Sunday, January 25, 2015

THE SELF-PUBLISHED WRITER’S DILEMMA

By Bonnie Stanard

In the ongoing disputes between Amazon and NY publishing houses, whose side am I on? Amazon and Hachette, the most recent combatants, reached agreement last November, at least for the time being. Why should I support elitist publishing houses that ignore and belittle writers like me? Haven’t they had too much power for too long? On the other hand, is Amazon trying to gain total control over the industry? And since it’s been pulling punches with Hachette, can it be trusted to treat self-published writers like me fairly? 

When the internet took off, Amazon came on the scene and did what major booksellers and publishing houses didn’t have the foresight to do. It sold books on the superhighway and opened up publishing to any and every writer. In the process, it put major booksellers out of business (Books A Million, Borders). With brick-and-mortar booksellers on the decline, publishing houses such as Hachette increasingly depend on Amazon as retailer.

Half the book trade (more or less depending on different sources) is now controlled by Amazon. A 2014 survey by researcher Codex Group found that Amazon controls 67% of the e-book market*. With statistics like these, I’m getting nervous. How big is too big?

AMAZON’S CLOUT
I’m thankful for Amazon and the opportunity it has afforded me to self-publish, but in these changing times, my gratitude is tempered by unease. Unlike Hachette, which has the other big four publishing houses in its corner, there's no support for me if I have a dispute with Amazon.

From what I can gather from reports, the Amazon-Hachette negotiations regarding who has authority to set the price for e-books went public when amazon.com did things such as refuse pre-orders for Hachette books and slow their delivery. Amazon’s tactics, meant to pressure Hachette in the negotiations, affected sales of the publisher’s books. 

E-BOOK PRICES
The bad publicity Amazon aroused with its underhanded tactics may have impacted the negotiations. In simple terms, Hachette gained the right to set their e-books prices, and the new arrangement is due to take effect in 2015. Amazon pushed for lower prices while Hachette sought higher prices to protect its paper sales. Buyers can expect the cost of some e-books to go up, which won’t make them happy.

THE NETFLIX IDEA
Last August Amazon introduced an innovation in the distribution of e-books which takes the Netflix model and applies it to books—in other words, a book-subscription market. It’s the Kindle Unlimited plan in which customers pay $10 a month to access a library of hundreds of thousands of books that can be downloaded free. What reader won’t like this? But does it sound like a good idea for writers dependent on royalties?

Some reporters have called this a struggle between the future and the past, the West Coast and the East Coast, the masses and the elite. Whatever it is, it will impact us writers regardless of whether or not we have a voice in the current fight. And if Amazon puts major publishing houses out of business, where will writers get the clout to deal with Amazon?


Sunday, January 18, 2015

TRUCKING AND LEARNING

By Laura P. Valtorta

Making films, especially documentaries, involves exploring the world and its surprises. I really cannot write an effective treatment or outline until filming for a couple of days. The story changes as I digest the subject matter.

On November 21, 2014, I set off with truck driver Milica Virag to experience life on the road. I brought two cameras and an open mind. The sun was shining and the temperature mild. Our first destination: Covington, Georgia. Then on to San Antonio, Texas, or so we thought. We had a load of truck parts: 30,000 pounds of trailer parts resting on the flatbed of a 47,000-pound truck.
           
Milica checked the security of the straps and the tire pressure. We climbed into the cabin and set off, making wide turns that hogged a lot of road space on either side of the truck.

“You see, It’s boring.” Milica was blasé. (I was charged with excitement). She lived like this most days of the year—using her tablet and laptop for directions as she talked to the broker and the destination (a car dealership) on her blue tooth phone and munched on a carton full of tangerines from Walmart.

Meanwhile, I was working two cameras. That kept my mind off safety, the cars darting ahead of us, and how someone can steer an International while peeling a tangerine, fixing her hair, and charging her computer. The truck chugged and bumped along. Down below, the angry, darting drivers looked like ants on the highway.

If we hit one of the cars, they would be smashed flat like a bug.
           
We arrived in Covington at noon. Milica was astonished that the car dealership could not give her compass directions, but used “turn right” and “turn left.” I admitted I was also directionally impaired.

The parking lot at the car dealership was filled with automobiles. Where were we going to park? One of the Head Bubbas waved us in. Stopping and parking in an 18-wheeler is no joke. The Head Bubbas complimented Milica for arriving exactly on time.

The Head Bubbas had called a Wrecker Driver who arrived about 20 minutes late.

For the next two hours, the Car Dealership figured out how to unload MIlica’s flatbed. First they used some chains and the Wrecker. Dramatic film footage. After about an hour, they discovered that the pieces could be lifted off more quickly with a forklift.

The white-haired Wrecker did all the work and all the figuring. Three of the Head Bubbas stood around and talked about lunch and about their diets with comments like – “you look great in that suit.” And “I need to lose twenty more.” It’s impossible, apparently, to lose weight when you attend a lot of football games and “eat like crazy.”

Two hours later the Head Bubbas said, “Goodbye, Sweetheart, drive safe,” and waved Milica toward the front of the parking lot. She turned around on a handkerchief of space and reached the entrance of the car dealership. “I’m going to stop here,” she said, “and finish the paperwork.”

So we stopped. Who was going to make her move?


            

Sunday, January 11, 2015

WILD BOOK SIGNINGS I HAVE KNOWN

By Mike Long

A Facebook friend recently told me of an incident with a friend's husband. He was a dead ringer for Kenny Rogers, and at some event a woman rushed up to him and gushed, "You're that country singer. I love your music. You're… don't tell me... I know it… you're CHARLEY PRIDE!" The man graciously signed her napkin as Charley Pride, the great black country singer. That story called to mind the fun some of us have had at events of our own.

At my first signing, the first buyer asked me to sign one for her dad, and spoke his name. I wrote, "Otis-Best Wishes," and signed it. She said, "Aww-he don't spell it thataway. He uses a 'D' instead of a 'T' – but I'll take it." I gave her another one and have yet to find an 'Otis' to give the mistake to. ALWAYS ask them to spell their names.

At a Civil War reenactment in Aiken in 2010, two ladies came in the 'book tent' to browse. My first novel has a mounted Confederate officer on the cover, and the first lady asked if that was a picture of me. I said, "Ahh, no ma'am," so she shrugged and walked away. Her companion picked up the same book, turned to the back cover and read the blurb and my bio, then asked if the book was about my wartime experiences. When I shook my head 'no,' she left too.

The author beside me witnessed the whole thing and said, "Mike, I believe they thought you looked pretty darn good to be 170 years old."

He then told me that a week earlier, he'd been at a reenactment in Virginia and had a sign in front of the tent, announcing, "LOCAL AUTHOR. Book signing today." Two ladies stopped and studied the sign, then came in and put down their bags of kettle corn; each of them picked up one of his books, signed it, put it back down, smiled at him and left. He said he guessed they didn't get out much.

At my most recent signing (a gun show in Columbia), a fellow picked up my two novels and asked if I knew the man who wrote them. I smiled and said I did know him, and asked if he'd like to meet him, while offering my hand. He said, no, he'd met him already and he lived up around Greenville. I replied that I really did write them and that I live here. He said, "No, this was another guy. Up to Greenville." This occurred (was) with two large photos of me displayed on the table. Never did win him over. The man beside me said, "You can't fix stupid."

I told my author friend John Huffman about that latest episode, and he had to top me. Seems he was dining with his bride in a Western Sizzler when a woman charged their table and said, "Oh my goodness, you're the man who wrote them books, aren't you?" He said he in fact was, and relished the attention that was generated. The woman said she had one of the books out in her car and asked if she went and got it, would he please sign it for her? He of course agreed; she came right back with a copy of my novel, No Good Like It Is. He signed it as McKendree Long without batting an eye.

I wonder if that was up around Greenville...


Sunday, January 4, 2015

Giving Words Away


By Meredith Kaiser

Maya Angelou once said that when she prayed for someone, a wonderful thing happened, not only hopefully for the person for whom she was praying, but for her as well.

That is how I feel about my writing. When people ask me, “What do you write?” I usually say essays or I may mention my scattered and incomplete novel. But what I want to say is, “I am a writer of thank you notes.”

Yes, I have written articles for work, essays, blogs, short stories, and pieces of a novel. But really, what I am stirred to write consistently are notes of gratitude, congratulations, encouragement, and sympathy. I also write what I call, “I see you” cards; as in, “I see all that you do or how you are feeling, and it matters.” I can’t explain why I need to do this.

I’ve been told that these cards make people cry. Or laugh. I often cry or laugh as I write them. Before sealing the envelope, I re-read my words several times to listen to what I’ve said. Is this what I want to say? Sometimes I start over. I want each letter to stitch the meaning I intend onto the paper. Is this exactly what I would say to the person if they were in front of me? I’m sure I don’t get it right every time, maybe never. But I believe that a blank note card, filled with my own words and in my own fevered handwriting is the next best thing to eye contact and a solid hug.

Bowing to this impulse, years ago, I began keeping a supply of assorted blank note cards at home and at my office. I keep stamps in my purse at all times. I am a rapid-fire note dispenser. The moment I hear that a co-worker lost her mother or that a friend is having surgery, I can reach out to them by mail to meet them where they are. The beauty of mail is that the recipient has the privacy to receive the message and to take it in how or when she chooses.


I don’t know if that’s what most people think of when they think of a writer, but I know that reaching an audience of one via a handwritten note keeps me setting words on paper. It won’t put me on the New York Times bestseller list, but loving others by doing what I love the most pays the greatest reward, if not the bills. 

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Latest Addition

Meet a New Columbia II Blogger

KASIE WHITENER


Dr. Kasie Whitener is a professional educator and fiction writer. She blogs about the writing process at GenX Stories and about her life in transition at Life on Clemson Road. Her fiction has appeared in Spry Literary Journal and Enhance Literary Magazine. She is a member of SCWW Columbia and a board member for Wordsmith Studio, an online literary community.

Annual Writing Goals

By Kasie Whitener

The top resolution every year is to lose weight. It’s not a coincidence that most of us feel like we’re carrying a little extra baggage.

For writers, losing weight means something a little different. The baggage we carry around is often unrealized goals. As we move into another year, we again plan to be more productive, give more time to our writing, and make actual progress toward publication.

Rather than renewing the same resolutions and hoping for the best, try these three strategies to ensure satisfaction.

Review 2014
First, review your goals from last year and determine how well you did against them.

For example, my biggest goal was to publish a manuscript. In March, I entered my completed novel in the First Novel Prize contest, the award for which was publication. I didn’t win. Rather than see that as missing a goal, I recognized the work done getting the manuscript ready. That work represents serious effort and progress.

What goals did you have for 2014? How did you do?

Set Realizable Goals
Be honest with yourself about what you want to achieve and how you plan to do it. Rely upon your knowledge of your own limitations to curb your most ambitious goals into achievable milestones. Set a goal that’s just beyond the work you’ve already done.

For example, my goal for 2015 is: Earn the interest of an agent willing to promote my work.
Earning an agent takes a modicum of work: I have written a query letter and had it critiqued and revised; I revised the first ten pages of the novel; I researched agents that represent the kind of work I’m offering and made a list of those I plan to approach.

How much have you already done toward the goal you’re setting?

Plan Check-ins
Other people are not necessarily planning to help us with our goals. For example, agents are not likely to respond immediately to the query and the work I send. Therefore, waiting for a response from one before sending another query could slow me down.

A periodic check-in can remind me how long it’s been since I sent the last query and determine if it’s time to send another to a new agent. I don’t want to get to December and find I only sent one query that was passively rejected (no response after some time is a passive rejection).

Are you moving closer to your goals?
I have a sign on my desk that says, “Is what you’re doing right now moving you closer to your goals?” The sign reminds me, every time I read it, to refocus, stop procrastinating, redirect when something’s not working, and be purposeful about the actions I take.

Begin with the end in mind and be prepared to seize the opportunity of a new year. You’ll find that even if you haven’t lost weight, you’ve managed not to gain any more in 2015.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Where Are You Finding Your Audience?


By Kimberly Johnson

Unearthing viewers for my creative compositions can be like a looking for water in the Kalahari Desert—I continue digging until I hit pay dirt. At times, I feel like using a dragnet formula — writing some topic that will appeal to all readers. I convince myself by saying stuff like “They understand my work.” or “I don’t have to explain it.” One day I pondered: Who really is my audience?

Janalyn Voigt, author of DawnSinger makes a startling confession. Maybe you have had the same one.
I confess: at first I wrote DawnSinger for its story without giving much thought to its readers. This showed in my inability to articulate who they might be. In my biased opinion, my novel’s target audience incorporated everyone. I soon discovered editors’ opinions of such a grandiose claim, especially from an emerging author. It’s not really true anyway. No book in existence appeals to all readers.

Here’s my confession: I’ve done that. Here’s my resolution: I produce an audience profile. The profile is not extensive; it is an outline of a few concepts (gender, locale, age). From there, I spend time on creating another outline that details aforementioned concepts, plus scouring the Internet on ways to market to my audience. I also read feedback from prior news articles, blogs and feature stories. Overall, I think keeping in touch with my existing audience in various formats will help me truly discover my intended one.


Sunday, December 14, 2014

Launch Parties: DIY Success Part 2


By Jodie Cain Smith
   









All the critical elements of a successful launch party must be addressed before a single dime was spent:
 1.      Budget. How much can you spend? How many books would you need to sell to break even? (Breaking even is possible if you spend carefully and market effectively.)
       2.      Venue. I chose an art gallery in Mobile and a theater in Columbia. Both places felt hip and welcoming with space for guests to mingle. The gallery location also provided random street traffic, which increased sales. (I have supportive communities in two different states and needed to create buzz in both. I encourage you to do a launch event in every area you have adequate support. The goal is to begin a successful grassroots campaign, which requires a lot of pounding the pavement. You only have two feet. Encourage your inner circle to become your street herd.) 
3.      Publicity. Facebook and email are free. Create a digital invitation using Photoshop and give your publisher (or keep for yourself) a list of print and online media for press releases. Approach reporters to write a feature story about you. The bottom line is you must sell yourself, not just your book. There is no room for hesitation or modesty. 
 4.      Help. Enlist friends and family early in the planning process. My volunteers spread the word, decorated, plated food, sold books, took photos, and cleaned up so that I could greet guests and sign books without appearing harried. The events would have failed without them.
5.      Refreshments. Finger foods eliminate the need for cutlery. A la Carte catering rather than full service keep costs down. One venue allowed me to provide wine for guests, so I cleaned out my wine storage of red and jumped at my parents’ offer of several bottles of white. The other venue, in exchange for the venue fee being waved, offered a cash bar.
6.      Decor. I chose a “Depression Era Chic” look using discount burlap, paper magnolias, and mason jars, highlighting the book’s setting. Photos from the book were blown up and framed. Large posters of the cover were mounted on foam board for tabletops and entryways. Look to your research from your book for more décor ideas, but don’t go overboard. Let the book cover be the star of the show.
7.      Itinerary. Greeting each guest is important. Mingle with guests and thank each one for attending the party. Reading from the book often kills the mood at launch parties. Instead, at forty-five minutes in, I gave a short speech expressing my gratitude and touched on the inspiration for and process that led to writing and publishing my first novel. Then, it’s to sign! Ask for correct spellings. Make it personal. Smile for selfies. Keep the line moving.
8.      Follow up. I cannot stress enough the importance of follow up. Send hand written thank you notes to those customers who bought several copies of your book. Post a thank you on your social media platforms for your guests. Place a “Please Review” card in every book you sell, asking readers to post a review on Amazon after reading. Keep your guests engaged long after the party with website and social media updates.

Are you planning a launch party soon? Post a question below or look me up online at www.jodiecainsmith.com.





Sunday, December 7, 2014

Launch Parties: DIY Success Part 1

By Jodie Cain Smith 
Three months ago I attended Kim Boykin’s book launch party for Palmetto Moon, her second with Berkley Books out of Manhattan. (Berkley Books falls under Penguin. That’s big time.) From the crab cakes and shrimp and grits to the signature cocktail to the elegant decor, the party was perfect. Standing in the midst of excited readers all waiting for their moment with the author, I wondered, “What of this can my small press with a small budget achieve?”

Launch Principle #1: Launch parties create buzz.

Then I spoke with Kim’s husband. “This was all Kim,” he said and gestured toward the lavish spread. “She did it all herself.”

I deflated. I knew I wanted a launch party for The Woods at Barlow Bend. And I wanted it to be special. I needed to get people talking about my book the way that crowd was excited for the newly released Kim Boykin, but what of that party could I achieve on little to no budget? If Kim Boykin with her Manhattan publisher was on her own, I began to panic over what my small press publisher could possibly afford.

Launch Principal #2: Be prepared to do it yourself!

Before going it alone, I asked Aurelia Sands of Deer Hawk Publications, my publisher, what she could do for the launch parties. She responded with press releases for both, marketing materials, and cookies and sweet tea for the one she would be able to attend. I leapt at her offer.

Now that I knew what my publisher could provide, I had to get organized. Launch parties, like any event that lacks thoughtful planning, can spiral out of control until you wind up flat broke in a burning building with no guests and crates of unsold books waiting to become kindling. I had to stretch my pennies, negotiate like a Wall Street tycoon, and exploit every possible benefactor in my life. I begged, borrowed, and stopped just short of stealing in the three months leading up to the launch of The Woods at Barlow Bend. And I don’t regret a thing.

Launch Principle #3: Success is in the details.

For my list of critical elements that every launch party must have, come back next Sunday. You’ll be glad you did!





Sunday, November 30, 2014

Updated Bio

JANIE KRONK

Janie lives with her husband and daughter in Columbia, South Carolina, where she has enjoyed the camaraderie and critiques of the South Carolina Writer's Workshop since 2006. Her writing has appeared in The Petigru Review and South Carolina Architecture.

Reflections on WRITING PAST DARK


By Janie Kronk

Bonnie Friedman's Writing Past Dark is not a new book. It was published 20 years ago, but its content remains fresh and relevant. The book is a writing guide offering little actual guidance – no ‘how-to’ on plot, character, or dialogue. No tips on technique. That isn't the point. In the author's words, the book is conceived as a companion, a "friend departing in the opposite direction who [you] can anticipate meeting in the middle" on the otherwise solitary journey of writing.

The book is organized into eight essays, each a manageable size for digestion in one sitting, about the "emotional" side of the writing life. The essays deal in turn with envy, distraction, hurt feelings, writing school, judgment, meaning, writer's block, and success.

Throughout, Friedman presents writing as a slow-developing process that begins on the inside--one that starts with a love of the process rather than hopes for any particular outcome. Preoccupations with success are external distractions that only get in the way. In The Wild Yellow Circling Beast, Friedman speaks of not being able to write until all thoughts have been separated from outside authority. She describes writing as happening in a place "like a chamber that registers the images of a photograph, and which must be kept dark for the picture to be captured."

Friedman also addresses internal judgment. "[O]ur obsession with perfection [makes] us mute," she says in Message From a Cloud of Flies. In Anorexia of Language, she further suggests that a reluctance to write may actually be a reluctance to destroy the beautiful vision in one's mind by putting it on paper, where it will be imperfect. Writers must set this "non-book" in their head aside and allow imperfection in the real book in order to move forward.

Finding meaning in all this work is a topic that weaves its way through the book. In The Story's Body, Friedman builds a case that there is no need to insert "hidden meaning" into a story. Because the world is "imbued" with meaning, to write about this world (and the things in it as perceived with the five senses) will naturally give rise to meaning. In other words, writers don't create meaning; they communicate meaning that is already present in the world. "I saw books milked the world," Friedman says in The Paraffin Density of Wax Wings. A writer's task is to find "the optimal arrangement of words to convey the most meaning possible."

Writing After Dark does not offer technical insight on how to find this optimal arrangement of words. There are other books for that. What this book does do, in often beautiful language embroidered with insight, is encourage us to live well and to write with abandon. And, through writing, to "heal the rift between the hours we've lived through and the authoritarian grid of language."


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Managing the Rejection: Knowing When NOT to Say When


By Len Lawson

I submitted a poetry manuscript to a highly coveted university press. Six months later I received its response: a rejection. However, within that six months, I was not clutching my cheeks in front of my computer every day waiting for an email from the publisher. I wrote more poems and perfected my craft, so I resubmitted to them an updated manuscript in a reply email . We'll meet back in another six months to see how this turns out...

Rejection will always be a part of the writer's existence. Unfortunately, it is like a continual pain in the body that has to be managed effectively. Otherwise, the body, or in this case the writer, will double over in agony with every hurt.

Here are some tips to counter the sting of rejection from publishers and editors:

1. Don't take it personally. Rejection from a publisher or editor is NOT an indictment on a writer's character or personality. I try to place myself in the shoes of these individuals. Publishers and editors receive hundreds to thousands of manuscripts annually on a continual basis. Their challenge is to choose works that either fit their style or that they feel represents their entity the best. It's almost like a lottery where one or a few manuscripts are chosen from many selections that actually have merit. The ratios are really pathetic when we stop to think about it. They do their best to select their own opinion of merit. In other words, it's not us; it's them.

2. Resubmit. Most publishers/editors will allow us to submit a new manuscript within a reasonable amount of time. I recall recently when I submitted a poem to an online journal, and the editor rejected it. I quickly replied to their rejection with more poems I had written during their selection period. Ultimately, the editor chose two of the new poems I submitted. Unless there is a limit on submissions for a single writer, continue to seek what the publisher/editor is looking for by resubmitting. I tend to use a "three-strikes rule" when resubmitting. After the third rejection, I may get the picture that my stuff is not what they want (...or I may not...).

3. Keep writing and submitting during the selection period. Do not, as the saying goes, place all the eggs in one basket. Most publishers/editors will allow writers to have simultaneous submissions, which means that writers can still submit one work to many presses at the same time. However, if the work is accepted, then the other presses should be notified (it's like reverse rejection!).One publisher/editor is not, as they say, the only game in town. We should not simply await our fate in the publisher's/editor's  hands. We are the writers. We have the talent. We should not be afraid to share our work with multiple sources. We are worth it!


This writer's/poet's life is the way of rejection which is why most people quit in a short period of time. The key is to NEVER GIVE UP. In search for publication,  we become more like explorers or hunters in search of the editors and publishers that "get" our work. When we find them, it's like that great archaeological discovery or like striking oil or gold. Then, after we do, the best writers become addicted to it and search for more: more publications, more audiences,  more readers, more hearts and minds that surge with our words. Let's go exploring,  friends! The spoils are ours for the taking!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

WRITERS’ CONFERENCES REDUX

By Mike Long 

So, after my last blog on my love of writers’ conferences, I should offer an update for some balance. Mary and I recently returned from three days in Eureka Springs, AR, participating in the Ozark Creative Writers Conference. It did not go exactly as planned.

There were four primary reasons we attended, aside from the facts that we'd never been to northwestern Arkansas and it was Fall in the Ozarks; good reasons by themselves, and those good reasons saved the trip for us.

The things we were really looking forward to were: 
(A) the release of my third novel, Higher Ground, by High Hill Press (conference host)
(B) meeting screenwriter/author Robert Knott and maybe pushing my books at him 
(C) seeing Tiffany Schofield, Acquisitions Editor, Five Star/ Cengage, who was bringing contracts to publish my two novels as hardcover large-print editions for the library market
(D) having Gary Goldstein (Kensington Press) give my fourth novel a "NY look"

None of those things happened.

The day prior to the conference, Louella Turner of High Hill Press emailed that Higher Ground wasn't ready for print; she assured me that it would be out by 30 November and therefore available for contest consideration by year end. I didn't nail her down on which year exactly.

Robert Knott, Tiffany Schofield, and Gary Goldstein were no-shows. Seems the Fall is a great time for funerals. Delta, World's Largest Non-Scheduled Airline, added to the fun.

Nevertheless, we had a great time. The region and town were quaint and colorful, and the weather was perfect, except for the persistent rain. Many friends from the Western Writers of America were there and that fellowship suppressed any disappointment. I'd grabbed the last suite at the conference center, so lots of folks found their way to our unit after each night's Happy Hour/Dinner. Talk about fellowship. Most left by two AM, and all left before Mary left me. Award-winning authors Dale Jackson, Brett Cogburn, and Johnny D. Boggs were there and helped me with the liquor.

Our featured speaker was Jeff Guinn and he was delightful. Author of much nonfiction, he has best-sellers on Charles Manson, Wyatt Earp, and Bonnie and Clyde; we are reading them now.

In short, we made lemonade out of castor oil, or maybe vice versa. We still like conferences but have slightly reduced our expectations.


Sunday, November 9, 2014

WRITE WHAT PEOPLE WILL PAY TO READ

 By Fred Fields

To my mind, there are two types of writers, those who write for their own pleasure, and those who want to be read and to sell books.

This blog post is for the latter group.

When we were in school, our teachers had to read whatever we wrote. God bless them. That was probably true suffering, considering many of the essays they were forced to grade.

Nobody has to read what we write today. In fact, for us to be successful, our readers must find us, be spurred to interest, and be inspired to buy. That's right, they must be induced to pay for the privilege of reading what we have written.

For us to motivate a reader's investment, we should consider what people would like to read. What kind of fiction is selling? In whose biography might they be interested? What would they like to learn?

More than that, we must encourage the potential reader to believe that he or she will enjoy what we have written. This can be difficult. A book written by Stephen King offers some idea of its quality. A book written by Regina Farina, not so much. Nobody ever heard of Ms. Farina nor have they read any of her output.

My suggestions for getting people to buy your books:
          A. Pick a subject or a genre of interest to a large segment of the population
          B. Title your epic with an attention grabbing-name
         C. Write with a style that is easy to enjoy with good dialog, real movement of the                story, and clever, intelligent, even funny stories and observations
          D. Learn how to market your efforts to be found by the largest possible segment                 of the population.

Most important of all, know the specific audience you are targeting.

It's fine to write for your own enjoyment, but not necessarily profitable.




Sunday, November 2, 2014

2014 SCWW Conference: What a Treat!

By Jodie Cain Smith
It was that time of year again, that magical season when one hundred or so writers gather with a select faculty to geek out about the craft of writing for two and half straight days at Myrtle Beach.  And the 2014 South Carolina Writers’ Workshop did not disappoint.

But first, bring on the usual conference trappings. 

I am now properly carb-loaded for a marathon thanks to the mass catering proteins with all the flavor and texture of wet cardboard. Too bad I don’t run.  Or eat fish off of a buffet. 

The hotel had its annoyances, put in place to remind us that Dorothy was right, “There’s no place like home.”  My room phone was possessed by the devil and rang throughout night one until I ripped it from the wall.  O.K., so maybe I merely unplugged it, but I did so with gusto after learning the importance of tension in my Friday session. 

And of course, the class hijackers were in full swing, ready and waiting to commandeer a session.  Yes, I know he knows everything there is to know about computers and the Internet and blogging and she re-reads Edgar Allen Poe’s complete works before bed each night, but for the love of Pete, I paid to hear the actual expert speak!

Now, for the good stuff, the classes! 

My fears of being bored, maddened, and humiliated were unfounded.  Although the class topics were familiar, the information was not. 

Scott Lax’s character development offered insight into the mind of a successful author and his process.  The marketing class, Promoting Yourself:  It’s a DIY World taught by the delightful Barabara Claypole-White, offered fresh ideas and practical, realistic solutions.  In The 12 Dos & Don’ts of Crime Writing Ann Collette taught me to keep it real, keep it simple, and keep it moving.  I wish I had met Joan Edwards, instructor of How to Add Pizzazz to Your Blog, two years ago when I first started my blog.  I want to wrap her in a bear hug for the information she relayed to me regarding controlling spam, finding free photos, and creating usable content.  But I won’t grab her while yelling, “Thank you! Thank you!  Thank you!”  She seemed rather shy, and I wouldn’t want to discourage her from teaching strangers again.  Finally, the last panel, Discover the Depth in Your Writing, led by Aurelia Sands provoked more deep thought with questions such as “Does my character like mayonnaise?” and the suggestion to take a personality test as my character in order to understand her better. 


Clearly, I had a lot to learn and much more work to do, but by noon on Sunday, I felt energized and up to the challenge.  That energy, that desire to conquer the world, is the best takeaway from a conference like this.  After all the networking and note taking, the exchange of ideas and business cards, I now feel I have a huge community of writers and industry professionals pulling for me, hoping for my success.  And that is the cherry on my conference sundae.  

Sunday, October 26, 2014

BILLY IDOL: ROCK-and-ROLL POET

By Kimberly Johnson

Last Saturday afternoon I closed the last chapter on William Broad’s defiant Dancing With Myself. This dude was The Man. For those who listened to the FM dial in the ‘80s know I am talking about Billy Idol. Idol’s rock god status is cemented with iconic tunes such as “Rebel Yell,” “White Wedding” and “Eyes Without A Face.” I watched him on MTV. I danced with myself. I recommend checking out his autobiography today.

I see Idol as a free-will poet, someone who used unpretentious literary devices to express the English punk scene angst of the ‘70s. Poems layer on imagery, word association and musicality to get the point across.

His rock-hard spiky blond locks, scowling sneer and tight leather pants lured me to the TV screen. Yet, it was his poet-like elegance that got me to memorize his edgy chants. To the haters, here’s why he’s a rock and roll bard: He uses repetition and imagery.

Exhibit A: Eyes Without A Face (I still don’t know what this means.)
Les yeux sans visage eyes without a face Les yeux sans visage eyes without a face Les yeux sans visage eyes without a face Got no human grace your eyes without a face.

He uses POV to tell the story. In this 1983 song, Idol narrates.

Exhibit B: White Wedding (In the book, Idol says this is about a shotgun wedding for his sister.)
Hey little sister what have you doneHey little sister who's the only oneHey little sister who's your supermanHey little sister who's the one you want
Hey little sister shotgun 

http://www.poetry.org/whatis.htm





Sunday, October 19, 2014

Oaxaca Film Festival – Day One



  
By Laura P. Valtorta


Oaxaca, Mexico, October 8, 2014. There are hundreds of film festivals open to Americans these days. The Oaxaca Film Festival, in the mountains of central Mexico, is one of the best. I came here because my feature-length screenplay, Bermuda, was accepted. I arrived in town two days late. Today, alone, I was given the opportunity to pitch my screenplay four times, once in front of an audience (filmed pitch) and three times before studio executives who actually have money to make films. That, for me, makes this a successful festival. The last producer asked for additional material. All four pitch sessions allowed me time to practice telling my story.

Everyone I spoke to today was interested to hear that the stage play version of this story was produced and directed this August in Columbia, SC by LeaSharn Hopkins, of New Life Productions. This is very much a South Carolina story, as well as a Mexican one.

The Oaxaca Film Festival is now in its fifth year. It strikes a fine balance between English speakers and Spanish speakers. Every session I’ve attended has accommodated both languages. Unfortunately I don’t speak any Spanish, but every presenter at the festival speaks good English. They also recognize that my name is Italian. They are good fellow Latins.

The atmosphere here is international Last night I saw two excellent independent films: a feature set in Mexico City (lLos Banistas), and a short filmed in Quebec. 

I noticed that the Oaxacan attitude is laid back. When Oaxacans speak English, they use a ton of good old-fashioned Anglo-Saxon swear words.

Filmmakers can enter the Oaxaca Film Festival using Film Freeway.

The day ended with a peaceful demonstration in the city center regarding those students who were apparently killed by police near Oaxaca. Many people marched. The police were there with machine guns. We were locked out of the festival for 20 minutes until the demonstration passed.

Afterwards, I noticed that the police tore down posters of the dead students that the marchers had pasted on the walls along the sidewalks.


Sunday, October 12, 2014

THE RELATIVITY OF RULES

By Bonnie Stanard

Just when I thought I had some idea of point of view (POV), I read a story that has me scratching my head. I can hear groans coming from Columbia II writers. Oh no, here she goes again. Bonnie’s obsessed. Hasn’t enough been written about POV already?

Yes, but I have a footnote, and I’ll try to get to it.

For clarity’s sake, we writers stick to one POV for any given scene (or chapter or novel). Take a look at the excerpts below taken from a short story I read recently. What is the POV?
He felt no floor under his feet
He aims for me to lie, he thought, again with that frantic grief and despair.
He’s coming down the stairs now, he thought.

The information here is filtered through one person (in this case a boy). My first reaction is that it’s third limited POV, for we know what the boy is thinking and feeling. We’re given his interior monologues. However, if third limited POV, we should be limited to whatever he sees, hears, or knows.

Intermixed with the above sentences are others like these:
[had the boy been] Older he might have remarked this and wondered….
But he did not think this now.
[an expression of] amazed disbelief which the boy could not have known was…
he did not know it was midnight…

Isn’t this omniscient? This is where I’m scratching my head. The story is being told from the boy’s point of view, so why is the omniscient narrator sticking his nose into the story to tell us things the boy can’t or doesn’t know? Has this author mixed third limited with omniscient POV within a given text?

You might expect the writing to be unclear if not pedestrian, but it’s not. And in the hands of an author of less ability than William Faulkner, it might well have been. The way I read this is that it’s omniscient in spite of the interior monologue. It’s not actually the boy telling the story. It’s the god-like narrator, who knows the boy’s thoughts and quotes them as the plot progresses. This departs from our conventional understanding of POV. Only a professional like Faulkner can make something like this work. These excerpts are taken from his short story “Barn Burning,” and you can find the complete text at the website below.*

There’s a quote which goes something like this—Know the rules so you can break them. Of those creative writers who take chances (i.e., break the rules), some are rewarded by critics with labels such as “innovative” or “original.” Failing that, some are labeled as “confusing” or “slipshod.” Some day, I hope I’ll know enough about writing that I’ll be able to mess with the rules in a way that isn’t an embarrassing exhibition of ignorance.

*http://lssc.edu/faculty/holly_larson/Shared%20Documents/Barn%20Burning%20by%20William%20Faulkner.pdfhttp://lssc.edu/faculty/holly_larson/Shared%20Documents/Barn%20Burning%20by%20William%20Faulkner.pdf (a note: this publication has dropped the italics that appear in other published copies of this story.)


Sunday, October 5, 2014

Conferences For Writers

By Mike Long 


I joined Western Writers of America (WWA) in 2010, shortly after publishing No Good Like It Is through Createspace. Mary and I attended our first WWA conference that year in Knoxville.

I did more talking than listening, but I did meet a fellow and told him I was working on a sequel. He took my first book and later asked if his sister's company, Goldminds Publishing, could publish the sequel. We came up with a contract and Dog Soldier Moon was produced in late 2010. As part of the deal I received 2000 copies at a very low price; Goldminds wanted 3000 copies for their use. The combined run gave us both a nice savings in cost from the offshore printer. Goldminds also did a second run of my first novel at the same price. Sales of those novels have now exceeded 4000 each.

In 2011 and 2012, we attended WWA conferences in Bismarck, ND and Albuquerque, NM. We vacationed a lot, and I networked a little. In 2013, the conference was in Las Vegas, NM, and I finally knew enough folks to really network. I met Mike Harris who owns La Frontera Publishing, as well as Brett Cogburn (Rooster's great-grandson), who won the SPUR Award that year for Best First Novel. Both were looking for short stories for upcoming anthologies. Mike Harris has now published my story, “The Resurrection,” in this year's anthology Broken Promises.

Brett wanted a story for an anthology he was working on with Louella Turner, co-owner of High Hill Press. “Choteau's Crossing” was the result, and Lou Turner published it this year in Rough Country. Brett also introduced me to Lou and got her to look at the third book in my trilogy, Higher Ground.

This year's conference was in Sacramento, CA, and “Choteau's Crossing” took second place in the SPUR Awards. Lou Turner and Brett asked for more short stories; I've submitted three more so far. Lou also announced that she'll release Higher Ground in October at the Ozarks Creative Writers (OCW) conference, Eureka Springs, AR. Brett asked for another Western novel (unrelated to the trilogy) to show to a NY publisher at OCW. It's a first-person POV, working title, Brodie. I submitted it last week. We'll see how that goes.

Brett also introduced me to Tiffany Schofield of Five Star Press in Sacramento. She looked at my trilogy and has agreed to publish it in hard-cover large-print versions for library sales. I'll receive an advance of $750 for each novel, plus 10% of sales.

The 2015 conference will be in Lubbock TX; I will be focused on screenwriting. Conferences? Mikey likes 'em.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

Revision: Catching the Vision Again

By Len Lawson

I have this process I go through whenever I write a new poem or a new chapter of a novel. After I gain inspiration from a phrase, scene, or topic that catches my attention, I furiously write down each line or scene. When this gorgeous episode of creativity and imagination is over, then the euphoria sets in. I feel like I have written the greatest piece of writing known to man. That's where the trouble starts.

Immediately, I want to shotgun the piece to every publisher or journal I can think of. I have learned to resist those urges because they usually lead to rejection letters. The lesson here is that a writer is only as good as he allows his revision process to be. Once the euphoria wears off, then the real flaws and opportunities for improvement in the piece can be detected.

Here are some proofreading and revising tips that have helped my work become accepted or have brought me more satisfaction in my writing.

1. Allow the piece to "breathe." Just walk away. Put down the pen, pencil, or computer and step away from the page. Do not even look at it again until the haze of euphoria wears off. The high from the creative process can be delightful, but it is not the end of the process. It is only the beginning. Don't make any rash decisions here. Just let the work breathe for a few hours or days. Then, come back to it (easier said than done, I know).

2. Allow the creative process to continue. In the same way we can get inspired to write something we think is great, we can also be inspired after the draft has been written. Sometimes the best lines or scenes come in the revising phase. We do ourselves a disservice when we think our first draft is our best draft. We can still experience those moments of brilliance during the revision.

3. Allow another set of eyes to view the piece. There is no more sobering feeling to a writer than allowing another writer or editor to read our work. This will shift the euphoria into hysteria. However, it is good for us. We must let someone who is not emotionally attached to the work tell us what readers, publishers, and other editors will see. The best place to get an honest, objective critique is from a writers group like SCWW. I cannot express how much my writing has improved by putting my work into the hands of passionate writers.

Everything we write should go through a revision. Our favorite novels, essays, and poems went through this process. In fact, this very blog went through a revision process. As writers, we should not feel that our work is any different. We should embrace the revision. In it, we can see truths and errors we have missed. We can also catch a new or updated vision of our work. Revision allows us to catch the vision again.