New Ideas, More Time, So Why Not?

I know that many writers have registered for November’s NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and are diligently working on their stories, pushing themselves to achieve their 50,000 word goal by the end of the month. I’m always so impressed with those who take on this challenge.

I’ve never registered for this annual event, not only because of my day job but because I usually spend every weekend in November selling my books at Christmas craft fairs. But I’m retired now and this year the craft fairs have either been cancelled or moved online. I should have registered for NaNoWriMo but online courses and reading print books on writing and marketing have swallowed up most of my afternoons. I’ll be finishing up the last book in a few days and have nearly reached the point where I’ll be putting the focus back on writing new work.

I’m really excited about this. I’ve been making notes on two different projects since early summer and it’s time to get going. So, I might well be starting my own version of NaNoWriMo in early December and going straight through till the end of January or longer before I turn the focus back to marketing. That’s the plan anyway. We’ll see what happens, but it feels like a good way to spend these gloomy winter days where socializing is discouraged.

I still intend to take at least one day off a week to visit my granddaughter who’s about a 45-minute drive away, and sure, there’ll be a Christmas tree to put up and gifts to wrap, but all of this gives me something to look forward to these last few weeks of 2020.

How about you? Are you planning any creative, productive, feel-good activities for the rest of the year? Are you taking part in NaNoWriMo and, if so, how’s it going for you?

Two Great Books For Writers

Now that the rainy season is here in British Columbia, my afternoons of yard work are pretty much over, so I’ve rejigged my daily schedule to reserve more time for reading and online learning in the afternoons. Maybe I’ll do more editing as well. Heaven knows there are still plenty of changes to make in my urban fantasy.

Those who follow my blog know that I’ve reading a fair bit on self-publishing and marketing over the past month. I’m also investing my time on great books for writers. One of them is Writing Monsters by Philip Athans, which is a great guide for anyone who’s writing horror, science fiction, or fantasy. What I really like about this book is the way he makes the reader think about why a monster should appear in one’s story. What is its purpose? How and when it should appear? He even provides a checklist of questions as we come up with new and innovative scary creatures. There’s plenty in the world to frighten us these days, and tapping into what scares us most is a good start to creating fictional monsters.

Stephen King’s book On Writing, was published twenty years ago and has been recommended to me numerous times, so I finally bought a copy and am just over halfway through the book now. I’m really enjoying his unique and candid approach which, as the title reflects, is more of a memoir in the first half than a how-to book. The book is filled with anecdotes from his childhood, teen years, and early married life, when he first wrote Carrie, a character he’s never really liked, by the way. Out of those experiences, are terrific writing insights and tips, which I’m jotting down.

If you’re stuck indoors and looking to improve your writing, these books might help. I’ve also started reading The Occupation Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. The introductory pages have already given me ideas for a paranormal series I’ve been mulling over for several weeks. The ideas are coming along, faster than I can write and edit them, but that’s not a terrible place to be!

Those Devilish Details

As an indie author with wide distribution, meaning that I sell my books on other platforms besides Amazon, I’ve learned that it’s crucial to keep the information at the back of my ebooks separate between Amazon and other booksellers.

Amazon doesn’t like it if, for example, I provide universal links to other platforms at the back of an ebook that I published directly through Amazon. As Draft2Digital is my distributor for Kobo, Apple books, and Nook, among others, I therefore had to create two separate ebook files to keep things straight. Apple also will refuse to list my books if I include any Amazon links at the back of my books, by the way. While I understand that the conglomerates aren’t interested in supporting one another, it also means we have to pay extra attention to production details.

This week, I’ve been updating the backend information in each of my Casey Holland mysteries, and reducing prices in preparation for a couple of upcoming promotion events. One of the things I’ve done is add a short paragraph, inviting readers to post a review on Amazon or wherever they’d like.

On sale for $.99, starting Oct. 28th!

After submitting the fourth book revision, I received a message indicating that Apple won’t accept the updates until I remove the word Amazon from my review request. Oddly, this apparently wasn’t an issue for them with the first three books. To prevent further disruption, I created a more generic review request for the first three anyway and resubmitted them.

Both self-publishing and traditional publishing are filled with restrictions and rules, which aren’t always clear. It’s why I keep detailed notes, as there’s no way I’ll remember the details when I release another book a year or two from now. If I decide to publish directly with Apple and Kobo down the road, I’ll probably need separate versions for their books as well, and I’ve no doubt that the formatting will be different for them than it is for D2D.

If you’re fairly new to publishing, I suggest that you make notes of every step in your book’s production process, especially if you’re planning to offer your book for wide distribution. If you wish to provide links to other books in the future, remember Amazon only promotes Amazon, so you’ll need different versions. It’s extra work, but providing live links for readers is worth the effort.

Improving Marketing Strategies

One of the hardest lessons I’ve learned as an author is that marketing is as much of a marathon (if not longer) as is the process of coming up with an idea for a book, then writing and rewriting until it’s finally ready for publication.

Authors with marketing backgrounds excel at implementing strategies for reaching potential readers, but for the rest of us it’s a hit-and-miss process to figure out what works best. Also, in this rapidly changing world, what worked well five years ago doesn’t work nearly as well today.

I’ve been reading recommended books on the topic of ebook marketing, and found a great resource in author David Gaughran. I just finished taking his free course (I don’t know how much longer it will be free) called Starting From Zero, which you can find HERE. I’ve also read his book Let’s Get Digital. The book is an introduction to publishing, but the latter sections on marketing were so useful that I’m currently reworking my Amazon book descriptions, finding better keywords, and changing the price for upcoming promotions.

Gaughran stresses the importance of developing a website, having a Facebook page, and getting an email list going. I’ve being doing the first two for some time, but I’ve always balked at the idea of maintaining an email list, which is a huge mistake in Gaughran’s view.

Part of my reasoning was that I didn’t want to bother people with announcements to buy my book, every time I released a new one (Gaughran also used to think this way), but the other reason is that I already make announcements on my blog and other social media outlets, so wouldn’t I be repeating myself?

I’m curious if any of you use an email list in addition to your blog. As part of my book updates, I’m adding a link to my blog on my end pages (I probably should have done this from the start) inviting people to join if they’d like to learn more about my writing life and to receive upcoming announcements.

It seems like there’s always something to tweak and improve upon, but as Gaughran also notes, the most important part of your day should still be writing. I couldn’t agree more.

How’s Your May Going So Far?

Potted Plant, May 2020I hope that all the moms out there enjoyed a lovely Mother’s Day this past weekend, although I’m well aware that it must be exceedingly difficult for some, for a variety of reasons. This was my first Mother’s Day without Mom since she passed away last June, and I thought about her a lot on Sunday and Monday. I went out and weeded around the little rose bush that we planted in her memory. The pink blooms haven’t appeared yet, but there are buds!

On Sunday, I saw my daughter in-person for the first time in two months. She’s now in her last trimester and really blossoming. The six of us practiced handwashing, social distancing, and ensured surfaces were clean. We sat outside on the patio and enjoyed the steaks and chicken burgers my son BBQ’d.

White FlowersSpring and even summer-like conditions hit BC’s lower mainland last weekend. As you’ll see from the photos, nature is far more oblivious to COVID-19  than people are. My hubby has planted most of our vegetable garden and as my cat also passed last June, we’ve now hung a hummingbird feeder in the yard.

I’m really hoping that BC continues to be on the right track as it prepares to slowly open up after the coming long weekend. Unfortunately, we saw TV images of crowded beaches last weekend, with few masks or social distancing. One beach-goer who was interviewed said that if people are that worried about COVID-19, they should stay home. Even the reporter called this a selfish remark, but there you go. There are plenty of emotions and different attitudes everywhere.

Rhodos, May 2020I’m also waiting to hear if my employer will allow staff to return to work, perhaps on a rotating basis. Office workplaces are on the list of places that can re-open. It would be nice to see staff before my final workday on May 29th, but we’ll see how it goes.

On the writing front, I’m working on editing and promotion stuff, but I’m also reading a lot both for pleasure and/or research purposes. I’m taking part in my first Zoon panel discussion on Thursday, May 14th, at 7:15p.m. (PST)  through the Port Moody Art Centre. We’ll be discussing how to promote and market in times of self-isolation. If you’re interested, the Facebook Link to this event is:

https://www.facebook.com/events/230349908253190/

I think there will be a link somewhere on youTube after that night, but I’m not sure.

Meanwhile, I’d like to know how things are going for you in your part of the world? Are you venturing out of your home a little more? Making plans for the summer, or taking it day by day? Are you more productive than usual, less so, or about the same?

I think it’ll be a long time before we can put COVID-19 behind us, but every day is one step closer to resolutions, and don’t we all look forward to that?

The World’s Growing Impatience

Social[1]Long before the pandemic began, I habitually browsed through a variety of news sources to find out what was happening in the world. As I do so these days, one question keeps replaying in my head…how long can people reasonably be expected to social isolate before they chuck it in order to visit cherished family and friends, or to salvage what’s left of their business? As you all know, millions of folks are missing out on paychecks, medical procedures, visits with ailing family members, and educational prospects.

Here in British Columbia, talk has started about a slow and careful reopening, although we’re still two weeks away from lifting the state of emergency. Our provincial health officer isn’t ready to provide specific dates about starting elective surgeries or re-opening classrooms. It’s worth noting that B.C.’s lockdown hasn’t been as strict as it is in other provinces, and that many of BC’s closures are self-imposed. Still, I sense that people are starting to become really frustrated and even angry about the lack of work and accessibility to services. Here in the Lower Mainland, we are seeing more vehicles on the road than there was two weeks ago, although what this actually means isn’t clear. Maybe people just want to go for a drive. After all, gas is really cheap right now.

As I’ve mentioned before, self-isolation is easier for some than others, depending on circumstances, but is there a line that some will cross before health experts give the all clear?

The day that line is crossed will be different for everyone. Mother’s Day is coming up, as is the Victoria Day long weekend in about three weeks. If the weather is hot and sunny, what will happen then?

Governments aren’t bottomless pits of financial aid. They will run out of money and things will have to re-open—hopefully in a smart, safe way—long before a vaccine is developed. Will the majority of people be back at work this summer? Will the beaches and parks and malls re-open? If so, will the numbers of people allowed in be restricted, and if so, who will regulate those wide open spaces? It will be interesting to see how this all plays out.

I don’t know what my own personal line is, but my daughter will give birth sometime in late July. I haven’t seen her in person since March 8th, and although I would never do anything to jeopardize her health, the urge to go see her will become overwhelming as time passes.

Yes, we’re all in this together, but as I’ve seen on the news this week, there are different interpretations of togetherness. Many of us are still doing our best to stay home, remain patient, and see what unfolds. May should prove to be an interesting month.

Writing About The Pandemic, Or Not

We’re all so immersed in the COVID-19 pandemic that it seems nearly impossible to get through an entire day without hearing something from TV, radio, and social media. And maybe that’s as it should be. I’ve always felt that staying informed is crucial, despite the contradictory statements and misinformation.

0304_n13_covid_19_coronavirus_graphic_generic_file[1]I’ve been reading blogs from people around the world about their personal experiences. It adds a poignancy and depth to the medical stats and political statements we’re bombarded with. I appreciate the candidness of bloggers expressing their hopes and fears, or even when they simply discuss their altered routines.

But, here’s a question I came across from an author this weekend, and it’s made me stop and think. If you’re working on a novel set in 2020,  will you be making reference to the pandemic and, if so, how much reference? Will it become a major part of your plot or will you avoid it altogether? After all, there are certainly people out there who seem happy to pretend that the whole thing’s an overblown hoax, which opens up interesting psychological components in fictional characters.

Writing Clip Art(2)jpgShould you build a plot around the pandemic, or should you mention it in passing? If one of my Casey Holland transit mysteries was set in the spring of 2020, my characters would be working in quite a different way than normal. Bus drivers are not charging fares these days. Passengers must enter from the back and sit within social distancing guidelines. In other words, no full buses allowed. This kind of reality couldn’t be ignored in my work, as social distancing would have to play a role in everything my characters do, whether sharing information on Zoom or writing reports from home. Unless someone was breaking the rules, face-to-face confrontations wouldn’t be happening, yet they are a crucial aspect of mystery/thrillers.

Here’s another issue. If you want to set your book in the spring of 2020, how much detail is too much? How do you keep from slowing your story’s pace with too many unnecessary details? And do you risk losing readers who’ll be sick of hearing about the pandemic and don’t want to read one word about it?

Movies made about OJ Simpson’s murder trial and other real-life murders have never held any appeal for me, if I’ve already lived through those periods of time. I remember wishing the OJ trial would just end so we could all get on with our lives. The same is true for Richard Nixon’s impeachment in the early 70’s.

I’m curious to know if those of you who write contemporary fiction( mainstream or genre) plan to incorporate the pandemic in your work. What about those of you who are children’s authors? Is this a topic you’ll want to address down the road? What do you, as readers and writers, think is the best way to handle the pandemic in fiction?

My Mother’s Favorite Quote

One of my mother’s favorite sayings was “Everything happens for a reason”. If she was still with us today, she’d be saying exactly that right about now. I can actually hear her words in my head. I never could argue with Mom on this point, but sometimes I had a hard time figuring out what the reason was whenever a strange or disastrous event happened to friends or family, or when I heard of immense tragedies in other parts of the world.

With the rising number of deaths and illnesses from COVID-19, plus the social isolation, struggling global economy, fear, and uncertainty, I can’t help asking why. It’s in my nature. I do this all the time in real life about many things. The question’s also a crucial component in plotting mystery novels.

tropical-habitat-natural-environment-for-manatee-mammals[1]Scientific theories for the virus’s spread are circulating, along with tons of unscientific ones. Rather than focus on bats and conspiracy theories, I’ve been approaching the question in a more philosophical way (thanks to Mom’s quote) or perhaps an environmental one.

I started realizing that with fewer cruise ships on the water, fewer cars on the road, and fewer aircraft in the sky, maybe we’re giving the environment a wee bit of a much needed break. The Monday night evening news showed images of Venice canals that were actually blue and so clear compared to their usual murky brown state that people could see the bottom. Imagine that!

78[1]About a month ago, I read that emissions in China had decreased by about 25%. Whether this percentage is true or not isn’t as important as the often destructive ways human beings have interacted with animals, oceans, rivers, trees, jungles, and so forth. Did you seen photos of all the garbage left on Mount Everest earlier this year?

I’ve come to the conclusion that Mother Nature has just walloped our bottoms with a warning to behave, or else. We’ve even been sent to our rooms to think about what we’ve done. Lord knows we’d been given plenty of warnings through frequent and severe storms and fires, among other things, and too many of us still weren’t paying attention. Now, the ante has been raised and if we don’t pay attention this time, we’ll receive another beat down that’s going to kill a lot more people than the 7,500+ plus souls so far.

It’s up to each of us to step up game and help heal the planet, or face something much worse. At least, that’s how I interpret Mom’s quote.

Underwater_turtle[1]

Trying Not to Fret Over Literacy Stats

read-652384_960_720[1]I just finished reading a book by American journalist and Princeton University professor, Chris Hedges called Empire of Illusion (The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle), and he has a lot to say about the decline in American literacy, among many other things. The book was published in 2009 and the figures he quotes are a dozen or more years old.

Hedges says: “Functional illiteracy is an epidemic in America.” From there he reports that 7 million Americans are illiterate, 27 million are unable to read well enough to complete a job application and 30 million can’t read a simple sentence. 50 million read at a 4th or 5th grade level. Nearly a third of the nation’s population are barely literate, a number that grows by more than 2 million every year. A third of high school grads never read another book for the rest of their lives. 42% of college students don’t, and in 2007, 80% of families in the U.S. did not buy or read a book. Each stat lists a footnote citing sources that include the National Institute for Literacy, National Center for Adult Literacy, The Literacy Company, and the U.S. Census Bureau.

Here in Canada, things aren’t much better, according to a 2006 CBC documentary, which claimed that 42% of Canadians are functionally illiterate. I went online to look up more current stats and not surprisingly, the numbers vary from source to source, so like most things in life, I take all of this with a grain of salt. Common sense tells me, though, that literacy can certainly be improved, and that people, in general, appear to be reading less due to other entertainment distractions.

The book delves into other topics such as the captivation with the cult of celebrity, how people believe what they’re fed on TV without questioning its authenticity, and keep in mind that Hedges was writing about this a dozen years ago. For many Americans, their reality is whatever the latest cable news show, political leader, advertiser, or loan officer says it, and most of those elements are controlled by corporations.

This troubling information reaches far deeper and is far more important than any desire I have to sell books. Rather, it’s about the decline of language and communication and analytical thinking, and the impact on our culture, economy, education, politics, and quality of life, to name a few.

Readingabook[1]Hedges isn’t the only one who’s concerned. This week, I came across another a more current headline from Publishing Perspectives, stating “UK’s 2020 World Book Day: Reading in Sharp Decline”. You can read the piece HERE.

Throughout the book, I began to wonder what, if any, solutions Hedges has to the problems of literacy and illusion. He doesn’t really, at least nothing concrete, but I know a couple of people who volunteer to help children read in schools and in adult community centers. Helping one another to improve reading skills and create joy in reading seems like a good place to start.

Pondering the Pros and Cons of Blog Tours

KEEP-CALM-BLOG-ON[1]I have a confession to make. With seven published full-length books and two novellas, I’ve never taken part in a blog tour. I have nothing against them as they seem like a good way to promote one’s book. But with two part-time jobs, family responsibilities, and several writing projects on the go, I never felt I had the time or energy to prepare a dozen or more blogs.

I have written guest blogs before and answered interview questions, but I can do this only half a dozen times before I run out of steam. Honestly, I’m not even sure how to come up with ideas for twenty or more blogs. I have maybe two topics in the works and one completed blog, but that won’t be enough.

I follow over seventy blogs and a number of them host guest authors who are on blog tours, but very few focus on crime fiction. I read some of the guest blogs, but not all of them. It depends on whether I know the author and what the topic is, and how much time I have for reading blogs on any given day.

So, I could use your advice. Are blog tours a good way to spend your time and energy?

If your answer is yes, then do you have tips on how to find guest blogging opportunities that would especially interest mystery readers? I know there are services that arrange blog tours for authors, but again I know little about them or their price range. So, any input would be appreciated!