Thursday, July 27, 2017

"I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy"

The post last week by Linda, Independent Writer? Team Player? Can you be Both? really resonated with me.
Photo by Maryann Miller
Since I was born on the Fourth of July there has been a strong independent streak down my back a mile wide, and it did take me a bit longer than some others to appreciate the benefits of joining a team. Whether that be a critique group, or even later joining with other authors in a group blog, such as this one, or banding together for marketing and promotions.

In some ways, marketing was a little simpler for the author before the advent of the Internet - thank you Al Gore, LOL - and all the social media outlets. If we were lucky enough to have a book accepted for publication, often the publishing house would do the marketing, and we were encouraged to make a few bookstore appearances, but that was all. Of course we all know how different that was for big name authors.

For us in the mid-list, we were encouraged to write the next book, respond to fan letters, and tell all our family and friends to keep buying our books.

When digital publishing and marketing came about, that turned that paradigm on its head. Now many of us have become Independent authors - back to that independent streak - and the resources online to help us abound. Some of my favorites are:

  • Author Marketing Experts - where you can find lists of the "best" such as this one 50 Best Resources for Indie Authors.
  • Digital Book World - that also has lists of sites to help authors, including 15 Free Resources for Every Stage in an Author's Journey
  • The Indie Guide to the Universe posted on the Venture Galleries blog.
  • Publishers Weekly, which hasn't overlooked the indie author. Six Great Blogs for Indie Authors - each of the blogs have more links to helpful information.
  • Ryan Zee, works with authors in joint ventures to build newsletter subscriptions, and I have had my subscriber number double in the past year and a half working with him. You do not have to do a monthly retainer for his services and can opt in or out of any of the special deals he runs. He does multi-author giveaways and the contest entrants have to sign up for your newsletter to enter the contest. One thing I really like about how he sets this up is that the unsubscribe rate after the contest is minimal. 
On Facebook there are a number of groups you can join for promoting your latest release or a terrific review of an older book. A quick search of groups will open up a lot. One of my favorites is Books Gone Viral, which was started by Morgan Mandel, who used to be a contributor here. 

One of the most important things when you are doing all the online promoting and marketing is to remember you are part of a team. Share the news from other indie authors when you are on Facebook and Twitter. Share resources you come across to help new indie authors get their bearings, and, above all, be professional and be kind. Avoid the rants over the icky one-star review, or the author who is slamming another professional. 

Maryann Miller is a novelist, editor, and sometimes an actress. She has written a number of mysteries, including the critically-acclaimed Season Mystery Series that debuted with Open Season. Information about her books and her editing rates is available on her website. When not writing, Maryann likes to take her dog for a walk and work outside on her little ranch in East Texas. And, yes, every Fourth of July, she sings "I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy." Sometimes she doesn't even wait for the Fourth.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Independent writer? Team player? Can you be both?

This month's theme at Blood Red Pencil is independence, very appropriate for July because this is the month it's celebrated every year in the United States. Independence, however, has a far broader application than one country declaring its liberation from another.

Take writing, for instance. Like other art forms, it promotes solitude. With some exceptions we work independent of others, turning our imaginations and creativity loose and letting them lead us wherever our characters go to tell us their stories. Those characters become our closest companions while we all share space in our heads. How do we view and deal with flesh and blood professionals who are equally vital to our stories?

Consider the following fiction scenario depicting some of this editor's experiences with writers over the last 25+ years:

Writer: I can't  believe I let my critique group talk me into hiring an editor. They all said my story was unique, so why do I need somebody to edit it? Everybody in the group suggested changes; but after I explained why none of their ideas worked, they all backed down and seemed to understand my reasoning. I still can't believe I wrote that fight scene. It's the best one I ever read, if I do say so myself. The writering group was stunned into silence when they read it. I can see it now: the big publishing houses will compete for the right to publish my debut novel. The advance will set me up for life.

Editor: What's this? A fight scene? Where's the setup? Who's fighting? Is it—no, it can't be; he's out of town. Maybe it's—no, he took his wife to the ER a couple pages back, and he's still there with her. Wait a minute—that's physically impossible. Oh, dear. I wonder what the best way would be to approach this writer. She seems quite convinced her book is the next New York Times bestseller. Maybe I could coach her, help her to see why she needs to work on more effective ways to hook her readers and keep them engaged. It's not a bad story, but definitely a diamond in the rough.

Writer: I can't believe that editor had the audacity to suggest my fight scene was less than perfect. What did she mean there was no setup? Those two characters argued on page three. It's only page 76. Readers are smart. They'll remember the bad blood between those guys, and they understand subtleties. What! Physically impossible? How dare she say that? They might have to be a bit more agile than the average Joe, but really! Then she had the gall to ask if I had done my research on the story's locale. Research? That's ridiculous. This is fiction. A rewrite? No way. As I always say, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. This ain't broke. I'm going to send that editor a piece of my mind right now. I can't believe I had to pay her and then tell her how to do her job. I'm glad I only wrote a check for her to edit the first half the book.

Editor: It seems I struck a nerve with this independent writer; I tried so hard to be tactful. I became a freelance editor to help self-published and independently published writers compete with authors from the big houses. The notion that self-pubbed writers are second rate because they aren't published by Random House can be changed if we all work together to produce great books, but that's easier said than done. I'd better send the writer an apology for ruffling her feathers; that was not my intent. Too bad. With a little work, hers could have been a great story.

Writer: I guess that editor found out who's boss. She was just the hired help, nothing more. At least she recognized I have talent, but then she went on to suggest I take a writing course. That would be like telling Beethoven he needed to take piano lessons. (Of course, maybe he did take piano lessons.) Hey, I know grammar pretty good. Commas sometimes confuse me, but that's not important. She mentioned fragments. Hey, the reader will understand what I mean. Hmm, she also said my storyline has potential. It's not potential, honey, it's reality. I've already written it. What's this? She rewrote my fight scene to show me another way it could be presented. How dare she! Wait a minute. Oh, I see. That does make more sense. My characters wouldn't have to be contortionists to do it this way. She did use a lot of my words, but the action flows better. That's a great verb, more powerful than the one I used. Wow, I didn't know that about my story's setting. I guess I should check out the place so I don't turn off any readers who live there and who might tell their friends not to buy my novel because it's wrong. Maybe I shouldn't fire her quite yet. I suppose I could learn to work with her, as long as she understands I call the shots. Several in my writing group have been real happy with her work. Two have sold their manuscript, and three self published. All of them are selling books. Maybe I should send her another e-mail and tell her I'll give her one more chance.

Editor: I see this writer's having second thoughts. I'm glad. What's this? Whoa, she reworked the fight scene, using several of my suggestions and adding some good ideas of her own. It works now. I'll let her know right away what an improvement she made. Maybe she understands that my goal is to help her book be the best it can be, not to rewrite it and make it mine. Who knows? We might be a great team after all.

Writing is an independent profession. Publishing a first-rate book is a team effort. Editors play a major role in polishing the rough diamonds of our stories to highlight all its spectacular facets. Cover and interior designers put the wrapping on the package to maximize eye appeal. Marketing experts work to help introverted and inexperienced writers sell their wares. Specialists create e-books and audio books to reach readers who prefer those options. Of course, you may not need all these pros for your project. Just remember that none of them desire to take over any writer's work, but only to make it the best it can be and reach the widest audience possible.

Can you be both an independent writer and team player? What do you think?

Editor Linda Lane has returned to her first love—writing—while maintaining her editing work. She also helps new and not-so-new writers improve their skills through posts on Blood Red Pencil and private tutoring sessions. You can contact her through her writing website, Also, you can visit her editing team at to find experienced editors to help you polish your book into a marketable work.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Journalists and the First Amendment

Freedom of the Press is protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution. It is supposed to safeguard against government interference in the dissemination of information and opinions needed for an informed electorate. Take away that freedom, and you eliminate the very principles on which our nation was founded. 

One of the first things an escalating authoritarian government does is limit the press, close the doors on the information it uncovers, and demean its research. When Adolf Hitler took power in 1933, the Nazis controlled less than three percent of Germany’s 4,700 newspapers. Little by little, they seized control of the press and radio stations, and destroyed opposition political party offices, which fundamentally stopped the distribution of information that wasn’t in their self-interest.

Governments have used the press to propagandize its positions. John Adams signed into law the 1798 Sedition Act, which made publishing anything critical of the government illegal. Jefferson stopped it when he became president. Teddy Roosevelt hated the press, called them muckrakers and liars. Sound familiar? Eisenhower restricted media access, and Kennedy’s love affair with the press went sour during the Cuban Missile crisis. He then shut off all foreign policy information. Reagan charmed the press. He also had a good public affairs department who did their job well. The press didn’t hit as hard as they could have on the Iran Contra affair, though the courts did.

Then there was Nixon, who called the press “elites.” Sound familiar? The Watergate scandal erupted because two journalists unearthed the facts behind the “third rate burglary” of the Democratic National Committee's office, with the help of “Deep Throat,” a source that urged them to “follow the money,” and whose identity they concealed until after the man’s death. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s stellar reporting exposed an effort by Nixon to cover up the crime, but the more the fearless reporters exposed the truth, the more obvious Nixon’s involvement became, which ultimately led to the fall of his presidency. Their book, All the President’s Men, was a bestseller, and the movie is still one of the best films of all time about journalism.

The book Game Change, an exposé of the 2008 election, by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin is a more recent example of journalists doing their jobs, in spite of efforts to shut them down. Another great journalistic endeavor and bestseller of the 1960s, The Making of a President, by Theodore White, chronicled John F. Kennedy’s rise to power.

TV shows like 60 Minutes have done some amazing stories. One I recall about Jeffrey Wigand, a chemist for the Brown and Williamson Tobacco Company, who exposed the addition of chemicals to the nicotine in cigarettes to make them more addictive. He received death threats for his whistleblowing and was the subject of a movie starring Russell Crowe.

For all the freedoms of the press, sources like Wikileaks dispense communications to advance a certain political agenda and can be both dangerous and/or informative. It’s still up to journalists to filter through the information, misinformation, distortions, propaganda, and fake news to makes sure that what surfaces bears some semblance of truth, free of bias.

Let’s hear it for the First Amendment and for the intrepid journalists who make sure we know what’s going on behind the scenes.

 If only we pay attention.

Polly Iyer is the author of eight novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and Indiscretion, and three books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games, Goddess of the Moon, and Backlash. A Massachusetts native, she makes her home in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Carolina. You can visit her website for more on Polly and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Freedom of the Press and Freedom to Be Me, a Writer

Those of us who live in the U.S. and other free countries enjoy the liberty to express ourselves through the written word. Currently, the press in the States is under attack for alleged bias and failure to check facts; whether or not these allegations are true, they write on—because they can. The press is not stifled; it can speak freely.

Authors can also speak freely. Whether we write fiction, nonfiction, or fiction based on fact, we can say what we please with impunity as long as we avoid defaming another person in a way that causes them financial loss. While the publicity resulting from a libel suit might generate enough curiosity to sell some books, it might not be in our best interest in the long run. Thoughtlessly or viciously written words can follow us through a lifetime and impact our credibility as writers. Besides, we have other avenues in which to address almost any issue. Freedom of the press grants us carte blanche to say almost anything we like—within a well disguised fictional setting.

Most of us write what we know, what we like (or don't like), what inspires us. As a fiction writer, I observe people, watch the news (as much as I can tolerate, which some days is very little), listen to what those around me say—and what they don't say. I have my soapboxes, my pet peeves, my favorite things. Bottom line: These are all the building blocks needed to lay the foundation for a story.

Suppose we, someone we know, or someone we've read or heard about has suffered a severe trauma. Can we incorporate that experience in a story? Yes, of course, but we need to be discreet. Will our written words cause anyone pain? embarrassment? loss? To avoid those scenarios, we can change the location, the people involved, even sometimes the gender, and we can sufficiently alter the circumstances to protect those who should be protected. As Diana wrote in her July 6 post and as noted in this article, "with freedom comes responsibility."

The media climate today promotes name calling, slamming others, and violence when one does not get one's way. We are not required to be part of that mentality; in fact, we have a wonderful forum to show the possible consequences of such thinking and behavior. We can write.

On a personal note, my books address women's issues, relationships, various forms of abuse, and choices people make to continue in a negative lifestyle or rise above their circumstances. While they generally fall into the category of women's fiction, several of them contain strong male types. The stories are realistic, sometimes painfully so, and the three-dimensional characters step up from the pages to invite readers to take their hands and come along for the journey. Hopefully, the stories touch peoples' lives and hearts and perhaps show a positive path to some who may feel locked into a lifestyle that threatens their very existence.

What are your stories about? Do you use them to cite the wrongs in the world we live it? How do you pull readers into your words? What techniques do you use to make your characters live?

Editor Linda Lane has returned to her first love—writing—while maintaining her editing work. You can contact her through her writing website, or her editing website, 

Thursday, July 6, 2017

With Freedom Comes Responsibility

With the birth of the internet and self-publishing, it is a wonderful time to be an author, unless you were hoping for that golden ring of a traditional contract with a publisher and a huge advance. In that case, you have my sympathies. It has never been harder to obtain.

For those who have ventured into the water of self-publishing and found minimal success (a few amazing success) or are just happy to be published, these are heady days. No one can tell you that your plot doesn't fit into a particular marketing niche or there are too many stories like yours in their stable, or worse your book competes with a better known author's idea.

However, the freedom to write and publish anything you want comes with responsibility. You must perform all the duties of a traditional publisher.

1. You must "promise" a specific sort of story and not veer into another lane. There is nothing worse than settling down for a lighthearted romance then finding yourself chained to a BDSM fantasy. Or to curl up with a cozy mystery only to find a violent bloodbath serial killer as protagonist.

2. You must ensure your product is solid and not full of plot holes, thin editing, and lost threads. No one wants shoddy workmanship. It inspires returns and hateful reviews.

3. You must wrap it in an appealing package, aka the cover. You don't necessarily have to shell out megabucks to do so. There are many pre-made cover services and artists willing to design a cover for you for under $100.

4. You should offer your book on as many platforms as possible. Just like books were sold in bookstores, department stores, and grocery check out lines, customers are everywhere and like convenience.

5. You must have an online presence so readers can find out about you if they are curious. At minimum, consider a basic webpage that has your bio, contact info, and book information. Add links to buy your books with a single click over to Amazon, etc. If you have a series, readers often go to your site to determine the correct order. Make it is easy to find.

6. You must market your product. Most writers hate that part, me included. But no one can buy your book if they have never seen or heard of it. This might mean schmoozing, hobnobbing, and leaving your comfy chair, pet, and slippers to go where where book lovers hang out. Networking with  other writers can be fun. They are usually book addicts too. Loyal fans will promote you. Story addicts love to share their latest finds.

Self-publishing is a bit like playing the slots in Vegas. You can't win if you never go. Is it a sure bet? No, of course not. Can it be fun? Definitely. Can you win big? You don't know unless you try.

With the options available today, you don't have to accept "No, thank you" as an answer or leave your manuscript molding in a box in your attic.

Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.