Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Psst. Hey, buddy, wanna buy a book?

I thought writing the book would be the hard part. I never even thought about selling it. But that was long ago, before this brave new world that empowered authors to write, edit, publish and sell their own novels.

Don't get me wrong. I think it's great - it feeds my instant gratification gene. Being in newspapers for so long, I'm spoiled. I'm used to seeing my words in print practically the day after I write them. The time-honored tradition of query letters, agent meetings and ego-bruising rejection letters sounded not only frustrating but a little bit terrifying.

Ebooks are a great alternative. It's a simple, cost-effective format for a starving artist. And according to Amazon, sales are brisk - it sells about 180 ebooks a month compared to 100 hardcovers.

Of course, agents and publishers tend to know what they're doing. I'm flying blind. But here's the most challenging thing - I'm not a salesman. Not at all.

Remember that 1980s John Cusack movie, "Say Anything?" Well, there's this part where he's trying to explain to his soon-to-be-girlfriend's dad about his career motivations, and he says:

"I don't want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don't want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don't want to do that."

I feel for him. Because deep down, I just want to write. But I know I have to promote, or I might as well be writing in my diary. So I'm learning. I'm learning to tell people I wrote a book - and even add that they should read it - without blushing or squirming. I'm putting together my own press release. I'm watching. I'm reading. I'm figuring out how to market, to "brand." But it still feels strange.

"You have to make a decision," my husband tells me. "Do you want to be an author or don't you?"

Cough! Look over here! Oh, hi. Have you read Death on Deadline yet? It's on sale at for only $2.99. You should check it out.

Monday, September 20, 2010

I'll take some instant inspiration, please

My daughter and I had just enjoyed a wonderful morning. We went to church, then visited the local farmers' market. On the way home, I came to some construction where the road narrowed down to one lane. I hit my left turn signal, the light turned green, and I pulled forward a little, waiting for the oncoming traffic to pass.

Behind me, a driver hit his horn as though his life depended on it. Long and loud that horn sounded, as the driver angrily waited for me to make my left turn.

My daughter was startled. "What's wrong with him?" she said anxiously.

I bit back the first reply that came to mind, which likely would have been along the lines of, "He's a jackass." Instead I just shrugged. "I guess he's just impatient."

We turned, he zipped forward, and life went on. But I kept thinking about that guy - and others like him - as the day went on. Coincidentally, or maybe not, I heard a lot of horns that day. Maybe I was just around a lot of impatient drivers. Or maybe we've all just lost the virtue of patience.

Oh, not just in driving. That's just part of it. But everything arrives in seconds these days - we expect it. We feel we're entitled to it. I've read several books lately by authors I used to really like, and I was sorely disappointed by their last works. I have to wonder - were they forced to work faster? Did they feel they had to? Did their contract require it? Or did they feel like their readers would forget them if they took too long?

I sat down to write the other night, hoping to put together a short story. I had an idea in my head, a vague outline, but I just couldn't figure out where it would take me. I tapped the keys a few times, created a tentative lead and put together a few paragraphs. But I quickly grew frustrated, impatient with my sluggish pace. I decided to do a few chores and come back later.

A glance at the kitchen clock surprised me. I'd given myself just over a half hour. It felt so much longer. With today's constantly frenetic pace, it's so hard to slow down and give our imaginations a chance. Some days, it's nearly impossible.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Yo, are your slang terms totally tubular?

Let's talk slang. Current slang, old slang and the dreaded middle-aged slang.

I started thinking about slang recently when I found myself wandering the halls of the local middle school last week looking for my daughter who'd forgotten her new schedule. (Quick aside: if you'd ever like to feel about 110 years old, visit a middle school first thing in the morning in sweat pants with no makeup).

Slang is tough. We're talking about terms that are always changing and technically might not exist. If you write it wrong, your piece is automatically dated. It's like writing a character who has a dialect; you can't overdo it, and you have to do it right.

I found a term on just the other day that made me giggle: middle-aged slang. This is a term apparently used by young people when some fossil comes to their school to offer a motivational speech or promote a book, and peppers the talk with out-of-date terms that are supposed to draw in the crowd: ("What's up, Verne? You're looking totally tubular today!") Naturally, it just makes the audience snicker with youthful derision.

It reminded me of a newspaper I worked at years ago that decided to put out a weekly college insert. They titled it "Yo." I wasn't that many years out of college, but even I knew that was a big mistake.

Bad, out-of-date slang can be fatal in writing. When I do use it, I usually check it out with someone surrounded by it every day - like a student or teacher. Then I modify and modernize.

And as my daughter would say, I try not to get all emo about it.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

500 words a night - can you do it?

I think I may have finally found a way to kick my ever-present writing procrastination, and it's pretty simple - 500 words a night.

I'd love to take credit for it, but I can't. If it were up to me, I'd be up to my old tricks. I'd sit at the computer, determined to finish my chapter or story or essay. But then I'd answer some e-mail. And log onto Facebook. Then maybe I'd check into Twitter - just for a few minutes, I swear. But of course, by then, I'd be a little tired, or maybe somewhat restless. I could put off writing for another night, right?

Sure. Until those nights turned into weeks, or worse yet, months. Left untreated, procrastination is a nasty little habit.

Luckily, I have a friend in Sara Bennett Wealer. Wealer is a former reporter turned YA author whose first novel, "Rival," published by HarperTeen, is coming out in February and has already been creating quite a buzz. But Wealer's not resting on her laurels. She's already working on another book, writing 500 words a night whether the muse moves her or not. "Finishing a novel," she told me, "is sometimes akin to an endurance sport."

Don't let that pretty face fool you - Wealer is a dynamo. Her path to publishing is detailed on her Web site,, and believe me, that book contract didn't just fall into her lap.

So I figured she knew a little something about perseverance. And after all, how hard could 500 words be? Not hard at all, it turns out. Or really hard. It just depends on the night. But setting that goal, and keeping that goal, seems to make all the difference in the world to me.

Maybe it's all those years of working on deadline.