About Writers, blogging, book promotion, book sales, inspiration, marketing, Uncategorized, Welcome, Writers Co-op

Marketing and Promotion—Musings, Madness, and Misgivings

Marketing and Promotion—Musings, Madness, and Misgivings 

In anticipation of an upcoming book release in August, I’ve been thinking more about marketing and promotion. I do not want to repeat past experiences where time and money have been largely wasted in some deep abyss. Of course, I would like to get the best ROI on the time and money expended (this second category has a very modest budget). As opposed to past book marketing and promotional efforts, this time I am working with a mid-press publisher that actually is devoting resources into marketing. I don’t want to duplicate their efforts, but our combined efforts will hopefully achieve some success. I have no misconceptions that this is their sole responsibility. In fact, I think more of the effort needs to come from me. What then is the best way to proceed?

Prompted by an exchange with GD, I am going to list and comment upon a broad array of different tactics and strategies that I am aware of. Some are familiar in so far as I have gone down those roads before. Others are new attempts I plan to try as a way to increase book sales. This is the primary result I want to achieve with these marketing and promotional efforts. I understand that there are secondary goals such as networking, name recognition, media opportunities, film options (one can dream), but the primary focus remains as increasing sales.

Some of the things I list are only pertinent to a new release. I’m sure the list is incomplete. I will not shy away from giving biased opinions on some of the techniques and strategies. As an example, I am generally opposed to steeply discounting books to provoke sales; although, I see a limited role for that particular strategy when doing so as a “loss leader” to hook readers into a series. I’m sure things that have worked for others that I have not found to be helpful are worth considering. I will add that compiling this list only reinforces the morass that many of us are trying to wade through.

Here goes:

  1. Friends and family: an effective approach but the ceiling is low.
  2. Author email list: not a personal fan as I think it requires some effort to maintain and I think the usefulness in generating sales is limited. I do understand some authors will cross promote with each other using these lists. My personal list is small and I make no effort to build a fan base this way. I do have an author FB page (more on that later) and I think that’s my preferred venue to build and maintain a fan base.
  3. Press release: I’m letting my publisher handle this and I’ll blast it out on my modest social media network. Can be used to outreach to local press, radio stations, etc. but I’m not sure how effective that is.
  4. Speaking and presentations: Can be effective. May require some extra effort. Best if you can have a themed talk that somehow relates to your book. For example, chakras and charkra openings are an important element in my story, so speaking about this topic is a way to have a themed talk to provoke some book sales.
  5. Endorsements and blurbs: Great if you can get them especially from well-known authors writing in the same genre that your book is in. Does anyone have a direct line to Dan Brown (not just any person who happens to have that name, I’m talking about the author of The Da Vinci Code)? Please hook me up as this release is a suspense novel that involves secret societies. LOL!
  6. Contests: I think these can be helpful if you win an award and can leverage that into more sales. There are a lot of “fluff” contests out there and many readers cannot distinguish what is effectively a scam contest to prey on authors and what is a legitimate competition with qualified judges. I myself plan to apply for four such award competitions and am willing to devote some of my budget to try and obtain recognition with an award. If anyone is interested, I’ll be happy to share the specific contests and why I have selected them. My publisher may submit to other competitions. Some of the best awards require that your book be nominated. I’m not holding my breath for that.
  7. Goodreads: This has always struck me as a black hole of sorts. I think that authors who are active and “good citizens” of Goodreads groups can leverage that into sales. I am not in that category.
  8. Social Media: This is a big topic so I’m going to break it down. I’ll also cover ads on social media separately.
    • Twitter: I am reasonably active here, but I don’t think it results in many or any book sales. Occasionally some opportunity comes up with a follower, for example an invitation to do an interview.
    • FB: This is where I am personally active not only with posting on my own author site, but also cross promoting with my podcast FB page and other writing related sites. Impact on book sales is hard to judge. Whether or not to have a new FB page devoted solely to this new title is something I am debating. I am more in favor of author branding and not a single title and I really want the traffic and marketing efforts to be on my author page platform.
    • LinkedIn: I use this sparingly to post new content such as podcasts and will make announcements about the book release, share a press release, and that sort of thing.
    • YouTube: I have my own YouTube channel where I post podcast episodes, book trailers, and other content. I find it useful to use the YouTube content on my other social media platforms and I know this has been helpful in driving some sales.
    • I’m not using Instagram, Bookstagram, TikTok, Pinterest, Reddit , or other social media platforms. They may be effective but I haven’t explored and feel I am not inclined to try and go down another rabbit hole.
    • Influencers: If you can hook up with or somehow get picked up by someone with a big following, and have them promote your book for you, that’s probably a great strategy to use.
  9. Paid advertising: Again, let me break this down.
    • FB have used including targeting the right demographic. Waste of money in my opinion but other authors have had success.
    • AMS (Amazon Marketing Services). I’ve had more success with this than FB but not enough to set up and tweak ongoing ad campaigns.
    • Twitter promotions: way over-saturated and not worth the money
    • YouTube: I’ve had some limited success. The ads run through Google and are targeted. I think a well-produced book trailer can generate sales.
    • Promotions run through others. Here I am talking about things like BookBub, Fussy Librarian, etc. Unless you are willing to discount, I don’t think this is effective. I have used a number of different services (never managed to be accepted by BookBub), but I won’t be spending my limited budget this way. A big number of .99 sales has some merit, but coordinating this and getting agreement from my publisher is nightmarish without monetary return.
    • Print advertising. It’s expensive and difficult to track results.
  10. Book reviews: Here I distinguish between reader reviews, paid reviews, and other outlets.
    • The more reader reviews the better up to a threshold, especially if they continue to come in a steady stream following release and especially if they are verified purchase reviews. The number, rate, and whether or not it comes from a purchaser affect the Amazon algorithm that affects your ranking. I am personally trying to get 10 people to commit to a pre-order of the book and a review in the first week of publication (I provide an ARC so they don’t have to rush to read as soon as the book comes out). There is a narrow window to generate hype following a book’s release so if you can line up some preorders and early reviews you get a jump start. [If anyone wants to be in this early group, please email me at victoracquista@victoracquista.com] Continuing to solicit reviews I believe is an important strategy. There are reviewers but in my experience there is a big gap in requesting a review and getting one. I do have access to information (via Where Writers Win https://writerswin.com/ through membership in their Winners Circle) that gives a listing of reviewers by genre and ranking by site traffic. I should also mention that winning  a legitimate award may give an advantage to getting a review.
    • Paid reviews from entities such as Kirkus are expensive but they have distribution to get eyes on your book from ancillary places like magazines, film executives, etc. Ten percent of Kirkus reviews are starred and getting that designation could open some doors. I’m hoping my publisher fronts this cost. It’s also much easier to get into libraries if you have a Kirkus review. I’m not a fan of other paid reviews but I think they can generate exposure and if they are from a credible site, they might provoke some sales.
    • There are other review outlets including magazines, trade journals, newspapers, Publishers Weekly, and who knows what else. I’m relying on my publisher to make these connections.
  1. Launch party: Not a fan
  2. Launch event: If you have a low-cost venue, are budgeted to provide some food, and believe you can get sufficient people, then why not? Book stores are potentially a place to host at no cost.
  3. Prize giveaways: Can be done on your own or in concert with other authors. I did this with my sci-fi novel and found the ROI to be negative.
  4. Personal author website: I have one and will update accordingly. I’m not sure if it drives any sales. Same is true for Amazon author page.
  5. Bookmarks: Low cost and useful to hand out at conferences and other events.
  6. Publicity company: Hiring a PR firm is expensive and putting together a formal campaign is a big undertaking. I’ve done this previously but do not plan to do so again.
  7. Media exposure e.g. TV, radio, podcasts: Potentially useful with the cost being time. Eventual sales depend in part on what audience is viewing/listening to the show.
  8. Book signings, bookstores, events such as trade shows: There are potential costs involved for some of these related to entry fees, vendor space, a booth with banners, business cards, etc. On top of this there may be travel costs, meals and lodging, the aggravation of set up and take down. I think the ROI is more in the category of networking and less so in book sales. I am committed to doing some of this. There are true benefits to having a relationship with a bookstore, particularly one that goes to these trade shows. Then you can attend and have a book signing without actually being a vendor.
  9. Professional organization: I think there are benefits to being part of a writing organization where you interact with colleagues, support one another, attend sponsored workshops, etc. I am a member of the Mystery Writers of America and we have a terrific chapter in Florida. I think promoting one another’s work is one of the benefits of membership.
  10. Celebrity outreach: great if you can get exposure through a celebrity. Celebrity book club selection (think Oprah, Reese Witherspoon) would be huge.
  11. Bloggers: Could be effective. Fortunately, my publisher has a network of bloggers that promote the titles. I’ll probably do some outreach on my own but sifting through the wheat from the chaff seems to me to be a difficult task.
  12. Virtual blog tour: I’ve heard mixed things. Not currently part of my marketing plan. There are companies that will set these up for a fee.
  13. Book clubs: This is something I am currently investigating. How to reach out effectively? I think this has the potential to drive up sales.
  14. Libraries: Fortunately, my publisher has a lot of experience in getting books into libraries.
  15. Advanced reader copies (ARCs): Again, this is something my publisher is very proactive with. They participate with NetGalley and LibraryThing. I know of a recent release that had over 90 very favorable NetGalley reviews before it was even published. Authors can get their books into NetGalley but it’s expensive. Creating a buzz and generating hype seems to me to be an important element in driving book sales. I am fortunate that my publisher has these connections.
  16. Book trailer: I’ve made my own and paid to have one produced for a previous novel. I plan to pay for a professional quality trailer and use it on social media, my website, Amazon author page, YouTube channel and ads. I’m hoping there is a ROI but recognize that might not be the case.
  17. Podcasts: I saved this to present near the end of my list because it seems to me to be a somewhat novel approach. Here I am not talking about appearing as a guest on a podcast show to be interviewed and talk about your book. I started a podcast series, Podfobler Productions, where I narrate my own and other authors’ works. I produce YouTube videos of the shows and use them in my social media posts, FB page for the show, and ad campaigns. For profiling guest authors, I only ask that they distribute the show to their network and when I eventually produce a show about my new book, they agree to distribute that show. Here I am trying to build a fan base and also use the networking power of fellow authors. Will it help to drive sales? I don’t know but it is part of my overall marketing strategy. I just wrapped up season 1 with twenty assorted shows two of which featured co-op members (GD- episode 11 and Curtis-episode 15). Here’s the season one playlist in case anyone is interested: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLpfls08qGbIsHnbp-2-C9r5I8fK8kw24j Incidentally, in case anyone wants to have their work narrated, drop me an email (address in #10 above). I’m currently working on a production schedule for season two.
  18. Fingers crossed for good luck: Napoleon said something to the effect of, “I would rather have lucky generals than good generals.” I know wishes won’t wash dishes, but I do think there is an element of luck that goes into this abyss of marketing and promotion.

Edison said, “1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” I’m working this hard and may need to get crowdfunding for deodorant considering how much sweat equity I’m devoting to this. I don’t think success comes without effort unless your stars align in some magical way.

This is a very lengthy dive into a murky territory, a swamp and quagmire full of traps that can swallow you up. I’m sure I missed some categories beyond what I have listed. Comments, insights, disagreements, and commiseration are invited and welcomed. Wish me luck as I get ready to take the plunge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Social Media Distancing

– by Sara M. Zerig

As you’ve heard, the world is on lockdown for something called COVID-19. As a result, some of us have more time on our hands to contemplate the unprecedented (in our lifetimes, anyway) social distancing orders. Others, like first responders and the medical and grocer communities, have less time for this. But never fear, everyone has time for social media.

Early in the melee, a friend of mine posted a brief but thoughtful article to her Facebook page about how this could be our worst hour or our finest, and how we conduct ourselves will be the determining factor. The piece went on to list suggestions on how to do this. I “liked” the article because I thought it was a beautiful sentiment.

Later that day, I scrolled through a battlefield of comments on my friend’s post. Why don’t we do all these things during flu season? … Please educate yourself on the differences between Corona and the flu … Fact check, please! [link] … Yes, fact check! [link] [link] [link] You get the idea. Suffice it to say, the point of the article my friend had posted was lost.

I get it. We all have our opinions, and we have the right to express them. Some of us have unpopular opinions and at times become overly passionate about them. Do NOT get me started on bicyclists who fail to follow the rules of the road among cars. It isn’t pretty. Social media allows for an easy and engaging way to spark spirited debates, and the internet provides debaters a wealth of sources to support each side. I usually find it entertaining. Lately, though, not so much.

It seems every time I log on, someone is telling me how I should think or feel about all things Corona, and shame is the theme. Shame on you, if you are gullible enough to believe social distancing is the appropriate response; shame on you, if you are so arrogant that you don’t. Shame on you, if you are so ungrateful that you are are daunted by having to homeschool your children – you get to be with them, while essential employees don’t. Shame on you, if you aren’t on a ventilator and have the gall to fear for the economy. And for that matter, shame on you if you don’t fear for the economy, you elitist snob. We’re not all independently wealthy, you know.

I don’t know why I find this so different from political posts. Those are also aimed at dividing people through ridicule of different perspectives. Maybe it’s because political debates have been the norm as long as I can remember, while social distancing is uncomfortably new. Or maybe my friend’s early post landed too well with me. Turning on each other at a time like this feels like an embarrassment to the human race. In the immortal words of Taylor Swift: I would very much like to be excluded from this narrative.

Good news! I can practice social-media-distancing and spend that energy on more creative activities. And I’m gonna do it. Just as soon as I post this blog. Shakespeare is said to have likely written King Lear from quarantine (don’t challenge me – I will find three questionable sources for every one you send me saying he didn’t). No, I am not suggesting that my romance-in-fantasy-settings books equate to Shakespeare, but I can provide an escape for people who enjoy that genre. This seems like a more positive way to spend my time than scrolling through COVID posts.

This is not a blog telling you to quit social media and create. It’s just a thought. An idea. An update on what’s going on over here, from one quarantined writer to others who have my virtual support and online respect. As my twelve-year-old daughter says too frequently: You do you, boo. Imma do me.

Friendly wave from at least six feet away,

Sara

Sara M. Zerig is author of the contemporary fantasy-romance AoX Series. “Unearthed” now available in eBook format on Amazon for Kindle (and Kindle app), Apple iBooks, and Barnes & Noble for Nook (and Nook app).
View more posts: https://saramzerig.wordpress.com/

Photo by Thought Catalog, http://www.upslash.com

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My First Story

 – by Adam Stump

When I chose to start writing fiction professionally (if that’s what you could call what I do–professional), I didn’t do so because I thought that I’d make money (I’ve made about $12), and I didn’t do it because I thought I was a good writer (I have yet to win my Pulitzer). I did it because I had stories to tell. If anything, I’m a storyteller, not a writer. I only write when the storytelling muse abducts me (usually at 2AM), and I feel like I have a story worth sharing. These stories usually percolate in my subconscious for months or even years before I write them down. When I finally do write them down, they come out mostly complete and usually pretty good.

As such, after my decision to write a story to be published (by someone else), I chose a story that had been rolling around without any clear definition in my brain for quite some time. I used a lot of elements from my childhood in upstate New York as well as a story I had heard while I lived in Pittsburgh. I remember furiously clacking away on my keyboard as the story poured onto the screen of my laptop.

The recipe for that story was: One part nostalgia, one part adventure, and one part terror. I produced a story that I thought was one of the best that I had ever read. It truly was one of the best I had ever read, because it was exactly what I wanted to read.

That first story taught me a lot about writing. I was so proud of it that I sent it to several friends because I thought that they would enjoy it. They, in turn, tore the story to shreds (in my mind, anyway). As I picked up the proverbial pieces of my story (and morale) from the floor, I was in shock. I didn’t know how anyone else wouldn’t find the story to be the best that they had ever read.

Then, I re-read my story and saw that the critiques (that’s really what they were, not attacks) that my friends made were accurate, valid, and necessary. I performed my first ever critical revision on my first ever story. I shaved a couple thousand words of nostalgic description, I increased some characters, rewrote a few scenes, deleted some scenes, and (most shocking of all), I changed the name of the story.

The story was originally titled “The Storm Drain.” Can you imagine reading a story with a title like that? I can’t. My best friend and inspiration for writing, N.D. Coley, told me to change the title. I wanted to scream, I wanted to cry, I wanted to punch a hole through the wall. But he was 100% right. I changed the name of the story to “Keep Off the Grass.” It’s a line in the story, and he told me that the story had named itself. In retrospect, I agree.

After learning that I’m not the best writer in the world and that I need critical feedback and revision and even title changes, I produced a decent version of the story and began shopping around for a publication to publish this electronic packet of blood, sweat, and tears. I got rejection after rejection after rejection. I knew that I could self-publish, but I thought that this story was good enough to be accepted by someone else for publication–others would view the story as something worth sharing with their readers.

Every rejection letter that came back was virtually the same: “This story is just an homage to Stephen King’s Stand By Me,” a book I’ve never read and a movie that I’ve never seen. I didn’t even know the premise of the book/movie. I’ve since googled it and can see that the comparisons are valid. However, it doesn’t negate the fact that “Keep Off the Grass” is a good story. I’d also say that, for all the valid criticism, there are only so many plots out there when it comes to general fiction. I happened to stumble upon a plot that Stephen King stumbled upon, as well. The plot doesn’t belong to him or to me, but to the consciousness–the ethos–of storytelling.

Fast forward a few years and countless rejection letters to today. I opened up my email and the first thing that I saw was an acceptance letter from an editor who wants to share my story in his magazine. He didn’t say anything about Stephen King or Stand By Me. He said that it was a good story and he wanted to feature it in the upcoming issue of his magazine.

I wasn’t prepared for the emotions that would follow from reading that email. I literally wanted to scream and shout. I wanted to pound on pots and pans and run outside screaming that I had been published. I felt even more elated than I did when I actually received my first acceptance letter way back when. Why? Because this is my first story, and it’s part of my story. It’s still nostalgic for me, even if it’s been heavily edited and gone through a couple critical revisions since the first time I sat down to my laptop to capture it in writing.

The purpose of this post, though, isn’t just to give you some history of my writing, but to encourage you the reader. Have you written a story? Has it been rejected, but you still think it’s a good story? Keep at it. If you truly believe it’s a good story, keep sending it out. Don’t give up! I thought this story would be my first published story. It’s not. It’s a few years old now. If I wrote it today, it would probably be a different story. However, it is what it is. And it’s a success story. It certainly didn’t start that way. If you’re discouraged with your writing, don’t be. If it’s really good stuff, others will recognize it. As authors, we might have little control over the body of the story–maybe it’s the muse or maybe it’s the editorial team dictating the story–but we still control how the story begins and, ultimately, how the story ends!

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Muse

Above: Gilgamesh Tablet #11

We writers appreciate a good muse.

While researching to write a story set in ancient Mesopotamia, I came across a museum reproduction of a Sumerian tablet containing the oldest story that we have found to date. The epic of Gilgamesh, of course; and of course I bought it. It helps me to write when I can connect something tangible to the story.

This particular piece contains the first written account of the Deluge. It’s the tale of a man asked by his god to build an Ark so he, his family, and the various animals could survive a Great Flood that other gods were causing to destroy mankind. The -literally- funny part of this version is why the gods wanted to kill us all off: Human were too noisy and annoying. (Yup, this definitely rings true to me.)

Over the years I’ve collected other items to help ground my thoughts into a story. See:
https://writercoop.wordpress.com/2016/10/14/writing-charms/

What about you? Is your muse tangible? Or maybe it’s music? Or is it something else entirely?

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Probing Dhalgren

“Be glad you’re not just a character scrawled in the margins of somebody else’s lost notebook: you’d be deadly dull.”

The first time I read Samuel R. Delaney’s masterpiece, I didn’t know a couple of things. In 1975, I was neither privy to writing techniques nor did I know that Dhalgren would become recognized as one of the most profound science fiction novels of all time. I was simply riveted by the setting and the characters. When my Lady gave me an unusual edition this Christmas, I re-read that story I remembered so well from 44 years ago. (It never occurred to me at the time that I would see the year 2020 either, but, that’s another blog.)

If you write sci-fi, then you must attempt to read, or re-read, Dhalgren. If the first scene grabs you, you will be reluctant to put it down 800 pages later. Disclaimer: Like Joyce’s Ulysses, you can’t understand Dhalgren until you’ve read it and once you’ve read it, you can’t explain it. But here are three clues.

Dhalgren presents reality on the edge of perception, before we process it. “Even if the quotidian surface sits on it a bit askew.”

+++Finally Dragon Lady called down: “You still okay…?”
+++“Yeah.” Kidd took a breath. “I’ll tie the rope around him. You can haul him up.” He slipped the rope from under his arms, pulled it over his head, but left it around one shoulder; he stepped forward on the oozy filth, stooped, and tugged a leg from where it had wedged between two blackened bumper plates.
+++“… is he alive?” Thirteen called.
+++Kidd took another breath. “Naw.” He pulled at the arm, got a grip around the chest, which was all soft against him. His own shirt front soaked immediately. Blood dribbled along his forearm. Standing, he dragged the body back a step. A foot caught, pulled free; the leg fell back against his thigh — his thigh wet, warm, to the knee. Dragging it, limp, reaching for the rope, he thought: Is this what turns on blood and blade freaks? He thought of Tak, he thought of George, hunted in himself for any idle sexuality: he found it, disconcertingly, a small warmth above the loins that, as he bared his teeth and the rope slid through his sticky hand, went out. “Let me have another couple of feet!” Well, he had found it before in auto wrecks, in blue plush, in roots, in wet wood with the bark just stripped.

In that moment before we process reality, censorship is not possible.

Often, the real world occurs on the edge of a dream.

Ahead, he could see the taller buildings. Smoke had gnawed away the upper stories. Stealthily, he descended into the injured city.
It does not offer me any protection, this mist; rather a refracting grid through which to view the violent machine, explore the technocracy of the eye itself, spelunk the semi-circular canal. I am traveling my own optic nerve.

Note the slip from third person into first person.

The story is show-no-tell to the point where the reader knows no more than is seen through the eyes of the main character, who struggles to understand what he is experiencing.

The smoke was so thick he wondered if the glass were opaque and he only misremembered it as clear–
Well–” Madam Brown pushed open the cracked door– “what do you think of the Richards after your first day on the job?”
“I don’t think anything.” Kidd stretched in the over-thick night. “I’m just an observer.”

In the end, each reader is left with their own thoughts about Dhalgren. “I would never presume to say what they meant,” Ernest Newboy, the poet, says when asked what poems mean. To me, Dhalgren is epic poetry in prose.

And that’s all I got; three clues and an ongoing fascination. What did you take away from this novel?

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A Year In Review

 – by Adam Stump

Looking back over 2019, it was a pretty successful year for me, as a writer. I had eight pieces of fiction published and edited several works, including an anthology that spent a month as the #1 bestselling anthology on Kindle (I wasn’t the sole editor, or even head editor on that project, though). 

However, when 2019 was chugging along, it certainly didn’t seem very productive. Eight published pieces doesn’t even equal one per month, which means that there were far more rejection letters than acceptance letters. To add insult to injury, my family of six spent 18 weeks and 3 days (but who’s counting?) homeless because our previous house was filled with toxic mold and chemicals. In the first two months of 2019, my family lost our health and nearly all of our possessions due to contamination. We literally lived out of a garbage bag suitcase that contained two outfits each.

But we got through it. We received a lot of support and encouragement from a handful of very good, very true friends. We were able to stay in two rooms of a home that belonged to people who started 2019 as acquaintances but ended 2019 as family. We were able to put a down payment on a safe house that was free of mold and other toxins. I was able to remodel said house (some projects still aren’t completed–just ask my wife), and we were able to move in and start replacing some lost possessions (we still don’t have dressers and lamps or bookcases in most rooms, but that’s ok).

Through all of this, I carried my laptop with me and faithfully clicked away at the keyboard, sometimes at 2AM while my family slept. I definitely produced more than a dozen stories during 2019. Some of those are some of my best (in my opinion), but all have a different feel to them than the stories I wrote in 2018 or even the ones I’ve written so far in 2020. They’re raw, gritty, dark, and often pessimistic. They’re not a reflection of who I was in 2019. In fact, I would say that, through everything, I was pretty optimistic and hopeful in 2019. I had to be for my family. However, those stories allowed an outlet for the terror, anger, and frustration that I felt so that my family didn’t have to experience it.

Looking back at that time, I can honestly say that it was not just productive, but therapeutic. I would never want to relive 2019, but I’m glad that I lived it once and that I made it through. In hindsight, it was just as bad as it seemed while living through it, but it produced a phenomenal amount of personal growth.

Perhaps you’re going through a difficult time or a dry spell. Maybe you’ve experienced staggering loss. I would encourage you: don’t give up. Don’t stop writing. Don’t stop living, even if you feel like you’re dying. If you bottle everything up, you probably won’t make it–I know that I wouldn’t have made it. Let it out. Hammer away at the keyboard. It’s cathartic. Not only that, your writing will produce a psychological journal of your life’s journey that, on the other side, will produce a cohesive whole.

In retrospect, 2019 was like living through the testing of purgatory, but the benefit of going through purgatory is that it purifies you for heaven. I’m a stronger person and, I believe, a stronger writer because of 2019. I hope that my readers will feel the same way and be encouraged to keep writing their stories. On the other side, I think that they’ll be glad that they did.

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On Falling in the Name of Research

by George Salis 

The act of writing a novel elicits a series of revelations punctuated by epiphanies. I will share with you two major eureka moments that occurred during the writing of my debut novel Sea Above, Sun Below.

Connected to the myth of Icarus and other vertiginous tales of yore, my novel features a group of skydivers who fall, metaphorically and literally. I’m afraid of heights but I felt like I needed to skydive in the name of research for my novel. As it happens, I loved the surreal experience so much I would do it again. Strapped to my instructor, we waddled to the plane’s open door, and he stood on the edge while I dangled unfathomably high above the earth and with fear I reached out to grip the metal portal, but the instructor gently pried me from even that precarious perch, and then the insensate suck, the slip from everything into nothing, and I realized this was it, that I was truly falling, skydiving, and the wind felt as though the sky wanted to make my mouth and lungs home, palate-scouring, and the seconds were drawn out into a brief infinity, an eternal moment. From there, the world below struggled between a two-dimensional illusion and the reality of three.

Yet, for all that that’s worth, I was fairly surprised to discover, once my feet were on the ground and I was back at my writing desk, that my skydiving description was quite accurate before I had conducted my research and so I ended up adding only a single sentence afterward: “Up here, while the wind became a chorus of tragic furies, the sun detached from the sky, letting the earth revolve like an orrery.” This is one example in which I learned to trust my own instincts, my own imagination. Was skydiving worth the effort, the confronting of fear? Absolutely. Research still has many benefits and can be a delight in and of itself. I should add that while the experience of falling conformed quite uncannily with my predescription, as it were, I did add a plethora of details from my experience within the skydiving hangar, such as the almost anachronistic bowling balls littering the hangar floor which I learned are used to push out air from the parachutes while folding them back into their packs for the next fall. So, aside from personal development, research can give you all those minute details which enhance a fictional scene, but if you cannot afford to go to Japan, for example, then you should rest easy knowing that you have the power to evoke your own germane version of the country.

Also, do not underestimate academic research, which is often less expensive and no less simmering with potential details, for one’s picture of a place or person will always be incomplete and eventually all that’s left for you to do is continue writing.

Mentally juggling and tallying the oftentimes ambiguous constituents of a novel in one’s head, even with the aid of notes and miscellaneous marginalia, can cause a daunting dizziness. To lessen the vertigo, I offer this lesson: I learned that it’s much more manageable to write each chapter as a short story (with chronology being far from a priority). There are certain aspects the short story is known for, yet there is no reason such aspects should be exclusive to it: an ensorcelling first sentence; a strategic entrance into the very story of the story; a self-containment that can feel like a certain tightness, which is not to suggest that you should avoid digressions (they can be, as Ray Bradbury said in defiance of Shakespeare’s Polonius, the soul of wit); an immediacy of image or action or development; and it allows you to weave your novel as if it were a tapestry, depending on the type of novel you are writing. I’m enamored with stories within stories, stories besides stories, in the vein of The Thousand and One Nights or Cloud Atlas, so my novel contains around ten different threads which were written with the mentality, the focused lens, of the short story, connected thematically, genetically, and more. An additional benefit to this method/perspective is that while you work on your long project, you might be able to send out some pieces of it for potential publication. Before Sea Above, Sun Below recently came out as a whole through River Boat Books, I was able to publish ten pieces from it, and in a few cases I received edits on the stories which ultimately helped the final vision.

It is worth noting that you should rage against my advice as you see fit. By all means, do the opposite of what I say if it works for you. Or better yet, use your finger to write your novel in the fog on a mirror; spin around quickly ten times before you sit down for the day’s quota; whisper your sentences backward to yourself; write your dreams then dream what you wrote. Who truly knows what will help?

George Salis is the author of Sea Above, Sun Below (River Boat Books). His fiction is featured in The Dark, Black Dandy, Zizzle Literary Magazine, The Sunlight Press, Unreal Magazine, and elsewhere. His criticism has appeared in Isacoustic, Atticus Review, and The Tishman Review, and his science article on the mechanics of natural evil was featured in Skeptic. He is the editor of The Collidescope and is currently working on an encyclopedic novel titled Morphological Echoes. He has taught in Bulgaria, China, and Poland.

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About Writers, inspiration, writing technique

Need To Know Basis

James Tiptree, Jr. — aka Alice Sheldon — wrote a story back in 1974 called “Her Smoke Rose Up Forever.” It’s a tale about memory. Scenes from a life play out one after another: a boy on his first duck hunt, failing miserably; a young man in his first, eager sexual encounter, failing miserably; a man back from war proposing, finally, to the woman he loves, failing miserably…you get the idea. Framing this jumbled litany of humiliation and disappointment is the gradual realization that all of these memories are playing out in a sort of repeating loop, observed by — perhaps even instigated by — some unknown presence: alien researchers perhaps? Or even just alien sightseers, feeding on the memories of the long gone inhabitants of a dead world? Because the earth is dead, a burnt out cinder. All that remains are memories. 

But — and here’s the gut punch — the only memories left are unpleasant ones. Only the horrible stuff, incidents our protagonist would rather forget. Instead, he gets to live them out again and again.

A hellacious vision. Thanks, Alli.

But still, a fascinating premise. Sad memories, painful memories, seem to have a disproportional staying power. Enjoyable memories can linger as well, but they are less vivid, less intrusive. It seems like we have to go looking for those, we have to coax them to the surface. But deeply unpleasant memories find us. We have no idea when they might swim into sudden focus. It’s like they’re always lurking in the shadows, just around the next corner.

There’s a good reason, of course, why we would be predisposed, genetically, to have a better memory for the unpleasant things. After all, unpleasant things are often dangerous things, and it’s an adaptive advantage to avoid danger. If a situation feels unpleasantly familiar, you’ll tend to shy away from it and not repeat it. As for joyous memories of good times, well, it’s nice to remember them, but it’s not usually a matter of life or death. Lack of joy might kill you in the long run, but it’s only a gradual death and it won’t necessarily interfere with your ability to pass on your genetic code. 

But danger? That can kill you right now, the immediate termination of your particular configuration of base pairs. So we avoid unpleasantness. It’s baked in, a survival skill.

And to avoid it, we have to recognize it. We have to remember. If I were an alien, researching the former dominant species of an extinct planet, I might focus on exactly that: what drove their worst memories? What were they so afraid of?

***

So how does this concept relate to stories? Does this predisposition explain why we have such an appetite for tragedy, for conflict-driven narratives? Such a fascination with crime and horror and dystopian futures? Could be. I’d admit that there are other factors. Catharsis plays into it — and the guilty thrill we might feel at experiencing someone else’s misery while knowing it isn’t our own. But it isn’t hard to see how these pleasures might have their roots in the original preoccupation. Suffering fascinates us because it’s important to our survival. We rubberneck the freeway accident because, at some level, we know that could be us. 

And if it might kill us, we need to know about it. 

***

Footnote:  It feels worth mentioning that some of our most persistent personal memories are of rejection and humiliation, which might not correlate directly with situations of danger or physical threat. We don’t, as a rule, die of embarrassment. But being rejected or humiliated, at least publicly, can be correlated with social ostracism, which could be almost as bad as death. In terms of passing your genetic material on to the next generation, it could be exactly as bad as death. The process of natural selection really doesn’t put a priority on our happiness. It’s only concerned with us surviving long enough to procreate. 

***

Another Footnote: I would accept that being joyless might be a hindrance to finding companionship and a partner for procreation. But this seems to me a very modern view of our mating relationships. While romance isn’t very new, it’s pretty new compared to our time as a species, and there’s good reason to believe that marriage probably developed more as a practical arrangement and didn’t necessarily require having a winning personality or a great outlook on life. Fortunately, we’ve progressed beyond that point, mostly — but that’s a subject for another time.

 

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About Writers, blogging, inspiration, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

The Power of Perspective

– by Christy Moceri

I once spent 19 hours arguing with a guy on the internet about a subject that touched me personally. I admit that’s a little extreme – but who among us can’t relate, at least occasionally, to the feeling that we’re talking to a brick wall? People seem more resistant than ever to understanding where we’re coming from. They are committed to their one narrow version of reality, and our arguments, however impassioned, are unlikely to make an impact.

Perhaps there is another way.

In 1906, an American journalist and novelist wrote a book about an immigrant man named Jurgis Rudkus struggling to make ends meet in the meat-packing district of Chicago. The author, Upton Sinclair, formulated his argument carefully, layer by layer, not in the form of academic discourse but through construction of a character who would be the living embodiment of the immigrant plight of that era. Rather than appealing to their logic, he transplanted them into the worn-out shoes of the immigrants themselves. Readers rose early in the morning, worked themselves to the bone in unsafe, unsanitary conditions, and came home with little to show for it but an aching body and empty pockets. Just by nature of inhabiting Jurgis Rudkus and his unfortunate family members, readers were challenged to consider how they might endure similar injustices – and if anyone ought to endure them at all.

The Jungle turned out to be one of the most influential novels in American history. While Sinclair intended it as an attack on capitalist abuse, the result was sweeping change in the working conditions and sanitary practices of the meat-packing industry. Sinclair did not consider this a perfect win. As he famously said, “I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach.”

Still, I can’t help but view Sinclair’s work – and others like it – Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, for example – as prime examples of the power that we have as writers. With well-wrought stories, readers can’t help but drop their guards. We lead them to inhabit other bodies and realities, and to see the world in a whole new way. This is one reason it’s so important to embrace diversity in the publishing world. Journalists and school-teachers will do in a pinch, but stories are best told by the people who lived them. Who knows how The Jungle might have transformed society if the story were told by someone who had lived the immigrant experience? Every one of us has a unique perspective and the power to bring that perspective to the page in a way that nobody else can. How will we wield that power?

I’ve always written about the issues closest to my heart, not really with any sort of agenda but as a natural expression of my own worldview. I’m a social worker, and I spend much of my time engaged with issues of poverty, sexism, racism, exploitation, and so-on. This stuff naturally crops up as a major theme in my work. I can try to explain what it’s like for someone to be marginalized, to be financially destitute or sexually assaulted, or I can just let readers experience it through my characters’ lives. Which is going to have the greater impact? I think the moral of the story is that the next time I feel that hot-button internet drive to set someone straight, I’m best served by popping open Scrivener and getting back to work.

Christy Moceri writes romantic thrillers in alternate worlds. Her WIP is a futuristic fantasy novel about a revolutionary spy and the violent degenerate who loves her.

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About Writers, blogging, book promotion, inspiration, Stories, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

True Gamer Anthology – Stories by Gamers for Gamers

An untapped market of $152,000,000,000 (that’s billions of dollars) a year with over two billion active participants? Maybe. I suspect most writers are unaware of it.

Games today require an immersive story line. Howard Hughes is featured in Fallout New Vegas. Apparently, Howard survived the nuclear war as a human-robot hybrid living deep underground in a vat of biomedical brew. He controls the city, not for money, but because he wants power over others so he can create a post-apocalyptic world in his own image.

The average video game writer salary is $82,935.
https://www.quora.com/How-much-do-video-game-scriptwriters-make-in-a-big-company
(Forget Fan-fiction, except for fun. Logically enough, it is difficult to make money based on something someone else has created and copyrighted.)

Voice actor dialogue is first-rate. Linda Carter – yep, Wonder Woman – wrote and sang the songs for her own in-game character. Magnolia, the sultry lounge singer in Fallout 4 sings good jazz, too. Google her sometime:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S39BnYdGD6Q

We are beginning to plan an anthology of true gamer stories. You are invited to join us. Imagine, real stories that happened in fantasy. We think some of those two billion gamers will want to read it. Only the game gods know what we will find. Love stories, of course. And death. I once played with a drug enforcement agent who came online one day and just wanted to be with “friends.” She was quite upset. She had had to shoot someone in real life. In-game is where she went for consolation. Expect extremes. I remember a lady from the earliest days of online gaming who logged into the game from the maternity ward. She wanted everyone to meet her new baby. That was -truly 😃 – memorable role play as we sat at our keyboards around the world, grinning and being happy for the mother. Expect delight.

To produce an anthology of true gamer stories we will need agents to explore the game forums and find true stories, writers who are also gamers to write their own stories, ghostwriters for players who are not writers, editors of course, and a publisher to format the story and put it on Amazon in time for next Christmas season. You may be any one or more of these and how this effort is organized is up to the people doing the work. Those who are still here this time next year will be the agents, writers, editors and publisher of what can be a ground breaking effort.

Join us. Go to the Facebook Group, “True Game Stories.”
Or email me, GD<at>Deckard<dot>com.

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