Write First, Clean Later

Podcasting with NetDrag

My podcasting venture has begun. I had a conversation last weekend with Ken Lewis, who is the police chief of Rogue River, Oregon; the author of the mystery/suspense novel, Little Blue Whales; and the host of NetDrag, a podcast featuring crime writers. It was a great conversation (although I sound like I have a little marble under my tongue) and those who have listened said they loved it.

We talked about mystery conferences, Oregon writers, THE SEX CLUB, and the difficulties of finding a publisher if your story has young victims or deals with controversial issues. Ken gave my detective an 8 (out of 10) for believability, and that’s high praise coming from a police officer. He also said my story/mystery stumped him and that he felt Detective Jackson’s bafflement and anguish every step of the way.

Check it out here: NetDrag

I was a little nervous about being recorded, but the conversation was so relaxed and enjoyable, I soon forgot about that. For the mechanics of it, we both called in to a service that he’s subscribed to that records the conversations and allows him to make minor edits.

My next step is to do my own podcasting by recording the first chapter of THE SEX CLUB and making it available. I have everything in place but the time.

When Is an Old Story a New Story?

Most novelists who have been writing for a while have an unpublished story or two that they haven’t given up on. You keep thinking that if you could just find the right twist or revise a character you can make it marketable. But how much do you have to change the manuscript to consider it a new story? Can you send a revised novel with a new name to the same editors and agents as though it were something fresh for them to read?

Or what about his scenario? You write a great sci-fi story called Death March into Armageddon. Publishers seem to like it, but no one offers you a contract. A few years later, you publish the story with a small press that goes out of business shortly after. Your novel only sells a few dozen copies. Five years later, you get a great idea for how to make the story better. You make those changes, spruce it up with a new name like Heavenly Invasion and submit it to a different publisher.

Can you consider this work to be “previously unpublished”? Is there a legal definition for how much a story has to change to be considered a new work? Do you have a moral or legal obligation to tell the new publisher about the manuscript’s history and the two dozen copies of the previous version that are still out there somewhere?

Has anyone been in this situation? How did you handle it?

A Break From Reality

So Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber both have book deals, with Sarah’s rumored to be worth $7 million. These kinds of book contracts are what make hard working, talented, undiscovered, underpaid writers (like me) CRAZY! That’s all I have to say. Except, maybe, WTF!

If you’d like to hear more from me today, check Pop Syndicate where I have a fascinating author Q/A with Angela Wilson.

http://www.popsyndicate.com/books

The Problem with Unions

I had been thinking about unions lately and wondering if they have become counterproductive. Then yesterday I heard that autoworkers at General Motors make around $71 an hour when you include benefits. Holy shit! No wonder the company is going broke. This is clearly not a sustainable business model.

And then there are the teachers’ unions, which many people believe keep bad teachers in their jobs and contribute to the decline in education. Before you get all riled up, I support teachers and think they should be better paid. (I wouldn’t teach middle school for any amount of money.) But I also think teachers should be held accountable for the job they do, and those that don’t cut it should be fired—like anyone else.

So what does this have to do with writers or books? Not much. But independent writers have no market protections and no real benefits (which is the case with most low-wage workers). Of course, there is a Writers’ Guild, but it’s mostly for scriptwriters who are already making good money and can afford the $2500 joining fee. Some writers are represented by agents, but an agent can’t guarantee anything. Health benefits? Hah! Paid holidays? Dream on. Livable hourly wage? If I ever did the math on my novels, it would make me cry.

I don’t begrudge anyone else these benefits just because I currently don’t have them. But as a taxpayer (who pays teachers’ and government workers’ salaries), I expect my money to be invested wisely. So if we the people bail out GM, its employees should have to live in the real world with the rest of us where there are no unions, no guarantees, and no one is fighting for you—but you. That’s life.

Will Big-Name Authors Go Rogue?

I read an article about a speech Simon & Schuster president and CEO Carolyn Reidy gave at a publishers’ convention. She mostly talked about the state of the industry and how publishers have to find ways to cut costs. Then she said a couple of interesting things. First she mentioned “powerful retailers who have ambitions to be publishers.” Does she mean Walmart and Costco? How would they make the transition? They would need big-name authors to sign directly with them, and they would have to allow distribution in bookstores as well. But this could happen, especially with nonfiction authors.

Then Reidy talked about self-publishing and wondered, “is it only a matter of time before one of the major authors actually strikes out on his or her own?”

That would be an interesting development. What would motivate a best-selling fiction author to step away from his/her publisher and self-publish? An opportunity to make more money? Probably not. If this ever happens, the dispute will likely be about content. Maybe the issue will be an entire story that the writer wants to bring to market, but the publisher won’t because it’s controversial or outside the writer’s genre. Or maybe it will be an environmental issue. An author who refuses to have his book published in hardback form because so many are returned and shredded. And his publisher won’t concede, so he self-publishes in trade paperback with smaller print runs that sell out each time.

What if such a venture proved successful, and the author was able to reach a wide audience and make money? Would more authors follow? What would it mean to the industry? Would publishers change their business model to keep authors onboard? Would it finally blur the distinction between traditionally published and self-published authors? And who will be first? Stephen King has already stepped out on his own with serial e-content (and made money), and I believe in time more authors will do the same.

It’s fun to speculate. What do think?

Giving It Away (aka Free Books!)

Every week I give away a free copy of The Sex Club on my website. I gave away 75 copies of The Sex Club at Bouchercon, and I’ve sent hundreds of copies to bookstores, book clubs, and readers who asked for it.

Meanwhile, I have a collection of new/nearly new paperbacks that have nowhere to go. Our local Book Exchange went out of business, so I’ve decided to give them away. To win one of these titles, simply e-mail me and ask for it. (Click the contact link on the right of this page.) I’ll randomly pick winners at the end of the week. Don’t forget to enter The Sex Club giveaway. (And you might consider ordering a few copies as the perfect stocking stuffer for your siblings and co-workers.)

My next step is to podcast The Sex Club and give it away in audio form. If I only had the time! I’m also thinking of offering a free download of one of my unpublished stories. My only hesitation is that I’m a better writer now than I was then. So does it make sense to offer an earlier story as a first exposure to my writing? Has anyone tried this strategy? I want to know what you think.

Early Thanksgiving

I’m celebrating Thanksgiving today (sans turkey) because I have so much to be grateful for that it can’t wait.

  1. We have a new president! A thoughtful Democrat who will value the things I value and raise our standing in the world.

  2. I have a new book contract! My recently finished story, Secrets to Die For, will be published for people to buy and read. Oh happy day!
  3. I have three great sons, who all contacted me yesterday (calling, texting, visiting) to let me know they had voted (and for Barack Obama).
  4. My husband has a job, and I have some freelance work coming. We will stay solvent!
  5. My wonderful husband has worked hard to resolve my exercise issues, and, as a result, my chronic knee pain is diminished!

So today (and going forward), I am grateful for these things and more. I posted this list next to my computer where I’ll see it first—and last—thing every day.

New Day, New Goals

Last January, I set two main goals for the year: 1) establish a freelance fiction editing business and 2) write and sell a second Detective Jackson novel. With the help of a layoff from my job, I sort of accomplished the first. And yesterday, I signed with Echelon Press to publish Secrets to Die For next September, so I can happily check off the second goal.

And I did it with two months to spare, so now I can write like crazy on the third Jackson story during November, also known as National Novel Writing Month. I don’t expect to finish the novel in 30 days, but if I have 30,000 words down by December, I’ll be very happy. (And yes, technically it’s a new goal.)

I’ve also come to accept the idea that the publishing industry is moving—slowly—away from paper products. In fact, I bought a Kindle the other day (I still have a credit card!), something I never thought I would do. (It hasn’t arrived, so I can’t report on it yet, but I will eventually.) So now I’m thinking seriously about nonpaper media, with ideas such as 1) creating an audio version (podiobook) of The Sex Club, 2) creating a downloadable e-book of a story I wrote years ago and never tried to sell, and 3) podcasting the first chapter of several of my stories. All viable projects—all time consuming. But I have two months to spare this year, so why not branch out?

Do You Podcast?

The first time I was asked to do an interview on BlogTalkRadio, I turned it down because I was leery about the host and not impressed with the quality of the production. Then I felt guilty and wondered if I’d missed a great opportunity.

Recently, I was invited do an audio podcast with another host, so of course I said yes. Why not? It’s more exposure—another opportunity to get my name and book titles out there to the public. Every time a reader hears your name, you’re one step closer to a sale. But then I started to wonder: How much time would it take? How much exposure would I get? Podcasters likely keep stats, but what do those numbers really mean?

I’ve been invited through various venues to listen to other author’s audio podcasts, and the sad truth is that I rarely participate. I try to be as give and take as I can. I want people to buy and read my book, so I buy and read theirs. I want people to read and comment on my blog, so I read and comment on other blogs. So I have tuned in to a few podcasts, but they usually don’t hold my interest for more than a few minutes. I think it’s partly because I’m not someone who normally listens to the radio. People talking without having a face or expressions to focus on don’t seem to grab my interest. Watching a video podcast is a different—and better— experience, but few podcasters who are interviewing authors are doing those.

What I want to know is: How many readers/internet users regularly listen to audio podcasts? What do you like to hear about from an author? Personal stories or information about his/her books? Has a podcast ever motivated you to buy an author’s book? Have you done a podcast and what did you get out of it?

Living with Uncertainty

If I were a widget maker who went to work in a factory at the same time every day, I would leave work at the same time and the collect the same paycheck. There would be no uncertainty.

Instead I’m a novelist and freelance editor. No two days are alike, and uncertainty is a way of life. Will this novel I’m writing sell to a publisher? After spending 25 hours on this manuscript, will the writer actually send me a check? Will I have enough freelance work this month to pay my mortgage?

A little background: I’m a Type A personality and a bit of a control freak. I never leave on a road trip without a map and a hotel reservation. I am not cut out for uncertainty.

And yet, the life of a widget maker would drive me insane. Conversely, I love this life as a novelist and freelancer. So I must learn to live with uncertainty. Some days are easier than others. Yesterday got the best of me. Financially, this is the worst year my husband and I have ever had, and things will get worse before they get better. But in some ways, we are happier than ever.

Financial insecurity is not the worst of it though. The question of whether my recently completed novel will sell sometimes hinders my ability to move forward as a novelist. I have a new story outlined and two chapters written, yet a little part of my brain says, “Why bother?”

I always manage to push past this point. (Although, it once took a few years.) And I will again. I write because I am a storyteller. And the life of a storyteller is always filled with uncertainty.

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I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. The characters were compelling, the procedural work was dead-on, and the story was enthralling. Definitely recommended.”
~Michelle Gagnon, author of Boneyard
The author expertly intertwines multiple story lines, presents readers with fully realized characters that readers will feel they know, and keeps the action and suspense levels high. That’s a lot to expect from an author but L. J. Sellers delivers.” ~OverMyDeadBody
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