Tag Archives: The Writing Life

Facing the Blank Page…Again

Every writer I know has trouble writing. — Joseph Heller

The blank page taunts me again. It demands my attention, requires me to make the Big Decision. In order to do what they love, writers make sacrifices. Some writers don’t think of them as sacrifices while others feel guilty about them. Writers also need to really get to know how their minds work in order to survive writing. Curiosity rules the writer’s mind, especially a curiosity of why human beings behave as they do. Trouble writing can be about the writing itself (find the right words, editing, grammar, narrative structure, etc.) or about creating the conditions in a life in order to be able to sit at the desk to write.

Yesterday, a realization seared my mind. The Blank Page was throwing a tantrum in order to get my attention, and when I stopped long enough to pay attention, the thought marched through my mind like a screaming subtitle across the screen of my life: I needed to focus my attention and just do it.

What does that mean? For the rest of the day, I reflected, had discussions with myself in my mind, and finally realized that I’d been giving myself too many free passes. My Attention Butterfly flits from one interest to another, never staying too long in one place before moving on to something else. My imagination latches on to an idea and spins endless variations on it, testing different directions, capturing my attention away from what I know is most important to me in my life. Granted, it’s been a rough year lifewise, and that’s interfered with a lot. But it looks like my life will be settling down and now it’s time to return to my creative process and trust it.

My “Office”

What does that mean? The short answer: I need to laser aim my focus on my writing. I feel a tremendous pressure, both mentally and physically, to stop restlessly wandering and concentrate on my creative process, figure out what I need to do to nurture it now, and then spend the time I need to spend to get down on paper (or the computer screen) all the stories that have been skipping around in my mind lately. I’ve known for a long time that my ravenous curiosity can consume me, and what I need to do is put it on a diet of writing or writing-related food. It’s particularly helpful when I’m doing research for something, and I’ll need to ratchet it up to research questions that have been coming up as I’ve been working on the Aanora story.

So, the “blank page” I’m writing about this time isn’t actually a piece of paper or the computer screen, but the dedication to writing. I have writing projects lined up like planes on a runway. But the control tower isn’t paying attention.

I know what I need to do, and I’m determined to do it again as I have in the past in order to write and write and write, i.e. establish a writing schedule and cut everything else out of my life. A comment by a writer in a magazine yesterday also hit home — the writer was talking about how the more writing a writer does on a consistent schedule, usually daily, the better the writing becomes, the faster it hits the page. I experienced this in 2007 when I edited a draft of Perceval’s Secret, then immediately wrote the first draft of Perceval’s Shadow and half of the first draft of Perceval in Love in about 10 months before life stepped in front of that writing train and stopped it cold.  I would love to get that kind of momentum going again, even with a fulltime job stealing time away from the writing during the work week.

My imagination is ready. My mind is ready. What about yours?

P. S. If you’d like to read my first Facing the Blank Page, it’s here.

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When Inspiration Strikes

Dust Sculptures in Rosette Nebula (Photo credit/copyright: John Ebersole

I wrote one of my favorite blog posts, “Inspiration Doesn’t Wait for You,” here almost ten years ago, and as I read it over this morning, I realized that it is the best description of my writing process that I’ve written. However, it doesn’t really describe how, when, or where inspiration can strike when it does strike. So how do I know when to be open to it? I’ve been thinking about this lately because ideas have been popping into my head at the oddest times.

Housecleaning

One large project I’ve been working on (at the same time I’m looking for a fulltime job) is thoroughly cleaning my apartment. It’s not a huge apartment, but the clutter had been accumulating, as it usually does, as well as the dust and dirt. So I’ve been working on the cleaning a little at a time to keep this project manageable and not overwhelming. I detest housework of any kind. But I love it when my living space smells fresh and gleams. To distract myself while I’m doing this onerous task, I usually pick music I love to listen to while I work — could be classical, classic rock, or a Broadway musical.

I’ve just created conditions conducive for my imagination to come out and play. At some point while I’m cleaning, a thought will pop into my head about fiction or an essay that I’m working on. The most recent example occurred while I was cleaning in my bedroom — the thought came to me that my short story Light the Way was as much about different people having different expectations about the same thing as it was about the main character sharing her experience. I wrote a note to myself and finished the cleaning for the day. The next time I worked on that short story, I revised to make clearer the different expectations aspect of the story.

In the Shower

On Sundays, I like to have a relaxing, quiet day, and one of the things I do is take a nice, long, hot shower. My mind wanders all over the place, often thinking about the week ahead, what I accomplished in the past week, and my writing. Or I’ll start daydreaming about traveling or outer space, or being rich. Usually, when I’m almost finished, that’s when the idea will pop into my head. The most recent example of this occurred last Sunday. And the idea came to me with a physical jolt. I needed to rework one section of the Aanora story to add a little trip to another dimension for her to show another character something relevant to him in terms of character development and their relationship. It was one of those things of “Why didn’t I think of that before?” it was so obvious after I thought of it.

My suspicion: inspiration is like a cat stalking me, its prey, and that cat only pounces when she sees that I’m in the perfect position (or state of mind) to be captured. And I do often feel “captured” by a strike of inspiration.

Between Sleep and Wakefulness

Of course, it’s easy to think of inspiration striking while daydreaming or listening to music. That happens to me also, especially when I’m listening to music. But another fertile time occurs in the bleary state between sleep and wakefulness. I feel like I’m rising up or floating up or rocketing up depending on whether my alarm clock has gone off or not. The other morning, as I was slowly coming out of sleep, a sentence popped into my mind. Yep.  Just like that. I heard myself saying the words, and then I realized, oh my god, it’s the first sentence I’ve been seeking for Perceval’s Shadow. Now, I’m not working on the revision of that novel right now. In fact, I haven’t thought much about it because I’ve been trying to finish the short stories I have in progress. So for this gift of a sentence to come to me now is truly magical.

Inspiration can be courted but not coerced. Demand what you will from it, but prepare to be disappointed. Inspiration will not be forced. Invite it into your life and then provide welcoming conditions to entice it but don’t just sit around waiting for it to arrive. Do something! Write something everyday, read voraciously, clean house, take a shower, or take a nap….

Photo: Vasillisa/GoodFon.su

Why do I Continue to Write?

Why do I continue to write? This past week, I’ve been thinking about this question a lot as I juggle job search, writing, and promotional planning, as well as trying to clean my living space and actually see and interact with other people. When I think about it, I can come up with some compelling reasons not to continue writing at this point.

Reasons not to continue writing:

  • Sales for Perceval’s Secret have been abysmal. While lack of constant promotion and marketing would be the reason, along with not being an established and known writer, sales remain disappointing.
  • Lack of time as I need more and more to spend time working at something that pays well in order to pay the bills.
  • Lack of time for constant promotion and marketing.
  • The fact that I tend to be a slow writer, so even if I had 8 hours a day to write, it’d still take me time to finish short stories, essays, and the novels that are in various stages of completion.
  • This blog hasn’t established me as a writer to read as was the purpose when I began it in September 2007. Blogs are supposed to build audience, right? I know that I have readers who occasionally leave comments, but that hasn’t been translating into book sales.

So, why do I do it?

I have the choice. I can look at the above list and conclude that the reason behind it all is that I should stop writing, that the world is not interested in my point of view or creative expression. Or I can look at the above list and say screw it. I’ve had the powerful drive to write since I was a child and nothing really has changed. I still need to write, to express myself creatively, to write stories. I want other people to read my stories and to enjoy them (as much as I enjoyed writing them).

How do writers know if people are reading their stories? Sales only show that people are buying the books, but that doesn’t actually guarantee that they are reading them. Of course, a large percentage may be reading them since they paid good money for the books. But how can writers know for certain if people are reading their books? Readers need to tell them.

I consider myself a professional writer, i.e. it’s a job for me not a hobby. I’ve gone through a long apprenticeship, and I continue to learn, but at this point, my stories now are better than anything I wrote 20 years ago. But for me there’s another aspect to writing that’s harder to describe. It’s like so much a part of my brain that I am always thinking consciously or subconsciously about writing — new ideas, stories I’m working on, characters clamoring for my attention, they are all there in my imagination. So whether or not anyone reads my writing, I still write.

Think for a minute about what you do in your life. In your job, do you like it when your boss acknowledges something you’ve worked hard on and praises it? Do you do anything in your life that you love and can’t imagine living without? Do others know about it and support your efforts? How would you feel if no one supported your efforts and you received little to no positive feedback? Would you continue?

Performing artists receive immediate feedback from their audiences with applause. Writers in all forms, painters, sculptors, composers all tend to work in solitude, produce on their own, and depend often on third parties to present their work to the world. They do not receive immediate feedback, sometimes no feedback at all beyond sales. To continue creating under those circumstances takes incredible strength, discipline, and a profound need to create. Those of us who have that need know what it feels like. On the days that I do not write, when other needs in my life demand my time, I tend to not be in the best of moods and sometimes it affects me physically — I feel sick. As soon as I return to writing fiction, though, my mood lifts and the sick feeling dissipates. I’m happiest when I’m writing. And it would seem I’m also healthiest physically and psychologically when I’m writing.

Taking care of the business side of writing is not writing. It is business. So when I’m working on my current promotion plans, I’m not fulfilling that need to write. But I am working to get the word out that my stories exist in the world for anyone to read, and I’m trying to fashion the best invitation to read my writing that I can.

Have you read my novel Perceval’s Secret? An excerpt is available on another page of this blog, or you can buy it at Amazon or B&N.com. Have you read any of my essays at ClassicalMPR.org? I’d love for you to read what I write and then, if you feel comfortable doing it, let me know what you thought.

Lengthening Shelf Life Part 2

Last week I wrote about promotional options for older books and factors to think about before launching a promotion, based on an article I’d read in the June 2017 issue of The Writer by Brian Feinblum entitled “Shelf Life: How to Promote an Older Book.” This week, it’s time for me to look at my strategy compared with what Feinblum suggests in his article.

Updating the Book

Feinblum spends a lot of time in his article on this option. Updating means taking the book off sale first, then doing revisions, changing the cover and/or cover copy, changing the price, among other possible changes. If there’s significant revisions to the text, the updated edition could qualify for its own ISBN and its own publication launch. Updating also includes publishing other editions such as an audiobook.

As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, my goal is to publish a paperback edition of Perceval’s Secret. I’ve been considering what I’d need to do to accomplish this goal once I’ve paid off my debt. First, I’d need to format the book for paperback publication. I’d probably return to the people who formatted my manuscript for the e-book. I’d need to return to my cover designer and request a full cover, i.e. front, spine, and back. I’d need to write the back cover copy, including any positive blurbs from existing reviews. I already have an ISBN for a paperback edition. Finally, I’d need to choose where/how to publish the paperback. Right now, CreateSpace is at the top of my list, but I’d want to research other possibilities.

While updating a book or publishing a different edition would provide the opportunity for another launch, there is a cost associated – I have yet to do a cost estimate for each step – as well as a time cost.

 Write a Spin-off Version

This option requires writing another book. While this is a good idea, it has the same costs in time and money that updating the book has. I’ve played around with writing a novel in which Bernie Brown is the protagonist – maybe a prequel type novel – or a novel that explores the relationship between Evan’s father, Randall, and Evan’s mentor, the composer Joseph Caine. For the moment, however, I need to focus on finishing the remaining novels in the Perceval series first. It’s possible that getting the second and third books out into the world will help sell the first.

 Sell Foreign Rights

Actually selling foreign rights, film rights, audio book rights, or any of the other rights I own for Perceval’s Secret could give the book a boost in attention and sales. Feinblum suggests it could be easier to sell in smaller countries or just other countries. If it becomes a bestseller in another country, that could be an effective selling point for the book in America. There is a logistical issue with this option – I don’t have the connections necessary to sell foreign or any other rights. I suppose if I had a literary agent, he or she could assist with this, but I don’t have one at the moment.

 Tie the Book to Current Events

I have been utilizing this option as much as possible, especially at the Perceval Novels Facebook page where I post news stories and then comment on how Perceval’s Secret is related. I’ve also written posts at this blog tying the novel to current events. It’s been kind of spooky at times that political events or trends that I had imagined for my America 2048 have been happening.

Why would a stranger care about this book?

This ultimately is the question every writer needs to be able to answer for marketing and promotion. What is the primary benefit of this “product” for the consumer? For Perceval’s Secret, the reasons for a stranger to care about this book would include an imaginative view of the near future, an interesting and different setting in the world of classical music, suspense, twisty surprises, and a story that will stick to your bones.

 Here are My Resources that offer opportunities for free promotion:

  • Facebook Page
  • Anatomy of Perceval Blog
  • LinkedIn
  • GoodReads: encourage followers
  • Amazon Author Page
  • BookBub Author Page and promotions related to it
  • Publishers Marketplace
  • Book Reviews
  • Gina Hunter’s Blog: Eyes on Life

 My next task is to take my resources and develop a promotions plan using them. Then to implement the plan over the next 2-3 months.  I’ve already signed up for a promotion at BookBub to increase my followers there to get some attention.

It’s been a very helpful exercise to go through Brian Feinblum’s article and ask myself how his ideas and suggestions relate to my promotion efforts for Perceval’s Secret. I hope my exercise has given you thoughts and ideas for your own promotion efforts!

 

 

Lengthening Shelf Life Part 1

Brian Feinblum, a book promoter and marketer, asked in the June 2017 issue of The Writer, “What can – or should – you do to market books that are aging in the eyes of bookstores, the media, and readers?”

Lately, I’ve been fretting about my struggle to promote and market Perceval’s Secret which I published as an e-book in March 2014. The novel’s fourth anniversary as a published book fast approaches.  I’d love to give it a boost to get it into the reading public’s consciousness to encourage them to buy and read it.

Feinblum, in his The Writer article “Shelf Life: How to promote an older book,” writes about how a book’s “window of newness” has been shrinking over the years. If it doesn’t make a big splash in the first three months it’s on the market, selling it after that could be a struggle. But fiction usually does not lose its relevance, accuracy or current status for a long time, while nonfiction could become dated faster depending on the subject matter. Fiction should be easier to promote after the magic three-month period, right?

Promotional Options for “Older” Books

It’s important to know what the possibilities for promotion for an older book are just like for a new book launch. Feinblum describes them as follows:

  • Let the book die and hope for a miracle that someone finds it, reads it, and sparks a word-of-mouth campaign that will boost sales. I call this the “wishful thinking” option. However, if a writer has constraints on time, it could be just as viable as fitting in promotional activities in a busy life.
  • Create and execute a social media strategy. This option demands the writer be on more than one social media platform, and that there is daily participation on those platforms to talk about the book. I’m assuming that a writer’s blog falls into this slot, along with online book bloggers who review books.
  • Target promotional efforts using traditional media, like print, radio, TV. Interviews on radio programs that cover books, book review sections of major newspapers and magazines, or doing interviews on morning news programs be they local or national are some of the possibilities here. Some of these activities could be done in conjunction with a book tour or locally. Having a publicist could be extremely helpful for this category; otherwise, the writer will be doing all the press releases, making the calls and connections, and setting up the engagements.
  • Travel for the book, i.e. do a speaking tour, paid or unpaid. Book tours require careful planning, utilizing connections in book stores and libraries, and getting the word out about a writer’s visit via press release. It’s helpful if the writer can also help with promoting locally his or her appearance in the bookstore’s location by doing interviews or helping with advertising the event.
  • Advertise the book. Print advertising, for example, in publications that the novel’s target audience reads. I continue to consider running ads in Playbill for Perceval’s Secret. This option has a huge drawback: it can be quite expensive not only for buying the media space, but also for producing the ads. Writers can also utilize social media for advertising, working with the platform to create the ads. When I launched Perceval’s Secret, I did a postcard mailing to the musicians of eleven major American orchestras, and would consider another one.
  • Cross-promote with other authors. This is especially helpful if you know a writer who is fairly well known and has a readership, and who writes in the same genre and related genre as you. The better known writer can spark initial interest and give the lesser known writer a bit of a boost. I’ve heard of this most commonly done for book tours when two or more authors hit the road to do readings and book signings together.
  • Have a giveaway. Everyone loves free stuff. Do a free giveaway for a couple weeks and promote that giveaway at GoodReads, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, as well as on your blog. Keep it a specific time period to generate urgency. If you have a hard copy version of your book, you can do a giveaway on GoodReads (this site is working on setting up procedures for e-book giveaways but don’t yet offer that option). If you have the money, BookBub also offers effective promotion possibilities.

Before deciding which promotional options will work for your book, it’s important to think about the factors listed below, and this is where I am at the moment with Perceval’s Secret. I’ve looked at all my options and have done some cost estimates – for example, to advertise on Facebook or promote the series’ Facebook page, to do a BookBub promotion – then made a list of where I can heighten my presence to talk about the novel, for example, creating a series of short videos to post at my Amazon author page, on BookBub, at GoodReads, and at my page on Publishers Marketplace. These videos, as I envision them, would be a mix of reading a short excerpt from Perceval’s Secret and just talking about my experience writing the book or why I think someone should read it.

The Factors to Think About

  • What are your needs and desires for promoting the book?
  • How much time and what resources (money) do you have available?
  • How strong is your belief that your book is worth more promotion?
  • Would your time be better served by letting promotion go of this book and focus on writing new books?
  • Have you figured out why your book didn’t sell as well as hoped during launch or why it failed to generate more reviews?

Answers to these questions could steer you in one of two directions. The first is simply to proceed with the new promotional efforts.  The second could be to revise and repackage the book and do a re-launch. This second direction offers the opportunity to make improvements if you decide they are needed or to add promotional items like testimonials from readers, quotes from reviews, or getting blurbs or a writer to actually write an introduction. I know that I want to eventually issue a paperback of Perceval’s Secret once I’ve paid off completely the debt I incurred for the e-book. This might serve as my repackage of the novel with a specific paperback launch. But for now, I’m concerned about promoting the e-book edition.

Next week in Part 2, how my strategy does or doesn’t fit with what Feinblum wrote in his article in the June 2017 The Writer.

Have you ever been faced with promoting an older book? What did you do?  

Ready? Set? Go!