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Snapshots from the Frankfurt Book Fair, Munich & Austria

It’s already been three weeks since a remarkable and, in some ways, magical trip to Germany for the Frankfurt Buchmesse. The journey morphed into an unforgettable few days of hiking and sightseeing in Austria, and then returning to my old home in Munich and seeing my dearest friends.

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Martha signs book cards at the Frankfurt Book Fair. She was a big hit with adults and kids alike.

I traveled to Frankfurt last-minute to  support my loving friend (and so much more) of 50 years, Martha Halda, there for the world release of her memoir, A Taste of Eternity, in its German-language version, Der Duft des Engels (The Wings of Angels). Watching Martha  sign autographs for thousands of festival attendees was truly divine, as we spent three years turning A Taste of Eternity from an idea into the life-affirming memoir it is. The same publisher that picked up Martha’s book, sorriso Verlag, also published Just Add Water in German translation — also launched at Frankfurt.2015-10-16 14.41.09

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A moment that warmed the teacher’s heart inside me: Kids hanging in the patio of the Frankfurt Book Fair, sitting in hammocks, reading … refreshing.

The Frankfurt Book Fair is an amazing conglomeration of publishing nations, their authors, and the hands that work the levers behind global publishing. I checked out books and publishers from dozens of countries, including wonderful exhibits at the Indonesia, Vietnam, Ireland, China, and Australia-New Zealand pavilions. (Also had to see When We Were The Boys and Just Add Water in two different booths in the English-language pavilion; that definitely fulfilled a life dream!)

Frankfurt also made a great effort to promote young adult and children’s reading through an outdoor reading area and a weekend nod to Comic-Con. Thousands of kids turned out. The way young reading has gone south in the U.S., I never thought I’d see thousands of teenagers in one place for the sake of books. I didn’t see anywhere near so many at the L.A. Times Festival of Books, whose overall crowd was comparable.

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A few of the earthly treasures at the Antiquarian Book Fair. Most of these titles are older than the U.S.

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One of the books that got Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei into hot water with the Catholic Church. The book was originally written in his hand.

The other highlight was the Antiquarian Book Fair, 48 exhibits and vendors. First of all, “antiquarian” in Europe carries a far different meaning than in the U.S.; jump on the timeline and go back several centuries. The fact that the inventor of the printing press, Johann Gutenberg, lived and worked not 10 miles away, added to the intrigue. Books dated back to the mid 15th century, but my favorite was De Systemate Mundi, a book on the planets by Galileo, likely among the volumes that got him booted from the Catholic Church for heresy and placed under house arrest. So much history in these 48 exhibits … I will be writing more on this.

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Mist, light, snow-covered mountains, and tight, steep roads in small mountain resorts… what’s not to love about this part of Europe?

Afterwards, Martha treated me to a huge “thank you” for helping her with her book — some hiking and sightseeing above the gorgeously rustic, small Austrian resort of St. Johann im Pongau, Austria. I’d driven though this town 30 miles south of Salzburg while living in Munich, but not like this: two days of long hikes, culminating with a random visit to Kreistenalm (Christ’s alms), a ski lodge in the Austrian Alps. While I got us around in my very broken German, Martha reveled. Ever seen a grown girl cry during lunch in a ski lodge? The reasons were clear: Her book concerns meeting angels and the Divine after she was pronounced clinically dead in October 1999, she’s coming off a Frankfurt launch (every global author’s dream) in October 2015, we’re in the Alps, and the lodge’s name is the center of her spiritual path. Wonderful, wonderful moment.

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A view of St. Johann im Pongau from the sky box seats (actually, beginning of the steep trail to Kreistenalm)

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The ski lodge that served up a magical moment: KreistenAlm: Hearty Welcome. And, it was.

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50 years to the month after we first saw ‘The Sound of Music’ in Carlsbad, we joined forces again in Salzburg, where most of the movie was filmed.

We had one more surprise, this belonging to our lifelong friendship. We spent a day in Salzburg, which I knew from having played tour guide to family and friends while living in Munich. Martha waxed nostalgic, and wanted to go on the Sound of Music bus tour. My idea of a tourist bus tour is to get to a destination, put on my pack, jump off at a random stop, and do my thing. Especially in a European city with a strong musical connection — outside America, Salzburg is revered not for Julie Andrews, but for Mozart, who grew up and began performing there. This time, I played nice. The reason? You’re going to accuse me of being a creative fiction writer, which I am, but follow this very true bouncing ball:

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Our ‘Sound of Music’ tour guide was brash, Austrian, and filled with the spirit of the tour. This is the gazebo where the love scene between Maria and Col. Von Trapp was shot.

Fifty years ago, in 1965, The Sound of Music opened and toured select theaters nationwide, among the last blockbuster movies to be roadhoused before chains and massive screen openings took over. A month after first grade began, in October 1965, Martha and I joined a class field trip to see the movie at San Diego’s Loma Theatre. Now, exactly 50 years later, we were touring the movie’s sets, both inside and outside Salzburg, after watching the film again to reacquaint. Let’s just say more than a few people were blown away when they heard this.

Afterwards, we did see a Mozart chamber concert, in one of the chamber rooms in which Mozart performed fairly often at the Festung Hohensalzburg, the 1,300-year-old white fortress atop Salzburg. The Sound of Music is awesome, but there is nothing like hearing a maestro’s music where he performed and conducted. The walls really do start talking…

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A quick return to my old Munich home on Oberlanderstrasse (yellow section, bottom 2 floors of windows).

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The Rathaus in Munich, one of the world’s most amazing buildings.

Finally, my friend Tobias Groeber, the director of the massive ispo trade fair (which I served as U.S. communications liaison for six years), and my closest friend in Germany, magazine publisher Wolfgang Greiner, threw a barbecue in Munich never to be forgotten. We feasted on fishes and meats from Spain, Turkey, and Germany, cuisine from a few other countries, first class all the way.

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How to keep a 6-foot-tall blonde with German blood happy: Bier und obatzda mit brez’l!

What amazed me, though, was talking about Just Add Water with 13-year-old surfing twins. Nothing unusual, except this: they were German surfers, locals who rode those frigid (but sometimes good) northwest swells in the North Sea. Chilling. Impressive. These hearty souls had no trouble connecting tall, blonde, California girl Martha with a place to stay on the Southern California coast. Smart kids!

Enjoy the photos and pictures … and get ready for an incredible next blog, an interview with British author and novelist Ann Morgan. Her book, The World Between Two Covers, may well change the way you read and regard world literature. Her novel, Beside Myself, is equally amazing. We’ll let her take it from there, in this special preview of a longer interview we will be publishing in The Hummingbird Review next summer.

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Bring On the Digital Publishing Revolution (You’re Already a Part of It)

Surf star Clay Marzo, the subject of "Just Add Water", tearing it up in Maui.

Surf star Clay Marzo, the subject of “Just Add Water”, tearing it up in Maui.

Back in the saddle after two weeks of working in Maui with surf star Clay Marzo on our book, Just Add Water (due out in Summer 2014 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), meeting with musician Stevie Salas to discuss his memoir, When We Were The Boys (due out in Fall 2014 from Rowman & Littlefield), revving up the PR machine for author Allan Patch and his exquisite new novel, Passage at Delphi (due out in late November), and presenting at the Digital Author and Self Publishing Conference in Los Angeles …

… Which is where we’re going with this blog.  We’ve heard a lot in the past few years about the rise of e-books, online publishing, and the impending death of the printed book. While the printed book is not going away, at least anytime soon, it is no secret that digital publishing is taking over the industry – and self-publishing is a huge part of it.

One statistic bears it out more than any other: according to R.R. Bowker, which issues the International Standard Book Numbers (ISBNs) that every book must have to be distributed, the number of ISBNs in circulation has grown in the past 15 years from 900,000 to 32 million. That means there are 32 million different book titles circulating in bookstores, libraries, online booksellers, website stores and wherever you can buy a book.

"Passage at Delphi," the forthcoming novel by Allan Patch

“Passage at Delphi,” the forthcoming novel by Allan Patch

The vast majority of these books are self-published by digital means. In other words, I write a book, format it into a manuscript, and deliver it to either a print source (such as CreateSpace, the self-publishing arm of Amazon.com) or an e-reader service (Kindle, Kobo, Smashwords, Nook, Diesel, Sony e-reader, Apple, etc.). If Smashwords is involved, the e-books are made available for purchase on hundreds of online booksellers. Obviously, if CreateSpace is involved, you can find them on Amazon.com as a print or Kindle title.

Authors can also turn to any number of companies that offer these services, plus scaled-up services for marketing and distribution (extra charge). There are plenty of choices, but I’ll caution you now – do your due diligence. Some are exceptional, like PublishNext and Balboa Press, while others will gladly take your money, print your books and not worry about the quality of their service. Major publishers now offer self-publishing operations as well; two examples include Author Solutions (Penguin) and Balboa Press (Hay House).

This massive shift into self-publishing, or Indie Authorship as it is called among serious authors, has occurred for two reasons: 1) the technology to produce our own books inexpensively is available through our home computers; and 2) authors want the money from their book sales.

Which begs the question: Don’t authors get paid when their books are published by traditional publishers? Of course – but that book sale is cut many ways. On average, authors receive 10% to 15% of each book sold by a traditional publisher. If they are advanced money to write the book, then they only get their 10% to 15% royalties after the advance earns out – sales top the amount advanced. Given that the traditional publishing world has shrunk to five major publishers, their imprints and the smaller publishers, the opportunities to get published are shrinking by the day. Plus, publishers are more unwilling than ever to take a chance on someone who does not have a viable name and presence in the public eye – which is blatantly unfair to writers with good stories that would certainly be read.

However, that’s life in 2013. This is not our parents’ publishing world. What a shame.

The Indie Author approach puts sales in the writer’s hands. But it also includes the responsibility of marketing, promotion and publicity. That’s where a traditionally published book has a huge advantage. Publishers bring distribution, production and marketing to the table, and they do it with full staffs and decades of work on well-built networks. When you give up 85% to 90% of the cover price of the book, that’s where the money goes. (Well, most of it, but that’s another story that would take a very long day to discuss.)

However, writers who are smart enough (and have the funds) to hire experts in traditional and online book marketing, promotions and publicity (shop carefully; there are plenty of shysters out there) can prosper through digital publishing. After loading their manuscripts onto CreateSpace, PDF files on their computers, and/or the e-book readers, they retain 70% to 100% of sales. Or, you can try my approach, which is to collaborate with a publishing partner (in my case, Tuscany Global Publishing and the very exceptional Brian Wilkes). You write and promote the book, the partner handles the production, loading and fanning out to the online retailers, and you split the money down the middle.

Then there’s the world of hybrid authorship, which is where I reside. Agents and traditional publishers are getting used

Creating Adventures, Sharing Stories, a collection of 51 pieces derived from the Word Journeys Blogs

Creating Adventures, Sharing Stories, a collection of 51 pieces derived from the Word Journeys Blogs

to this approach, with the publishers having a particularly tough time of it. Hybrid authors self-publish and work with traditional publishers. For example, I’m working on two books under contract (Just Add Water and When We Were the Boys), while showcasing two other books that I put out with Tuscany Global (Backroad Melodies and Creating Adventures, Sharing Stories: Word Journeys Dispatches Vol. 1). With much more to come.

How the digital world has opened it up! The options are many. More and more good writers are capitalizing on them. Chances are, you own plenty of books by Indie Authors on your bookshelves or e-readers, and don’t even know it. Nor does it matter. What matters is how good the book is. That’s the beauty of digital publishing…

… and why this past weekend’s Digital Authors and Self Publishing Conference in LA was so valuable. Hats off to conference director Tony Todaro: he knows how to present diverse conferences that nail the pulse we feel on the front lines of this shapeshifting industry! Publishing experts such as legendary literary agent Ashley Grayson, agents Claire Gerus and Toni Lopopolo, CD Baby and Book Baby CEO Brian Felsen, science fiction icon (and one-time Star Trek writer) David Gerrold, and author-marketers Linton Robinson, Karen Angermeyer, Gary Philips, Steven Booth and yours truly, were among those discussing this crucial subject. The workshops were packed, the insights riveting and eye-opening, and the information invaluable.

You’ll hear plenty more from me in this blog about digital publishing, especially since I work with it all the time for my clients, and my own work. And that’s about to expand, greatly, but I’ll save that announcement for November…

 

 

 

 

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The Sleuthsayers: Six Crime, Mystery & Action Thriller Novelists Discuss Their Work

CHECK OUT THE 366 WRITING BLOG:

40 GREAT BOOKS FOR EVERY WRITER

(First of a 2-blog series)

THEY PRESS ON WITH THEIR DAILY LIVES, watching everything. Stories percolate constantly in their minds. They sit for hours, days, weeks and months, cooking up good characters and bad, and plots with more twists and turns than a mountain switchback road.

Frank Ritter

Frank Ritter

Meet The Sleuthsayers. These crime fiction, mystery and action thriller authors specialize in compelling page-turner books that exemplify solid storytelling and characters that jump off the page. They kill people, injure others, fall in and out of love, and solve one tantalizing mystery after another. In many cases, they carry the same lead character from one book to another.

Recently, I put a few questions to authors Jenny Hilborne, Frank Ritter (also an award-winning playwright), Gayle Carline, William Thompson Ong, Claudia Whitsitt, and Wes Albers, who is also the director of the Southern California Writers Conference.

These people are very good writers. Their average collective ranking on Amazon.com? 4.8 (out of 5). And on Goodreads? 4.9 (out of 5).

Other interesting trivia tidbits: Remember the 1980s TV series Simon & Simon? The series was loosely (or not so loosely) based on Frank Ritter and his brother, private investigators at the time. Ritter’s expertise really shows in The Killing Games. Our other on-the-job expert is Wes Albers, a longtime member of the San Diego Police Department. Meanwhile, Tom Ong is one of the original Mad Men from the New York advertising scene of the early 1960s.

I hope you enjoy what they have to say – and buy their books, either for yourself or for a favorite crime & mystery fiction lover on your Holiday shopping list. Now, let’s get the roundtable started …

Jenny Hilborne

Jenny Hilborne

Q: First of all, give us a snapshot of your most recent books.

Jenny Hilborne: The Jackson Mystery Series, which can be read as standalones. They include Hide and Seek and Madness and Murder.

Frank Ritter: The Killing Games, an adult thriller (now available), and The Devil’s Crib, another adult thriller, which will be out in Spring 2014.

Gayle Carline: I write the Peri Minneopa Mystery Series. A couple of titles include Hit or Missus and Hot Mess.

William Thompson Ong: I call mine the Kate Conway Series – The Mounting Storm, The Deadly Buddha, and The Fashionista Murders.

Claudia Whitsitt: The Samantha Series: Identity Issues (Book 1) and Intimacy Issues (Book 2).

Wes Albers: Black & White is my first published novel. It’s a look into the life of a street cop, told through the eyes of veteran San Diego Police Patrolman John Hatch.

Q: Do you set up your plot twists before you begin writing, or do you let characters and situations take you there?

Albers: I do a little of both. For Black & White, I didn’t start out with anything. I simply sat down one day and started writing. I let the story take me where it wanted to go, until I hit a point where I needed to get to a logical conclusion. It became necessary to start doing some plotting and outlining as I went along, but mostly so that I could drive the story where I needed it to go rather than any creative plot twist.

Gayle Carline

Gayle Carline

One challenge in writing about street cops is that their job doesn’t necessarily flow like a typical story. The thought of having something fall along the lines of Act I, Act II, and Act III is kind of contrary to how the job works. Not every story in a cop’s life resolves. Instead, a street cop’s life is often more a series of scenes.

Whitsitt: Plot twists–what I live for! I do some pre-plotting. It’s best to know where I want the story to wind up, but I’m always willing to let the characters take over. I find a mix of planning/free-form works best for me. The story sometimes stays on track but often the twists are created along the way as a result of my character’s personalities and the ways in which they handle situations. The story evolves through the writing as I continually play “what if”. And my characters have minds of their own—feisty crew that they are!

Ong: I set up a basic plot with plenty of twists and turns in every chapter. But once I begin writing, those unexpected plot twists and turns will come flying at me from every angle and provide the spice for my story. While writing my first novel, I learned two very big lessons: 1) the best way to create plot twists is to ask your characters what’s the worst thing that can happen to them; and 2) believe in your characters and they will help you steer the plot, taking you to places you never thought possible.

Carline: It depends upon the book. Sometimes I just know how everything’s going to work and sometimes I get the idea as I’m writing. I try to do a very general outline. For my first mystery, I was so frightened of having any loose ends or conflicting clues, I stuck to my outline like duct tape. I thought writing to an outline would be my system. Then in the second mystery, I got bored with a scene, so I hit Peri over the head with a golf club and abandoned the outline. The third mystery was a hybrid of outlining, then ditching the outline, then re-outlining. I’m now writing a fourth book, and there is no outline.

William Thompson Ong

William Thompson Ong

Ritter: I story board not only my books but also my plays. All plot twists, locations and even some character traits are worked out on my story boards. I also do a personal profile of each major character and their traits.

Hilborne: I write whatever comes into my head at the time. My characters drive the story.

Q:  How much pre-planning do you put into your characters’ spoken voices, so that their dialogue is distinctive and forward-moving?

Hilborne: I’m not a planner. I hear their voices as I write the dialogue.

Ritter: I work very hard at making my dialogue match each character’s background and speech patterns so that each has his/her own voice. I study slang usage, speech patterns for an American locale I may need, and the speech patterns of those for whom English is a second language, if needed.

Carline: Of all the pre-planning, my characters are my biggest focus. I write up a study of each one, what they look like, their occupation, likes and dislikes, even astrological signs. Then I write a journal for each one. I let them tell me what’s important to them. By the time I start writing the book, I know who they are and how they sound.

Ong: Dialogue is not something that can be wasted. It must either establish character or further the plot. Before writing I make sure each character is

Claudia Whitsitt

Claudia Whitsitt

fixed in my mind—from what makes them tick right down to those quirky little details that are so important—and voice here is key. Then, before each scene, I write a brief outline that describes the action along with snippets of highlighted dialogue. Then I write the scene. I rewrite again and again. When I think I am finished with a novel I go over it carefully, looking for places where sharp dialogue can replace those author descriptions that are too long.

Whitsitt: I wrote a L.O.O.S.E. character sketch before I began writing the series, but I mostly hear my characters’ voices; it’s quite instinctive on my part. I simply step into their shoes and voila! Dialogue! (Don’t tell anyone I hear voices. Please!)

Albers: Dialogue thus far has been a pretty natural process for me. Often it is the easiest part of storytelling. I have an image of the character in my head and any distinct voice for a character just seems to develop as I work.  When I’m not writing but simply daydreaming about the story and where I want it to go, sometimes I’ll get a flash of something unique that I want to attribute specifically to a character.  The sergeant in Black & White is a good example. When I started writing him I had lots of examples of bad managers, or supervisors, from my past so I simply had him strike an elitist, condescending tone and the words just came naturally, his voice developed organically. I must have struck some chord because readers have consistently reacted to him as an accurate reflection of a bad boss that everyone has had at some point.

Q: Out of all the books you’ve written, what are two of the most surprising in-story developments that you did not know would happen when you started writing?

Wes Albers

Wes Albers

Albers: The first was in another unpublished story. I had a bad guy tied to a tree who was about to be executed. Hope was lost, from his perspective. When I originally started writing the chapter, I intended it to be more about the events that would ultimately lead to his surprise release, but as I wrote, it developed into an internal dialogue where this vicious and foul person started reflecting on the tragic path that led him to that tree. Suddenly, he became human and relatable.

The other was the start of Black & White. I didn’t set out to write police stories. In fact, I actively resisted them but someone encouraged me, and then repeatedly pestered me until I made an attempt. I never expected the first line of Black & White would ever survive to print, but in an instant, I found the voice of veteran of the streets, a voice that spoke with the authority of experience.

Whitsitt: My main character, Samantha, has experienced deep moments of profound sorrow. I was surprised how moved I was by those events and the lingering effects her grief had on me—losing loved ones I hadn’t intended to “kill” before I began penning the book. Writing those scenes is exhausting!

The other in-story surprise that has occurred is how much I enjoy writing male characters, (I guess my five brothers are worth something after all!), so much so that I’m considering a new series focused on one of those men.

Ong: At the end of The Mounting Storm, I originally had one ex-wife fire all six bullets from a Colt revolver into the body of the villain. At the very last minute, I switched the revolver into the hands of the other ex-wife. That gave the ending the unexpected wallop it needed.

In The Deadly Buddha, I changed the outcome of the scene where Kate survives the shooting in Central Park after Zack throws his body across hers and Zookie’s and nearly dies in the process. It then became a scene where a very  confused Kate realizes how much she loves the guy—and decides to marry him instead of keeping him waiting another 50 pages.

Carline: The first one came with the first book, Freezer Burn. I had imagined one character, Benny, as an immoral lout (this was before I started all the character development techniques). After the first scene, I saw him for what he was: an obsessive-compulsive man who was confused by the world around him and needed help.

The second one that truly surprised me didn’t happen when I was writing the book, but it happened when I was journaling one of the characters of my current work. I had thought of the crime, figured out the who/what/where, but while one of my characters was telling me about his life, I discovered the motive for the murder. It was completely different than what I was planning.

Ritter: After I story board, I then begin my plot and location research. In the case of The Killing Games, although my research had developed the needed information to make the climatic explosion at the LA Coliseum really happen, I altered this information so as to not be giving out factual instructions to any idiots or truly bad guys. Other than that, because I story board, the only in-story developments while putting pen (computer) to paper have been characters that I grew to truly like and had to either hurt badly or even kill them off. Honestly, when that happens, it really hurts. In The Killing Games, the bad guy rapes a woman and later he rapes her 12-year-old boy. Those scenes were very hard for me to write realistically, but they needed to be there to set up later actions and character developments.

Hilborne: All of my books have surprised me. The endings are never how I might imagine them. The most surprising element for me is the themes readers pick up in my stories. I never intend a message, but readers have pointed them out.

Read Part 2

 

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Why Back Stories Matter (part 2)

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Part One of Why Back Stories Matter appeared on the 366Writing blog. In part two, we look at the specific reasons people love to hear the stories behind the story – and I share a few as well from my newest collection of essays and poetry, Backroad Melodies, which will be released on Summer Solstice, June 21.)

Poring through some of 700 pieces of research at Skywalker Ranch for the book Blockbusting!

Poring through some of 700 pieces of research at Skywalker Ranch for the book Blockbusting!

WHEN WRITING BOOKS, authors spend months or even years pulling together backstory. Novelists must know the ins and outs of their characters, and their characters’ lives, loves and tendencies, before committing the first sentence to paper (or screen). Non-fiction authors must track down all available background information on their human subjects or central topics in order to present their material. In both cases, extensive research precedes any writing. It’s quite normal for an author to pore through hundreds of source materials (books, articles, papers, videos, transcripts, etc.) before writing a manuscript.On top of that, fiction writers invariably pull nuggets of experience or perception from their own lives, and weave them into their characters, plots, or subtext.

The final books that reach bookshelves, online stores, and our admiring eyes compare favorably to icebergs: ten percent of the research and raw material makes it into print. Maybe ten percent of that is character, subject or topical backstory woven into the fabric of the narrative.

As for the other ninety percent? Many writers like to entomb their source and research material into cardboard file boxes or backup drives, never to see the light of day again. As for me? I want to know the backstories, and I want to share them. For instance, in my novel Voice Lessons, I wove nearly a hundred personal anecdotes into the characters, events, lyrics, concerts, plot and subtext – not to mention the prose that took flame from research that included more than two hundred books and articles, two hundred CDs and another hundred DVDs. Will you know which anecdotes are from my life? Not unless you know me, well. Or unless I tell you. Behind each anecdote is another story, the agglomeration of experiences that created it. We could go on forever.

Which is the point: to give readers the experiences that shaped the wonderful experience they just had in reading a book. That’s why fan clubs exist. That’s why we comb through materials in all shapes and forms to find interviews, histories, biographies and reminiscences that add context, shape and perspective to what we just read. When we learn these back or side stories, lights switch on in our heads. Recognition parts our consciousness like Moses finding his groove on the Red Sea. “A-ha!” moments of realization break into smiles across our faces, accompanied by a warm, tingling feeling inside. Suddenly, we know more about what makes the author tick, what prompted him or her to write that passage in that way, or to drop in that particularly amazing detail. We feel good because we know more. Acquired and perceived knowledge always feels good.

51kzcyubVNL._SY346_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_51S4MUUXEQL._SY346_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_  Two of the best novels I’ve read in recent years – which I happened to read back-to-back in Spring 2013 – were Fobbit, by David Abrams, and Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter. These two men were among four panelists at a Los Angeles Times Festival of Books discussion entitled, “Fiction at a Sideways Glance.” Well, as this piece might indicate, I’m going to be the moth drawn to any writing forum that looks at the craft from a different angle. Both men were engaging and insightful, their shared experiences delighting the capacity crowd. It so happens, too, that Fobbit and Beautiful Ruins are two of the most talked about novels of 2013.

Each book offers a fiesta for backstory seekers: Fobbit draws from a journal Abrams kept while serving as a public affairs specialist in Iraq, thus offering both a comedic (sometimes hilarious) look at the war and a troubling, in-the-trenches perspective we saw or read about nightly during Vietnam – the tragedy and heartache that happens before medals are pinned on our great servicemen and women – but which was expunged from our awareness by the 21st century Pentagon. Dark comedy? Fobbit is one of the best. You won’t think the same about the war in Iraq, or war itself, after reading it. (We will have the pleasure of hearing from Abrams later this month in a Word Journeys Blog interview).

Beautiful Ruins is an exquisite story of a romantic spark between two people that stretches across fifty years of life, in all its ups and downs, set against three backdrops that the author painted with a combination of personal observation, experience and research: the early production Italian set of the epic Cleopatra (or, to be more specific, what went on between Liz and Dick); a tiny hamlet with Italy’s majestic Cinqueterre coast; and the playground of golden dreams and brass-knuckle realities known as Hollywood.

I am a glutton for good stories, and all great books are loaded with creation points that spider outward as far as you can follow. They are all truly silken threads.

Snowmelt descending down the South Fork of the Yuba River

Snowmelt descending down the South Fork of the Yuba River

BACK TO THE BACKROADS. The roads listed earlier anchor the overall backstory of Backroad Melodies. Many of the poems were written about or on them. Since I’ve opened a can of worms, and encouraged everyone to either seek out or share the stories behind the stories, here are a few from this collection:

• “A Day on the Rake”:  I took a day of silence during a long meditation retreat in Northern California (on MacNab Cypress Road), grabbed a rake, and spent an entire day working on a mile of paths that wound between hundreds of plant species and statues of deities representing all the world’s major religions. Truly energizing.

• “Birthing a New Day”: An experience from the inception of my relationship with Martha, at the base of Mount Palomar, in her backyard on Ushla Way, twenty miles from the nearest town. Years later, I can gladly report that very day feels like this poem.

• “Fossil Light”: Standing outside on a crystal clear midnight in February, temperature three degrees above zero, viewing the stars through the prism of their original conception. What we see twinkling today is the way they existed before modern civilization, before humanity … even before dinosaurs. Fossil light.

• “The Way Stones Tell Stories”: Sitting in the San Luis Rey riverbed during dry season, holding a stone, admiring its age and stoic presence. Every sentient being has its storytelling style; our job is to know how to listen, and what to listen for.

• “Morning Prayer”: Driving through Capitol Reef in Eastern Utah just as dawn erupted on the cliffs, canyons, domes and bridges of this monocline, known to geologists as the Waterpocket Fold. I feel Native American spirit and energy most profoundly in the Four Corners region … as on this morning.

• “Ghost Riding”: This could be subtitled, “the songs of trees on back roads.” When wires, lights and busy minds aren’t present, wind feels and sounds like ghosts while whispering through trees.

• “Tea Time”: Over a three-year period, I had the profound pleasure of walking next door occasionally and drinking tea with my friend and favorite poet, Gary Snyder. Few people are more conversant on so many different topics.

• “Four Pool Quartet”: On a hot, late September day in the Sierra Nevada foothills, one of my students asked if we could hold an outdoor class. You don’t have to ask me that question twice. We loaded up cars, and I took them to an out-of-the-way spot on the Yuba River, reachable only by driving a road you don’t want to think about in icy or snowy weather, then hiking down a trail steep enough to tax a bighorn sheep. We sat on giant flatrock, deposited when the Sierra Nevada range was formed five million years ago, and wrote and swam for two hours. (“Did you know this snow-fed, rock-strewn river has five or six different currents,” I told them, “only three of which you see above the surface?”) This poem was one of my two contributions for the day, written behind a back road, while sitting in a river pool.

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The Hybrid Author Movement

During the Southern California Writers Conference in February, keynote speaker Michele Scott talked about a subject that has been near and dear to me for many years – becoming a contracted and self-published author … at the same time. This is otherwise known as hybrid authorship.

A fine multi-genre novelist, Michelle has written 23 books, some under a pen name.  If you look at this with traditional eyes, you would rightfully assume she keeps contracts with two or even three different publishers. That’s not the case – anymore. After years of selling her books to publishers, and developing a strong and loyal fan base that numbers in the high five- or low six-digit mark, Michelle took control of her creative process and began self-publishing.

Risky business? For sure. If you’re making a living as a writer, self-publishing can be quite risky. Suddenly, you are responsible for every penny spent to edit, market, promote, publicize, produce and sell your book – all expenses typically handled by traditional publishers. If you don’t know how to do all of these things, or sub-contract people who do, then it can be a one-way road to supreme disappointment.

 

WHY BACK STORIES MATTER: NEW 366 WRITING BLOG

 

Michelle knows how to do these things. Consequently, instead of merely satisfying her one-book-a-year deal with contract publishers, she can write and publish three or four titles per year … and keep all the proceeds after expenses are met. This is much different than traditional publishers, which offer advances against royalties (for those lucky enough to receive them), and then royalties in the 6% to 10% range of wholesale to retail price, escalating upward to 15% with increased sales – and 25 to 50% net on e-books. Unless promotion is great and sales are brisk, these numbers do not always add up so well.

Michelle has switched all the way over to self-publishing, even buying back some of her backlist rights (books already published). A few of her titles remain in circulation from her publishers. She’s in a win-win – royalties on books already published, plus pulling in the full bounty from all the books she’s writing now.

She is an example of a hybrid author, which is becoming more and more the way to go if you’re a prolific writer who has several books on your mind – and plans to write quite a few more. The hybrid approach is also the right approach for authors like me, who write in different genres and do not want to get tied down by contracts in which publishers want the one book for which they’ve contracted you to be the only book you write for a set period of time.

The subject of hybrid authoring is a big one at this week’s Book Expo America , the largest booksellers and publishers convention in the U.S. Traditional publishers are being compelled to relent from their “we buy your book, we take you off the market” philosophy, which forces many prolific authors to write their other books under pen names unless they have lucrative multi-book deals. More and more, authors are doing both, self-publishing titles they want to write while under contract for another book.

Hybrid authorship is not for everyone. First of all, you need to have the money to produce and promote the self-published books yourself. Or, like me, enter into an arrangement with a collaborative publisher (mine is Tuscany Global), in which you publish your book and handle all promotional costs while splitting revenues with the partner (in my case, the jack-of-all-trades Brian Wilkes), who handles production through a well-established self-publishing service (Amazon.com’s Create Space, in this case).

Then, you need to write and produce the books – and make sure none of them compete, in any way, with any books you might have under contract with the traditional publisher. In fact, the best approach – and the one that makes everyone happy – is to openly promote your contracted book at the back of the self-published title, and in any press releases you generate on its behalf (quick commercial: we offer such a service for all authors with books to be published, Beacon Publicity, where releases go to up to 10,000 targeted points and you get placement reports for a very low fee).

Hybrid authoring will become more and more common, especially in this era when writing e-books is so easy and self-publishing your book is a badge of respect, not the perceived scourge of vanity or province of poets it used to be.

As for forthcoming titles? Have Just Add Water under contract, another about to go there (When We Were the Boys, in which I’m working with author Stevie Salas and my agent, Dana Newman), and two titles – Backroad Melodies and Every Day Is The Write Day: The Best of Word Journeys Blogs, Vol. 1 – which will be out this summer through the collaborative/self-publishing route.

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Two Crazy Weeks of Publishing Bliss

It’s been quite a two-week period on the writing front, and just goes to show what happens sometimes when you throw enough seeds in the garden. So, this blog is going to feel like a combination of a newsletter and announcements.

PrintLast week, two books came out on Amazon.com with which I was involved: The Hummingbird Review Spring 2013 “Hollywood & Literature” edition, which I edited and also contributed a couple of pieces; and Brian Wilkes’ book Stroking the Media, for which I contributed a chapter on the four essentials of generating good publicity – Timing, Opportunity, Newsworthiness and Perception. Will get into these in a future blog. Never had two Amazon listings in the same week, but there they are! Please order a copy – and one for a friend!

This week kept up the pace. I wrapped proposals for two people I have admired for many years: former Surfer Magazine publisher-editor Jim Kempton, who is now shopping his fantastic book of exotic recipes coupled with great surf travel and cultural stories, The Surfing Chef; and Stevie Salas, the Contemporary Music Advisor to the Smithsonian Institution (and great guitarist from Carlsbad), with whom I’m working on his memoir (more details forthcoming). Add to that the chapters I’ve either cranked out or edited for a number of other clients, and it’s been productive.

That’s not all: On Tuesday, Houghton Mifflin announced the acquisition and forthcoming publication of Just Add Water, my biography of surfing great Clay Marzo, who does it all with Asperger Syndrome. For this book, which is truly a joy to write (as those familiar with my long background as former promoter of the ASP World Tour and writing for the surf mags know), I owe a special shout-out to my longtime friend Mitch Varnes, who is Clay’s manager and who suggested I take a shot at writing this book when we had dinner a few months ago.

Mitch and I have history in turning ideas into great books; 20 years ago, Mitch helped me button down my concept and connect me with astronauts and NASA officials for one of the greatest projects of my career, One Giant Leap for Mankind. It was the 25th anniversary publication for the Apollo 11 moon mission, one edition of which NASA later picked up.

Oh yes, one more bit of news: on Thursday, the popular online magazine Indie Writer Net picked up the first of my two blogs on last weekend’s Los Angeles Times Festival of Books (the second blog will be right here on Saturday).

So, to cap it all off, I’m headed up to Orange County later this morning to appear as the guest on the Write NOW! TV show, with hosts Judy Saxon and Charles Redner. We’ll be talking about, well, writing, but also the benefits of writing about something different every day, and reading on a wide variety of subjects with the curiosity and precociousness of a child.

A quick advisory note on that, to take into the weekend: When you spread out your writing subjects – and forms of writing, from letters to journals to essays and short fiction, and everything in between – you develop the diversity to tackle anything and everything. When you read widely, your brain comes along for the ride and makes connections and observations you never thought you had.

Enjoy your writing and reading this weekend!

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On Dharma Bums, Eternity, Legacies & Champions: Publishing Highlights of 2012

Happy New Year!

Time to clean off the desk after a busy, eventful 2012…

Headshot- for proposalFirst of all, a big congratulations to my sweetheart, Martha Halda, whose memoir, A Taste of Eternity, is now at book proposal and agent stage.

Martha first thought of writing this book while recovering from a horrendous 1999 car accident in which she was pronounced clinically dead three times — and had a profound Near Death Experience that has defined her physical and spiritual life since.  To give you an idea of how far she has come from that accident? After her family was initially told she would be an invalid for the rest of her life, she went on to complete the 2002 Dublin Marathon, and lives a healthy, robust life today.

Now, she’s written the first three chapters of A Taste of Eternity, and looking forward to a 2013 publish date. Martha has also started a blog, in which she’ll share a few stories from the book and how her daily life continues to be touched by those precious minutes she spent directly in God’s hands.

• • •

Between Christmas and New Year’s, I picked up a very interesting project: to write a Cliff Notes-type “specimen” for Barnes & Noble.  The book in question? One of my all-time favorite novels, The Dharma Bums. Once again, interest in the Beat generation and author Jack Kerouac is flying through the roof, this time because of the December 21 film release of On The Road, Kerouac’s breakthrough novel. When Kristen Stewart is one of the three lead actors (she plays Marylou), the movie figures to draw attention for younger moviegoers. Many will likely turn to the rich soil of Beat literature, which continues to speak to the young, disenfranchised, soul and purpose seekers.

However, The Dharma Bums project excites me for another reason. In the decade since the last time I read the 1958 autobiographical novel about Kerouac’s the dharma bumsawakening to nature and Buddhism, I’ve gotten to know the real-life Japhy Ryder, the novel’s protagonist. With this book, Kerouac turned mountain man-Buddhist-poet-conversationalist extraordinaire Gary Snyder into a cultural hero and the leader of the “rucksack revolution”, a good 15 years before Gary won the Pulitzer Prize for Turtle Island.  What amazes me is how little Kerouac deviated from Gary’s voice and character in what was supposed to be a fictional character. Every time I read Japhy Ryder’s dialogue, I could hear Gary expounding on something or another during the many times we would get together in Northern California. The actions, the convictions, the interests, the profound knowledge and wisdom … all Gary. And to think: he was only 25 when he and Kerouac had the experiences that formed the backbone of The Dharma Bums.

Ever read a novel where you personally know the protagonist? I hadn’t, either. It certainly creates a different experience, one that I hope will add reading insight for the Barnes & Noble customers who pick up this treatment later in 2013.

• • •

photoAlso on the shelves at Barnes & Noble, and newsstands throughout the country, is The Legacy Series Magazine. I was privileged to help conceptualize this magazine, as well as edit it. We began with a tribute to the late Steve Jobs and his enormous legacy to businesses and consumers (besides masterminding Apple products, he facilitated change or the creation of eight industries). Then we talked to some of the most visionary people and leading innovators in technology today, including Dallas Mavericks owner and Shark Tank co-star Mark Cuban, GE Senior VP Beth Comstock, bestselling author Ken Segall, Zinio Executive VP Jeanniey Mullen, Chris Voss of The Chris Voss Show, Ask.com co-founder (and my old high school friend) David Warthen, and iPhone Film Fest winner Craig Perkins.

We also wrote compelling features on the present and future courses of social media, filmmaking, technology, publishing, crowdfunding, music, green technology and cloud computing. All of these pieces brought out what I love most about fine magazine journalism: Great interviews, great insights, explanation of new concepts, and the writers’ distinct abilities to inject their personal experience and the stories of others into the material they were covering. You want to know what’s coming next in these areas? Get the mag.

The Legacy Series Magazine will be featured at MacWorld/iWorld in San Francisco in three weeks. We have a major announcement pending on possible multiple issues, but we will always produce the large annual publication in the fall.

• • •

TCW_r2_ecover-loresI also had the privilege of serving as co-author to Dr. Steve Victorson in The Champion’s Way. Steve and I spent three years gathering materials and writing this book, which revolves entirely around groundbreaking research Steve did in the late 1990s for his doctoral dissertation at Boston University. In that research, he interviewed more than 40 national, world and Olympic ski champions and top performers, and found 11 distinct characteristics in common between champions. These 11 characteristics are not found in any other books on the subject.

We put Steve’s findings to the test with champions in all sports — and they rang true, in every case. Thus, The Champion’s Way’s 200 pages explore the inner and outer qualities of champions, look at nearly 100 repeat winners in 15 different sports, and point out specific ways in which all of us can develop, sharpen and refine our own latent championship qualities. Besides plenty of great sports anecdotes, the lasting value of The Champion’s Way is how the 11 common characteristics can create top performance in our lives, no matter our vocation, sport or interest.

The Champion’s Way is available through bookstores nationwide, and in both print and Kindle form on Amazon.com.

 

 

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