Ode to the Reader

IMG_2105 (2)

No two persons ever read the same book.  Edmund Wilson – critic – May 8th, 1895-1972.

Edmund Wilson - critic - wikipedia

Any author who has received reviews of their work will tell you the truth of Wilson’s quote. Writers write and readers interpret.

As Anna sings in the hit Disney classic, FrozenLet it go, let it go, can’t hold it back anymore.

As a writer, I fling my words out into the world and I let the readers do their job. Each person who opens one of my novels will bring to the book a unique set of life experiences, attitudes, values and expectations. Each will read a different book out of the very words available to all. And so it should be!

IMG_2136 (2)

Marketing Your Self-Published Book

IMG_1572

The year 2018 is my sixth year of marketing my novels through my self-publishing imprint – Huckleberry Haven Publishing. I’ve wandered down many a marketing road over that time. Without fail, each new road was promoted as the one and only route to success. Most turned out to be nothing more than the flavour of the month. These roads led to wash outs or curves I did not anticipate. And don’t get me started on the tollbooth roundabouts with no way out of the circle.

On the up side, some meandering trails came out on my version of the superhighway of success.

Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way.

Write a Good Book

It does make sense that you would want something worth marketing. But remember, the quality of any book is decided on a highly subjective basis. I read a lot and many books that I would classify as pure crap are doing well on Amazon. There is no accounting for personal taste when it comes to reading. If your book is something you would want to read, no doubt there are others out there who will also want to read it. No one is an island when it comes to reading preferences.

Assisted Self-Publishing – not all it’s cracked up to be.

Do you have unlimited cash? Are you content to let someone else control your book sales? Are you okay with giving up access to most promotional opportunities?

I tried an assisted self-publishing company for my first book and I was not satisfied.

Most will promise the moon and deliver a mere sprinkle of star dust. You can format and publish your own books for a fraction of the cost while retaining control of important sales data. If you aren’t up to creating a book cover you can find someone who is. Contract with them and pay them once only for the service. The same can be said for editing and formatting. Or you can DIY the whole process. It all depends on your existing skills and how much time you are willing to invest in learning new ones.

Our Trouble-making Marten

Ignore the Pseudo-Gatekeepers.

For me, the whole point of self-publishing was to let readers decide if they liked my work. I wasn’t willing to jump through time-consuming hoops and be rejected at the end of the process because the agents or the traditional publishers didn’t think anyone would want to read my books. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that gatekeepers are not restricted only to traditional publishing.

There are many pseudo-gatekeepers in the self-publishing world who make their money by preying on an author’s insecurities. They deal in the sale of approval – admittance to a special group, a pre-screening of your work, the opportunity to win a contest that will provide a shiny sticker for your book cover.

If you choose self-publishing, I would advise you to overcome the need for approval from anyone other than your readers.

Social Media – much ado about nothing?

I know you’ve heard the cast-in-stone rules about social media. The more places you are the better. You must be active on your Facebook author page, tweet everyday, write blog posts, get photos out on Instagram and Pinterest. 

I know a highly successful self-published author who does nothing on social media but her Facebook author page. She keeps her posts and updates on that page interesting and current. Her followers engage with her and are committed to her success. Her sales tell me that more and more social media is not necessarily better.

Here is what I suggest: find one or two platforms you really enjoy and stick to those. Stake out a little bit of real estate in cyberspace where you can post about your work and your life with creativity and ingenuity. People who show up to visit won’t mind if you promote the occasional special offer for one of your books. They will appreciate your effort.

At all costs, avoid papering the social media world with advertisements for your work. This is crass – period. And it won’t sell a single book. Enough said.

Create a Huge Email List

The self-published author’s email list is an imperative that is currently sacrosanct. We are urged to go down any and every road imaginable to gather email addresses then keep all of these people updated with news about our work and promotions. Well, guess what? Our well-crafted emails end up in the same spot as junk mail in the post office – the trash bin.

I’m not saying don’t gather email addresses. At the end of your e-book, provide your email and ask readers to contact you with their thoughts. Offer them a gift. I send an e-book copy of my short stories to anyone who emails me. Gather the email addresses of the readers who respond. These are the people who really like your work and want to hear when your next book is coming out. Using such a method, the email list you come up with is pure gold. It won’t be huge but then again, your emails won’t immediately hit the trash bin either.

Watch for Part 2 of this post. I’ll share my thoughts on the dilemma faced by self-published authors when it comes to getting book reviews.

IMG_1565 (2)

Rusty Beginnings

An era gone-by

Taking a dive back into the 5th book of the Crater Lake series has me reeling with how rusty I become when away from this work for a few months. My current notes show no measure of finesse. Everything is overwrought and jagged. Trying to sort out all the threads of this upcoming novel is akin to plunging into a knitting basket of yarn after a group of rambunctious kittens have had a romp.

I’m thankful that I’m not starting from scratch. The file folder for the upcoming novel already holds several documents – detailed sketches of all my new characters, research notes on bullying programs and Afghanistan vets, list of storylines, a master table of characters and a table for this book. I have some notes on dogs that baffle me. This information must have been something I thought would be useful. I’ve created a rudimentary storyboard – sparse with post-it-notes, a few tentative lines and connections. Much work remains to be done on this valuable visual aid.

The story is a mess in my head. At this point, there is a tendency to overreact to this chaos. I have tagged one new character for possible elimination from book five. Her story may be of more use in book six. But I’ll keep her in the notes for now. We’ll see. No need to be too hasty.

Simply begin. It’s the only way I know to proceed with the task of creating a novel. My method is to write my way into the story. The more words I throw on the page, the more organized and clear the ultimate story becomes. I’ve been here before. When I begin to glimpse the contours of the whole thing through the mist, that will be the point when I know I am close to tipping from note taking to actual writing.

The promise of that moment keeps me going through the difficulty of these early days. It allows me to bear my stuttering first attempts to unravel this mess of knotted yarn before me. Damn those kittens!

Where do you begin on the journey of creating a novel? How do you manoeuvre the first faltering stages? And what if your ideas are not even at the knotted yarn stage? I came across a post on Writers Helping Writers the other day that listed some great ways to generate ideas – Ten Ways to Goose the Muse. Check it out!

I’ll leave you today with a photo of my latest garden statue acquisition. We purchased ‘Edgar’ at the Millerville Christmas Market on our recent trip to High River, Alberta. He’s a mischievous gargoyle who looks as though he just dropped in for a bit of fun. Edgar may or may not be up to no good. I suspect he may show up in my upcoming book as a new addition to Izzy’s garden. She might see him from her kitchen window and experience the same delight I feel every time I see him. Edgar was created by Castaway – an artist out of Okotoks. I am sorry to say, I gave the business card away to someone who admired Edgar and now I can’t find a link to their work. All I can say is that they create lovely stuff at a reasonable price and if you’re ever in Okotoks, Alberta looking for a statue, look them up!

Edgar has found his forever home

Are You a Fan of Serialized Fiction?

Game of Thrones

Be it via novel, movie or TV, I am a big fan of series. Words like book one or episode one make my heart beat faster. I love the way the series format allows character arcs to develop over time. I gain emotional satisfaction from the breadth and depth and incredible scope. And I don’t think I’m alone in these feelings. Consider the success of HBO’s Game of Thrones or Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels. And few will fault the creators of the Lord of the Rings or Star Wars movies. Well, at least not in my hearing!

Star Wars

As a novelist writing a series with multiple view-points and a large and vibrant cast, I sometimes face censor for the dearth of characters (all with their own unique stories) for the reader to keep track of. But when I look out into the world of serialized storytelling across delivery mode, I see a great hunger for the detail rich, character heavy saga type of story that I’m writing. 

Twitter Banner 3

To illustrate this view, a reader emailed me the other day to tell me how much she loved Disappearing in Plain Sight. These are her words:

Your character development is excellent and your storyline complex but completely believable! You are quite the writer in keeping the climax climbing a very long time but you sure tie things up in quiet a bow!

Many thanks! That is exactly what I am trying to do.

Conn Iggulden War of the Roses

I’ve just finished Conn Iggulden’s War of the Roses series. Though he may play loose with historical time lines and break the head-hopping point-of-view rule, his books are amazing. Just darn good storytelling. Kudos as well to Phillipa Gregory’s books written from the viewpoint of the female characters who lived during the War of Roses and the Tudor era. I’ve read and loved them all.

I’m not a slave to genre. I’m in for any book, movie or TV series that demonstrates good character development. As the characters gain awareness, so do I.

Jack Reacher

I’ve read all the Jack Reacher novels and am in awe of Child’s ability to keep me coming back for more. He doles out the details of Reacher’s life at just the right titrated levels. I felt the same about Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch books. I’ve sat in rapt attention watching Game of Thrones as I did with Firefly or Stranger Things or CBC’s Heartland.

Heartland

Even a character like Groot in the Guardian of the Galaxy movies has room for growth and thus something important to teach.

Groot

How do you feel about serialized fiction? Are you up for investing hours in either reading or viewing instalment after instalment, following characters new and old through the breadth and depth of their life experience? Let me know and tell me about your favourites.

Catching Up

Marigold magic

In bygone days when money was tight, we used to talk about getting ahead. No sooner would we feel like extra cash was on hand than an unexpected expense would loom on the horizon. We came to believe that anticipating the moment we would get ahead was a harbinger of disaster. Lately, the idea of catching up begins to feel somewhat the same.

I’ve been home for almost three weeks from a month of travel right after the regular busy summer schedule of visitors and gardening. And the summer did seem busy! With an ever-expanding garden, bears in the fruit trees, replacing our wood-burning stove, contemplating the purchase of a new vehicle and planning to reroof a section of the cabin – we were hopping.

Moving in the new stove

New roof

September is not usually a month I would choose for travelling. But with the garden produce at a steady trickle rather than a tidal wave due to cool weather and rain early in the season, I risked it. Of course, the garden took off the minute I was out the door. Bruce was kept busy with freezing blackberries and green beans and eating ten plus tomatoes a day.

Since my return, canning has been priority number one. Jars of dilly beans, stewed tomatoes, salsa, green tomato chutney, blackberry jam and relish have made their way to the pantry. And we have been enjoying the harvest with multiple veggie selections at every meal – green beans, squash, carrots, potatoes, the last of the cucumbers and zucchini as well as fresh parsley and basil.

Green cherry tomato pickles                    Salsa

Blackberry jam

We did manage a wonderful Thanksgiving turkey dinner here with guests from around the lake. A squash custard, green beans, carrots, fresh salad greens dotted with cherry tomatoes, newly dug potatoes, parsley in the dressing – all from the garden – competed for attention on a turkey laden table. And we got in a trip down Island to have our generator serviced. It was a gorgeous day and we took a lovely walk down at the spit in Campbell River.

Campbell River spit

A very dry September and the early part of October has meant a slow start to our micro-hydro system but what a bonus for the last of the garden produce. To say nothing of our local foraging for chanterelle mushrooms. They are coming in so crisp and bright!

Chanterelle bounty

So, lately I am not feeling like Francis Guenette, author of the Crater Lake Series. I’ve hardly had a moment to consider writing! That brings me to something I’ve learned over the course of the last five years of writing, self-publishing, marketing and just plain living. The living part matters. I can’t bring all that I am to the writing if all that I am is a writer.

MosaiCanada 150

This morning I woke up with an idea for how book five will end. That’s progress. Soon all the garden will be laid to rest with late fall storms, all that can be consumed will have made its way through the door, the lights will be bright with excess power and I will be writing again. The ebb and flow of life continues. I won’t be caught up but I begin to think that catching up is not an ideal I need to pursue.

Squirrel on the deck

Issues of Plot

Chemanius murals - Guenette photo

I’ve been pondering issues of plot. I often describe my novels as character driven rather than plot driven. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not trying to say my books have no plot.

I recently read a post on Writers Helping Writers that has me thinking – why the emphasis on character over plot? Guest poster Dario Ciriello quotes C.J. Cherryh, a multiple award-winning science fiction and fantasy author, defining plot. “… a webwork of tension-lines between characters and sets of characters. You pull one [line] and one yanks several characters. It’s not events [that drive plot]. It’s tensions.”

Okay – music to the ears of the writer of self-defined character driven novels! The tension between characters drives plot. A character driven novel with enough tension is by it’s very nature developing plot as it goes.

The Writer’s dictionary defines plot as the way an author structures a series of events into a story. Typically, an author works at organizing events in a way that will pique the reader’s interest. Usually events are not resolved until near the end of the story. “A good plot is one that has well-developed characters who are engaging in several conflicts.”

Literary devices website   describes the five main elements of a plot. Before I list their points and add my thoughts, remember that plots are often broken into sub-plots and maybe even sub-sub plots. The whole idea of the web works well for me.

1. The exposition or introduction – characters and settings are established. The conflict or main problem is put on the table. I usually think of getting all the players on the board.

2. Rising action – series of events build tension and increase conflict. Once all my characters are on the playing board, it is inevitable that they interact and create tensions.

3. Climax – main point of the plot. This is where all the tension has been leading. I often envision the climax as a set of waves. I might have three or so climaxes before the main one, each wave crashing on the shore of the story a bit harder than the last.

4. Falling action – the winding up of the story. With a character driven novel that creates tension between sets of characters, this is a challenging stage. All the loose ends need to tie up. Well, except for those I choose to leave open-ended.

5. Resolution – good or bad, up or down, happy or sad. Endings should be satisfying. That doesn’t necessarily mean the reader agrees with how everything went down. It’s more about knowing I did a good job of making the events believable. Given what I described and the characters I let the reader know – the story makes sense.

I’m going to keep considering the idea of plot. But for now, I’m going to keep doing what works for me – multiple characters, multiple points-of-view and character interactions driving untold tensions. Let me know what you think on the issue of plot.

Wildflowers in Chemanius - Guenette photo

What Sort of Writer are You?

Little hummer takes a break

Recurring theme – someone asked me a question the other day: What are you working on now? I just stared. With a definite uncomfortable squirm in my chair, I responded, “Nothing.”

In another era, I wanted to be one of those women who had specific days when they did household tasks. You know the type – geez, you might be the type! Bathrooms on Monday, floors on Tuesday, dusting on Wednesday. I was more the madly try to clean up everything on the same day because company was coming woman. I could be seen running around in a state, dusting with one hand and pushing a wet rag with my foot over the dirty floor. Hoping for the best – cleaning with a lick and prayer, so to speak.

When I’m confronted with the question of what I’m currently working on and the answer is – nothing – I get a similar feeling. I want to be one of those writers who writes consistently. Like Stephen Leacock out in his boathouse every single day from eight until noon without fail. But I’m not. I’m the write until I drop and then fall into the doldrums believing that I will never write again type.

At the beginning of my master’s program, I read a book about writing your thesis or dissertation in fifteen minutes a day. It sounded wise but it was something I knew in my heart I could never accomplish.

My grandma used to say – You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. There is truth to the belief that one thing can’t be another no matter the effort put into transformation. I can no more write on a consistent and specific daily schedule than I could clean that way or create a dissertation in fifteen-minute blocks. It simply isn’t me.

When I’m not feeling uncomfortable with this state of affairs, I celebrate it. This is the fallow time. This is the gathering time. This is the time when impressions, ideas and connections incubate and grow until they burst forth in writing fury.

But there is still a part of me that feels like the sow’s ear and not the silk purse. What do you think? How do you manage your writing? Is it a daily, disciplined endeavour or is it an all out writing fury? And let me know how your garden is growing? Ours is doing not too bad Smile 

How is your garden growing