Sunday, April 24, 2016

Crime Writing is Alive and Well in Canada

Having stepped up my writing efforts this year, I haven’t taken part in many writing events. But when I was asked by Crime Writers of Canada’s Vice-Chair, Cathy Ace, if I’d like to take part, how could I refuse? It’s been a couple of years since I attended one of these events and they were great fun in the past. I also wanted a chance to catch up with colleagues and our friendly Vancouver mystery booksellers, Dead Write Books. 

As anticipated, the night was terrific. I met a new author who’s just signed his first contract. Also, two of the shortlisted nominees (and in the same Unhanged category!) were in our audience and understandably delighted to hear their names read out.

This is a great time for Canadian crime writers. The talent in this country is among the best! If you’d like to know  more about  these folks, or if any of them live in your area, please check out the Crime Writers of Canada website.

You’ll find a list of bios, newly released titles and upcoming events. You’ll also find the complete list of shortlisted nominees in all eight categories. The winners will be announced at a gala in Toronto on Thursday, May 26 (more details are on the website).

The Author Ellis awards, by the way, were first launched in 1983 and named after the nom de travail of Canada’s last hangmen. As you can see,the award is a little wooden hanging man that is far cuter than gruesome.

Crime writing is alive and well in Canada, and given that May is National Crime Writing Month, I invite you to purchase a book by a Canadian crime writer.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

How Not To Sell Books At An Event -- reblogged from Marian Allen, Author Lady

So let's pretend you've written a book and had it published, and a bad man in a mask holds a gun on you and forces you to go to a book-selling event and take your books out of the box, but you don't want to sell any books. Here's how to almost guarantee you won't sell any:
  1. Put one copy of your book flat on the table. Do NOT put your book on a book stand or a rack or (assuming you fooled the bad man and didn't bring your display materials) don't prop one copy up against a stack of other copies. If people can't see the cover, they won't be tempted over to your table.
  2. Remain seated at all times. Do NOT stand up when you see people approach.
  3. Do NOT make eye contact. Do NOT smile.
  4. Never engage or attempt to engage people in conversation, not about your book, not about them.
  5. Never ask people what they like to read. If they reply that they like to read something you don't write but somebody else in the room does, don't point them to your fellow vendor. That might make the other vendor likely to point other people to YOU, and it might make your non-customer think I don't like this stuff, but I know somebody who does, and this writer is so darned nice, I think I'll buy this for my friend.
  6. Don't bring and display bookmarks or business cards so people who don't want to buy at the event can find your stuff later.
  7. Don't bring a tablecloth with you; make your table as dull and unattractive as possible.
  8. Never bring a partner so there's always somebody at the table. People can't buy books if there's nobody there to buy them from.
  9. Give no thought to what your book is about. Don't come up with a one- or two-sentence tagline, a ten-second elevator pitch, or a slightly longer synopsis. If somebody asks you what you write, you want to say something like, "Oh, you know. Stuff." Don't be tempted to ask somebody who has read and loved your book to help you with these pitches.
  10. Complain out loud about all the drawbacks of the venue, the organizer, and the attendees. Continue to complain after the event is over, but offer no feedback to the organizer privately or in the appropriate forum. That way, you won't be invited back to that venue, even if you bring your bad man with a gun with you.
Well, there's a start on what NOT to do if you want to sell books. Like, don't do this:
Author T Lee Harris.
T. Lee Harris writes -- and sells -- books.
Marian Allen, Author Lady
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Lovin' the Novella!

My publisher, Imajin Books, is launching a “Spring Shower Sale” from Apr. 17 – 23rd. Happily, my Evan Dunstan novella, DEAD MAN FLOATING is now on sale for $.99! This also seems like the perfect time to pay homage to novellas in general.

I have to say that some of the best stories I’ve ever read were shorter books, starting with the incredibly moving The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico. I loved this book in my early teens and I still love it today. More recently, I was completely captivated by Hugh Howey’s Wool.

As noted in a Publishers’ Weekly piece by Cynan Jones, many great stories weren’t full-length novels, including Breakfast at Tiffanys, Jekyll and Hyde, and The Great Gatsby. It’s interesting to note how many in Jones’ list wound up being movies.

As he also notes, writing a novel requires that every word counts. When it comes to novellas, reading isn’t a journey but an event with no room for digression. He also discusses the problem of labeling in the industry. Some publishers don’t want to tag a book as a novella, presumably because it won’t sell as well. Even Jones isn’t overly fond of the term novella, preferring to use “short novel”.

But here’s the thing, a good story is memorable, regardless of how it’s tagged and regardless of the length. The story will dictate how long it should be, and let’s forget about labeling. Novellas don’t require a huge time commitment for readers, and for this writer they are a heck of a lot of fun to write. I wouldn’t say they’re necessarily easier, though, as I’m currently working on the fifth draft of my second Evan Dunstan novella.

For those of you with busy lives who just don’t have time to read a 350 page novel, try a novella. In the writing world, shorter can be better and less is often more. Enjoy!


Sunday, April 10, 2016

Writing at Your Own Pace

This week I found a really great group of people on Kindleboards who have been contributing observations and experiences on a thread called “Slow WritersProgress Thread”. This thread (topic) is only one of hundreds on Kindleboards. Another is called the “1,000 Word a Day Club", where authors boast about their word count, which is often more than 1000 words.

If you’ve had a lousy week, month, or year, that thread can be a real downer. It can feel, if you let it, like the whole world is writing faster and better than you. That’s why I liked the Slow Writers thread because its contributors are just as committed to writing, but full-time day jobs and other things create struggles that they candidly share. I see people stating that they’ve written 200 today, or nothing at all this week, while others are saying that they write almost nothing weekdays, but devote Sundays to writing and can churn out 3,000 words over a weekend.

I also read a blog by thriller writer John Ellsworth who reports that he writes 2,000 words a day after editing the previous day’s work. He also researches while he writes so that by the time he’s finished his book, it’s in final form. He goes onto say that once he’s sent the book to his editor it takes 5 days to get it back and 3 hours for Ellsworth to make his revisions.

This type of productivity is mindboggling to me. At this time in my life, I can’t imagine writing that fast, but it’s a goal to shoot for, if I choose. And that’s my point. Every writer has to decide what they want from their writing life. Lots of books, put out quickly, or a slower pace where even one book a year is an impossible goal. The key is to find your own pace that produces quality work in whatever timeline you define as reasonable, or at least doable.

My publishers have released one of my books every year since 2011, which is fine. But I’ve found that my ambition changes along with my goals, output, and strategy. This year I may slow things down. Next year I may speed things up.

Whatever you read or hear from others has nothing to do with your own schedule, needs, and productivity. Find whatever pace works for you, and if it’s no longer satisfactory than do what you can to change it.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Joy and Purpose in Solitude

My father and his family were very social people. So, whenever my parents entertained or the family got together, I often felt like a fish out of water. I didn’t, and still don’t, enjoy a room full of noisy people talking over one another about things that didn’t matter to me. While I was growing up I heard occasional, barely whispered words such as “aloof”, “introverted” “shy” or “anti-social” thrown my way. This was certainly true at school as well. There were people in my world who truly believed that was something wrong with me for not being more social.

When I began writing and meeting other writers, I realized that a remarkably high proportion of colleagues (compared to high school classmates and my father's clan) felt the same about crowds, noise, and inane conversations. I realized that the preference for solitude was not only okay but that it brought each of us great satisfaction or even joy as we wrote those first lines or edited ongoing work. Many of my writing friends would rather work alone in their rooms than go to the mall, a party, or—dear god— a baby/bachelorette shower.

It was no surprise therefore to learn that scientific research has shown that creative people need solitude. An article in Quartz revealed what many of us writers have known for some time. Solitude has nothing to do with being bored or being lonely. In fact, it’s an essential component for any type of creativity. Thinking about our writing projects, bringing up emotions and memories, making connections between characters and plots and subplots and themes is essential to writing a book, and occurs best in solitude.

Writers know that this is not as easy as it sounds. As the article points out, even creative people will often go out of their way to avoid solitude because it forces them to look at things they might not want to. The experience can be uncomfortable and downright painful as emotions and memories surface. Facing a blank page can feel overwhelming at times.

I’ve come across a lot of writers who comment on various groups and forums several times a day. Others attend countless seminars, workshops, and other events. I’m sure that some activities are helpful and rev up the creative juices, but to me moderation is the key. Too many of them become a huge drain on your time.

My part-time job serves many purposes, but truthfully, one of those is to avoid being a full-time writer. I did that for three years. It was productive but difficult. I’m not ready to try again yet. More telling is that my output is nearly the same as it was when I had no day job. The promotion/marketing aspect has dwindled, but I accept that.

For now, I’m where I want to be. My days are structured but I value my solitude and my writing time much more than I did during those three years. It’s allowed me to work more efficiently and to reduce time sucks. Of course, I still get out socially. After all, it’s not that I don’t like being with others, I really do, but just not every day. My day job, writing time, and social activities are becoming more balanced, and that’s a good thing.