End of Year Writing and Marketing

2017 was busy; hence, my long silence on my blog. Two of my books were published this year: THE POWDER HORN OF MACKINAC ISLAND (MG time travel, published in March) and WAR UNICORN (upper MG fantasy re-published in October through Books We Love Publishing). Both books need reviews, if you’re so inclined, since reviews on Amazon are like golden nuggets to a book.

I took a sabbatical this year from my War Unicorn series (I’m now working on the third book) to write what has turned into my memoirs. Hopefully, it will come out before Christmas. Yes, I’m talking Christmas of this year! It has the shockingly long title of THE ROAD LESS-TRAVELED OFTEN INVOLVES SMACKING FACE-FIRST THROUGH SPIDER WEBS (subtitle: A Life of Animal Encounters). It includes wild boar, bear, moose, otter, cattle, ticks, snakes, hawks, and bees, to name a few…and me, of course…and often my family. The book is 50K (50,000 words). That’s a lot of animal encounters!

Each of these books require a different marketing plan, different bookstores to contact, online sites, blog hops, ways to promote, etc. I am so foolish, and would never, ever recommend another author to do so. Why, oh, why didn’t I stick to just one genre and age group of readers? Why?

My end of the year writing and marketing tip: Stick to one genre and age group of readers and keep on writing.

Competent Businesswoman v.s.Fool

There are many times in this writing and publishing business I feel like a competent businesswoman. After all, I write and publish, started my own company, created my own social media platform, and do my own taxes – none of which I ever dreamed I was capable of doing myself, say, even ten years ago. So here I am, tooling away, feeling good and competent, and then one tired morning when I’m far from my mental best, I morph from competent businesswoman to fool.

PayPal is a lovely way of making and receiving transactions. So on that tired morning a couple weeks ago, when I received an email from PayPal that someone has made unauthorized use of my account, I clicked the link. (Note: Competent Businesswoman would have hit the spam button followed with a “Ha!”.) Consequently, after I’d typed in my password and answered two security questions, I still could not get  into my account. Why? Because I was a fool! I’d just given away my PW and security answers to a hacker-spammer.

Just today I had an email of an automatic payment from my PayPal account made to Photobucket for a couple hundred dollars. At least I wasn’t fool enough this time to click the “cancel form” button. I don’t think any money changed hands.

Ah, where is that Competent Businesswoman who will sort this all out in an hour or two?

Warning to all writers: be competent and sure of yourself!

Reason #4 for Self-Publishing — A Vision

The fourth reason (although not in any particular order) which I list for self-publishing is that about fifteen years ago I had a vision — not a goal, not a dream, but a vision, a reality so vivid that it woke me right up from my sleep. This is what happened:

After I’d died, my grandson in his 20’s found my floppy disks and went to a “working museum” to look at them on an antique computer. He discovered hundreds of my stories on them, from picture books through adult novels, nonfiction articles to retold folk tales. My grandson reworked some of the stories, revise them, if you will. He then published them under both his name and mine.

I woke, feeling very peaceful. The pressure to be published was gone.

At the time of this vision, my own children were in high school, so there were no grandchildren in sight. What it did was free me from the fear of not being heard. Someday, I knew, my grandson would read my stories. My imagination and dreams and storytelling would be passed on, at least to him.

I have no grandson to date, but I still have lots of stories, many of them revised and rewritten many times over.

So, reason #4 for self-publishing — not only do you readers get an opportunity to share some of my stories, but they are sitting there, waiting for a like-minded descendant to pick one up and say, “Hmm. This is good. I can make it even better.”

Queen of the Story Starters

Someone once asked me if I have another book in the works. I nearly choked on room air. How about another twenty-five in the works? And, yes, those are twenty-five completed rough drafts I’ve started but never got back to to complete. Most of those rough drafts have seen many revisions or even rewrites over the years, but I would not be willing to send them to an agent or publisher or even self-publish them because when I stand back and take a serious look, they just don’t make the cut. For each of those stories, I would want to deeply re-think and then deeply re-revise before I’d pursue publication in any form.

Actually, twenty-five drafted novels isn’t really much to brag about for queenship. So why am I bold enough to take up the crown? It’s those thousands of story ideas which I’ve started with a chapter, a page, or even just a very cool title or thought. I love writing. I love letting my fingers fly over the keyboard. I love taking pen in hand and more thoughtfully writethings out in script. I could probably have easily a hundred ideas in a day if I allowed myself to be mind-blank, or rather mind-open, and were to write them all down. (Hmm. Is this a sign of ADD? I’ve never been diagnosed. But I digress.) But in order to complete a story, i.e., ready it for publication, I need to focus on that story and that story alone.

I have two major writing goals. One is to produce a well-written finished product. Two is to keep ideas freely flowing. The first writing goal is for others. The second writing goal is for me, and allow for my own creativity.

I am a visual learner. I can stare at a photo or picture for a long time and get lost in it, the artist, the lives of the characters, the feel of the breeze on my cheek in a still room. I get antsy going into art museums because there is so much in each piece. I could easily be that odd person who sits on a bench in front of something which snags my fancy and look as though I am comatose as I totally get lost in my thoughts stirred by what I see frozen before me. Lives unfold. Every detail has history and feelings. I have a large print in my house of a relative from the 1700’s going to a prison. There are dozens of people in the print. I could write a story about each and every one of those people.

Here is my gift to you today: a story starter from a photo I took. Happy writing.

JPS on Bench 03

Self-Published v.s. Waiting for the Traditional Press

 Literature Blogs

I had lunch today with a self-published children’s book author who has written and published three picture books, three middle school books, and will have his first young adult book published this December. He already has orders for 1,000 copies of the YA book. He travels throughout the USA, presenting a highly energetic, entertaining, and musically talented school visit.

Anytime we get together (he is a local author), and he happens to read parts of my WIP (whichever I may be working on or wish to share), he is impressed with how well I write. He says I am a much better writer than he. I humbly tend to agree, since I am associated with SCBWI, been in several critique groups through the years, have had numerous critiques with agents and editors, and am constantly improving my craft. Whereas, he tends to write for himself and doesn’t take a critique very well, although he may tend to disagree with that statement.  This author keeps trying to talk me into self-publishing. I keep telling him, “No, thanks.” So what is my hold-up?

1) Fortitude. I want what I write to last beyond my lifetime. I want my stories to be published by others who will continue the story long after I’m dead. Only a traditional publishing house would do that. My friend not only self-publishes, he self-promotes, self-markets, arranges his travel and hotel and meals for school visits, and carts all his books in his van on his tours. Who will do all that for his books when he dies?

2) Editors. I want a professional who is trained in literacy and experienced in what is excellent to look over my writings, to make them the best I (we) can make them.

3) Money. Time and money have always been deciding factors in things which I do. I haven’t got the money to put forth for a self-publishing adventure.

I am glad for my friend. He is happy with what he is doing. As I mentioned, he is highly entertaining, and kids love his visits, and he does encourage children to read and to write. Plus, many literary authors are rather dull speakers. (Rats! I know I’ve just offended thousands of friends. Double-dog-rats!)

Even though he is making a rather good living at what he does, and I am making nothing, I am not willing to follow his path, even if I were given a chunk of start-up money to do so — all for the reasons listed above.  He’d love to see me published. Hello! Me, too. But I’ll remain a hold-out for the traditional press, recession or not, e-books or not, wading through the ever-evolving world of publication.

Here’s to me — to my high hopes of every week becoming a better writer, and of someday becoming a book-published author with an editor in a traditional house.

Today’s Writing Market and the Economy

 Literature Blogs

Accepted: Stories which only a few years ago would be published, are getting rejected today? Why? The economy and ever-changing writer’s market (i.e., depending on what will sell by public demand).

Accepted: Publishing houses are businesses, not non-profit organizations. An editor at a recent writers conference said this is one of the reasons celebrity-authored books are contracted. They are sure money-makers. They draw in business, and make it possible to fund fledging, not-so-famous writers.

Accepted: Public demand is a hungry beast.

After a time, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wanted to move on from his famous character — a character based on one of his professors. The public demand for his detective stories at the time was so great, that Doyle thought to rid himself of Holmes by killing him off, and proclaiming that anyone could use the character and do with him whatever they wanted. But the beast demanded more, so Doyle resurrected Sherlock and wrote several more stories with his best-selling character.

Acknowledged: I am a writer. I read. I write. I have studied the craft. I continue to improve my craft. I write, research, or plot every day. As a writer, should I pay attention to the economy, the market, making money for me or others? Or should I pursue my passion without concern? I’m not sure I have a solution. At this writing, I believe that if I want to be published, I must be willing to feed the beast. However, as soon as  state that, I find myself climbing right back up on the castle wall. For whom do I write? For the beast? For me? For someone else entirely?

Manuscript Rejections — The Bottom Line

 Literature Blogs

I’m friends with Jane Yolen. Gosh. Well, me and a zillion others, on her FaceBook page. Jane commented today about receiving 7 rejections  (yesterday?), with editors commenting on her gorgeous writing, but….

I’m not really being sadistic, but I found this tid-bit of news quite encouraging to pre-book-published me.

She later wrote:
“The people who have been on my site (and my journal) before are not surprised by my rejections. Nor am I. I get them all the time. Got 5 rejections for OWL MOON, 13 for SLEEPING UGLY, both of which have now been in print for well over 20 years. I had 113 rejections for my poetry before I ever sold my first poem.

Dr. Seuss had over 30 rejections for TO THINK THAT I SAW IT ON MULBERRY STREET, his first book; Madeleine L’Engle, when she was already published, got 29 rejections on A WRINKLE IN TIME.

No one is saying you are ugly and smell, your mother dresses you funny, better give up writing (though all those things may be true.) A rejection letter is about the mss. and the perceived market. That’s all. As the don’s men said to the Mafia foot soldier they are about to execute in THE GODFATHER, “it’s just business.”

So (Sandy here, again), the bottom line for writers is:

1) Keep on writing (and, to finish your mss and revise them are givens);

2) Keep developing your craft (style, voice, plotting, etc) to produce page-turning, gorgeous writing;

3) Keep submitting your gorgeous works;

4) Rejections are not always about bad writing. In this present economy, it’s more about marketing. So, when you receive those rejections, eat some chocolate, cry if it feels good, run a marathon or two, and then get right back to #1 — Keep on writing.

To Brand or Not to Brand

 Literature Blogs

I just read a post on QueryTracker (“Branding: Not Just For Livestock Anymore”) by Sheralyn Pratt, PR Manager at Cedar Fort Publishing and author of the Rhea Jensen series.

Twice I’ve participated in Round Up and Branding Days — one on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation with Lakota Sioux, and one on a ranch with descendants of western settlers. Both were quite different in method of round up, in method of branding, and in atmosphere of the day. I remain awed and honored to have participated in both experiences. Oh, and both were with living, breathing livestock in a part of the country where cattle rustling is alive and healthy. So, I’m somewhat familiar with livestock branding.

I’m also familiar with literary branding. For instance, when you think of H.G.Wells, you don’t think “picture book writer.” When you hear the name Stephenie Meyer, you don’t think “algebra textbook author.” When you read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, you aren’t settling down for a nice romance. Most authors are, or get, branded. Doyle tried to quit Sherlock, but his fans wouldn’t let him. They demanded more. He complied. Sheralyn’s point in her post was that authors (especially new authors) need to brand themselves — know who their audience is, know which authors will sit next to them on the book shelves in stores, etc.. I understand all this, and I do “get” the reasoning, especially from the business end…

But…

What about C.S. Lewis, Carl Sandburg, or Jane Yolen, to name a few? You may think “children’s fantasy, poems, and children again,” but each author has written so much more in many other areas. I think it would be unfair to brand them.

So…

Why do I resist getting branded?  It is because my author-heros write in varied areas? Is it that I have multiple passions, and therefore don’t want to limit myself?  Or is my resistance to branding simply the rebel in me unfurling my wings? (Note: Of course, I’d write additional stories in a heartbeat, if fans or editor requested… for a while.)

On the other hand, I suppose I would need at least three same-genre books published traditionally in order to qualify for a brand. 

Now quit reading blogs and get back to your own branding… I mean writing!

School Visits and the JOB of being a writer

 Literature Blogs

A writer friend of mine — Ruth McNally Barshaw — was in my town last week, doing five school visits. Of COURSE, I had to both meet up with her and sit in on one of her school talks. I was not disappointed. I never expected I would be.

Ruth’s story is interesting. She sketched in journals all her life, but it wasn’t until she went to the SCBWI NY conference (sketching the whole way on the train and back), did an agent approach her and tell her about the new genre called graphic novels. Ruth found both her nitch and her dream job, and she’s good at it, too.

My former career was as an elementary teacher. I’ve sat through hundreds of school assemblies or special events. Some were awesome; some were utter flops.  I know what works and what doesn’t. I know how to be flexible and change things mid-stream (although there is always THE PLAN to rely back upon). After seeing Ruth in action last week, I made a startling discovery: I want to have that job. I want to write stories for kids, then travel around from school to school encouraging children to write (and read).

Oh. Wait. That’s what I’ve been trying to do for a while now. Ah. It’s all about the confirmation. Someday…

Speaking of Manuscript Rejections…

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Yesterday I received a form rejection letter from an editor. I’d like to say that’s never happened before, but if I tried to actually say that aloud, you couldn’t be able to make out my words through my laughter. Yes, I received a form letter, even down to the signature, which was typed out. Surprise! (Not really.)
 
I realize that editors are extremely busy folk. I know they receive thousands of queries each year, along with dozens of requested manuscripts. I know their time is valuable and their work is never, ever done, and that picking and choosing what to read and what and how to respond to each letter personally is difficult and time-consuming. I understand, because from this writer end, I certainly feel a similar time-crunch.
 
Lately, I’ve gotten to the point that when “Dear Author” letters come, I don’t keep them. I do usually glance over them before tossing them into the trash. Yesterday, after the toss, there was a line in the letter which kept coming back to me. The more I thought about it, the more I chuckled, so I dug it out. After the greeting of “Dear Author,” and thanking me for sending my manuscript — it was actually a query letter — came the line: “I’m sure there was something that appealed to me about your manuscript — perhaps it was a good idea, a strong character, or some lovely prose. However,…” and then came the reject with encouragement to try my story elsewhere. I’m wondering 1) if the query was even read (I know one conference editor admitted that during busy times, she’d tell her assistant to simply open the mail without reading the contents, and put in form reject letters); 2) if there was some good, strong or lovely part to my story (or query) which truly appealed to her, what was stopping her from pursuing working with me to make it better and stronger and lovelier?
 
(I must admit here, mostly I send things to editors or agents I’ve met at conferences, therefore, most of the reject letters I get are indeed personal. Thank you, kind editors and agents.)
 
I suppose honesty is a bad thing at times. I suppose one couldn’t have a form letter reading, “Dear Author, Man, has my life and work been crazy lately. Sorry. Can’t wade through the slush pile. Good luck in finding someone in a better position.  From, An Editor.” Or how about,  “Dear Author, I couldn’t get to your manuscript/ query/ proposal/ questions. Have you ever considered self-publishing?”
 
I’ve thought of composing a “Dear Editor” letter in response to form rejects, but by doing so, I’m afraid I’d be cutting off my arms at the elbows.
 
Enough procrastination by thinking and writing about this. Time to get back to my real writing, and turn my good ideas into great ones, my strong characters into memorable ones, and my lovely prose into… er… gooder stuff.