A New Venture with a Grey Wolfe

When I wrote Winthrop Risk, Detective, it wasn’t meant to be a picture book.  It’s what I call a transitional book.

Let me explain.

When my younger son was a child, he struggled to read because of his dyslexia.  He loved stories but just couldn’t read them by himself.  After much time and struggle (thank you, Hooked on Phonics!), he began to get the hang of it.  Still, moving him from picture books to chapter books was proving to be impossible.  I managed to find a couple of books that had short, easy chapters and only a few pencil illustrations.  Each chapter he read on his own gave him the confidence to try another one.  Eventually, he was able to move on to full-length books.  At 27, he still struggles with words; but he loves to read and has even started to write a book of his own.  Helping children like him gently transition from picture books to chapter books was what I had in mind when I wrote Winthrop Risk, Detective.

I believe kids who have reading problems (especially boys) lose their interest in stories because they can’t make the move from books where the pictures tell the story to chapter books where there are only words to tell the story.  I wanted to write a few books that would serve as a transition between those two worlds.  Sadly, my attempts at illustration have been, well, unfortunate; and hiring an artist was financially out of the question.  I forged ahead and self-published the book as a simple 32-page, 4-chapter book.

The result was a book with a good story but an amateurish appearance.  I’ve sold about a half-dozen copies on Amazon and Kindle.

A couple of weeks ago, I came upon a TV interview with a local author and he mentioned a place called the Grey Wolfe Scriptorium (http://www.GreyWolfePublishing.com).  It’s an indie bookstore and publisher housed in a strip mall not too far from here.  They emphasize local Michigan authors in their store, offer publishing advice and services (including providing illustrators who work at an affordable price), and host a variety of writing events.  I contacted them and they graciously accepted a few copies of my book for their local authors’ section.

Sometime this summer, they’ll arrange for me to do a reading in the store.  They’ll also spotlight the book on their Facebook page.  I’ve been invited to sit in on their monthly meetings of authors, illustrators, and others in the book industry to swap ideas and get advice.  They’re also going to help me set up a website.  They love books and they respect the people who create them.  Amazon is simply too monolithic an entity for all that.  In fact, from what I hear, not even big traditional publishers put that kind of effort into their authors.

I don’t regret making the move to self-publish on Amazon.  If I didn’t have the book out there, I wouldn’t have something to put on the shelf at the Grey Wolfe Scriptorium.  I know other indie authors are doing well with Amazon, but it just doesn’t seem to be working for me the way I have it set up.  I’ll take the lion’s share of the blame for that; but let’s face it, Amazon simply prints on demand whatever people write, and a lot of that is garbage.  They profit when a book sells, regardless of its quality, so it makes no business sense for them to put any effort into promotion.  You have to pay to promote your book with them in the hope it will be noticed among the thousands of other titles Amazon carries.  More money for them.  It’s basic capitalism–they provide a service and we pay for that service.  Nobody holds a gun to our head.  We agree to the terms, but the odds definitely favor the house.

My plan, if the folks at Grey Wolfe agree, is to eventually pull my book from Amazon, have an illustrator do some simple drawings for each chapter, and republish the book through their indie publishing group, Write Duck Press.  The Winthrop Risk sequels I’m planning would go there, as well.  Eventually, I’ll save up enough money to pay an illustrator so I can start publishing the picture book manuscripts I’ve been sitting on.  And I’ll have the backup of experienced people who actually care whether or not my stories are purchased and read.

I wish I had known about Grey Wolfe Publishing/Write Duck Press/The Grey Wolfe Scriptorium a couple of years ago.  If you live in Michigan, check out their store in Clawson, Michigan.  They carry more than 100 titles by local authors.  Buy a book!  Wherever you live, look for an indie bookstore in your area.  They may have services available to you as an author that you’ll never get from the big boys in the publishing world.

Publishing doesn’t have to be the demoralizing experience it has become for so many writers.  There are still people out there who appreciate and respect the storytellers in the world.  Let the big publishing houses continue to crank out formulaic, trendy, market-driven, plotless titles featuring TV cartoon characters.  Thank goodness, today’s writers have other options.

Thank you, Grey Wolfe Scriptorium!

 

Advertisements

If you’re a lousy writer…

…what do you do?

A young woman recently posted on a Facebook page for self-published authors how painful it was for her to read the cruel reviews of her book on Amazon.  I read through the comments, and our fellow authors tried very hard to explain to her why the book was tanking.  They were amazingly kind and diplomatic about it.  Several went through the trouble of reading an excerpt and then offering a critique.

The young lady had apparently been through some traumatic experiences and wanted to share her fight with the world.  Her intentions were good.  She hoped reading her story would help someone in a similar situation.

The problem was, she couldn’t write her way out of the proverbial paper bag.  Her spelling was awful, and she didn’t seem to know the basic rules of grammar.  The spellcheck and grammar check functions on her computer were either ignored or disabled.  Her thoughts, according to other writers, were scattered and rambling.  The manuscript read like a very rough first draft.

They all gave what amounted to the same pieces of advice.  She had to pull the book.  She needed a professional editor.  She needed to revise, revise, revise.

To that I added that she should take a refresher course in basic grammar.  Yes, I said it nicely and encouraged her to continue to hone her craft.

I don’t know if she has it in her to become a good writer.  It isn’t enough to have a compelling tale to tell–you have to know how to tell it.

Look, we’re writers and we want to be published.  There’s no shame in that.  The shame lies in manuscripts that are clicked into existence before they’ve been properly bled over.

So, what’s a lousy writer to do?  Well, if you aren’t willing to do the work, stop.  You aren’t a writer.  You’re a wannabe with romantic notions about walnut-paneled offices, tweed jackets, and brandy snifters.  This is real life, not a Hallmark movie.  Get a grip.

Read.  Familiarize yourself with words and how other writers string them like lovely pearls across the page.

Reeducate.  Take a grammar course at your local adult education center or on-line.  All that sentence structure stuff Sister Margaret Mary tried to pound into your skull really does matter.

Read about writing.  I was having trouble getting started because I was trying to write straight through from beginning to end and knew nothing about plotting a story.  I found it helpful to read a couple of books about writing in my genre and figured out where I was going wrong.  But be careful not to let reading about writing take the place of actual writing.  That’s an easy trap to fall into.

Revise your manuscript again and again until you’re satisfied with it, and then give it to an impartial reader for a critique.  Writing groups are excellent for this purpose.

There is a certain wonderful drudgery to writing.  It’s exhausting.  It’s exhilarating.  It’s the most intense love/hate relationship you’ll ever have.  There are days you give up and swear you’ll never go back to it.  But a few days or weeks later, the Muse returns with flowers and chocolates and apologizes for being such a jerk, and off you go.

Finish the sentence for me:  Any job worth doing is worth doing __________.

 

Bold, Beautiful Bastards

I just read Laurie Gough’s (www.twitter.com/lauriegough) Huffington Post piece, Self-Publishing: An Insult to the Written Word published on December 29, 2016 (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/laurie-gough/selfpublishing-an-insult-_b_13606682.html).

As most of you know, I’m the self-published author of Winthrop Risk, Detective–The Mystery of the Missing Hamster (Amazon and Kindle), so Ms. Gough’s assessment of self-publishing and “wannabe” writers pissed me off more than just a tad.

Ms. Gough opines that self-publishing is “…an insult to the written word, the craft of writing, and the tradition of literature.”  She fears that “…writing itself is becoming devalued.”  In her mind, self-publishing is something bad writers “resort to” when they can’t get a traditional publisher to back their work.  It’s acceptable, she says, for a writer to self-publish “…especially if they’re elderly.  Perhaps they want to write their life story and have no time to learn how to write well enough to be published traditionally.”  In other words, let the old folks self-publish because they might croak before they’re good enough to grab the attention of an agent.  How generous of her.

You get the impression someone put her up to this.

I will concede her point that there is a lot of crap out there. But there are also people with great potential who just haven’t quite learned how to polish a manuscript that could have used a few more trips through the sieve. It’s the ultimate school of hard knocks and the marketplace will weed out the less than serious authors.  Gough’s article hysterically labels self-publishing and self-published writers as disrespectful, wannabes, an insult, and taking short cuts.  Indeed, the only similarity she sees between published and self-published books is that “…they each have words on pages inside a cover.”

Well, golly gee! That there sounds like hubris to my wannabe ears!

Ms. Gough is clearly laboring under some false assumptions, the tip of her nose having obscured her vision.  Let’s review.

Gough feels self-published authors haven’t been at it long enough and rush their manuscripts to print. Really? It took me more than a year and multiple revisions to write Winthrop Risk, which is a simple four-chapter mystery written for early readers.  I labored over every word, every character, and every scene. It was critiqued by my writing group. Rushed to print? Not on your life. I busted my ass and it’s a damn fine book.

What about those gatekeepers Gough has such high regard for?  The gatekeepers have a nasty habit of getting it wrong.  We’ve all heard the stories about famous authors whose manuscripts were rejected over and over again before finally becoming bestsellers.  Sometimes it’s as simple as which intern happens to pick your envelope from the slush pile.  It’s something of a crap shoot. In fact, I suspect a great many manuscripts are never read, particularly if they’re submitted on line. I once got a rejection e-mail seconds after hitting “send”.  Most publishers won’t even consider a writer who lacks an agent, and far too many agents don’t want to work with an unknown.  The gatekeepers Ms. Gough is so fond of have dug themselves a nice little moat and filled it with crocodiles.  Excuse me while I go around the castle and maintain ownership and control of what I worked so hard to create.

I know a fine writer who went the traditional route.  She queried an agent and won representation.  A publisher expressed interest in her work and asked for some revisions, which were dutifully supplied.  Then the publisher decided they weren’t interested after all.  Screw that.

Is self-publishing an insult to the art of writing? Who decides? Is it the same type of educated knucklehead that decided a crucifix in a jar of urine was art? My idea of what makes a good children’s story is very different from a lot of what’s out there today. I hate political correctness and hold in the greatest contempt authors who use children’s publishing to push their particular ideology; but if you’re a social justice warrior with a love for F-bombs, you’re pretty much a shoe-in.  Books along the lines of “Timmy’s dog was run over by a bus today” or “Hey, mom! Grandma’s dead!” or “The problem with white people is…” may be popular with adults, but no normal, healthy kid wants that for a bedtime story.  The written word may not be getting the respect it deserves, but that disrespect isn’t coming from me.  Blame the gatekeepers.

Ms. Gough seems to have gotten stuck in some sort of time warp as she confuses old school vanity publishing with self-publishing.  I have great news for her.  I didn’t pay a dime to Kindle to get my book out there.  And I didn’t spend one minute “…sitting back and waiting for a stack of books to arrive…” at my door.  Publishing on Kindle is free and the books are printed on demand and shipped directly to the buyer.  Much more eco-friendly than traditional publishing, by the way.  Maybe Gough has watched too many movies.  I’m reminded of Dennis Farina’s character in “Authors Anonymous” as he sits at a folding table at the local hardware store, trying to sell copies of his awful book.

I’ve only sold a handful of books and I have no marketing apparatus to help me.  I’m flying blind, but I’m flying. I’m doing what I’ve always dreamed of doing and I’m doing it well.  I’ve done it on my terms, held true to my own vision, and I don’t have to share the little money I earn with the publishing bullies.

So to all my fellow self-published authors who write and create wonderful art without representation and without fetters, bravo.

Brazen, bold, beautiful bastards, all.

 

Is the Ad Worth the Price?

I’ve been getting emails from Amazon offering an advertising package for my children’s book, Winthrop Risk, Detective.

Seems they’ll have my book turn up here and there when someone searches for something in my genre.  Each time someone clicks on my book, I have to pay Amazon something like 25 cents.

Have any of you self-published daredevils used Amazon’s service?

Was it worth the price?

 

Time for a little shameless promotion

I wrote this mini-mystery for kids who are outgrowing picture books but aren’t ready for a full-blown novel. Four entertaining chapters of mystery, the school bully, loyalty, and finding out who your friends are.  Available on Amazon and Kindle.  And don’t forget to write a review!

51WRp+byKeL__SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

We’re All Still Writing

I just read a wonderful book about writing, “Still Writing–The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life,” (Grove Press) by Dani Shapiro @danijshapiro, so let me start by saying I give it very high marks and strongly recommend it.  This isn’t a book about the fastest way to get an agent or the latest marketing gimmicks.  It’s about writing and being a writer.

What a relief.

I’ve read several books about writing over the years. They serve as a sort of creative boost for me when I can’t seem to get the words out. I feel, in some way, that these books give me permission to want to write.  I wish I could explain that.  I guess I sometimes feel like I’ve walked into the lobby of a private club and I don’t have an ID card to show to the guy at the desk.  I keep expecting the bouncer to show up and tell me I have no business being there.

When I read an interview with a writer, the thing I most want to hear about isn’t how they got their agent or how they got published–I want to hear about their process.  What is their day like?  Do they write at home or in a café?  In pajamas in bed, or dressed and in an office?  Are they outliners or do they write as they go along?  It’s not that I can’t figure out my own writing process (I know very well how my brain works), but I continue to be fascinated by how other writers get the job done.

Other writers.  Did I just include myself in that category?

Confession:  For those who don’t know me, I am a newly self-published children’s author (Winthrop Risk, Detective–The Mystery of the Missing Hamster available on Amazon and Kindle).  Check it out.

I remember years ago when the idea of self-publishing was considered something to be embarrassed about, as if people were sitting in their basements writing porn.  “Vanity publishing” they called it back then, because obviously anyone who thought they knew better than the publishing world had to possess a monstrous ego.  Picture a would-be author spending a small fortune to have their book printed, only to be left with boxes of unsold books stuffed in an attic someplace.  There was no Amazon back then, no Kindle.   It was risky, and I don’t know if anyone was actually successful at it.

The simple truth is that if you can’t get agents or publishers to consider your work (or you just want to bypass them altogether and maintain creative control) and you decide to self-publish, you had better be sure the publishing gatekeepers are wrong.  Very wrong.

The ease of self-publishing has, I understand, cluttered the literary landscape with a lot of badly written or badly edited books.  I guess for some people the desire to be published races past their desire to write and edit well and the result is…unfortunate.  I think I’ve avoided that particular pitfall.  I hope you will, too.

Trying to Prime the Pump

With the first book in the Winthrop Risk Mysteries out, I’ve been trying to get back to writing the second book. I love the main character, Winthrop.  I didn’t want to create a character who starts out afraid of his own shadow and grows to realize how great he really is at the end of the story.  No.  That would make him a pansy and I don’t like pansies.  I wanted a character who, though smaller than the other kids and considered a loser, had great self-confidence and knew exactly who he was from the very first sentence.

Carrying that character forward is really the easy part.  His Chandleresque dialogue is a blast to write and I actually came up with most of that before I had the plot in place for the first book.  There will be a couple of recurring characters.  The difficulty is that while writing a child’s version of a mystery, one can’t introduce any dead bodies, drug dealers, or torrid affairs.  It has to be clean and not too scary.  Some form of theft is OK, as long as the bad guys don’t carry weapons.  I’m working on making the setting creepy by focusing on Winthrop’s school and how it looks at dusk.  My young characters aren’t allowed out to roam the streets after dark on a school night.  The exact nature of the mystery and the motive continue to elude me, though I’ve jotted down several possibilities.

I’m not one to read mysteries.  I will watch the occasional “cozy” mystery on TV and I’m a rabid fan of Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock.  I spent a good part of yesterday watching a few cozy mysteries and the formula is pretty much the same in all of them.  Not a great deal of violence, but a lot of dead bodies.  They all seem to involve someone (usually a woman) who isn’t a detective but always manages to outwit the local police department and solve the mystery before they do.  I picked up another Raymond Chandler book in the Philip Marlowe series for inspiration, and a book about writing mysteries.  Letting the analytical portion of my brain work on one thing allowed the creative portion to spit out the occasional idea, and I kept my pen and notebook handy to catch them before they were forgotten.

I’ve heard it said that some people want to be writers and others want to have written.  Having written, I find myself luxuriating in the feeling of getting back to the blank page, the random notes, and thinking about what comes next.  It’s good to have written, but being a writer is where the fun really is.

Word-2-Kindle Rocks!

You’ll recall I had pulled my new book, Winthrop Risk, Detective, from Kindle because I couldn’t get the formatting right.  A little Google search turned up a service called  Word-2-Kindle.com and with a little help from the wonderful Nick Caya, my book is professionally formatted and is officially for sale on Kindle!

Amazon’s CreateSpace wanted $79 to format the book for Amazon’s Kindle.  Displeased with Amazon scratching its own back at my expense, I went in search of a more reasonably priced and responsive service.  Enter Nick of Word-2-Kindle!  For $49, he had my book reformatted within 2 days.  When I had trouble opening the file (not Nick’s fault but due to my own lack of computer savvy), my plea for help was answered in just minutes and I was able to finish the Kindle publishing process.

As self-published authors, we have to wear a lot of hats:  writer, creative director, publicist, marketing guru, etc.  One thing I can’t be is a computer whiz. I tried.  Believe me, I tried. I figured I could keep trying and failing or I could admit my shortcomings and employ someone who knew what they were doing. I think I made a good call.

 

 

 

Quite the Learning Curve

There’s a lot you don’t know when you set about to self-publish your book.  Getting the manuscript to Amazon, ordering a proof, and getting it out there was pretty easy.  I did change the font and line spacing. Keep in mind that what looks OK on typewritten pages is pretty hard on the eyes in book form. Choose something bolder than Courier and definitely spend a few bucks (mine was about $5) and order a printed proof of your book. You won’t regret it. It’s probably something you can write off as a business expense; but since I have to pay someone to do my taxes because I can’t get past the part where I fill out my name, you might want to check with your accountant.  Just sayin’.

Then there’s Kindle. Create Space and Kindle are both Amazon related, so you would think the conversion of your book from the print form of Create Space would translate easily to the e-book form of Kindle. Shockingly, this is not so.  In fact, for those of us who are not computer literate (i.e., the over 50 crowd), the process can be quite frustrating. I kept doing what they said to do (at least what I thought they said to do) and the manuscript on the Kindle preview still looked choppy and ridiculous. I don’t do choppy and ridiculous.

Create Space will generously (wink, wink) reformat your manuscript to work on Kindle for a paltry sum of $79 (US).  In my more paranoid moments, I think Create Space is just drumming up business for itself by screwing up the manuscripts it sends over to Kindle. Not one to be hornswoggled, I found another service that will do the deed for $49. If they do a good job I’ll sing their praises here.  If they screw it up, the blog post will be lengthy and vitriolic.

Anyway, I’m going to enjoy an adult beverage while I wait to hear back from the formatting dude.  Hopefully, I’ll have good news in the next day or so.

And so, the deed is done…

I did it. My first book, Winthrop Risk, Detective, is officially listed on Amazon and will also be available on Kindle in a few days.

51WRp+byKeL__SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

Now I have to get the word out. When I was submitting the story to traditional publishers, I had trouble categorizing the book, and that may have hurt my chances with them. It isn’t a picture book but it isn’t a novel, either. It’s a four chapter book that falls somewhere in between. A child of about 9 years of age should be able to handle it alone.  It runs about 36 pages and is a fun read, if I do say so myself.  Because the hero in the story uses a child’s version of 1930s detective vernacular, I included a little glossary of terms in the back of the book.  I hope you’ll check it out.  I plan for it to be a series (The Winthrop Risk Mysteries) and book two is in the very rough first draft stage.  Many thanks to the Lake Saint Clair Writers group for critiquing the manuscript for the first book and giving me the thumbs up.

Previous Older Entries