Marge Simpson using Google from Dannysullivan@flickrSo there I was doodling away in a media training session when the instructor informed each of us that we should google our names frequently to see what was being said about us on the internet.

Really?

Of course everybody at the session had already done this. Repeatedly. But now we weren’t only being given permission, we were being told we MUST do it in order to look for reviews and information about the reviewers, misinformation we might be able to clear up, pirated copies of our novels to report to our publishers. And did I know there was something called Klout.com that measured our Google mentions as well as our followers on Twitter, the number of people who’ve friended or liked us on Facebook, the readers of our blogs. Google ourselves and get an idea just how popular we are.

Really? Just like junior high school, only electronically? (more…)

After years as the wife of a minister it still always amazed me when people asked what my husband did all day. I mean, the ministry is a cushy job, right? Write a sermon, preach it and shake hands after church. Do the occasional wedding and hospital visit and spend the rest of the week on the golf course.

Of course, real ministry is nothing like that. The average minister works at least 55 hours a week, often more. Ministerial spouses tire of feeling like widows, and consequently ministers have a surprisingly high divorce rate. Some of them are so busy they don’t notice.

Writers get the same question. Our versions go like this. “You mean it’s your job?” “Isn’t it nice to work if you feel like it.”

Of course there are writers, many of them, who only work when inspiration strikes. They turn out a book now and then (or never) and support themselves in other ways because the occasional book only reaps occasional royalties. Those of us who do at least partially support ourselves with our writing can be happily married to ministers because we, too, work all the time.

So what do writers do all day?

Today isn’t a normal day for me. I’m between books, one book waiting to be edited, another proposal sent in this week for acceptance. Normally there’s serious writing on every afternoon’s agenda. Right now, though, with nothing confirmed on the novella that’s due in March, writing might be premature.  I might start anyway and take my chances, or I might clear out other projects.

The morning began with an early email to my editor and agent asking for an update. Since we’re in the midst of a move, I need to schedule my response time for upcoming edits.  Emails have been flying ever since as we’ve agreeably worked out details.  Along the way my editor sent me final covers of two of the three reissues of my Shenandoah Album novels.  It’s clear the art department worked hard on these.  I’m delighted and told her so.

My email also turned up the synopsis for another of the novellas in the upcoming Christmas anthology.  I noticed something in the synopsis that made something in mine incorrect.  I emailed my co-authors because we will have to coordinate carefully.  The three books are linked, and all details have to match.  While I’ve never met Janice Kay Johnson or Sarah Mayberry, I’m enjoying them immensely. They’re easy to work with, and we think alike.

I caught up on more email, answering reader questions, checking writers loops that I subscribe to, and posting an update on my Facebook page.  I realized I needed to set up this blog since I’ll be at a home inspection on Friday morning, so I began this post.  All before 10 o’clock.

It’s 11 now.  I’ve worked on our upcoming move, an upcoming brainstorming session with my brainstorming group, and re-read my novella outline.  The list goes on.

This is a great job.  It’s a busy job, too, with lots of juggling required.  Still, how lucky am I?   Because even though I’m busy, sometimes I have to ask myself what I do all day.  Because it rarely feels like work. Anybody who can say that has been uniquely blessed.

Book reviews.  Seems like a simple subject, right?  You read a book, you tell friends you liked it or didn’t, and in this day of social media, you do it online so lots of people can read your opinion. If you’re the author of the book in question you read the review and you. . .

Explode!

Okay, maybe not. Lately novelists everywhere have discovered that responding to negative book reviews is a path to self-destruction. Trying to set the record straight? Responding to inaccuracies or obvious rants? Let the flame wars begin. And they have, all over the Internet. The logic seems to go like this: Novelists have had their say between the covers of their book. Now readers and reviewers want to have theirs without interference. If the authors try to defend themselves, they’re fair game, not just their novels.

I understand. Up to a point. Of course I draw the line at mean-spirited reviews by people who have clearly not read the novel in question. (I’m not referring to ANY of my reviews, by the way, which have been for the most part fair and kind.) But we novelists are learning to let all reviews silently roll over us. Many of my friends refuse to read theirs, even those vetted by loved ones. When it comes right down to it, if we’ve turned in the best book we’re capable of, then we’ve done our job. Some people will love our books and some will not. In the immortal words of Ricky Nelson (quoted at Southern Exposure far too often): “. . . you can’t please everyone, so you’ve got to please yourself.”

I’ve actually learned a thing or two from critical reviews. Some I can slough off, knowing that reader just needs another novelist to enjoy, because our tastes will never mesh. Some I can nod with and agree that yes, I could have done that better, and so I take the criticism to heart. Some are clearly written by a reader in a bad mood who is anxious to unload. I can relate to that, as well.

Recently, though, novelists have learned that if we want positive reviews and lots of them, glowing reviews are as close as our bank account. We can buy them. And lest you think that’s just silly, trust me.  A number of positive reviews will grab attention at places like Amazon.com. Think I’m kidding? Yesterday’s New York Times business section explained how it’s done. Get out the checkbook and you, too, can have positive reviews. As many as you can pay for. By people who have never picked up your book.

Of course most authors, this one included, would prefer no reviews to purchased ones. However, thoughtful reviews by thoughtful readers are much desired.

If you’re wondering what a helpful review looks like to an author?  Here are a few things to consider:

  1. First, read the book in its entirety.
  2. Remember those movie trailers you hate, the ones that show every important scene so that you no longer feel a need to actually buy a ticket when the movie makes its way to theaters? Let the author reveal the important plot points. Just hint. Hints are great.
  3. Remember that your review will matter to other book lovers, to the author, to the novel’s publisher.
  4. Most important? If you love a book, take the time to put up a review. If you want more, more, more, let Amazon, B&N, Goodreads, and any other review site know. Blog about it. Mention it on Twitter or Facebook. If you didn’t love a book?

Delete this post.

It’s always such a pleasure to tell you about good books.  Today’s is no exception.  Cast of Characters, an anthology of stories written by twenty-eight of my esteemed colleagues, is now available.  Cast of Characters is the quintessential satisfying read because no matter how limited your reading time, you can pick it up, enjoy a joy ride into one talented author’s imagination, get a final jolt of satisfaction at the ending, then put the book down until your next free moment.

You may note that the trade paperback version is expensive.  That’s a reflection of the size.  Remember, twenty-eight authors! Luckily size isn’t important with e-books, so the e-version is more than reasonable.  In fact it’s a steal. (more…)

I’m at the Novelist’s Inc. conference on St. Pete Beach this week, with old friends and new.  I attended last year and learned more in a day than I’ve learned in all the previous conferences I’d ever attended.  So back I went.

Ever wonder what writer’s talk about when we’re together? (And I don’t mean over umbrella drinks at the bar.)  Here are some of the titles of our workshops.

The Empowered Author: Publishing Math in an Age of Content Abundance.

Transmedia Storytelling.

Copyright 101

Writing in Multiple Genres: Craft and Strategy.

Since NINC requires two published novels before joining,we’ve left behind topics like “how to write a synopsis” and “building better characters” and moved on to the business of writing.  And, of course, ebooks and self-publishing will be discussed until we can’t squeeze another ounce of information out of our speakers and our friends.

I’ll be back next Friday, hopefully with great new things to tell you.  Meantime, don’t be surprised if I return with a suntan.

I’ll confess, I rarely find time to read the newspaper.  This shames me to admit it, so I’ll quickly add that I do read stories online every day.  On my iGoogle homepage, I get the highlights from the New York Times, the Washington PostThe Huffington Post Blog Feed, BBC, and Time Magazine.  However when I take the time to actually read the Washington Post section by section, I’m always amazed at what I find on those pages that scanning online headlines didn’t give me.

I knew how horrifying the recent swath of tornadoes were for people in Alabama and beyond, but reading this story put a human face on that disaster for me.  Two families, connected by the excesses of Mother Nature, one in Alabama, one in Tennessee.  The Tennessee family finds a pay stub brought to their home by the winds, the Alabama family, to whom it belonged, is contacted.  The Tennessee family, which has so little in the way of resources, finds it cannot let go of what’s happened to these strangers so far away.  The story’s about the best within us, and the way we sometimes reach out in the most personal of ways.  I was mesmerized and happy to be human.  Read it.  You will be, as well. 

Then there’s the atheist who’s planning to capitalize on the Rapture (coming to a town near you on May 21st) by signing contracts with those religious folk  who believe they will be among the  ”raptured” and are worried about the pets they’ll leave behind.  Said atheist, Bart Centre, promises that for a fee paid up front (because hard cash will likely be scarce in the Great Beyond) his caregivers, who must be atheists themselves–lest they be raptured too–will  find homes for the pets when the owners disappear in a flash. 

And no, I am not making this up.

And here’s a little snippet from an article about sunscreen protection.  “She (refers to Olga Naidenko, a senior scientist at Environmental Working Group) adds that since the Food and Drug Administration has yet to finalize sunscreen regulations (a process underway since 1978), manufacturers are not required to show that their products work or to substantiate claims about them.”  1978?  Somebody’s joking, right?  In 33 years they can’t finalize sunscreen regulations?  Who knew even the government could be that inefficient?

I spoke about my writing career yesterday and as always, I was asked where my ideas come from.   One morning with my favorite newspaper is all it takes, folks.  And I haven’t even mentioned the obituaries. . .  Stay tuned.

I’ll be away from home for the next two weeks, but I’ll continue to blog.  Next Friday I’ll tell you what a week of brainstorming with fellow writers, this time in Cleveland, OH, has taught me about the book in progress and writing in general.  At least, that’s the plan.

On a separate note?  Don’t forget to send a pie recipe, story, reminiscence, etc. to enter the Great Pie Giveaway.  More details on my contest page or here.

So there I was last October, in a packed room with treasured colleagues, authors I love, authors I’ve admired, and newish authors with infectious enthusiasm for this crazy career of ours.  And in the front on the panels?  Some of the most powerful people in publishing. 

Novelists, Inc., an international group of multi-published authors, is the only writer’s group I belong to since the computer snafu that ate my Romance Writers of America dues payment–a fact I didn’t discover for five months of non-membership.  The fact that I hadn’t missed RWA was something of a clue.  The fact they insisted I pay a reinstatement fee was another clue I’m just not an organization kinda gal.  RWA’s a great one, but sometimes vacations are nice.

But NINC?  Between information on the eloop and NINC’s fabulous conferences, I couldn’t be without it, even temporarily.  So there I was in that crowded room expecting the same-old, same-old advice.  “Write the best book you can.”  (Umm. . . does anyone in NY really believe we’d submit schlock on purpose?)  “Write the book of your heart.”  (And if it happens to be a novel about the Little-Engine-Who-Could locked in a torrid love affair with Dracula’s daughter, I should submit this to you?)

No one was more surprised than I was, when the panels turned to epublishing, the fabulous opportunities out there for ebooks, and the way that some of my most esteemed colleagues were putting their backlist up on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other places, too.  Unashamedly.  Greedily.  Joyfully.

Fast forward to February 2011.  No one can say I don’t listen.  I had all the rights back to two novels I published for Avon in the mid-nineties.  Despite the daunting task of developing covers, getting a clean, edited copy of the text, and putting the books up in three different formats so they could be read on different styles of ereaders, I decided to give this a try. 

Once More With Feeling and Twice Upon A Time were “special” to me.  A case could be made that all books are special to their authors, but there was always something about these two that set them apart.  The premise was “different,” “unusual,” but the stories were about two women examining their lives in intimate detail, figuring out who they were (!) and who they wanted to be.  They were romantic, funny, thoughtful, poignant.  Quite simply (and remember the source) I adored them both.

Sometimes the books I’ve loved when writing them have not stood the test of time.  Quite honestly I wish some of them were not only out of print, but out of existence.  I was young.  The market was different.  I was learning.  But the moment I began to re-read Once More and Twice Upon, I was hooked.  I laughed.  I got appropriately teary-eyed.  I felt for these two women.  Yes, indeed, they deserved a new life.  No, the books aren’t exactly what I write today.  But yes, they are clearly my novels.  A bit more profane.  A bit more sensual and romantic.  And yes, the premise has a fantasy twist.  But they are mine, with the same issues that continue to fascinate me.  The same kinds of characters I still want to write about.  The same belief that happy endings are possible.

In future blogs I’ll be sharing the complex process of turning novels in print into ebooks.  Covers, edits, formats, pricing, decisions.  For now, though,  let me introduce my newest babies, reborn and likely to be around for a very long time.

Although I’ve linked both to Amazon and B&N in this blog, look for copies everywhere ebooks are sold.

If you read my recent blog on writers and friendship, you know I spent last week at the Novelist’s Inc. workshop on St. Pete Beach, my old stomping grounds.  It’s always a surprise when I go home to find not the huge changes we sometimes see, but a re-creation of the past.  My neighborhood looks much the same.  The old Pelican Diner where my aunt worked is gone–and what a shame–but the hardware store where my uncle worked is still thriving.  (The diner, an old silver “mobile” diner is hopefully being refurbished in a warehouse nearby.)

If my childhood landscape was much the same, the conference convinced me that publishing is not.  In fact publishing is going through such huge changes, that  in the next two years, keeping up with them will be a job itself.  I arrived at the conference thinking that the book biz was spiralling downward, fewer sales, fewer publishers exerting more control, fewer opportunities for innovation.  I left believing the sky’s going to be the limit.  And all because of ebooks.

Do you own an ereader?  Or are you in a “wait and see” holding pattern?  Is a Kindle or a Nook–or any of the other possibilities–at the top of your Christmas list?  Or are you holding fast to paper and the comfort of  the familiar?  Are you sure you’re too old (jaded, technically challenged, angry) to learn yet another piece of technology?  And heck, you can’t see print that well anymore, so why try to read it on a fuzzy handheld computer screen? (more…)

Earlier in the fall I asked my Facebook  readers what topics they would like to see here at Southern Exposure.  Brandi Jones asked about my relationship with other authors.  She wondered if we critique or brainstorm together, help each other out of writer’s block or even lend ideas.  She was surprised at the lack of rivalry she witnessed. 

I spent most of last week at the Novelist’s Inc. conference in St. Petersburg, Florida.  “Brainstorming on the Beach” was billed as a chance to reconsider the future of publishing along with movers and shakers in the biz.  Since NINC is my favorite writer’s organization, and since St. Pete is  not only my hometown but also close to “Happiness Key,” attending was a no-brainer for me.  I could celebrate finishing Sunset Bridge, my latest novel, check on my 92 year old father and attend workshops if they were interesting enough.  Plus I could do a little research and sit on the beach as I did.

As it turned out, the visit with family was the only part of the trip that went as planned.  The book was NOT finished on time–still editing–and the workshops were simply not optional.  They were, in fact, highly frustrating, since every one was so good that choosing was agonizing.  What beach time I experienced was in the company of other professionals, and conversation took precedence to studying seagulls.  Rarely have I gained as much from a conference as I did from this one.  Publishing is changing at the speed of light, and now I’m at least aware of the possibilities. (more…)

I received two interesting emails this morning.  One from a writing student who participated in a class I taught last summer, and one from Fresh Fiction, a website for book lovers.  Fresh Fiction generously reminded me I have a book coming out tomorrow . . .

EEEEEEK. . . .

Okay, I KNEW I had a book coming out in September, but somehow the summer flew by.  Between finishing Sunset Bridge, the sequel to Happiness Key and Fortunate Harbor, entertaining family and enjoying programming here at Chautauqua Institution, the reissue of Iron Lace, published originally in 1996, just crept up on me.  Now it’s about to hit bookshelves, and probably has in many places.  In a year with several reissues and two original novels, somehow Iron Lace didn’t receive the nudge from me it deserved.

The second email, from my student, was a writing question.  He wanted to know why, now that he’s got almost 45,000 words written on his novel, his enthusiasm has dwindled.  Is that normal?  What should he do? (more…)