Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Mind your Moose - er, Muse!

All great writers learn to trust in their Muse to sustain, direct and nourish their creative efforts. According to my celebrated pal, author and welder Eddy Salinski, minding your own Muse is definitely your ticket to instant success.

Eddy claims Muses come in all forms, ready to stand by writers with supplies of wisdom, inspiration, and imagination. With a Muse at your side, your literary road will be cleared of obstacles, and even the most finicky agents will humbly prostrate themselves in supplication at your feet.

And deep down, isn’t that what we all are really seeking?

Eddy says his own personal Muse happens to be a 1935 Ford two-door sedan that has been gathering dust and mice in his garage for decades. The old car was there when Eddy inherited his old house, and he decided to leave it in situ, since it wasn’t bothering anyone.

Today Eddy likes to sit in the driver’s seat behind the banjo steering wheel and exchange creative thoughts with the Ford. Even the resident mice listen attentively as Eddy and the Ford commune together.

I asked Eddy how all of this Musing had helped his writing – and could he actually trace any book sales to this methodology. He just looked at me sadly and offered, “You just don’t get it, do you, Bob?”

Well, getting it or not, one thing is for sure: If it works for Eddy Salinski, it’s good enough for me. Now I’m on the lookout for a Muse of my very own. In fact, there’s an old junk yard just outside of town, and I’m heading over there this afternoon to see what’s available.

Robert Wetherall

Last Flight Home

The Making of Bernie Trumble

Forever Andrew

Available at...


Penumbra Publishing

Wetherall Books

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Kiss Your Editor

Yes, kiss your editor - but only if she’s (he’s) good. And, if not a kiss, then a sinful box of chocolate or a really nice bottle of wine.

Hi, I’m Patricia Morrison, Acquisitions Editor of PENUMBRA PUBLISHING. I recently finished reading Amanda Hocking’s first book in her TRYLLE series, SWITCHED, on my Kindle, and saw her blog address at the end. I turned on my wireless connection for the Kindle and jumped from the book to the blog, and after some painful Kindle adjustments, started reading her current post. (Believe me, reading web content on a Kindle is not the easiest thing in the world to do – so keep that in mind when deciding to plunk down $150 or more for a dedicated ereader that just does text and line art. But it is cool to get books downloaded in under a minute while riding down the road on a trip – and no, I wasn’t driving while downloading; I was a passenger!)

Anyway, back to Ms. Hocking and her blog post. If you’re not already aware, Amanda Hocking is a screamingly successful self-published paranormal-teen-romance author who, by her own admission in her most recent blog post, has sold over a million copies of her books and made over two million in royalties from those sales. She’s young (apparently in her twenties), and is a prolific writer with a couple series and some standalone books, all paranormal romance or urban fantasy. I believe her latest urban fantasy series features zombies, for those of you who are following that trend. (As a side note, I’d like to point out that, although there are obvious comparisons to Ms. Hocking’s teen vampire romance series and the wildly popular TWILIGHT series, the comparison really stops with the subject matter. Ms. Hocking’s writing style is very face-paced and quite different from Stephanie Meyers'. I enjoyed both writers’ books, but they are nevertheless as different as I’m sure the two writers are.)

And now, again, back to the point of this post. (I must have attention-deficit today – sorry!) The point is ... (drum roll please) ... yes ... wait for it ... wait for it–

Oh, wait a minute. I have to tell you something else first about Ms. Hocking’s blog post, if you haven’t already heard the news...

(Spoiler alert!)

She just signed a seven-figure deal (?,???,??? – yep, that’s in the millions) with St. Martin’s Press to publish her next new paranormal romance series – to the obvious surprise of her many, many readers who, over the course of the past few years, have witnessed her rise to fame and fortune as one of a few SUCCESSFUL self-published authors. (And by successful, I mean she’s made enough money from sales of her self-published books to hire a lawyer and have an agent, so she’s not doing too shabby.)

The whole point of her blog was to reassure people that she was not ‘selling out’ by going with a big traditional publisher for her next series. Her number one reason was not money, although a seven-figure advance is quite a coup for a four-book deal. Her number one reason was not because she was tired of self-publishing and self-marketing and wanted to spend more time writing – although that was a strong contender. Her number one reason was...


Editing. Yes, editing. For the sake of her readers.

Apparently she’d had several people do edits on her books, but still got poor reviews from many readers who were astounded by the number of grammatical errors and typos in her books. So she decided to let some ‘professionals’ handle it, who’d been doing it well for years while still offering up a nice living to their most successful authors.

And, after reading her first books in two of her series, I can unequivocally agree that some professional editing really would have enhanced the reading experience for me. I winced at almost every dialog sentence that had a comma joining the dialog to a non-speech-delivery clause. (For example: “I don’t understand,” he turned away.) There are so many things wrong with that kind of sentence structure from a grammatical standpoint, I’m not going to bore you by diagramming the sentence and explaining it. But a good editor would not have let that unbridled horse out of the barn for a ride around the paddock.

That’s not to say the story as a whole was not well written and entertaining – it was. But when the typical reader sees errors like that in nearly every sentence, it becomes tedious to ignore and still focus on the story.

Now don’t get me wrong – you can probably find some kind of typo or other error in just about any published book, no matter who published it and no matter how many times it was edited. The truth is, typographical errors are like magic little imps, hiding in plain sight until the book comes out. Then, right there on page two, you see a real stinker of an error, dancing on the page to taunt the book’s editors and the author. But, when the whole book is full of them, it’s a signal that everyone associated with the book project – from the author to the editor, and everyone in between who looked at the text – lacked a clear understanding of basic grammatical rules. Ultimately, that reflects poorly on the author.

So, whether you plan to self-publish or to engage an agent or publisher – whatever – make sure you clean up your book, or your query letter and sample chapters, so they look as good as they possibly can. You don’t want your introduction to your readers or your agent or your editor to broadcast your writing flaws and inattention to the basics of writing. Because really that’s what editing is all about – getting the basics right so that readers focus on your story, not your lack of writing ability. If you’re terrible at spelling and word usage and grammar rules, please bother to take the time to find out about a few of them, so that when you misuse them, at least you’ll be doing it on purpose for a reason other than ignorance or indifference. And if you can’t be bothered with that, then at least make the effort to find someone who does know about such things – someone you can trust to do the job reasonably well and look over your work to fix obvious errors. In the long run, your readers will thank you – and so will I.

By the way, if you’re interested in reading Ms. Hocking’s blog, that address is http://www.amandahocking.blogspot.com

Pat Morrison
Penumbra Publishing

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Recipe for Success: Going to the Dogs

From author Robert J. Wetherall...

Celebrated author and welder Eddy Salinski tells me that anytime he writes himself into a corner, he just pops a dog into the story. Mutt or champion, it doesn’t make any difference, insists Salinski. "You’ll be swamped by drooling agents and bean-counting publishers," he says.

People, including those who can read, have a special place in their hearts for pooches, according to Eddy. Big pooches, small pooches, fat pooches, skinny pooches ... they’re all the same: lovable, laughable and loyal to a fault.

As a serious writer (or an unserious writer for that matter), you can use pooches to good effect in writing yourself out of all kinds of jams.

Tired love scenes? Throw any large pooch into the fray. Dull dialogue? A yipping Chihuahua can sprinkle your story with sage comments in Spanish. Blocked on your tense mountain avalanche tragedy? Try a trusty Saint Bernard to the rescue.

This works in all media, of course. After all, who ran for help when that little kid (Timmy?) got stuck in the well? (Yes, that's right, Lassie to the rescue.) And even the iconic Budweiser Clydesdales frequently add a bit of pathos to their commercials by tossing a Dalmatian into the mix.

And it’s so darn easy, requiring not a shred of imagination or literary expertise, because you can plug any old dog into your work and leech off a good measure of furry warmth. Puppies are surefire, of course. Pair them with doggie names like Katie, Buzzy, and Elmo, and you just can’t go wrong.

One caveat, thought - match mutts to your storyline. Would Stephen King have had a bestseller if he had chosen a Yorkie to play the part of Cujo? Perhaps not.

Summing up, literary success is yours for the asking, according to my pal, Eddy Salinski. Put a pooch to work in your saga, and you’ll never have to eat beans again.

-Robert Wetherall

Last Flight Home
The Making of Bernie Trumble
Forever Andrew

Available at http://www.amazon.com/, http://penumbrapublishing.com/, http://www.wetherallbooks.com/

Monday, March 7, 2011

Interview with Scottish Author Anthony Jude McGowne

Recently Penumbra Publishing welcomed Scotsman Anthony Jude McGowne to the growing list of our published authors. With two published books, including Broadland Suspense: The Blue Lady, Tony was kind enough to grant an interview...

PP: Tony, please tell a little about yourself, and how long you’ve been writing.

AM: I could fill a book or two with my experiences having coached youth football and other sports, as well as my youth leadership work. I’ve played with several good few football teams and I have had the pleasure of many characters in my life.

I have only been writing seriously for four years. Previously it was only for fun. I’m sorry I didn’t keep my poem book though.

PP: Broadland Suspense is the second book you’ve had published. Why did you choose an American-based publisher for this book?

AM: It is difficult to find a good publisher, one who has your interest at heart, and after being let down on a few occasions I tried the Big Counrtry – a USA – a which I love.

PP: Broadland Suspense is an entertaining and exciting tale of seven Scottish lads on a boating holiday, but then a gang of smugglers upset the applecart. What inspired you to write this storyline?

AM: I have always had a good imagination. This, plus experience, is a must for any writer. I have to admit to being on the Broads as a young man and, on seeing the area with its vast inlets, I thought it perfect for smuggling.

PP: The story is set in 1974. Why did you choose that time period?

AM: Check the history books and you’ll find the period filled with strife – the coal miners’ strike, the Middle East conflict (still going on, obviously) – all in 1973. We were all out of pocket with three-day work weeks. The price of petrol was still expensive, which hindered output. By 1974, inflation was just starting to taper off, but it was still very high. For example, a pair of shoes costing $50 then would be the same price now in 2011, 37 years later. That’s how bad inflation was.

PP: Your book is filled with lively characters who seem to be good-hearted and fun-loving. Even some of the smugglers seemed likable in many ways. Were any of these characters based on real people you’ve known?

AM: I think every writer draws a little from personal experience and people they’ve known in their lives. I’m not exception.

PP: There’s quite a bit of detail that suggests some boating experience. Are you a boating enthusiast?

AM: Yes, I like boats, but not the sea. Flat calm suits me. In Highland Adventures, my first novel published, the story of being out on the fishing boat was true. After that I confined my boating to the Lochs.

PP: Are you working on any writing projects at the moment? If so, can you tell us a little about it?

AM: Yes, I am working on a novel tentatively titled Port Combe Mystery. When I was a young, my dad took us boys down to Devon and Cornwall for the summer. I absolutely loved it and still go there often. The Cornish Coast is a haven for smugglers, and has been for many years. This gave me an idea for the novel. Once again, it’s an innocent party that get caught up in intrigue when they are stranded on the rocks in fog. And, yes, I myself was in a boat stranded in fog, and I sat on the bow to keep an eye out for rocks when the tide was going out. I’ll say no more, as I don’t want to give too much away.

PP: What’s next for you, as far as writing goes?

AM: I’m hoping to complete a sequel of Highland Adventures.

PP: How may readers contact you, and do you have a website or Facebook page?

AM: My website is http://anthonyjudemcgown.vpweb.co.uk/, and my Facebook page can be found by searching ‘Anthony Mcgowne’.

PP: Any other comments you’d like to make?

AM: Just to say thanks for the opportunity to let readers know a bit more about me and my books!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Writing Humor: Top-Five Query No-Nos

Always looking for more information to stock our modest quiver of knowledge, we recently contracted one of our authors, Robert J. Wetherall, to conduct an exhaustive poll among of seven harried literary agents, to understand their pet peeves regarding author queries. Five of them responded (thus our 'top-five' list). Below are excerpts of queries that went out of control and plunged off the narrow road of acceptance:

1) Self-denigration: You’ve written your heart out — now don’t mess things up by not standing by your manuscript.

“To whom it may concern: You probably won’t like this, but I’m sending it to you anyway. It’s the usual life story, and even includes a funny bit where my mom took a hot poker to my bottom for eating the last of the Cheerios. Hope you like it, but it’s not a big deal if you don’t.”

2) Mega-confidence: Opposite of No. 1 ... Don’t overdo it.

“I chose you guys to represent me cuz I heard you were the best in the lit biz. I’ve enclosed half of the first sample chapter to give you an idea of the opportunity that’s yours for the signing. It’s copyrighted, too — so don’t even think of ripping me off.”

3) The Numbers Game: Overwhelming agents with a constant, unending barrage of your stuff doesn’t work.

“I’ve given yeoman’s service to the task of trying to get you to represent me, including hundreds of faxes, emails, tweets, texts, and what not. How about sex? This is my final offer.”

4) Handle with Care: Take the time to show the agent you respect your craft by making sure you’ve prepared your work with dedication and diligence.

“Enclosd pleze find 3 simple chaptrs for my latest book, LUV IN THE RAFTERS. It’s the saga of a family of mice reproducing in extrordinery numbers. Pleze git back to me ASAP as I’m holding my breaths.” [Take special note of the misspellings and typos.]

5) Threats: Directly or indirectly, it doesn’t usually pay to shower prospective agents with dire events, should they reject your literary treasure.

“Remember your Chihuahua Pepe? I’m holding the little mutt hostage until I get a favorable note from you regarding my novel, PETS FOR LUNCH.”

Indeed, these are the kind of communications that cross agents’ desks with surprising regularity. No wonder they’re afraid to open their mail. So, take heed. This business is tough enough without some of you wrecking it for the rest of us.

Robert J. Wetherall
Forever Andrew;
Last Flight Home;
The Making of Bernie Trumble

Amazon.com; penumbrapublishing.com;

Goodbye Big Publishers? The book world is changing...

There's been a lot of chatter lately about the demise of 'traditional' publishing as more and more bookstore chains go under and 'big' publishers consolidate. Change of course is inevitable, and much of the talk of ebooks displacing print books appears to be coming true. But with change there is pain in restructuring, and some standards that many will bemoan as they disappear.

Big publishers as gatekeepers kept a lot of would-be authors from ever getting published. This may not necessarily have been a bad thing. Doing so helped ensure readers were provided with products they could be reasonable sure met minimum quality standards. This was done by creating an efficient machine run by professionally trained editors, cover artists, marketing and sales gurus, management and accounting staff, and technology experts to...

1) Choose and edit books to be engaging and well-written
2) Package books in enticing covers that matched their marketing venue
3) Develop and maintain marketing venues to attract and service readers looking for worthy books.

When Amazon and Smashwords and other services provided a quick and cheap and easy way to get books published, average-Joe authors suddenly gained direct access to make any book – no matter how innovative or terrible – almost instantly available to readers. This effectively eliminated the big publishers as gatekeepers ‘standing in the way’ of all the average-Joe wannabe authors out there.

However, distribution services like Amazon and Smashwords do not provide the publishing house production services of editing and cover art, nor do they provide any marketing beyond the basic web site product sales page with inherent category search. When it comes time for average-Joe author to figure out how he’s going to get his book professionally edited and formatted, and his cover professionally produced, he has two choices. He can either buy all the necessary software and learn how to do it all himself, or he can pony up a couple thousand dollars to pay others to do it. Which option will average-Joe author choose? For most people who want to get published, the do-it-yourself route (done right) looks like way more trouble than it’s worth and way more expensive that it’s worth. So most people will either throw up their hands and give up, or just pick the quick-easy-free way to get their book published, which involves no editing and just a rudimentary ‘freebie’ self-designed cover. To justify this, average-Joe author rationalizes that readers don’t really care about typos on every page, or whether the story makes sense, or whether it’s interesting, or whether the cover looks like a two-year-old did it with Crayons.

Once in the marketplace, average-Joe author’s book will have no respected reputation of a big publisher to stand behind it and promise the reader that it’s going to be worth the time and money to read. And not only will average-Joe author’s unknown-quality book be competing with way more books from other average-Joe authors, it will be competing for attention and money from a slowly shrinking readership that is shrinking due to other entertainment options (video games, TV, and other electronic distractions). Thus the average reader will be overwhelmed by a flood of books by unknown authors without any reputation whatsoever to promise that their books are worthy products.

Some self-published authors are enjoying success – an exception to the rule of self-publishing as a model in failure. Those frequently mentioned include J. A. Konrath, Amanda Hocking, and Ruth Ann Nordin, to name a few. These authors seem to have one or two things in common.
Konrath has had previous experience with a big publisher and a resulting author reputation to build on.

Hocking had one book published by a small indy publisher, and then apparently took the reigns with the rest of her books. She’s a prolific writer with several multi-book series. All her series feature similar short one-word catchy titles and color-coded generic cookie-cutter covers that are visually interesting but similar enough to ‘brand’ her series so that the title and cover instantly say ‘Amanda Hocking.’ Her assembly-line style theme and packaging to streamline her production process as well as make her books instantly recognizable is smart marketing.

Ruth Ann Nordin has nearly fifteen titles and uses purchased photos to create her covers. She may even have a service produce her covers. In the beginning, she probably spent more on her covers than she made in sales royalties, but at least she didn’t go the cheesy route and use crappy covers that screamed ‘amateur.’ She also has been blogging for quite a few years to promote her writing and to promote self-publishing. Now her investment in time and money appears to be paying off.

The point of all this is, getting published or going the self-published route both take a tremendous amount of time and effort. With one, you have to sell your work first, then wait a long time to get your work published. With the other, you have to publish your work, then wait a long time to sell it. Either way requires perseverance and a tremendous faith in the work. Anyone who is easily discouraged will give up before success is realized. Anyone who looks for the quick and easy solution without taking pride in their work to ensure it delivers in both packaging and content will fail because the product will be perceived as inferior. Anyone who thinks it will be a piece of cake becoming a successful author – and in this reference, ‘successful’ means selling more than 5,000 copies of a title – is in for a disappointment. Only the author who has good product and sticks with it to look for great ways to publicize and sell that work will see the kind of success the ‘exceptions to the rule’ appear to be now enjoying.