Monday, November 25, 2013

When Good Things Happen

Anyone who’s been writing a while knows that the writing life isn’t easy. It often feels that there are more setbacks than milestones. It’s part of the biz. We slowly type those words on a blank screen or scribble words on a lined notepad, only to find within seconds, minutes, or days that what we’ve written isn’t nearly good enough, so we revise and revise. And then we take it—if we’re lucky—to a trusted group of readers to learn that the piece needs more work.

It’s the same with submitting a story. Once that new work is ready to submit to a willing editor, agent, or publisher, we often find the same type of setbacks and frustrations or worse, total indifference to the work. Again, it’s part of the writer’s life. It’s also the part that sends many folks packing onto new ventures, deciding they don’t need the aggravation, and who can blame them?

But every once in a while good things happen. Then it’s time to celebrate and reflect on how far you’ve come and, above all, to pay it forward. I’ve just experienced such a month, beginning with the news that my publisher, TouchWood Editions offered me a contract for the fourth Casey Holland novel, The Deep End, which will be published in September 2014. I’ve also just completed four weekends of selling books at Christmas craft fairs and, to my surprise, I broke my own record. I’m grateful for the many book buyers who bought copies because they believe in supporting local authors.

Lastly, I received word that my essay, “The Wheels on the Bus” that discusses the Casey Holland series has appeared in Mystery Readers Journal, Murder in Transit issue. I’ve never made it into a national magazine for mystery readers before and again I’m grateful.

When things like this happen, it’s all the more important to do what I can to help other writers. So, this weekend, I bought another writer’s book, I told yet another writer about Access Copyright, which he’d never heard of, and I honoured someone’s request to like their page. This is only the beginning. In my experience, writers represent a close community and we’re stronger when we help each other.

After all this, I've reconnected with the inspiration and the drive to keep working hard Most of all, I learned how the importance of gratitude and to keep paying it forward.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Writing A Novel, 250 Words At A Time

I'm doing NaNoWriMo this year. I did it in years past, "failed" it a couple of years, and didn't try at all last year. This year, I had the silly notion to use it to write something I've never done before: a Romance novel.

According to my impeccable reasoning, if I'm attempting something I have absolutely no practice in and no proven competence in, I have a license to fail. It's not only allowed to be of poor quality because it's NaNo, it nearly guaranteed to be of poor quality. How's that for taking off the pressure? It's like being dipped in Invulnerabilium or something.

So I'm having fun this year. And I'm keeping up with my word count.

Sometimes, it's hard. But you know what I do? Yes, the title of this post totally telegraphs the message: I tell myself I need to write 250 words. That's all, just 250 words. Sometimes that seems like a lot. Sometimes I do it one. word. at. a. time. But I seldom write just 250 words. Because the time comes when I count my words, and I have 276. If I have 276, I might as well try for 500. If I have 500, I might as well go for 1000. By that time, I'm nearly always on a roll, and I can exceed, hit, or come close to my word count.

I can't guarantee what I'll have when NaNo is over. It'll probably be an unusable mess.

But you know what? I don't really believe that. This is just too much fun to be a total loss.

Marian Allen
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Plenty of Bookstore Closures in the UK

A few days ago, the Guardian reported a 42% increase in the number of bookstores that closed in the UK last year. That is a whopping 98 stores, some of which had been around for decades.

Naturally, there is more than one reason for all these closures. The article says that part of it is due to deep discounts and the digital book market. But the secondhand book market, particularly in the world of academic textbooks, has soared, and Amazon’s secondhand marketplace definitely hasn’t helped. This is one of the few articles I’ve read that also lists digital piracy as part of the problem. Additionally, the end of the Net Book Agreement (NBA) in 1997 was a game changer.

Originating in 1899, the NBA agreement essentially allowed publishers to set the retail price themselves. Each publisher agreed not to do business with anyone who tried to discount books. The retailers thought this was fine because it wouldn’t hurt their bottom line either. But then things began to change.

Some people believed that the NBA was a restrictive practice, so the issue was re-examined in 1982. The agreement was upheld because it allowed publishers to subsidize the work of “potentially important” authors. You can read more about how the agreement unravelled in the 1990’s through the link provided in the Guardian’s article.

It saddens me to see so many bookstores go. I was raised with bookstores, but the chains look far different from the stores I remember, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Although I’ve embraced the digital age, by both buying and selling e-books, I was hoping that more booksellers would find ways to adapt. Maybe it was simply wishful thinking. Clearly, the UK is in a state of flux and some people clearly blame Amazon’s arrival. But maybe it all comes down to re-evaluating what customers want, and trying to accommodate them a little better. I do know that the model of “we’ve always done things this way so why should it change?” just doesn’t cut it anymore.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Welcome to the November Crush

If you have been writing for a while, you’ve probably noticed that November is one of the busiest—if not the busiest—months of the year for writers. Not only are writers’ groups in full swing, but there are plenty of readings, book signings, conferences, and festivals to attend. November 1st also marks the beginning of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which was created to encourage writers to write a novel in one month. I have a number of colleagues who’ve taken part, with varying degrees of success, and honestly, I admire them. I haven’t had the courage to try, yet.

For those of us actively engaged in selling books, November is also our busiest month of the year. Christmas craft fair season is upon us and I’ve taken part in two events so far in November. I have two more go, and this is a slower month for me. Last year, I took part in ten events over a six week period. Fun, but tiring!

So, if you’re starting to feel a little fatigued, how about pulling back a bit and sitting down to read? If you want to challenge yourself, why not tackle one of the fifty difficult books listed by Emily Temple? She describes these books as really long, or difficult, or with intense or upsetting subject matter. In some cases, there is also brilliantly written pose that requires effort and serious mind expansion. Intriguing, and a little scary, isn’t it?

Some of the titles you’ll be familiar with, such as Finnegan’s Wake and The Sound and the Fury, but others will be new. Temple provides a description with each title, so sit back and enjoy her list, then try one, if you dare!

Meanwhile, on my website’s News and Events page, I have a list of upcoming craft fairs, and big news about a new publishing contact, which you can find at

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Too Much Too Fast is Bad News

I came across two thought-provoking blogs this week that had me wanting to shout “Yes!” One by Robert Bidinotto and the other by Libby Fischer Hellman both discuss why publishing a huge number of books over a short period of time is a bad marketing strategy for authors.

Let’s back up a bit here. On a forum I belong to, I’ve noticed that whenever an indie author bemoans dwindling sales, the response from others is to write more books, or write in a new “hot” genre. There are indie authors who truly believe that publishing three or four books a year is vital to success. The reasoning might sound good in theory...increased volume means increased visibility which means increased sales, but it’s not happening for a growing number of authors.

As Binindotto points out, authors are actually seeing reduced sales, referring to indie author Mike Dennis, as one example. Dennis provided the grim stats on a forum, which you can find on Binindotto’s blog. Bidinotto is quite right when he says that successful selling isn’t dependent on volume but on writing a distinctive book. Note that he doesn’t say a literary masterpiece, but rather one that has a unique plotting and/or characters. I absolutely agree.

He also refers to Libby Fischer Hellman’s blog, where she states flat out that what she calls “binge publishing” has to stop. The market is over-saturated and only about 10% of available reading material is actually read. I’m guessing that a lot of that is free downloads. Another important point she’s made is that so much writing and publishing is leading to exhaustion and anxiety for authors. It’s too much too fast. What happened to letting ideas simmer over time? What happened to carefully developing the best plot possible, and don’t get me started on the number of authors who refuse to spend a penny on experienced editors who understand the craft. As Hellman says, it’s nuts out there and the market is not sustainable. I think this is why so many authors are seeing decreasing sales despite the growing number of books on their CVs.

As someone who couldn’t possibly write two novels a year, it feels good to know that I can relax a bit. For a while, I was putting too pressure on myself to produce lots of books when I’d much rather take my time to write something unique and memorable. I encourage you to read both blogs. They're terrific.