Sunday, March 29, 2015

Scratching That Itch

From the time I was a little girl, I always felt I was different. I knew I was emotional. Sometimes, I could barely control my emotions. Tears would come at the most inopportune moments and I didn’t understand why.

During my dating days, I occasionally heard someone else say, “You’re different”. It took a while to understand that this was often meant as a compliment. Of course, by that time I was well aware that I didn’t fit in with cliques of people.

In my mid-twenties, I was working as a secretary for an accounting firm and writing fiction. Writing was immensely satisfying. It also helped me understand what was different about me, why I preferred to write than socialize (although I did my share of disco dancing and pub nights back in the day). I began to appreciate the fact that I was a creative person, that creativity meant more to me than parties, hanging out, or shopping. Needless to say, this didn’t win me any popularity contents and, truth be told, I lost a couple of friends along the way. Yet, I felt compelled to keep writing, to express myself on the page, and to eventually share it with others.

By the time, I reached my late twenties and work associates learned that I was a writer, I wasn’t that surprised when one of them said, “I could tell right away that you are a creative person”. Maybe he was just trying to be nice, or thoughtful, or insightful. As it turns out, though creative people do have definite traits, according to a blog in EliteDaily. Three of them are:

. they see the world differently than others
. they are introverts and tend to be loners
. they’re more emotional

After nearly six decades on this planet, this is hardly news to me. The blog also confirmed what I’ve long believed. Creative people absolutely need to create. As the blog states, if they don’t, it’s like an itch that can’t be scratched.

I think one of the reasons so many people are writing or pursuing singing careers and other artistic endeavors is because they acknowledge that itch. There’s also a demographic element at play here. In general, baby boomers now have more time to explore their creativity. Experts claim that everyone is creative. It’s just that the itch is much stronger for some than others. Sure, many artists want to make money from their creativity, but I doubt that this is the sole driving force for truly creative folks.

Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to find and enjoy the company of people who have the same type of itch. Surrounding myself with writers means that I’m not so different anymore…and that’s just fine.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Interesting Survey on Ebook Pricing

Ebook pricing has been a source of great debate for well over five years. Trends have come and gone, starting with the $.99 full-length novel. When readers began to realize that self-publishers, rather than traditional publishers, were pricing their books that way, the cheap price, referred to as the $.99 ghetto, began to get a bad rap. So, the bargain price became $1.99. That too lost some appeal for the same reason.

Over time, indie writers have gradually increased their prices and traditional publishers have slowly lowered theirs. These days, a $4.99 novel could be published by either an indie author or traditional publisher. In other words, book quality can no longer be judged on price alone, nor should it be. Still, the question remains for many new authors, what to charge for their first ebooks, then the second, third, and so on?

Recently, the Fussy Librarian site posted the results of a survey taken by 1,200 readers, asking how much readers think is a fair price to pay for a full novel in ebook format. The results ran the gamut. The largest percentage of respondents (20.6) stated that $3.99 was fair, followed by 18% indicating that $4.99 was reasonable. 16.5%  believed that $2.99 was reasonable. Only 6% of respondents stated that all ebooks should be free, while another 6.4% stated that they would pay more than $5.99 for a novel. Now, I wouldn’t recommend choosing your book’s price exclusively by what the Fussy Librarian survey revealed, but it is another piece of information that indie authors might find useful.

This validates a concern about my ebooks. My publisher set the price and it’s too high. Although, when I checked my Kobo ranking this morning for my first Casey Holland mystery, The Opposite of Dark, it was at #741, from over 32,000 a couple of weeks ago. Of course, that could mean that only one person bought a copy. Anyhow, all four books in the series are set at $8.99 and the ranking for the other three mysteries are over 28,000.

On Amazon, the four books range from $6.25 to $7.82, and again, the first book has the highest at about 800,000. Still, all of these prices are much higher than they would be if I was doing this myself. These days, I’m working on novellas and a Casey Holland short story collection, which I will release on my own. Pricing will be crucial. Since the Fussy Librarian survey will also be addressing the issue of reasonable prices for books under 125 pages, I’m really curious to read the results.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Nibbled to Death by Ducks -- reblogged from

When somebody is overwhelmed a a multitude of small things, they sometimes say, "It's like being nibbled to death by ducks." Well, say each detail of your story is a duck.

The kind of car your main character drives is a duck. How their house is furnished is a duck. Where they got that clock on the mantle is a duck. What their back yard looks like is a duck. How they got their name is a duck.

You get my drift. I love ducks, me. I don't feel like I can really write a story until I've played enough games of Solitaire and stared absently into space long enough that a sufficient quantity of ducks have collected to make the setting and characters real enough to interest me.

Details – mundane details – what kind of transportation is used, how status is marked, what the rules of proper etiquette are, what utensils they use to cook and eat – ground characters in reality for me. But each of those details is a duck.

Each of those details will nibble a little bit of the reader's attention, if you don't deploy them carefully. Mundane details are just that: mundane, everyday, unremarkable. So the only way to deploy them is without emphasis or remark, as a matter of common knowledge or in passing.

Much has been said about J. K. Rowling's writing, and I come down firmly in the "for it" camp. One of the things that blew my mind about her Harry Potter books, especially the first few, is how many mundane details she just tossed off like, oh, here, this old thing.

An even better example is Katie Waitman's THE MERRO TREE. Be warned, though: If I had realized the amount of hot and steamy male-on-male interalien sex there would be, I wouldn't have read the book. That would have been my sad loss, because it's amazingly imaginative quite apart from those bits. On every page, there are at least three references to things you don't know, referenced off-hand, unimportant and unexplained but clear from the context. Brilliant.

If you bring a detail into the foreground, please make sure there are at least two excellent reasons for it. I'll talk more about that in a future post. For now, please allow me to urge you not to turn all your ducks loose and quacking all over your manuscript. If you do, you risk your reader feeling nibbled to death.

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

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Knowing Yourself as a Writer

For someone who’s known the value and importance of having a steady income since age thirteen, I have a fairly spotty day-job resumé. But this is by choice more than circumstance. Since my early twenties, while I was working as a secretary for an insurance adjuster’s firm, I knew I wanted a more interesting and challenging working life.

I thought that a criminology diploma would lead me to a solid career path, but it didn’t. After obtaining that diploma, I left home for a year of travel in Europe to think about what I wanted to do with my life. I started writing short stories during those months. By the time I returned, I knew I wanted to be a writer, but I still need a regular income. So, it was back to secretarial work for four years before I decided to put more effort into writing than a tired half hour every evening. I began to take temporary assignments for a personnel service. That worked well for a while, and then came marriage and kids.

As it turns out, pattern I set in the early 80’s never really changed. It was work for a while, quit, write and publish a novel, then return to work until the next novel was ready. If I had found a work environment and job that I really loved, I probably would have stayed but that didn’t happen.

Along the way, I’ve come to understand that I’m not one of those writers who dreams of writing full time. In fact, I had that opportunity from 2010 to 2013. While it was an incredibly productive time, I began to find myself wondering what the rest of the world was up to. As I reflected on the twenty years I’d spent writing whenever time allowed, it also became quite clear that most of my work has been inspired or based on real-life experiences. It came from jobs, motherhood, and volunteerism. I get inspiration, ideas, and even ambition from leaving the house to see what the rest of the world is up to.

It’s taken time to know myself as a writer, to appreciate how and when I work best. It’s important that every writer ask themselves if full-time is really the dream, or what they think it should be? Are dreams being clearly assessed against real-life needs, aptitude (do you like working alone day after day?), and efficient work habits? The goal is to know yourself as a writer. To come to terms with what’s right for you and, if possible, find ways to make it work.

I’m not alone in this process of discovery. I remember taking a workshop at the Surrey International Writers Conference conducted by Kristine Katheryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith. One of the points they raised was to ask ourselves what kind of people we are when it came to risk? Were we adventurous enough to risk full-time freelancing, or did we need the security of a steady income? At that time, I truly believed that it was every writers goal to write full-time, (once they'd obtain some financial security) and create a large body of work. Obviously, I changed my mind.

I came across a blog by Mary RobinetteKowal who posed the question about whether writers should work full time. Basically, she drew the same conclusion. Know who you are and do what makes you happy.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Those Sneaky Publishing Scams

At book events throughout the year, I’m often approached by new writers who are seeking advice about becoming published. These folks aren’t only asking about finding a traditional publisher, but how to self-publish or find a publishing service.

There are all kinds of publishing services, some straightforward who deliver exactly what they’ve promised. And then there are others. For instance, did you know that the infamous PublishAmerica, which received numerous public complaints from unhappy writers is now known as America Star Books?

You might have heard that Barnes & Nobles launched a self-publishing platform called Nook Press in October. They offer editing, cover design, and limited print-on-demand. But did you know that this platform is actually operated by another infamous publishing service called Author Solutions? This revelation comes from the folks at Lets GetDigital. They also claim that Barnes & Noble didn’t mention the connection in their press release or on their website. If this is true, then yikes! How would you feel about signing a contract with one company only to realize that it’s actually being operated by an outfit with a terrible reputation in the writing community?

Publishing scams are so prevalent that Indies Unlimited is devoting the month of March to informing authors about these and other things. They will be exploring options for getting your book and/or money back if you’ve been scammed, and to let writers know that there is a writing life after a bad experience.

Publishing choices can be tricky, but it helps to listen to others who’ve been through both good and bad experiences. The goal, as always, is to make an informed choice, so it might not be a bad idea to take a look at Indies Unlimited this month, but do your research. Take a look at other viewpoints and options as well.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Six Things Canadian Authors Should Know About Publishing

Curtis Sittenfeld recently wrote a blog titled “24 Things No One Tells You About Publishing”, which inspired author Scott Berkun to respond with “28 (Better) Things No One Tells You AboutPublishing”. Both blogs are terrific, mixing humor with poignancy with business and philosophy. Many points I agreed with, a few made me pause to think, and one or two I disagreed with.

The blogs made me realize that there are specific issues that Canadian authors need to consider. Given that a lot has been said in the other blogs, I’ve listed only six points.

. Despite the comments of a few publishers, authors, and agents I’ve heard at conferences over the years, it’s okay to use Canadian scenes, characters, and references. Plenty of American readers are happy to read stories set in Canada. The challenge has been convincing publishers of this. Of course, not everyone will take to your setting, but to ignore the unique and gorgeous geography in our backyards to appease an American publisher is a missed opportunity.

. If your published book is in certain Canadian libraries, you might be entitled to take part in the Public Lending Right (PLR) Program through the Canada Council for the Arts. There’s a list of rules for co-authors, illustrators, and so forth. If you qualify, you could receive a cheque every February based on random samples taken from larger libraries across the country. To learn more about how it works, go to

. You might also qualify for remuneration for published articles, short stories, books, etc. through the Access Copyright program. You can learn the details at

. Based on my self-publishing experiences, libraries in smaller cities and towns that aren’t part of a larger library system will buy your book directly. A professional query letter, flyer, and ordering information were all that I needed. Library wholesalers will also buy books from indie publishers, although expect them to ask for discounts.

. Doing business with Amazon can be costly, particularly if you have a larger book. They ask for a 55% discount, and you pay the shipping costs, and it isn’t cheap. Don’t rely on for print sales. If you don’t have a U.S. post box, it’s a pain.

. Finally, if you’re going to be a Canadian fiction author, you’d better have another income stream. It’s a fact of life for 99% of authors. But you already knew that, right?