Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Wonderful Weekend for Writers

One of the accepted rules abut blogging is that the blogger should be consistent. Publish on the same day of the week, keep more or less to the subject, etc.

At first I tried to write every two weeks. Then I aimed for weekly, using the hour or so before church on Sunday when all was quiet and my head clear. After writing a newspaper column for 10 years, that should have been easy, right?

Well, you know what they say about the best laid plans ...

First, I had a really big project to complete and all else suffered until I turned it in.

Then I had a really big weekend. On Saturday, four of us went to the Book 'Em North Carolina Writers Conference and Book Fair in Lumberton. Michael Palmer and Carla Neggers were the main presenters. I enjoy medical thrillers and was eager to hear what Palmer had to say.

His presentation was wonderful. The man is funny! His son, Daniel Palmer, was on the program also, and the two surprised us with a hilarious duet (Daniel on harmonica and guitar) that satirized almost every best-selling thriller author in print. I was disappointed that although Daniel has some music CDs in addition to his books, none of them have the really humorous songs on them. Hint: Daniel, the world is waiting.

I had a chance to talk to Michael Palmer later -- essentially told him I liked the presentation and his books. He looked tired and I imagine he was. Lumberton wasn't the first stop on his tour and he said he looked forward to returning home the next day.

On Sunday, our writers' club held its annual awards ceremony. We have held contests in prose and poetry for 23 years and always reward the winners with certificates, cash prizes and a reception. The winnners are also published in an anthology called "Anson Pathways" every three years.

This year's program went exceptionally well. We had thought of giving it up after the next go-round, but seeing the faces of the children and youths who had won and received applause after reading their work made me think again. How many of these young people will go on writing -- maybe become the next Michael Palmer? -- who wouldn't have dreamed of being an author but for the encouragement they received from a group of people who are pledged to foster the art of writing in our county.

So it was a busy weekend, totally focused on writing. I will try to do better in the future, but when an opportunity comes along, I may well be late again.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Show Me the Money

I've been reading some interesting articles on self-publishing -- in particular, how some writers (John Locke, Amanda Hocking) have sold millions of books. Which generates many, many royalty payments.

However, there is another set of millions to consider. This group contains the writers who would like to emulate Locke and Hocking. (Hocking sells an average of 9,000 books a day.) So they write a book, format it for Kindle and CreateSpace, say a prayer and launch it.

And wait.

I've played that game, too. I feel very lucky if I sell one book a month. Somebody out there bought my book! I can buy a cup of coffee!

Maybe my expectations are low or maybe they are simply realistic. No one knows my name, so they aren't looking me up to see what I've written lately. They have to stumble across me or hear about me from someone else who knows someone who has read my book.

It's the old Catch 22. The book has to be a best-seller before people recognize your name, and it won't beome a best-seller if no one knows who you are.

So the next step is gaining recognition. In other words, become your own publicist. Some people are very good at this. They are someone's guest blogger every day. They write a blog with their book prominently pictured somewhere in the margin (gotta do that!). They have a website (check) and Tweet a dozen times a day. They go on forums and modestly drop their book's title in the conversation.

That's fine, if you have time. I don't. Neither does Locke, who has kept his day job. So how did his book make it?

He writes very good books. That should be step number one.

Secondly, he pays an editor to go over his manuscript. Too many writers think they can catch their own typos and flaws in the plot (hint: they can't) and send out a book riddled with errors.

Think readers will be eager for the next one?

He also hires someone to design his covers. This should be a no-brainer, but too many people rely on a friend or their kid. Or they say, "Hey, this is easy, I can slap together a cover using Google Images." One word: beware of copyrights.

I'm not saying most self-published books are terrible. Quite the contrary; many authors pay close attention to grammar, editing, plot line, etc. They shell out the bucks to get a professional cover. And their stories are darn good.

I got an e-reader just to download books written by people in my writing groups who ae self- or Indie-published. Many of these are as good or better than some best-sellers I've read. So why aren't they raking in the dollars?

That, my friends, is the question. Maybe there are just too many books out there. Maybe it takes time to get recognized. Maybe it is all pure luck of the draw.

Maybe, in the end, word of mouth is the best advertisement.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Killing Your Darlings

When William Faulkner said, “Kill your darlings,” he meant to take out the wonderful sentences, the sparkling paragraphs, the powerful descriptions that do absolutely nothing to advance your plot. If you love it beyond reason, it doesn't belong.

While acknowledging this admonition, I am using it in another sense. I mean, literally killing your characters.

It wasn't hard to kill the villain in my unpublished historical novel. He was a bully and a rapist, an opportunist and a cheat, and he deserved what he got.

It was a lot more difficult to kill off one of my characters in "Angels Unware." But someone had to die to show just how precarious Kat's (the heroine) position was. I had created them, I had grown fond of them, and now I had to kill one of them. But which? The young mother, Mindy; Barbara, who finally followed her dream; or Reva, who found her love late in life?

It wasn't an easy decision.

Then there is the method. Sometimes the answer is in the story and the death, while unforeseen, is a logical outcome. Or it can come as a shock. In "A Question of Boundaries," one villain's death is unexpected and jarring. This death is immediately followed by another equally shocking -- not by its timing, but by the method.

Or maybe not, if you recall the hero's special gift.

I don't have to kill any of my characters in "The Lunch Club" (coming soon!) although there is one in particular I would have liked to have done away with.

How about you? Do you find it brings you to the point of tears when you realize that one of your beloved characters must leave? And when you make the decision, how do you decide the manner in which he will make his departure? Sweet and poignant or sudden and brutal?

Let us know -- we're wondering.