Thursday, April 26, 2012


Last week, several articles and blogs carried the story that the Pulitzer Prize committee had found no literary work of fiction worthy of the prize this year. Word leaked out--perhaps deliberately--that three novels were being considered, but none was picked. What a blow to those three writers, each of whom was a phone call away from the prize and then denied the glory.

Of course, those of us writing genre fiction might not cry quite as hard as the three “almost winners,” but--even if we don’t find time, or the inclination, to read literary fiction--we should be at least a little upset over this turn of events. The announcement of the Pulitzer Prize and subsequent surge in sales for that author and other literary authors is important for the book industry as a whole.

However, while I feel sorry for those authors--and bemoan the lack of promotion of literary novel reading--I find myself not feeling quite as sad about it as I might have three years ago.

Do you remember three short years ago when we were flooded with articles about the death of reading in this country? Newspapers were dying, book stores were struggling, and people simply weren’t reading anymore. They were watching television, playing video games or texting while driving.

Today that has all changed (except perhaps the texting by teenagers). Thanks to e-books and e-readers, reading is more popular than ever. Statistics tell us that millions of e-readers have been sold, and even more millions of e-books have been produced. In addition, it turns out that people who own a reading device buy more books than they did before.

Apparently, they were just waiting for the process to get easier and the books get cheaper.

So, thank you Amazon and Apple and Nook, and Kobo and all the rest. Perhaps readers won’t immediately search out literary novels. I’m told romantic suspense, thrillers and science fiction are the hot “e-buys” at the moment. But can the rest of the fiction cornucopia be far behind? I don’t think so. But then, I’m an optimist, remember?

I’m churning out my stories as fast as I can. And I hope my fellow scriveners are doing the same. Now is a great time to be a writer. Don’t you agree?


Friday, April 20, 2012


This week I read a couple of blog posts about “Wasted Writing.“First, on April 7th, there was a post by Kirk Spencer on Mental Meanderings. Then on April 16, Marie Andreas wrote on the same subject (possibly from having read Kirk’s post, but I’m not sure). So here’s my idea: let’s call it “Practice Writing.”

I heartily agree with both writers that no writing is ever “wasted.” Not just because--if the material doesn’t work for your present WIP it might be saved for a different one--but because it was practice. Just like athletes and pianists, writers need practice in order to perfect their work and reach their goals.

Many years ago, a best-selling author, speaking at a conference I attended, gave some valuable advice. To paraphrase, he said it doesn’t really matter if what you’ve written today seems inadequate, sophomoric, or just plain “lousy.” You can’t really tell if it is or not until you’ve finished the whole story or novel. “I guarantee that when it’s finally finished you won’t be able to tell which paragraphs you wrote when feeling ‘inspired’ and which you wrote when the Muse was ignoring you.”

Another writer has said, “You can always fix a sub-standard draft, but you can’t fix a blank page.”

Multi-published writer Dean Wesley Smith has said the idea that writers don’t need to practice is a “myth.” A writer who writes one book and doesn’t sell it may rationalize the rejection by saying the editor didn’t recognize his genius, or that he hadn’t promoted it enough and readers couldn’t find it. These days, some of those writers put their first books on Amazon, not realizing first books are often not very good because the author hadn’t practiced enough. Smith says, in effect, “Learn from it and write a better book next time.” In other words, practice.

I think it was John D. MacDonald who said every writer must write a million rotten words before he begins to improve. Practice.

Years ago I collaborated with another author on three books, and one of them was published in 2010, the second was accepted by a publisher and will be released July 1st, and the third is currently being considered by a very good modern publisher. My friend and I decided to write together because we met in a writing workshop and discovered we complemented each other. My strong point was action and dialogue and hers was finding the perfect images, metaphors, and similes and a lot of “killer” descriptions. So when we began, we brainstormed a long synopsis for the book we wanted to write (one ran to sixteen single-spaced pages) and then I wrote the first chapter and got the thing started. I called it “down and dirty” and after that, she took over and cleaned it up, turning it into fine-tuned prose.

That was a true learning experience for me, and, after we went our separate ways, fictionwise, I taught myself how to insert all the lovely words my friend might have provided. And I sold those books too, and my friend has sold one of her independently written books, has the second under consideration and is working on a third. And the moral is that all those words we wrote before we met that weren’t published weren’t wasted. They were practice.

How about you, my friend? Did you practice today? I hope so.

Marie Andreas
Mental Meanderings
Dean Wesley Smith

Friday, April 13, 2012


A recent article by Vincent Zandri about how badly a Big Six publisher treated him, was followed by a comment from a writer saying the small publishers can hurt you too. Amen to that.

At the same time, browsing through the Passive Voice blog, I found an article on the same subject that writers should read. Titled “Why Small Publishers fail,“ it quotes an article on Writer Beware with scenarios about why that happens. It’s full of important information for anyone thinking of starting a new publishing company. And, if you think writers won’t do that, let me assure you many already have.

The number of small publishers has skyrocketed in recent years. The emergence of Print-on-Demand technology (POD), along with e-books, spurred more people than just writers to start such a business. Look at the advantages compared to traditional publishing: No expensive office space (you can work from your home with no more than a computer and website). No print runs, no warehouses, no shareholders to answer to, no advances to authors.

But authors need to be wary. For these very reasons, small publishers may be undercapitalized. Without publishing experience, they may not structure their business properly or know how to write suitable contracts with authors. They may not have links to distributors; their printers might not produce a quality product.

Why would writers go to them? There are many reasons that even good authors choose that path. They may have been turned down by traditional publishers for many reasons besides quality of their writing. Their books might fit a small niche of the reading public. They might have a backlist of books the original publisher won’t take. They might be getting on in age and don’t want to wait the years it often takes to get read, approved and published the old way.

But writers considering signing with a small publisher need to do their homework and ask the hard questions. A mere sampling of the things to examine are: the number of years they’ve been in business, any fees they require, the quality of their books and the prices, and the exact terms in contracts. There are sharks out there. There are vanity publishers masquerading as small presses. In a worst case scenario, small presses can go bankrupt and take the authors down with them. The authors’ work will be tied up, possibly for years.

Luckily none of the small presses I’ve worked with have caused me that kind of trouble, but I came close. The publisher of my very first romance novel--although they printed the book--went out of business before paying me. In fact, I had to pay them to get my leftover books, which were so poorly made I didn’t even try to sell them. Another small publisher never paid me any royalties before also going out of business, but at least the books I bought from them were adequately printed.

Do lots of small presses disappear? You betcha. I probably don’t know half of them, but here are twenty-two publishers I queried who are now gone. In no particular order: J.A. Rock, Loveland, Tiger, Triskelion, Sands, Port Town, Pegasus, Noble, Howard, By Grace, Cook, Lerner, Sierra, Muse, Ashgrove, Wings, Avocet, Dry Bones, Anchor, Quiet Storm, Intercontinental, and Rocky Mountain.

Another small press offered me a contract, but I refused. The publisher had only been in business--according to their own website--for six months. When there are so many options, I don’t need to risk taking a chance that something might happen to them and my book would be trapped in a bankruptcy court for years. By the wat, I soon sold that book to an “older” publisher.

What about you, fellow writers? Any horror stories out there?

The Passive Voice
Writer Beware
Small presses

Thursday, April 5, 2012


In Wednesday’s posts on one of my favorite blogs, The Passive Voice, are two “must-read” articles.

The first is an interview with multi-published author Jodi Picoult from The Daily Beast. Among other interesting items of advice--especially why she doesn’t believe in writer’s block--is her comment: AND NEVER SELF-PUBLISH. I put that in capitals because it’s printed like that in the article, so apparently Ms. Picoult was adamant about it. However, she never explained why and the interviewer never asked her.

Scroll down a little to the article, “Submit, Quit or Self-Publish it.” Here Randy Henderson points out that, while some advice to writers includes the option to self-publish, too many writers go straight to that instead of first submitting to agents and/or editors, get rejected a few times and learn how to improve. Only when you’re convinced it’s publishable but was rejected for other reasons than quality, should you self-publish.

It’s no secret that the ease and low cost of self-publishing has brought out thousands of people who get a big ego-boost telling friends and family they’re now a published author. And statistics show that the average SP author sells fewer than 100 books.

Another article you can also find on The Passive Voice is about how children are getting their “books” published, thanks to--of course--Mom and Dad who pay for it. “What’s next?” asked novelist Tom Robbins, “Kiddie architects, juvenile dentists, eleven-year-old rocket scientists? There are no prodigies in literature. Literature requires experience in a way that mathematics and music do not.”

I guess, in this era of boosting children’s “self-esteem,” that was bound to happen. I hope they have fun, and perhaps some of them will eventually turn out to be the next Randy Henderson or Jodi Picoult. In the meantime, we mature, even “over-the-hill” authors, must keep writing and improving whether we’re self- or traditionally published. And I have no quarrel with those who, because of advancing age, can’t wait years to go through the submitting process and then, if accepted, wait some more before their book is actually published, when Amazon can do it in weeks.

I did the “submit and get rejected” thing for years, and I know that each rejection--and especially comments about why it was rejected--made me work harder to provide a quality product. As I’ve always said, “I don’t write: I rewrite.” Thirteen books accepted by editors and published by traditional publishers (although not the Big Six) tell me the extra work paid off. My fourteenth, a mystery by Mainly Murder Press, is due in July.

However, I’m not against self-publishing. I’ve done that too. Because I started so long ago, I was forced to “submit and get rejected.” There was no Amazon in those days and self-publishing meant doing all the work yourself, hiring a printer to print your books, and then--in order to keep the per-volume price reasonable--ordering 3000 copies (for roughly $10,000) which lived in your garage. I had a few friends who did that.

I’ve put my older books, which are now called “back-list,” on Amazon and Smashwords, and I’m about to try Amazon Singles for the many short stories I wrote before switching to novels. If the three books currently out to “big” publishers, get rejected again I might self-publish those too.

Are you trying both traditional and self-publishing? Tell me how that’s working for you.

The Passive Voice
The Daily Beast
Jodi Picoult
Randy Henderson