Wednesday, August 29, 2012

To Market, to Market to Buy a Fat Pig

The Chew Team - Please hold my book up Mario
If there is one negative aspect to writing and self-publishing,  that I quite freely admit to, is that I am just plain lousy at marketing. With five books listed on Amazon you would think I have this whole “Please buy my book!” begging thing down pat. Wrong-o! I do believe I would get more notice if I left copies of the books in various restaurant washrooms across the country (especially in the publisher’s ghetto in New York city). It is just plain hard, I'd rather talk about myself and writing.

From the first moment we decided to self-publish we knew that the issue of getting the books in front of a willing buying public would be difficult. With all the chatter and clatter in the book world today, being seen, heard or even read is difficult. While I am not too far above pulling a publicity stunt or two (see above), the time and effort is all consuming. I would rather write.

I found it sadly interesting that earlier this year when Smashwords (an online publishing site for self-publishing) invited me to be a part of their promotional venture where for a set period (I believe it was a week) my work could be purchased for free. Over a hundred were “sold.” Since then almost nothing. The only aspect that would have been better was if they offered it as a two-for-one sale. As a writer your ego can suffer a lot, but when the base line is free I scratch my head. So since Fifty Shades of Grey started out as a self-published ebook (probably for free – the best price for sex), I am going to add more kinky sex to all my stories. I am sure that the two redheads in my life will go along with that (Sharon and my CFO).

Short of setting myself on fire in Times Square on a stack of my 4 Death books, the push over the next six months will be marketing or at least trying to figure a way to put the book in front of more reader’s eyes. All sorts of friends in the business have suggested Facebook, LinkedIn or Goodreads. Maybe they all have a part, maybe I should be looking for online washrooms.

Each has their advantages but all are serious time sinks where hours can be invested, but to what end? I was thinking that a few years ago stalking Oprah, or at least her producer, would have been appropriate and productive (it was the air fare part that was the killer and also maybe her personal “assistants”). Now my goal should be the new show called The Chew.

Goal: Get Mario Batali to hold up my latest O’Mara thriller, Toulouse 4 Death – it has a great chase scene through Paris. A few good places to eat are also mentioned. In fact Sharon O’Mara is not only a hot chick with a gun but can she can cook too. So there marketing department, go with this and let me know how it worked out!

More later . . . .

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Write and Publish VS. Write or Publish

The Writer's Friend
So you want to be a writer. Nothing is stopping you. Sit down and just do it. But in reality there is a great gulf between writing and publishing. A different set of skills is required for each. Skills that are admirable and learnable but very, very much at odds with each other. In fact, if many of the publishers were like Nike they could sell their writers with trite and irrelevant phrases like: Just Write!, or The pen is mightier than the sword!, or even Write, it’s all in your hands! I can see them now in the New York Times book section.

So when an author decides out of frustration, ignorance, ego, or impatience that the outside world just has to read their work they jump from the dark reaches of writing into the arcane and bizarre world of self-publishing. Writing can cost you nothing except a box of #2 Ticonderogas and a couple of spiral notebooks (of course you can load up on Apple products but that’s just a more expensive version of a pen and paper) and “Just Write.” In a few months you may have The Great Gatsby in your hands or just pages of junk – but it is your junk. Fifty spiral notebooks later you may even be a writer, two hundred books more and you might even be very good and may have Jack Reacher or Travis Magee hiding in amongst the pages. Then again you may not. You will not know until you try and try a lot. Such is writing. For a few pennies you can roil the world with the likes of the Federalist Papers or Fifty Shades of Grey. But self-publishing will cost you thousands and thousands of dollars and the ROI (return on investment) is impossible to guess.

But great works need an audience. I am sure locked in drawers or stacked on shelves are manuscripts easily as good as anything Joyce Carol Oates, Hemingway or even E.L. James (see Fifty above) wrote. And please don’t comment about my placement of those three authors in one sentence, I am already doing my own mea culpas. Publishers need manuscripts, without them they die, and writers needs a publishers like the daisies need rain (ouch). 

I can show you a stack of books on my shelf that list publishers, agents, vanity presses, and even pay to print operations. Each can get your manuscript to an audience. It might be the simple goal to give your book to friends and family, or even business associates. In fact I have a few well written autobiographies by clients who just had to tell their stories (some had help and were ghost written), others were labors of persistence. But they told great stories. I understand these men more because of their books. So write your manuscript and, for a fair price, you can get it to your audience. But if you want a bigger stage then be prepared to compromise.

Self-publishing is easy or so I thought. I used to have a vineyard and made wine from my grapes. For ten years I pruned, watered, nurtured, and then picked my vines. The good Lord made wine making simple, natural yeasts convert the grape sugars to alcohol (wine). But as I have told friends why I pulled out the 150 vines after years of work, “Making wine is easy, making good wine is hard.” I grew tired of making wine. The same can be said about converting your scribblings to printed words.

The effort to bring good writing to the marketplace is collaborative and involves far more than just the author. This is why there is a publishing industry. There is the agent, the editor (maybe more than one), there is marketing, and there is distribution and storage. There is cover design, interior design, formatting (whether ebook or pbook), composition, and printing. And there are legal rights, copyrights, and attorneys for the agents and the publishers. And then there are the foreign rights, movie rights, audio book rights, and a plethora of other rights that can’t even be mentioned (at least in polite company). And so much more.

To be a publisher and writer is difficult at best, impossible for most. The best decision by the writer is determine a path and try and follow it. My goal is to not just make wine, but to make good wine. Self-publishing is a means to an end; what that end is I'm still not sure.

More later . . . .

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Research, Research, Reseach

Since I don’t write fantasy fiction where facts are malleable (i.e. flying horses, dragons, dwarfs, magic rings, etc.), I am forced to do research, as Joe Friday said, "Just the facts, ma'am. Just the facts." Research is the act of truth finding and substantiation. If your story is during the Civil War, you better get your facts, dates, and places right or you will never hear the end of it. The same goes with novels about ancient Rome and World War II. There are experts who love to find fault, even if the story is great, they will nit-pick.

I am researching two books right now. One is another O’Mara Chronicle and the other is a big novel dealing with Americans caught in World War Two. The collection of data and facts on Chicago, American railroads, steamship companies and Italy all during the period of 1937 to 1945 is daunting. In the parlance of the day, TMI (too much information). I used to print out everything and place the pages in a binder; this allowed for quick reference but with large articles or books searching was troublesome. I tried other cut and paste ideas (Word files, even Excel), but still too much paper. What to do?

On one of my LinkedIn Group sites someone suggested checking out Microsoft OneNote as a way to manage research and story. Since it was already bundled with Microsoft Office 2010, sure, why not? It has been a saver of time and paper. (I had thought the software had something to do with music, dah!)

Here is the marketing description by Microsoft:
Microsoft OneNote 2010 is a digital notebook that provides a single place where you can gather all of your notes and information, with the added benefits of powerful search capabilities to find what you are looking for quickly, plus easy-to-use shared notebooks so you can manage information overload and work together with others more effectively.
Unlike paper-based systems, word processing programs, e-mail systems, or other productivity programs, OneNote delivers the flexibility to gather and organize text, pictures, digital handwriting, audio and video recordings, and more — all in one digital notebook on your computer. OneNote can help you become more productive by keeping the information you need at your fingertips and reducing time spent searching for information across e-mail messages, paper notebooks, file folders, and printouts.
Seemed perfect; find an article in Wikipedia, copy and paste into a OneNote Page (it even holds the URLS in an active format, and references the article at the bottom for later footnoting). Need to preserve a story line that you have hand drawn, scan it then paste it on a page. Have photos from that small Italian hill town where the nasty Nazis are having a beer, paste them it. You can type directly into the page, save to a particular heading, even change the type color and size. It is a lot like Word but more flexible with the data though it is comparatively limited in formatting. One thing that I discovered is that after you name a file, that file is automatically updated as you add pages and information. No need to remember to save, it also updates the same file when you have your thumb drive open (as a back-up). If there is one small complaint is that it doesn’t seem to update the date on the file as you make changes. I assume that it thinks this isn’t necessary, but being able to see the last time you accessed the file would be nice.

While not perfect (sadly since I work in both Mac and Windows, it is not available for the Mac, yet), it is a good data manager and certainly better than a binder. But for Mac there is Growly and Curio and a couple of others, while I am not familiar with these, they are Mac friendly and come recommended by some sites.

Let me know what your experiences have been with OneNote and I’ll pass them on.

More Later . . . . .

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Discovering Alan Furst

Having just finished my latest thriller 12th Man 4 Death I was wandering through my local Barnes and Noble and spotted Mr. Furst's latest book Mission to Paris

Two things drew me to the book, its cover and the the time frame, 1938. All of Alan's work focuses on the the 1930s and the 1940s, the exact time frame of my latest novel under development. So here was a chance to dive into the era up to my nose. While this is not a book review (I will report later this month), what I did discover were three excellent videos by Alan on writing and the writers craft.


Writing Spy Novels

 Writing Atmosphere
First Drafts

More Later . . . .

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

SmartEdit is not that Smart and “The Schedule”

I am pushing through the editing of 12th Man 4 Death and even though I have my own specific system of checks and balances I wanted to try something new. Through one of the LinkedIn groups I belong someone suggested that SmartEdit was a great tool to help review and check your work (it’s free here). While I found it interesting it falls well short of what I need or what most writer/editors could use profitably. It is very time consuming.

After you load your manuscript into the platform it does a fairly good job of selecting out phrases, words, and adverbs. Then, in a type face too small to easily read, you can select and replace/fix as needed. WARNING: the work is not saved and from what I can decipher can’t be saved except by selecting all the text and pasting in a new Word file. Such bother. Additionally, it does not do this search in the order the book is written – selections are not chronological or even within the same parts of the manuscript, it does not highlight all the elements you are searching, or offer any replacements. I see great potential but it is a long way from being user friendly. It’s worth a look but BEWARE and don’t put your only copy of the manuscript in the thing – you may want to kill if there is a power outage.

The Challenges of Self-Editing
I am absolutely sure there are gremlins in the Word software. I can spend days going through the manuscript, correcting, searching, revising, changing, and even deleting. But when I come back to the MS with fresh eyes, I find even more. The mind is a cruel mistress; it WILL insert missing words as you read (silently or even out loud) and not mention it to anyone. When you go back, pesky conjunctions have fled the scene, s’s and ed’s have been added or deleted, and I am sure some words mysteriously have left to go on vacation. That is why when you are done find a great copy editor. They are worth the money (and Dennis, don’t get any ideas about raising your rates – see Dennis DeRose above) and expertise.

A few more days then off to the real editor. 

This is the best of the four thrillers I have written. The subject is timely (that can be good or bad depending), but I believe the story has legs long after the America’s Cup races in San Francisco are done next September 2013. Lots of selling days between now and then.

I try to keep my hand in all the parts of the process. Writing, initial editing, composing the type for the book and the cover art. There are a lot of pros and cons about this, but it is just the way I’m wired. It does help to expand the skill set beyond story and the actually manuscript. And does give a better understanding if that agent ever knocks on the door (or returns my emails). 

The book’s schedule I posted at the beginning of the year said editing in August, done and done.

I hope the ebook will be posted in mid-September followed by the paperback in late October.

BTW, if anyone wants to read a draft of the story in PDF form, drop me a comment. I am looking for readers and early reviews.

More Later . . . . .