A SHORT HISTORY OF GETTING MY STUFF PUBLISHED

Organized to Death is my third published novel. My first one was put out by a small press that gave me a contract for three novels. They published Sara’s Search on time and with a cover I loved. When the month of June came around to publish the second novel, though, it didn’t happen. Several months went by. Promises were made to publish it in October. It had a cover (I didn’t love it as much as the first one, though), it had been edited, and the galleys had been proofed. Christmas came and went, and all of January. I found out that several other writers with the same publisher were having the same problems. Royalty checks stopped. The publisher no longer answered phone calls or emails. We all became quite concerned. And unfortunately, as a group, we decided to pull our books and ask for the rights back to those already published. Of course, the publisher’s reputation was ruined, and we all left, sadder but wiser.  Some writers went with other small presses, and several had bad luck with them, as well. I wrote some more novels. I sent them to NY agents. Nothing happened. I was reluctant to try another small publisher. (Another one, WriteWay, had shown interest in another of my books before I placed Sara’s Search , but they went bankrupt before any contracts were signed, so I was leery—authors there, as far as I know, never got their rights back.) By this time I had the one published novel and over fifty short stories as publication credits. Didn’t matter.

Then something unexpected happened. Ebooks, thanks to Amazon, started to become popular. Writers who had no luck with NY publishing decided to strike out on their own and get their books up for ebook readers. This was not too difficult to do. I watched and waited. I saw that some readers were unhappy with the books coming out because they were poorly written, had glaring spelling and grammar mistakes, and were badly formatted. I also noticed that many of the covers did not look very professional, and many were too dark to be able to read the title and/or authors’ names on the tiny thumbnails used on-line. So I decided to hire a professional cover artist, and between us, this is what we came up with:I still like it. Next, the authors I read about who were successful hired professional editors and proofreaders to go over their manuscripts. And finally, if they couldn’t do a good job themselves, they hired yet a third person to format the work for them.

This is what I did with all three of my novels. Sara’s Search, of course, already had a graphic designer, Clint Gage, do the cover (and I got the rights for that, as well) and an editor pointed out everything that needed fixing. For Revelations, I hired Anne Victory to do the editing, and Derek Murphy to do the cover (he also did the cover for Warning Signs, my short story collection). I admit to formatting all three of those books myself (no need for an editor for the short story collection—they’d already been published, so edited). For Organized to Death, I again used Anne and Derek and because there are so many different sized Kindles out there now, decided to use a professional formatter, Jason Anderson who did a great job on both the ebook and print formatting. I will be using all three again, if they’re available, for my next books—hopefully three more next year.

Someday I may change the cover for Sara’s Search because it’s too dark to show up well in a thumbnail. I also want a new paperback version, so that would need to have a back cover.

And that’s it so far. I’m open to questions, and if they’d take  a long-enough answer, that could become another blog post. So, ask away.

 

GETTING READY FOR DECEMBER HOLIDAYS

If any time of the year needs planning ahead, this is it. Here are some basic suggestions to keep you from driving yourself (and everyone else) crazy. I hope you’ll find at least one or two tips that will help you during this hectic season.

HOLIDAY GREETINGS:

There are greeting cards to send out. You have that all organized, right? Every year you have a printout of people’s names and addresses of cards sent. Maybe if you send out a newsletter, you even have a code on the list to indicate which people received it. And you mark who sent you cards last year before putting them away or discarding them. If you were wise you bought cards on sale after Christmas to send this year, and you know where they are. If you don’t enjoy doing the cards, just plan to do a few a day until they’re finished. Take a break from something else and address and sign some, then go back to whatever it was. And if you don’t enjoy standing in line at the post office, you can buy stamps on-line, as well as order packaging materials. There’s even a calendar to show you when to order. You can print out a shipping label and order a pick-up of your parcels. Once you set up an account, the following years should be a snap to do any of this:

https://www.usps.com/

DECORATING

Most of us have lots of stuff to put up or out or on a tree, something for the front door, yard, roofline and so forth. I hope you have everything organized in boxes from years past. If not, make a vow to do that when you put everything away this year. My only real advice here is not to over-decorate.

FOOD

See tips for Thanksgiving prep:

http://www.janchristensen.com/lets-talk-turkey/

This is the time of year I love to try out new recipes. Only on the family though. Anything I take for a potluck or other meal, I’ve tried at least twice in the privacy of my own home. You know why.

ENTERTAINING      

Ask for help. Have everyone bring something to eat or drink because you’ve been frantically cleaning house, decorating, shopping for supplies, and making a few dishes yourself. Right?

GIVING GIFTS

Lots of people recommend buying them as the year goes by. Great advice. Be sure you have a designated spot to put them, and make sure you label them somehow (sticky notes are good). Also be sure you keep a list in your purse or on your smart phone of what you’ve bought and for whom. If you haven’t done all this, and you love to shop, have fun. If you haven’t done this because you don’t like to shop, I recommend you do it on-line. You can even have the items gift-wrapped and sent to out-of-town people. You can also buy stuff you need for entertaining on-line. Clothes to wear. The possibilities are endless!

What great tips do you have for getting through the holidays? Let’s have them in the comments. Remember to take care of yourself, get plenty of rest. Now is not the time to start a new project or take on anything extra. Treat yourself as well as you’d treat a beloved friend. You deserve it.

INTERVIEW

What is the working title of your book?

Organized to Death, not just the working title, but the actual title.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I wanted to be a professional organizer several years ago, but things happened, and it didn’t pan out. But I have a lot of books about the subject, read lots of stuff on-line, and studied it quite a bit. So, I decided that since there are not a lot of novels out there with professional organizers in them, it would be a great thing for an amateur sleuth, in her 20s, to be. Because she is going to get involved in places that are disorganized, and everyone has something to hide, as Agatha Christi says. Of course, for a mystery series, that hidden something will usually be about a murder. But other surprises and secrets will also be uncovered beneath all the clutter.

What genre does your book fall under?

Mystery, amateur sleuth.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I have no idea. I do a lot more reading that I do watching movies and TV, so I’m not up on the current stars.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Tina has a new job to do, an old flame to seduce, and a murder to solve.

And here’s the description: Back in her hometown of Newport, RI, Tina Shaw, twenty-nine, is picking up the pieces of her shattered life. She begins her first job as a professional organizer in a house filled with cardboard boxes and clutter, only to discover a dead body in an eerily neat baby nursery. She fears this career move may be a short one until the handsome but spooky new doctor persuades her to reorganize his office left in disarray by the former physician.

Ignoring the doctor’s obvious interest in her, Tina begins seeing her former boyfriend. When he protests against her new profession, she realizes what a control freak he is. Then there’s another old flame who is making her hotter by the minute. As she works through the office clutter, she learns the doctor has a possible motive for the killing. But when someone else is shot, the doctor has a solid alibi–Tina herself. Drawn unwillingly into the case, she searches for answers as her list of suspects multiplies. When the killer begins targeting Tina and her friends, she works harder to learn the murderer’s identity before someone else is found dead.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

It should be out in the next week or so, for Kindles and trade paperback. I’m self-publishing this one and the rest of the series because of the uncertainty and problems with NY publishers publishing ebooks—the when, the how much to charge, and the royalties “offered” to writers. The publishing industry is in disarray with many bookstore closings and NY not reacting quickly enough to the expanding ebook market. All my self-published books have been or will be professionally edited and have a cover designed by a professional artist.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

About six months.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Any popular books about amateur sleuths with unusual professions, or even usual professions such as hairdressers, mystery shoppers, chefs, etc.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Life! Messy life.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

There’s some humor and quirky characters, including Tina’s Uncle Bob who is deaf and has a golden retriever service dog.

And that’s the end of my interview, but there’s more. Other writers are answering these questions on their blogs. Let’s go see how their answers compare to mine!

On November 24, John Floyd will describe his forthcoming short story collection, Deception, at SleuthSayers: http://www.sleuthsayers.org/2012/11/the-next-big-thing.html

Also check out:

B.K. Stevens at http://www.untreedreads.com/?page_id=999

and

Frank Zafiro at http://www.frankzafiro.com/blog/

for their interviews.

LET’S TALK TURKEY

This is the time of year to make master lists and schedules and do some major planning. Today let’s talk about Thanksgiving.

With this major holiday coming up, wouldn’t it be great to have a shopping list you’ve refined over the years so you have everything on hand if you’re making the big meal, or even a dish or two to take to someone else’s celebration? If you don’t have one yet, make one. I like to do this on the computer so I can make changes when needed and print it out again so it looks neater. You can also rearrange the items by where they are located in the stores more easily using your computer. And if you have a smart phone, you can do the list on there and not forget and leave it at home.

Of course, all your decorations, special place settings and so on are in one box. Right? If not, this year buy a special box just for Thanksgiving.

  • Make a list of what you’re going to serve for Thanksgiving dinner if you’re preparing it.
  • Make as much ahead as you can and freeze it.
  • Set the table the night before.
  • If you can afford it, have a cleaner come in a few days in advance.
  • Buy prepared veggies and other food from the grocery store. The bakeries make really wonderful breads and desserts nowadays. Look around and see what you can use to fill up the table with no-to-little work.
  • Use other devices besides your oven to keep things hot if you run out of room. Use the crockpot, thermos containers, or even buy one of those new buffet warmers or smaller triple crockpots. Anything cooked ahead can of course be warmed up in the microwave.
  • Be sure to include some cold dishes that just have to be placed on the table. For example, Waldorf salad, a layered salad, a macaroni salad or coleslaw.

And here’s how many calories you’ll burn (700, it says) preparing the big meal. And how many you’ll consume. Sit down for this:

http://shine.yahoo.com/shine-food/burn-700-calories-cooking-thanksgiving-dinner-151900055.html

Now, get a good night’s rest, relax, and enjoy the holiday.

Happy Thanksgiving!

WHERE DO IDEAS COME FROM?

Every published author will eventually be asked, “Where do you get your ideas?”

Stephen King has his “boys in the basement.” Riffing off of that, I have my aunts in the attic. (And probably bells in my belfry, as well.)

Victor Banis has his muse Snotty. Other writers and artists have had muses through the ages.

A muse is defined as: a spirit or source that inspires an artist. Some famous writers, such as Hemingway and Fitzgerald, used real women as their muses, then married them. Unfortunately, the muses soon divorced the writers. I don’t know what that did for the writing of the writers, but it couldn’t have been very good in the short run. In the long run, it may have inspired a lot of writing, especially about what women are like. Or what they thought women were like.

For me, a muse is a spirit. A made-up-by-me spirit. But besides the aunts in the attic, and perhaps the Mad Hatter, I don’t really have any muses that I call on regularly. When muses are mentioned, I think of the aunts and the hatter, but otherwise, not very much.

If you dig deeper into the idea of a muse as inspiration, you realize it is really only a trigger. Or something to get angry with when the inspiration isn’t there.

In order to really get ideas, I suggest more concrete tactics. To start, just pick something, anything. Animal, mineral, vegetable. Rock, paper, scissors. Then pick another and another. It would help if they are not usually associated with each other. Next write whatever comes to mind for as long as you can. Eventually you most likely will get stuck and not know what to write next. Ask yourself, what if, and list all the things that could possibly happen next. Pick one, or combine some, and off you go again. It can be weird, strange, unlikely, odd, whatever. Quirky is good.

Other ways are to visit places you’ve never been before, people watch at the mall, look at pictures of strangers or even of people you know—one or two of their traits might spark something.

The trick is to absolutely believe that you will come up with something. If you write steadily every day for about a month, this confidence will come more easily. I’ve written so much that I never have any doubt that I can come up with something, that really, I’ll never have enough time to write everything I can think of into publishable form.

So, if you think having a muse will help, make one up or use a real person for inspiration. If you just want to go right to the writing, pick a few fun things to write about and Go.

HOW TO HANDLE INTERRUPTIONS

Friends, neighbors, countrymen, children, spouses, co-workers, telephones, email (“You have new mail!!), regular mail, the doorbell, and sometimes your own mind interrupts over and over again, every day.

How do we handle all that? Hopefully with tact and firmness. First we need to get firm with ourselves, set some boundaries.

If you owned your own business (maybe you do, but for those who don’t . . . ), you’d soon become aware of your need for time management. Maybe you’d read a few books, look for tips on-line, talk to people who seem to get everything done and then some.

One major trick is to prioritize tasks every day. For most of us, that means doing the most important things early (unless we’re those rare birds who do their best work after dark). After that, we can do some of the less important, but still necessary, stuff.

What’s this got to do with interruptions? Everything. You set a time when you are not to be interrupted unless, as one writer puts it, there’s fire or blood. Go behind a closed door, if you can.

Do the most important things when babies are napping, older children are in school, spouses are at work, no one else is home; in other words, when you are most likely not to be interrupted. If older people are home, get behind a closed door for an hour or so. Then come out, both for a breather and to catch up with everyone, let them know you’re thinking of them. Back to work if necessary.

The second part of this is to schedule the other type of interruptions, such as email and phone calls, for another time.

Scheduling can make the difference between chaos and getting things done. Play around with it until it fits you just right. Then stick to it for three weeks running (the time it usually takes to create a new habit), and see how much smoother your life is running, and how much more you’re getting done every week. You may be surprised because you’re more relaxed, as well. Now excuse me while I go do a few household chores. I do them in the afternoons because that’s the time I’m most sluggish mentally. Be sure to take your natural rhythms into account when planning your schedule. And please get back to me about how it worked. Remember—fire and blood.

THE MOST IMPORTANT WEEKLY GOAL

You probably already have weekly goals, whether you know it or not. If you have a job outside the home, one of your goals is to go to work every day. Another goal will be to groom yourself every day, eat several meals, maybe do some exercising, sleep a certain number of hours, clean the house, work on the yard, take care of kids and pets and so on. These are so routine, you hardly ever have to think about most of them anymore.

But if you had to pick one goal you’ve been putting off to work on for this next week, what would it be? What would happen if you picked one every Monday and tried to accomplish it by Friday or Saturday bedtime?

I would bet that in a month or two, your overall to-do list would have shrunk to a more manageable size (it never, or rarely, gets to zero if you keep it updated, unfortunately).

Remember the process for accomplishing a goal. Write it down. Write down the steps you need to take to accomplish it. Move those steps around in the order you need to do them in. Go!

For example, you want to paint a room. First you have to pick which room. Then write it down. Next, you have to figure out what you need in order to paint it. You may already have some supplies on hand, but need to buy others. You have to pick a color and get the paint. Maybe you want to check out paint chips first. Put all these things in order on Monday and see how far you get by end of the week. Even if you don’t get the painting done, you’re that much closer to end of goal. The next week, you can have the same goal, and probably finish the job.

This works for just about everything. Need to see the dentist?

#

You have to make an appointment. If you don’t have a dentist, you have to decide whom to see. You need to gather information, find out locations and telephone numbers. (See where the steps aren’t in the right order as I quickly wrote them down? Remember to re-order your steps.) Then you have to call for the appointment. The dentist may not be able to see you the same week, so again, you have to put that goal off to the week you can go.

If you concentrate on only one rather large goal each week, you will be a lot further ahead than if you take a scattershot approach and work on two or three or more each week. You also lose momentum if you don’t narrow it down to one. You may go get the paint chips, gather the information about dentists, then decide to work on something else because you’ve lost interest and focus.

What one major goal will you pick for this week? Write it down. And check in with yourself on Friday or Saturday to see how far along you got.

LEARING TO WRITE BY READING

What could be more fun than loving a book you’re reading and at the same time learning to write a book of your own?

Take a book you’re already enjoying and start reading it again, trying these steps for a quick start:

  • Jot down a line or two about how the novel opens. When you come to the end of the first scene, stop and imagine what could happen next. Write down everything you can think up. Do this with other places that make you want to find out what happens next.
  • List what happens in the beginning and ending of each chapter, if they grab you. If they don’t interest you that much, pay attention to why not and vow to do better yourself.  Especially note cliffhangers and really exciting chapter openings. (Special non-happenings to watch for—openings with a character getting up in the morning alone and thinking; closings with the character thinking and getting into bed alone.)
  • When you’ve finished reading the book, make notes about what you liked about it and what you didn’t. (You can do this as you go along, as well.)
  • Use your notes to outline your next book. Not the actual happenings, but when they happened: In the book you read, on page one, what happened? When did the inciting incident occur? Was it in the first chapter or later? How does the second chapter open? Put down the most interesting things that happen and on what page. Now see if you can pencil in plot points for your own book around the same page numbers.

Using this method, I think you will quickly learn what works and doesn’t work when writing a novel, maybe even a non-fiction book. The most important goal of any writer is to keep the reader interested in reading all the way to the end and to have such a great ending that the reader will want to read more of the writer’s work.

The only trouble with this method is that it probably will take some of the enjoyment out of reading that particular book, and it will tend to get you paying attention to the inner workings of future books you read. I make up for that with my own writing which I mostly tend to enjoy doing. I wish the same for you. I suggest trying this with blockbuster bestselling books, such as those by James Patterson or Mary Higgins Clark. Please let me know if you try this and how you felt about it when you finished. I’d love to hear from you.