Important: New Rules on Amazon

I want to share this information from Jackie Weger, the founder and leader of eNovel Authors at Work.

I’m happy to be held to high standards, both as an author and an editor. I hope Amazon enforces and uses the new rules properly and doesn’t listen to the trolls out there who leave reviews just to hurt competitors.

Click here to read Jackie’s post. 

How to help Indie Authors – A Primer

Help an IndieHow to help Indie Authors – A Primer for family, friends, fans, and other Indie Writers

It’s not easy taking the route of Indie Author or any route as an author. The field is crowded, and it’s hard for readers to sift through it all. So in addition to writing, most of us Indies spend a great deal of time promoting our work. Most of us try not to annoy our friends and family, but it’s inevitable that many of them will see our promotional stuff. So as we move into the holiday season, I’d like to give some advice to anyone associated with an author. Also, there’s a little bit of advice for other authors as well. I wish you peace and relaxation during the coming season. Take the time to read a book, maybe even from an Indie Author in your life.

Besides buying the books of your favorite authors, there are other things that can be done to help raise the visibility of Indie Authors, who are adrift in a massive sea of other Indies trying to be seen, heard, and read. So here’s a primer for simple things you can do to help raise us up. It all has to do with SEOs and Google searches, and believe me, it all helps. In the case of Facebook, it means more people see the post if there are likes and comments on it. It’s amazing to see what happens to a post on Facebook when even a few people hit the “like” button. Your vote does count in a huge way.

Amazon and other book purchase sites

  • Leave a short review after reading an Indie Author book. If you’re related or somehow related to the book, leave the review to someone else. If you’re not, leave a short review. I’m a believer in the short, but sweet, reviews. They all help. Here’s one of the best ones for my book Live from the Road.
    5.0 out of 5 stars A Trip Worth Taking May 29, 2012
    By Marisella Veiga
    Format:Kindle Edition
    This novel is a spirited travel story. It is packed with humor, understanding, and difficult conflicts. What is more, it is sprinkled with insights,love and no love. If you’re looking for a fun read that shares nuggets of wisdom, this is the book for you.
  • Press the “review was helpful (or not)” button on other reviews.
  • If you don’t purchase the book, at least add it to your “wish list” and then push the Twitter button about it.
  • Tweet after you purchase a book (buttons are provided on Amazon).

 Blog help

  • After reading a blog post (large hint here), “like” it. I get tons of notices about blogs every day, and I can’t read every one of them, but I open many of them and at least give a “like.”
  • After reading a blog post, leave a comment.
  • Press any of the share buttons at the end of most blog posts.

 Facebook

  • Leave a comment on posts by Indie Authors.
  • Follow or like author pages.
  • Share posts by Indie Authors if you feel your friends might enjoy something.

 To Indie Authors

  • If you are featured on someone’s blog, go to the post, and “like” it AND post a comment.
  • Follow the blog where you’ve been featured. Check back for comments by others for a few days after post. Comment on comments!
  • Like all comments on posts where you’re featured.
  • Share the post on all of your social media sites.
  • If you have your own blog, reblog to your followers.
  • If you’re a blogger, respond to every comment left on your posts. Also, now that WordPress gives you the choice of liking comments, do so.
  • And as you were taught as a child, send a thank you note to the blogger who featured you. Remember your manners.
  • Treat your fellow Indie Author as you wish to be treated as an Indie Author.

I hope this helps. Helping out an Indie Author is really quite simple and easy, but it might mean the of a sale of one book or the addition of one follower. I think of my journey as an Indie as a domino effect, with one thing leading to another.

Give the gift of “like” to your favorite Indie this year. What did I leave out? Please let me know, by leaving a comment below. I promise I’ll respond.

PC ZICK PHOTO COLLAGE

Hazy is Not Spam

2FBHazy.jpgI call her Hazy; she calls me P.C. And we call each other friends.

Thankfully, she contacted me recently to ask me a question. She thought it strange that I had not been responding to comments she left on my blog. She knows me well and knew something must be amiss if I wasn’t responding. We finally figured out that her comments of the past few weeks were being sent to my WordPress spam folder, along with all the strange symbol-names and foreign-language comments.

Her likes appeared just fine, but for some reason, her comments did not. I featured Hazy on Author Wednesday a few months back, and her post received more spam comments than any other posts to date. We’re not sure if that’s what set off the spamming of her comments or not. Thankfully, I was able to pull her comments out of the dead-end file and respond to them in my usual manner.

I’m sending out this post for a couple of reasons.

  1. I respond to every legitimate comment on my blog. If at all possible, I respond within hours. I enjoy every single comment and want those who take the time to respond to know how much I appreciate them.
  2. I hope if you’ve left me comments, and I haven’t responded,  you’ll let me know so I can search through my folders.
  3. If you feel your comments to other blogs go unanswered, you’ll make the effort to ask why.
  4.  Finally, if you miss a regular commenter on your blog, you’ll check into the situation.

Thanks to Hazy for bringing this situation to light.

 

 

Writer’s Write, and Then They Write Again

crazy author

writer writing

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

Here I am with four books published on Kindle and in paperback through Createspace. I started this journey of Indie Author with the publication of Live from the Road in May 2012. It’s been sixteen months, and I’ve learned and suffered and fretted. I’ve also enjoyed being in control of my work. I still don’t have a formula for success, but I keep plodding along.

At the prodding of another fellow author and blogger, I decided it was time to check the figures on my books. All four books are enrolled in Amazon’s KDP Select program, which means every ninety days I’m given five days to offer one of the books for free. I decide what days and can split them up into different free days. The point of giving away the book is to get it into the hands of as many folks as possible, hoping for reviews and residual sales after the free event. The number of reviews on Amazon affects the sales or so the experts say. Also, with KDP Select, readers can “borrow” the book on their Kindle. Authors receive a percent of the KOLL fund for these borrowed books. The amount varies month to month. For instance, in June, five of my books were borrowed, and I received a payment of $11.19, in addition to my royalty for sold books.

I do know sales have dropped since last summer. I’m disappointed in my sales record for Trails in the Sand, my latest release. I’m pleasantly surprised with the success of Live from the Road, a book I published simply to test the Indie Author waters.

Embarking on the Indie route requires an outlay of money for editing services (an absolute must) and cover design (another must unless you’re a trained graphic designer). Fortunately, I have a background in formatting so I did my own work there, but some folks may have to pay for that service as well. I’ve kept my advertising budget low. The biggest expenditure I made was for a book tour ($120, plus a giveaway valued at $50) for Trails in the Sand, and it was a bust as far as sales. I might have picked up a few blog followers as a result, but there was no residual effect for book sales. Next time, I’ll organize the tour myself and find blogs better suited for my platform. I’ve paid $5 and $10 here and there for advertising my free days, and I believe that works well. One time I paid out $80 for advertising after the free days on the advice of one of the biggest Indie Author support groups, and I didn’t see any benefit in networking or sales.

For my one nonfiction book on Kindle, From Seed to Table, I didn’t pay for editing, but I did have proofreaders on the project. I paid for a cover, and I haven’t converted it to paperback, and probably won’t because it contains so many images.

Here’s the breakdown of estimated cost to produce and advertise each book, along with sales, borrowed, and free “sale” figures:

FinalWebSizeLive from the Road (May 2012 – August 22, 2013)

Cost to Produce – $530

Sold – 430

Borrowed – 53

Free – 26,009

Politics Florida-styleTortoise Stew – (July 2012 – August 22, 2013)

Cost to Produce – $130 (reprint)

Sold – 28

Borrowed – 1

Free – 677

3-D1webTrails in the Sand (December 2012 – August 22, 2013)

Cost to Produce – $1,030

Sold – 46

Borrowed – 0

Free – 3,499

S2T-5From Seed to Table (May 2013 – August 22, 2013)

Cost to Produce – $150

Sold – 43

Borrowed – 7

Free – 10,204

I’m still in the hole for three of the books, but Live from the Road has paid for itself and covered the cost of some of the other books as well. I’m getting reviews for all of the books, except Tortoise Stew (one did come in last week after the free days, so hopefully reviews will increase). In the beginning, I chased down reviewers for Live, but then became disillusioned with giving away books and never seeing a review in return. I’m up to forty-one reviews for that book – they keep coming in steadily even sixteen months after the book’s publication. So far, Trails in the Sand has garnered eighteen reviews. I hope the free days from this month will result in more.

I do know having the books available for sale is better than having them languish in a file cabinet. I’m constantly trying new things, but I don’t have any magical formula for you.

Right now, writing and selling books is my job. It’s a great luxury to have this time, but it’s not supporting anything quite yet.

I remain optimistic as I keep writing. It’s the best advice I can give anyone. When I get a bad or good review, I get back to writing. When I do get discouraged, I write. Usually by the end of the day, the cloud dissipates, and I’m back on the keyboard hacking happily away.

I’m definitely a writer in my heart, body, mind, and soul; therefore, I write.

I’d love to hear about your experiences or answer any questions you might have. It’s a whole new world out there for authors, and I’m content for now to be exploring the Indie Author gig.

How Much Background Is Too Much in a Novel?

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

I’m happily working away at the new novel these days. When I wrote the original concept back in 2006, I provided lots of background research on Florida and the Everglades. That’s the way I’ve always written, even when I was a reporter. I regurgitated all the new and old knowledge onto the page in a very rough first draft or outline of a new piece. Then I set about slicing more than half of what I’ve spewed onto the page.

Successful writing in any field or genre contains three essential elements. I call it the 3 C’s of writing. The elements are correctness, clarity, and conciseness.

Correctness – In journalism, accuracy is a key element (we hope). However, even in fiction, correctness is important. I read a book once where the author was describing a scene where the newly in love couple went kayaking – in a single kayak. He helped her in the seat and then the author wrote that the man jumped in the same seat behind his gal. Also, the couple – both experienced kayakers – were said to use “oars” rather than the “paddles” used in kayaking. I lost interest in the book at this point. Try jumping into a one-person kayak alone, let alone with another person, and remain unharmed, upright and dry, and I’ll eat an oar immediately. Correctness is essential in the details of a novel. If you chose a famous place for the setting, make sure you know that place and the names of streets and intersections. You can make up the name of hotels and restaurants, but be sure you know distances between places. Also, make sure that if you’ve set your novel in 1984 you haven’t created any anachronisms by having a character pick up a cell phone to make a call. I’m reading a book right now that I thought was set twenty years, ago but the author just mentioned Wikipedia and Craig’s List. I don’t think either of those were around then.

Clarity – Clarity goes along with conciseness in some ways. Make sure nothing in the novel confuses the reader’s understanding of the story. I don’t mean the confusion that might come from unraveling a mystery. The reader shouldn’t have to read a word, a sentence, or a paragraph repeatedly to make sense of what you’ve put on the page. I ask my Beta readers to point out any confusing areas by simply putting a question mark. Sometimes it’s as simple as a misplaced modifier, such as “Credit cards shall not be given to customers unless the manager has punched them first.” I misplace my modifiers often in the first draft, and just as often, I’m not the one to catch them.

Conciseness – Finally, I get to the reason I started writing this post. I’m struggling now with all that background information culled from reading, interviewing, or living. It’s sometimes difficult to realize that the reader doesn’t need and probably doesn’t care to know all I’ve learned before writing the novel. The reader simply wants a story to be told. I’m struggling right now as I turn that original draft/outline into a real first draft ready for Beta readers. That background information or exposition as it’s called by literary folks doesn’t all need to come at once or at all. The author decides where, when, and how much to tell. Some of it can come out in plot situations throughout the book. It’s one of the beautiful things about being an author. It’s also one of the most difficult. Beginning writers can sometimes be spotted immediately because they haven’t yet realized the importance of conciseness. I’m still learning after nearly two decades in this business. You don’t need to tell the reader everything you know. Not even close.

Here’s something I try to remember every time I write: Just because I put it down on paper, doesn’t mean I’ve carved the words in stone. That delete button is a one-finger press away. (But just to be sure I create a file for deleted passages.)

What do you think? Are these important elements in storytelling?

wood stork (Everglades)

wood stork (Everglades)

Earth Day – Incorporate “Green” in Stories

source: www.outlook.noaa.govBy Patricia Zick @PCZick

Today is the forty-third anniversary of the very first Earth Day in 1970 when environmentally minded folks came together to raise awareness after several major disasters in this country. First, in 1969 there was a devastating oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara that compromised both the habitat and the wildlife within reach. Then, if that wasn’t horrific enough, a river caught fire in Ohio. I repeat: a river caught on fire because of the high amounts of combustible crap in the water.

We’re still celebrating Earth Day, and we’re still dealing with environmental disasters such as BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill three years ago.

This blog is devoted to writing and writers and today is no different despite my opening paragraphs. Today, I urge all writers to consider doing something “green” in your work. You don’t have to write environmentally themed novels as I do, but you could create a character that recycles or drives a Prius or drinks water from stainless steel containers or uses cloth napkins.

I attended a writer’s conference many years ago at the height of the AIDS Awareness campaign. In one of the sessions, an agent urged the participants to make sure the characters were having protected sex, whether it was to show a character pulling a condom out of a drawer or simply having two characters discuss the issue before partaking in sex the first time. I’m doing the same thing here. No matter what you believe about climate change, taking care of our planet just makes good sense. As writers we can lead by example.

You don’t need to make a big deal out of it, just make it a natural part of the story and maybe somewhere something will click with a reader.

In Trails in the Sand, Simon, one of the main characters, toys with the idea of pulling an old solar water heating system out of the barn. Here’s how I handled it:

“I’ve been thinking about something,” Simon said. “Remember that old solar water heater out in the barn? I’m going to pull it out this afternoon and see if we can install it for the bathroom.”

Do you think it’s salvageable?” Caroline asked.

“I’m not sure, but I know this guy on Vilano Beach who works with this type of thing. I thought I’d give him a call.”

“What brought this about?”

“I keep thinking about our dependence on fossil fuels and wondered how we could change our lives in some ways that might make a small difference. Then I read that piece you wrote.”

“So you do read what I write,” Caroline said. “Sure, see if we can do something with it. Maybe Gus wasn’t so far off the mark all those years ago.”

“Maybe not, but don’t worry, I won’t make you live off the grid totally. I’m thinking there’s a middle ground somewhere. And you know I’m your biggest fan.”

Speaking of Trails in the Sand, my virtual book tour starts today. Please check out my blog stops and enter to win a very cool giveaway: an autographed copy of both Live from the Road and Trails in the Sand, magnets, a Route 66 baseball cap, and a “green” grocery bag from What’s Green with Betsy blog.

Here’s the schedule for April 22 trailsbanner3web

Melissa’s Mochas, Mysteries More blog features an excerpt from Trails in the Sand. Melissa loves books and animals. She says her blog is “a book blog with a very pet-centric twist.

Author Richard Stephenson interviews me on his blog. Richard is cool – he devotes much of his blog to promoting Indie Authors.

Bookingly Yours blog features my guest post about the anniversary of Earth Day and the connection to Trails in the Sand.
Jenai reviews books and features guest posts by authors.

Any comments left on today’s post will be entered into a separate drawing (by me) for a Kindle version of one of my three novels in eBook format. Enjoy and do something “green” today.

Write the Perfect Lead and It All Falls in Place

woman writer

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

“The young man huddled under a layer of blankets with a cap covering his bald head, as he talked about an upcoming trip to Las Vegas before he died.”

I learned a valuable lesson about writing a story, whether fiction or nonfiction, after writing my first feature article. The lead (or as journalists spell it, “lede”) of an article, column, or novel needs to hook the reader. If the first sentence hooks the reader, you have a chance of convincing them to stick around for the rest of the story. The sentence above is the one I should have written for my first feature on a nineteen-year-old man dying of cancer. I didn’t agonize over the lead, but instead sweated out the conclusion believing that was the most important thing. I knew he was dying; he knew he was dying, but I didn’t want the article to end in a way that drew the same conclusion for the reader. I lost a night’s sleep over how to end it, and suddenly I came up with a brilliant idea at three a.m. about the trip to Las Vegas, and I ran to the computer to finish the piece and send it to my editor at the local paper who was tight on space for that week’s paper. I made the front page, but the conclusion didn’t make it on page eight. The editor ran out of space and cut my final paragraph, which is the first place an editor on a newspaper looks for the extraneous. I was devastated.

Soon afterwards, I attended a writer’s conference. A columnist who I admired ran one of the sessions on column writing. I raised my hand and told him my story because I wanted to ask him question about how to handle that situation with the editor.

“Why in the world did you end your story with the best sentence?” he said. “Never, ever do that. If it’s so great, it needs to be in the lead.”

I’ve taken it to heart, but I’m not sure I always pull it off. It’s important to remember that the opening lines are an invitation to the reader. If they read one sentence, they might read two, then a whole paragraph, a page, and so on. It makes sense. As a reader, I wander the aisles of bookstores and pick up books with appealing covers and titles. I read the first paragraph, which is often one sentence of twenty-five words or less. If I’m not hooked, then rarely do I consider buying it. Writers must always think like readers.

Here’s some opening lines from novels to stress the point.

“Elmer Gantry was drunk.” Elmer Gantry by Sinclair Lewis

“Are you bored with sex?” The World is Full of Divorced Women by Jackie Collins

“There was once a boy by the name of Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.” The Chronicles of Narnia by Sinclair Lewis.

And my personal favorite because not only does it hook me as a reader, but it provides a wealth of information about this woman.

“She had slept naked all her life, and no one knew it.” by Eileen Jensen (I am unable to find the name of the book to attribute it.)

All of these opening lines urge the reader to move forward and find out more. Why did she sleep naked? How old was she? She’s most likely a virgin, single, and saucy, but those descriptors only intrigue me more.

Here’s a test. If you’re asked to send an excerpt of your book or the opening chapters, do you want to send something from the interior of the book instead? If so, it’s time to go back to the beginning, and start all over again. Even if you lose a little sleep over the lead, take heart. Perhaps the reader will too because you’ve so captivated them with your story. And it all begins where all good stories start – at the beginning.

 

First line of Tortoise Stew: “The bomb sat in a bag on Kelly Sands’ desk for an hour before she noticed it.”

Write First, Write Great

typewriter.jpg

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

As I read about how successfully to market my books, I keep coming back to one word of advice: WRITE. To make a name for myself as a writer, I must always remember to keep writing. When I look at my discouraging book sales, instead of hanging my head, I must keep my fingers flying over the keyboard.

And when I write, I must write great stuff. Or at least, I must write pieces that satisfy me. It’s always true that as writers we must determine who the audience is, but that can be carried too far if we forget our No. 1 audience is the person cranking out the words.

For so long, I wrote with far too much focus on audience. When I worked as a journalist who depended on a paycheck, it was essential. When I worked for a state agency as a public relations director, there was no choice but to write for everyone but myself. But as a novelist and blogger, I am freed from some of those constraints.

By Jae at Lit and Scribbles

By Jae at Lit and Scribbles

When I published my first novel in 2000, I think I expected instant success. The day I sat in a bookstore next to a life-size poster of Harry Potter the same year J.K. Rowling became a household name and sold one book during a two-hour signing, I realized success was not knocking anywhere near my door. I wrote more novels, always chasing that nebulous dream of “success” and writing for that and not myself. I didn’t know what success meant, except as described by others.

“Send the book to Oprah,” friends said.

I did send five books of that first book to Oprah and her producers. That’s the last time I wasted my money so foolishly – even more foolish than playing $20 on a slot machine at the casino.

I gave up on publishing in 2007 and became a cynic about my chances for success as an author. I still wrote fiction, but put a first draft away in a drawer and actually finished another novel all the way through the editing process. Then I put it away in a drawer. And I continued to write for other people in a stilted, non-creative way. If you’ve ever had to write a news release in less than an hour with four scientists and the director of a state agency breathing down your back and shouting edits as you type, you’ll never understand how my creativity left me for a few years. It’s not recommended, unless you treat the job as a research position for your next novel – which I did. Trails in the Sand is the result of that internship. My next novel uses some of my research time as well. I probably have ten novels inside me based on that experience.

I’ve changed as I’ve moved into this new phase of my writing career. I’m no longer working for a paycheck. I’m working for myself. It’s been a strange transition, not always a comfortable one, but I’m growing into it.

I realized how far I’d come when I finished the final edits on Trails in the Sand. I read the last paragraph of the book and found myself crying. The story moved me. I realized in that moment, nothing else mattered. It didn’t matter what the reviewers said or if I became an overnight sensation or if I sold more than a dozen books. In that moment, I was as successful as any author can ever be. I pleased myself with my writing and knew that I’d written the book I wanted to write.

That profound moment forced me to make some changes in my day. Instead of writing at the end of the day after marketing and dealing with social media, it’s now the first thing I do. Writing takes precedence over everything else because above it all, I am a writer.

So write first and for yourself, and I promise you, the writing will make you proud.trailsbanner3web

Weaving Real Events into Fiction

Macondo well gushes oil after Deepwater Horizon oil rig burns and falls

Macondo well gushes oil after Deepwater Horizon oil rig burns and falls

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

When I began the early scribbles for what eventually became Trails in the Sand, I was writing about current events. BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill still led the headlines as oil gushed unabated into the Gulf of Mexico. Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine explosion made headlines in few months after the explosion when investigators finally entered the mind shaft after the fumes subsided. The CEOs of both BP and Massey continued in their positions, but only for a few months longer.

I used both events in my novel as the main characters are connected to both disasters.

By the time, I published Trails in the Sand in January 2013, the horror of both events faded from the public consciousness as the media turned to more pressing issues, such as the demise of yet another pop idol with little talent, except a beautiful face and body.

BP plays its commercials extolling the beauty of the Gulf beaches it nearly destroyed forever because of their negligence in following safety procedures. Massey Energy changed names, and the face of the company, Don Blankenship, faded into obscurity except for his website supporting certain political entities.

So my novel went from the category of current events to historical fiction in less than three years.

Even though I used real events in the novel, my characters are figments of my imagination. I used actual news accounts and placed my fictional characters into the scenes. It’s reminiscent of the movie Forest Gump, except our dear Forest goes to the top and interacts with very real presidents during very real events. My characters do more mundane things.

Some authors use actual events in history with real people. They invent conversations, emotions, and action within the context of the history. Paula McLain did that very well in The Paris Wife, a novel about Ernest Hemingway and his first wife Hadley. Using Hemingway’s Moveable Feast, McLain creates conversations and events between the characters. She read Hadley’s letters to Ernest to find the woman’s voice. “I invented what I couldn’t know,” McLain said.

Another novel that skillfully invents the lives of real characters and real historical events is Julia Alvarez’s In the Time of Butterflies. It takes place in the Dominican Republic during the rule of Gen. Rafael Leonidas Trujillo’s dictatorship. Four sisters – the Butterflies – are the main characters of the novel and the real Butterflies during that violent time. On November 25, 1960, three of the sisters are found dead next to their jeep. The other sister, Dede, remained at home. Alverez tells the story from the viewpoint of all four sisters capturing their voice and personality through very adept storytelling.

Even though authors may choose different ways to include historical events within the confines of a story, some things remain constant.

  • Research – If you decide to include real historical events or real places within your fiction, accuracy is crucial. In Trails in the Sand, I used real news releases, news articles and reports, and books on the events. For the mine explosion, I added a fictional miner, but I kept to the real details of lawsuits and monetary settlements offered by the company to the victims’ families based on news reports. McLean used the Hemingways’ real accounts of their lives together in Paris. Her descriptions of Paris in the 1920s is historically correct.
  • Always Avoid Libeling a Real Person – There’s a standard for libel, which includes making defamatory statements of fact that are false. If you decide to use real people in your fiction, use common sense and only write what you can prove. For instance, if I quoted a real person in Trails in the Sand, the quote came from an interview using that person’s real words. My best advice to you, if writing about a real person and making them a character in a novel, is not to defame them and stick to actual historical accounts. In addition, make sure you publish a disclaimer at the front of your book. Here’s a sample used by many authors and publishers:

This is a work of fiction. The characters, events, and dialogues portrayed in this book are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real.

  • Keep track of current events – As authors, we never know when a story in the newspaper might end up in a book. If something tickles your fancy, bookmark it, save a copy of the article, and/or scribble some notes about it. Soon it will be history and might be stranger and wilder than anything you could ever imagine. Something I read years ago has stuck with me. A man in Florida, shot his pit bull when the dog showed signs of homosexuality. His neighbors reported the gunshots, and the man claimed he couldn’t stand to have a “gay dog” on his property. I’ve weaved that into my next novel – I just knew it would come in handy one day.

Have you ever used real events in a novel? Do you like reading novels that do?

trailsbanner3web

All Writing is Opinion – So No Need to Shout

Hello – I’m changing my routine a bit with Writing Whims. On Mondays, I’ll post my tips and thoughts about writing. On Wednesdays, I’ll be featuring other writers – please see the note below about Author Wednesday. On Fridays, I’ll post book reviews. Sometimes I might be reviewing a book by Wednesday’s author, or I might review an old favorite, a new release, or the most recent book I’ve read. I’m hoping this will prod me into moving through my pile of hard copy and Kindle books.

Brother and Sister Having an Argument clipart

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

When I began working as a reporter, my whole concept of writing changed. Much to my chagrin, I realized what I taught as a high school English teacher mattered little to writing in the real world.

So I adjusted and formed my own style as I wrote articles and columns and dabbled in the world of fiction. My first newspaper editor always stressed objectivity in reporting as most real newspaper people do. Soon enough, I discovered objectivity is the ideal, but it’s not the reality.

I learned about journalism in the field under deadline. I covered the politics for a small yet growing town in north Florida. When Walmart set its eyes on a town willing to give incentives for building a super center within the city limits, the locals took sides. My job was to report on both sides objectively, even though I had a definite opinion about the monster stepping on the midgets. I wouldn’t have been able to write the preceding sentence in an article about the project, but I sure could decide how I presented my piece, even though it appeared to be objective.

For instance, if someone on the Walmart side yelled, “You’re a good for nothing tree hugger,” I could lead with that statement and continue with the rest of the meeting. But what if that comment was preceded by, “You’re a cheater and a liar out to destroy this town by bringing in Walmart,” and as the reporter, I chose not to include that in my article? As the reporter, I’ve suddenly become subjective, but no one is the wiser except the folks at the meeting. It happens all the time.

As writers, we have tremendous power in the simple presentation of words, sentences, and paragraphs. We choose the examples we use in both fiction and nonfiction. We design characters to suit our needs and opinion. We design scenes where our point is abundantly clear by what good or bad things might happen to the protagonist or antagonist.

We don’t need to shout. We only need to show. In my novel Trails in the Sand, I present the real life drama of BP’s oil spill and the Upper Big Branch coal mine disaster. Even though I have a definite opinion about who’s responsible for the deaths of men and wildlife in both tragedies, I tried not to shout it from the rooftops. But I chose what news articles I quoted, and I presented the material from the perspective of an environmentalist through the main character, Caroline. I tried not to shout, but I certainly wasn’t writing an objective novel.

This week on my first Author Wednesday, author Rachelle Ayala writes a guest post about her newest novel Hidden Under Her Heart, which presents one view of abortion. I’ll review the book on Book Review Friday.

Ms. Ayala shows her opinion quite clearly in her novel, but she’s not shouting. And because she didn’t shout, I listened.

I also learned another lesson in those early years of my writing career. When folks on each side of the Walmart issue presented their position, they were usually shouting. No one heard a word because the other side was shouting just as loud. Even though I had my own opinion on the project, I soon discovered I didn’t want to be associated in any way with either side.

I stopped listening.

Do you believe there is such a thing as objective journalism or is it just a good example of an oxymoron?

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 pczick@verizon.net, if you’d like to schedule a feature. I’m booked through the end of May, but I’m looking for authors for June, July, and August.