Writers Roundup

A belated Valentine filled with helpful articles and great resources, just for the writer in you!

Reading

You can’t write (at least not well) without reading. Voraciously. Brenna Clarke Gray’s “40 Tiny Tasks for a Richer Reading Life” at BookRiot can get you going if you’re having a tough time integrating reading into your life. Great tips. I read a lot, but will probably adopt a few of these anyway! (Note: if you’re considering #16, make sure it’s your own book, not one you’ve borrowed….)

Writing

What about the idea that only “real” writers write every day? Ava Jae takes issue with it and lays out a beautiful tribute to those of us who are more sporadic in her “Confessions of a Binge Writer” post at Writability. Thanks, Ava!

Editing

Quick quiz: what’s the difference between a professional manuscript evaluation and developmental editing? How is substantive editing different than developmental editing? If you don’t know, but you’re thinking of hiring an editor, then you could be headed for disappointment. How will you know you’re getting what you want? You won’t. So read Andrew Doty’s informative series on the various professional services he offers (as well as other editors) at his Editwright blog. Be informed. Invest wisely. It’s not like you have lots of money to just throw around, right? (Okay. If you do, spend it blindly. See if I care.)

Market Analysis

For number-crunchers, a report like the one completed by the National Endowment for the Arts on arts engagement — including who’s reading what — is a rich vein of data for mining. We know more women read fiction than men, but in which state do most readers live? What are people reading less of than they used to? Are young people reading? We all know the Internet is having an impact on reading, but how? Quentin Fottrell gives us the nitty gritty summary in “The huge difference between what men and women read” at MarketWatch. As you design your marketing plan for your book, knowing who and where your readers are is important. This article gives you the big picture.

Now that you have the broad view, here’s a deeper dive into what sold in 2014, courtesy Publishers Weekly, in Jim Milliot’s “The Hottest (and Coldest) Book Categories of 2014.” See breakdowns of adult fiction and non-fiction categories and juvenile fiction and nonfiction categories. And they include how these numbers shifted from 2013. Cool!

Marketing and Promotion

What are the 130 most important words you’ll write for your book? Nope, not the first paragraph or two. Not the blurb on the back cover. What then? Your Amazon description, of course. Why 130 words? Maggie Anton explains it all for us in her article for Publishers Weekly.

Self-Publishing

How much can you make? Popular question. David Kudler tackles it for the HuffPost, and you might not like the answer. But there it is.

Like it or not, you’re in business when you start selling stuff, whether online or in a bricks-and-mortar building. And there’s a lot to know about setting up your business accounts. Amy Lynn Andrews makes it easy, though, in her “11 Things To Do Before You Start Making Money Online.” Required reading.

Professional(?) Cover Designs

Rachelle Gardner recently used a site called “99 Designs” to get a cover designed for her nonfiction book. It cost her $299 (their LEAST expensive option) and she confesses that although she got 104 potential designs, “I honestly couldn’t say I loved any of them.” Don’t just read about her experience, read the comments. In some ways, they’re more enlightening than Rachelle’s original post.

And then, of course, there’s the matter of whether the the reader’s face should appeal to the book cover, right? Odd idea, but a Dutch artist has created a book that uses facial recognition to “decide whether you are worthy of reading it.” Yep. Alyssa Bereznak has the full story for Yahoo! Tech, and includes an embedded video of how it works. I’m sure you could get this for your book, too (everything has a price, after all).

Up to $1500!

I saw a billboard in front of an auto dealer the other day, and it said:

UpTo1500

“Plenty of people must fall for those words, ‘up to,'” I said to my husband.

Someone could go to the trouble of hauling the piece of junk from their yard (oh, didn’t I just write about those too, in a recent post?!?) all the way into town to the dealer, who’d tell them they could only give them a dollar for it. A dollar is, after all, “up to $1500.”

Or maybe they wouldn’t get even that. Zero is also “up to $1500.”

We were in a 2014 Jeep we bought less than a year ago. “Up to $1500″ might also mean they wouldn’t offer us more than $1500 for our nearly brand-new Jeep if we had a notion to trade it. Right?

So what does this have to do with writing?

Plenty.

During a recent exploration of a new publishing company — to see if I would recommend it here, which I’ve decided not to do — I saw they offer royalties of “up to 50%.”

You’re thinking, “50%! That’s great!”

Wait just a minute. They didn’t say *you* would get 50% royalties. “Up to” is not “equal to.”

“Up to” could mean they’ll pay you 1%. It could also mean they WON’T PAY YOU ANYTHING in royalties. “Up to” means anything less than, right? So the possible range is ZERO up to 50%, and everything in-between.

If you’re reading past numbers like this when you’re investigating a potential publisher, you should NOT beat them up when you get a royalty statement that delivers you pennies on a retail price of several dollars. It’s not their fault. YOU were the one who fell for “up to.”

And you wouldn’t be alone. People fall for this sort of come-on all the time, or you wouldn’t see it used.

You’ve heard it before, but now you know why: you should always bet the specifics of your royalty percentage in writing. Make sure it has a specific number, not something as vague as “up to 50%.”

Even then, you have to be careful. Yep. You can’t leave it at that. Let me give you an example to help explain.

Let’s say your book retails for $10. Let’s say they said they’d pay you 50% royalties. You do your happy dance. You buy a round of drinks for your friends. Then you get your first royalty check and it’s still pennies on the dollar — much less than the $5 per book you expected.

You call them, angry. They tell you, calmly, that the royalties aren’t based on the retail price, but the wholesale price. Or some other pricing threshold you didn’t know about.

What they’ve done is PERFECTLY LEGAL. Maybe not very ethical, but legal.

So…. Make sure your contract stipulates whether the royalty percentage is based on wholesale or retail cost. The custom is to pay against the retail, but when it’s not specified…. well…. it could mean anything, right? Could mean they’ll pay you 1% royalties AFTER your book earns THEM a certain level of income. Or it could mean something else entirely, something even I can’t imagine.

So find out the specifics. Find out the specifics BEFORE you enter into any legal arrangement with a publishing company, printer, or other professional you’re hiring.

If you don’t, shame on you.

I see it all the time in forums and blog posts: nefarious publishing companies who cheated some innocent author. Yes, it happens. But sometimes, nothing illegal occurred: the author just didn’t pay close attention to the details of their arrangement.

Don’t be a victim. Arm yourself with some knowledge about contracts and your rights as an author before you sign something you’ll regret.

Interview with Gordon Williams – Traditional Publisher: Part 2

Last time at ellenbooks, Gordon Williams, publisher at Babora Books, offered some thoughts on why, given all the information and advice that is freely available, so many independently publishing authors have lousy experiences. This time he gives us the nitty gritty on separating the wheat from the chaff. Before you think about signing any publishing agreement, you must read what Gordon has to say.

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A lot of indie publishing choices are out there — some good, some predatory. Are there any tell-tale signs an author should look for to avoid the latter?

“Indie” covers a lot of ground — from small press, to DIY self-publishing, to “self-publishing” companies. Any of these streams has its own set of warning flags so I’ll try to be generic as possible about some of the key things I tend to notice.

Baffling Business Schemes:

Publishing is actually pretty simple. The three basic business models are:

  • Traditional: The publisher pays the entire cost of publishing the book under its imprint.
  • Pay-to-publish (aka “self-publishing company”): The author pays the cost of publishing and the book comes out under the publishing company’s imprint.
  • DIY Self Publish: The author owns the imprint and pays directly for whatever services he or she needs to publish the book.

There are variations but if you visit a publisher’s website and it takes you more than about 30 seconds to fully understand which business model a publisher uses, it’s probably a good sign you need to look elsewhere.

Indy Publishers Quick Sniff Test: The “Author discount” on print books

The “author discount” reflects what the author pays the publisher for books for his her own use. One of the best-known “self-publishing” companies offers author copies at 30 percent off the regular retail price. When a reader buys that same book on Amazon, the retailer takes 40 percent of the sale price (the standard retail discount), and publisher pays the author a royalty out of what is left. In the end, this publisher makes more money by selling books to the author than by selling books to readers.

SNIFF TEST FAIL!!!

Claiming to be a “traditional publisher” while selling author services:

This is a huge potential conflict of interest. The author seeking a traditional contract can easily be lured into buying services (e.g. reading fees, editing, marketing) in hopes of getting a contract. These services might be provided directly by the publisher or indirectly through an associate that has an interest in the company.

A variation on this theme is what I call the “mixed model” of publishing — a company that bills itself as a traditional publisher while offering pay-to-publish services. This always feels like a bit of bait and switch to me because, again, it brings authors in the door with the expectation they are querying a traditional publisher. The author may get all kinds of encouraging signals, only to be offered a costly pay-to-publish contract at the end of the process.

Brand new in the business – e.g. less than one year in publishing:

Think of your book as having a lifespan of many years. The majority of start-up publishers fail within their first year or two of operation. This has nothing to do with integrity. It is simply a cold fact of being in the publishing business. Having your publisher shut down could leave your book in legal limbo and possibly put you back at square one. If your publisher goes bankrupt you may even have to battle with a receiver company to get your rights back. The best predictor of a publisher’s stability is a proven ability to stay in business for a few years.

Should an author be concerned if a publisher won’t provide a sample contract when asked for one?

Very much so. Not providing a sample contract on request gives the impression that the company has something to hide. While it is true that every contract can be tailored to specific project, common variables like contract length and advances (if applicable) can be blanked out if necessary.

How a publishing agreement is structured can tell you a lot about how the company approaches its authors. How is the company dealing with subsidiary and derivative rights? What recourse do the parties have if one or the other is not fulfilling its obligations? Under what conditions can the contract be terminated and rights reverted to the author? Is there a “save harmless” clause that puts the author on the hook for any potential legal costs?

Any of these items can represent a hidden cost to the author, whether that is giving up more rights than expected or the cost of getting out from under a publishing agreement that has soured.

What are five key things an author should be sure an independent publisher provides before committing to their services?

    1. Everything in writing.
    2. If the author is paying for services, exactly how much each service being provided will cost, and what you are getting for your money.
    3. Contact information for other authors who have worked with the company.
    4. A sample contract.
    5. Time to think about it.

Thank you, Gordon, for your time and patience! This is very helpful information for ellenbooks readers!

Gordon Williams is an editor and publisher with more than 25 years of experience in writing, publishing and communications. A long-time science fiction fan, Gordon and his partner founded Babora Books in 2010.

Babora Books is not actively soliciting manuscripts at this time; your best bet is to take a look at the Babora Books Web site to see if your work fits what Gordon publishes and if they are seeking submissions: http://www.baborabooks.com

Interview with Gordon Williams – Traditional Publisher: Part 1

With so many publishing options available, how do you sort out the best option for your own book? How do you keep from getting swallowed whole by the sharks that swim the waters? How can you be sure you’ll end up with a book you’re proud of, instead of something that leaves you wondering if it ever saw an editor or cover designer? Gordon Williams, whose small Canadian publishing house Babora Books [http://www.baborabooks.com] specializes in action-adventure science fiction, graciously agreed to answer a few questions from ellenbooks, ranging from understanding what he believes are the three key publishing models to sniffing out the bad guys.

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Lots of great articles on the Web (and books galore) deliver advice on how to find a publisher and what the publishing process entails. Why is it we find so many writers suffering from lousy independent publishing experiences, given all this free advice?

The short answer:

A lot of the information out there comes across as very negative and I think writers get enough discouragement in their lives. Those of us who are committed to helping writers avoid the pitfalls of indie publishing have to constantly stay involved and active in communicating with writers. I personally use LinkedIn discussion groups on a regular basis. Just about every day I get an opportunity to share information and opinions on the questions indie authors need to be asking of publishing companies. And, yes, I also get to engage directly with publishing companies and ask them detailed questions about how they operate.

The long answer:

Two main reasons authors are regularly disappointed in the indie publishing sphere are: unrealistic author expectations, and misleading claims by predatory publishing companies.

Just about every author who ever sent off a query letter to a publisher or agent hopes he or she is going to be discovered, offered a lucrative publishing contract, and become an international bestseller. Most of us know that, in reality, very few people are ever going to make a lot of money in this business.

The self-publishing boom has created many expectations that are at odds with reality. With very few exceptions, as an indie published author:

  • Your books will not be stocked on bookstore shelves.
  • You will not be doing book signings at mainstream bookstores.
  • Your books will not be featured in the New York Review of books (or similar publications).
  • Writing books is not going to pay you a full time income.

Predatory self-publishing companies actively court inexperienced writers. Many spend a great deal of money on online advertising to keep their companies and proxies at the top of search results for queries like “finding a publisher.”

Taking the four points above as an example, here are just a few of the things that authors are regularly told [and what those statements actually mean]:

    • “Your books will be available in thousands of stores.” [A customer can special order your book through Books In Print at any bookstore.]
    • “You can have a book signing event at your local store.” [For $1,000 extra, copies of your book will be shipped to a chain store in your local area (e.g. B&N or Chapters) and held for 90 days. Note: it is up to the store to put the books on their shelves and you will be totally responsible for promoting your signing event.]
    • “Your books will be reviewed by some of the most prestigious sources in the publishing industry.” [Paid reviews in Kirkus and Publishers Weekly.]
    • “We provide opportunities for authors to be discovered by traditional publishing companies.” [There is absolutely no indication that this route provides any better chance of being picked up by a traditional publisher than the usual query route.]

When the claims above are used as selling points for self-publishing services the result is very often a lot of disappointment on the author’s part.

Have you seen Jane Friedman’s graphic describing what she considers the four “Key Book Publishing Paths”? If so, do you agree with her categories and examples? Which category fits your publishing company?

There are a few points where I might disagree with her divisions, though I appreciate the effort to make sense out of all the different publishing options. Friedman restricts the definition of “traditional publishers” to those that pay an advance on royalties. There are divergent views on whether a press that doesn’t pay advances should be considered a traditional publisher. Paying an advance certainly gives a strong indication up front of the publisher’s commitment to the project. At the same time, advances are shrinking all over and may well become a thing of the past for new authors, even at the “Big 5.”

The term “partnership publishing” has been applied to pay-to-publish companies where the author pays most of the cost of publishing. That arrangement is now classified as “Fully Assisted publishing” though many such companies like to refer to themselves as “Hybrid Publishers.”

I really see three main paths to publishing: traditional, DIY and self-pub company. I divide that along the lines of who owns the imprint and how much the respective parties invest in moving a book from the completed manuscript to a published work.

I would describe my publishing company as a traditional small press with a digital focus. In the Friedman chart we would be considered a “Partnership model” because we don’t pay advances on royalties. Three quarters of our sales are ebooks. Ninety percent of our print sales are through online vendors like Amazon, Barnes&Noble.com and Ingram. If we select a manuscript for publication, we pay for editing, book design, layout, cover art and promotion. We do expect authors to take an active role in self-promotion but we never ask authors to pay for publicity.

Gordon has much more to say about how to distinguish the good from the bad from the ugly – next time, in Part 2.

Gordon Williams is an editor and publisher with more than 25 years of experience in writing, publishing and communications. A long-time science fiction fan, Gordon and his partner founded Babora Books in 2010.

Babora Books is not actively soliciting manuscripts at this time; your best bet is to take a look at the Babora Books Web site to see if your work fits what Gordon publishes and if they are seeking submissions: http://www.baborabooks.com

Writers Roundup

Uh-oh. I’ve been on the Web, collecting resources like crazy. Be prepared for a long list this month!

As always, if I’ve missed something or you spotted a resource that others would benefit from seeing, feel free to add it in the comments section!

Mandatory Reading

If you’re not familiar with the Writer Beware[tm] blog or their historically fabulous Web site (a subsite, actually, of the SFWA [Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America] Web site), go there immediately. Bookmark the URLs. Follow their feeds. You will learn about publishing but — even more importantly — see warnings about scumbag “publishing” companies, agents, and others who prey on writers. If you’re considering hiring someone, consult your writing friends, ask about them on the forums you haunt, and check out Writer Beware.

Need more? Of course. Another site to mark: Absolute Write. They have a specific thread in the forum called “Bewares, Recommendations & Background Check.” Can’t be too careful.
Between the Shelves in a Bookstore

If you’ve considered working in a bookstore, take a gander at Chris Lane’s “6 Strange Things I Learned Working in a Bookstore” from the Houston Press. Might make you change your mind. Despite the dangers of writing (see above resources on predators) it’s an obviously better choice, if you ask me.
Reviews

Nope, I’m not the only one who keeps saying getting reviews is one of the best ways to sell books. Betty Kelly Sargent offers a great, short how-to in her post, “Book Review Success for Indie Authors,” at Booklife, here.

Getting reviews can be tricky, but there’s plenty of advice out there for how to do it. Penny Sansevieri, writing for Future of Ink, gives us “How to Get Reviews by the Truckload on Amazon.” Some great advice (I think I’ll follow it!).

And an oldie (from this past October) but a goodie, from James Moushon at The eBook Author’s Corner, “Getting Book Reviews: The Methods Award-Winning Authors Use.” James has rounded up advice from lots and lots (you can count them if you want… it’s quite a list) of indie and traditionally-published authors, super-sellers among them. Not only do they give suggestions on what to do to get reviews, but what’s worked (and not worked) for them. Good stuff!
Self-Publishing

David Carnoy’s CNET article, “Self-publishing a book: 25 things you need to know,” was originally published in 2008 then updated in 2010, so it’s a bit dated. But the advice it offers is still valid today. If you haven’t seen his classic list, take a look. Might clarify a few fuzzy areas in self-publishing for you, and give you new ideas as well.

I touched on the importance of a good cover for your book in my post “Is the Professional You Hired Doing the Professional Job You Expect?” and included a link to lend some help. Here’s another resource on covers — a terrific article, “The Five Secrets to a Killer eBook Cover” by Kristen Eckstein at The Future of Ink. I’d argue that her “secrets” apply to print covers as well as e-book covers.

Something many of us see in books but don’t include in our own — and can be a nifty way of building an audience and getting reviews — is effective “back matter.” Sounds nasty, but it’s really pretty simple, and Deborah Jay delivers an excellent explanation with step-by-step examples for writing our own in her “What Sort of ‘Back Matter’ Should Your Book Contain?”

 

Kindle Unlimited

Some authors are pretty upset about the new subscription service Amazon is offering through Kindle Unlimited, including HM Ward, who says “her income dropped 75 percent,” according to David Streitfeld, in “Amazon Offers All-You-Can-Eat Books. Authors Turn Up Noses” in a late December post for the NY Times. Read the full article and then…

… read about the data behind all those “yea” and “nay” opinions about Kindle Unlimited. Author Earnings has collected the data, broken it all down, and converted the variations into easy-to-read graphics, all with a pithy summary. There might even be more updated info since this report, given that this one came out in October. What’s interesting about this one is that they had data to compare with pre-KU sales, and if you know anything about data analysis, you need a good baseline from which to start. If you’re considering KU or want more facts behind the opinions of it, give this a read.
Bestsellers

Daisy Maryles, writing for Publishers Weekly, gives us “What the Numbers Reveal About the 2014 Bestsellers,” a look at common denominators held by the bestselling books of last year. Find out what the trend seemed to be, the publishing houses behind most of the paperback and hardcover sales, and other info. Of course, except for knowing which publishing houses might deserve targeting, the themes and movie tie-ins behind the bestsellers aren’t something you should necessarily try to pattern.
Wonder who’s outselling everyone in the self-pub territory? GalleyCat publishes a weekly list of the top sellers from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords. This list is a bit old, but you get the idea.

Author Interview: E. Michael Helms

So many questions for E. Michael Helms, author of two novels and several nonfiction works! I sent out word I was willing to read and offer reviews of mysteries, and he was one of the writers who responded. I confess I’d started another book by a different author, one that was not well written, so I put off beginning Michael’s “Deadly Catch.” But once I started downstream with Mac McClellan, the main character, I was hooked (you can find my full reviews at Goodreads and on Amazon). I’m so pleased he’s agreed to an interview with ellenbooks so we can all learn from this very accomplished writer.

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Michael, please tell us which came first, the series idea for Mac, or the story for “Deadly Catch”?

The story for “Deadly Catch” came first. I had toyed with the idea of writing a mystery for some time. I knew I wanted the locale to be the Florida panhandle coast (where I grew up). I didn’t know if it would be a standalone or series. All I knew for sure was the opening line: The first cast of the day turned my dream vacation into a nightmare. That sentence kept running through my mind like a dripping faucet, and it was the seed for “Deadly Catch.” I had no idea who the protagonist might be, no plot to speak of, nothing except that opening sentence. So, I sat down at the computer one morning and wrote it down. Within a few minutes I knew the protagonist was a recently retired/divorced Marine named Mac McClellan. He was enjoying a fishing vacation while pondering what to do with his post-Corps life. Soon, Mac and the other characters came to life and started telling me where the story was going.

How does “Deadly Catch” fit in with your other books? Is it similar, very different?

All the “Mac” mysteries have different plotlines. In “Deadly Catch” Mac hooks the decomposing body of a young woman which puts events in motion. In the second Mac mystery, “Deadly Ruse,” Mac’s girlfriend, Kate Bell, recognizes an old boyfriend in a theater lobby. The problem is, this boyfriend supposedly died in a boating accident several years before. Did he die, or not? That question gets things rolling along. What’s interesting to me is to see Mac, Kate, and a few other regular characters develop and grow from one book to the next. I’ve completed four books in the series so far (two published), and keeping the characters real, I feel, is an important aspect for both reader and writer.

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Did you publish shorter works — articles, short stories, essays, for example — before plunging into novel writing? Could you give us an idea of your trajectory as a published author?

I used to freelance articles to area and national publications. I’ve written several short stories (a few published), and used to edit a couple of area tabloid newspapers (military/veterans and Christian). My first full-length published book, “The Proud Bastards,” is a memoir of my combat experiences with the Marines during Vietnam. I pitched a portion to the editor of a New York magazine I’d written for, “Vietnam Combat.” He liked it and said he wanted to see the entire work when finished. Acting as my first agent, he quickly sold it to Kensington/Zebra. After more than twenty years it remains in print, currently with Simon & Schuster/Pocket.

You’ve published with Koehler Books and Seventh Street Books. Why have you used two different publishers? What made you choose these two in particular?

I’ve been published by Kensington/Zebra, Simon & Schuster/Pocket, Koehler Books, Seventh Street Books, and Stairway Press. Different publishers have different genre interests, so it was really a matter of my agent placing a particular book(s) with a particular publishing house that fit their interests.

From what I can tell, these companies are small press, traditional publishing houses. Is that how you would describe them? In other words, they took on all of the publishing responsibilities so you can focus on writing and marketing. Is that a correct assumption?

Well, yes and no. Koehler Books is a small press, while Seventh Street Books (publisher of the Mac McClellan Mystery series) is part of the Prometheus group; they’re more mid-sized, and are distributed/marketed in conjunction with Random House. Simon & Schuster is big, while Stairway Press is a small house located in the Seattle, WA area. Obviously, the larger presses can do more than the smaller, but they all assume the expenses of editing, publishing, etc. They don’t charge their authors any money for the publishing process, they pay their authors.

Have your books been placed in bookstores by those publishers? Are they available in any other outlets? Who made those choices?

Fortunately, I’ve seen all my books in brick and mortar bookstores, at least short-term. “Deadly Catch” was a Barnes & Noble “Top Ten Mystery Pick” for November 2013. It was satisfying to walk into one of their stores and see a stack of my books face-out on their shelves! I visited a nearby Books-A-Million store about a year ago and saw a couple of copies of “The Proud Bastards” on their shelves. Not bad for a book originally published in 1990. For the vast majority of books (including my own), shelf-life is very limited in physical bookstores. The online stores are where most sales come from. My titles are easily found in all the major online outlets.

Would you recommend either of these publishers to other writers? Why or why not — or with what advice?

Without hesitation I’d recommend Seventh Street Books to any writer fortunate enough to be signed by them. They are a topnotch mystery/thriller publisher and well-respected in the publishing world. Great distribution, a publicist who works hard for their authors, decent advances, etc. To the contrary, I’ve recently learned that Koehler Books has begun a “cooperative” offshoot for some of their titles where the authors are expected to pay some of the costs of the publishing process. I think this is unfortunate, and could reflect negatively on the authors who are legitimately published by them. They are the only publisher I’ve been involved with that I wouldn’t recommend.

Have you done any self-publishing? If so, tell us about that.

No, not that I think there’s anything wrong with self-publishing if the author has paid his/her dues by learning the craft. I know of many traditionally published authors who are now turning to self-publishing. I’ve read many well-written works that have been self-published. The problem is, with the technology available today, everyone wants to be an “instant author,” and it shows in the enormous number of poorly written and edited works clogging the book trade pipeline today. There are self-published gems out there for sure, but there are also huge piles of, to put it kindly, less-than-impressive books.

Your books are available in print and e-book format. Is one format selling better than the other? Why do you think that is?

Right now it seems my printed books are outselling my e-books. I don’t have the answer to that. A couple of years ago some were proclaiming the death knell for print books, and that e-books would be the biggest thing since sliced bread. That hasn’t happened. One reason might be that the bigger, traditional publishers are keeping their e-book prices inflated. For example, “The Proud Bastards” (Simon & Schuster/Pocket) mass market paperback is selling at Amazon.com for $8.99, while the e-book is priced at $8.00. To me, that’s ridiculous. After the initial setup costs, e-books are basically free to produce; it’s a matter of transferring files. Why such a small price difference? I don’t know. I believe e-reader devices will eventually become more widespread, but I doubt they’ll ever become the overwhelming rage that smart phones are.

What do you think are the three most important things you’ve done (or are doing) to help market your books? Why?

1) Digging and scrapping for book reviews (I’m still amazed how many poor quality self-pubbed e-books by relatively unknown authors have amassed hundreds of reviews, while authors with mid-list books from traditional publishers have such paltry numbers by comparison).

2) Social media participation (Twitter, Goodreads, Facebook, Google+, personal website, etc.) Developing a rapport with the reading public is invaluable.

3) Book blog tours and giveaways. Giveaways on sites such as Goodreads can generate a lot of interest in an author’s work; even those who don’t win have seen and read a little about the book. A number of those will wind up buying the book. I recently concluded a blog tour/giveaway that attracted almost four thousand, two-hundred entries. That’s also a lot of exposure.

Can you tell us anything about the next Mac McClellan book? What are you working on now? Do you have an expected release date?

“Deadly Dunes” is next up for Mac and Kate. Mac is hired by a young woman to investigate whether or not her brother actually committed suicide, or was murdered as she believes. The victim had evidence that a contingent from Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto’s sixteen century expedition in Florida may have traveled to the coast and established a fort on what is now Five-Mile Island. Hours after Mac takes on the case, the young woman dies in a suspicious car accident. Mac digs deep to uncover a tangled web of deceit, betrayal, and murder that all hinges on a planned community development on the island. Hopefully, it will be released this fall.

If you could give one piece of advice to a writer working toward publication, what would it be?

Read extensively in your chosen genre(s). Pay close attention to punctuation, dialogue, and how stories are structured. All dialogue and scenes should either reveal character or advance the plot. If not, rewrite it or cut it. Use active verbs, and “show” way more than “tell.” Put your characters “on stage” and let them act out the story. Practice the craft, and be persistent. It’s a tough business. Don’t expect to get rich. Strive to leave something worthwhile behind as part of your legacy.

Where can we find out more about your books?

My Amazon author page is probably best: http://www.amazon.com/E.-Michael-Helms/e/B001K90FSM/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1
Or, my website: www.emichaelhelms.com
How can you be contacted?

Through my website: www.emichaelhelms.com or my e-mail: emhelms63@yahoo.com

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Thank *you* so much, Mike!

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Junk Cars

You’ve seen them: those back or side yards where someone has parked a old car or truck and now it’s been sitting for years, rusting, collecting holes and plants as it settles deeper into the ground.

junkcars

Trash? Looks like it.

But maybe to a “picker” it’s treasure. Maybe to an auto collector, to someone who can spot a sound chassis or solid frame, it’s a goldmine of a restoration just waiting to be claimed. To a parts supplier, those bodies might just hide the very pump or carburetor they’ve been trying to find.

As fiction writers, we accumulate our own rusting hulks: stacks of manuscripts, files of ideas. Stories started and abandoned; character sketches never used; details and descriptions just waiting for the perfect fit.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Easy to feel as though we should assemble it all in one spot and either set a match to it or click “Select All” and hit the delete button. Ron Carlson, a well-respected, oft-awarded short story writer, once told a workshop group that you should get rid of the old stuff. If you don’t have plans for it, if it’s something that’s got you stuck, you should excise it. Slice it out of your writing life like a tumor. Free yourself of the burden it’s carrying.

I love that advice. I just wish I could follow it.

Maybe I’ve gotten used to my version of the old truck in the side yard, paint peeling, window broken. It’s become a sort of rustic item I’ve grown fond of. Maybe it reminds me of when I used to be able to drive it, or when it held promise as a project I was sure I would finish. Giving it up would be like — well, like giving up on a bit of myself.

When I come across those old stories, those drafts and those “finished” versions that still, somehow, are missing something that will truly polish them, I see those possibilities all over again. “This is so close,” I think. “Maybe if I combine it with another idea….”

So I twiddle with it a bit more until I give up again. I think of what Ron said, and ponder deleting the entire thing. Somehow I can’t.

It’s like calling the wrecker to come haul that old truck out of the side yard. Seems like such an effort. And what if I need that carburetor for another truck? Maybe I’ll figure out what it needs to get it running. I should probably just let it sit where it is. It isn’t hurting anything where it is, after all. It could come in handy to have it.

What about you? What do you do with the junk car equivalents in your writing world? Do you let them sit in the yard, choosing to admire the weeds growing around it for the flowers they spill out the windows? Or do you dial up the tow truck and have it hauled out of sight?

Better yet, do you have the old truck in the garage where every day, little by little, you do a little something that gets it closer to running when you turn the engine over?