What Makes A Story Great?

Several years ago, I stumbled across the book Holes, by Louis Sachar.  Back then my three sons and I had a routine.  Every afternoon after I picked up my sons from school, I immediately took them to our small town’s library.  We would stay there until my sons had finished their homework, then we would stop by a fast food drive-by window before beginning our hour-long drive back to our home in the sticks.  I got into the habit of picking up an audio book at the library to listen to on our long commutes to and from school.

This day, I noticed that Holes was a recent release as an unabridged audio book. It was advertised as a book for adolescent boys. The cover was unimpressive and I thought that we would most likely listen for the first hour and then go back to our usual listening after being bored out of our minds. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I had no expectations that this book would be anything more than mediocre. Like I said, I didn’t think we would even finish listening to it. Mostly, because I don’t like modern or contemporary stories. As we got into the story, I noticed that my sons were really enjoying it. After we got home, they would sit in the car until we finished listening to the current chapter. They began discussing it once they were inside the house trying to predict what would happen. I was glad for them, but I was just thinking it was an alright kids book. When we finished the book, however, I was stunned. I remember saying out loud, “I think we just listened to the greatest story that I have ever heard.”  As an avid reader, I was struck by the force of my own statement.

Looking back, I realize that it was not the greatest “story” that I had ever heard.  It was, however, the best-written story I had ever heard.  Over the years, I have heard, read or seen in movies, many really great stories. I still stand by my statement. In my opinion, Holes is the best-written story that I have ever encountered. I am not talking about prose. I am not even talking about the story itself. It is not a literary genius in the strictest sense. It is simply the best-written story. As amazing as that sounds, I have never been tempted to read anything else written by the same author. I think most likely it is a fluke, a one-off, something that cannot be duplicated. Like I said, there are better stories out there, they are simply not as well written.

So, what makes a story great? A story can be great and yet be totally mangled in the author’s attempt to put it down on paper. A few months ago, I came across a wonderful story that was nicely written, it even had great characters, but what ruined it was simply the order in which the events were told. Interestingly, the order in which the events were presented was the way they would have the least possible impact on the reader. Why? It could have been a great story.

I believe that a great story grips you as a reader in such a way that it never lets you go, no matter how long ago you read the last sentence. In my lifetime, I have encountered a few of those. It doesn’t even have to be an original idea for that to happen.

Let me give you an example, not because it is the best example, it is just the most recent one making it the one most fresh in my mind. The day before yesterday, I received an email from Amazon trying to introduce me to their Instant Video service.  They had several movie options in order to entice me to try their service. I noticed one movie that I didn’t know existed, but the poster was good and it was with an actress that I have liked in the past, so I clicked on the link.  I read the blurb and it sounded so familiar, but I knew that I had never watched this movie. I watched the trailer and it didn’t look bad. As always, I read the negative reviews first and someone said the two leads had no chemistry. Well, that didn’t sound right to me, they appeared to have great chemistry in the trailer. Granted the story was one of adultery, so I was turned off by that, but it said that the R rating was given not for graphic sex, as supposedly there was none, but instead was given for the depressing subject matter. What? Against my better judgement I made the mistake of deciding to watch it. I was no further than five minutes into it before I realized that it was not my kind of movie and again it was not because of the adultery angle. Let me just stop right here and say that I am not condoning adultery.

The problem with this movie was a classic example of a good story ruined by the order in which it was presented. I know this because the trailer was much better than the movie. It was due to the story being told out of order that made people think that the two leads did not have chemistry, which they did, but it ruined the whole thing. Notice I didn’t mention it was a wholesome story, but it might have been a good story.  Let me explain.

This movie is a remake of a remake of a remake. Here is the basic story-line: Set in London during either one of the world wars, English girl falls in love with a soldier going off to war, usually he is a Yank, but sometimes he is an English lord. This story has been done numerous times before and thus began my research into other movies with the same story-line. In less than an hour I could count no less than ten movies with the same basic plot. The oldest one I found was filmed in 1931, but that doesn’t mean it was the first, just that I didn’t find any older than that one in my quick search. Since some of them looked quite interesting, and included legendary actors, I decided to watch some of the older ones.

After watching a few of them, I couldn’t shake the sensation that many years ago I had watched one of these and it had greatly impacted me. Indeed it must have been a great story because some twenty to thirty years later I was still thinking about that one story and how not one of these other movies was as good. The problem was that I couldn’t find the one I remembered. I went to bed still thinking about it and remembered that it was with one of my favorite actors of all time. So, who was that actor? Was it Cary Grant? No, I couldn’t find it in his credits. Was it Dana Andrews? No. Was it in color or black and white? I couldn’t quite remember, but in my mind I could still see the guy standing on a street corner waiting for his love to arrive. I didn’t even remember why it had impacted me so much, but now I was desperate to find it.

Well, I finally found it after looking for it for two whole days. After all of that build up, I hesitate to tell you the name of the movie and especially who the actors are. I wonder how many people can guess. Suffice it to say that the movie was not well received when it came out, which is strange given that it is the same exact story-line as all of these other critically acclaimed movies. Plot: Married English lady falls in love with Yankee pilot. I watched it again and was again struck by the story. I feel that I must repeat that I do not condone adultery or sexual immorality in any form in real life; however when it is presented in fiction, well it just depends on how it is presented and for what reason and how it is dealt with. Sometimes it can make the story stronger, especially if the character repents and turns from it and the reader can learn from it and decide to not let it into their real life. In this case, the pilot does not know she is married when he falls in love with her and contrary to all of the other movies with the same plot, the guy shows that he is an honorable guy. I think that in itself is the main reason that this movie stayed with me all of these years. All of these movies, well most of the ten that I researched, have a very tragic ending. The one that impacted me, does not have your traditional happily ever after, but it does not end in complete tragedy.

Just as an aside, most of the haters of this movie supposedly dislike it because of the adultery. In reality, the two leads were in a relationship at the time they filmed the movie. I call it hypocrisy on the part of movie goers to disapprove of adultery if the characters are the ones committing it and not the actors. Just saying.

So what does make a story great?  In my opinion, there has to be at least one character that is larger than life, I think that is key. This is why superheroes are so popular. We all want to believe that even if we ourselves are not extra-ordinary, the possibility exists that there could be someone better than us out there, one who supersedes or overcomes our current limitations, even if we can’t see him in our reality. We can dream about him or read about him.

 

 

The Integrity of the Pen

It has been said that the pen is mightier than the sword.  In the same way as the sword, or the gun, it is reliant solely on what is in the heart of its wielder as to what use it is given.  Similar to a sword or a gun, the pen can be used to cause much damage to the reader.  It can discourage the spirit of the reader, and therefore incite him/her to the point of using a sword or a gun to cause harm to himself or others.    Contrary to a weapon, the pen can also be used to encourage, bringing life and hope, or at the very least distraction, into the heart of one who feels otherwise.  Finally, the pen can be used to commit author suicide.

Since I am rather new to the whole idea of writing for public reading, I realize that I have made a few mistakes.  I am not referring to spelling or grammatical errors, although I am sure I have made some of those too.  I am referring to the decisions that I have made as an author.  I think my main error was spending so much time seeing how everyone else did this whole marketing thing.  Spending hour after hour on facebook reading what other authors have posted on their timelines, or watching podcast after podcast of marketing advice, etc.

“Author, know thyself first.”

If I had been smart, I would have shut myself away in a remote cave or gone to a deserted island without internet and concentrated solely on writing, developing my own voice, discovering who I am, so to speak.  I guess the reason I didn’t do this is because I already knew who I was as a person.   However, I didn’t yet know who I was as a writer.  I still don’t.  I haven’t fully developed my own voice, yet.  What kind of stories do I want to tell?   How much of myself do I want to put out there and how much do I want to keep private.   My novel, Dear Tiz, has a degree of me (or someone related to me by blood) in almost every character.  The stories I have written since then don’t have very much of me in them at all.

I have decided that the best use of my time is not to be spent scouring the internet, instead it is reading, reading, reading.  I made the decision a few months ago to re-read all of my most favorite books with a critical eye to determine what is was about those books that made them my favorites.  In this way, I hoped to achieve a better idea of what kind of literature I personally enjoy, in hopes of improving my own writing.  I have to say that it has been a mixed blessing.  Although these books became my favorite when I was a teenager, I have to admit that my tastes have not changed that much and most of my favorite books are still my favorite.  However, I now see more of what I don’t like in them.

For example, there are just so many references to the correct tying of cravats that a person can take without wishing the darned things had never been invented at all.  I find that most of my favorite authors are too wordy for my taste.  Frankly, I don’t care what color the kitchen sink was; unless, of course, it is of some use to know this fact.  Like one of my mother’s friends who had decorated her whole house in Victorian furniture and all in a particular shade of pink.  That is interesting to include for the purpose of showing how eccentric the lady was, but not just for the sake of describing a room.  I suppose such wordiness might have been necessary to meet their publisher’s required word count.  There is nothing wrong with that; I just skip over all the uninteresting description anyway.  Last night, I skipped over almost a whole chapter when the author was describing a boxing match.  I found out who won and then moved on to more interesting parts of the story.  So, you guess it.  I am not going to be a very good author of describing a boxing match.  Hopefully, my readers won’t be boxing aficionados, if I ever have cause to include such a scene.

I have found out several things about me as a writer, though.

I have found out that I don’t write well under pressure or a deadline.  I knew this already when I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo, but that didn’t stop me.  Instead I decided to not take the whole month long thing too seriously.  I think I can safely say that it had only the most minor affect on me one way or other.   I did begin a brand new novel for the occasion and staying true to my no-pressure mindset, I can report that I wrote about one quarter of said novel during the month of November.

Another interesting thing I have discovered about myself is that I can be very excited about a new novel, up until I begin to tell other people about it, and then it is like I get deflated and I am no longer full of eagerness to write it.  There is something about the act of telling people, basically anyone, about my idea for the story that makes me lose interest in it.  That doesn’t mean that I abandon it, but it does make it much more difficult for me to finish writing it.  So, I am learning to keep my mouth shut.

I now know that most of the time I spend on a story will be in the thinking-it-over phase.  I wish I could write story-bits, but somehow my mind just doesn’t work that way.  For those who have never heard of story-bits (I never had) it is like writing a summary for each separate scene on an either a virtual or literal index card.  With story-bits, the planning is behind you and you just have to concentrate on telling the story.  It is like an outline, but with a little more meat on the bones.  The times I have forced myself to plan ahead on paper (or computer), I have found that by the time I get to that place in the story, it no longer makes sense to have that happen or in that way, which defeats the whole purpose of story-bits.  I guess I am just a panzer at heart and can’t think that far ahead.   When I sit down to write, I have a general idea of the beginning, the middle and the end, but apart from that I have no clue what is going to happen.

So far, I have been true to my decision and have not gone to sleep without reading at least one chapter in my current favorite book.  I had to laugh at myself during the month of November; however, when I was so caught up in the writing for NaNoWriMo, that as I would get comfortable in my bed and turn on my Kindle; I would have this flash of eager anticipation to find out what was going to happen next in my story and then the realization would hit me that that hadn’t even been written yet.  Instead I was reading a different book.

I know many authors like to tease their readers with portions of a chapter or scene, or they like to give updates as to their progress on their next novel, etc.  I am afraid that I cannot do that.  It messes me up and freezes my brain to the point that I would never get any further writing done on that particular story.  I am developing a mailing list, though, for the purpose of alerting readers when I publish a new story.  If you would like to be alerted to this, you may add your email to my list by going to my Mailing List page.  As I have said, it is not likely that you will be receiving many emails from me, as I don’t really like to give progress updates.

In 2012 – I wrote my first novel.

In 2013 – I tried to educate myself regarding marketing (not very successfully) and wrote three short stories and began writing three full-length novels.

In 2014 – I plan to edit my three short stories and finish my novels and publish them.

May I take this opportunity to wish each of you a Happy New Year.

Historical Novels

If you know the first thing about me, and maybe not much else, it is that I love historical romance.  The thing about historical romance is of course that it is historical and that it is a romance.   But why?

As a reader, since I only started writing about a year ago, I am much more of a reader than a writer; I never chose to read historical romances because of the history.  I mean, history is fine when it is woven into the story, but I always worry if the historical aspect of the historical novel is, in fact, true to history.   More often than not, it isn’t, and in that case I wish the story was not historical, in that sense.

I rather enjoy a good fantasy or alternative historical romance, just as much as one that stays true to history.  At times, I might even enjoy it more if it is set in a fantasy world, then I don’t have to worry about whether it is staying true to actual historical events; however I don’t really like your normal fantasy, per se.  For me the setting is not as important as the story itself.  So, I don’t list fantasy as one of my preferred genres, because I am not sure where it will take me, and the usual stories that happen in the fantasy genre are not my favorite; although I do like some.

Here is a concrete example.  I like George MacDonald’s romance novels, such as The Fisherman’s Lady (I really need to re-read that), more than his fantasy stories—Phantastes, Lilith and others.  That being said, I like the Chronicles of Narnia, which are fantasy, more than George MacDonald’s romance novels.  In spite of the fact that Phantastes is not my personal favorite; it is because of it that C.S. Lewis “crossed a great frontier” and was henceforth inspired to write his Chronicles of Narnia and Space Trilogy.  Any person who is familiar with George MacDonald’s writings can see just how much C.S. Lewis was influenced by them.  The greatest attraction for me to read a George MacDonald novel is the fact that he wrote them in the 1800’s, and he was writing contemporary modern literature for that time, but for me now, they are the purest form of the historical novel.  Add to that attraction, the additional blessing of getting to read one of his sermons now and again woven into his novels, and for me it is a win/win/win.

Soap-box paragraph:

The downside of the modern historical romance genre is that unless it is sold as a Christian Historical Romance it can be littered with explicit sex; and even then it is not immune to it, if an author/publisher labels it as Christian in order to appeal to a bigger readership.  I mean, just because a story is set in a convent or the main character is a priest or a pastor, that doesn’t mean the book should be classified as Christian.  Personally, I don’t exclusively read Christian literature, because I have found some very good books that are not; however it can be quite deceptive and by the time you get to the sex scene you are already invested into the storyline and you want to know how it ends.  Of course, I just skip over it, but it is disheartening to be blindsided over and over again due to the mislabeling of books.

So then, just exactly what is it about the historical romance genre that I like so much?  Well, if it is not the history and it is not sex, what is it?

It is the mindset of the characters.

This is the reason that I prefer to read novels that were written centuries ago, versus new novels that have a historical setting.  I am much more interested in how they actually thought and felt, versus what someone today thinks they thought or felt.  Like I have said previously, it’s more than just making your characters speak in an old-fashioned manner.

Moment of truth—I do occasionally enjoy reading a historical romance that is completely full of historical inaccuracies and has the characters speaking in modern slang, if the mindset of the characters is more old-fashioned.  If the relationship between the main characters is true to what it would have been historically.  Here is the thing.  I read historical romance to get away from the modern mindset, which I hate and blame for all that ails our society today; and I hate it when it pops up in what is supposed to be historical novels.

Here is a quote from Thomas Babington Macaulay (b.1800-d.1859):

Everywhere, there is a class of men who cling with fondness to whatever is ancient, and who, even when convinced by overpowering reasons that innovation would be beneficial, consent to it with many misgivings and forebodings. We find also everywhere another class of men, sanguine in hope, bold in speculation, always pressing forward, quick to discern the imperfections of whatever exists, disposed to think lightly of the risks and inconveniences which attend improvements and disposed to give every change credit for being an improvement. In the sentiments of both classes there is something to approve.”

I readily admit that I fall into the first class of men, who cling with fondness to whatever is ancient.  Whether it is unreasonable or not, that is who I am and I am proud of it.   Thomas B. Macaulay certainly thought it unreasonable, although had he lived to see the last few decades, I wonder if he wouldn’t have changed his tune.

Another thing—I hate superwomen historical characters.  Even worse than that, I hate wimpy historical male characters.  That doesn’t mean that historically women never wore the pants, figuratively speaking, in the relationship; because ever since the time of Nimrod women have been controlling their men.  That doesn’t make it right, and it certainly doesn’t make it entertaining to read about.  I understand that many women, who have chips on their feminist shoulders, write novels in order to re-write history in their own image; but that is not why I read romance novels.

Personally, I hate reading about emasculated men, we have too many of them nowadays.   I ask you a very serious question.  When was the last time you saw a modern TV show or read a contemporary novel where the supposed hero was not emasculated? (Please post the name of the hero in the comments, because I want to check them out.)  Even if the guy does start out at the beginning of the story to be very strong and masculine, he is given so many weaknesses that they break him by the 2nd or 3rd season or by the end of the book; turning him into a mere shadow of what he could have been.  They poke so many holes into the character that it ends up resembling a bullfight.  It is so much easier to tear down than to build up, and yet that is what we as a society need.  We need heroes that are built up, that we can look up to, that our children can emulate.

I am going to play my own devil’s advocate and name at least one modern male hero, that I know of, who was not emasculated, even though the show lasted for four seasons and a couple of movies to tie things up at the end.

A modern day hero, who overcomes a very difficult childhood, and with each episode becomes a stronger and better man—Jarod, from The Pretender (1996-2000).  Ok, so it ended 13 years ago, making it only relatively modern.  At least, I avoided ones from more than 20 years ago.

Sept 28 – ETA: I can’t believe that I forgot (no seriously, how could I have forgotten) about, and I’m very surprised that no one else mentioned it to me, FBI agent Peter Burke from White Collar.  He is the best character to grace the small screen in an extremely long, long time.  His wife, Elizabeth, is one of the best female characters on TV, as well.  I really, really hope they don’t mess them up.

Criteria: Hero must stay good, as well as strong of character, no matter what happens.  I could put it another way.  Which modern day hero would make you proud if your son emulated him?

I will add to this list if you post them in the comments.

Series, Sequels and Prequels.

I am appalled to think that I just might be one of those people, who has a very strong opinion about something and then at the moment that I have made that opinion public, either by posting it on my blog or facebook page; I then find that maybe my initial opinion is not as strong as I thought.  The subject is my opinion on Series, Sequels and Prequels. 

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My initial opinion is thus.

As a reader, I don’t like getting to the end of a book, only to find that in order to find out what happens, I have to buy another book, and then another, and then another.  So, I had made up my mind, in the spirit of “do unto others” therefore, that I would not write any kind of a series.

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Regarding TV series, I am of somewhat the same opinion; however, if you look at a show like Bonanza, yes I have to pick a historical one, even though the characters are the same in each episode, each story arch is autonomous and comes to a conclusion at the end of 60 minutes.  I am beginning to hate modern TV shows like Castle, because even though the detective side of the episode comes to a conclusion, there is a back arch that bleeds into the next episode, meaning that you can’t watch them out of order and if you miss one episode, it might just be the crucial one that explains exactly how Beck comes to the conclusion that she now wants to have a romantic relationship with Castle.  It ends up making you a slave to it.

That being said, I do very much enjoy the British shows that have a story arch continue for maybe two to eight episodes and then it comes to a complete conclusion.  The reason that I really like this idea is that in the US they try to cram all of this information into 60 minutes, and they don’t take enough time for the story to develop properly.  I really like that the UK can take two hours and maybe quite a few more in which to tell the story and when it concludes, it feels like you really did watch a good movie, instead of a Wham-Bam show that is on steroids.

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Ok, but let’s get back to books now.  The difference with books is that if the one volume contains the whole story then it is up to the reader to spend as little or as much time with it as they want.  Plus, the reader doesn’t have to feel like they are being manipulated into spending more money to read the conclusion to the story, which may not even happen yet for several volumes.

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Here is where I change my mind, though.

One of my favorite authors is Louis L’Amour, and I have been reading his books since I was eleven years old; of course, I was borrowing my brother’s copies of the books.  Yeah, I know it’s weird because he doesn’t even do romance, but here is the thing.  He created this family called the Sacketts and he instilled in them characteristics that are totally awesome, like honor and such; but the main thing that I like is the family loyalty; “If you attack one Sackett, you attack us all” kind of thing.

So, he wrote 19 books/stories in the Sacketts series, of which I have read 16, I think.  Even though they are all part of a series, they are complete stories unto themselves, and that is what I like.  So what if my brother had to buy another book to find out what happened to Jubal Sackett, but the story being told to begin with was basically finished in the initial volume. 

The exception to this, are the two books, Sacketts Land and To the Far Blue Mountains, which tell the story of Barnabas Sackett.   Sacketts Land is the only book by Louis L’Amour that ends on a cliffhanger, that I know of.   I am more than willing to forgive the author, or in this case the publisher, for the necessity of having to buy another book to read the rest of his story, because Barnabas Sackett is probably my most loved fictional hero of all time.  I mean I really wish that I had his blood (DNA) flowing through my veins, and therefore through my sons veins.

And that is the thing, though.  A great author with a great story can pull it off; especially, if each volume is quite lengthy.  I mean how bad would it have been if Tolkien would have published the Lord of the Rings in one giant volume.  At the time, it would have been a ridiculous choice for the publisher to make.  Now with ebooks, I am glad to be offered the option to buy all three books in one volume, however.

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I guess what I object to is the publication of very short serial books, that never end and actually ending the story is not even the goal of the author.  Although, I know there is a market for these, because they are selling like hotcakes.  Even then, I would not object * if they were published as graphic novels, and the story was awesome.  Because I understand that it takes longer to tell a story in comic book form and you have to finance the hefty graphic artist fee somehow.

*Note: I don’t really object, per se.  I just don’t want to be one of those writers, and I don’t want to buy those books, either.  For those who like to read them and those who like to write them, I say go for it.

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So, in conclusion I guess I don’t hate serials as much as I thought I did, and I will even buy sequel books, if I like the story enough to do so.  However, I will still think twice, probably more than twice, before I hop on the bandwagon and start producing serials of my own.

Priority Reading

Island

I just read the posted results of a survey done by goodreads, about when a reader abandons a book.  I was thinking of leaving a comment, but then I thought it might be lengthy for a comment, it would be better to post on my blog.

As an author the results are interesting to get a feel for what might make someone put down my book and at what point in the book that might happen; as a reader not so much.

I don’t know if the books that are listed there were posted by the readers taking the survey, or if those books were offered to them in a list. In any case, I am not interested in reading any of them, with the sole exception of The Lord of the Rings, of course; which I read and finished before they were popular, when I was a child.   However, as to the rest of the books mentioned, if I were the one taking the survey, I would have to say that I never started them, and I don’t intend to, because they are not the kind of books that I am interested in reading.

The reason for this is because as a reader I don’t choose a book to read for its popularity or because it was recently made into a movie.  I have very specific reading preferences and I already know that the kinds of books that I prefer to read are not ever going to be in the top 100 list.   I am not saying that I would never read a book in the top 100 list, but it would be the exception, rather than the rule.  Also, that I would not read a book just because it is in the top 100 list; that, in itself, would not make it more attractive to me.

It does seem interesting to me, though, that so many people have made a personal life-long reading rule based on what a random teacher said to them years ago. 

LifeTooShort

The main reason I find this so interesting is when I think about how many times teachers require students to read books they hate and have no interest in reading.  It is in school where we are taught to read books that don’t interest us personally, but we read them because we think they are books that we “need” to read because everyone else is reading them, or to appear “educated”.

Sure, I had to read a few books in school that I would have never read otherwise, but that was school.  Once I was allowed to choose the books that I wanted to read I never again wasted my time reading a book just because everyone else was reading it.  Whether historical romance novel, suspense novel or a theological study book; I have since chosen to read books that I know are “my kind” of books.  Due to this, it is very unlikely that I would not finish a book after I start it.

In the last eight months since I published my first book, and have had to get my toes wet in the book marketing side of things; I have tried to read fellow author’s books, either as a favor review swap thing or because I am interested in finding out what kind of books other authors are writing.  I am finding this to be counter-productive to me for writing potential further books.   First, because I don’t want other author’s plot ideas or style of writing vying for attention with my own while I am trying to write my next original story.  Also, because “life is short” and there are a limited number of hours in the day that I can spend reading.  I need to make my reading count.  That means that I need to spend more time reading books that have influenced me, touched me, and that I have personally enjoyed during my lifetime.  I need to spend time studying those books to find out what it was about those books that I liked, in order to improve my own books.  I mean, what is the point of writing a book if it isn’t “my kind of book”?   Also, and maybe the most important, is that I need to read more books about “how to edit” as that is probably the best use of my time, at the moment.

Of course that means that I will have less time for figuring out how to market my book(s), and that will probably mean that I will sell less copies of my book.  I need to make a conscious choice at this time.  If I want to be a one-book author who spends her time marketing and networking, or do I want to write another book.  Since I still have my “real” job that I must to do, and which has nothing whatsoever to do with writing, reading or marketing my books, I need to learn how to prioritize both my reading and my writing.   At this time, I think the marketing and social side of authoring is going to have to be last on my list.  Otherwise, I climb into bed at night frustrated that I did nothing fun or productive that day, at all.  Writing is fun for me, but it has the potential to not be so very quickly.  So many authors speak of writing their “best”, but I can’t do that when I am too busy investigating what other authors are doing and writing.  The only way that I am going to be happy about my writing is if I am true to myself and my writing is truly and exclusively “me”.

That being said, I would love to find an editor who instead of being a word dictator (yeah, I borrowed the term) is willing to work with me to allow me to be me in my writing, only an edited version of me.  Still looking!!!!

The thing about free books:

I have been reading a lot of posts online, as well as a few books on the subject of marketing.  Most are now saying that the free promotions are not as useful as they used to be—that it is counter-productive, that it is saturating the market, that it teaches people to not have to pay for books, etc.  That probably is true in the larger picture, and especially for those authors who have already broken the “obscurity barrier”.    However, that point of view overlooks several important things.

The obscurity barrier is when a new author is so unknown to potential readers, that it would take a miracle for them to be noticed by anyone who might actually be interested in reading their book.  I still fall into that category.  For those authors, the best thing in the world is to give away thousands of copies of their book to potential readers in the hopes of getting noticed and therefore establishing a fan base.  Many authors view this as throwing away money.  I don’t see it that way.  If you are so obscure that no one will ever find out that you even wrote a book, then the so called money that you are supposedly “throwing away” never existed to begin with.    Giving away free copies of your book is a much better plan than to spend hundreds of dollars on marketing with no guarantee that it will even pay for itself.  The free promotion gets your book into readers’ hands; they get the whole book to read in its entirety in order to make up their minds about your style of writing, and it doesn’t cost you a cent.  You might even get a few reviews by doing this.

On a personal level, I am very happy to give away free copies of my book to anyone who cares to receive it and read it.  To me it is a win/win for both me and the potential reader.

Here is another thing about free books on amazon:  I have lived outside of the United States, and I know how difficult it can be to find literature in English to read while abroad.  Books in most countries outside of the US are very expensive, even if they are not in English.  In South America, books in Spanish can be about three times as expensive as the same book sold in the US.  Now, granted a person can theoretically load up their Kindles before they ever leave the states.  What about the person who has never set foot in the United States, but enjoys reading literature in English to improve their vocabulary?  Whether it is for work or personal pleasure.  What about the child of a foreign missionary, or army brat, who not only doesn’t have the option to come to the United States and load up their Kindle, not to mention that they probably can’t afford to buy a Kindle in the first place?  By the way, those of you who send care packages to missionaries and the armed services should consider including a Kindle that you can fill up first with a bunch of great books.  There are a lot of drm free books out there to choose from; however it does take some time to find them.

The nice thing about free books on amazon.com, is that as long as you sign up with a US address, you can download free books anywhere in the world, without having to enter any sort of payment information.   Then you can read them on google chrome in the Amazon Cloud Reader or download one of the many free apps that Amazon offers their readers.

So, say you want to include a filled up Kindle in a care package, here is one idea of how you can do that.  Open a new amazon.com account and enter a US address.  Purchase a Kindle, either from that account or your personal amazon.com account.  After you make the purchase, you can begin to buy books for it.  Some Kindles need to have an initial connection within the US borders.  So have the Kindle shipped to yourself.  When you get the Kindle make sure it is registered to the new amazon.com account to establish the connection.  If you entered payment information in order to buy the Kindle, now is a good time to delete that information from the account.  At this point, you can ship the Kindle to its final destination, in a care package or however you wish to send it.  On the receiving end whoever gets the Kindle can continue to purchase as many free books as they wish, without having to enter any kind of payment information.  You can also continue to add free books to that account (as long as no one changes the username and password).  Should the recipient wish to buy books that are not free, they can enter their own payment information or someone can send them an amazon gift card, which they can then redeem in books for their Kindle.

Another nice thing is that for those people who are learning or seeking to improve their English, they can download an ebook and then search for the audio version, sometimes also for free.  Most of the classics are permanently free for Kindle on amazon.com. There are also many free audio books at librivox.  Some people might like to listen to it at the same time as reading it in order to improve their English pronunciation.   The same can be done for those learning Spanish; however there are not as many books available in Spanish or other languages.  Of course, the Kindle does have a text-to-speech feature that will read the book in a mechanical voice for English books.

One final thought on free books, is that I think it is a great thing for children and teenagers, who don’t have money for buying books, to be able to read for free.  Especially, books that are uplifting and inspirational, as well as entertaining.  I am very disappointed that most of the Christian Fiction is very expensive.  It is not unusual to find that they are about $14.99 dollars at the regular price for the Kindle version.  It is almost as if they are purposely trying to keep their books out of the reach of the younger generation, even when the books are categorized in the YA genre.  I feel sorry for those authors, because their books are good and definitely deserve to be read, but so many young people can’t afford them.  That is one of the reasons that when I find a free promotion, I want to let everyone know about it, and so I post them on my facebook page.  It may be the only way that certain people will ever have the chance to read them.

This is one of the reasons why I am so glad to be a self-publisher and have never wished to be published by a publishing company.  I, myself, can set the price of my books to whatever I wish and offer many free promotions, as well as being able to give away as many free copies of my books as there are people who wish to read them.  Now is the right time to mention that you may send me an email (free at aslauggorbitz.com) anytime to request a free copy of any of my books.  Please specify which book and include what format you prefer—Kindle, epub, PDF, etc.

Take a look!

Sorry, I have been AWOL lately.  My oldest son accidentally deleted my author website a few weeks ago, and I have been trying to decide what to do about it. I know that I am doing exactly opposite from what is considered expert advise, those who say that you should consolidate and keep everything on one page.  I now have two websites and one blog, in addition to my author pages on facebook, goodreads, crossreads, etc.

I did like my old website, in spite of being told it didn’t look very professional.  I had made the backgrounds for it myself, and it had a very definite Scottish feel to it, which I liked.  I suppose I could have just put it back the way it was, but I guess I am not that kind of person.  It had a very definite feel of “been-there-done-that” which made me want to try something different.   I could always go back to the way it was, but I like “new”.

So, for the last few weeks I have been looking through Joomla templates, selecting a few that could possibly work for me.  Then I had to actually learn Joomla — how to change the DNS, how to install Joomla itself, how to install a new template, how to upload the content, make a new logo for it, etc.   Some Joomla templates are not straightforward about how to personalize them.

Unlike my husband and my sons, I don’t have an overly developed love of learning new things.  The things I learn are mostly due to necessity, rather than just wanting to learn how to do stuff.  Having said that, I do like to do certain things and in order to do them I have to learn how.  Such as graphics; I even went so far as to design my own video game; I am still working on that, though.   I have been dabbling in graphics programs for the last twelve or so years, so it was natural that I would like to design my own book covers.  I can’t say that I am an expert, but I can say that I like how they turned out, and if not I can always change it.  Like the cover for my new book, Maiden of Fana.  Even though I love it; it appears I am the only one who does.  I didn’t even get one like for it on my facebook page.  Oh, well!  Which means that I will probably have to redesign it.  I just have to figure out what I really want the book to say at first sight.

Now that my new website is done, for the moment; you can all go take a look at it, if you like.  I added some new content, and kept some of the better content from my previous website.  I have to admit this one does look more professional, I don’t know if that is a good thing or not.

Please take a look at the featured authors, so far I have two authors.  If you care to be featured, please let me know.  The only criteria is that you be the author of family-friendly literature—No sex or mature scenes or heavy swearing.  Take a look!