Sunday, August 21, 2016

Have Your Book Buying Or Reading Habits Changed?

I’ve been selling my print mystery novels at farmers markets and craft fairs this summer. It’s one of my favorite things to do as I inevitably have interesting conversations with people who stop to chat about books.

I started selling books through different types of craft fairs six years ago, and I’ve noticed an interesting change in book buying and reading habits. Three and four years ago, a small percentage of customers were asking if my books were available as ebooks, which they were at that time. (Not all of them are at the moment, but that’s another story). Happily, I handed out a bookmark or business card with my website or my publishers’ website with ordering information. I don’t know how many sales this generated, but I imagine there were a few.

Since last Christmas, (always a big sales time for me) I’ve noticed a distinct drop in the number of people asking about ebooks. My print sales are as strong as ever, and I’ve also had people ask if my books were available in audio format (not at this time, no.)

A number of folks have told me that they used to read ebooks, but now prefer print again. There’s something about the smell of a new book, the act of turning a page, and of course there’s been lots of media coverage about lousy sleeps if you read a backlit screen before bed.

Ebooks have not only changed book buying habits and the way we read but, in some ways, I think they’ve also had an impact on our commitment to reading. One thing I’ve also noticed in myself, friends, and colleagues, not to mention numerous blogs on the topic, is that the books we download aren’t necessarily read.

One reason might be the sheer volume of inexpensive books we’re downloading. The other reason is that the vast majority of books I download, for example, are by unknown authors. If I don’t like the opening chapter, I’m far less likely to continue reading with a free or inexpensive book than I would have if I’d invested ten bucks or more on a print book.

A recent blog in Digital Book World discusses eight reasons why people by books. And while it doesn’t compare buying habits from earlier years, it does offer several insights. One of these is that there are books that sell well but are not read. Sometimes, the buyer feels social pressure to read, other times they simply want the book around to show that they are well-read people.

These days, I prefer a mix of print and ebooks. I love reading print books before bed, but as someone who also reads a lot away from home, an ebook is simply easier to carry around in my purse. I read many more unknown authors than I used to, thanks to my ebooks, but I also spend less money buying books.

A sign of the times, perhaps? Or just practicality as I approach retirement age and realize that I’ll be downsizing my home sooner rather than later. Habits change. Preferences change. Technology changes, and one’s own needs change. Book buying and reading habits certainly reflect this.

The Trouble With Scrivener

I got stuck on a story I'm working on in Scrivener. Over the years, I've learned that, if I'm stuck, then I'm doing something wrong. That being the case, I let myself stay stuck while I worried the problem like a dog with a bone. And I figured it out.

By breaking the story into scenes, I want to open every scene and make it a little story, but that isn't what I need to be doing. I need to be selecting detail to be important later, expanding meaningful parts and telescoping other things that need to happen but don't need emphasis.

When I write all in a piece, I do that more-or-less automatically, but concentrating scene by scene breaks that flow.

The correct title for this post: The Trouble With ME!  I need to learn how to break my story into scenes and then analyze them, choosing what to put where. Actually, I need to try yWriter5, putting motifs and behaviors and parallels in the Items database. That way, I can more easily track where I place my mirrorings and resonances and echoes.

Now, I need to roll up my sleeves and make some choices and decisions.

Anybody recognize this reference?
"You know what my grandfather says?"
"Get back to work!"
That's what I'm saying to myself. So here I go!
Step 1: Write the climactic scene first. I have the outline, so I know which one.
Step 2: Write the mid-point scene.
Step 3: Write the final falling action / wrap-up scene.
Step 4: Make a note of all the bits I want to salt into the story earlier.
Step 5: Salt 'em in.
Step 6: Trim off the excess.

Yeah, that oughtta do 'er!

Marian Allen, Author Lady
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Are You Confused About Amazon's Review Guidelines?

A Facebook post from a writing colleague this week suggested that Amazon has again changed its review guidelines, and not necessarily for the better, depending on your viewpoint.

Back in 2015, reviewers (many of them authors) started noticing that their reviews were disappearing from Amazon’s pages. There were different reasons for this. One is that Amazon was trying to clamp down on phony reviews. Two of their strategies were to no longer allow paid reviews or for authors to exchange reviews. It wasn’t a bad idea, but with other Amazon attempts to fix things, this one went awry. Legitimate reviews were being taken down in droves. In fact, I know a few people who simply reposted them and there they stayed, to my knowledge.

I understand why Amazon’s never liked reviews written by the author’s close friends and family members. Based on this week’s comments, however, it’s become clear that Amazon started taking things a step further some time ago.

According to a blog by Michael Kozlowski, dating back to Nov. 2015, Amazon’s new review policies became even more restrictive. In fact, apparently, you can be removed simply by having an online connection with the author you’ve reviewed.

This doesn’t even begin to make sense to me. I have about 4,000 Twitter followers, most of whom are authors. I have another 800 or 900 on Goodreads. Again, 90% of them are people I don’t know and have never interacted with, but since we all love books, I thought why not friend them? It now seems that I could be penalized for this by having some of my 350+ reviews of books that belong to those “friends” deleted. As of today, it hasn’t happened yet, but it’s only a matter of time before Amazon’s bots glom onto my Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads accounts.

What’s really confusing to me is that I pulled a copy of Amazon’s review guidelines and—call me blind—but I don’t see any reference to contacts through an online presence being a factor. So, are the opinions of other bloggers correct or not?

Perhaps at the end of the day, it won’t matter. I have no idea if my reviews are read as I don’t receive feedback. Given that I’ve kept electronic and print copies of every review, I can always post them on my website. So, if Amazon starts deleting my reviews, I may simply exit and rise again, unfettered. Come to think of it, I kind of like that idea.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Why This Writer is Watching the Olympics

I’ve never been an athletic person. It’s something I made peace with a long time ago, but I do admire any athlete who excels at their sport, whether they win a medal or not. It’s always inspiring to see jaw-dropping performances and the athletes’ elation as they achieve what they’ve spent most of their lives (and probably a great dealing of money) training for.

As a writer, the drama, tension, and anticipation of unfolding events reminds me of a great action novel, where I keep turning the page to see what happens next. These days, I’m switching the TV on day and night for the same reason. Can anything be more suspenseful than watching the best in the world prepare for the 100 meter race?

Can there be anything more devastating than to watch unexpected crashes and injuries during events? I’ve been watching the Olympics for over forty years and I still hold my breath every time I see a gymnast start their balance beam routine.

The Olympics is filled with compelling stories that intersect with one another throughout the games. It’s emotional, political, sociological, and in this Olympics, very much environmental.

Am I going to give up some writing time to watch? You bet. It’s the best reality TV out there, and I never could resist a good story.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Purpose Vs. Point in Fiction

I used to be a fan of The Walking Dead TV series. I was totally enthralled with the first year, but not so much after the second, and even less so after the third. This had nothing to do with the gore and horror; after all, this is a zombie-focused survival story, so it comes with the territory. I also liked the characters and their backstories.

By the fourth season, I found the show increasing difficult to watch as more key characters were being picked off by zombies and others. Admittedly, it was interesting to see the change in the main characters as they learned to live with fear and loss, and sharpen their survival skills.

Clearly, the characters’ purpose was to stay alive, and there were plenty of internal and external conflicts providing huge obstacles to do so. So, why did I lose interest? Because I started to wonder what was the point of all this constant fighting and running away, only to settle somewhere else and have hopes dashed again?

Periodically, the series provided a glimmer of hope that there were safe places to go to, that someone competent and sane would be in charge and offer a safe haven, but efforts to find it inevitably failed, at least during the seasons I watched.

All of this got me to thinking about other stories, where the stakes are high, the conflict and tension immense, and the characters intriguing. Why did those stories work for me while this one didn’t? The answer is that there was always an end-game, a final success that would end the misery, leaving the hero triumphant, albeit physically and/or emotionally damaged.

Sure, some will argue that each storyline in The Walking Dead ends in triumph as Rick and company live to fight another day. But, I still say, why bother? During the years I watched, there wasn’t a cure on the horizon and adequate help was nonexistent.

I realize that everyone has their own definition of what a story’s point is. Why is something being written? What is the reader, or viewer, getting out of it? Is the satisfaction strong enough to keep watching?

My favorite genre is mysteries and they have been since I was a girl. I love that the bad guys get caught and that justice is served. For me this is emotionally satisfying. The story has a point as the protagonist struggles to find the killer and winds up triumphant.

Regardless of whether you’re writing scripts, novels, or nonfiction, make sure your stories have a point, or readers might not stick with you.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Where the Real Magic Happens

Back in April, I wrote a blog called The Joy and Purpose of Solitude, for which I received some positive comments by readers who related to my preference for solitude, especially when it comes to the need to create. An article in Quartz, which I mentioned in that blog, focused on how creative people understand the importance of being alone.

Recently, a second article in Brain Pickings, emphasized how important solitude is to the creative process. To paraphrase a quote by Adam Phillips in the piece, if we don’t unburden ourselves of daily noise and social strain, we can’t fully inhabit our interior life, which is the source of all art.

But I’ve discovered something since I wrote that blog. While I’ve managed to carve out more solitude for myself, it’s been a much bigger struggle to free my mind to tap into the creative part of me.

Just because I’m sitting alone in my quiet basement office, hands on the keyboard, doesn’t mean that thoughts are completely on the work at hand. There’s a lot going on in my life, as there is in almost everyone’s life, and sometimes I find it to struggle to put some of those things aside. It can be done, but I have to work at it.

There are tricks, though, many of which I’ve been using for years. For example, if I need to free my mind to focus on a particular scene I’ve been struggling to write, I’ll go for a walk, preferably near water.

Mundane household chores also help. Doing dishes, weeding the garden, folding laundry, sweeping, and vacuuming all allow me to relax my brain. It’s the main reason I’ve never hired a housekeeper. Sure, thoughts can easily stray to family and work issues, but if I start a mundane task right after I’ve been writing, the ideas and connections keep on coming for many minutes after I’ve walked away from the keyboard.

The important thing is to give yourself sufficient time to be alone. In other words, step away from social networking, put the smartphone down, and go try some non-writing activity…sports, knitting, gardening, music; housework, anything that will allow your mind to relax sufficiently to tap into the creative part of your brain. For many writers, that’s where the real magic happens.