Like a Reality Show, but for Authors

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Photo Credit: Reader’s Entertainment Magazine

I remember reading a long time ago about a reality show in Italy in which writers competed on TV for a publishing deal. I think. I don’t know the name of the series or how it panned out, but if my memory serves me right, then the writers were tested by writing just about anything you can think of. Well, I’ve now discovered something even better. Swoon Reads.

The premise of this Macmillan YA imprint is simple, publish what the people want. I’ve literally just discovered the company minutes before sitting down to write this, but it appears that authors simply submit a manuscript and readers can sample it, rate, and comment on what they read. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that it sounds no different from what you can do on Amazon or the Barnes and Noble site. And that’s true, but those books are already published. These aren’t. You’re making the decision.

This is like a reality show and a Kickstarter all-in-one! Without having to give any money! I think this was a mighty fine move by Macmillan and although no one really knows how the eventual published books will sell (the first is set for release Aug. 26) I’m thinking they’ll do okay.

Lastly, before you go off submitting your newly polished manuscript to the site’s readers you should know that nearly 300 manuscripts have been submitted and the number of books accepted for publication is still in the single digits. It isn’t easy but hey, publishing never is.

Now tell me what you think of Swoon Reads using feedback from readers to decide which books deserve publishing. I think it’s great, what about you?

Here’s a New York Times article discussing the first book to be released by the imprint.

Interested in taking a look at the first book? Do so here.

Do Book Fairs Still Happen?

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I know I’ve mentioned on here a few times how much I looked to forward to book fairs when I was younger. I mean, how could you not? It was like bringing a mini bookstore to your own school. But I left my elementary school back in 2003 for the more grown up version of public school known as junior high. The building had two gyms and a HUGE cafeteria and even a second floor. How bad could it be, right? But now I’m off topic.

One of the major differences between elementary and middle school was the time spent in the library. If I remember correctly, from third to fifth grade half of my school time was in ELA and the other half was in Math/Science/Social Studies. So it makes sense that we would frequent the library as a class quite often. But with middle school came lockers and tardies and SEVEN classes! So each teacher had a very limited amount of time with students, which left time for maybe one or two trips to the library each year with your class. And definitely no book fairs happening in middle school.

Now I’m wondering if they still happen at all. I think Scholastic used to run the ones at my school, and considering that they have the US publishing rights to HP and THG I don’t see how they would be struggling mightily as a publisher, but I really have no idea. All I can say is that book fairs were one of my favorite parts of elementary school. I believe we had two each year and I’d always make my parents spend money on books or posters or bookmarks or just ANYTHING I found interesting.

Two easy questions. How did you feel about book fairs when you were younger? And do you have any idea if they still happen?

Need Some Motivation to get Back to Writing?

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Photo Credit: WeBook Blog

Well you won’t find any here. Let me ask you something real quick. No matter your particular definition, do you consider yourself a writer? If yes, then what difference do a few meaningless words from a complete stranger make? None. It really annoys me when I see people talking about the “writing community.” Uhh no. Yeah you might have some people on here or Twitter or in your hometown who help you with your writing, but at the end of the day you’re both shooting for the exact same goal of getting published. You think if it came down to either you or them they wouldn’t abandon you immediately to make sure that it was them? We both know every logical writer would do it in a heartbeat. So all this crap about the “writing community” is no different from any other type of relationship. It’s okay while everyone is getting something out of it, and I get nothing out of offering up some words of encouragement. While you get nothing out of those meaningless words strung together. You shouldn’t need some random person to get you writing in the first place, then you’re just needy and probably an attention whore.

Who cares what I say or what some other blogger/writer says, if you need motivation to get writing then you shouldn’t have to look any further than yourself.

Writing as a Hobby

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Photo Credit: I’m Just Sharing

Okay guys, I have no idea if this will turn into one of my more rant-y posts, but I’ll write whatever I write. By the way, I just realized that I start a lot of posts with “okay guys.” I guess it’s almost routine now. So now let me get on topic. What do you think I mean by this post’s title? Honestly, what do you think? I think it’s fairly straightforward what I’m getting at here.

You see, I’ve never operated under the guise that writing would ever be a career for me. I mean, sure I decided to give myself a full 19 months after graduation to get some writing done, but I’ve never imagined myself on book tours or bestseller lists. Maybe you have, not me. I’m not stupid. I think my writing is okay, but I am well aware of the fact that there are many more writers out there who are simply better. It doesn’t matter what I write or how often I write or any of that stuff that you constantly hear will make you a better writer, because at the end of the day I’m just okay. And I’m perfectly fine with that.

I want to take you back for a second to May 2013. Graduation stuff is in full swing and the time is fast approaching for me to put up or shut up when it comes to writing. I’d been telling people for months about my goal of writing books, and now there would be some bit of expectation from many of them for me to get something done. I’m taking you back to this particular time because someone who probably knows me better than any other person told me very clearly that she believed I should write as a hobby in my free time and get a real job. I have to be honest here, I hated that she said this at the time. This was someone I’d known since high school and we’d remained in constant contact in the years since and she was telling me that I shouldn’t focus on writing. I’ve written about this girl and her advice on here before, and it appears that once again I’m going to acknowledge that she was right. If I’d had more people like her I might have a job by now.

Anyway, back to today. I’ll probably start writing again eventually, but I’m about to completely reverse a decision I made back when I began writing my second book. I wrote a post about it last year but I’m not going to go find it. I said that under no circumstances would I self-publish. And I probably still won’t, but I think it’s safe to say that I have no desire at this point to pursue representation with an agent or traditional publishing. The book I’ve been “writing” will eventually get written, but who cares if a thousand people read it or just me? I’ll write because it’s something I enjoy and feel that I’m slightly above average at, but I’m not sitting here fooling myself into thinking that I’m some super writer who is going to one day make it big by writing crime novels. That isn’t happening.

And what gets me the most is that I see writers on Twitter tweeting ALL DAY LONG every single day about how much they’ve written or what they’re working on or something about writing and I just laugh. Because let’s face it, a tiny tiny tiny tiny tiny sliver of the writing population will eventually secure a publishing deal. Something like 0.05%. And these select few have won writing awards in college and published papers and they make the move easily into fiction. And it seems like every writer seems to think they’re within that percentage of the population, whether or not they’ve even finished college or ever written anything of substance. Folks, there’s a reason your bookshelves aren’t full of books written by high school or college kids, so stop with your crazy thinking that you can do it without all that.  Yeah you might be a good writer, but you are not getting a publishing deal. Not now, at least. Most likely never.

I realize that most of you likely work full-time or maybe you’re in school or something and you also happen to write, but if you work minimally and you’re not in school, well you should probably find yourself a career. Cause writing isn’t it.

And I’m ready for all of you to tell me how just because I don’t think I’m good enough that I shouldn’t think that about everyone or how writers don’t have to have a degree or blah blah blah. Go right ahead.

Ever Been to an Author Signing?

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I mentioned in a post earlier this week that I’ve been to a couple of author events. They were for authors T. Jefferson Parker and Steve Hamilton. Now you may not know either of them, but they have both won two Edgars. I’ve written about the Edgars and they are a HUGE deal when it comes to mystery writing. And both of these guys have won an award twice. Not an easy feat.

Let me tell you about the actual events. They were both held in a small indie bookstore by the name of Murder by the Book here in Houston. And let me tell you, ALL of the big mystery authors who go on tour come to this store. There are a couple other indie stores in Houston who have author events, but I’d have to think that this is the most successful. Anyway, the events I attended were pretty much exactly the same. Both times the author spoke for maybe 20 minutes or a half hour and then started signing everyone’s books. The 20 minutes may not seem like much, but if you listen you can learn quite a bit about them. I know I did.

The best part for me was definitely when they signed my books. I think I got four signed by both. I don’t feel like snapping pictures, but trust me that they’re signed. AND another great thing that I learned was that both of these famous authors who have surely sold millions of books are no different from anyone else you might know. T. Jefferson Parker helped me get my hands on a couple of his books that were unavailable from any of the major retailers. And Steve Hamilton snapped a photo! How freaking cool were they?

I have some minimal experience as an author on the other side. Maybe some of you know that I had a signing at my university all the way back in November. It happened just a couple of weeks after my book was released and I had a lot of fun. I sold all but four of the books I’d taken with me. And I’d had classes with a bunch of the guys who were pretty happy to see that I’d written a book literally right out of school. Of course, I never heard anything from any of the 21 people who bought one that day. So who knows what they thought of the actual writing.

The point of this post is to tell you all that I think author events or signings are actually pretty great. I don’t think they necessarily drive many new readers the author’s way, but I’m certain that plenty of his or her regular readers will attend events year after year. And it gives the author the opportunity to interact with readers in a manner that social media or other public appearances just don’t allow.

Two things: Have you ever been to an author event? Or have you ever had one of your own?

This was from my signing. It was CJ Majors Day.

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This is NYT bestselling author Steve Hamilton. Oh my goodness. This was three years ago, I was teeny tiny with braces and just ugh.

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Attending a Writing Conference?

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Once again I have to thank Amy for suggesting that I write about this. I just steal her ideas whenever I wake up and don’t feel like using my brain to come up with something else.

As I’m sure you all know, writing conferences happen all across the country pretty much year round. I’ve never been to one, but I’d think authors, publishers, and agents would all be in attendance. Probably editors too. There might be lectures and writing contests and other things to make it interesting. That all sounds fine and dandy, but what do you get from attending a conference?

This is a question that I’ll likely need your help with. Cause I don’t know. I mean, I suppose you get to meet all those people who are already working in the industry. And you might get some writing advice. But is that it? Cause I’ve looked into one that takes place in Austin every year and it is expensive. I’m just wondering if these conferences are even worth what you pay to get inside the door.

I mean, how much can an unknown author really get out of an event that lasts a weekend or a few days? Maybe there are people out there who claim that they got some great insight into the world of publishing during that time, but I just don’t see it.

I don’t know if this is considered a writing conference, but the only one I’d really want to attend is probably Book Expo America. What about you? Have you ever been to a writing conference? What did you take away from it?

Knowing Your Audience

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Photo Credit: Images USA

How well do you know the target audience for your book(s)? I’m of course not meaning how well do you know individual readers of your work, I’m talking about the demographic that reads books similar to yours over and over again. I’d like to think I know mine fairly well. And honestly, I’m sitting here trying to remember if I’ve written about this before now and I have no idea. So if you’re reading this thinking that you’ve read it before, well you’re not in the Twilight Zone. Or maybe we both are? Yikes.

Let me tell you what some very keen observations have told me about my target audience. Have you ever been to an author signing? Well they’re pretty cool if you’re not among hundreds of people. I’ve been to a few. Both crime writers. Both NYT bestsellers as of today. I met Steve Hamilton and T. Jefferson Parker. I have all but just a couple of their books. But I’m not here to talk about the events or what those two were like, I want to tell you about what I saw there.

This is very unscientific, but you use what you can, right? I would say both events were attended by maybe 50 people. It’s hard to say because the store changed its layout sometime in the months between these two events. Anyway, what I saw was approximately 90% White women. Who were aged 50+. And based on nothing at all, who I thought were college educated. I could probably come up with some other characteristics, but that’s all I focus on.

And I’m thinking that this type of person is a big reader of crime novels across the country. I don’t work in a bookstore or anything like that, but I do read other blogs and I have occasionally had someone buy books from me at work. And they fit the demographic I’ve described exactly.

Now that I claim to know my target audience, now what? Well, the only way I can think that knowing this has influenced my writing is the fact that Andrew Banks is obviously white. But other than that, the whole “write for your audience” thing people say is stupid to me. I write whatever I feel like.

Two things: Do you know your target audience? And how does this affect your writing?

The Trusty Beta Reader

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I would think writers of all levels of experience and success would have had some kind of interaction with beta readers. If not, their book is likely terrible and has never seen the light of day. Yikes. I’m already off to a rant-y start to this post.

I think most writers would agree that beta readers are an important part of the book writing process that should be taken seriously. But are beta readers necessarily as important as one might think? For example, let’s say you have a group of ten readers. Let’s say that six of those ten volunteered to read your work. Let’s say that two of those ten never read your genre. And the last two of the ten are your close friends. See what I mean? The first six are very likely to give you positive feedback because they either know your writing or know you or like reading your blog. That isn’t to say they aren’t being honest, but people have a tough time being objective when they like or have a relationship with the person. Your two close friends have heard nothing but stuff about your writing for the last year, they’re not going to shoot down your dreams. And the final two likely won’t like your book much because they don’t like any other books like it.

There are a million different scenarios I could play out, but I think I’ve made my point. The feedback given by beta readers is not always because of the book. There is always something that will sway their judgment operating in the background. Even it it’s unintentional.

My experience with beta readers may or may not have been like that of other writers. First off, I knew all of mine because at the time my blog wasn’t nearly as successful as it is now and I wouldn’t have felt comfortable sending my work out to some stranger. I sent my book to nine people, but only four actually read it. Shows how great the people I know are. And the feedback was all over the place. From just four people. Just goes to show that readers are always different.

The only thing I can say about using betas is that you should know exactly what you want from them from the start. I had a list of questions about the plot and characters and just about everything that I had them answer when they finished their reading. I have no idea how other writers do this, but I thought it worked well for me.

My current plan is use all bloggers for my current WIP, but even then the bloggers I have in mind all interact with me regularly. They’re really no different from friends, but at least they’re fellow writers and perhaps this will push their bias aside.

Tell me about your experience with beta readers or about your philosophy when using them.

 

Celebrity Book Deals

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Photo Credit: Expats Post

We all know that it is nearly impossible to get your foot in the door of the publishing industry, right? Yet I’m sure you see all these celebrities getting book deals left and right. Let me tell you what I think about this.

First off, I can definitely understand why a publisher would offer a book deal to a well-known celebrity…money. At least that’s what I’d hope is motivating them. They think that a book “written” by a well-known celebrity is a sure fire bestseller and money maker. As I’m writing this I’m not going to check to see if this actually rings true because it may just make me angry.

But let me name off a few celebrities who have recently gotten book deals or have actually released a book. Kendall and Kylie Jenner. Shaq. Alex Morgan. Derek Jeter. Did you know Simon and Schuster gave Jeter his own imprint? Yes. These are just the ones off the top of my head. Before I continue, let me just say that I’m not here saying that any of these celebrities are incapable of helping during the creative process, I’m just pointing out that major publishers are giving book deals to people who aren’t actually writing the books.

How does that saying about the publishing industry go? Something like the super writers make it possible for publishers to take chances on lesser known authors. Something like that? But it appears that the super writers are making it possible for publishers to take chances on celebrity authors. And let’s face it, some of the time the publishers will be right and they’ll have an instant bestseller on their hands, but not always.

So while you’re working away on that final draft of your book or trying to perfect your query letter, just know that the publishers you wish to be published by have allowed some celebrity to skip the entire process just because of their name.

NOTE: I’m about 99% sure that Alex Morgan actually writes her books, props to her!

But how do you feel about celebrities getting major book deals without ever writing a single word on a page?

Saturday Selects: How do you perceive law enforcement?

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Photo Credit: A-T Solutions

Okay guys, Saturday Selects is a series of posts I write on the first Saturday of each month in which I write about something completely unrelated to books and writing and all that fun stuff. I’ve written about blogging, Derek Jeter’s final season, Jennifer Lawrence, guys, tattoos, country music, and now today you get to read a little bit about law enforcement.

Before I begin, if you read my blog at all, then you may or may have not read my post from earlier in the week in which I discussed how I came to the decision to work in the criminal justice system. It’s not funny or meant to be entertaining, but it’s definitely one of the better posts I’ve written. Maybe you want to read it? Click here if you do. I’m mentioning this because the first job that comes to mind when anyone thinks criminal justice will be a police officer.

Anyway, let me get to my actual post.

How do you perceive law enforcement? That’s what this post is about, and I really want you to take a second to consider your response. Hey, I know plenty of people who claim to hate the police because their uncle or whomever is in prison for something they “didn’t” do. I also know people who trust the police absolutely. I’m not going to tell you that you should be on one side or the other. I’m just going to share with you what I think of the perception of law enforcement.

We live in an age in which any police activity operating within the public eye will almost certainly be recorded or watched by some onlooker. Think about the fact that you can’t scroll down your Facebook News Feed without seeing some video about a police officer who abused his or her power or used excessive force. You can’t. These videos are everywhere.

There was a huge case that happened in Houston within the last decade in which several officers were recorded beating a suspect who is already on the ground after a short chase. It’s a scene that you don’t want to watch because you know exactly what happens. But let me tell you about a different side of the story that you may or may not hear enough about.

We all know about the school shootings that seem to happen on a regular basis here in the US. School districts across the country are rapidly trying to react to this horrible phenomenon. One of the things that they’re doing more of is hiring school resource officers. These are NOT security guards. They are almost always off-duty police officers or deputies who stay inside the school for the duration of the school day. Well recently a teen took a gun to school and stationed himself in the library. This particular school had hired a school resource officer who was an off-duty deputy. You can imagine the chaos of a school during an active shooter situation. Kids are trying to get outside, teachers are doing much the same, but not the school resource officer. He wasn’t leaving the school. He wasn’t thinking about his own safety. He wasn’t reacting how you or I or just about any sane person would during a situation like that. He was running in a full sprint toward the library. And guess what? The shooter knew he was on the way. The shooter committed suicide before he could be apprehended.

I have one more story for you. Earlier this year a police officer working for a small department just a few miles from where I live made a routine traffic stop either late at night or during the early morning hours. The car pulled over and before the officer reached the door, she was fired upon from inside the car and the car sped off. She immediately gets back in her car and pursues. A high speed chase ensues and the car ultimately comes to a stop in the middle of the road at a 90 degree angle. As the officer moves toward the car shots ring out again and the officer is struck in the face. She doesn’t stop to even check on herself until the suspects are in custody.

Do you see what I’m trying to tell you? There is no such thing as a “regular day on the job” for law enforcement. There are no days off. Sure much of the attention that law enforcement gets is when someone abuses their power, but there are hundreds of stories like the ones I’ve just told you about happening every single day across the country. And you don’t even hear about them. So don’t sit there and say “all police officers are pigs” or “I hate the police” or “the police just want to kill you” unless you’re prepared to handle an emergency situation by yourself. It takes a certain person to pursue a career in law enforcement. Anyone can go to school to be an accountant or a businessman or a journalist, but not all of us are made out to be in law enforcement. There is no denying that fact. And although I’m not absolutely certain that I’ll be in law enforcement, I’ve become extremely excited just thinking about the possibility.

So let me ask again, how do you perceive law enforcement?