Toot Your Own Horn

Someone once said, “Toot your own horn because no one else is going to do it for you.”

Writers understand that. You can write a great book and have it published, but the writer must still be involved in the promotion of the book. Unless of course you are a celebrity or political figure, then it seems that you are on the best seller list before the book even gets printed. That’s the way it works sometimes. Publishers pre-sell a book in such large numbers that it becomes a “Best Seller” (imagine me doing finger quotes) before it appears on the shelves.

If you are already famous or a known writer, you’ll get plenty of offers to appear on talk shows and requests for interviews. For the rest of us, promotion and public relations falls on our shoulders. I’m going to use myself as an example because it’s all I’ve got.

I wrote a book –A Spirit in the Heart. It’s available on Amazon.com and I think I’ve made a whopping twenty or so dollars off it. As I’ve said before, I’m not going to get rich on my books, but, hey, twenty dollars is twenty more than I had before, and a few people are reading my writing, so I’m thrilled.

Back to promotion. I vacationed in the city (Bemidji, Minnesota) where my romance novel was set. Bemidji is a town of about 14,000 people in the northern part of the state. It’s a beautiful town that attracts tourists all year around, even in the winter when they rename it Brrrrrmidji.

It’s also a town with a strong arts community. I made the rounds of the gift shops and found one that spotlights local artists and promotes most things related to the city. That’s the one that agreed to take a few of my books and offer them for sale.

When I returned home, I sent the Bemidji newspaper a press release saying what the book was about and where it could be purchased. I haven’t heard from them, yet.

Then I sent a press release to a couple of local newspapers where I live and I got a response. A reporter contacted me and asked if I would be willing to do an interview for the paper. Gosh, let me think about this….of course!

One more thing I did was to contact my local library and put in a request that they place the book on their shelves. I was told they would submit the request. I’m still waiting to hear if that happened, but I’d love to walk into the library and see my book up there with all those best-selling authors.

Everyone wants to feel good about themselves and what they do. Even a little recognition goes a long way in stroking a writer’s ego. All in all, I’m happy to say that it’s been a good week for me.

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The Great American Novel

I had a sudden realization this week. It happened while I was reading a major news magazine and came across two pages of “novels to read this summer.” The subject matter in the selected books was varied, and serious. I mean really serious stuff.

Included was a book on the struggle of a family surviving war and genocide; another on teenage angst and the years after high school graduation; a tale of the ravages of AIDS across two generations; and a religious cult at a university.

The time it took for me to read the blurbs about these meaningful, informative, passionately written books equaled the time it took for me to realize that I am never going to write the great American novel.

Compared to those deep-thinking authors, my writing is simple fluff, in the fluffiest sense of the word. I write happily along, falling in love with my characters and putting them into cutesy or unusual situations, and I’m content. And, spoiler alert … my stories all have a happy ending.

And you know what? That is just fine, because not all of us were destined to write the deeply profound manuscripts with which our bookstore and library shelves overflow. There are just as many interesting, humorous, educational, suspenseful, exciting, colorful, (add your own adjective), stories and articles bouncing around our world and appreciated by readers, who are as diverse as those of us who write for them.

What I write may appeal to only a small percentage of people and they may not be the same ones you target. What’s wrong with that? This doesn’t mean that I won’t keep exploring and expanding and attempting to venture into different genres or areas of publishing. I’ll try different things and test the waters here and there, but I’ll still be happy enjoying what I do. Can it get any better than that?

Yeh, yeh, I hear someone mumbling something about getting rich with writing, but that’s probably not going to happen either. The best that most of us can hope for is to actually make a living at writing. So, go back to your computers and get to work on what you do best.)

A Spirit in the Heart

A Spirit in the Heart (an excerpt)

Peri hesitated near the rear of the cabin. Far above her head the stately Norway pines pierced the sky and blocked out the sun. Only the tiniest rays filtered through the canopy and dappled the ground with spots of light. The trees swayed and made soft whispering sounds as they talked to the wind. The repetitive and mournful call of a loon echoed across the stillness of the lake and faded away. Then the wind stopped for an instant and nothing moved. All was quiet, and the only sound she could hear was the pounding of her heart.

“I don’t think I like this,” she said aloud, and her voice sounded strange and misplaced in the quiet of the woods. More softly, “I know I don’t like this.”
She hurried down a slight incline toward the front of the cabin, stepped through the screen door and reached for the lock, but found none. None on the inner wooden door, either.

“Great,” she muttered, but it wasn’t great at all. She felt exposed and vulnerable, and even a little frightened. It was a feeling strange to her, and she didn’t like it, not one bit.

*********************************************

Peri Fergeson’s life revolves around the city and her career as a lawyer, but she’s burned out and needs time to re-energize. “I know the perfect place for you,” her father says, which happens to be a cabin on a lake in northern Minnesota, miles from anything that remotely resembles civilization to her.

She decides to give the wilderness a chance but becomes a bit too brave and almost drowns in the lake her first day there. It is Hawk, a bronze-skinned, part-Chippewa Indian, who is her savior, and thus begins a relationship that seems doomed from the beginning.

Peri feels indebted to Hawk for saving her life, and when she learns that he is in danger of losing the land that his family has lived on for generations, she decides to help him.

Respect, friendship and passion surface between them, but Peri must return to the city. She immerses herself in work, but her thoughts keep returning to the little cabin on the lake, and to Hawk.

A place, its beauty, peacefulness, and wildness; its people, their diversity, and their unity; and the love that surfaces in unexpected places, are all there waiting in A Spirit in the Heart.

A Spirit in the Heart is available as an ebook on Amazon.com.

Know Your Readers

Well, I have been rejected … again. I did get a publisher to take a look at my novel manuscript after sending a query, but it didn’t fit her needs. You would think that rejection might fuel an emotion in me such as anger or depression, or the feeling of “why do I bother?” The first rejections I ever had probably did make me a little depressed, but over the years I’ve had many and while I certainly would prefer an acceptance, I know that rejections are part of the job.

A writer has to trust the editor, whether that person is screening manuscripts for a novel, features for a magazine, or an anthology of selected poems or short stories. Each editor must stay true to the requirements and the character of the writing he or she needs.

Having been an editor myself, I know of what I speak. I wrote for and was editor of a national travel publication for several years. I often received queries and feature articles from writers, and in all that time there was only one writer who ended up with a byline in the magazine and is still doing a regular feature for it after all these years. (Yes, the competition is brutal.)

What set her apart? For starters, she understood our audience, in addition to being a darn good writer. While I often got submissions that were well written and interesting, they didn’t fit or advance our editorial purpose. And knowing the feeling that rejection can bring, I sometimes found it difficult to turn down some of those writers, especially those that showed promise.

I read pieces about “my best vacation” and “the trip from hell” or “the most beautiful waterfall in the world;” you name it, people wrote about it, and submitted it. But those writers did not take the time to discover who our readers were. We did not cater to the armchair travelers, the families taking the kids on a summer trip, or that adventurous couple looking for a place to hike through the mountains.

The magazine is still in publication today and has stayed true to its mission. The readers are not the leisure travelers, but the people who organize trips and conduct group tours for them. Many of those group tours are also made up of senior citizens, so tours must be organized with their abilities and needs in mind. You can see how knowing all that would be important to understanding the needs of the editor.

Writers who want to break into print in any publication must know the readers. This isn’t new news, so why do so many writers ignore it? The magazine writer must study the guidelines and read the publication. The book author needs to read a publisher’s guidelines and some of its previously published books. That’s part of the job; do it! It might cut down on some of those rejections.

Good luck!

The Indirect Route

One of my favorite TV programs was “Everybody Loves Raymond.” It still is because I watch its reruns whenever I can.

For the benefit of the few of you who may not have a television or like to laugh, it’s a comedy show that revolves around Ray Barone, sports writer and family man, who lives across the street from his brother and parents. Take their picture and they could pose for a dysfunctional family poster.

One episode dealt with Ray showing his wife, Debra, his process for writing each day. The first thing he did after turning on the computer was to click to a game of solitaire and begin to play. Debra was confused, but Ray explained to her that it was the way he started his day; a way to relax as he got ready to write.

Not everyone may find that segment especially funny, but I did, in a couple of ways. First because the characters and the writing for the show are truly funny, but also because that particular situation mirrors my own so closely that it was also a bit weird-funny. Then I realized that maybe I’m fairly normal and not the only one who actually does stuff like that before I get down to the business of writing.

My computer routine goes something like this: first check email and fire off responses to those who need it; call up worldofsolitair.com and find one of my favorite games (there are several); play a couple of rounds and then force myself to get down to business. And I do mean force myself because the card games are a lot more fun and somewhat addictive compared to sometimes sitting here racking my brain for inspiration.

I do eventually get around to writing, and I thank Raymond for showing me that it’s okay to sometimes take the indirect route in getting there. 

Believe in yourself.

 

I have to handle it carefully now, because the cup has been dropped a couple of times and banged around over the years.  Its rim is cracked and the handle has been clued back together.  The picture and the words on its side have faded with time, but when my own words refuse to come, or when I begin to doubt my ability, I have only to look at it for inspiration.

In the 1980s, while struggling to become a published writer, I had a few successes, enough to make me say “I am a writer.”  Then came the periods of drought, when nothing I wrote seemed good enough to attract the attention of an editor.  The ideas that I thought were so excellent and so well written often received the ever-impersonal note of “Thanks, but no thanks” from every publisher that I contacted.

During one of those times, a close friend asked me, “How’s the writing going?”  I had to admit that it was not going well.  I felt discouraged, ready to give up, and was beginning to believe that the writing life wasn’t for me.  What made me think that a few sales gave me the right to call myself a real writer?

A few days after that conversation, she presented this coffee mug to me.  On its side, below the now-faded picture of a unicorn (an image of things impossible) it says, “Believe in the beauty of your dreams.” 

 I’ve had that cup for more than thirty-five years, and there have been many times when I have been at my computer and wondered if I was fighting a losing battle; beating my head against the wall; trying to break into yet another market.

 Whenever that happened and I was within minutes of throwing up my hands and giving up, I’d see that cup and I would pause, read the message again, and take the words to heart.

 I don’t know if my friend had an inkling of what her simple gift would do for me over the years, but it is the words on that cup that helped me remember my dream and follow it, and best of all, to see it come true. 

Writers who attend the local freelance writing workshops and seminars that I’ve presented are always looking for advice, encouragement and the secrets of success.  I can advise and encourage, but I don’t have any magical secret to being successful.  I only know that writing takes knowledge, intelligence, creativity, determination, and often a huge portion of luck in presenting the right manuscript to the right editor at precisely the right time.

I can give encouragement and tell them that it takes a love of the craft and dedication to be a writer.  And I always share the best advice I ever received…believe in yourself…believe in the beauty of your dreams. 

Writer’s block? Look for something new.

I’ve heard some say that there is no such thing as writer’s block. Well, I’m here to tell you that there definitely is such a thing. I should know because it happens to me quite often when the words just don’t or won’t come, no matter how hard I try.

I tend to write first thing in the morning before the daily chores and events of the day crowd in on me. That’s when I think I’m going crank out a few hundred profound and unforgettable words to move my best-selling novel along, and then nothing happens. I stare at the page. I review my character descriptions. I re-read and rewrite what I did the day before. Alas, the characters get lazy and they don’t want to do anything. Like me they just want to lay down and take a nap.

I had such a day not too long ago, so I decided to switch gears and work on an idea that had been stewing in my brain. I and some friends had been bemoaning the near extinction of cursive writing. And if you don’t know what it is, then you need to read my essay, which was picked up for the August issue of The Senior News. If you do know, then you’ll enjoy reading it at http://www.the seniornews.com.

So there I was, agonizing over what my hero and heroine were going to do next, when I stopped and pulled up a new blank page. I didn’t even think too much about what I was writing, but I had been thinking about how I was taught cursive in elementary school and how I still love to write letters to friends, and I simply let those thoughts loose on paper. When I went back and edited the piece, I thought that I had something that the older (we like to call us mature) generation would like, and so did the editor of The Senior News. Thank you very much.

So, the next time your writing comes to a standstill, take a moment and just write about something that you love, or hate, or bothers you, or that you want to change, or even something silly, stupid and off the wall. Even if it doesn’t get published, the break will refresh you, and if it does get published, you couldn’t ask for a better confidence booster. Either way, remember that you are a writer. So write.