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I have very poor eyesight. There hasn’t been any sight in the left eye since birth. The right, well, that’s cataracts, a matter of aging. So I taught myself to dictate so I could continue to write. Then, I discovered I’d had a pinpoint stroke and some other unpleasant brain-related issues. Now, I have some intermittent speech problems and the attention span of a flea. So much for dictation. Writing in longhand, as I did way back when is out. Arthritis. I’m lucky I can grip an orange!
It’s been said that God never throws more at us than we can handle. He must think stubbornness is strength.
I have all kinds of book ideas that will probably never be written because I’m so much slower than I used to be–and I’m not getting any younger. Back the the ’80s, I wrote The Unicorn’s Daughter in four months and it required very little editing. Ten years ago, I finished Chasing the Wind after working on it for ten years. There are at least five projects on the back burner at the moment. I want to write them. The ideas are there, forming, percolating–but they never seem to get any further.
Am I giving up? No, not yet. In a few weeks, I’ll be publishing a collection of posts from my personal blog, The Three Rs: Rants, Raves and (Occasional) Reflections. I have a memoir almost finished, Sam’s Story in progress, and Collin and I are working on a series that started with Chasing the Wind. With Collin collaborating, I can at least get that far.
I started a novel featuring five secondary characters from Chasing the Wind, but found it had no plot–and a comedy about the quirky residents of a college town, including a booze hound who really is a dog. Just a bunch of episodes. I thought they would have to be scrapped. Then I remembered that my partner in crime, William Kendall, does several serials within his blog, Speak of the Devil–including one featuring a cranky Mountie who hates entertainment reporters.
Maybe these projects aren’t dead, after all. At least not until I am….
Around the globe, extraordinarily gifted children are abducted.
In the Sinai, archaeologist Lynne Raven searches for proof of the Exodus and finds a papyrus that proclaims the emergence of a prophet sent to defeat the darkness that threatens to consume the world.
Meanwhile in London, a powerful cartel manipulates politicians and controls a think tank with an unthinkable agenda.
One thing connects them all: the truth about Connor Mackenzie.
Jack Spangler was a night owl and, snowstorm or no snowstorm, he did not appreciate interruption in the middle of his work to take his pregnant-and-alone neighbor Katie Maxwell to the hospital. But off he went, since the alternative was to deliver her baby right in his living room.
Things only got worse from there. Somehow, he found himself mistaken for the non-existent Mr. Maxwell and whisked into the delivery room to help young Jeremy into the world. He even found himself caring about the baby – not to mention Katie herself.
Living next door to a crying new-born was enough to make Jack crazy, but craziest of all, it looked as if making marriage – and instant parenthood – a priority was the only way to stay sane.
A few days ago, I got an email from my publisher. He was asking all of his authors for feedback on getting reviews, which he says is the #1 way to increase sales. I thought sending out free copies would be the best way to get reviews–but having requested he send out those copies, for which I have yet to see a review, maybe not.
I think the power of the reviews to generate sales depends on the reviewer. If the review reads like the reviewer didn’t finish fourth grade, their glowing review isn’t going to count for much. If it sounds like it’s from your mom or your sister, again, it’s not going to be taken seriously.
Other authors can be a good source of reviews. When I was with Berkley, I got reviews from bestselling authors Sandra Brown, Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Judith Gould. Blurbs from those reviews were featured prominently on my covers. I gave reviews to other authors, too. (To my surprise, one of my reviews was quoted in a book on the popularity of vampire fiction. I’m hardly an expert on the genre.)
These days, getting reviews from fellow authors is a bit different. Instead of my agent or editor requesting reviews from the authors, or getting a request for a review, authors offer a trade: “I’ll review yours if you review mine.” I’m at a disadvantage there. My eyesight is so poor, I only “read” audiobooks. Almost everything I do online is by text-to-speech and I write by dictating.
How much weight do reviews have in your choice to read a book? And how do you shop for books? Traditional bookstores? Online? I’ve already stated in previous posts that I find Buy My Book posts in social media annoying–but do you find them helpful? I get several e-newsletters that I rely on: Audible, of course, since I’m limited to audiobooks, as well as Kindle Books Daily, Bookreporter, Book Bub, BookScream and a couple of others. My publisher has also been working with Buck Books. I don’t use it because it only provides links with very brief, vague descriptions. I don’t have the patience to check links without knowing what I’ll be getting, but I hear they do post a lot of good deals.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.
Yesterday, Collin and I went to see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Following are our reviews:
Those of us who grew up with both of our parents knew them–the good and the bad things–and in most cases, we can accept all of it. But when you’ve grown up without a parent, you end up with a fantasy image of that parent–and the reality, if it ever comes, can be disappointing.
This is what Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) discovers in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
The movie opens in 1980, with a young couple on Earth. Missouri. In those jumbo letters that were a little jarring in Captain America: Civil War. The couple are Peter’s mother, Meredith (Laura Haddock), and his unnamed father. They look like any young couple in love, except for the strange plant the man has implanted into the earth. What is it? You don’t want to know. Okay, maybe you do–but you’ll have to see the movie. I’ve learned my lesson when it comes to spoilers. Being from Missouri, I can tell you I’m pretty sure he planted the thing near the Callaway Nuclear Plant. Uh-oh. That can’t be good.
Flash forward thirty-four years, to another planet, where the Guardians, hired by an alien race of golden beings known as the Sovereign, do battle with a gigantic, tentacled creature to retrieve some precious batteries. In exchange for their services, they receive Gamora’s (Zoe Saldana) sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan), who was caught trying to steal those batteries. What are they using those batteries for, anyway? Given how valuable they seem to be, I’m guessing you can’t get them at Radio Shack.
In the first Guardians of the Galaxy, they were forced together by circumstance, learning to function as a team to save the planet Xandar. This time around, they’ve become a real family–bickering, sometimes offending each other, like most families. Drax (Dave Bautista) gives Peter some advice on romance. And they have enemies. A lot of them. Enemies who want them dead.
While trying to salvage their crashed ship while being pursued by some of those enemies, the Guardians encounter Ego (Kurt Russell), who claims to be Peter’s long-lost father. He wants to take all of them to his planet. He wants a relationship with his son. Given that he hired Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker) to deliver Peter to him decades earlier, one has to wonder what took him so long. Couldn’t he just contact Yondu and ask, “What did you do with my kid?”
Leaving Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) behind to repair the Milano and guard Nebula, Peter, Drax and Gamora make the trip with Ego and his empath companion, Mantis (Pom Klementieff).
Gamora (Zoe Saldana) smells a rat. Having spent most of her life on the wrong side of the law, she knows a con when she sees one, and she’s convinced there’s more to Ego than meets the eye. (His name alone should have aroused some suspicion, but then, Ego could mean something completely different on his world than it means here on Earth, right?) Gamora also picks up on something in Mantis: fear.
There’s also dissent among the Ravagers, the space pirates who raised Peter Quill after abducting him from Earth the night his mother died. Their leader, Yondu, has been ostracized by other Ravager factions, led by Stakar Ogord (Sylvester Stallone), having been accused of dealing in child slavery. They turn on him, imprisoning him and killing several members of his crew.
When Yondu escapes with his one loyal crewmember, Kraglin (Sean Gunn), Rocket and Groot, the four of them head for Ego’s planet in a series of weird space jumps that somehow never happened to the crew of the Enterprise, even at maximum warp.
The special effects are amazing, the action is nearly nonstop, the humor is even sharper than it was in the original, and the actors are perfect in their roles. Loved the Awesome Mix #2 songs! Though the ending left me crying like a baby and a scene involving the mistreatment of Baby Groot was upsetting, kudos to writer/director James Gunn for another winner!
Marvel Studios’ latest installment of the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise hit theatres today and more than lived up to the original, thanks to the cast and crew, led by the amazing writer-director James Gunn and the wonderful performances by Christ Pratt (Star-Lord), Zoe Saldana (Gamora), Bradley Cooper (Rocket Raccoon), Vin Diesel (Baby Groot), Dave Bautista (Drax the Destroyer), Michael Rooker (Yondu Udonta), and Karen Gillan (Nebula), plus wonderful performances from new additions Pom Klementieff (Mantis) in such a cute and innocent role as the aide to Peter Quill/Star-Lord’s father Ego, played by Kurt Russell.
From the start of the film with the battle between the Guardians and the big giant monster to protect the batteries on the home planet of the Sovereign to the very end of the movie, there were a lot of laughs–like Rocket referring to the Sovereign High Priestess Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) and the Sovereign species as “conceited douchebags” (don’t show Donald Trump the high priestess because she is genetically perfect and skin of gold–he might dump the first lady for her!); the jailbreak scene with Rocket and Yondu trying to get Baby Groot to help them get Yondu’s experimental fin, but getting everything else—including one character’s eye (Easter egg from the first Guardians film), even pulling in a desk; the blunt joke from Drax on whether or not Ego had a penis (Ego tells him he does, and it is a good one), to Rocket, Groot and the Death Button. A Ravager mutiny by Taserface (Chris Sullivan) whose name was the butt of so many jokes from Rocket’s lines about “Waking up in the morning, seeing his face in the mirror, trying to look macho, and saying I am Taserface.” Even the High Priestess of the Sovereign was laughing at his name. When it comes to Ego, he is not what he seems and—in my opinion—Ego in the film is akin to the comic book perception of God and Creation. One of funniest scenes involves Yondu, Rocket, Kraglin (Sean Gunn), and Baby Groot space jumping to get to Ego’s planet and warping their faces because of the number of jumps (more than 700 jumps!); Nebula and the not yet ripe fruit was funny throughout the film. Another great performance given was Stakar (Sylvester Stallone) the Ravager who trained Yondu from his youth, acting and looking badass (Yo!). One of the best scenes is with Mantis, Peter, Drax, and Gamora on Ego’s ship when Mantis reads Peter’s emotions regarding Gamora.
Some of the Easter eggs in the film range from the bounty for Nebula on Xandar; Ego talking about Peter using Power Stone on Xandar against Ronan without dying; the “anomaly” in Peter; Ego revealing himself to be a Celestial—probably one of the last living Celestials; not one but two Stan Lee cameos with the group called the Watchers; one of the places Yondu and the others jumped past could have been in the Nine Realms from Thor—maybe even Asgard; the face on Ego’s planet linking it to the comic book version of Ego the Living Planet. Peter using the power that was genetically inherited is in some ways like the Force from Star Wars. Ego mentioning “seeking out new life” was maybe a reference to Star Trek. Also when Ego gives peter more of his power, his eyes turn into stars and mentions Eternity, another Celestial.
The biggest Easter Egg, for me, comes in the post credit scene where the high priestess of the Sovereign mentions the new birthing chamber with a lower priest as creating a weapon that will be designed to destroy the Guardians of the Galaxy. Ayesha says, “I will call him Adam.” Which means the new birthing chamber is the cocoon containing Adam Warlock. (Rumor has it Adam Warlock will appear in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3). Also, another Easter egg in the postcredits involves a small group of Ravagers gathered, one of them holding two thumbs up with a mystical lattice around it, which could indicate he’s a practitioner of the mystic arts from Doctor Strange. Could that Ravager have been trained by Agamotto? A recent revelation by Kevin Feige is that Stan Lee is one of the Watchers.
Overall the film exceeded expectations and is even better than the first movie. All the comedy and action meshed together to make a wonderful film, and obviously, the Stan Lee cameos. With a great and talented cast, this movie will have staying power in the theaters and will set the benchmark for the Summer, if not for the year. Looking forward to their appearance in Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and Untitled Avengers Film (2019). Did I mention Stan Lee?
My novel The Unicorn’s Daughter is currently free (in ebook format) at Amazon–and not doing too shabbily!
Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,741 Free in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Free in Kindle Store)
I know many authors, self-published and indie-published, who are opposed to free ebook promotions. “I’m not giving books away,” they say. “Why should I just give away my hard work? This isn’t a hobby!”
Why? I can think of a few excellent reasons. The main reason would be to increase readership. Most of the authors objecting to free book promotions are new authors, usually self-published, with no name recognition, no reader following. Most readers are understandably cautious buyers these days. Now that anyone can publish a book, there’s a lot of books out there that, sadly, aren’t so good.
The best thing about self-publishing is also the worst thing about self-publishing: anyone can do it. So how are readers supposed to find the good books in a sea of unfamiliar authors? They’ll be more willing to take a chance if they have nothing to lose.
Even conventional publishers have done free book promotions. Back when I was at the beginning of my career, my publisher often launched new authors with free book promotions. In the late 1980s, there were no ebooks, so publishers gave away a number of freebies–usually 1500 paperback copies. They would take out an ad in a national magazine which included a short form to be completed and mailed to the publisher. The first 1500 received would get a book by mail.
Sometimes, they would offer a money-back coupon. If anyone bought a book and didn’t like it, the publisher would refund the price of the book. That worked, too.
Berkley did a free book promo for my second novel, Angels at Midnight. I was happy to have them do it. I’m still happy to have my current publisher do free ebook promotions. I hate doing my own marketing, so anything Creativia chooses to do is fine with me. If giving away a few hundred books boosts sales for books that have been around for 10-20 years, why not?
I don’t follow too many blogs these days, and I confess, I’m usually behind in reading and commenting on those I do follow. There are a few blogs for writers I do think are the best: Joe Konrath, Nathan Bransford, Kristen Lamb and the Self-Published Authors Lounge. All are full of good advice. I get new posts via email so I don’t miss any.
I’ve made no secret of my disdain for the deluge of Buy My Book ads all over social media. The constant stream of posts haven’t made me want to buy books. It’s had the opposite effect–it’s made me not want to buy them. Kristen Lamb recently addressed this problem on her blog, and her take on it is hilarious! If you dare, check it out: Book Spam is for Losers!
I’ve been a published author for almost thirty years now, and I’m still amazed at how some things have changed dramatically–while other things remain the same.
When I started out, I thought I knew everything. Everything. After all, I’d read every book I could find on “the biz.” I read all of the writers’ magazines. What was there to learn that I didn’t already know? A great deal, as it turned out.
I started writing my first (published) novel, Alexander’s Empire (later retitled Dance of the Gods by my publisher, and now reissued under the original title) in 1981. After working on the manuscript on lunch breaks and after Collin was tucked into bed at night, I queried my agent in May 1984. She responded quickly, asking for a detailed synopsis and sample chapters. In June, I got a response, asking for a phone meeting, during which she instructed me to send the entire manuscript. The next time we talked, in September, she started with, “This manuscript is completely unpublishable.”
“Hold on,” I told her, “while I go slit my wrists.”
She quickly explained that it could be made publishable with some work. She told me that it reminded her a great deal of a novel she’d repped that had been her first New York Times bestseller (she’s since had at least 100 of those, and many more national bestsellers). She believed my novel could also be a bestseller. Okay, I forgot all about that wrist-slitting business. Things were definitely looking up. She was sending me her agency agreement. I couldn’t sign it fast enough.
What followed was months of blood-letting–or that’s how it felt, anyway–as we worked together, restructuring the story, reinventing the characters, editing, revising, polishing, until she was satisfied it was ready for submission. I had gone into this figuring that, as an unknown new writer with no previous publishing background, a $5000 advance was the best I could hope for. Maria told me she was going to ask for much more than that. It took her fifteen minutes to get me to stop laughing (okay, maybe not that long). She explained that she would be sending it out to twelve publishers, all of which she felt would be a good fit for me and my novel. She did it in late March. Of the twelve, eight made offers. She weighed each offer carefully and discussed them with me. On the morning of April 26, 1985, she called to tell me that Berkley was the one she’d chosen. At that time, paperback original was the way to go. Build a career, then go to hardcover. She also felt the acquiring editor was someone I would work well with She was right, as it turned out.
Damaris was so enthusiastic about the book that she would end up offering us a contract for my next two books in December–while we were still working on (more) edits for Alexander’s Empire. By the time it was published in May 1988, Berkley would have a total of five of my books under contract–and at that point, I still didn’t know what number five was going to be!
Times have changed. The process of publishing, not so much. It can be a slooooow process. One of my fellow authors once called it the “hurry up and wait syndrome.” The authors are expected to hurry up and then wait on the publisher…and wait, and wait.
But now, authors have other options. When I was starting out, there were only two: traditional publishing and vanity presses, where the author paid to have a contracted number of copies printed and had to figure out on their own how to sell them. Now, we have traditional publishing, vanity presses, self-publishing, and indie publishing. I’ve done three of the four. I’m still amazed that we can finish a book and have it available for sale within a week. Sure, self-published authors have to to their own marketing and promotion, but so do most traditionally-published authors. For anyone not chosen to be a lead title with all of the advertising, promotional and marketing dollars that goes with that position, it can be frustrating. Self-published authors get as much as 90% of the royalties and have full creative control, which at this point in my career is the most important thing. And self-published books can remain in print forever–traditionally-published books that aren’t bestsellers have a limited shelf-life. If the author wants to make any changes to boost sales after publication, self-publishing makes that possible. Try getting that from a traditional publisher!
Indie publishing gives authors the best parts of self-publishing without the grunt work. My current publisher, Creativia, is making great progress in marketing and promotion. I’m more than happy to take a smaller percentage of the royalties to be free of that. They’ve landed many of their authors on the Amazon bestseller list. And now, even the New York Times recognizes self- and indie published books.
It’s good to have options. There are pros and cons for each (except vanity presses–I can’t think of a single good thing about them). I learned a great deal from having been traditionally-published for my first fourteen books that’s served me well as an indie. There are authors who have successfully gone with both traditional publishing and self-publishing. Whatever works!
I grew up on a farm, and I’d love to live on one again–with more animals than people around, no kids hitting my front door with their soccer ball, no noisy neighbors, little traffic. But apartment living is much more practical at this point in my life for a number of reasons–for one, I can’t drive. Intractable epilepsy makes having a driver’s license impossible, along with a number of other activities most people take for granted. Two, arthritis–not only can I not drive, most days I find walking requires a monumental effort. You should see me trying to get off my couch! A small place, easy to keep up with on the cleaning front, makes much more sense. So while I yearn for the solitude of farm life and a good place to set up a telescope and do some serious stargazing, I settle for noisy neighbors and the frequent wail of police sirens. I’m a little fed up with people coming in while we’re not home, though. Collin and I both work at home, so we’re here 95% of the time. Can’t they come while we’re here? The day we came home to find our shoe rack rearranged and a strange device on the wall behind our TV, we bought a security camera so we could see what’s going on in here while we’re out. (It’s cool. We can watch what’s happening at home from Collin’s phone.)
As I grow older, it’s also more difficult to read. Cataracts and glaucoma are a nasty combination. Fortunately, my current favorite authors, Janet Evanovich and Jim Butcher, are available through Audible. These days, though, I find myself choosing nonfiction more often than not. Go figure. Ten years ago, it was all fiction all the time–or almost all the time, anyway. I usually steer clear of my publisher’s Facebook page these days, as most of the authors there are looking for reviews–you know, “I’ll review yours if you review mine.” With my vision problems, it would take so long to read just one book for review, I don’t volunteer, and I don’t ask for reviews. Wouldn’t be fair to ask if I can’t reciprocate.
I have the same ambivalence as a writer. The ideas are there. The motivation isn’t. I can write something funny and it comes as easily as breathing. Mysteries and romance, not so much. What once came effortlessly is now a daily struggle. Eventually, I’ll finish something.
I hate doing promotion and marketing, though. That’s one of the few things I miss about traditional publishing–they did all of that for me. I refuse to do it now, even if it means lower sales. No offense to my fellow authors, but I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who finds the tsunami of Buy My Book posts on social media annoying. There’s promotion, and then there’s taking it way too far. Authors are fast replacing proud new parents and grandparents armed with baby photos as the people everyone goes out of their way to avoid. (Have any of you ever seen the episode of I Love Lucy in which Lucy and Ricky are at odds with Fred and Ethel over Ricky’s nightly showings of his home movies? I don’t want people throwing rocks at me.)
I know self-promotion is a necessary evil for authors trying to build their careers, whether they’re self, indie or traditionally published (unless, in the latter case, they’re lucky enough to be in one of the top spots on a Big Five publisher’s list and the recipient of a portion of their publisher’s promotional budget). It’s not easy. I’ve known talented authors who would rather give up writing than have to do their own marketing. Some of them actually have.
Whatever happened to word-of-mouth being the best sales tool? I guess I’ll find out….
Answer: When the solution to your problem has been right there in front of you all along.
It took Collin and me ten years to write Chasing the Wind. The idea was conceived in spring 1998 and the book was originally published in May 2008. In between, there were multiple changes, revisions and rewrites, until the finished book bore little resemblance to the early drafts. It was frustrating at times, but I’m happy with it.
One of the cuts that were necessary involved the storyline of two characters, Alex Stewart and Robyn Cantwell. I loved the characters and decided the sequel, An Army of Angels, would focus on them…but it didn’t take long to discover that I hadn’t really thought it out. As secondary characters, they worked…but was there enough for a standalone novel?
I’ve been wrestling with that problem since 2008. I knew how their story started, I knew how it would end, but I didn’t know how they would get from A to Z. I didn’t want to give up, but I just couldn’t figure it out. I’ve shelved it at least half a dozen times. I even considered turning it into a romantic comedy after plotting a series of comedies featuring Robyn’s five brothers.
I tried serializing their story, along with stories involving characters from four of my previous novels, on a separate blog. It didn’t work.
Then, at 3:00 this morning, the solution presented itself. Most of my best ideas come at the most inconvenient times, so it’s not really that much of a surprise.
I’ve wanted to write shorter novels ever since I discovered James Patterson’s Book Shots. If you’re not familiar with them, they’re novels that average 150 pages, fast-paced, perfect for readers like myself with chronically short attention spans. I realized that the format would be ideal for continuing the story Collin and I started in Chasing the Wind. It would be the perfect way to move back and forth through all of the characters’ stories and still stick to the timeline.
Now to find out if it’s going to work….