Sharing the Road #amwriting #5amwritersclub

Yesterday I spent an hour with a group of students at Sparkman High School’s Creative Writing / Literary Magazine class for a talk on writing novels. The group was a mixed range of artists, writers, photographers, dancers, graphic designers, actors, and even a talented programmer who enjoys creative writing.

Would I have any message to engage such a diverse group of teens? Could we connect?

After introducing myself, I launched into my journey and described my passion for writing stories since elementary school. These students created the literary magazine for their school, and I also worked on a writing club and literary magazine: an initial connection.

The writers were fully in from the beginning. The artists were in. Most of the others were in too. We took the journey together. When I began talking about the steps for self-publishing on Amazon, they finally stopped me.

“This sounds like running a business,” one of them said.

“It’s exactly like a business,” I said. “As an indie author, you’re creating a product, manufacturing, selling, marketing, publicity, everything. End-to-end. Amazon handles distribution.”

This generated a flurry of questions about traditional publishing versus independent publishing. What was my literary agent doing for me? What was that experience like? Why was it so hard for independent authors? What would make it easier? They asked so many insightful business questions and grasped the complexities of the problem with selling on a platform like Amazon (search and discoverability) versus a bookstore and why distribution into wider channels is vital.

They let me continue through the rest of my deck but asked more questions along the way. We were comfortable with each other now, and the conversation was easy. What did you do in your other job as a technical writer? I explained that I’ve been a manager for a long time now, but when I was a technical writer, I wrote software manuals to describe how to install and use products.

Who are your favorite authors? What kind of books do you like to read? How do you build realistic characters? What are your books about? What was your favorite book to write and why? You write about difficult issues. Do you know that they’re starting to censor books now? They’re trying to censor classics like To Kill a Mockingbird. How do you feel about that?

Uh, well... I think censorship is bad.

Goodness! That was a lot of fun. The students were full of enthusiasm, interest, and challenging questions, and we had a great discussion about writing, which is always my favorite subject. I'm so grateful that they invited me to their class.


To the Editor!

I sent my book to the editor this morning! Done! Elation! What a rush. There’s such a feeling of satisfaction when I finish a project like this and nine months of effort results in the delivery of a perfect new novel.

I hope she likes it. What if she says it’s terrible? What if there are big problems in the plot or characters or… Oh. Yeah. This feeling comes now.

There’s nothing like shipping off the manuscript to that First Reader to shake a writer’s courage.

The only cure is to start writing another book.


Readers Magnet Scam #5amwritersclub #amwriting

This afternoon I received a call from someone from Readers Magnet, claiming that my wonderful, award-winning novel, Drive to June, had been selected by their talent scouts, and they wanted to partner with me for representation in the 2018 New York Rights Fair. They were extremely complimentary about my work. They knew that the book had won an award and that I’d written multiple novels. I let the person talk for a long time even though I was pretty sure it was a scam because I wanted to hear the pitch.

“As stated we will be the ones taking care of the other expenditures and all the legwork since we were the ones that found you, although you will be entitled to all of the proceeds and hoping that you would be able to continue the momentum that we will be setting for you and your book’s success. We aim to create publicity for our company through your book’s success.”

She was a woman named Ruby Baker with a strong accent. She was very smooth, asking about my goals for my writing career and what sorts of things I had done for self-promotion to date. At one point I clarified that she wasn’t seeking rights for the book or commissions on sales. She wanted some sort of fee, correct? It still took her awhile to get to the point where she wanted $600 for the registration fee for this show.

That's right: $600.

The amount would cover the publicity listing in the directory and the booth showing. They only needed one signed copy of my book. All other sales would be handled directly with me. This didn’t pass the sniff test.

After hanging up, I searched for this company and found a bunch of other complaints from authors who’ve been contacted by these scam artists. Don’t be fooled!


Analytics #amwriting #writerslife #5amwritersclub

I confess that the business part is my least favorite part of being an indie author. Many creatives share this sentiment, but I feel guilty for disliking it because my Day Job provides the skills for me to handle this stuff. I ought to be a little better at it; I earn my “real” living doing stuff like this for a corporation.

Surely I can figure out how to sell more of my own books.

This morning I’ve been working on SEO optimization on my website and studying the analytics feature to determine what users are hitting so I can improve the content. The dashboard of pie charts could be either science or roulette wheels. The jury’s still out. How do we match the people who are looking for things with the people who have the things they want? Does the data help us connect buyer and seller?


I’m not convinced. When I think about my own book-buying process, browsing feels so random. Almost all of the new fiction authors I discover happen in brick-and-mortar stores, where I wander through the shelves and pick through the spines until something catches my eye. On the other hand, I tend to pre-order my favorite authors on Amazon because I will want their next book no matter what it’s about.

In either case, the author website only comes into my concern after I’ve read their book and I decide that I like them and am curious about them. What else have they written? Who are they? What do they have going on? Do I like them?

Visiting their site has nothing to do with selling more books. Not really.

I’m not sure that what browser, device type, operating system, or source is going to help in all this. In the end, it’s about connection between reader and author. The first encounter might be a chance one, like a passing on a subway platform. Maybe a book is picked up or maybe not. Maybe a site is clicked or not. All of it seems very mysterious. But then, statistics was my worst subject in college.

Perhaps I’m dismissing the math because I prefer the mystery. I like the story of the chance encounter better. I like the story of the book discovered by accident.

And the rest is happily ever after.

Extra Hour of Writing #5amwritersclub #amwriting #NaNoWriMo

I woke up at 2:20 AM again this morning. Yesterday it was 2:00 AM. Daylight savings time always messes with me. The good thing is that falling back an hour gives me an extra bit of time for writing. It gives me sleep deprivation, foggy brain, and a crick in my neck too, but who’s complaining? I’m making progress.

Maybe this is why they put NaNoWriMo in November. With this extra hour for writing, we’re all going to finish our novels in record time. I hadn’t set that as my goal, but with 36,000 words in and only 50,000 as a target word count, I can do this, right? Especially with all these extra hours now that I’m not sleeping.

I guess I should quit blogging and get to work!


Talk at Creative Writing Magnet - Lee High School

This week, I was invited to visit the Creative Writing Magnet class at Lee High School to talk about my journey as a writer, the classes I took in college, my process, self-publishing, tips & tricks, and whatever else might come up. Fifteen poetry and prose students—including some budding YA authors—asked me various questions about how to create characters and build plots. They quickly put me at ease with their genuine interest and curiosity, and the hour flew.

As I told them the story of how I started writing in elementary school and how I wanted to be a writer in high school, like them, I realized what a full-circle moment I was experiencing. Who would have thought that I’d become a visiting author at a high school writing class or that other students might want to listen to anything about my experience along the road to publication? But I told them that writers were artists and that it was okay to make mistakes. I described the bad novels I’d written along the way to learning how to write the ones I’d finally published. I talked about dreaming big and not listening to the voices of other people who didn’t believe in my writing.

They nodded. They had people like that in their lives too.

But I had good people in my life growing up, too—people like Aunt Penny and Mr. Greene, who encouraged me to write and keep writing. All it really takes is a little encouragement to make the seeds sprout and thrive.

I’m so happy that programs like that one exist, and I’m thankful to the teachers and administrators who support the students. It seems like a wonderful place to nourish the new voices of tomorrow and help them grow strong and confident. I wonder what beautiful things they will write.

Hot Time at Sparkman High Arts Festival #amwriting #writerslife

The sun was brutal today at the Sparkman High School Arts Festival. Yesterday may have been the first officially day of fall, but it sure felt like summer is still here.

The highlight of my day was meeting two separate readers who'd read my books and met me at events in past years. They stopped by my table to say that they'd enjoyed the books they'd read. One person even purchased another book today. 

"We were blessed by your books," the second woman said. She and her daughter had both read them.

I'm compelled to write. I can't help it. I've been doing it my whole life. But it's moments like those, when someone tells me that they liked something that I read, that always give me a little glow. I'm sending words into the abyss... and someone read them. And was blessed.

And that blesses me.





Great Day at Southern Authors Expo #amwriting @HMCPL

I met several new authors at the Southern Author Expo at the Downtown Huntsville Library yesterday, including Annie M. Cole, a southern fiction and inspirational writer. I’m always encouraged by the other writers in the community; they are so generous with their advice, kindness, and humor about this shared obsession we have with the written word. Annie is definitely one of those people!


“I love words,” Toya Poplar said to me. She was my table neighbor, and her book, Stop Write There, is an interactive journal with prompts to help people to write. Meeting her was such a gift.


Betty Bolte, the author to my right, is a prolific romance writer in multiple genres and one of the panel speakers of the day. Having such wonderful writers around me made the hours pass quickly, and as usual, I left with a list of ideas for things to try.

Thanks to all the library patrons, fellow authors, book fans, and everyone else who came out and made the day such a success!


Writer Blocked #amwriting #writerslife #indieauthors

I’m sitting on two unpublished YA novels. You haven’t seen anything new from me since “The Future Unborn” in 2016, but I’m not blocked in the traditional sense.

I’m trying to make the switch from indie to traditional publishing.

I’ve weighed the pros and cons of this move. For me and my audience of YA readers, I feel that a traditional publisher is the best way to place my print books into the brick-and-mortar stores where teens are more likely to buy them. I also want to put my books into school libraries.

Plus, it’s pretty hard to get a major motion picture made of your book as an indie. :)

The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency signed with me in December, 2016. I wrote another book while waiting for the first one to sell. Now there are two in the queue, and I’m 20,000 words into a third. “Writer’s block” isn’t the problem.

Jennifer reassures me about the slow pace. Things pick up in the fall; the publishing business works at a different pace. I’m just used to fast in indie. My editor is fast. The cover designers I’ve worked with are fast. Write, edit, proof, assemble, and publish. I’m in control of my schedule, and I like getting things done.

So for my readers out there who might be wondering, yes I’m blocked—but not by writing. The books are here. Just waiting. They’re coming. I promise.

Please be patient.

Curiosity at #DowntownHuntsville Art Walk #amwriting #writerslife

I’m an oddball among the other vendors selling art, jewelry, and handmade crafts—the only author. People stop and ask, “Did you write these?” or “Are you local?” Others want to know about how they’re published because they are thinking about writing a book of their own. I tell them to write. Just do it. See what you can do.

For the four hours that I stood there last night, a menagerie of people and their pets paraded past my table. Dogs of every size, color, and coat came through. Somewhere in the park, face painting was happening, so children passed with colorful cheeks. Actual dialog I overheard between a mother and son:

Mother: What do you need?

Son: I need a sword.

Mother: You do not need a sword.

(The vendor beside me happens to sell them.)

I noticed one man holding a pair of rubber duckies in his hand and tried to imagine what sort of story could be behind a situation like that. Surely I could use that in a future scene in one of my books…

Curiosity works both ways. :)

From Today's Catfish Literary YA Panel Discussion #amwriting

I enjoyed the YA panel discussion at the Catfish Literary Festival today. The atmosphere was relaxed, and the moderator brought some questions that I hadn’t answered before.

What is your favorite childhood book?

I was one of those kids who loved horses. I’d have to say The Black Stallion. I had a whole series of black stallion books in paperback.

Have you ever gotten reader’s block? (What do you not like to read?)

I’m not a big fan of mystery or fantasy books.

Since we’re in a library, what kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a new book?

I research all the time using Google. People would find my search engine queries peculiar, like “what sound does a shotgun make?” I don’t do a lot of up-front research before beginning a new book but instead research all along the way.

How many hours a day do you write?

An hour and a half a day during weekdays. On weekends, it depends—sometimes more, sometimes less.

What was your hardest scene to write?

Writing conflict is challenging for me. I’m an introvert by nature, and that means that conflict is hard, even on the page. Sometimes I have to go multiple times before I can get it right.

What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

Amber D. Tran is another writer that I’m friends with. We have lunch together every month or so and share about our writing. She’s taught me about social media and things to do with Twitter. She’s so much more extroverted than me, and she’s helped me with self-promotion in my writing.

What did you do with your first writing paycheck?

I took a photocopy of it. Then I put it into the bank.

What’s the best way to market your books?

Face-to-face events work well. I’ve had good success with the book clubs, library events, and festivals. I do not think buying ads does a lot, and I’m not sure what social media does.

What did you or your editor cut out of a book?

In Hollow Beauty, I had some sections where the character started self-harming, and my editor thought that didn’t belong in the book. I took it out. She was right.

Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?

I read all my book reviews. The good ones make me feel really happy and full of joy, but the bad ones, don’t have the same effect on the negative side. It’s just feedback.