Monday, June 29, 2009

Contest Winner!

Congratulations to three Lake Writers who won prizes at the 25th Annual Wytheville Writing Contest. It was the first time that three members of the same writers group won prizes.

Bruce Rae (left) won second place for his essay Dare We Bail Out Bad Businesses?, a political essay wondering why corporate CEOs who led their companies into bankruptcy and government bailout keep their jobs. Becky Mushko (second from the left) won second place in the short story contest for her work Rat Killing, a story about an elderly woman, dying of pancreatic cancer, who crashes her truck into a local ne'er-do-well. And yes, that's me (at far right). I took third place in the essay contest for The Gift, a personal essay about life's lessons and growing up in a household with three women. Dr. Rhonda Catron-Wood, between Becky and me, is the chairman of the program.

Congratulations to all of us -- even me.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

From "Free"-lance to Freelance

After a year of writing for local papers for free, I have finally made the quantum leap from a "free"-lance writer to a real freelance writer. I signed an agreement with one local paper to write a series of feature stories FOR PAY. I can now officially say I am a professional writer. My public relations efforts for two not-for-profits will continue without an ethical conflict. It was a long time coming, but I'm really legit!!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

More Thoughts on Writing

Last week, I went to a discussion on short writing by Kurt Rheinheimer, author of Little Criminals. Kurt led a discussion on how he writes his successful short fiction. He gave a good definition of life as a writer: "Writing is like losing weight and keeping it off. You have to work at every day."

He's write, er, right. Time for me to get back to editing and rewriting. I made my deadlines for getting my articles ready for the local papers and now can spend several hours on my own stuff.

Oh yes, and not overeat. I need to lose 10 more pounds. . . .

Monday, June 15, 2009

Ethical Dilemma

I belong to two writers' groups. I often ask my peers to read my efforts, or listen when we meet and read aloud. I listen to my peers' efforts as well. It's an honor to share and be asked to review material.

Recently, one member asked me to read the first section of a novel he's been working on, like, forever. I agreed. I have now reread his material twice. It has some errors -- grammatical, word usage, sentence style, typos. I struggled with the dilemma: Do I correct everything or let the writer's unique voice come through? Do I just fix the obvious typos and incorrect word choce?

The voice is not semi-literate. It's just very different.

Any suggestions?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Submissions and Queries

For the past few days, I've been polishing prose to send stories into various local and national contests. I grabbed the Spic 'n Span, Pledge, and Roget's Thesaurus to get the different pieces into the right shape. Two went north, one when to a contest in Virginia, one went out west to get a tan.

And while I was on a roll, I also polished my query letter and slipped it into e-mails to three more agents. I felt strong and focused. And since I had put my hands in the Allstate Madonna, I was invincible.

And then Stephen Pastis took on agents in his daily comic strip, Pearls Before Swine. The day of the first panel brought a form rejection from an agent. So much for the Allstate Madonna.

Onward to waiting to hear if any of my spring submissions to contests won anything. Onward to continuing to polish my prose. Onward to sending off query letters.

After all, nothing ventured, nothing sprained.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Publishing Alternatives

Like many unpublished writers, I research ways to get published. The traditional one is to send out query letters, find an agent, have her find an editor who takes the book to a publisher, who agrees to publish and market the book. That can take years. I mean years. Not one or two, but ten or more. Nearly every major bestseller has a story behind it of the author collecting rejection after rejection before finally "hitting it big."

Other ways are to use vanity publishers, small presses, print on demand, subsidized publishing, and more. If you read the statistics, it is true that alternative publishing surpassed traditional publishing in the number of titles last year. But dig deeper, and you find that statistics can always be spun to tell a story. It just might not be the story for you.

When you add up the number of titles and the number of books sold (for those few "transparent" alternative publishers), you get between 50 and 150 copies per title. And except for the small press, few if any of these alternative publishers take returns, provide marketing, or placement in book stores. Small presses often do take returns, may provide limited marketing, but rely on the author to gain placement in bookstores.

I looked into A best seller is 500 copies. One of my friends has published five titles with And he has purchased five copies each. No other sales. Why? He publishes specialized cookbooks for his family -- one per year for Christmas.

Everyone should be aware of the pitfalls of alternative publishing. With no marketing, you should expect no sales. If you have a strong platform, and a strong marketing plan, you might do all right. It all depends on the numbers you want to hit.

Sometimes an author starts with print on demand, for example, sells upwards of 1500 copies, does her own marketing, and develops a readership and demand for future works. At that point, the author is moving into the realm of a small press, even though she is not printing anything physically. My friend Sally Roseveare sold nearly 2000 copies of a novel set at Smith Mountain Lake. Her second novel is due out in July. With such a readership, she should be moving a lot of "product" in the next few months.

One last point. Anyone going the alternative publishing route should pay close attention to costs. Amazon is promoting its Booksurge program. A 75,000-word book starts at $4,599. At least that was the cost on Friday.

Bottom line: There are no right answers in publishing. The best advice I've received is to do thorough research before jumping onto one band wagon or another.

And one observation: Didja ever think that some books should not be published?