Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Always Remember

I'm sure tens of thousands of notes, blog posts, and tweets begin with "always remember" on September 11th. I do one tweet that day, in memory of those who died. This year I put yellow roses with the words. Nothing can ever be adequate.

Two days after 9/11, I drove to a spot near the Pentagon (outside Arlington National Cemetery). I didn't go the day after, because we had a meeting of the Social Equity Panel at the National Academy of Public Administration. The late Phil Rutledge and I decided that if we canceled, we would be letting the terrorists win.

A small hillside in Arlington, Virginia had bouquets and messages to and from many, including this sign on the cemetery fence. I look at this photo every year.

The world came together to help the United States grieve. I will always remember that, too.
Elaine L. Orr

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Rereading Books

With all of the books in the world, it makes no sense to read some more than once -- but I do. Generally, they're books I like, such as Pompeii (Robert Harris), the Harry Potter series (J.K. Rowling), and nonfiction, such as In the Garden of the Beast (Erik Larsen).

Much of my reading is via audiobooks, since I'm in the car a lot. Several times in the last few years I've taken out a library CD a second time, because I didn't recognize the story (having read it years ago). I generally return it without rereading, but if I'm down to my last audio book, I'll listen again.

As I enjoy it a second time, I hear things I missed the first time  through. Sometimes I spot foreshadowing I didn't recognize, other times I'll realize the antagonist dropped hints I didn't pick up on. Louise Penny's and Daniel Silva's books are so rich I miss subtext sometimes. I recently bought Moscow Rules (Silva) at a library sale. I loved the book and plan to listen again on my next 1,000 mile drive.

So, apologies to the many authors whose books I've not read the first time. May some of your books become favorites when I do get to them.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Changes in Paperback Publishing at Amazon and Barnes & Noble

This morning, authors who publish with Create Space (an Amazon Company) received an email saying that Create Space would end and all paperback publishing and it would be done through KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing). Since Amazon began the paperback option on KDP, every author I know has assumed the consolidation would come. Amazon says it will use the same facilities and staff, so authors will not notice much difference.

Some authors have begun their migration. I decided to wait to see what would happen, and I'm glad I did. Amazon/KDP will do the migration for me. I need to remove one book sales channel (Create Space Direct, which let wholesalers buy bulk copies) and possibly raise the price slightly (in the UK and Europe) for a few of my shorter books.

David Gaughran wrote an info-filled article describing how authors can conduct the migration themselves. FYI -- customers will see no difference and books will be continually available.

It's hard to believe that just a few years ago Kindles cost $300 and if you wanted to self-publish a book, you worked with a local printer (usually) and had to buy hundreds to distribute yourself. I appreciate Amazon's innovations, and I enjoy owning a Kindle and a Nook.

Barnes and Noble also added a paperback function earlier this year, and I love it. The process is simple, I use a different ISBN for the BN edition, and it's easy for BN stores to order books for customers.

My favorite part of the BN experience is that you can prepare your cover in two phases (front and back) and BN adds the spine. This makes it easy to use the same cover that was on the ebook edition.

In many respects, we live in the best of times.

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Friday, August 17, 2018

Speed City Sisters in Crime Chapter Presents "Deadbeat"

Sisters in Crime brings together authors, most of whom write books and short stories. The Speed City Chapter decided, about a year ago, to tackle writing a play to submit to IndyFringe, an Indianapolis festival that features several plays, each about forty-five minutes long. Deadbeat debuted August 16th.  

Chapter President Michael Dabney noted that, “Some 15 months ago, this play wasn't on any of our radars… Although not everyone took part in the writing, this truly has been a chapter project because the writing and storytelling were only the first steps. Many [members] helped with logistics, legal, marketing and promotions, graphics and designs, and in providing props. And without help in all those areas (and more), this production could never have seen the light of day.”

Deadbeat had many writing cooks, working largely through the chapter's critique group, but they knew how to focus on the product and work as a team. The play was featured in the Indianapolis Star on August 17, 2017.

Just as book authors are asked how they came up with an idea, that question is asked about Deadbeat. Brigitte Kephart described their writing starting point -- two women standing over the body of the husband of one of them, trying to figure out what to do with the corpse. (Photo features Abigail (Gabrielle Patterson at right) and Celeste (Alicia Sims). Provided by Michael Dabney.)

 "What dominates Deadbeat, however, is its comedic feel. The darker edge and harsh truths fold in easily," Kephart said.

The play has five more performances (through August 26th) at IndyFringe Basile Theatre, 719 E. St. Clair Street, Indianapolis.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Food Fuels All

We have mounds of food each year at my family reunion in Missouri. As shown on the left, 2018 maintained the tradition.

I don't live in Mount Vernon, so stay with a cousin. She and other cousins prepare food at her house, and each year I vow to take their enthusiasm for preparing fine dishes home with me. Unfortunately, each year I fail to maintain the joy of cooking, and revert to the same twenty or so menus.

Descriptions of food are popular in mysteries. My friend Karen Musser Nortman has great recipes in her campground mysteries, and in her new Mystery Sisters series, her descriptions of meals made me head to the fridge. Female authors tend to use settings that involve food more than male authors (think B&Bs and coffee shops), but if you want some of the most mouth-watering mysteries, try Robert Parker's Spenser series.

Author Lois Winston features guest authors discussing food on her blog, Killer Krafts and Krafty Killers. I did a recent post centered on The Unexpected Resolution, which comes complete with an M&M cookie recipe. The recipe is my own creation -- took several tries to get the proportions right. You can tell I'm not a cook. My protagonists never are, because I don't know how to think that way.

What made the post extra fun was that the cookies in the photo
sit on a depression glass plate that belongs to my mother-in-law.

I'm beginning the second book in the Logland mystery series, set in a small college town in southern Illinois. The first book (Tip a Hat to Murder) has key scenes in the town diner. (No need to have fancy recipes there!) As I finished it, I decided to maintain the diner throughout the series. What better gathering place for suspects?

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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

What Don't I Get about Unreliable Narrators?

I picked up an author I hadn't read for a while and was halfway through the book (a thriller with your everyday serial killer) when I realized the characters were holding out on me. That's the polite way of saying the author cheated.

When I am in a character's head (their point of view), I expect to know what they know. Not what their favorite uncle gave them for their last birthday, but anything that relates to the story. Sure, a character doesn't spell out what s/he will do in advance -- that would be dull. But to get three-quarters of the way through a book before you find out the killer's motive is totally different than presented? Not presented by a reporter or neighbor -- told by the killer. Argh!

Writers approach their craft in so many ways, but the so-called unreliable narrator makes no sense to me. I read Mary Stewart's The Ivy Tree when I was twelve or thirteen.
Every time my mom read a book I picked it up when she was done. In that story, a young woman shows up in a British town and spends the entire book denying she is someone who vanished years ago. At the end of the book, you find out she was in fact the long-gone woman. It was her point of view!

I told my mother I thought it was the dumbest book I'd ever read. Her response? "I meant to tell you not to bother." It was years before either of us trusted another Mary Stewart book.

Any comments from readers or writers about why they think this technique has become acceptable? Did it take hold with Gone Girl? I'm still furious about devoting time to that book. I like a mystery that's truly a puzzle to solve, not a 'surprise' ending because a character holds out on me.

I wish publishers would decide it's a genre, then I'd know in advance to avoid such books.What do you think? Have I turned into a fuddy duddy?
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To learn more about Elaine's writing, visit www.elaineorr.com.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

July 4th: Becoming a Less Meaningful Holiday?

I describe my blog posts as about reading, writing, publishing, and my occasional musings. Today, July 4, 2018, is a musing post.

It could simply be the perspective of an (ahem) older adult, but the Fourth of July did not arrive with my usual feeling of gratitude for our freedoms. As a child, I lived in a community with a morning parade and an afternoon of picnics and games. You sort of needed the water balloon toss to get cleaned up after the egg toss. Fireworks at night, of course.

A couple of years I won the essay contest for my age group -- always related to democracy or freedom. I don't remember the topics, but I kept the little plastic trophies for decades.

Now I live in an apartment complex on the edge of a larger city. There will be fireworks tonight, and parades probably pop up in surrounding towns. Neither are necessary to maintain pride in my country, so what am I missing?

I'm the only patron in Starbucks wearing anything red/white/blue. (After an hour-and-a-half a girl about eight came in wearing tie die colors. So, two of us.) I have on a flag and another button that is a peace sign in flag colors. One barista has a bandana with stars. Symbols are only that.

Words matter more. The preamble to the Declaration of Independence said it well:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Actions matter most. I think one reason I love Star Trek is that its characters and a number of plots embody the concepts in the preamble. I do recall a Klingon objecting (in Star Trek VI) to the term 'human rights' as racist. Since we humans have not been able to discuss the preamble concepts with people from another planet, I think it works for now. 

If only we could agree that all people have unalienable rights.When white colonists wanted to be free from what they regarded as European oppression, they wrote the preamble, and meant those words -- for themselves (not nonwhites or women, of course). We've made some progress, but not without a lot of protest and pain to get there.

Unalienable rights are those that cannot be taken away or denied. In the U.S., it seems they are still largely for people who have or can claim power. They aren't for those those some people regard as alien, even if they are far more brave than many of us are.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

In the Shadow of Light -- Learning to Put Kids First

Most of my books are lighthearted cozy mysteries. I don't shy away from real-world issues -- Jolie Gentil heads a food pantry, the protagonist in Falling Into Place has PTSD. People confront such things every day, so I include them, often adding a bit of humor.

I steer clear of politics and religion (except for jokes between a couple of men of the cloth) because readers pick up my books for entertainment and escape.

And then the U.S. government started taking kids away from their parents and I felt a more visceral anger than I'd ever imagined could be directed at politicians. How dare they inflict such cruelty on kids, many of whom are escaping terror in their homelands? I cried.

And then, because logic could not possibly matter to decision-makers who would do such things, I wrote.

In the Shadow of Light is the story of Corozón and Kyra, one Honduran, one American, both taken from their parents. Readers know the depth of Kyra's parents' grief, but not that of Corozón's mother. In the real world, most people don't care about women like her.

There are touching moments in this 20,000 word novella, and some parts of the ending are happy. I hope reading their stories will help people feel more empathy for refugees (because that's what people fleeing terror are) and devise better ways to treat them with dignity.

I don't want to lose readers by giving a voice to these children. But had I been too timid to stand up to blatant bullies, shame on me. I wouldn't deserve loyal readers.

You can find In the Shadow of Light in ebook and paper, at major retailers. Large print (and more retailers) available soon.
Amazon  BN   Amazon International GooglePlaSmashwords

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Wednesday, June 13, 2018

When Authors Put Kids in Books

I love the sense of humor many children have. Sometimes it's intentional, sometimes adults smile because of a child's literal interpretation of the world. I still remember a niece asking to see the frog I said I had in my throat.

Putting children in a story can be a challenge. Their thought processes need to reflect their age group; their humor or beliefs can't be those of an adult. Most of all, they need to have a role to play, not simply be literary trinkets.

I placed pre-school Jessie in Falling into Place as the companion Grandpa Everett was most comfortable with. Children don't judge, and an adult who is ill-at-ease with other adults can have a chance to shine with a child who loves them. 

The most I considered the kidlet question was in creating three-year old twins for the 11th Jolie Gentil book. Lance and Leah don't solve any part of a puzzle, but they do add color and the occasional sense of contemplation. I quickly decided several things:

  • Children are better added when they can function somewhat on their own, otherwise the adults have to constantly cater to their needs. 
  • Two kids can be better than one (if reasonably close in age) because they can amuse one another.
  • Kids can limit the danger parents are willing to place themselves in. What sleuth wants to leave a child without a mom or dad? For a mystery, parental caution doesn't always contribute well to suspense.
  • Readers have different perspectives on what children of a certain age are capable of. They may pause to think "would a four-year-old really do that?"
The last point came up several times in my critique group as they read Underground in Ocean Alley. Consensus seemed to be that the three-year olds were way too verbal. That led to several discussions with my family members. 

I finally went with what my sister and I agreed on. Lance and Leah were just like most of the kids in our family -- toddlers who were smart, funny, and quick to speak. I couldn't bring myself to use 'baby dialect' or limit their vocabularies.

That's not to say I'll never create a shy child who doesn't have conversations with adults at age three. My bottom line is that I have to be comfortable with continuing child characters, far more so than adult personas. And I like the fact that smart child characters can sometimes outsmart me.

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Saturday, May 26, 2018

Memories of Family Who Served and How They Affect My Writing

As the daughter and niece of World War II veterans, I grew up very aware of the importance of what they did and how it affected them for the rest of their lives. Like many veterans of that war, my father (Miles D. Orr) never spoke of tragedies he witnessed -- except once, to my brother shortly before he died. And he said his stories could not be repeated. 

Instead, his family heard about the time near the end of the war when he was in Switzerland -- by then out of North Africa and Italy, serving as flight engineer for a general. A shutterbug, he took pictures, but then left his camera on a train. Without a name on it, he never expected to see the camera again.

However, someone on the train found it and remembered the GIs. Somehow the Good Samaritan figured out where some U.S. service members were staying and returned the camera. A happy memory.

I have all those pictures, including one with a group of Italian children, smiling but clearly showing the stress of war, some in tattered clothes. On the back, he wrote, "All my children." When asked, he said he had given them his chocolate.

Miles led a 'normal' life -- suburban home, assistant boy scout leader, (a not very good) girls' softball coach, purveyor of coffee and donuts after church for many years. He also spent hundred of hours in a small, dark room in the basement, where he wrote happy stories about families, a lot of poetry, and a novel about "Long Gone Decker" -- a Marine who survived killing and lived an almost idyllic life. Brighter than the dark room to which Miles sometimes retreated. 

World War II Family Service

Miles and two brothers put together two Model Ts to make one driveable car, and set out to see the U.S. in the mid-1930s. They sometimes visited their sister's house in Washington, DC. Good to see family and free food. It makes sense that they enlisted in 1940, when they had ended up in Florida. Note his postcard informing the family. Lots less structure as the nation scrambled to pull together resources to defeat two heinous war-mongerers.

Miles D. Orr served in the U.S. Army Air Corp, which preceded the USAF. He served in North Africa and Italy, and later as the flight engineer for the general who took over as Commander of the European Theater when Dwight Eisenhower became Supreme Allied Commander.

William Tom Orr served in the U.S. Army and received the Silver Star for directing traffic (a.k.a. men and weapons) on the beach at Normandy, on D Day. He had not expected to do that, but saw others with that responsibility mowed down. No one was moving and he decided, "Well, I'm an MP, so I better do this."

James Harold Orr served in the U.S. Army, in Panama and the Pacific, including time as an air base mechanic. His sister Kat said that he was very different after, near the end of the war, being assigned to transfer the bodies of killed service members from bags to coffins, which were then sent to families.

Dwight Seneker, husband of Elizabeth Orr, served a a contractor who inspected radios for ships. He moved his family to Philadelphia to do this -- very different from rural Missouri.

Curtis Jackson, husband of Katherine Orr, enlisted in the Navy. Prior to enlisting, he had a sign in front of his Mount Vernon, MO gas station that said, "Turn your rubber heels into fighting wheels."

Otis Goodwin, husband of Florence Orr, enlisted in the Navy near the end of the war. As an aside, Florence roomed with Rita Rooney in Washington, DC, which is how Miles met his wife.

Mary Frances (Orr) Schnake and husband Ed moved to California to work in a munitions plant. The money they saved let them buy a farm in Lawrence County, MO, which became the family gathering place for decades.

Marguerite (Orr) Harlowe and husband Clarence had moved to Washington, DC in the mid-1930s, and their home was the family hub during the war. Widowed mom Jessie (Cochran) Orr and youngest daughter Florence lived there sometimes during the war, in part because Jessie figured none of her sons could get to Missouri if they ever had leave, but they might get to DC. Clarence's income kept a lot of people solvent.

Paul Henry Orr, oldest son and husband to Ruth Hood, was older, and did not serve. He farmed and raised poultry in Missouri. Someone had to feed the country.

Beyond World War II

Several of my first cousins served before or during Vietnam. Douglas Seneker became an MP in large part after paying rapt attention to his Uncle Tom Orr's stories. Doug also served in the reserves. Tom's son Glenn served in the Air Force for 30 years, much of it in the nuclear missile program. He retired as a colonel. Doug's grandson joined the Army in 2016.

Harold's sons Pat and Sid served in Vietnam and then had full careers in the Air Force. Sid also did an early stint in the Marines. After retirement, he taught for years in the soldier-to-teacher program in Georgia.

Miles' grandson, John R. Fisher, decided on September 11, 2001 (a day shy of age 10) that he would serve in some capacity. He is with the Air Force and has been posted overseas and in the U.S. 

Interesting to note is that Miles soured on the Vietnam War -- not those who served, as he often said -- and didn't want his sons to be drafted. That from a man who was thrilled when he found out he and Rita could be included in the Columbarium in Arlington National Cemetery.

Memories and Stories Inform My Writing

I've never based any characters on real people. That seems far too limiting. Possibly because I grew up appreciating what my dad and his brothers did, I have featured veterans or their families in some of my books.

First was a young adult novella, Biding Time. A DC teen focuses on his MIA uncle, his namesake, who was lost in Vietnam. In some ways, that loss saved the nephew, Franklin Myers.

In the Jolie Gentil series, two homeless veterans feature in several books. One, Max, sustained a serious TBI. It is only through the support of the Ocean Alley crew that he can have an independent life, and he has some memorable scenes in The Unexpected Resolution. I wanted homeless vets to be part of the story line, so we never forget.

By far the most prominent vet in any story is Everett, in Falling into Place. He served in North Africa during World War II, and came home with what we would now call PTSD. That affected his life and family, but this Iowa-based novella is the story of his close-knit family as much as him. Everett evolves with humor and grace. Falling Into Place took more than fifteen years to finish. It had to be just right.

Sharing Miles' Letters and Reflections

Miles wrote poetry all his life. None specifically addressed his time in the military, though a poem that talks about drifting through life probably benefited from those experiences. Before he died in 1994, I did a booklet of his poems, and later made it into a self-published book on his behalf.

Then, of all miracles, when Aunt Marguerite (a.k.a. Aunty or Jack) died, her daughter Barbara found a pile of letters Dad wrote to her family during the war. He talks about everyone, often as a result of what she said in her correspondence. He mentions what he can of his life, though letters were censored to be sure soldiers didn't reveal any war information.

Prior to this discovery, we had a box of letters he wrote to our Mom. He met her at his sister's house near the end of the war, when home on a brief leave. Those were fairly short love letters, with little mention of what he was doing or other people in his life. 

The treasure trove of lengthy correspondence HAD to become a book, so I combined his poetry and letters into a paperback, Portrait Through Poetry: Poems and Letters. (A Kindle version was recently revised to include the letters as well as the poems.) In addition to life and loneliness, he and his sister talk about books!

There can never be a better gift. I've just redone the cover, and I think it better reflects his life. The little boy on his lap is USAF grandson Jack, who would only climb up there for French fries.

Celebrating Memorial Day

When I grew up in Maryland, we had no family graves to tend. Everyone was in Missouri or Kansas. When I moved to the Midwest in 1994, I decorated family headstones, often those of my husband's family in Iowa. Many have military plaques. 

My cousins have watched over our ancestors all their lives. With families more spread out than ever, it may be hard to visit (or even appreciate) ancestors' resting places. Thanks to Find-A-Grave, you can look at the graves. 

Seem morbid? I don't think so. The more sound our perspective on those who came, and served, before us, the more strongly we are rooted in today. The better we can serve our country in whatever way we choose.
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Sunday, May 20, 2018

Making Your Words Count

I tend to write in a fairly sparse style -- not a lot of description, to-the-point dialogue (unless a character is a chatterbox), and verbs that hold  their own.

In grade school, my seventh grade teacher told us to minimize 'helper verbs.' She was talking about "to be" and "to have," as I remember, and her words slid from my memory. I should have paid more attention. In trying to become a better editor of my own work, I've become a fiend about getting rid of forms of "to be," especially the word 'was.' 

"He was going to find out" becomes the more precise "He intended to find out." Better would be, "He intended to learn."
"She was looking for the lost dog" becomes "She searched for the lost dog."

In both of cases, you lose a helper verb and a gerund -- a twofer. I think my critique group may be tired of me making such suggestions.

Sometimes simple past tense works better. For example, in the second paragraph I said "she was talking about." Why not "she talked" about or "she discussed?"

I've never been much of a metaphor user. I figure if you can't describe something in and of itself, maybe the description needs to be reworked. If you listen to a lot of audio books, as I do, you notice authors who use metaphors a lot.
Grammarly defines a metaphor as "a figure of speech that describes  an object or action in a way that isn't literally true, but helps explain an idea or make a comparison." 

Often metaphors use the words like or as. "The waves on the sand moved as fast as an ant carrying a treat." Equally unnecessary (to my thinking) is, "The hot sun shone like a ball of fire."

Metaphors can simply be used to call to mind something other than the item being described. One of my least-favorite metaphors is "milky white breasts," closely followed by "death's vise-like grip." I suppose both of those also qualify as cliches. 

I was going to mention the author I think most over-uses metaphors, but thought better of it. Who am I to criticize someone who sells millions of books? I love the author's plots.

So much to learn, so little time to edit...
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Monday, April 30, 2018

2018 Chanticleer Conference

The April 20-22 conference of Chanticleer authors in Bellingham, Washington, was an opportunity to meet writers from around the country. The mix of conference workshops and awards celebration made for a special weekend. I'm posting a few photos of those I learned from.

Sessions addressed writing and post-publication activities. Wendy Kendall gave an overview of social media marketing, while Janet Shawgo stayed in the real world.
Janet Shawgo
She has had great success working with wineries who cross-promote their products and her books. She also suggested authors look to grocery stores, noting that Kroger in Texas is especially hospitable to local authors.

Elizabeth Craig was among those who talked about the need for authors to use YouTube or other visual methods to get their message across.

Several others talked about using two programs -- Audacity and Animoto. Dawn Groves noted the average attention span is 30 seconds. That is a good amount of time for an author book trailer that uses images rather than videos. 

Still images can be made with PowerPoint, with Audacity providing the voice over. I have much to learn.
Ann Charles writes three mystery series, and talked about creating a world for each one. She also gave me a smile when she mentioned being cited twice as a USA Today best-selling author, and not realizing that she was one until she looked it up.  She is shown with one of the tri-folds that describe her series.

I enjoyed talking to Matthew D. Hunt, author of Solar Reboot. He produces short movies as well as writes, and his perspective was informative. I've also been reading the book and like it.

B.J. Craige, E. Orr, S. Tate
Though I was disappointed not to win a Murder and Mayhem award for Demise of a Devious Neighbor, I sat next to Betty Jean Craige when she won for Fairfield's Auction. Fun to watch her win, and to discuss writing with another author for whom it is a second career.

Back to writing. Demise of a Devious Suspect (River's Edge series) just went to its publisher, and Underground in Ocean Alley (Jolie Gentil series) is underway. 
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Friday, April 20, 2018

One Site for Multiple E-Readers

I often write about publishing books on multiple sites, but which site helps readers with multiple devices?

Because I publish books on all sites, I have a Kindle, Nook, Samsung device, and an Android phone. I also bought an older iphone so I could use its Internet capability to see ibooks. I'm an equal opportunity device reader, but I'm not about to buy multiple copies of a book if I can avoid it. 

Enter Smashwords.The site lets you purchase a book (generally by self-published authors) and download it in multiple formats. Books are also available as text and PDF, should you not own a reader and want to read on your computer.

Smashwords has a lot of fiction, but also a great deal of nonfiction, including literary criticism and how-to guidance. A number of books are free. I have a couple of free short stories on the site. However, I write for me and publish for income, so I'm not big on constant freebies. Many authors are.

Try a new author or search for new ones.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Finding Your Nonfiction Angle

When I'm stumped by a plot or character, my mind wanders. I might write a blog post or work on other nonfiction. I don't think of it as easier writing, it's simply what I did most of my life so it's sort of relaxing.

Everyone is an expert on something. But unless you are the first Martian to land on earth (that we know of) and want to talk about the reception you received, your nonfiction book or article will not cover new territory. That's okay. You'll have a different perspective or perhaps better way of presenting something.

Even before you begin to do background reading or jot ideas for an outline, think about why a reader would pick up your book. It’s the “who is your audience” point.
Everything from vocabulary to sentence length is determined by your reader base. Your vocabulary has to match the readers’ level of interest. A book on plumbing repair is very different if your audience is new homeowners or plumbers studying for a certification exam.

There may be one hundred recent books on how to travel on a budget. It’s okay to believe you can write a good one. If you want to sell that book, it’s essential that you let potential readers know why yours is better. It can be comprehensive, shorter, clearer, based on your trip in which you visited seven countries and spent only $2,000 – anything that makes you stand out. 

Once you have a potential topic, you want to see what else has been written. Keep in mind your writing can make a difference. If you don’t believe this, you’ll feel defeated as soon as you start seeing what else is already out there. 

I still have “why do I bother?” moments from time to time. Ironically, they are more likely to come about when I’m in an art museum than a library. 

How do you go about seeing what’s already in print or online? It might be tempting to start with a search on Amazon or BN, but I suggest you take a trip to your local library. A library’s digital catalog will often list a lot more books on a topic than an online retailer, which usually only lists what they sell. At the library you can also look at a book’s table of contents and peruse the chapters. 

What the online retailers have that libraries may not are self-published books. Since the Kindle became affordable in 2009/2010 (depending on your perspective of affordable), many of us have taken our fiction and nonfiction directly to readers. If you decide to self-publish, these may be your primary competitors – especially in terms of digital price. 

Finally, do an online search via Google or Bing, or any search site. This will turn up blog posts, possibly magazine and journal articles. 

I suggest that you make notes about what’s out there, but make no effort to read much of it. You’re in a discovery phase. You don’t want to become discouraged or tailor your topic to what someone else has said or not said.  

Your goal is to write your top-quality article or book. 

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