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800px-5_ball_juggling

I once saw a performer in a Cirque du Soleil show who juggled seven balls at once. He wasn’t able to do it for too long before he started tossing balls out from the moving circle. I have never been able to juggle. Sometimes, I’m challenged to toss one ball back and forth between my hands.

I can juggle projects, though. I have gotten very good at doing it over the years. It’s not surprising since I have to deal with writing projects from around eight writing clients each month, and I’m often doing multiple projects for each one. That means I have weekly, monthly, and bimonthly deadlines that I need to meet. Some of the projects are long-term and others are rush jobs. Plus, this doesn’t include my own writing projects.

I usually work on each project for a little bit each day. I might do interviews for one article, the rough draft for another, transcribing notes for a third, a partial draft on another, and a final draft on a fifth project.

It keeps me busy, and all of the projects move forward. It works for me because I don’t feel overwhelmed by how much writing I have to do on a project. I can see forward movement on the project so I don’t feel anxiety as the deadline approaches.

I also like that I can usually see potential problems coming far in advance of the deadline. Maybe I need to do more interviews or research. Maybe I need to completely rewrite an article. By doing a little bit each day, I can see the problem coming rather than having to scramble when I’m doing a lot of writing only a few days out from my deadline.

However, just like the juggler couldn’t maintain seven balls in the air for a long period, juggling multiple projects can wear me down after a while. When I start to feel that way, I also have to back off. This usually seems to be a time when I have an unusually high number of projects that I’m trying to keep moving.

I do this by focusing on one or two projects each day and trying to finish them or at least make major progress toward finishing them. These are usually projects that have looming deadlines or a project that doesn’t require a lot of research and preparation. Finishing a project is like removing a ball from the juggler’s moving circle.

Some of the advantages that I’ve found with this method as I talk with other writers are:

  • I don’t get bored because I’m working on different things.
  • I can avoid writer’s block. If I get blocked on a project, I just jump to a new project.
  • The projects get daily attention so I don’t go cold on a particular project.

This is something that works for me. Maybe it will help you get more out of your day if you try it. Good luck.

Here are some other posts that you might like:

2500dagenrust-dicht-8001-300x300A common question that I hear when I teach novel writing or even talk with other writers is, “How long should my book be?”

My answer is usually, “What genre of book are you writing?”

There are different acceptable lengths for different genres of books. It doesn’t mean that you can’t write outside of those limits. I found one writer named Wildbow who had written a web-published book called Worm. It’s not on Amazon but you can find it online. It is made up of 31 arcs and an epilogue and each arc has about 10 sections. If it sounds long, it is. It has 1.75 million words or about 7,000 pages. Each arc I’m guessing could probably make up its own novel.

That’s an extreme example of an author writing outside of typical lengths. Some well-known novels can be outside of the typical lengths for their genres. Les Miserables runs long at 530,000 words while Old Man and the Sea is a short novel in any genre at 26,000 words.

Word count matters for publishers for a couple reasons. Longer books cost more to print, which means that they will have to charge a higher price, which could affect sales. Also, readers of certain genres expect books to be certain lengths.

Nowadays, an acceptable length for a novel depends a lot on the genre. Here’s a list I’ve compiled from different sources on the web and averaged out.

  • Flash  fiction: up to 1,000 words.
  • Short stories: 1,000 to 10,000 words.
  • Novellas: 10,000 to 50,000 words.
  • Middle grade readers: 20,000 to 55,000 words. The longer books are for the older students.
  • Westerns: 50,000 to 80,000 words.
  • Romance: 50,000 to 100,000 words. The smaller ones are the ones that are published by companies by Harlequin while the larger are independent.
  • Young adult: 55,000 to 75,000 words.
  • Memoirs: 75,000 to 85,000 words.
  • General fiction: 75,000 to 90,000 words.
  • Mystery: 75,000 to 90,000 words.
  • Horror: 75,000 to 90,000 words.
  • Historical fiction: 90,000 to 105,000 words. These tend to be longer because of the need to weave in historical detail.
  • Science fiction and fantasy: 90,000 to 115,000 words. These books tend to be longer because there is a lot of worldbuilding involved.

These numbers aren’t locked in stone. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books, which were all in the same genre and targeting the same audience, ranged from 76,000 words to 257,ooo words. So there can always be exceptions, but generally not for first-time authors. Even Rowling’s first Harry Potter novel was pretty close to the range for a young adult novel. The numbers didn’t grow until she had proven herself as a writer and the shown the popularity of the characters.

So, the first thing to do is write the best story you can. Once you have a good solid draft, then take a look at the word count.

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Yema de huevo crudo.I’ve always been an advocate of not putting all of your eggs in one baskets. I learned that lesson when the last newspaper that I worked full-time for closed up shop. It came as a bit of a surprise, but luckily, I had already started doing some freelance writing. It wasn’t near what I was making as a newspaper editor, but it helped supplement my unemployment.

Since that time, I have worked to have a variety of income streams (article writing, book writing, teaching) from a variety of customers. I can count on monthly checks from eight clients and probably just twice as many that I do regular work for just not monthly and dozens more clients that I do occasional writing for.

Sometimes juggling so many clients can be confusing, but it’s a trade off for not getting too stressed if I should lose a client. That has happened in the past eight years. One business, one newspaper, and four or five magazines have either closed or decided to stop using my services. I’ve been able to take each hit without too much of an impact.

The reason I decided to write about this is that I had another example of the need for variety this past weekend. I attended a huge festival where I made five percent of my total income last year. However, this year, Saturday was marred by rain that kept many people indoors. Sunday was sunny but cool with gusting winds, which may have held down the crowds a bit. I only did a third of the business that I usually do.

It was a big income hit, but I’ve got festivals to attend the next two weekends and a class to teach and a presentation to give later this month. They are all indoors so if the crowds hold, I should be able to make up some of my losses from this past weekend and then make up the rest with Christmas events.

Where one door closes another opens.

Writers should do their best to diversify their writing income because you never know where the next big hit will come from.

writersblockI realized today that I’ve got writer’s block although I’m still writing around 6,000 words a week. I’m writing articles, blog posts, newspaper columns, and presentations. What I’m not writing is my next book project.

So can that be considered writer’s block? After all, I’m still writing. I’m just not working on the projects that I want to be writing. Even when I free my schedule up so that I’ll have time to write a few pages of my new book, I still wind up doing something else.

At first, I thought it might mean that the new book just isn’t working. I’ve been dabbling with three potential book projects, though, and I’m doing very little work on any of them.

Has anyone had this happen to them? I didn’t even realize it at first. Since I was writing, I thought everything was going fine. Writers write and I was writing. It was only when I started trying to focus on writing my book that I realized I had other things I could be writing.

Now that I’ve recognized the problem, I’m going to redouble my efforts to get some of my book writing done. Hopefully, I can break through the problem.

Some other post about writer’s block:

Logans Fire

My first novel. It’s out of print now, but I hope to one day bring it back in print the way I envisioned it.

I didn’t start out to do indie publishing. My first two novels back in the 1990s were publishing with a small press and mid-size press. My small-press experience was that it was virtually worthless for me, and my mid-size press experience was pretty positive.

My problem with the mid-size press came when I tried to get the second book published in what I hoped would be a series. The company sent each manuscript out to pre-readers and had it reviewed by an editorial committee. All it took was one person to say “no” and the book wouldn’t be published. I kept running into that problem as the company also started to shift its focus.

Meanwhile, I was also shopping another manuscript in a different genre around and getting frustrated from the lack of response. It wasn’t that the publishing houses were saying “no,” it was that many of them weren’t saying anything even after six month!

Then in 2000, I decided that I wanted to write a historical fiction novel after I took a bike trip along the C&O Canal in Maryland. As I was writing the novel, I started to wonder if I wanted to go through all of the hassles that I was going through to get a publisher interested in the book especially since I couldn’t take it to the two publishers I had already used. They didn’t handle that genre.

I knew someone who had been self-publishing since the 1980s, though. I talked to him about what it involved. He published targeted books that were generally collections of postcards that he owned. He also did very well with it.

So I started doing more research and I realized that everything my publishers had done for me, I could either do myself or farm out to someone. The biggest obstacle I saw at that time was distribution. I wasn’t sure how I could go about getting national distribution. It wasn’t a big concern for me, though. I thought that my major sales outlets would be places near the canal, and I could visit them myself. Also, by the time, the book was complete, I had found a way to get into the Baker & Taylor catalog to get my national distribution.

As far as marketing went, well, the publishers I had used hadn’t done a lot of marketing. I knew that I could do at least the same level. Besides, who was going to promote my book more enthusiastically than me? I had invested part of myself in it. I wanted it to succeed.

Canawlers

My first indie-published novel.

I took the jump into indie publishing and Canawlers became my first project. It is still in print and selling 16 years later when my first two novels have long since gone out of print.

I discovered that I liked having the control over the project. If there was something that I didn’t like about a project, I could change it. By contrast, with one of my first novels, the publisher didn’t like the title and changed it without asking me.

I also started making decent money from writing. I remember that my very first novel sold around 10,000 copies in three years. It had a cover price of $10. I made an average of 50 cents a copy or $5,000 over three years. My first indie published novels has a cover price of $18 and I make an average $8 a copy, taking into account printing costs, shipping, and bookseller discounts. That’s a 5% versus a 44% royalty!

About half of my income is from my books and the other half is other types of writing. I wouldn’t have been able to make the jump to a full-time writer if I hadn’t taken the indie-publishing track. I have since found out that many popular authors with mainstream publishers still need other work, despite their books being successful (just not bestsellers).

Indie publishing is certainly not the easy way out for authors.

You take on more responsibilities and duties, so much so that I would say it’s harder than simply being an author. If you stick with it and work at it, though, the payoff both financially and with a book that is just how you envision it are worth it.

thSome writers say that staring at the blank page and having to fill it with a story is the hardest part of writing. It’s the getting starting and gaining some momentum that is hard.

I have run into that problem when I write fiction. My efforts tend to go nowhere until I write that first page and get the first scene right. Even if I have other later scenes written, I need to get that first scene written before the story starts to move forward.

I guess my mind is treating me like a reader as well as a writer. I’ve got to hook myself into the story before I can see what happens next. My fiction writing tends to be very linear. I start at the beginning and write through to the end.

My non-fiction is a different story. It’s not the intimidation of the first page that causes a slow start. It’s that I have too much information that I can’t set parameters for the story and find where it starts.

Getting a non-fiction project started is like herding cats. Just when you think you’ve got them all in place, one of them jumps out of the corral.

A similar thing happens when I start a non-fiction project. I spend a lot of time and energy collecting my research and interviews. Then I have to figure out what the scope of the project is going to be.

When you are writing non-fiction history, you are writing about life and a very small part of life in the grand scheme of things. Your non-fiction history is a link in a very long chain of events that happened to cause what you are writing about and continued afterwards influenced by what you wrote about.

Your job is to cut out a section of that chain and write about it, but finding where to cut is hard sometimes because everything is connected. There may be something interesting, funny, or tragic that happened that you discover in your research. You have to decide whether it is pertinent enough to the larger story to be included, and if you do include it, does it change the scope of the story.

When I’m still in the process of herding all those cats at the beginning of a new project, it can seem overwhelming because everything seems to be in motion. Once I decide on the scope of the story and look at things through that perspective, I can start to make sense of all that motion that is my research.

At that point, I can start to get scenes down on paper. Writing things down also helps me further define the scope of my story. Oddly, I don’t necessarily need to start at the beginning when I write non-fiction. I write the vivid scenes that are in my mind. Once they are on paper, it allows my mind to focus on other things.

No matter how you start your story, it will probably be slower going than how you write much of the rest of the book. It’s all part of the process, though. Work through it, knowing that it does eventually get easier.

These articles may help you get started on your book:

 

 

 

I was looking at some of my reviews on Amazon the other day. Sure, the four-star and five-star reviews are nice to read, but some of the other reviews are frustrating. They make me want to scream because they are contradictory or just plain wrong.

Shallmar CoverSaving Shallmar probably gets the most undo criticism because it is coming from people who lived in Shallmar when they were children when the story took place or they heard things second hand. Because my story doesn’t agree with their memories, I’m wrong even though my information is all sourced. Some of it comes from people who were adults at the time so they have a different perspective then people who were children. I know because I interviewed people who grew up in Shallmar and they have plenty of gaps in their childhood memories. I also have contemporary sources for information that isn’t dulled or altered by time.

I am tempted to respond to some of these reviews when I read them, but I have learned from previous experience that most of these people when given the facts, simply find something else to rail on you about.

I’ve had a book get a bad review because someone thought the title was too close to the title of another book that I had never heard of or because a book didn’t have enough pictures. Worse yet, I had a three-star review from a reviewer whose actual review of the book was positive. These types of reviews just leave me shaking my head.

I can stand criticism. You don’t get to be a full-time writer without having gotten criticism and rejection, but what galls me is that some people feel the need to be mean or get personal about it. It’s like they want to get into an argument and they don’t even know me.

gaithersburg-book-festival-gaithersburg-mdI was lucky enough to have a festival to attend the weekend after my most-recent perusal or reviews. I had a lot of people come up to me and say that they had this book or that book of mine and had loved it. Many of them even bought another title, which certainly backed up what they were saying. It’s one of the reasons that I like selling books at festivals. I can talk with my readers and if they do have an issue, we discuss it calmly and politely.

Now if I could only get all these people to leave reviews on Amazon. That’s a drawback to selling at festivals. Because people didn’t buy the book from Amazon, they don’t think to leave a review there.

By the way, when I have come across a specific criticism, I check it out (even the ones from angry reviewers) and when needed, I make changes. Unfortunately, the reviews don’t reflect the change. That’s not the reviewer’s fault. They don’t know about the corrections. I could e-mail them about, but I’m afraid that could lead to the reviewer going and nitpicking things about my other books to see if he or she can get me to make more changes.

I like this quote from actress Octavia Spencer:

“You cannot live to please everyone else. You have to edify, educate and fulfill your own dreams and destiny, and hope that whatever your art is that you’re putting out there, if it’s received, great, I respect you for receiving it. If it’s not received, great, I respect you for not.”

 

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October Mourning Cover

The current cover for October Mourning

BookCoverPreview

The new cover for October Mourning

 

 

 

 

 

When I first started independently publishing, I had my books printed by a traditional book printer. They did good work, but it was a big upfront cost for 1,000 copies at a time. It also gave me headaches when I tried to decide whether to do additional printings.

These early books were listed on Amazon, but under their Advantage Program. You couldn’t tell the difference on the Amazon page, but my net profit was far less than it is under the Createspace Program, which I’ve used to print my books for the past few years.

As I’ve been selling out of the traditionally printed books, I’ve been switching them over to Createspace. It hasn’t been a problem until now.

October Mourning is ready to be switched over, but unlike the other traditionally printed books, I don’t have a cover to use for the new printing. I tried to scan one of the books, but it’s not working. Each scan I try was some problem with it.

So I decided to do a new cover.

That’s not too big an issue because I was never really thrilled by the old cover. However, I decided I didn’t want to use a cover designer because the book is now 10 years old. I wasn’t sure that I could make back the cost of the cover.

So I worked up a cover. Actually, I came up with two, but this is the one that I decided I liked more. How do you like it compared to the current cover? Do I nail it or do I need to go back to the drawing board?

I’m really curious to see if the new cover will breathe some new life into the book. If it does, I have a few older books that I may recover.

So my need to create a new cover for one book has turned into a marketing experiment that can help multiple books.

 

Clay Soldiers: One Marine’s Story of War, Art & Atomic Energy comes out next month. It is a biography about WWII veteran Charles Caldwell. It’s the first time that I’ve written a biography and it was a much-different experience than I expected. Here are some of the things that I learned.

Scan1z (2)zIt’s always better to have someone to talk to. Since I write history articles and books, a lot of times, I can’t speak to someone who actually lived through what I’m writing about like I could when I was a newspaper reporter. Having someone around that I can interview is invaluable. It allows me to personalize the story. I was able to include lots of anecdotal stories to major events like the Battle of Guadalcanal and the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg that add more depth to the story and present a view that you won’t read elsewhere.

Research, research, research. Even though I was able to interview Chuck Caldwell for hours at a time over the course of a year and a half, I would still need to go home and research what we had talked about. His memory is still sharp and he had plenty of letters and diaries to supplement, but there were still gaps that I needed to fill in at times or additional information that I found on a subject that I could ask him about. I usually began each of our interview sessions with a list of questions that had come up in my research. After we went through those, we would start talking about other subjects.

Find something different. Each person has an individual story and you can’t forget that. You need to capture that in a biography. What is it about the story that that first attracted you to it? In Chuck’s case, it was that he had an autograph book filled with the autographs of Civil War veterans he had met at the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg and pictures of himself with those veterans. He is also a WWII vet and the 75th anniversary of America’s involvement in that war begins this year. It struck me that young kids would be approaching him this year like he approached Civil War vets in 1938. Things had come full circle. C03aa

Never forget it’s about a person. It’s a biography, which means that it needs to tell the story of a person. You can’t get swept up in the events that the person was part of and forget to tell your subject’s story. You have to put yourself in that person’s shoes and try to envision things through their eyes. Sometimes that means you write a much narrower view of major events. However, I have found that although events may be interesting, readers need to connect with people. Writing a biography means you have your main character already. Just tell his or her story.

The first draft is not final. Even after I had the first draft written, Chuck would read sections that would trigger other memories. He would go digging for a picture or letter and tell me a new story that I would then need to weave into the draft. I didn’t mind this. It was why I had given him the draft. Even as a writer, sometimes, I just need to see something on paper to realize that it needs more or less or the written differently. Even while my beta readers were reading what I thought was my publishable copy, I was also reading it and rewording things or researching something to add more detail to it.

Clay SoldiersSometimes I never thought it all would come together. I wrote chapters out of order, which was highly unusual for me. I would look at them and think, “How am I going to tie this together in a way that makes sense?” Then I realized, it already tied together in a way that made sense. It was the story of a man’s life. All I needed to do was tell that story as best I could.

That’s what I’ve done. I probably even pushed myself harder to do a good job with this because Chuck got more excited about having his life written down for his family as time went on. I didn’t want to disappoint him. I hope that I haven’t.

Clay SoldiersMy new book, Clay Soldiers: One Marine’s Story of War, Art & Atomic Energy, is finished and formatted. I printed off some set to send out to beta readers.  This is the nervous time for me. Essentially, it’s the public debut of the book. People have seen bits and pieces of it, but this is the first time it has all been put together.

I am using a mix of beta readers. Some I know, some I don’t. Some are writers and some are just people who like to read history. I figure that I have a good mix of readers.

Their feedback is important, particularly if more than one reader mention it. A lot of the feedback that they give me is opinion and I have to take that into account, but I do consider each comment. Some of them are very insightful even if I don’t want to hear it.

Beta readers are a great resource for you as a writer. If you don’t have any people who you trust to give you an honest opinion, you can join a writer’s group or even find a Facebook beta readers group.

Some things to keep in mind with your beta readers:

  • Don’t take everything they say as gospel. Everyone has an opinion and some of those opinions will be conflicting. If five people say the same thing and one person says something different, then you should give more weight to the five. However, if it three saying one thing and two saying another, then you have a more balanced consideration to take into account.
  • You can’t please everyone. There’s an old saying that a camel is a horse built by committee. If you have a vision of what you want the book to be. Don’t give it up easily. If you try and please everyone, you will wind up with something bland that probably won’t please you.
  • Ask your beta readers for a review. Reviews are important for a book. Give your book a jump start and ask all of your beta readers to post an honest review about your book.
  • You don’t need dozens of beta readers. I like to use three at a minimum because I feel that gives me a good well-rounded opinion of my book. For this particular book, I’m using six, mainly because more people got back to me when I started making inquiries about beta readers. More doesn’t mean better, though. You still want people who are readers and/or knowledgeable about writing and who will give you an honest opinion.
  • Show your appreciation. I always make sure to send my readers a finished copy of my book as well as telling them, “thank you.”

Here are a couple other articles by other writers about getting beta readers.

Peer Reviews: Seek Quality in Your Beta Readers, Not Quantity

How to find a beta reader

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