents offer their advice and opinions on what Amanda Hocking can expect and whether or not she's right. My grandmother always used to say that advice is free and you get nothing for free. It all comes down to second guessing Ms. Hocking's choice.

As I've said in previous posts, Ms. Hocking has done what's best for her. Whether or not that turns out to be right will be determined over the next five years while she tries to earn out her advance. Either way, win or lose, she will gain what most writers only dream of -- entry to the publishing world at the top of the heap instead of having to work her way up from the bottom through the midlist and eventually, if ever, to the star ranks where marketing and publicity roll out the red carpet. With two million dollars at stake, there is no way St. Martin's Press will drop the ball on this one. They have too much invested.

Some of the most interesting comments came from an author who got the star treatment and an agent.

Garth Stein, author of The Art of Racing in the Rain, from Harper Collins, cites being on the road nearly nonstop to publicize and market his book, much of the money coming from his own pocket. It resulted in 1.5 million book sales, but it was undoubtedly a hard slog, but he warns, "But don’t think it gets easier because you have a big publishing house behind you now! I’m constantly struggling with the balance between marketing, family, and writing my next book." If Ms. Hocking wants more time to write, with $2 million on the line, she may find it in short supply. It may be a good thing she isn't married and has no children. That will lessen the choices a bit.

Sandy Raihofer of the David Black Literary Agency weighs in from the agent's, or at least her, perspective. "Hocking says she welcomes the editorial process a traditional house can offer. YES! That’s validation of the process that’s been in place for decades — if not generations — for honing a manuscript. Not to mention the amount of editorial work we agents do in order to sell a work, and sometimes on the back end as well." I wonder if Ms. Raihofer is cheerleading for agents because she believes they do a lot of the work in packaging and "honing a manuscript" or because she wants to believe it. Most of the authors jumping ship for self-publishing are doing so because they are dissatisfied with the "services" rendered by publishing and agents, and not just because of the money, although that is definitely a factor.

I've worked with several agents over the years on previous projects and I can say I got very little input or honing from only one agent.

Ms. Hocking is today's news and she is a hot topic for several blogs and tweet-fests. I'm sure she is a little tired of the limelight and just wants to get back to writing. While her meteoric rise to fame and fortune has fueled considerable debate, her success has also inspired writers in both camps to jump into publishing -- indie and traditional -- secure in the knowledge that if Amanda Hocking can do it, so can they.

When the furor dies down, I wonder whether or not Ms. Hocking will end up in obscurity or if she will find herself in calmer waters writing and touring and making the most of everything she has earned and been offered. No doubt there another rising star is about to crest the horizon and Ms. Hocking will be last month's flavor. Whatever happens, Ms. Hocking seems like an intelligent and savvy young lady with a glowing future ahead of her and I wish her well.

As for me, I have covers to choose and a proof to check and another critique to work on. It's Monday and just another day in the week for me. I'm still slogging my way up the publishing hill.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Be a Real Writer

I am beginning to wonder why more authors don't self-publish. Oh, that's right. It's because of the onus of vanity publishing. That is changing.

There are lots of writers who still believe that legitimacy only comes with being published by a real publisher, real meaning established publishing house. They also believe that the only way to go is with an agent to look after your interests because writers just don't know about contracts and rights and all that legal mumbo-jumo.

There are even writers who insist that a writer isn't a real writer unless and until the name appears on the spine of the book as the only author, ignoring the publication of articles, co-authoring books and articles, anthologies and anything that isn't a fiction or nonfiction book authored by the writer and only by the writer. Too many qualifiers.

The real reason for placing all those hurdles is to differentiate oneself from what the competition. It's the same old schoolyard game of one-upmanship. If I have numerous articles and have co-authored a couple of books AND have published a novel then I'm a writer and you're not because you've only written articles and contributed to twenty anthologies. It's silly and petty and only silly and petty people still believe that way. A writer is one who writes. It's that simple. The dictionary says nothing about publication, just writing.

The Belle of Amherst, Emily Dickinson, is undoubtedly a poet even though she never published a book of poetry in her lifetime. Only a handful of poetry was ever published. In death, as in life, Dickinson remains a poet.

One thing writers need to do is stop fighting with each other. Our differences are our strength and shouldn't be used as a reason for exclusion, but people tend to be more exclusionist than inclusionist. Too bad, since it makes a sometimes lonely life that much lonelier, and more competitive.

During this time of changes and birth pains throughout the publishing world, we need to celebrate our differences and find ways to support each other. I was impressed with Barry Eisler and Amanda Hocking congratulating each other in a recent tandem interview. They each recognized in the other intelligence and business savvy, despite choosing different paths. They were polite and professional. We need more of that especially now that the face of publishing is changing so quickly.

I have found myself at odds with other writers over these issues and I usually end up shaking my head and walking away. I cannot abide jealousy in any form.

When I was just getting into the whole Internet thing and finding my cyberlegs, I visited many writing forums and offered advice to newbies coming in asking questions. I did have a limit, but when someone was interested in learning, I thought it only fair to spare them some of the anguish and offer tips and point out a few signs along the way. If I didn't know an answer, I knew where to find it and I sent them to the source. I caught a lot of flack from more seasoned writers and professionals because I was wasting my time and making it too easy for them. I was surprised, and I shouldn't have been. People can be mean, no more so than when they feel threatened. I never feel threatened. There are an infinite way of telling stories and an infinite number of combinations on the so-called 12 plots available. Of course, I hadn't heard about Mary Sues then either. I don't write fan fiction.

I have heard of mimics and I think most writers go through a mimicry stage when they try to write like their favorite authors. Some writers have made a very good living mimicking certain writing styles and authors. Mimickry (imitation) is said to be the sincerest form of flattery.

We all have to start somewhere and writing is the very first step. Get the words out of your head and onto the page. Once you do that and do it consistently -- every day is best -- you are a writer. The rest is business. That is what publishing is, a business, a means to earn money as a writer. Real writing is really writing day after day, week after week, weekends and holidays, and every spare moment -- even if it's just for your own amusement or to share with family, or as a legacy to future generations.

Emily Dickinson is not here to appreciate the impact her poetry had on subsequent generations of admirers and readers, but somehow, somewhere inside her, she felt the need to put her feelings and thoughts and ideas down on paper so we could share that corner of her life and abilities . . . because she wrote.

That's how to be a real writer. Sit down and write.