Tag Archives: books

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…..


First Sentences

Last Saturday during the memoir class at The Loft Literary Center, the teacher, Angela Foster, talked about the importance of first sentences.  I started thinking about how I shop for books.  Usually, I’ve read a review, or a friend has recommended one, or I’ve gotten hooked on an author and want to read everything he or she has written.  I’m not a browser.  Perhaps this is the reason I have a hard time writing first sentences.  Browsers know how important they are to entice and intrigue someone into reading more.

Source: midwestmountainess.com

Source: midwestmountainess.com

We all can’t be Leo Tolstoys, but his Anna Karenina provides an example of what I call a “setting the stage” first sentence: “Happy families are all alike: every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”  From this sentence, we know this magnificent story will be about an unhappy family and how it’s unhappy in its own way.  If we don’t want to read a 19th century Russian novel about an unhappy family, we won’t buy this book or read it.  Of course, there’s a lot of irony in that first sentence too.

Here are some other first sentence examples that I’ve culled from books I loved that were on my shelves:

  • She stands up in the garden where she has been working and looks into the distance.  The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
  • The news hit the British High Commission in Nairobi at nine-thirty on a Monday morning.  The Constant Gardener by John le Carre
  • Moon.  Glorious moon.  Full, fat, reddish moon, the night as light as day, the moonlight flooding down across the land and bringing joy, joy, joy.  Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay
  • It happened every year, was almost a ritual.  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
  • “Don’t they ever think about anything except killing each other?” Roberto asks.  The Exception by Christian Jungersen
  • Tom glanced behind him and saw the man coming out of the Green Cage, heading his way.  The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
  • Anyone who watches even the slightest amount of TV is familiar with the scene: An agent knocks on the door of some seemingly ordinary home or office.  Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

What do these first sentences have in common?  What do they leave the reader with?  A question.  Each one also suggests an action or situation, and it creates a tension between the two.  In other words, they are dramatic in some way.

Looking at my own writing, I thought first of Perceval’s Secret.  I dug out the draft before the last line edit and rewrite.  The first sentence was “The dark matter of souls leaked into shadows.”  Interesting but there’s no question there, no human drama.  Here’s the first sentence after the line edit/rewrite: “In the middle of the room, the old man’s right hook thumped Agent Higgins’ jaw, but Higgins hardly flinched.”  This sentence has action, two people in conflict, and questions.  Much better.

Next, I turned to my memoir.  The first chapter needs a re-shaping and a rewrite.  Here’s the current first sentence: “After my mother died in 2002, I cleaned out her massive collection of costume jewelry.”  Not terrible, really.  Not if my memoir was of my mother, but it’s not.  She’s in it, especially the first half, but the focus of the memoir is on me and how I learned to be a patient.  I came up with a new first sentence that I showed to Angela Foster.  She made a suggestion that I think I’ll keep regarding how to start the sentence.  Here it is: “The month before my eleventh birthday, the cough nearly killed me.”  Drama, questions, and an illness, so I was a patient.  I think I have my first sentence.

A dramatic first sentence grabs the book browser’s interest, intrigues with questions, and creates a desire to read more of the story.  Sale!  This kind of sentence can be difficult to write, and I usually put off finalizing it until I’ve written the whole book or story.  In the future, I’ll also try reading first sentences in books I’ve read and loved to use as inspiration…..