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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Thursday, March 29, 2018

How Much Dialect is Too Much?

A character's dialect encompasses pronunciation, inflection, even word choices. If a story is set in a region with a strong dialect, the author's choice becomes how the characters should portray it.

When readers think of dialect, they tend to think accents.

An author might say that a visiting grandfather has a strong southern accent and then throw in an occasional y'all. Or the choice could be to emphasize every southern inflection. "I'm not sure what you people are talking about" becomes "Ahm not sure what y'all are talkin' about."

I tend to work first with word choices. For example, in the Midwest, a house could be referred to as of frame construction (wood as opposed to brick), while in New England that's a clapboard house. And how is it pronounced? It's clabberd. That's not a word I would spell phonetically, though when working with a narrator for an audiobook, it's a word I'm sure to check.

One of my earliest books (Secrets of the Gap) was set in England with a mix of American and British speakers. I decided to inject occasional British terminology (shed-ule instead of schedule) rather than have different English language pronunciations for Americans and Brits. (Plus, I would have flubbed it.)

When deciding how much local dialect to include, I think of authenticity and distraction level. I want to recognize there may be a distinct way of talking, but I don't want readers to get tired of constant spelling variations. I also don't want readers to spend time critiquing how I chose to portray a speech pattern. I want them to focus on the story.

Critique groups and beta readers are great resources for assessing speech patterns and word choices. I wish I had a dollar for every time a critique group member said, "They wouldn't say it that way." I could buy a new car. Or go to six writers' conferences a year.
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Friday, March 9, 2018

Picking Blogs to Read

I used to follow a number of blogs and tried to read each post. After all, I selected them because the topics or their authors appealed to me. Eventually, I would skip one or two (when notified via email) with the intention of catching up.

You can guess what happened. I created a backlog and reading the blog posts felt like homework.

As a former analyst, I decided to create criteria. Though most people reading this blog will have a range of interests, I'll start with the assumption that we are readers and writers, and the writers would like to see their books in print someday.

Considerations for blogs to read are:
  • Those to learn about new books. For me, these are cozy mystery blogs such as A Cup of Tea and Cozy Mysteries or Lisa K's blogs. I also found a list of top ten cozy blogs and several look quite good. If you prefer another genre, just google "thriller blogs" or "literary fiction blogs" -- your choice.
  • Topics to make you laugh. I look at The Onion (which has a political tinge) a lot. Check out this list of 100 humor blogs.
  • Those to learn about publishing trends. Two favorites are Terry Odell's blog and that of Jane Friedman. Jane's is more for those who really want to study a topic. Terry is especially good at sharing marketing tips.
  • Blogs that relate to your books' subject matter (if an author) or topics about which you like to read.
  • Friends' blogs. Most people who blog don't expect fans to read every post -- unless you follow the blog. Be selective about who you follow. I unfollowed an acquaintance and she asked why. It was simply because I didn't read it a lot, but, gulp.
More so than in the past, people who might have blogged have started Facebook groups. If you are looking for a more interactive way to read about a subject, those are an option.

Whatever your interest, you'll find people blogging about it. Have fun!

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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Self Publish or Seek an Agent?

I sometimes respond to questions on Quora, and thought one of my recent responses would be of general interest, with some modification. The question dealt with self-publishing versus looking for a literary agent.

Self-publishing is always an option, but if an author self-publishes a book, they will probably not be able to get an agent to represent the same book at a later date. There can be exceptions -- if a self-published book has really good sales, a traditional publisher may be willing to produce a second edition. That's rare.

If an author decides to self-publish (or send a proposal to an agent),
it is important to remember we only get one chance to make a first impression. I suggest any author (but especially new writers) work with a critique group or get comments on a draft from other authors. That way, a book is the best it can be before it reaches readers.

I’ve self-published a lot, and one reason I did so was because of my age (now mid-60s). Why wait?! Probably because I had a track record through self-publishing, I was able to get a publisher for another series. I chose to look for a small publisher. Many small publishers can be approached without an agent.

Jane Friedman is a respected expert on many aspects of publishing. She did a recent article on finding a literary agent. It’s excellent.

I think it's worthwhile to look for an agent before making the self-publishing decision. Set a timeframe, and submit to several agents simultaneously. Some agents don't like that, but you don't want the process to drag on for a year.

If an author does self-publish, I suggest going beyond just Amazon. It’s a very good publishing partner, but why limit sales options to one retailer? I use Smashwords, which places books on several other sites. Authors don’t have to work with lots of sites, but they can still sell books at these sites and get royalties via Smashwords.

A number of my author friends use Draft2Digital, which performs the same services as Smashwords. Companies that put your books on multiple sites are called aggregators. 

I offer a free online course called “Thinking Through Self Publishing.” Info is at ElaineOrrWritingClasses.

I learned a lot by attending writers' conferences for years -- I still go to several per year. If you can't do that, there are lots of blog posts on these topics, and a number of free or inexpensive books on Amazon. Writers are always willing to help one another. Just keep writing!
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Monday, February 12, 2018

Have You Ever Had One of Those...Months?

I'm usually Ms. Get Up and Go -- even when I have trouble getting around. After six weeks of back surgery and then the flu, I'm kind of Ms. Where Can I Take a Nap? Enough of this!

The final clue that I was really out of it occurred last Friday, my first day back in the swimming pool. I went into the men's locker room to take a shower. And it took me a few minutes to notice. Fortunately, it was a quiet time. If I hadn't left my glasses in there, I wouldn't have had to ask a trainer to go look for them. My secret would have been safe.

Sigh. At least the staff at the pool had something to laugh about.

I'm back writing, but at three in the afternoon, I still want a nap.

So, here is the opening line to the promo for the next Jolie Gentil book, which will be out in May. "Jolie Gentil has sworn off butting into other people’s business. I know, right? Sounds as far-fetched as finding used bubble gum on Mars."

Sound like something you want to read? Okay, I need to finish writing it.

Friday, January 12, 2018

How (and where) to Publish an Ebook

     I answer questions on Quora, a site that lets you post any query – and often get a response. I generally respond to questions on writing and publishing. The week, someone asked “how do I publish an ebook?” Pretty broad question.

     I responded on two levels. First was the where you do it, second was the how. 

     Companies such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Google Play, and Smashwords make it possible to publish your ebook — for free.  You need to load honest information about who you are (even if you use a pen name) and how you will pay your taxes on the income. You also need to provide a bank account (or in some cases a Pay Pal account) so you can be paid.

     You could consider loading only to Amazon and an aggregator. Smashwords is an aggregator and they load your book to a bunch of sites, such as BN, Kobo and more. They save you a lot of work. Another aggregator is Draft2Digital, but I pretty much use Smashwords.

Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP)
Nook Press for Barnes and Noble
Google Play Partner Program
     All of these sites have instructions about how to prepare your book, and how to load it to their site. Study these carefully.

     I learned how by relying on the Smashwords Style Guide, which is written in an easy-to-understand format. All style guides and instructions are free to download from their respective sites.Smashwords Style Guide, an Ebook by Mark Coker

     Instructions are largely similar, but there are some differences. For example, Amazon wants you to do the Table of Contents (required for most books) one way, and Smashwords another way. You can list links to your other books, but Smashwords requires that all links go to your own web page or blog. Why? Because the sites to which they publish don’t want you mentioning their competitors’ websites. I get that.

     I suggest you start with Amazon. It’s easy and you can preview your book immediately. You need to preview to make sure it looks as you expect.
     I have prepared a (free) short course called Thinking through Self-Publishing. Lifelong Dream. There is a second course (Writing and Publishing When time is Scarce) on the same site with lots of practical how-to info on writing, publishing, andmarketing ($29). However, you can learn what you need by studying free info at the sites. You can also go to this blog index, where you will see lots of how-to articles. All those are free!
      Sometimes it will seem like a lot of info to absorb, but you can do it. If you get frustrated, take a break and come back to it.
     One final point. You only get one chance to make a first impression. Do not publish the first draft of your book! Put it in a drawer and come back to it a bit later so you can be a cold reader. Ask others for comments, but do remember, all choices are yours. If you can, pay for an editor.
     Good luck!!
     For more of my articles on Quora, go to
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Saturday, January 6, 2018

Making a Commitment to Short Stories

Short stories have never been my bag. Not since high school. Guy de Maupassant's The Necklace had me spellbound, and I was convinced that O. Henry's Gift of the Magi would end differently. Jonathan Swift's Metamorphosis was not a fun read, but since I still remember it, clearly a superb one.

Given my relatively short attention span, I'm not sure why I gravitated solely to books for fiction. However, last spring I attended a conference at which we were given an issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and another of  Alfred Hithcock's Mystery Magazine. I devoured them on the long train ride from Washington, DC to Chicago. And then didn't pick up another short story until recently.

So, 2018 is going to be the year of the short story for me. I picked up a couple of articles on writing them, because I like to assess fiction as I read it. I don't know much about short story pacing. And I need to get away from the idea that everything I write (or read) has to be a mystery.

I went to the used book store and bought some short story anthologies, one classics and another of the wonderful books that Sisters in Crime does periodically. Lots of authors whose books I like to read.

Suggestions? I'll read a bunch and review them here. All ideas welcome.