The single largest issue with the book industry is that readers are deluged with mostly mediocre work by a myriad of self-published writers.
How is an author to know if they are any good? Readers flock to receive free books, seemingly addicted to free reading, and move on to get more, no matter how much they enjoyed the read, and never leaving reviews. Traditional publishers are no longer able to find and sign excellent authors among the millions of pedestrian writers on the market, and it seems as though they aren't all that interested anyway, unless the work is from a celebrity.
I have sold and given away thousands copies of my books 1 and 2 (with only a few dozen reviews left on Amazon), spent a ton of cash building a mailing list and countless hours creating and sending out newsletters and notices. After publishing seven novels in five years, I still only make about 10% more than I spend on advertising. I have recently cut that back with the expected results. Social media is filled with authors connecting with other authors, or with companies selling book promotion services, when what we really need are readers.
I am going to write and publish books 8 and 9 of my Pat Ruger Mystery Series in the next several months and I'll continue to send out interesting (hopefully) newsletters each month. But I'm starting to feel a bit hopeless that the market will ever come around for me. After book 9, I will have to decide what comes next. Will I finally be able to carve out a niche in the mystery genre? How much money should I spend to promote my work? Should I see what genres are selling and abandon my modest mystery reader base or continue to tell the stories I want to tell? What if I'm just not that good, no matter what my loyal fans say?
I lament this industry, but it's not like it was ever easy. Carrie by Stephen King was rejected thirty times before it was published, and Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell was rejected 38 times. Even Harry Potter was rejected. But now it's an impossibility to land a book contract unless you are already famous (or have a million Instagram or Youtube followers).
Don't worry -- one really good month of sales will cheer me up.
Those that follow me on Facebook know that Nadyne and I had to have our Cairn Terrier, Lucy, put to sleep this past week. About three weeks earlier, she had shown some symptoms of something wrong, but at that point we chalked them up to her older age. She was twelve years old and of a breed that has a 12- to 15-year average lifespan. Having her thumb her nose at dinner, something that was one of her favorite things in the world, was concerning. But she did eat her food later in the evening, so we thought maybe she changed her mind about liking that particular brand of dogfood. She had done that before with different treats and dry food. We changed brands but she didn't seem to like those either. Then she started eating again.
When she started to throw up her food a few days later, we thought that she had a bug, something that feeding her chicken and rice had resolved in the past. It didn't this time. We were camping in "The Middle of Nowhere," Wyoming, and decided to cut our stay short so we could have her examined in Wichita, our next stop. In the meantime, things seemed to get back to normal and we held off having her seen until symptoms returned. When they did, we took her to a vet and x-rays showed a mass growing in her abdomen. They recommended surgery, about $5,000, with no realistic reason for optimism. On top of that, they would keep her in the hospital alone over the Labor Day weekend before they could further assess her. We decided to keep and watch her while we cancelled our next stop in rural Illinois and moved up our stop in Michigan near civilization, in case things got worse. They did.
We took Lucy in for a second opinion, which resulted in a terrible choice of having her put to sleep painlessly or risk a rupture of the mass and having her bleed out in excruciating pain. Her advanced age for a Cairn meant she likely would not recover well from any major surgery and there was little hope for a better outcome regardless. The doctor whole-heartedly supported our decision and cried along side of us while the drugs took effect.
Nadyne and I hadn't cried this much and this long for any human we've known, even parents. I suspect if we had lost a child, the pain would have been comparable. Someone that loved us unconditionally and who required our care to survive was looking for us to make her pain and discomfort go away. Instead we had to make the terrible choice, the only choice we could make.
It's obvious that even knowing that you did the right thing doesn't help heal you emotionally. Only time can do that, a lot of time. I remember the lyrics from Mr. Bojangles: "His dog up and died, he up and died, and after twenty years he still grieves." Most people we have talked to that have lost beloved pets fall into this category. Maybe it's worse for us that Lucy was our only pet when all of this occurred, but Lucy would not allow another dog in the house. When we tried, we ended up re-homing the interloper, twice. Other couples with multiple dogs seem to be able to recover more readily. At least that the way it feels.
Lucy had an interesting life. She was born in Wichita, Kansas, to a family that didn't want her on top of the family Boxers they already had. We hadn't intended on a long-haired dog but went to meet her anyway and it was love at first sight for her and us. She came home and we started her adventure. She was house-trained but very quickly learned to potty on command and we knew she was very smart. Eventually she learned the meanings of a couple hundred words, which was sometimes difficult for us.
At that time we were both working and Lucy was home alone all day. We felt like a companion might make this time better for her and adopted a young blonde girl, a miniature schnauser mix. Bella was a sweatheart but Lucy just wouldn't have it. She pouted and became depressed, and after a few weeks when she stopped doing anything with us, we decided it was time to re-home Bella. After a few months the pound called that they had found Bella and we picked her up and tried again. Again Lucy became depressed. The second time we re-homed Bella, it stuck and Lucy was happy again as the queen of the house.
I am an avid photographer and Lucy got to smell the odors of a hundred locations in Kansas before we moved to Colorado. There we bought and began camping in a fifth wheel and she experienced many more new locales. In Denver, she also got to have her daily chase of the local squirrels, running all day from front deck to back yard and back again, almost from sun up to sun down. We had to increase her food because the sheer activity was making her lose too much weight.
Twice a year, at her birthday (the same day as mine in September, we decided) and at Christmas, one of her all-time favorite activities- opening presents. We would buy toys and treats and wrap them in tissue paper, then one at a time, she would exitedly open them and hoard her haul. I never saw such glee on a dog's face before that. She was so intelligent that she could tell when her holiday was approaching when we started removing the older toys from her stash.
In April, 2018, we sold our house and moved into our fifth wheel, hitting the road permanently. Lucy was never a fan of riding in the truck and, despite our hopes, she never did get used to it. At each campsite, where we could, I put up a large pen with three wire fence sections, about 36 feet in overall length, making a fenced area of about 10' by 12', and installed a doggy door in our screen door. That meant Lucy could go outside anytime the outside door was open, and she was outside nearly every minute the weather was nice. Since she disliked car travel so much, we were happy we were able to compensate for that, at least in part. We circled the country and half way again before she passed. She personally set foot in 30 states, and I can't imagine how big her sensual database of smells must have been.
We will survive. We are looking into adopting rescue dogs, hopefully this time a pair, and some of the void we feel can be lessened. We don't expect any dog to replace Lucy, but we can love them and remember her.
Her are a few photos of Lucy from throughout her life:
Keep checking back. I'll be adding photos and videos as I come across the,...
There are many aspects to bucket lists, and some of those are morbid to contemplate. Literally a bucket list is a checklist of things to do or see before you die. It’s sad to think finances and circumstances probably won’t allow me to complete my list. I have always wanted to spend quality time in Tuscany, the Greece Islands and Australia. Speeding through the Italian countryside in a bright red Lamborghini won’t happen. Ditto a month-long cruise through the Panama Canal. I’ve always wanted to vacation in a hut sitting over the water in Tahiti. It is extremely unlikely that my lyrics will ever be recorded by a famous singer.
That all said, sad as that might seem, I’ve done most of the rest of the items on my list. I drove down Lombard Street in San Francisco (check). I took photos of the sunrise from Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park (check). I’m living full-time in an RV (check), photographed the Oregon coast (check) and walked through Times Square in New York City (check). Next week we will be on our bucket-list cruise to Alaska and I have been to Hawaii twice (check). I wrote and published a novel (now seven of them- check) and was the number one best-selling author for a day on Amazon (I’ve done that a few times now- check). I bowled an 800 series (check) and have sat in or near the front row at concerts by the Moody Blues, Crosby Stills & Nash and the Alan Parsons Project.
Possibles on my bucket list include visiting Kilauea on the Big Island in Hawaii, camping in our RV in the Florida Keys, taking photos in Yellowstone National Park and experience a full lunar eclipse in person.
The way I see it, unless I come up with a new bucket list, I’ll have done everything on my list that I can possibly do with many years of life ahead of me. The problem is that there are common things on many bucket lists that I just don’t have that much interest in, if at all, or if I was interested, it just wouldn’t disappoint me all that much if I never did them. Examples might be skydiving or zip lining. I have no interest in the former and don’t care all that much about the latter.
So, I could use some help. What are things you would suggest to add to my bucket list that won’t be overly expensive and that I might not have considered before? Many items on “amazing” bucket lists online just don’t seem all that interesting to me. Explore a cave? Maybe. Airboat on the Everglades? Done it. Start a company? Done it. Ditto going on a Caribbean cruise. Be a guest on a talk show? I’ll probably do this but I'm not really looking forward to it. Learning to play the piano or become a private pilot are not options either.
What am I missing?
In applying for a position as a "Color Explorer" I was asked to provide a short essay on what color inspired me and why. This was my submission:
Many shades of green represent life and prosperity. In my travels I've been fortunate to have encountered and contemplated the flowing green grasses in the Midwest and Southwest, dark pine forests in the Rocky and Cascade Mountains, the thick deciduous woods encompassing the entire east coast, the algae- and lichen-covered rock in Pinnacles National Park, and the greens of desert blooms out west. Greens are present in the animal kingdom from the shiny emerald feathers of energetic hummingbirds to the leathery skin of lethargic crocodiles, from swift geckos to easy-swimming sea turtles, from vivacious parrots to timid tree frogs. All of these experiences encourage me to explore nature and its success ever more across North America and beyond. Even the neon greens of the Aurora Borealis are proof that the planet protects us, despite our attempts to the contrary.
What do you think?
I’ve been a novice. Now I’m working on my seventh novel. I’ve been writing poetry all my life and authoring articles and blog posts for a good portion of my career. I have some simple suggestions to share that may seem intuitive to some but are definitely worth considering.
First, know your craft. I would offer the analogy of building a race car. If you have never worked on this type of car before, the task would be monumental. Imagine starting the project without knowing about aerodynamics and drag coefficients. You can't depend on engineers correcting your design after the fact. Similarly, poor grammar or disjointed plotlines can be caught and corrected by editors, but you shouldn’t count on an editor to know your intent. Also, I believe you should know the rules before you break them, purposely.
Next, strive to be profound. Dictionary.com defines “profound” as “penetrating or entering deeply into subjects of thought or knowledge; having deep insight or understanding.” This should be the goal of most pieces of literary work. Whether you are writing poetry, a short story, a narrative or a full-length novel, you should include a unique point of view, aspect, comparison or conclusion to make the read interesting. Why bother spending your time writing if you are just going to repeat or regurgitate what has already been written? A narrative without insight is simply boring.
Be satisfied with baby steps. Not many great books have been written in a hurry, nor many careers made in a day. My first complete novel was actually my third attempt. When it wasn’t working, I stopped, took some time, reviewed my process, changed my strategy, and tried again. The third time was a charm. I’ve written hundreds of poems, but I started with one, then wrote another, then the next, and so on.
Network. I’m continually surprised at how many writers, even famous authors, take time to help novice and experienced writers alike. The Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers group is a prime example of this, but I’ve found this to be true in a variety of interactions I’ve enjoyed. At the RMFW Gold Conference a few years ago, after meeting several best-selling authors, I wasn’t reduced to “what was I thinking?” With their encouragement I changed my thinking to, ”I just might be able to do this!” and finished my novel two weeks later. I have paid it forward in various ways, such as assisting members of online writing groups and other aspiring authors.
Last, gather validators, including friends, family and colleagues. I’m under the opinion that critique itself isn’t enough, and too much critique can truly be counter-productive. However, readers of your genre can validate a variety of factors (or not), such as plot formation, reader interest, believability, character construction, and more. It was especially important for me to know if something was off. I was fortunate indeed to have a wife who had read hundreds of mystery and spy novels, so she was able to validate my plotlines and believability as I progressed. Reliable validation like this should be sought and cultivated.
Sometimes cultivation is what a novice needs most.
Before I go into detail about my writing process, I thought I would share a question I get quite often. This one was asked in AMAfeed.com (amafeed.com/user/47451):
Question: How do you keep your plots unpredictable without sacrificing plausibility?
My answer: Some readers might disagree that my plots are plausible... I hope they are, but let's face it, this isn't the news and it's not a story based on facts. I really focus on the characters and try to be true to their nature in any given situation. The other thing is that I believe in coincidences and have no problem having them be part of my story.
So you can see that I have my work cut out for me. In Book #7 I have six other book's worth of plots and subplots that shouldn't be repeated. In addition, movies and detective-based TV dramas are a constant and I'm always afraid once I use a plotline, it will come out in other media by someone else. For example, I had the ending of my first novel copied by one of the Mission Impossible movies (okay, maybe they never saw my book, but it came out well before the movie did). I don't want to copy plots from other work either.
So, here's my process. First up, I try to think of a few possible book titles that could spark interest. This is a two-way street in that often the plot suggests a title, but just as often it's the other way around. I spend several days thinking about possibilities for both.
Next I set up the structure on Scrivenor, the writers' word processing software I use. I like Scrivenor because it is fairly simple to publish to a number of formats, including Kindle's mobi, and allows me to storybook on the fly. I set up the title page, even without a title, a publishing info page that lists copyright notices, previous books by me, etc. I also add placeholder pages for Acknowledgments, then add in a section for About the Author, social media an review links, and another with the excerpt from the Pat Ruger short story I always include in a new book. This changes to an excerpt of the next one as soon as Chapter 1 of that book is mostly finished.
Speaking of storyboarding, that is my next project. This can sometimes take as long as the writing itself, since I need to consider sub-plots, new characters, plausibility (see my AMAfeed Q&A), length and complexity. Sometimes I leave some of the storyline to develop as I write instead of during this step. Very often, the storyboard will change as I realize that this character wouldn't do this or that plotline doesn't make sense in black and white. Also, I don't want to hold up the writing to get 100% of the story planned. I might make a chapter that says, "Pat gets out of trouble" or "The FBI is annoyed," and then think it through while I'm writing the previous chapters.
One additional step here is the first chapter, which I think have been eyecatchers in my books so far. I usually spend a lot of time prepping and planning for this.
Finally, I begin actually writing Chapter 1 and I try to write 1,500 to 2,000 words in a sitting. Sometime this is a full chapter, sometimes not. With the completion of each chapter I review the storyboard and make sure that either I'm on-plot or need to change the storyline. I do this again before beginning the subsequent chapter. After every 10,000 words, I tackle my wife and ask her to read it for context, obvious errors and other problems. She has read over a thousand books, mostly murder or spy novels, and knows a thing or two about what readers like.
At some point I assume the title and plot will stand and send ideas for the cover to my very special cover artist, Elizabeth Mackey. She sends me questions or samples and we get a final graphic completed.
Assuming I haven't gone insane, I finish the book and complete all the remaining structural pages. I publish the manuscript to various formats and send them out to my proofreading team, of which I have a few standing editors and some that change from book to book. I get all the feedback, correct mistakes and make suggested changes that make sense to me. Then I send it back to a couple of my best proofreaders.
Once I'm satisfied that it's the best it can reasonably be, I publish the ebook to Amazon.com and create the PDF (from the Word version that I've formatted for size and pagination) to send to Createspace for the print-on-demand paperback version.
There may be other small steps I've left out or forgotten, but this is basically the process I've been following since Book 3 of the Pat Ruger series.
There's a fine line that a book series needs to walk. Each novel really should be standalone, which means that you have to bring a new reader up to speed with regard to characters and history, yet not bore your series fans. So writing a series has both advantages and disadvantages. Regardless, Book 7 has begun!
The first time I heard this phrase was in the Dennis Quaid movie, "D.O.A.," one of my favorite films. Quaid plays a college English professor who had two novels published, if I remember correctly. The first one was a blockbuster and got him noticed by the university, the second received lukewarm reviews and the third book just wasn't happening.
"Publish or perish" meant that you could lose your job as a teacher or scholar if you didn't continue to produce work for the establishment who employed you, at least until you reached tenure. Independent authors have the same dilemma, in a way. Stop publishing new books and you will quickly sink into obscurity.
Fellow YouTubers may have it worse than us authors. The video market is most definitely a "what-have-you-got-for-me-right-now"-type of industry. While the occasional cat or puppy video might make several rounds on the Internet, the vast majority have one shot, and a short one. Worse, it can take 8-15 hours of their time to make one 15-minute video, so channels like "The Motorhome Experiment" and "Less Junk, More Journey" are constantly looking for fresh new locations and scenery to film, even if it means driving to the Arctic Ocean, then spend significant time editing, narrating and adding music to their pieces before needing hours of uploading time to get them to YouTube from the middle of nowhere. If they stop for any appreciable amount of time, oblivion happens quickly. Many fans and subscribers who don't get their fix quickly enough simply move on to more developed channels and more content.
I finished my latest manuscript a couple of weeks ago and am working feverishly on polishing and publishing. I will need to spend considerable time on marketing, even with help from my social media team. However, I can't sit on my laurels (do people still wear laurels?) with regards to Book #7. That work has to begin before #6 is even on the market. Even with my relatively modest reader base I was under pressure to give them the new story for their favored characters as quickly as possible.
I became an indie novelist with my eyes wide open. I adequately perceived the market and decided to self-publish, since chances of getting a traditional publishing contract were remote and would take time away from writing. The truth about "publish or perish" weighs heavily on me, but I'm up to the task.
For as long as I can remember, I've wanted to take a sunrise photo from Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park in Maine. Yesterday, I crossed that puppy off my bucket list.
Cadillac Mountain is one of the highest points on the eastern seaboard. Most people think that this peak is first to see the sun all year long, as I had thought, but we were mistaken. Even though it's not the easternmost point in the US, Cadillac's height does allow it, for roughly half the year, to receive the first rays of sunshine in the continental US. The other half of the year, from March to October, a slightly taller peak near the Canadian border has that honor. The tilt of the earth and changing position of the sun throughout the year is what causes this difference.
Regardless, as a photographer, it was still high on my bucket list. I've been camping (glamping?) the last two weeks about 20 miles from the Park, which resides on Mount Desert Island on the rocky Maine coast, and I wanted to see and photograph the sunrise there. However, another quirk of Maine's environment nearly foiled that. Almost every day I've been here it had either been raining or extremely foggy at daybreak -- until yesterday.
I had been checking forecasts twice or three times a day since I've been here and it finally appeared that Thursday would be clear. I went to bed early so I could get up at 4am to set out for Cadillac and was awakened at about 12:30am by a severe thunderstorm, one that had not been in the forecast. I decided to give it one more day and fortunately, the weather stayed clear on Thursday night. At 4am Friday morning it was as dark as midnight but I packed a brunch and headed out.
When I arrived at the park a little more than an hour before sunrise, it was quite foggy but it was starting to lift. However about a half-mile from the parking lot, cars were parked on both sides of the road. This didn't bode well. Sure enough, I drove through the jam-packed parking lot and back down the road to the end of the parking line. There must have been 500 vehicles parked in and around the mountain peak's visitor center.
I hiked through the crowd carrying my camera backpack and my own tripod, stepping down several levels of rock shelves and I was able to get to a large stone block with no other photographers in front of me. I set up just as the sun poked out of the fog. If you have never taken sunrise or sunset pictures, it's difficult to understand the excitement of the time limit you're given. The sun is moving with or without your readiness or the equipment's corporation.
One of the exciting aspects of our full-time RV'ing adventure is that these bucket list opportunities will avail themselves with some regularity. In a sticks-and-bricks home, it's just too difficult (and expensive) to take the time to do it all.
No, it's about political posts...
I grew up in the Watts-riot, Vietnam-war-protest, Cold-War era. Needless to say, I've seen passion in politics. Passion can bring about change and unite the public in ways that the news by itself cannot. After all, if you are truly concerned about your children, your grandchildren and the future of the planet, passion can be a catalyst.
However, blind passion without common sense, with only dislike or hatred at its core, can bring about stagnation, as the opposition employs the same. There are two (or more) sides to any political argument. Too often the most important thing to the supporters of a candidate, an elected official or a proposition is to win the election by any means necessary. I'm not idealistic enough to ignore 240 years of mudslinging and dirty politics in this country. However, the Internet and access to the American voter, combined with a new generation of Americans that have grown up with the Internet, have amplified mudslinging to levels never before imagined.
I have been unfollowing people recently on my personal Facebook account, even family members, not because I dislike them or even for their views, but simply because they refuse to do even the simplest fact-checking before they re-post something as long as it supports their agenda. Let me repeat, before they re-post something, meaning they don't often submit original thoughts. This re-posting mania has been the reason the Russians have been so effective at distributing fake news and political lies. There are several fact-checking websites for political statements making the rounds, such as snopes.com and factcheck.org, that will give people as unbiased an opinion about a statement as is possible and it takes only moments.
I'm not saying that all political posts are lies, either. Successful politicians often start with a truth and twist it to suit their purposes. This is why the fact-checking sites will commonly say that a specific claim in a statement or ad is somewhat true but needs context. Remember that end results from statistical analysis can be made to justify any particular view. For example, I saw a post that said that the nine states with the worst poverty levels had one thing in common, that they were all right-to-work states. Okay, so I asked the question, how many of the other 41 states were also right-to-work states? The answer was 25. So being a right-to-work state really didn't make the difference for poverty levels. The statement was literally true, but the implication that right-to-work was the root cause of poverty was incorrect, or at least gravely misunderstood.
I'm asking a few things from my friends and family. First, do a simple fact-check before you re-post or share a political statement. Second, write your own posts on occasion instead of always sharing posts from others. Last, grow a thick skin. Not everyone will agree with you and that doesn't make them bad people, or ignoramuses. It just means they have a brain of their own, and possibly interests that don't line up with yours.
One more thing about passion: just because someone has passion doesn't make them right, as the South found out in the Civil War.
I was thinking back this morning to my first ever standing ovation at karaoke... Around 25 years ago, heck, maybe it was 30 years ago, I was fairly new to singing and was at a Chinese bar/restaurant in Kennewick, WA, and my brother, Paul, was the KJ (Karaoke Jockey). I chose an easy song, "Horse With No Name," and evidently nailed it because when I finished, to my surprise, the audience of about 60 or so patrons stood up, cheering. I was taken aback.
It occurred to me that the people who started the standing O' probably didn't realize at the time that they not only made my day, but helped create a lifelong memory. It also provided me confidence singing in front of people that I didn't yet have. I'm sure none of that was on the minds of those patrons when they stood up. They just liked what they heard (and must have been America fans) and showed appreciation.
I continued to have some success in karaoke, getting occasional standing O's, winning a contest here and there, and even getting to sing a duet with Paul for a karaoke contest finals in front of a couple thousand people at a county fair. If not for that first standing ovation, maybe none of that would have happened.
The point I'm making is that small acts of kindness, even towards strangers, can have positive effects for those people, perhaps even for a lifetime. Cliche? Maybe, but the overwhelming positive feedback I received in that karaoke lounge directly affected me and my self-confidence for decades. I only hope I have helped others in this same small way.
Author, poet, photographer, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, sportsman,