Monday, October 29, 2012

Mergers and Markets

The big news this morning in publishing circles is the consolidation of Random House and Penguin. It appears book publishing has started going through the same merger process that other industries have faced. There seems to be speculation about the mergers of other book publishers too. It appears you have to be very big like Amazon or very small. Although size does not appear to be a factor. Amazon just posted a loss for Q3.

And this raises questions in my head. How can any small press survive? How does someone like me, who is just about to have his first book reached, make any sales -- or enough sales -- to keep going? Or are the large publishers essentially dinosaurs waiting for the meteor to strike the planet?

And what does this mean for the available markets to which writers submit their work? Sure, there will be few places to submit work but for someone like me, a newcomer, those markets were already closed. If there is one less of them, I don't think it matters, at least not now.

For me, and people like me, who are trying to establish themselves, build an audience, and acquire a reputation, the markets are small presses and magazines will to read and accept stories from unknown writers. They solely judge the work because it is the story and its ability to be sold that matters. For magazines, the story has to fit what they are looking for too. For publishers of small presses that not as much a concern.

Some years from now, perhaps, I'll be able to turn my attention to a large publisher or perhaps they will seek me out. But that's very hypothetical and I've learned not to try to guess the future or make plans too far in advance because life throws curve balls that not even Babe Ruth could hit.

So I will continue writing the best stories I can and preparing for the release of my first novel. I will seek the guidance of my publisher for things that I am unsure of and wait to see how the book sells. That alone will determine my future in this industry.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Embrace the Human Experience

I take the subway into Boston twice a week when my schedule is normal and not full of the things that keep me home. During that time, I think about many things. Sometimes I think about the book I'm reading or the book I'm writing. And other times I watch the people around me, noticing their appearance, describing for myself so I can use it later in a story.

The other day I was thinking about people in general and how many of them waste their time with pointless worries and concerns. I call them pointless because half of what we worry about never happen and so we waste energy worrying about nothing. I was thinking I had the makings of a poem you see when I realized that these people need to embrace the human experience.

The thought came and went and then I was left to ponder what is the human experience. And I answered myself: it is experiencing art and theatre and movies and a zillion other positive human activities the enrich our lives, such as learning new things, playing a game or a sport, and social gatherings of all kinds. The human experience is about exploring one's potential and interests to see where they will lead and not sit cloistered in front of the TV watching reality shows or posting on Facebook. (the irony here is that this post will end up on Facebook, but that's accidental and not because I put it there).

Indeed, the human experience is universal. It is experience shared by many, such as raising a child or owning a dog, or buying a house. And it is about helping others, giving of ourselves to the benefit of all.

Speaking for myself, I've done some of these things in past lives. I used to volunteer my time, for example. And I've certainly engaged in many activities that are universal, such as owning a dog, several in fact, and buying a house. But these days, I am more isolated that I probably should be. But I made that change so I could push my potential and write more. The experiment has been a partial success since my novels will start being published soon. But I think I can do more and I need to explore ways to make that happen.

And yet, as I read this post, I'm not sure I've communicated my point well at all. English can certainly be a blunt instrument for explaining complex ideas. But hopefully, you have a glimmer of what I'm talking about and you will embrace all the variety and diversity that you have access to. I know that I will try a little harder to do the same. Maybe if enough people do that, we can improve ourselves, help others, making our communities better, and connect with other people. Ultimately, I think connecting with others is the goal of the human experience because humans are social creatures. We tend to forget that what with all this technology. I think it might be time to rediscover just who we are and reconnect with ourselves and others.

Monday, October 22, 2012


National Novel Writing Month starts November 1 (in 10 days). This year I thought about participating since Book 4 is only a glimmer in my eye at the moment. But I don't expect to be able to write everyday. My schedule won't permit it.

I should be working on Book 4 by then regardless. That sounds so weird to me. Just a year ago, I had little hope of selling Book 1 and now I'm preparing to write Book 4. Maybe the Hell did freeze over.

And as I consider the plot and characters for the novel I begin to be concerned about character continuity from book to book. I never had to deal with this before but I need to now because I'm seeing some shifts in my characters. I'm not talking about character growth and their natural evolution as a result of the events they live through. I'm talking about a lack of continuity where no growth or change has occurred.

For example, Sir Ahlan, the knight who leads the other characters is an expert tactician, but I'm not sure he behaves as such all the time. I think that was a lapse in Book 3 that I need to correct. I also need to prevent such lapses in the future. I have notes on all the characters; I may need to refer to them more as I write. Or I may need more detailed notes so I don't have to remember everything they've done.

But that's not the only problem in Book 3; another is the characters rehash the same points over and over again. Some of it may be legitimate and some of it may be an excuse for me to fill pages. This is one reason the draft is only a draft and it sits waiting for me until I complete a draft of Book 4. My plan is to write Book 4 over the fall and winter and in the spring of 2013 began revising Book 3. That assumes I've sold Book 2 and don't need to revise it too extensively.

But that plan may be too ambitious. That's how Book 3 was written and it needs a good shakedown. Perhaps writing in an assembly line manner won't work for me. I don't know but I'll figure out once I revise Book 3 next year.

Keep writing, everyone.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Roller coaster Ride

With my mother in the hospital last week, it's been like riding a roller coaster. First there's good news then not-so-good news. Finally she was released Monday to a rehab facility for physical therapy.

About the same time something unexpected happened. I started thinking about new poems and revisions for Book 2. My mind is eager to return to writing and I don't think I want to hold it back. So I'll be getting to that soon.

Meanwhile Book 1 is in layout and I am eagerly waiting for work to start on the book cover. That should be lots of fun and answer several questions regarding how they see the book. I expect this to be a wild ride too.

And to top it off we had an earthquake just north of us the other day. I felt the floor underneath me ripple once as the shockwave went by. No damage to the house that I can find and no gas leaks, fortunately, but what an odd experience.

I think I will stop complaining about snowstorms if my choice is snow or earthquakes.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Expressing Views

This feels like a Jerry Seinfield question: what is the proper etiquette for writers? Is it appropriate for us to express any view on any subject? Or do we risks offending potential readers with a controversial opinion?

These questions were posed in a Facebook group I belong to and it raises a good point. I know from experience that the cardinal rule of selling products is: always be positive. Part of that includes not being judgmental or expressing an opinion that might send the consumer walking out the door.

Writers with published work are part salesmen. Therefore it follows that we should not express any opinion that might anger or offend someone. However, writers are human. We have opinions and, in this country at least, we have the right to express those opinions.

The other important thing to remember is that if you do offend someone and they complain and go to the press and the internet and so on, it could be really good publicity. Because people are curious and will want to know what is going on. Of course, it could also mean you’ll never sell another book in your lifetime.

So let me offer one small piece of advice on this topic: if you feel strongly about something, then express it. But a little tact might go a long way, especially on controversial topics, and keep you selling your books.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Vivid Recollections

It’s funny how the mind works sometimes. You hear a song and memories from long ago come flooding back. Or someone dies and you remember all the special times with that person.

When my father died that’s what happened to me. I remembered the one Celtics game we went to together. He was a huge Celtics fan. And that sparked a memory of a Red Sox game we went to years before.

I remembered his pacing when he talked on the phone, the little speeches he liked to gave at special occasions, his fondness for old bad jokes, and how we would come down on Saturdays and say, “What fun and exciting things are we going to do today?”

The question was rhetorical because he worked most Saturdays and my brothers and I had schoolwork to do usually.

Now it’s happened again. I’ve been remembering my first day in college. My mother helped my find my way in downtown Boston. I was enrolled at Northeastern University that September.

And the reason this memory came rushing back is my mother was taken to the hospital. She hasn’t been hospitalized since she gave birth to her children. The good news is she is not dying. But she had surgery to remove a gallstone and must recovery from that.

Additionally, she has an ulcer caused by bacteria in her small intestine. That is treatable but -- taken with everything else -- creates a serious situation one that requires my utmost attention.

The exact table time for release is TBD but when she is back home I’m probably going to have to stay with her and take care of her, putting my life on hold, which means no blogging, or novel writing, or other extracurricular activities.

So consider this a heads up. If the blogging stops, you’ll know why.

In the meantime, I’ll try to keep writing; but in all honesty, my heart’s not in it just now.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Effective Tweets

What make an effective tweet? Good question. I read an article on CNET that suggested it depends on the subject of the message. Topics such as 'Facebook hits 1 billion users' aren’t as interesting as 'a billion people go hungry daily; wish the world would paid as much attention to that as the numbers of Facebook users'.

The author of the article goes on to show how his second tweet (on hunger, paraphrased here, btw) gets retweeted and earns him a bump up on his Klout score.

I know from personal experience, the people I reach are more interested in my publishing exploits and my fore coming novel than just about anything I post in my blog, unless I post that I signed a publishing contract or that the novel is available for purchase.

So I decided to test the theory in the article and tweeted about the poverty rate in 2011. The Census Bureau released the figures for 2011 last month. But no one seemed to notice that (of course it is almost impossible to tell). And I think one reason for that is no one is really paying attention to my tweets.

I think the moral of the story here is that unless the “right” people see your tweet, post, or message and think it is important to pass along, it will languish in cyberspace along with terabytes of other content. And who are the “right” people?

I have no idea.

Friday, October 5, 2012


Having good reference books handy while writing is essential, so I thought I would spend some time talking about them. A dictionary is an obvious place to start.

These days you can find dictionaries online, embedded in word-processing software, and as stand-alone apps for smart phones and tablets. Many of them are quite good. I use the dictionary bundled with my operating system (this is a Mac OS thing, folks, I don’t believe Windows has this feature). I also refer to a dictionary app on my phone.

But even with abundance of dictionary software, I still refer to a hard cover dictionary now and again. I do this because when one source or another does not have the word I want, I need to confirm that the word I’m thinking of is not a word or is perhaps two words and not one.

This happens because Word will flag a word or phrase it wants me to change. I never accept Word’s suggested revision without external verification that it is correct. That’s when I go to my other sources.

I know people who think a paper dictionary is obsolete and see no point in having one. That’s their choice, of course. If you aren’t one of those people, then I suggest the classic Webster’s Dictionary is a good reference book to own. I don’t recommend buying more than one dictionary, however, because the books don’t always agree on spelling or hyphenation of words and can confuse you more than help you.

So pick a dictionary — be it a web site, phone app or other — and stick with it. Use it whenever you have a question about a word’s spelling or meaning. If you can't find a word, check another source, but remember, some dictionaries leave out words to save space, so try to find a source that is as complete as possible.

And above all, keep writing.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Words to Avoid

As a writer, I’ve come across many lists of words to avoid or phrases that can be reduced from many to one. Most recently I’ve read that adverbs should be omitted and that the word 'very' is useless.

But this is silly. Adverbs are necessary when you need to describe an action (a verb) more specifically. For example, you can say, 'he walked down the street.' But that’s a little flat. How did he walk? Did he walk slowly? Lethargically? Confidently? Nervously? Of course, you can change the verb, ‘he glided down the street' or 'he danced down the street' or even 'he walked down the street, pausing even few feet to see if he was being followed.'

Likewise, the word 'very' can be helpful, mostly if you are writing the dialogue of children. I am reminded of the comic strip 'Peanuts' here. They are given an assignment to write a 100-word book report on Peter Rabbit and Lucy uses 'very' to pad out the end. That is humorous sure, but also something a girl her age – how old is she? – is likely to do, which makes it funnier. I could even say it is very funny.

My point, of course, is that for every 'rule' I see, I can probably think of exceptions. And even that point has an exception: which is the rules in Elements of Style are not open for discussion, unless you need clarification on any points in that book. Interestingly enough, Element of Style does not have a list of words to avoid, just a little of words that are misused. Read that list and learn the proper use of those words. It is the best thing a writer can do to write well with the exception of writing often.