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!

Being A Writer Plus

Before I was published I was much more of an idealist. I actually thought being a writer had to do with writing. I quickly learned that writing was so much more. There was revising, rewriting, rearranging or deleting scenes or chapters or even characters, and giving up a thousand times. There was a constant improving of the craft of writing, including critique groups and conferences, both of which provided networking and encouragement. There are thousands of contests, most which require fees to enter.

Then came the submission process: how to write a query letter and how to research to whom to send it, and whether to find an agent or go directly to an editor (or rather, the assistant editor). In the postal days, you could easily wait six months or more for a form rejection with the publishing house asking for exclusive submission. All the while you are picking up the ever-changing vocabulary and shape of the business of writing.

As a writer plus, you must also keep your finger on the pulse of what is popular with readers, or what books are already published which are similar to your own, as well as to the national situations (e.g., eBook v.s. print, or a recession, or the government changing books from literary to product causing taxation on warehouse-stored products, etc.).

After publication comes an entirely new writing-connected world. Whether self-published or traditionally published, the writer now turns to marketing and promoting. There’s advertizing, book launches, signings, and speaking engagements. A published author is often asked to do free presentations, all the while having to spend lots of her own money. She must research, design and invest in cards, brochures, stamps, and a designated P.O. box on the hard-copy side. On the electronic side of the business, there is website designing, domain name access, picking your social media means (blogging, blog tours, book reviews, online listservs and writing groups, FaceBook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and dozens more).

Getting book reviews and awards are yet another aspect to being a writer plus.

As side-arm to post publication is the entertainment factor. Should you use Power Point or props? Wear a costume or do your speaking engagement in business casual? Will you get your vender fee back in book sells? Are you satisfied getting paid enough for gas money to speak at an event, or willing to do what you can to have your book(s) and face out in public to be recognized? Do you focus on one niche and age group, or morph into many types of presentation to meet the needs of the many?

Typing all this out makes me want to go back to pure raw writing, splattereing my words over a page or screen and letting the ideas flow, and not worrying at all about selling or promoting or entertaining. Good news on that front: NaNoWriMo is less than two weeks away. If you are participating, I am, too. My user name there is  sandycarl. Let’s be NaNoWriMo writing buddies and encourage each other to write-write-write.

Never give up.

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

2010 Writing Goals Reviewed

Literature Blogs

Each January, I set writing goals before me for the coming year. At the end of December, I look over my goals and reflect on how I have improved and/or moved forward in this bizarre career of writing.

The first goal I listed in January of 2010 was to find work at MacDonald’s, or else to quit writing entirely. I’m very happy to announce that I did neither of those things, although working at a fast food for research purposes had crossed my mind several times during the year.

I only attended one live writers conference (usually it’s more), but I participated in several on-line conferences or workshops in 2010.

I’m disappointed that I only sent out a few submissions to editors or agents. Like winning the lottery, and the fact that you must buy a ticket in order to win, so it is with writing. Write your story, revise it, have it critiqued, revise it a few more times, but then you must submit it if you want to see it published.

However, the good news is that I revised (a few times) my historical MG novel, written during the 2009 NaNoWriMo period, and I wrote and revised (a few times) my tween fantasy, as well as worked on some shorter stories. One polished novel a year isn’t too bad at all. Maybe, though, future goals would be more than one a year.

I also helped clean turtles in a river oil spill near our house. This was not a writing goal for 2010; however, I never find time-investments in new things a waste. I’m sure oil spills or turtles will show themselves in a future story.

How did your 2010 writing goals work out?

Highlights Fiction Writing Contest, 2011

Hey! Highlights Magazine has announced their 2011 theme: a fictional story of an embarrassing moment. (My, don’t we all have a few dozen of those kind of stories to send in?) Stories due at the end of January. The three winners will be announced and published in their June 2011 magazine.

Here’s the link: http://www.highlights.com/highlights-fiction-contest

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.