Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Free-Range Writers - by RM Greenaway

If you were in charge, what one big change would you make to the business of publishing?

It's difficult to answer, because to me it feels as if the business of publishing is already going through changes, a kind of mutating freefall in fact. eBooks have made borders obsolete, Goodreads reviews can make or break you, every writer needs social-media-platform shoes, the crowded market, bewildering technology, endless new options, robots writing pretty darn good stories, book-selling websites dictating just about everything, megastars snowballing into mega-mega-mega stars for no clear reason (that I can see) ... and so on.

I went into this business with no idea of what it was all about, especially the fact that, hello, it's a business. Having little understanding of what was expected of me or what I could expect in return, I was not disappointed with how it turned out. I think I've been treated well. But I do feel caged by marketing responsibilities.  

In fact, there's my answer to this week's question...

It's a dumb fairy-tale answer, but if I was in charge, I would free authors from this pressure -- overt, subliminal, ubiquitous, unceasing -- that you must not only write your damn good book, but become a marketing whiz as well.

Yes, marketing can be fun and rewarding -- travelling, meeting readers and writers, sharing stories and knowhow -- but it has aspects that are difficult, time-consuming, expensive, even scary. 

Many writers cope well with the whole ball of wax, and even thrive on the challenge. Others not so much. Some may even give up because they feel they can't swing the demands of the public persona. Their wings are clipped.

I fall somewhere in the middle, depending on the day, my mood, and my self-esteem-o-meter.

So it's an unserious answer to a serious question, but in my perfect, imaginary world of sweetness and light -- that's of course quite separate from my crime-fiction world of darkness and evil -- once I've cured all ills, I would set writers free to do what they love best (aside from sitting around in bars): dip their quills in their inkpots and write!

Photo by Ron Jake Roque on Unsplash

Monday, December 11, 2017

Memo from the corner office

Q: If you were in charge, what one big change would you make to the business of publishing?

- from Susan

I'd go backward in time, to the era when publishers felt it was their job to encourage, nourish, and support promising writers. Instead of pouring all their support into the few proven successes who bring in the most bucks, publishers would be delighted to help authors who wrote well, worked hard, had fresh ideas, and ambition to write The Best Damn Book of the Year.

No more using the star power of one author who is in his or her literary dotage by having junior authors take on the work for less pay as long as they were willing to drown their own styles and ambitions.

I'd go back to glamorous cocktail parties to launch books, budgets for author tours, budgets for ads in the New York Times for mid-list players, and in-house PR staff to court newspaper and magazines reviews for "our exciting new talent."

The people in charge of a company would be the taste-makers with taste, not those who count beans instead of reading. The point of publishing would be bringing wonderful writing to the world while making some money, instead of making as much money as possible by bringing only the most likely to make money to print.

This is why I am not in charge of a publishing company in the 21st century.

...and on that note, happy holidays to you all. May you find a corner of this unhappy world in which to enjoy a peaceful respite with family, friends, and a damn good book!

Friday, December 8, 2017

Success Only Makes It Harder

If you knew anything you wrote would be published and successful, what would you write?

This is a good question for me to make up for my absence on the Friday after American Thanksgiving. My post was halfway composed before I had to avert a crisis-level garbage disposal malfuction. I dusted off advanced-level plumbing skills I developed long ago, and for no apparent reason in the moment. I certainly didn't expect to learn to plumb. I hadn't endeavored to be a plumber. I didn't foresee a need to dismantle my Insinkerator, disconnect the pipes and snake the blockage that soaked my kitchen floor all the way to the sewer main. I certainly didn't expect to learn how to write. I hadn't endeavored to be a writer. I don't have an idea for the greatest American novel ready to apply to the concept.

I've lived a life of fascinating incongruity, likely due to my insistence upon making absurd choices that don't conform to anything that makes sense to anyone else. See, I come from a place and time where your value was determined by your slot. Once someone figured out what to do with you, they put you in a lane on a track and that's where you stayed if you wanted to be treated as a productive member of society. Success meant maximizing every opportunity on that track. You didn't change lanes until you were overtaking someone else on the same track. If you decided you didn't like your lane, the track, or being in the race at all, you were written off. Perhaps that's the function of the Midwest. Someone has to produce the staples of life, like food, steel, cars, weapons. Can't have dreamers on the assembly line holding up production. I'd imagine many an aspiring writer found themselves yanked up the grain harvester never to be seen or read again. Dreams are nice. Dreamers provide the cautionary tales dispensed by school counselors and job supervisors.

When you go it on your own in the Midwest, you become the talk, and what you do is how you're identified. This doesn't apply to lanes and tracks. No one is going to take a look at a spot weld and say "There goes Murray. You see those beads he struck? Tighter than the stitch your grandma put in your knickers. He could marry my daughter, that guy." No one autographs the alternator they replaced in your car. Get published, tho'? That's what you are. Not something you did with one of the many aspects of your being. It's "There goes the writer." If no one has a need for a writer, your function becomes the example, especially if your novel isn't a hit. "Don't wanna wind up like that guy." I have actual scars on my knuckles for fighting against that shit. It was easier to just pick up and move to a place where no one cares about you at all.

Perhaps it's my conditioning, but more likely my personality, to meditate upon my choices for as long as time will allow. In my life, it's not the work that takes the time. It's the decision making. This is why I go unseen until I have something I feel is worth seeing. In private, I'm examining my wants and matching them with what I believe would be their effect on my life, as well as the lives of folks I care for. I'm considering how I want to be regarded in the outcome. What I want to be known for. Forever. I'm trying to see everything that could happen if someone took my words as gospel. Ran with them. Caused trouble with them. It isn't easy. Knowing my book will be a hit from the get-go compounds the difficulty in choosing what to let out into the world.

Maybe I'd write a memoir, but as a handbook. I'd start it from the point where the reader has made the choice to leave that lane, abandon that predetermined track and forge ahead in the wilderness of warped reflections. If it resonated with a person, great. If it provided insight to help the reader, even better. Otherwise, it was just my own mess. Navel-gazing. What you take it seriously for? Didn't you read the disclaimer that said none of this has been proven in anyone's life but mine, so your results will vary? Follow at your own risk? No? Well then, I'm sorry your lit teachers let you skip the introductions and forewords.

I think the only responsible way to do it would be to offer up my guarded privacy in sacrifice to the illumination of the reader. It couldn't be fiction because that'd make it too easy, and a large part of the thrill I have writing it is the risk of failure. If something I wrote would be published and successful from day one, it'd have to be a book that was more valuable to the reader than the writer. Perhaps that's a part of my Midwestern conditioning as well. Part of me feels that shit is warped. Part of me thinks it's right. I'm fairly certain I'll never know. Better to just make the most of it. For everyone.


For those interested in the works to which I frequently refer, check out these titles at your local bookseller, your local library, or online where you enjoy purchasing your print and e-books. As always, thanks for your support and encouragement.

Works By Danny Gardner


Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Midas Touch

“If you knew that anything you wrote would be published and successful, what would you write?”

From Jim

My last book. I would quit writing.

There would be no challenge. No wondering or hoping or wanting. There would be no dream. I can’t imagine a more dreary life. Who wants to end up like Midas?

Bear in mind that a superstar hitter in baseball only succeeds about thirty percent of the time. How boring if batting became a conga line.

And since we’re on sports now, if I knew that every shot I took on the basketball court would go in the hoop, I’d quit that too. And golf? Imagine if every shot were a beauty? Every putt in the center of the cup? I think I’d end up cheating against myself.

Even the NFL understood that extra points had become too automatic so they changed the rules. Much more interesting now that it’s no longer a chip shot.

And soccer? If they wanted to make it easy to score, they would have made the goal bigger, tied goalies’ hands behind their backs, and never come up with the offsides rule.

That said, I wouldn’t mind hitting 52% of my shots on the court and maintaining a two or three handicap on the links. And, I would love to sell more books. But if a genie promised me that everything I wrote would be a wild success, I’d lose interest in heartbeat.

“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty.”
—T. Roosevelt

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Overnight $uccess

If you knew anything you wrote would be published and successful, what would you write?

By Dietrich Kalteis

Doing what you love is anybody’s best shot at success. And I love sitting at my desk and making stuff up. And I don’t think any of us can predict what’s going to be a best-seller. I know if I tried to write what I guessed would sell, rather than writing what I loved to write about, it would be crap.

Okay, it sounds corny, but it’s the best thing in the world to get to do what I love every day, and that’s success in it itself. And if money follows, then that’s even better. Who’d turn it down? 

For most of us, it’s more of a slow grind than instant success. So, anytime I need a shot of perseverance, I recall that J.K. Rowlings was turned down a dozen times on the road to becoming the first author billionaire, Stephen King’s first novel Carrie was rejected thirty times, and Elmore Leonard’s The Big Bounce was bounced back over eighty times. The New York Times ran an article about him some years ago, the headline: Writer discovered after 23 novels. 

Writing every day is my best shot at standing out in a crowded field. And that need to write is an in-the-blood kind of thing. Being able to stay focused and positive helps, so does not thinking about success or the lack of it. And almost as important is reading and being inspired and influenced by great books.

And speaking of great books, since the Holidays are rushing up, I’ve listed some of the crime novels that I’ve read over the past year which stood out. As I’m writing this I just finished my friend Sam Wiebe’s second novel Invisible Dead, and I can tell you the guy writes like a champ. Then there’s Black Orchid Blues by Persia Walker, a bright and funny book. The Force by Don Winslow had to be the best-paced novel I read all year, and Razor Girl by Carl Hiaasen had to be the funniest. Also very funny and well done (and Canadian) are No Fury Like That by Lisa de Nikolits or One Brother Shy by Terry Fallis. 

I reread a couple of crime classics that stand the test of time, ones that I’d highly recommend: Miami Blues, from 1984, and New Hope for the Dead by Charles Willeford, published 1985, and The Moonshine War by Elmore Leonard, published 1969. As much as I enjoyed Robert B. Parker’s Spenser novels, I started his Jesse Stone novels and I loved Trouble in Paradise, the second in the series, published in 1999.

All the best to everyone over the Holidays.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

What is Success?

By R.J. Harlick

If you knew that anything you wrote would be published and successful, what would you write?

It depends on what defines success, because money isn’t everything.

I have had many markers defining success along my journey as a writer. The first measure was to complete the writing of a full-length novel.  I tell you there was much hooting and jumping up and down when I finally wrote THE END on the first draft of my first attempt. I had actually written a book, all hundred thousand words of one. I was very proud of myself, because when I had started out I didn’t know if I had it in me.

My next measure of success was to get it published. Many rejections, many re-writes later with considerable amount of persistence on my part, I finally had a publisher say yes. They would be happy to publish my first book, Death’s Golden Whisper. Once again there was much jubilant hooting and jumping up and down with the added addition of a champagne toast to mark the momentous occasion. And when I finally held the printed book in my hands there was even more celebration. I could call myself a published author and here was the proof.

Once it was tossed out into the big wide reading world, I had many measures of success. My first email from a reader who was neither family nor a friend, who told me how much they loved the book. Seeing the book on a bookseller’s shelf and then learning that it was on many booksellers’ shelves across Canada. My first book review in a major newspaper and amazingly she liked it. More yipees.  Learning that it had been picked up by libraries across Canada. Lastly, Death’s Golden Whisper sold enough copies to satisfy my publisher that the second book in the series, Red Ice for a Shroud was worth publishing.

Since then I have achieved other marks of success. A nomination for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Crime Novel, invitations to literary events and book clubs, radio and newspaper interviews and most importantly the continued publication of the Meg Harris mystery series. For as we know, few mystery writers go beyond the 3rd or 5th book in a series. I am now onto my 8th.  The 6th, Silver Totem of Shame, was selected as a top ten summer read by the Globe & Mail and  the 7th, A Cold White Fear was recommended by CBC All in a Day. The latest book, Purple Palette for Murder has been selected by Indigo, Canada's largest bookseller, as a local book of interest which means it is being stocked in greater than usual numbers in all Ottawa area bookstores. The reviews have expanded from Canadian media outlets to American review publications such as Booklist, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and Kirkus Review.  

Perhaps one of the greatest marks of success for me are the fans. Nothing makes my heart leap for joy more than when a reader comes up to me and says I’ve read all your books. I love Meg Harris mysteries.

And you know what, I’ve achieved all this success by writing the book I wanted to write from the outset, a very Canadian mystery, set in the great Canadian outdoors that tells Canadian stories.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

What If?

For Dec 3

Today Terry Shames answers the question: If you knew anything you wrote would be published and successful, what would you write?

I always figured I’d write the great American novel, so if you had asked me this when I was in my twenties, that would have been the answer.  But when I actually started writing, everything I wrote turned into a mystery. Even my very first book, a science fiction book about aliens was really a mystery in sci-fi clothing. (This particular book has never again seen the light of day, so we’ll say no more about it.) After a while I realized that mysteries are clearly what I intended to write, so there was no sense in changing it.

That’s the short answer. The long answer is more complicated. I thought the first mystery I wrote would be published and highly successful. I really did think that, especially after it was snapped up by the first agent I queried. Lest you think I threw a bunch of words on the page and flung it out there, the book had been rewritten at least ten times, including the protagonist morphing from female journalist to female amateur detective….to a male cop. How’s that for editing! Alas, the agent was unable to find a home for it. By the time he told me it was a no-go, I had written a second book and decided to start fresh with a new agent. Exactly the same thing happened. This time with a very well known agent. And it continued to happen with two more books—each time with a seasoned veteran of an agent, each time with a rejection.

With every new book I thought, “Of course it’s going to be published and successful!” It took years of rejection and going back to the drawing board, to finally begin a series that took hold. That was my Samuel Craddock series.I feel as if in that sense, I have written books that are published and successful.

So I think I need to take the question one step farther: what would I write if I knew I would not just be published and successful, but wildly successful. Girl on a Train successful. Successful like Sue Grafton, Craig Johnson, Tana French, Michael Connelly, Lee Child, Susan Shea (okay, I slipped that one in to see if you were paying attention). To think of the answer to the question I need to think about the kind of book I would want to write. So many choices, so little time—thriller, police procedural, historic, foreign intrigue, caper, humorous, adventure, private eye….whew!

The answer is that every book I write I hope will be wildly successful. I don’t start a book thinking, “Gee I hope this book bumbles along and has a few readers.” I think, “This is great idea! What fun! I’m sure it’s going to be a huge success.” Then reality intervenes. At about 10,000 words my thought process is something along the lines of, “Maybe this is a mistake. I’m not sure this idea will work.” 20,000 words: “What was I thinking? This is going nowhere!” 30,000 words: “You can’t throw all these words away. Try to think of something to make it work. ANYTHING.” 40,000 words: “EEEEEEEKKK! Help!.” 50,000: “Just write the book.” 60,000: “Just finish the damn book!” 70,000: “Surely the edits will fix it.” Eventually I get to the editing stage, the first stage of which is, “What a hot mess!”

And then it goes through an amazing metamorphosis. Editing gets done, the book gets turned in to my publisher, it gets a good going over by my editor, my copyeditor, my proofreader. Final verdict: “Hey, this is okay! I think it’s going to be wildly successful!”  So I guess my final answer is, what would I write if I knew it was going to be published and wildly successful? Exactly what I do write!

And here’s the cover of my next book, which comes out January 9—the book I think is going to be wildly successful: