Gratitude to Rebecca Berto and her Novel Girl blog for interviewing me.
When I taught high school English, I always had at least one student – usually a female – who concentrated more on her presentation than the substance of her work. When the term paper was due, I’d receive a beautiful folder with lots of clip art designs on the cover. I might even get a plate of food representing something from the topic of the paper. Instead of working on the substance, this type of student hopes to wow with “pretty.”
I usually took the paper out of the folder so I could actually read it and comment. I tossed aside the accoutrements to find the meat. Most of the time, I found large fonts in 14 point size.
It wouldn’t have taken much more effort to actually write the paper.
With the advent of easy book publishing programs, anyone can write a book and make it pretty on the outside. And many do. Maybe they’ll sell a few books that way and fool some people for a short period of time. But for lasting effects and success as an author, substance and technique are required. There are the exceptions, of course, and I’m not going to give them further publicity by publishing names and titles. I predict those who find easy success will burn out as easily.
For a few minutes today, I’m going to put on my English teacher cap and tell you something I told hundreds of students each year: You must know the rules before you break them.
For any of the trailblazers in any art form, they knew the basic standard rules of music composition, architectural design, painting aesthetics, and fashion basics. How else would they know how to skillfully break those rules? Some of the classics of literature, such as The Catcher in the Rye, break all the rules. But I bet J.D. Salinger knew what rules he was breaking, and he deliberately created a main character who broke the rules of society as well.
Some rules are best not to break. I follow the conventional uses of punctuation just because it helps the reader understand meaning. But I do start sentences with conjunctions – but, and, or – for emphasis. I write in sentence fragments, again for emphasis. Short. Strong. Powerful. I know the rules, but I break them with intent. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote a run-on sentence in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” He was writing about the injustices inflicted on African-Americans in this country and telling his audience why he couldn’t be patient and wait. His sentence went on and on listing the injustices, and the sentence itself becomes a metaphor for those injustices that keep going on and on. Brilliant. Memorable.
Do you break any of the rules of grammar?
NOTE: I’m looking for writers – published or not; Indie or not – to feature on Wednesdays in Writing Whims. Author Wednesday will include guest posts and interviews with authors in most genres and at most stages of their career. Please leave me a comment or email me at email@example.com if you’d like to schedule a feature. On Fridays, I’m going to post book reviews. If it coincides with an author’s post, that’s great, but sometimes I might just review an old favorite, a new release, or the most recent book I’ve read. I’ll still post about writing tips and techniques once a week, but only on Monday.
Jennifer Donohoe is a fellow author and blogger (A World of Writing). She does a wonderful job of also promoting her colleagues. Yesterday, she posted a summary of my new novel, Trails in the Sand, along with the first chapter. Originally, she intended to post an interview with me for her Wednesday evening author interview post, but she misplaced the interview. When I located the questions and answers, I decided not to let them go to waste.
Interview with Jennifer Donohoe
P. C. Zick – Trails in the Sand
What has been your greatest moment as a writer?
The greatest moment came when I held my first published book in my hands. That happened in 2000 when a small publisher picked up my first novel, A Victorian Justice. In the aftermath of that moment, I could finally say without hesitation or embarrassment, “I’m a writer.” Now I go further and say, “I’m an author.”
What has been your worst moment as a writer?
The day I received my first one-star review on Amazon for my novel, Live from the Road, was probably my worst day as a writer. I’d been writing and publishing novels for twelve years and had received my share of reviews. Not everyone liked what I wrote, but the majority who took the time to review did. This reviewer hadn’t even finished the book and made comments that weren’t true. For a couple of days, I hung my head and questioned my life as an author. Then I realized this was just one person who decided to write a mean review, and it should not overshadow the good comments I’ve received. But most of all, I do believe in what I write whether anyone else does or not. That is the most important thing to remember as a writer. Believe in yourself, and the rest will fall into place.
Do you write your stories from personal experiences or another source and why?
I write from both perspectives. All of my novels have some seed from my real life, but then I expand and pull in other sources, such as characters and settings. I don’t write autobiographical novels, which is an oxymoron. But I do use my real-life situations because I usually want to take what I’ve learned and share it with my readers. Also, just listening to the news and reading the newspaper gives me fodder for scenes. When I was a journalist, I kept track of a host of situations and people which occasionally made their way into my novels. There’s a wealth of stories wherever I turn.
What do you want readers to know about your book?
Trails in the Sand is about redemption and restoration. I use the environment as the backdrop to help stress the theme. As the main character, Caroline, explores the mysteries, secrets, and lies of several generations in her family, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill gushes toward the beaches of Florida, threatening the sea turtle nests. Caroline’s husband, Simon, is mourning the death of his best friend and cousin in the Upper Big Branch coal mine disaster in West Virginia that killed twenty-nine miners weeks before the oil spill. Caroline is fighting to restore her family and find redemption in the process as she writes about the environmental stories in which folks are fighting to restore the environment and save the sea turtles from extinction. I want readers to walk away after reading Trails in the Sand knowing it’s never too late to restore peace and find love.
What do you believe will appeal to readers about your book?
The environmental themes will appeal to readers. I use real news releases and news stories in between the love story of Caroline and Simon. In addition, the unraveling of the family’s secrets and deceptions from generations past will keep the reader turning the page. The story involves a race to save the sea turtles and to rescue a family from destruction.
At the beginning of the year, I posted my goals for 2013. I thought I’d check the goals and see where I stand six weeks later with forty-six weeks left. It’s appropriate now because in the past month, I’ve felt as if I’m coming out of the learning curve fog. I’m not professing to know everything about this new Internet-based indie author endeavor I’ve chosen. But at least I feel as if I’m catching on while I’m continually catching up.
Last year at this time, I was in Florida for a two-week vacation with my husband. I remember talking to friends we visited about the next steps for me, which included embarking into the eBook world. I vowed to start my blog and publish Live from the Road. Little did I know how much I needed to accomplish. Here’s the good news: I did everything I broadcasted during that vacation.
Now a year later, I’m returning from another two-week journey back to my former home state of Florida where once again, I recharged my batteries. I’m ready to find out how far I’ve come in six weeks and readjust the goals as needed.
Writing Goals for 2013
- Launch Trails in the Sand. I published it on Amazon and have a print copy ready to proof. I plan to do a big launch for the novel by the end of January.
Six-week update: Trails in the Sand is available on Kindle and in paperback on Amazon. I also published this one with Smashwords, so it is also available on Nook through Barnes and Noble. So far, sales have been dismal despite my best efforts to launch. Advice: Don’t pay to send out press releases. I received only two responses and those were from ones I sent personally. One of the major problems is lack of reviews at this point. Several review copies are out and I’m waiting for more reviews to appear. The good news: five positive reviews have been posted on Amazon. In addition, Trails in the Sand made it through the first round in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. I am very pleased because books are chosen in this round based solely on the pitch for the book. I agonize over my pitches and never think they’re good enough.
- Finish Safe Harbor. I started this novel in 2007 but stopped when I decided I needed to find a wildlife officer to interview. I left for the big Route 66 trip, which led to the creation of Live from the Road. When I returned from Route 66, I took a new job with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and became very familiar with wildlife officers and experts. Now there’s no excuse not to finish the almost completed draft. I start by pulling out the spiral notebook where it’s housed and giving it a read. I always recommend that writers let pieces incubate, but five years isn’t what I meant.
Six-week Update: I’ve pulled the manuscript out of its drawer and started reading the first few chapters. I’m writing out character cards organized by group. When finished, those cards go up on the bulletin board facing my desk. I already have some thoughts about reorganizing the beginning. I did some research and decided the title needs changing. I found nearly a dozen books with the title Safe Harbor.
- Publish a book of essays on my travels. I already have a name: Odyssey to Myself. I have most of the pieces written in various stages. It’s a matter of pulling it all together into one cohesive story of my travels from 2004-2009 as I discarded an old life and moved into a new phase.
Six-week Update: Nothing to report here. Still formulating and stewing in my mind.
- Pull together all of my gardening blog posts from my blog “Living Lightly Upon this Earth” into a book. I see it as a primer for gardening and preserving produce. Again, I have all the pieces here and there, I just need to pull it all together.
Six-week Update: I started organizing and wrote an introduction. I created a template on my laptop so whenever I have a spare moment, I can go to it and do some work. I’m doubtful I can get it ready in time for spring planting, but I should have it for summer. Since I’m dividing it into seasonal chapters, the summer chapter on harvesting, preserving, and eating should still draw interest.
- Read the pile of books on my desk, both fiction and nonfiction. Reading is an essential part of the writing journey. How fortunate for me to have a career that requires reading for improving my craft.
Six-week Update: I read three books on eBook marketing so far. I’ve been a little off of fiction, but I started In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez.
- Establish myself as a bestselling author. Every year this one makes it to my list. Here’s to 2013 being the year it happens. For me, this goal refers to making a living as an author. I want to be able to pay more than the electrical bill each month with the proceeds from my storytelling.
Six-week Update: Working on it all the time. Stay tuned. I’ll let you know when I can pay more than the electric bill.
How’s it going for you in 2013 so far?
The world of writing and publishing entered a revolution in the past decade. I joined a little late after a discouraging six or seven years attempting to follow the traditional route. Discouraged, disillusioned, and frustrated, I dropped out for a few years. I woke up a little more than a year ago and decided that perhaps I could try something different. After all, I had a manuscript nearly ready for publication (Live from the Road), another in first draft form (Working title: Safe Harbor), and that little voice instead of me nudging me to write yet another novel (Trails in the Sand).
As a result, I decided to give self-publishing and the eBook world a try. The first thing I did -after reading a bit of advice – was purchase my first Kindle so I could see where I might be publishing. I like my Kindle, but I still read hard copies of books and probably always will, but it’s nice to have the alternative.
Even after publishing two eBooks, I still felt myself floundering as badly as my sales. So I decided with the little bit of knowledge I’d garnered in the past ten months, to begin yet again reading the books with e-Book and self-publishing advice. What a difference it made to go back because now I actually understand and know what the authors mean when they make suggestions. I know what makes sense for me, and even better, my months of study have given me the knowledge to be able to implement changes.
Here are the first two books I read. Both gave me confidence, reassurance, and usable information.
I began with How do I Decide? Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing – A Field Guide for Authors by Rachelle Gardner ($3.99 Kindle only)
I’ve been following Ms. Gardner’s blog for a few months. Even though she’s an agent working with traditional publishers, her blog is full of wise advice no matter which route an author chooses. When I learned she’d self-published this eBook, I purchased it right away. It’s short, but worth the price. I’d already made the decision to self-publish two novels, but I’d also gone the traditional route with three previous books. Her comparisons and checklists are extremely beneficial. The checklists are based on individual preferences and personalities. I used each one of the checklists to see what it said about me as a writer and my choices. For the most part, it confirmed and reinforced my decision to go the self-published route with my books.
I recommend this book to anyone who’s on the fence about what to do in the next steps . I also recommend it for anyone who’s questioning choices made thus far. She lays out the differences in a concise way. I didn’t find her assessments biased based on her chosen career path – after all, she also chose to self-publish this book. She gives the reader the opportunity to see what it’s really like for either side of the equation. Best of all, there’s always time to shift and try another road. And if you’re in that position, this book will provide realistic expectations for both the traditional and self-published routes. Since I’ve been on both sides, I know her take on both are realistic.
Next I moved on to a book I downloaded to my Kindle some months ago – there are seven more books waiting for me to read – but this one popped up first. Self-Printed: The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing by Catherine Ryan Howard ($4.99 Kindle; $15.95 paperback) became the first eBook on which I used the “bookmark” feature.
When I finally opened the book to see if it was one that would help me, I had no intention of reading it because I was simply going to organize all my self-publishing help books by reading through the tables of contents. Instead, I found myself engrossed in the advice given. The author writes in an earthy tone and provides a ton of anecdotes and humor, which took a bit of getting used to, but the advice was so good, I adjusted my attitude. I scrolled through the endless “don’t do this” stories to get to the meat. The author lives in Ireland, so she gives warning to move forward if you’re an author from the United States.
I began incorporating some of the advice immediately, especially about WordPress. I learned about things that have puzzled me in my journey as a self-published author. I finished the book in two days and have pages of notes on things I can do right now to help increase my presence online.
The advice put things into perspective for me and drilled into me that the focus of my workday should be on creating a presence and writing my next book. I’ve already incorporated about half of my notes on my web page and on my Author Central account. I don’t always follow the advice given in the books and blogs I read, so the difference here is the down-to-earth way she explains it. Her suggestions made sense and helped me clear the fog I’ve been in since I started my self-publishing journey last March. I only wish I’d read the book back then, but maybe I wasn’t ready for her advice in those early days.
Do you have any books you’d recommend to those of us in the revolution?
I’ve been working as an Indie Author for almost a year. At times, it feels as if I’m floating, and sometimes drowning, in an excess of advice, information, and time-consuming minutiae. As a fairly organized person who can multitask, I haven’t felt comfortable, so I decided to organize the tasks I need to accomplish every day. For other Indies reading this post, please note that this is now my full time job. For once in my life, I have the luxury of pursuing my dreams without day-job interference. It does mean I need to be creative when it comes to our one-paycheck household, but we manage. I bring in enough each month to pay for incidentals.
However, I intend my lack of regular paycheck to be only a temporary situation, which leads me back to the focus of this post. If I want my books to sell – which I do – then I need to market what’s already out there while continuing to write new books. To make it less daunting, I’ve broken down the tasks, by giving myself a list of eight items that need attention every day. I might not accomplish all of them, but it gives me focus for my day instead of leaving me so overwhelmed that I accomplish nothing.
Tasks for this Indie Author
- Triberr – This task takes me approximately twenty minutes each morning. I belong to five tribes, with a total of 180 tribemates. Check out the Triberr website if this is meaningless to you: www.triberr.com. My blogs are linked to Triberr so every time one of my posts goes live, it appears in the tribal stream for 180 other bloggers who then tweet my post to a potential market of 769,000 folks. I tweet their posts as well. Tweeting that many posts is mindless routine work, and I usually accomplish this while drinking my coffee and listening to the morning news. It accomplishes two things recommended for the successful use of Twitter. First, I’m tweeting about something other than myself. Second, others are promoting my blogs, which is more attractive in Twitter world. If you haven’t joined yet, I recommend you do so if you have a blog.
- Leave comments on at least two different blogs – I follow approximately fifty blogs, although I don’t read them all. Some I read every time they post. I try to leave meaningful comments rather than just saying, “Great post.” I enjoy doing this, and it only takes about thirty minutes or less each day. If I comment on someone else’s blog, chances are if they aren’t following my blog, they will at least check me out. In addition, during this time, I respond to all comments left on my own blog.
- Complete two book promotions and/or strengthen platform – Yesterday, I added Trails in the Sand and Live from the Road to two different websites, so technically I completed four promos. Savvy Writers blog has a wealth of information on how to promote. I count writing guest blogs in this category, if it’s about my book or I can mention my book somehow. Right now, I’m working on two guest blog posts and both will reference and link back to my books. I spend an hour or two on this every day. While taking a break from writing this post, I found several articles about criminal charges filed against BP employees responsible for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which is a topic relevant to my newest novel, Trails in the Sand. I shared the articles on my Facebook author page, Twitter, and Google.
- Research marketing strategies – I have several reference books on my Kindle and in paperback on self-published marketing. I’m working my way through social media strategies. By next week, I plan to tackle SEOs, keywords, tags, and website promotions. Last night, while we watched the hockey game (Go Penguins), I surfed a marketing book during commercials. While I’m reading blogs, I find promotional ideas, which I bookmark or print. I have a ton of bookmarks and a folder filled with strategies to sell more books.
- Request two book reviews – On Monday, I found a blogger who does book reviews – via a Facebook reference from a colleague – and she agreed to review both of my ebooks.
- Send out at least one press release/kit – I made a list of possible publications that might review and/or publish information about Trails in the Sand, and I send them information. I might not always send something out, but I keep a list going of potential audiences. I send to newspapers and to organizations relevant to the environmental theme in Trails in the Sand.
- Work on my new novel, Safe Harbor – I’m in the beginning stages of reading what I wrote six years ago. I started a notebook with short notes on chapters, and I’m making character note cards that will go on a bulletin board in my office. Right now, I’m not heavily engrossed in the book, but my interest is growing. Soon this will become the priority instead of the last listing in my organizational chart. Last night, I went through two chapters at bedtime instead of reading someone else’s book.
I work more than eight hours a day, but there’s flexibility. Today, I need to leave the house by 10 o’clock and won’t return until late this afternoon. However, this morning I began my workday at 6:30 and will most likely put in a few hours this evening. Don’t worry about me working too hard because it almost seems as if I’m lying when I write about writing as a job. I love what I do, and I’m even beginning to enjoy the marketing end of the business.
Do you have any organizational tips to share? I’m sure those of you who work outside of the house are finding creative ways to do it all. Please share your ideas and tips.
Please note that I have some giveaways going on right now and my novel Tortoise Stew is free Feb. 7-10 on Kindle at amazon.com.