Tag Archives: books

Is Anyone Out There?

Photo: NASA

One of my lifelong interests is stars, planets, galaxies, and everything about them. Today, I saw an article about seeing the light from galaxies that were formed over 3 billion years ago. They are so far away from us, it has taken 3 billion years for their light to reach us. Distance in the universe often confounds my imagination. I was thinking, in response to that article, that the blinking lights in the night sky that have always fascinated me are not necessarily single stars but probably entire galaxies. Those tiny blinking lights. Does sentient life in those tiny blinking lights ever look to their sky and see us?

As a writer, I often feel like a tiny blinking light in a massively gigantic universe, and I’ve struggled to find how to be inviting as a writer and encourage readers to read my stories. After all, as a tiny blinking light I am most likely an entire galaxy of planets, stars, black holes, and stardust. And I’m really not 3 billion years away, I’m right here. My stories are right here, too. But how would I ever know if anyone came to visit?

Is anyone out there?

Hope Clark, in her Funds for Writers newsletter several weeks ago, wrote about her perception that nobody is reading anymore. She has that perception because she’s not receiving the responses that she used to receive — at her blog, via email, with book reviews. If people are reading, she’s concluded, they’ve stopped “talking” about it.

Photo: Marina Shemesh

She has a point, but I’m not certain that I agree completely. It’s only been in the last 10 years or so that I’ve considered responding to an author about a book of theirs I’d read. Before that, I read and read, and it never occurred to me to try to reach out to an author to let him or her know how much I enjoyed their work. Now that I’m an author myself, I know how it feels to read a person’s review of my work, or to have a reader comment here, or to send me an email. It’s wonderful to know that my work has been read. Like most writers, I don’t like writing and sending my stories into the black hole at the center of our galaxy and never knowing what happened. Up until 10 years ago, though, I would have said isn’t that to be expected?

Now, we have so many ways to connect with people whether or not they are strangers.  One of the things that I learned over 10 years ago — and it made me want to find a cave somewhere in which to write — was that writers must be accessible in some way to publicize their writing. Traditional publishers expect writers to market their work as well. So writers need websites and/or blogs. They need author pages at all the places online where books are sold, and they need to be an active presence on GoodReads, Facebook, Twitter, and any other social media they can find time to join and be a presence on. It exhausts me just thinking about it.

One of the things I decided to do, though, to be a presence as a writer is to write reviews of books I’ve been reading. I read voraciously — new and old books, fiction, nonfiction, good and bad. I post my reviews at GoodReads, and then if the book is relatively new, I try to also post the review where others will see it and can immediately buy it, like Amazon and B&N. What a difference it would make if all readers took a half hour (or less) after reading a book and reviewed it online? It’s not a big deal, either, and doesn’t have to be a Pulitzer Prize-winning review. Just what you thought of the book and why, and if you’d recommend it or not.

Writers will know then that their work hasn’t disappeared down a black hole, and they are not alone, a tiny blinking light far away in a black sky.

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How do you choose books to buy?

“Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.”  — Winston Churchill

Sam Shepard

In another word, perseverance.  Success and what it means has been in the back of my mind this week.  Sam Shepard died as the week began, and reading about his life as a playwright, writer, and actor proved provocative to my mind. Shepard told an interviewer once that he felt most comfortable in the theater, writing for the theater. That made me ask myself where do I feel most comfortable in my creative life? How does that feeling relate to production and success? I know I am happiest when I am writing fiction.

This morning, I ran across a short essay by Hope Clark, a mystery writer who has a well-known newsletter called Funds for Writers. In this essay, Clark wrote about what the most important thing is about being a writer.  Is it getting credit for writing and publishing? Or is it giving the world a great story experience?

My next thought was that maybe success could be measured in just how great the story experience was that you’ve created. But how does anyone know that? And could one person’s great story experience be another’s failed story experience? Today, for example, I finished reading a novel that has won rave reviews and that I’d heard friends and acquaintances rave about for a long time.  I didn’t think it was that great at all.

I don’t rely solely on what my friends and acquaintances recommend when I’m looking for a great story. I read reviews, I subscribe to the NY Times Book Review newsletter, as well as reading the review sections of other papers and magazines. I have to admit that I don’t pay much attention to marketing blurbs or any kind of promotional pitches. What I pay attention to are the descriptions of the novel’s story, and then a little to genre. I love books, though, that blend genres or bend them. So I guess it’s important to know your own taste and interests before going off to Amazon or a bricks and mortar store to buy books. I do miss bricks and mortar bookstores where I could wander around and actually see, touch, and smell the books!

In her essay, Clark describes the kind of promotional copy that will turn her off a book, and the kind of promotional copy that will spark her interest. Her ultimate point in the essay, though, is that authors need to remember their responsibility to readers, i.e. to provide them with a great story they’ll be glad they paid good money for and spent their time reading. That whatever they say in their pitches and promotions, they focus on the story.

So, Mr. Churchill, I think I’d define success for a writer in this way: Committed to writing the best you can, knowing what makes your stories great,  giving your readers one great story after another, and attaining the recognition of being a writer who produces great stories, i.e. the kind of stories that people want to buy and read.

What draws you to a book? How do you choose the books you buy? What was the last great story you read? Please respond in the comments section!

How do you find your next read?

Books everywhereGood question. A co-worker saw me reading during my lunch break last week and asked what the book was. He was looking for something to read. Then I saw this Roz Morris post at Nail Your Novel, and I’m thinking this is something in the air this week.

Yes, book marketers want to know! Book authors want to know also! What catches your attention and interest? The cover? The author? How do you find interesting and fulfilling reads?

To be honest, I don’t think about searching out books as much as they pop into my life. I read a review in The New York Times or I find a book because I’ve read something about an author. I sometimes will print out the review (or cut it out of a magazine or newspaper) and put it on my to-do pile. Or I’ll immediately go to my library’s website and put the book on my to-read list. I haven’t been buying many books lately because I don’t have the money to spend, sadly. One of my favorite things is to peruse a real bookstore or add books to my wish list at Amazon. I can easily spend way too much money doing that.

A while ago, I signed up for BookBub and have been receiving the bargain e-mails from it. I don’t always look through the e-mails, but when I have, I’ve been surprised to find titles that look interesting to me. If they are free, I will go to Amazon or B&N and download a copy. If not, I’ll sometimes go to my library’s website and put the title on my to-read list.

Photo: Marina Shemesh

Photo: Marina Shemesh

Meeting authors is another way I become aware of a title. I meet authors through my two blogs and through GoodReads. I’ve also been approached through LinkedIn which I found kind of amusing. But I’ve read books by people I’ve met in these ways. Sometimes the books are good, sometimes not. I had one bad experience with an author who had asked me to read and review his book. I agreed if he’d read and review mine. I fulfilled my side of the bargain. He never fulfilled his.  Now, I’m very wary of such requests.

I don’t read much nonfiction, but when I do, it’s usually about a subject that has grabbed me or a biography. I’ve also bought and read memoirs in order to get an idea of writing memoir. The last nonfiction book I read was about a film editor who’d edited a lot of films I’d seen written by a literary author whose books I’ve enjoyed quite a lot.

Friends often suggest titles or give me books to read. A friend sent me a novel several years ago that had been written by an author who’d grown up near where I grew up. After reading that book, I wanted to read all that author’s books. I’m a member of a science fiction group — we are passionate about science fiction of all kinds and regularly talk about books, films, TV shows, and exchange ideas about the different aspects of the genre. I get a LOT of book ideas from them.

My interests dictate what catches my eye. Recently, I’ve gotten interested in Gothic fiction, i.e. not Gothic horror but Gothic romantic suspense or Gothic romantic thriller. This interest developed as a result of reading an article in The Writer about transforming a screenplay into a novel. That article got me thinking about a screenplay I’d written about 10 years ago that I really like.  Then I re-read The Moon-Spinners by Mary Stewart, and suddenly it occurred to me that maybe the screenplay could be transformed into a Gothic thriller novel like Stewart’s novel.

So how do you find your next read? Check this out:

Designed by Christopher Bohnet, xt4, inc.

Designed by Christopher Bohnet, xt4, inc.

 

 

 

The Professional Writer: Are you Submitting?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s summer.  We have more hours of daylight which boosts my energy.  I feel that I accomplish much more in the summer because the days are longer.  So, I went through another pile of files and papers on my desk (I have four I go through periodically) and found again the notice for the North Street Book Prize (“Your self-published book can win up to $1,500 plus expert marketing services”) that I’d printed out last March.  The deadline is June 30 and the entry fee is a somewhat hefty $50.  I’ve been debating with myself about entering this contest.  It’s been drifting in the back of my mind….

Then I read Damyanti’s take at Daily (w)rite about how men vs. women writers respond to a “positive” rejection, i.e. one that rejects the submitted work but asks to see something else the writer has written.  I’m not sure a gender difference in approach is that pronounced, actually, although I think there’s a learning curve for dealing with rejection.  Male or female.  I tend to not think too much about a rejection anymore — an editor or agent could have so many different reasons for deciding to pass on the piece ranging from disinterest in the genre to being swamped with work — unless it comes with a note of some kind.  Then I pay attention to what the editor or agent has written.  I’ll think about it for days before deciding whether or not it’s applicable, and then whether or not I’ll take action on any suggestions.

What to do if the editor/agent requests to see something else?  If I have something to send, I send it within a week of receiving the request.  As they say, “hit when the iron is hot!”  Wait longer and the editor/agent may not remember me or my work or her request.  If I don’t have anything to send, I agonize.  What to do?  Earlier in my career, I did nothing, especially if I wasn’t working on anything I might be able to send at a later date.  Now, I think I may write the handwritingeditor/agent a thank you note, handwritten, of course, and not an e-mail or text message.  I want to stand out with this person.  I want to be memorable in a positive way.  I want to begin a relationship with this person, even if it’s just the beginning of one because publishing is all about relationships, right?

Then I thought about my fiction.  What do I have completed that I could submit?  And why haven’t I been submitting lately?  What are the most common reasons for not submitting writing to editors and/or agents?

The Reasons:

  • Fear of rejection: You can’t be rejected if you don’t send anything out.  But if you’re going to be a professional writer, you need to make peace with the fear.  Confront it.  Wrestle with it.  Stand on its chest and howl.  You control your emotions and how you think about this.  You can choose to think of rejection as an opportunity to try a different market, or an opportunity to make the piece better.  An important point to remember: rejection in the writing business is NOT about the writer.  It’s about the written work that was submitted and is as impersonal as the submission process should be.
  • Fear of success: The flip side does exist for some people.  It can be just as crippling.  Success and the recognition, attention, etc. that it brings can be a very scary thing with which to deal.  Overwhelming. It’s important to have a solid network of friends and/or fellow writers who can support you and help you keep your head screwed on straight when you succeed.  It’s amazing how the confidence level increases with that kind of support.
  • Lack of confidence: This is “full of doubts syndrome.”  You just have no sense of whether or not your writing is “good” or publishable.  This is where trusted readers can be quite helpful, i.e. people whom you trust to be honest in their feedback and are good readers.  Having said that, doubt can be a good thing, too.  Doubt can be a  force behind the drive to write the best that you can, i.e. doubting it’s good enough so always looking for ways to improve the writing.  This can be taken to the extreme, however, so don’t get carried away.
  • Lack of completed writing to send out:  This is where I’m at right now.  I have a couple short stories that are sort of done but I suspect could benefit from a close reading.  I’d actually planned to self-publish them as short stories on Amazon eventually rather than submitting them to magazines.  One is a horror story (at Wattpad here) and the other a sci fi story (at Wattpad here).  Feel free to read them and leave feedback!  I also have another sci fi short story idea that pushes against my mind occasionally, nagging at me to write it.  I do have a self-published novel that I could submit to the North Street Book Prize, though.

As Damyanti says in her blog post, “Writing, and acceptance for publication are two different things. Writing is from a white-hot place of emotion, then pruning from a place of balance. Submitting for publication is just where the process ends — just like cooking ends at the table, and in someone’s stomach.”

Professional writers submit their work for publication, and they continue to write…because they must.

My "Office"

My “Office”

 

Have You Cleaned out Your Bookshelves Recently?

During the last week, I’ve been working on what I’m now calling “the e-pub project,” i.e. tasks related to publishing Perceval’s Secret as an e-book.  I’m pleased to report that I’ve finished collecting estimates and now have a total amount to raise at Kickstarter.com.  Yay!  I’ve begun putting together my Kickstarter project page.  And I’ve been working on schedules for the writing projects that I have going right now.  There are five and the most urgent is the Kickstarter part of the e-pub project.

The next urgent task was to find a good, professional editor to give the novel a robust once-over before I publish it.  I don’t want to embarrass myself.  I sent an e-mail to a local editor that a friend had recommended and was pleased to learn she was available for the next month.  We talked yesterday by phone which was hugely productive, and gave me confidence that she would be a good editor for this novel.  Today, I finished consolidating the novel files into one large manuscript file (chapters in order of course!) and e-mailed it to her.  I can now check that task off my list.

Then I read an essay by Amy Wilentz at the NY Times online that will appear in Sunday’s Book Review section.  Wilentz described her efforts and her husband’s to clean out their full-to-overflowing bookshelves, bookcases, book piles on the floor, etc.  In the second paragraph, she writes: “And don’t tell me to use a Kindle.”  I laughed, but uncomfortably.  After all, I have this big e-pub project going, right?

Thanks to "No, I do NOT have too many books!" on Facebook for photo.

Thanks to “No, I do NOT have too many books!” on Facebook for photo.

I looked around my apartment at my full-to-overflowing bookshelves, bookcases, and the book piles on the floor, between furniture, on the coffee table, and I have another large bookcase in the bedroom, plus books on top of my filing cabinets.  I totally understand her feeling of the books taking over her house.  She even makes a parenthetical comment, “I guess we could buy another house for the books.”  I laughed again, this time from amusement and enjoyment.  I need to cull from my bookshelves, too.

Ah, the pain!  Picking out books to take to the used book store feels like I’m selling babies to them and won’t know what kind of people will buy them from the store.  Will they find a good home?  Will their new readers be good to them?  Each of the books contains characters — people — with whom I’ve spent time learning about life and the human condition.  They are like friends in the real world.  How could I sell them, or even give them away?

For the last two years, I’ve also been using our local city library, taking out books that I want to read but don’t think I want to buy.  I was right for all but one book that I ended up buying.  This system looks like it may be a good one for me, at least for a while.  I need to cut way down on the books I buy to save money.  Times are tough, money’s tight.  Of course, that’s the reason I want to cull my bookshelves.

How many of the books in my personal library will I read again?  Or read for a first time?  Like Wilentz in the NY Times Book Review, I have bought books with the full intention to read them, placed them on top of the nearest pile, and then forgot about them.  Someday….  But there are some books that I know I cannot part with.  For example, my collection of books about and by the Canadian pianist Glenn Gould.  The book I found in a used book store about the massacre at Babi Yar that had been banned and then brutally redacted by the Soviet government.  My copy has all the restored redacted sections.  The book of collected conversations by Hitler and his dining guests that were recorded and transcribed for posterity.  To say he was pompous is an understatement.  And there are others.

Books everywhere

Thanks to “No, I do NOT have too many books!” on Facebook for photo

When was the last time you culled your bookshelves?  Do you have a system for doing it? Please share…..