Adios Georgia Writers Association

For years I have looked forward to the Georgia Author of the Year (GAYA) competition. Sadly, I won’t be looking forward to it in the future because the sponsoring organization, Georgia Writers Association, after 53 years, has turned its back on many, if not most, of the writers in the state.

They’ve decided that self-published authors aren’t really writers. They’ve said as much in the qualifications for their award. Here it is in their own words (here’s the link):

Can I nominate a self-published book?
No. Traditionally books and chapbooks are eligible however. These are books that underwent a selection process with the publisher, in which the author was subject to acceptance or rejection; books that were professionally edited during the publication process and the book did not require the author to pay for the publication.
 

I take this to mean that unless a writer is willing to sell the rights to his or her work, it’s somehow unworthy. Or maybe it’s unworthy because the writer was eager to get the book in print and wasn’t willing to mark time for the two to four years it takes to navigate the “traditional” approach. Then again, the subject matter may only appeal to a narrow band of readers which would not offer a publisher a big enough return on their investment. So, once again, it’s clearly unworthy. There are other possibilities, and I’ll get to them as well.

Isn’t it ironic that an organization which claims to be all about writers can’t find one capable of composing a paragraph without typos and grammatical errors? (See paragraph above.) A copy of Strunk and White (check it out here) will clarify the use of semi-colons and may also address the issue of run-on sentences. And can someone please explain what  “traditionally books” are? As for “chapbooks,” how are they not home-grown? According to Wikipedia (link):

chapbook is a type of street literature printed in early modern Europe. Produced cheaply, chapbooks were commonly small, paper-covered booklets, usually printed on a single sheet folded into books of 8, 12, 16 and 24 pages. 

Perhaps GWA should change its name to GE&AA (Georgia Editors and Agents Association) since they seem to be the ones whose interests the organization has at heart.

I have published both traditionally and on my own, and I’m quite certain the quality of the writing is the same. If anything, the newer books–those I’ve self-published–are even better. A book that’s been peddled by an agent and bought by an editor doesn’t automatically qualify as “good.” J.K. Rowling’s work was rejected many times before Scholastic picked it up. Did that act alone suddenly make her work significant? Stories like this are common and suggest that perseverance may count for more than talent.

Most people don’t realize that publishers typically do small print runs for “new” authors, those without a significant track record or a large, ready-made audience. If the books don’t sell after three or four months, the retailers tear the covers off and return them for credit. The books themselves go into a dumpster, and the titles go into oblivion. In most cases, the authors have sold their rights to those titles for modest advances, and because of that, they won’t be able to sell the book on their own or in any other format. Is it possible some writers aren’t willing to go along with that scenario? Surely I’m not the only one, but apparently, because of that, my work no longer measures up.

Agents and editors don’t possess any more insight than anyone else about what books will sell. Many will tell you their vast experience in the publishing industry has given them the ability to pick winners. It hasn’t. If that were true, far fewer books would end up in dumpsters.

Finally, I don’t want to end this post without a comment about “books that were professionally edited during the publication process.” I presume this means that any editing done prior to the book’s acceptance by a publisher is also unworthy. It must be magic; nothing else explains the difference between independent editors and those who punch a clock for one of the conglomerates. Evidently, GWA has become an arm of the mainstream publishing industry.

Why else would they disenfranchise so many people?

Whose interests are being served?

Who benefits?

[I wrote to GWA on Dec. 18th, expressed my disappointment, and asked them to reconsider this new qualification. As of this date, I have not had a response. Why not let them know how you feel about their Christmas wish for indie writers? Here’s the link.]

–Josh

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A Necessary Evil — Part III

When should your book marketing begin? For most new authors, including those who’ve managed to sell a book to a Big Five imprint, the marketing should begin as early as possible. One of your goals should be to garner as many pre-orders as you can. In other words, you want to start selling your book before it’s available.

The idea is to create demand, and when the book does become available, you’ll chalk up sales from the very first day. And the more, the better, but not for the obvious reason of earning a quick return. If you can drive enough pre-sales, the online retailers will notice, especially Amazon, and they’ll work your title into their own in-house marketing designs.  Amazon has more product placement algorithms than anyone else, and another of your goals should be to take advantage of them.

So your first buying targets are the fans you already have. In the case of a first-time author, these are friends, family, and co-workers. Add acquaintances who might be interested as well as anyone who follows you on social media. Think back to old connections, former co-workers, school chums, or whole graduating classes. If these names and email addresses aren’t already in a list of some kind, build one now!

Just having the list isn’t enough, of course. You have to give the people on it a reason to order your book early. You might consider a price reduction of some kind, say half off if ordered by a certain date. Or you might provide a PDF copy of the book. If it’s fiction, you might consider providing a short prequel or maybe deleted scenes. If it’s non-fiction, you could consider a study guide or a recording of an interview with an expert–maybe even yourself!

When it comes to rewards and bonuses, the trick is determining who actually placed an order. The online retailers won’t divulge that information, so you’ll have to be more creative. One of the easiest ways to solve the problem is to have buyers email a copy of their receipt to an email address which you will supply in your sales copy. Then, whenever you receive a receipt, you can reply with an email that either has the bonus as an attachment or which provides links to your bonus material online. Either way, the buyer gets feedback very quickly, and you can keep track of sales.

Make a note of who actually bought your book in a new mailing list. These are folks who’ve already shown an interest in your work. You’ll want to go back to them in the future with your next offering. Think of them as VIPs, Very Important Purchasers.

Getting pre-sales isn’t the only reason for having and using your contact list. You’ll also want to enlist their aid in promoting your book. So when you send emails to them, don’t be shy about asking them to give you a mention in their social media. Obviously, you have to believe in what you’ve written; you can’t go into it half-heartedly. By the same token, you don’t want to try and be someone you aren’t. Be yourself!

There’s a reason you’re excited about the book. Share that! You don’t need some Madison Avenue type to draft fancy schmancy ad copy. Discuss the subject matter if it’s non-fiction, or the characters, plot, or location if it’s fiction. If reading it is apt to change someone’s life, say so! Share what you learned while writing it, where and/or how you researched it, who you talked to during the process, or how working on it changed your life. If you’re excited about the book, and you’re able to share that excitement, chances are the people on your list will feel the same way.

The most successful pre-sale campaigns send out the first email about a month before the book’s release date. These are typically followed by additional emails designed to keep building enthusiasm for the debut.

How often you should send something depends on how interesting you can make your message and what extras you can offer. Non-fiction books on topics of interest to specific groups–retirees living on fixed budgets, government employees, people with dyslexia, anyone who went to summer camp, etc.–might lend themselves to excerpts, lists of some kind, or other content-based bonus material. Works of fiction may be a bit harder to plan for, but with a little imagination, you can find ways. Cover reveals, contests, giveaways, promotional items, etc. are all possibilities.

Unfortunately, some people won’t join in your enthusiasm, and they won’t be happy about receiving any email from you that feels like a sales pitch. So it’s important to let them opt out of future mailings. Reputable services such as MailChimp make it easy for people to do that. Honor those requests. It’s the fastest and easiest way to prevent potential problems. Remember, you’re not just building an address list of people you know; you’re building a database of fans and followers.

You’ll need them for your next book.

Stay tuned. There’s more!

–Josh

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A Necessary Evil — Part II

What’s your book about? While that seems like an easy question, many authors have trouble coming up with a quick answer. What too often comes out is something like: “It’s about this guy who finds a magic tuba while digging through his great uncle’s attic. Of course, he doesn’t know it’s magic, so he’s not prepared when he blows on it and a genie comes out. Trouble is, it’s not a very nice genie. It’s been trapped in the tuba for ages, and now it’s out for revenge. Meanwhile, the guy’s mom is trying to get back home after escaping from prison for a crime she says she didn’t commit. Problem is, everyone thinks she’s a pathological liar, but that’s okay because….”

Is the book about a magic tuba? Or is it about the genie? Or maybe it’s about the poor shlub who finds them. Or his mother. Or maybe it’s about how the evil genie tries to seduce the girl next door. So maybe it’s a coming of age story. For the genie. Or maybe the girl next door. Who the hell knows? As the writer, you should certainly know. Alas, it simply ain’t so for way too many novices.

It used to be that only bad writers with money to burn would self-publish. Back then there was no “traditional” route to publication; there was only “the” route. Anyone wanting to see their stuff in print had to deal with agents or wrangle an appointment to chat with an editor at a writer’s conference or fan convention. Back then–and today for anyone still trying to sell a book to a Big Five subsidiary–the missing link was the “elevator pitch.” This amounted to a 30-second summary of the book packaged in such a way as to grab the attention of an editor or agent when trapped in an elevator at one of the aforementioned gatherings. Millions of such pitches have been cast in hotel bars, too, among other places.

Self-publishing has changed a lot of that, but there’s still a need for a pitch, even if you’re not trying to get a deal with a big publisher. [Don’t look at me like that. Just lemme explain.] Your elevator pitch might just make a dandy back cover blurb, and a well-executed book blurb is essential to a profitable sales campaign. It’s nearly as important as a great front cover.

If writing one seems like a daunting task, try using this formula for starters. You can revise it to suit your needs later, but for now, this should get you going. Just fill in the {blanks} as best you can.

When {identity} {character name} {does something}, {there’s a consequence}. Now, with {time limit/restrictions}, {character} must {do something heroic} to {reach a goal} or {lose something meaningful}.

So, f’rinstance:

When rookie FBI agent Filbert Feeney finds an ancient book of spells, he uses one to catch the top criminals on the agency’s Most Wanted List. But there’s a price to be paid for using the magic, and it will cost him his life–and his soul–unless he finds a way to reverse the spell without letting the criminals get away.

Here’s one based on the Leonardo DiCaprio film, “The Revenant,” released in 2015: When legendary frontiersman Hugh Glass is injured in a brutal bear attack while exploring an uncharted wilderness in 1823, he is left for dead by his best friend. Now, grief-stricken and fueled by vengeance against the confidant who abandoned him, Glass must survive the winter terrain to return home to his family.

Will it work for every story? Probably not. But it will help you shape your thinking about what needs to go in a blurb. More importantly, it might just give customers a solid reason for buying your book.

Your blurb, in various formats, will be needed to flesh out ads and other promotional material. And yes, you might even need to use it in an elevator when you meet some movie mogul on the lookout for a new blockbuster.

A good book blurb is the next essential piece of your book marketing campaign. You won’t go far without it. In fact, if you lack a good blurb, your book and all the hard work you put into it, won’t go anywhere.

We’ll investigate yet another piece of the writer’s marketing puzzle next time around, so stay tuned.

–Josh

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How I Write

[This is the fifth and, for now, final installment of words of wisdom gleaned by writers who have recently entered the wonderful world of publishing. This episode is by Doris Reidy, a dear friend and one helluva good writer. Please, read on. You won’t regret it!]

Or: There Once Was a Girl With a Bucket

Too often my doctors begin sentences by saying, “When we get older…” It’s usually the preface to something I don’t want to hear. But to borrow that phrase: When we get older, we start composing Bucket Lists. There was only one thing on mine, and it was in red caps:                                                    WRITE A BOOK.

I’d read thousands of novels, but somehow giving birth to one of my own seemed impossible. Paralyzed, I sat atop a large pile of “can’ts”: I can’t write fiction, can’t create dialog, can’t develop characters – you name it, I couldn’t do it.

Then along came a writing teacher (hint: initials JL), who said that a plot is simply a person in a place with a problem. Aha! I can do that. I’m surrounded by people in places with problems; after all, I am one. Five books and dozens of short stories later, that mantra still works.

People ask about my writing schedule. I wish I had one — it sounds more professional — but I don’t. I write when the spirit moves me. Sometimes, though, it doesn’t move me at all, and then I follow the two-pages-a-day rule. I sit down and write two pages. Then I go on about my life. The next day, I write two more pages. Eventually, something will catch fire in my brain, and I’ll write twenty pages. The important thing is to keep plugging away. Slow progress beats no progress.

So what gets me started? A character. When I know what she wears, eats, thinks, loves, hates, what makes her laugh, what she won’t stand for, where she lives, and what her problem is, then it’s just a matter of accompanying her on her adventures.

I wrote my first novel, Five for the Money, in scenes. When a brilliant idea hit me, I’d write that scene. Soon I had a batch of vignettes in no particular order. Oh Lordy, trying to stitch them all together cohesively! I learned to write in chronological order.

Surprisingly, characters and action fade from mind, my mind at least, even while I’m writing. It’s hard to remember on page 127 what I said Uncle Nester’s last name was earlier in the book. Did I introduce him at the barn dance? Or… wait… was it at the end of the zombie apocalypse? It helps to keep a running chapter summary. It’s much easier to track Nester down that way.

For me, the joy of writing is getting diverted by the unexpected. I’m not an outline person, but I sometimes stop around the middle and make a loose plan to get me to the end. My books run about 40-50,000 words. I was afraid they were too short, but people tell me they like shorter books with easily digestible chapters, especially on e-readers.

When the first draft is done, I need feedback. Here’s where I owe a big debt of thanks to my critique group and first readers. They give generously of their time and expertise to make me a better writer. I treasure the brave souls who tell me what I need to hear.

Finally holding in my hands a book I’ve written is sweet, but then the hard part starts. Marketing. (Cue ominous music.) Each year between 600,000 and 1,000,000 books are published in the United States alone. As many as half are self-published and on average they sell fewer than 250 copies each. Dreams of lucrative royalty checks die a’screaming. We who don’t have the muscle of a large publishing house behind us, struggle for readers.

Which begs the question, why do it? Why sit alone, tapping away on a keyboard while the other kids are out playing kickball in the street? There’s ego involved, if I’m honest, the belief that you’ll be interested in what I have to say. Then there’s the satisfaction of seeing a difficult undertaking through to the end.

But what really motivates me is the chance to make a connection, to forge a bond between writer and reader. I’ll tell you a story. Maybe you’ll like it. That puts a big, red ! on my Bucket List and makes it all worthwhile.

[Copied below are the covers from Doris’s other four books. They’re available in both paperback and ebook formats. You can find them all right HERE. Or, visit her webpage, “Second Acts,” and look for her latest bit of flash fiction. Here’s the link: https://dorisreidy.wordpress.com/ 

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Finding My Voice

Betty Smith has kindly consented to provide the fourth entry in this series about the experiences of newly published authors. A retired college professor, Betty came late to the craft of fiction writing. I’m pleased to say she made up for lost time very quickly. Here’s what she has to say about finding her voice, an important step in the journey toward publication:

I never expected to write a novel when I first stepped into Josh’s class on fiction writing in January, 2015. In fact, I did not believe I had the creativity necessary to write fiction; however, completing the short writing assignments he gave us taught me I could write fiction. Abby’s Choice (2016) was the result, and now I am working on my second novel. It is through this process that I have come to recognize something of my voice.

Voice is a nebulous concept, and even re-reading chapter 14 of Josh’s book, Write Naked, does not allow me to adequately define it – you will just have to ask him to explain it. But I now recognize four elements pertaining to my writing that are part of my voice.

1– My aim in writing, as in everything I do, is to honor God and bring glory to His name. I have come across many books with foul language and explicit sex; mine will have none. Nor will my villains be satanic.

2– It is often said a writer should write what he/she knows. Although this is not necessarily true, I do write what I know – love. I have known nothing but love my entire life. My stories will always have a happy-ever-after quality, even though I know “ever after” does not occur in the real world.

3– With my academic background, I love the research required to imbue my story with verisimilitude (one of the many things I learned from Josh). The factual material I include will always be as accurate as I can make it. This same background ensures I will always strive to be grammatically correct and precise in my wording. For example, you may have noticed I do not like to use contractions (unless called for to distinguish characters by dialect or to make dialogue believable).

4– I am a teacher; therefore, I will use my research to give the reader factual information which he/she may not know, perhaps to stimulate further inquiry into the topic.

I knew from an early age I wanted to be a teacher, and I recognize my ability to adjust my style to match my audience, from elementary grade to senior citizens, to be a gift from God. So, too, is my fiction writing.

Abby’s Choice is available now from Amazon.com. You can get your copy right here!

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What I Learned Writing “Taming August”

The third entry in this series about the experiences of newly published authors is from Pam Olinto, whose amazing history has given her a host of life experiences — good and not so good. She has chosen to use what she’s learned in a series of books for our youngest generation. While her protagonist is a most contemporary youngster, her attitude and adventures recall a time when our lives and those of our children weren’t driven by cell phones and gadgetry. It’s refreshing to know kids can still be kids. Here’s what Pam has to say about her journey into the land of writing and publishing:

Taming August, the first in three books about the Girl Power Detectives, is a chapter book for middle school students. It began as an experiment to see if I could follow the whole writing process from the beginning to fruition–a novel to hold in my hand.

Non-fiction writers often ask how a fiction writer finds material. As with any work, an author draws on incidents from his or her own past. I wove my story around my experiences with teaching mildly delayed children, my knowledge about frequent moves and how they affect a family, and the redeeming quality of friendships at any age. Most importantly, I needed the story to be told with a sense of humor, usually in the form of three-year-old Auggie’s antics. And, of course, I had to include animals, which are my passion and the source of many laughs in my household.

As much as my descriptions of the settings, the talent shows, and the mystery are fiction, I soon realized I had based twelve-year-old Maddy’s reactions on both my knowledge of middle school students and on me as a young person. Growing up in the Army and moving so often I learned early on not to get too close to friends because we would soon part. And many of three-year-old Auggie’s capers I owe to my four-years-younger brother who survived his childhood to retire as a full colonel in the Air Force.

Solving the mystery of a stolen necklace and describing the characters who lend their help allowed me to stretch my creativity. But again, I recognized my own personality creeping into the story when Maddy’s determination to find the answers overrides her parents’ rules and her own sense of caution. At some point, Maddy, Auggie, and the other characters took over and told their own stories. All I had to do was be present to take notes. The same applies to my pending second book where my years spent in Sweden learning about its culture give Maddy a new friend from another country whose overpowering personality leads her into more adventures.

Taming August is available now from Amazon.com. You can get your copy right here!

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