Friday, September 18, 2020

Writers and Their Cats

 Our current cats, Stella and Phoebe, are  rarely far from us. They especially like hanging with me, but I think that's largely because I stay quiet a lot -- in the chair in front of my desk, or a recliner fitted with a lap desk.

Mostly I'm ok with their presence, at least until they sit in the laser printer's exit tray or under my feet. Lately that's where Phoebe sleeps. It makes no sense. She could be on a towel on the sofa or by the window. But she rolls herself into such a tight knot you can barely distinguish between her head and tail.


Having a cat at your feet (especially when she has snuck into that position) can be frustrating. (So can working with the newest version of Blogger, which won't let me wrap text around a photo.)

Now check out Stella. She likes to be higher. I walked into the bathroom a few days ago and found her on a towel by the sink. I had just left the room and she appeared to be waiting for my return.

I think the closeness reflects their uncertainty about why the humans are home so much during the pandemic. Normally they rule the roost for many hours each day while I'm writing at the library and my husband is at work. He is back at work, but I'm still working at home.

I'm also struggling to write, so they may believe they are comforting me rather than trying to send me to the hospital. 

After weeks of writing less than a page a day, I began working on a new online class and revising an extensive book of family history. I had to make myself do something productive. It feels very self-centered when there are so many people in dire circumstances. 

Serious point here. If writers (or anyone) find themselves unable to do routine things, recognize why that's so. It may not be possible to change the circumstances, but perhaps you can do something to distract yourself. If nothing else, many authors are giving away copies of  their books. If you want a couple of mine, send a note and I'll send you a Smashwords coupon.

We are all in  this together.

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To learn more about Elaine, go to elaineorr.com or sign up for her newsletter

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Listening Brings Books to Life

 In the mid-1990s, I found myself bored and with a sore back in the middle of a 1,000 mile drive. I pulled into a Walmart, bought Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and I've been hooked on audiobooks ever since. Books in the car, books on CD (originally on tape!), and now books on my phone and Alexa.

Alexa? Because it's linked to Amazon, every book I purchase on Audible is available through the round contraption that sits in multiple places throughout our home. Initially I associated it with music and the local radio station. 

Sometimes slow to learn, I hadn't thought about books until one evening I got into bed and realized I hadn't put a tape in the CD player. (I lull myself to sleep by playing a book I've already listened to.) For some reason, I said, "Alexa, play Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets." Bingo!

Audiobooks are not cheap, so I borrow a lot from the library. Try the M.C. Beaton Hamish Macbeth series or John Sandford's Virgil Flowers books. (The latter require a willingness to listed to salty language.) And, of course, Harry Potter's Jim Dale is an incredible narrator.

A couple of hints to reduce the cost. If you buy an ebook on Amazon, digital copies are generally offered at a reduced price. Watch for sales on CDs at Barnes and Noble, if you go that route. And don't hesitate to buy used CDs. The Chatham Public Library District has a wonderful sales room, and always had CDs.

However, I am now hooked on books on my phone. I never thought I would be, but because I always have the phone with me, I use it more often than Kindle.. I have the Audible and Chirp Apps. Chirp has books, usually the classics, for $1.99. These are temporary sales, and I always find something. I'm loading up on Agatha Christie at the moment.

To listen in the car, you can place the phone in a holder or on a stable position on the seat next to you. Another option is to wear one earbud. Never two, you need to hear someone honk at you.

People have asked me if books in the car can be distracting. I find music distracting (my mind wanders) but never books. You'll have to observe your own behavior.

A number of my books are on audio via Amazon and ibooks. I've made the commitment (to myself) to finish putting all of them on. It's time-consuming, because an author needs to hold auditions and listen to the entire book. But there's nothing like hearing your words spoke by a talented narrator.

Pick up your phone or turn on a CD Player and get ready to be absorbed in great stories.

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To learn more about Elaine, go to elaineorr.com or sign up for her newsletter

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Making Eye Contact with Words When You Can't in Person

     A verbal storyteller engages with an audience through gestures, tone of voice, and facial expressions. Your book can only compel via words on paper or on an ereader. That's harder.

     Unless you are an exceptional writer, you need to learn a lot before publishing something good enough to earn respect -- and income. Yes, read good books by successful writers. Also read about structure, character development, setting, dialogue, and related topics. Readers deserve your best.

     While you can learn a lot from books, it helps to talk about writing with others and perhaps learn in a classroom or similar environment. I learn a great deal from members of my critique group. When one of us sees an interesting article on writing or voice, we tend to share it.

     There are writing classes at community colleges, workshops offered by regional arts organizations, and writing conferences. Most years, writers' magazines such as The Writer or Poets and Writers provide lists of conferences. Check your library.

     There are many online classes now. They can be expensive, though not all are. I always prefer in-person learning, but your location or schedule may not permit that.

     During the COVID timeframe, a number of authors are giving short courses via zoom. I've taken several that Jane Cleland has offered. Doing a search for "zoom classes by authors" turns up many. I also found a comparison of traditional online classes.

     Take note that some of the results will be ads for classes. We authors know there is nothing wrong with advertising, just be sure to look at a range of results.

     Some of what you will learn in any class is basic-–in a mystery, the villain cannot be someone introduced in the last scene, nor can the reader know a character’s thoughts but not be informed of everything that character knows.  John Gilstrap (author of the Jonathan Grave books) put this aptly in a daylong course I took–-these are cheats. (It's become trendy to talk about unreliable narrators, those whose point of view you share but don't share what they know. I don't read these books.)

     In romance, if the only thing keeping a couple apart is miscommunication, a reader will want to bop them on their heads and tell them to pick up the phone. Strong romance stories build tension in varied ways.

     You can probably think of important points in other genres. Personally, when I read science fiction, I want a description of the aliens. I don’t need many details on the humans.

     So, if you're sitting there feeling blue because you can't interact with other writers, you really can get a sense of shared inspiration with zoom meetings or online classes. Just do it!
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To learn more about Elaine, go to elaineorr.com or sign up for her newsletter

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Is it Story or Structure?

I may not have any business writing about the story/structure dilemma, because I wrestle with both. Some would say this is the difference between pantsers and plotters (the former said to be writing by the seat of their pants). I do a bit of both.

My philosophy is a writer should never let a good story get away from them because they can't fathom the ending when they start. Got an idea? Grab a keyboard or a napkin and write for a few minutes. You might get an opening scene on paper or a few bullet points about how you want the story to develop. If you don't jot down the ideas, they will be gone or diluted.

Here are some recommendations for putting together a novel To be clear, all authors start with the story in mind, it's simply a question of what they do with that initial idea.

Craft of Writing
Jane Cleland
Jane has been offering some free seminars lately. Click on Events on her site. Her books on structure and plot twists are very helpful.

Helping Writers Become Authors
K.M. Weiland
Her website and blog have years of material. People roll their eyes at the word outline, but her material on it may change your mind.

Story Trumps Structure
Steven James
His focus is more on his own writing than teaching, but this book makes his preference clear.

There is still the basic point. No story is written until you put your buns in a chair (or on a bar stool, as Hemingway might have said). I address that in my book, Writing When Time is Scarce and Getting the Work Published.

Get started. Don't stop. Don't get discouraged. Tomorrow is another day.

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For more information on Elaine's 30+ books, go to https://www.elaineorr.com or subscribe to her newsletter.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Jazz Would Like Your Vote

       They say not to judge a book by its cover but I need you to do just that. If you like the new cover of my book, Rekindling Motives (Jolie Gentil Cozy Mystery Series Book 2), please vote for it for the Cover of the Month contest on AllAuthor.com!
              What's the significance of the cover? Covers are rarely literal; they bring aspects of the book to image form. In this book, Jolie makes an unexpected discovery in an old wardrobe. The family that owned it sold bootlegged whiskey in Ocean Alley during Prohibition. And as usual, Jolie's cat, Jazz, has to be on every cover.
              Last month I submitted When the Carny Comes to Town, and it needed to be at position 100 to go to the next level. It was 101!! I'd like to see Rekindling Motives get into the top 100 so I can go into high gear to get it selected.
              You can head over to All Author to cast your ballot.
               Thanks for your support. It means a lot.
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For more information on Elaine's 30+ books, go to https://www.elaineorr.com or subscribe to her newsletter.


                                          

Thursday, June 25, 2020

The Allegory of the Knife

"This broadcast is interrupted with a warning. A person carrying a knife is roaming the neighborhood. They are wearing a ski mask so their gender and race cannot be determined. Use extreme caution. This individual appears ready to attack."

What do you do? Make sure all doors and windows are locked? Turn on the security system? Call a neighbor to see if they want to go for a walk? Most people would stay indoors and hope local law enforcement will quickly apprehend the dangerous interloper.

But after a day of searching without spotting the potential killer, law enforcement announces the person cannot be found. Local and state police efforts, combined with neighborhood watchfulness, must have caused the fiend to leave. A few suspicious souls doubt the person really meant to harm anyone.


With joy only partially tempered by reservation, you go to the grocery store and take your kids to summer camp. The next morning, you learn the couple across the street was stabbed while walking their dog. Their survival is uncertain.

 Sound familiar? 

A killer virus is stalking our community. We've been unable to attend normal activities, and we learned Zoom is more than a comic book verb. More important, a lot of people have died.

Then it's Phase 4 in my state and we're told it's safer to venture out if we take precautions. But when we do, we face a disheartening environment.

The virus was not transient and is still roaming freely. Yet some people dismiss the danger and say precautions are an attack on their freedom. They are willing to infect others by laughing or coughing in a grocery aisle, knowing their droplets will remain in the air for the next few customers to walk through. 

What's their rationale? The virus spreaders believe they have every right to be where they want to be and share their germs. And the ultimate defense – this is America!

Sure, if they were sick, they'd stay home. When told as many as 40% of cases are spread by those without symptoms, they have one of two responses: "I don't believe you," or "Life is about risk. Stay home if you don't want to get sick." In other words, if you don't want your lungs damaged, it's your job to stay away from people brandishing microscopic weapons.

Why write this now? Because as an asthmatic who's been more short-of-breath since a bout with pneumonia last fall, I welcomed Phase Four as a chance to cautiously go beyond neighborhood walks, a few early-morning trips to the store, and a visit to the farmers' market. 

Since face coverings (a.k.a. masks) are required when social distancing isn't possible, I thought it should be safe. Wrong. I've tried a couple of stores, and it was at best 50/50 for mask wearing. I fled. 

The difference between now and the first few months of isolation is the anger. Why should I have to stay home nearly all the time because of selfish people?

Today I had an epiphany of sorts. I'm old enough to remember the 'smoking in public' debate.  Second hand smoke cause cancer? Hell no, said a lot of smokers. And besides, as Americans they should be able to smoke freely.

Over time, attitudes changed. Most people knew of someone whose cancer had an environmental cause, and lung cancer made it to the top of the list.

What's different now is we can get very sick or die from COVID-19 after a brief exposure. No need to wait years for lungs to blacken. The knife is out in the neighborhood, in the grocery store, at church, and even in a park. It only takes one laugh or sneeze.
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Elaine usually writes mysteries or reflective fiction. While she likes to stay inside and write, she would prefer to go out to do it. But she would rather live to write another day. Learn more about her work at https://www.elaineorr.com.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Book Marketing Challenges During the Pandemic

Like many other authors I know, I wanted a way to give readers more affordable book options while they were either home or working under a lot more stress. I've never seen so many sales on electronic books.

I reduced one series to 99 cents for all thirteen books, and made sure that each week a couple of books were available for Kindle Unlimited. Not very strategic, and I didn't want to appear to be in any way taking advantage of people who were hurting.

I sent a few paperbacks to nursing homes, and then stopped because some didn't want to bring in outside items. I'm going to try that again now that it seems COVID-19 is not generally spread through contact with inanimate items.

My broad suggestion for sales during a time of crisis is the standard one -- consistency. I've expanded my number of tweets and continued to update my webpages. Here are a couple of other things I'm doing. I can't vouch for their effectiveness, but they make sense to me.

1) Reexamine your book categories by studying those of similar books that sell well, or books that address similar topics. For example, I looked at how Amazon categorized The Twain Does Meet and saw two categories addressed culinary mysteries. (The book does mention that Jolie is not a very good cook, but there are no recipes.)

Thinking maybe I could draw in readers looking for the subject matter rather than fiction, I decided to look at books on multiple births or new parents. I saw two categories I liked --#225 in Motherhood (Kindle Store) and #3913 in Family Life Fiction (Kindle Store). Using the contact link for Amazon (from within the book's page in my account), I asked that two categories be removed and these two added. 

Amazon has a good system for this now -- they offer options for the topic you want Amazon to help you with, and on the one for the product page (where readers buy your book), the first option is categories. Only time will tell if it makes a difference. I'm doing the same thing for many books. Labor intensive, but it makes sense.

One hint. You want the category that says "Kindle Store" for your ebooks and the once called "Books" for your paperbacks.

2) Audiobook sales vary greatly for my books. A series gets a boost when a new book comes online, but that's not usually a monthly thing. I sell mine through ACX, which places digital books on Audible, Amazon, and itunes. There are a lot more options today, but this has worked for me. ACX recently made changes to the promo code system. Authors use these to give free copies to reviewers or others.

I didn't realize I could get more codes, or codes for some early books for which I had never requested any. Go to your sales dashboard on ACX, and just above the list of books sold you'll see a link for "Promo Codes." When you click that, the list of books eligible for codes appears. Click on each one and request the codes -- for the U.S. or U.K, or both. You get the codes almost immediately, and they are active after about an hour.

I sent my newsletter folks a list of books for which they could request codes, and received many requests. (I could offer eight books.) With the click of a button, the new system creates the note you can send to requesters telling them the code they need and how to request the book.

The new system also helps you keep track of those you give out.  ACX will now tell you if the codes are used, and you'll know to whom you gave them. A couple of weeks after the recipient uses the code, you could drop them an email to see if they enjoyed the book. That could encourage a review.

3) Back to the one word that makes the most difference -- consistency. I send a batch of tweets every, single day. Beyond that, I mix up ad placements, mentions on relevant Facebook groups, blog posts, and regular newsletters. (I continually gather new subscribers.)

Good luck, and feel free to note your ideas in the comments section.
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For more information on Elaine's 30+ books, go to https://www.elaineorr.com or subscribe to her newsletter.