Sunday, August 17, 2014

An Early Kayak Ride - Is This The Best Workday Morning In Tahoe?

During the busiest season of the year - continuous book launch events, book and art exhibits at art and wine festivals, and my wife's artist-in-residence at Valhalla - we often end up working from the time we get up to the time we go to bed. The idea of an entire day off isn't workable. 

But what about an hour or two break to go kayaking in the morning?

Last week, we were at the gate to Baldwin Beach at 8 a.m. when they opened. The morning was cool, and the clouds were spectacular.

We hauled our tandem kayak down to the beach and took off up the West Shore. There wasn't enough time to go to Emerald Bay, the standard destination for Baldwin Beach kayak paddlers. But the experience was wonderful just the same!

All aboard our grand ship.
Nice views from out on the water.
The water is so clear, you can't tell if it is 10 feet deep or 40 feet deep.
Lots of birds along the West Shore. These might have been Mergansers,
but before we could get close enough to tell, they performed their vanishing act
and disappeared into the depths.
Kayaking is a great way to sight-see the lakeside houses.
Here's a sailboat just like the one where Owen and Gertie take refuge in Tahoe Ghost Boat.
There are many good places to stop for a  picnic lunch, but we have to get back to work.
Mt. Tallac pops into view through the forest.
Now it's time to head back to work through the scintillating waters. Quite the beautiful morning break!
There are uncountable ways to have a great Tahoe morning, and kayaking is certainly a contender!

P.S. If you want to rent a kayak at Baldwin Beach, check out Kayak Tahoe. They have kayaks and standup paddleboards on the beach during much of the summer.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Notes For Writers - The One Thing Ye Dare Not Do After You’ve Written Your Novel

Let’s say you’ve just finished writing your novel. It is, obviously!, a masterpiece. The characters are so real you know what they order at Starbucks. The plot is so tense, if you think of it after 5 p.m., you won’t sleep all night. Your entire high-concept vibe is taut as a piano string.
What do you do? You start sending out query letters to agents. Or you spend a couple of hours online choosing one of those publishing scenarios where you don’t spend too big a chunk of your retirement savings, and you get a package that puts a reasonable cover on your opus, assigns an ISBN number and the other tedious details one needs to publish a novel, and, a few hours later, your book is live on Amazon.
Yea! Rapture will follow shortly, right?
Except for one problem.
You didn’t hire a professional editor.
In fact, you didn’t even buy your sister a red pen and beg her to be a beta reader.
Next thing you know - if you’re lucky - someone buys your novel, downloading it to their Kindle. Then the miracle happens. They are so motivated by the experience that they post a review on the ’Zon.
But what does it say?
“I might’ve liked this book, but I couldn’t get past the thousand copy edit mistakes, the homophone substitutions, the misspellings, the head-hopping point-of-view shifts within a single scene, the missing quotes, the reversed apostrophes in contractions that begin with apostrophes (like the ’Zon), the forgotten periods and commas, the periods included before dialog tags, the repeated words, the missing words, the surfeit of adverbs, the business-letter formatting with spaces between the paragraphs and no paragraph indents, the non-serif font, the excessive use of exclamation points and words SPELLED OUT IN ALL UPPERCASE LETTERS, the massive passages of exposition, the run-on sentences, the innumerable cliches... The problems were so numerous that I barely noticed the story, and I decided to give this a two-star review. But when I came to the worst, most unforgivable mistake of all - the confusion between the pronoun its and the contraction it’s - I realized that no matter how grand the author’s vision, this pile of verbiage deserved only one star. Sorry to be harsh, but the editing on this book sucked. Maybe next time the author will hire a professional editor.”
Did I exaggerate to make a point?
Of course. But only a little. If you cruise Amazon’s offerings in your genre and click on one-star reviews, it won’t take long to find large numbers of reviews very much like this. Imagine if it happens to your book. This is death by a thousand copy edit mistakes. This is public humiliation. This will make you wish your artistic goal in life had been to knit hotpads for cooking.
And it is all unnecessary. Those might have been five-star reviews if only you’d slowed down.
Why did you do it? Why were you so eager to see your magnificent words in print that you skipped the last, most important step before publication?
You probably thought, I read it through eight times, I rewrote it four times. I believed it was clean.
Unfortunately, writers don’t see what they wrote, they only see what they think they wrote.
You need an editor or three.
Just to be sure you didn’t skim past that sentence, I’ll restate it with excessive caps. YOU NEED PROFESSIONAL EDITORS.
We all write for story. If instead you focus on your copy while you write, you will produce dead prose. Limp prose. If you focus on story, as you should, you will get a much better story but you will also produce prose filled with a thousand mistakes. We all do. But if you don’t hire a pro to clean it up, your future reviewers will not only diss your work, they’ll flame you in print. Which will kill your sales. Which will kill your career. Which will haunt you forever with questions about what coulda, shoulda been...
That’s why you need an editor.
How to find a good editor?
Same as with all the other stuff you learned in writing your masterpiece.
Research. Google “Fiction Editor” and all manner of similar phrases. Ask other published authors which editors they recommend. Then check references. See what they’ve edited. Don’t just fall for some fancy “Book Doctor” jargon. When you’ve found a few solid editors, ask them to edit ten pages that you know have a wide range of the common mistakes listed above. (Yes, there may be a fee for this.)
Expect to pay well for editing. Standard rates vary by editing type. Copy editing (finding the pesky little problems) is different than content and story-flow editing, which is different from general fiction prose problems like dialog structure and point-of-view head-hopping. Prices will depend on what you’re asking for. But as a general starting point, many editors charge a dollar per page for the basics on a manuscript that is already very clean. If your work is gushing with problems, you’ll pay much more.
Many writers sign up for Amazon’s editing services, which can be good, although their comprehensive package at $1800 is more than you need to pay.
You might be thinking, I’m a starving artist and I can’t afford to pay any money for editing.
If so, trade editing services with other writers in your writing group. Choose those writers who are not your good friends. You need harsh critique. No one is doing you any favor if they’re afraid to tell you the truth. You each agree in advance to do a careful, thorough edit and critique of the other’s writing. When done, rewrite again, then repeat the process with another writer. Then repeat it again.
I have four editors. Mistakes still get through. No editor finds every problem. But your goal is to find most of your mistakes and make it so readers concentrate on your story and not on your mistakes. The four and five-star reviews will follow…
Anyone can write a book. But don't forget that last, most important step. Don't skip hiring an editor! Smart, careful writers know that they need editors to clean up their mess. Those writers are the ones who succeed.

P.S. I didn’t hire an editor for this post, so it no doubt has mistakes!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

A Book Launch Diary Week 2

As this blog is being posted, I’m scheduled to be at the Red Hut Cafe at Ski Run Blvd. and Lake Tahoe Blvd. in South Lake Tahoe, Sunday, August 3rd, 8:30 a.m.
That should be a piece of cake, right? You spend a couple of hours hanging with the breakfast crowd and the fans who come just for books, signing books and chatting about Owen and Spot. And when it’s time to clean off the signing table, you order up an Owen’s Omelet and chow down. The life of an author is pretty sweet.
Oh, but there’s a few other things to do.
In the last week since my book launch, I did a talk at the South Lake Tahoe Library, an appearance at the Bookshelf in Truckee, an appearance at the street fair Truckee Thursday, and another talk at Shelby’s Books in Minden, Nevada. Like Sundance Books the week before, I had a good crowd at my talks, 70-something at the library, 40-something at Shelby’s, and they bought a lot of books. Yea!
I also let people from out of town order personalized, signed books, and I spent part of every day fulfilling those orders. Part of a book launch also includes sending out review copies to select reviewers and book bloggers. 
Bottom line? In the previous eight days, I’ve signed 837 copies of Tahoe Ghost Boat and 164 copies of my other titles and shipped them out or hauled them to bookstores. (Yes, I did get my fingers trapped in packing tape twice, but I haven’t yet gotten a signing cramp. Probably because my handwriting is so bad and irregular that my fingers never make the same moves twice.)
Between the signing and shipping stuff, I do emails. Already people are writing about reading Ghost Boat. So far, they all love it, although I’m well aware that if someone doesn’t like it, they’re not likely to write and tell me. As everybody knows, emails take a lot of time, but what a great task for a writer to have!
As of this writing, Amazon has sold 441 ebooks of Tahoe Ghost Boat. Based on previous experience, that number will swell in August and quickly outpace paper books. In the last year, I sold four times as many ebooks as treebooks, so I now look at my physical books as walking advertisements for ebooks. I feel very bad for bookstores caught in the ebook squeeze, but for many if not most authors, ebooks are an amazing gift from the tech gods. If you get good reviews, people will click the buy button, and Amazon puts the money directly into your account, no work necessary from you. After these first few days, nine people have posted reviews of Tahoe Ghost Boat. When that number climbs into the 100s (my last book Tahoe Chase now has over 800 reviews), more readers will notice, and that will translate into good sales.
In the coming months, I will have many more events, all of which will be listed on my events page:
There’s just one thing missing in all of these great experiences that authors have.
Time to write.
As with most lines of work, the business of writing is mostly business. But without at least one new book each year, most writers can’t maintain a writing career. So within a few months, I need to shift into stealth mode and get the next book written!
Until then, I hope you like my new book!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

A Book Launch Diary

Ever wonder what an author does to launch a book?
This last Friday evening was the beginning of my book launch for Tahoe Ghost Boat.
I sent out 2300 emails to announce my new book, then drove across town to Artifacts in the Raley’s Village Center. (I always do my first signing at Artifacts because the owners used to own Neighbor’s Bookstore, and they were instrumental in helping me begin this business, sitting down with me and answering a thousand questions back in 1999 and then helping me when my first book came out in 2001. They sell a lot of my books.)
I signed books for three hours, chatting with many people who’ve been coming every year since the beginning. I also met a lot of new people who’d heard about the Owen McKenna mystery series and wanted to check it out. Some people wanted their picture taken with me. Yikes. But I smiled and tried to be gracious.
Afterward, I went home for a quick dinner, grabbed a few hours of sleep, then got up Saturday morning and headed through the Tahoe traffic and down to Sundance Books in Reno.
At Sundance, I gave a talk, told them a bit about Tahoe Ghost Boat, did a reading, then signed books and, oh yeah, smiled for more pictures. Before I left, one of the store owners asked if I could provide them with a second display so they could showcase more of my books. It’s hard to get a store to put in a display for your books. This was the first time a store has wanted to devote double display space for my series, so I was excited!
When the Sundance crowd thinned out, I jumped in the car and drove up the canyon to Truckee where I stopped at The Bookshelf to see that they had a good supply of the new title. I’ll be up there again on Thursday for the Truckee Thursday street celebration where I’ll be signing at The Bookshelf’s tent. But they were eager for the new book as long-time Bookshelf employee Carol had just finished reading her Advance Review Copy of Tahoe Ghost Boat and pronounced it my best book yet. Really? I like to think so, but I've got a bit of bias on this issue.
Next, I headed south toward Tahoe City on 89 alongside the Truckee River which, incidentally, is still flowing well despite the drought. (Lots of rafters!) I went to a store called Geared For Games in the Boatworks Mall in Tahoe City. Geared For Games sells a lot of books for me and they wanted me to do a signing. They set me up in the middle of the renovated old warehouse mall and I repeated my efforts, signing books for an hour and smiling for more pictures.
After that, I updated and refilled the Geared For Games Owen McKenna display. The owner also owns the Mind Play store in Squaw Valley, and they sell my books, too, so I filled an order for that store.
By the time I got home, 24 hours had passed since the first book I signed at Artifacts the evening before. One day, five stores, hundreds of books signed, 175 miles driven, and a lot of happy readers. (Hopefully, they will still be happy after they’ve read my latest book!)
And when I got home, I noticed that the Kindle version of Tahoe Ghost Boat had jumped onto Amazon’s Private Investigator Bestseller list.
Am I lucky or what?
Now I regroup, and start another round this coming week. A talk and signing at the library on the South Shore, then The Bookshelf in Truckee, then a talk and signing at Shelby’s books in Minden, NV, then back to the South Shore at the Red Hut, then to Carson City, Reno, then Genoa, Nevada, Placerville, CA, Sacramento, San Jose, Quincy… You get the idea.
Thanks to all of you for your support and interest!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Quick Basics Of Tahoe Boat Inspections

There is a large amount of information available on Tahoe Boat Inspections, but it is hard to wade through it for the most basic information of all. So here’s the drill on the basics.

Question: WHO needs a Tahoe boat inspection?
Answer: Everybody who puts a boat or even a facsimile of a boat into any of the Tahoe Basin’s lakes. Even if your boat is a tiny little inflatable pretend kayak or a homemade dinghy, you need an inspection. Even if your boat is brand new and has never touched water, you need an inspection.

Question: WHY are boat inspections necessary?
Answer: Because our Tahoe lakes are pristine bodies of water, and if invasive species of plants or animals from other places come into Tahoe, they will wreak havoc. Some already have. You may think that you have no such life form on your boat, but that’s for the inspector to decide. Some of the bad-ass critters they’re looking for are microscopic. Some may even have gotten attached to your brand new boat when its hull was water-tested at the factory.

Question: WHERE do you get your boat inspected?
Answer: There are currently four inspection stations. One is at Alpine Meadows Road just off Hwy 89, west of Tahoe City. Another is at Northstar, just off Hwy 267, north of Kings Beach. The third is in Meyers on the South Shore, near the intersection of Hwys 50 and 89. The fourth is at Spooner Summit on Hwy 50, east of Glenbrook. (Note that the Spooner Summit station is closed July 20.) The Northstar inspection station is only open Thursdays through Sundays. Alpine Meadows, Meyers, and Spooner Lake are open 7 days a week. Here’s the link to inspection locations:  Tahoe Boat Inspection Locations

Question: WHAT happens if I launch my boat without an inspection sticker?
Answer: They won’t let you launch at the boat ramps. If you launch from some other private location, they will probably see you. (You know about the eyes in the sky, right?) If you get caught without your papers/stickers in order, you will be very, very sorry. The minimum fine is $5000, and rumors are that they will take you to a dark room for special rehabilitation techniques that they learned from the CIA.

Question: HOW much does the inspection cost?
Answer: From approximately $30 to $125, depending on boat size and whether you are a one-time user or you want to take your boat in and out multiple times. By any measure, the fee is practically nothing compared to the cost of your boat or your trip to Tahoe. And if your boat is a non-motorized canoe, kayak, or paddleboard, then there is no cost. (But you still gotta have the inspection.)

Question: WHAT if I don’t launch my boat in Lake Tahoe, but go to one of the other Tahoe Basin lakes like Fallen Leaf or Echo Lake or Spooner Lake?
Answer: You still need to get an inspection.

Question: WHAT if I’m coming up from the valley and the inspection station is way out of my way? For example, do I really have to drive past Echo Lake and go all the way down to Meyers to get my boat inspected and then turn around and drive back up to Echo Lake?
Answer: Yes.

Question: CAN all this be summed up into something easy to remember?
Answer: Yes. If you have a boat of any kind and you want to use it anywhere in Tahoe, your first and most important stop is a Tahoe Boat Inspection station. Click here for all the details: Tahoe Boat Inspections

Sunday, July 13, 2014

How Often Does It Rain During Tahoe's Summer?

Short answer? Not often at all. In fact, Tahoe is one of best places to plan an outdoor event well in advance without worrying about rain.
Long answer? Most outdoor event planning in Tahoe is during the months of July, August, and September. People wonder if their travel or party or wedding or family reunion will get rained out. It can, but it is very likely that you will have perfect weather.
Tahoe’s weather includes famous amounts of snow in the winter, but July, August, and September are drier than all but the three driest months in Phoenix and Tucson!
Enjoying Tahoe Sunshine!

Most people would agree that the weather that is most likely to “drown out” your event is a thunderstorm. In fact, during those three months the possibility of a thunderstorm happens on only 10% or less of the days. That’s three days in July and August and even less in September. And when a thunderstorm comes, it usually doesn’t drop much rain and it is usually over quickly
What are the other sources of precipitation? Light rain happens on only 3% of summer days, or one day a month. And light rain in Tahoe is usually very light, a few sprinkles at night and that is all.
Truth be told, there is also the possibility of light snow. I know, it seems ridiculous to get snow in July or August, but all of us long-term locals remember times it has happened. When the rare cold front pushes in off the Pacific or down from the Northern Rockies, the resulting snow is usually very little and it melts fast. The snow won’t interrupt your event as much as the cold air will. But there’s only about a 1% chance of snow in July and August. Toward the end of September, the chance of snow rises to about 4% to 5% of days, which translates to one or two days in September.
There have been times when an actual winter storm blows through in the end of September, dropping substantial amounts of snow, but the chance is very small. And while the snow may hang around for awhile at higher elevations, it always melts down at lake level within a day or two.
Yes, people come here for the gorgeous landscape, but one of the mains reasons why Tahoe is so popular in summer and early fall is because our weather is generally perfect. Hot sun during the day (average high 79 degrees), cool to cold at night (average low 40 degrees - great sleeping weather!), and mostly clear blue skies.
So go ahead and plan your outdoor event and come up the mountain to play! The odds are very good that you won’t have to worry about rain.

P.S. Official qualifiers and disclaimers apply. If it is critical that you don’t get hit with precipitation, plan for an indoor backup location!

Here are links to averages on two weather websites.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Sneak Preview - My New Owen McKenna Mystery

In less than one month, my new book will be out!

Here’s the Back Copy:

The Girl Is Effervescent With Life

Gertie O'Leary is a 15-year-old girl with a messy bird's nest of red hair, a serious softball pitch, and a dream to be a movie director. She also has a $2 million price on her head.
But Somebody Wants Her Dead
When a gang led by a killer the FBI calls Mikhailo the Monster takes Gertie as the centerpiece of an extortion plot, the girl's mother calls Tahoe Detective Owen McKenna for help.
Her Parents Don't Care What Happens
McKenna finds out that Gertie's stepfather has just died in what looks like a boating accident and that Gertie's mother cares more about not losing money to blackmail than saving her daughter.
It Looks Like Detective McKenna Can't Save Her
As the unwanted child of divorced, self-focused parents, Gertie has no defenders. So McKenna appoints himself her savior. But McKenna is one man up against a small army of twisted murderers whose orders are to kill the girl…

I will be doing a range of booksignings in the area. Here’s the current list with the possibility of more being added. Come join me!

July 25, 2014 4 - 7 p.m. Premier booksigning for TAHOE GHOST BOAT at Artifacts 4000 Lake Tahoe Blvd (in the Raleys Village Center just southwest of Heavenly Village) (530) 543-0728
July 26, 2014 11 a.m., Talk and Signing for TAHOE GHOST BOAT, Sundance Bookstore at 121 California Avenue, Reno, NV (775) 786-1188, Reno
July 26, 2014 3 p.m. Signing TAHOE GHOST BOAT at Geared for Games, Boatworks Mall, Tahoe City, CA
July 30, 2014, 6:30 p.m.Talk and Sign TAHOE GHOST BOAT at the South Lake Tahoe Library, Rufus Allen Blvd., South Lake Tahoe, CA
July 31, 2014, 5-7 p.m.signing TAHOE GHOST BOAT at "Truckee Thursdays" downtown Truckee, CA (I’ll be at The Bookshelf tent.
August 1, 2014 6:30 p.m. Talk and Signing for TAHOE GHOST BOAT, at Shelby's Bookshoppe, 1663 Lucerne St. in Minden Village, Minden, NV 775-782-5484
August 3, 2014 8:30 a.m. SIgn TAHOE GHOST BOAT at The Red Hut at Ski Run, South Lake Tahoe, CA
August 9, 2014 8:30 a.m. Sign TAHOE GHOST BOAT at The Red Hut, 4385 S. Carson, Carson City, NV
August 10, 2014 8:30 a.m. Sign TAHOE GHOST BOAT at The Red Hut, 3480 Lakeside #1, Reno, NV
September 27, 28, 2014, Exhibiting TAHOE GHOST BOAT and my other books at the Candy Dance Festival, Genoa, NV.
October 8, 2014 1 p.m. Incline Village Book Club
October 15, 2014 4:30 - 6:30 Signing TAHOE GHOST BOAT at the Minden Library, Minden NV
October 18, 2014 3 p.m. Talk and Signing TAHOE GHOST BOAT at the El Dorado Arts Council's new gallery space at the Fausel House, 772 Pacific St., Placerville, CA
November 7, 8, 9,, 2014 Exhibit and sign TAHOE GHOST BOAT and my other books at the Sacramento Fine Arts Show,  Sacramento Convention Center, Sacramento, CA
November 21, 22, 23,, 2014, Exhibit and sign TAHOE GHOST BOAT and my other books at the Sacramento Harvest Festival, at the California State Fair Grounds, Sacramento, CA
November 28, 29, 30, 2014 Exhibit and sign TAHOE GHOST BOAT and my other books at the San Jose Harvest Festival, San Jose Convention Center, San Jose, CA

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Note To Self - It's The Dog, Stupid

Back in 2008, I was asked to write an article for Mystery Readers Journal. I just came upon it and thought I'd reprint it here. Enjoy!

It's The Dog...

“You can kill off any of your human characters, but don’t you dare let any harm ever come to Spot,” the woman said.
Spot's look-alike cousin
She’d been waiting patiently at one of my recent signings, then stepped up to my table and delivered this stern-sounding statement as if I were a recalcitrant schoolboy who couldn’t be trusted not to break important rules. Which, on reflection, I had been, forty years ago.
“I don’t think I ever let Spot get...” I stopped, realizing that the case I was about to make was weak at best.
“Yes, you did hurt Spot,” she said. “In the fourth book. That was terrible. Promise me you’ll never do that again.”
We discussed it some, and I explained that I had to put Spot into occasional danger just as I had to put my detective and his human friends in occasional danger. But I promised her that at the end of each book, just as in the fourth book, Spot would turn out okay.
Only at that point did she say that she wanted me to sign my newest release for her.
I’d known early on that I had a fairly important character in Spot, a 170-pound Harlequin Great Dane who is the sidekick to Detective Owen McKenna, a former Homicide Inspector on the San Francisco Police Department, now turned private investigator in Tahoe. But I’d always thought of Spot as Owen’s sidekick. Although Spot is out-sized physically and occasionally helps Owen in pursuit of the villain, he’s not a Wonder Dog like Lassie. He’s just a friendly dog who thinks all of life is a game. My books also have several other recurring characters who, being human, were, I thought, more important than the dog. Owen’s soulmate/girlfriend Street Casey is prominent. With a Ph.D. from Berkeley, she’s a forensic entomologist and consults on many of Owen’s cases. Equally prominent is Owen’s best friend Diamond Martinez, a recent Mexican immigrant who is a sergeant with the county Sheriff’s Office. As the smartest character in all of the books, Diamond provides a critical component in most of Owen’s cases.
But even if I hadn’t realized the importance of the dog, the reviewers told me as much soon after the books started coming out. “A simply terrific dog,” Barbara Peters of the Poisoned Pen wrote. “A charming Great Dane who likes microwaved treats,” wrote Booklist. “Spot is a great dog,” wrote the San Jose Mercury News.
And so grew one of the unwritten agreements between my readers and me. In my case, these covenants allow me to drop my human characters off the nearest Tahoe mountain at will, but I must be ever gentle with the dog.
It is interesting to note that these rules don’t apply outside of genre fiction. In fact, in the world of so-called literary fiction, the opposite is often true. “Kill your darlings,” is a cliché in literary circles. Among other things, it sometimes refers to eliminating story components that are nice, comforting, and sentimental. A “literary” author’s cred is frequently linked to how their fiction reveals the realities and truths of modern life.
Which, natch, means a world where life is often unfair, human motivations, even among good people, are often dark, where the future may be bleak, and endings are always messy. Those darlings, metaphorical and otherwise, that get killed in service to this ideal are numerous and may even come with four legs and a wet tongue. In the serious world of serious fiction, we dare not let a dog (for metaphor, read, ‘a symbol morally pure and big of heart’) wander long before it succumbs to a real-world end, squashed on the dark, poetic, literary highway. Of course, I know there are many exceptions where man’s best friend survives the literary writer’s axe, but in those cases usually there are other, equally sanguine substitutes that fall instead.
This perception may even lead to a useful definition of just what genre fiction is, after all, whether a mystery or otherwise. In addition to the reader’s usual desires regarding fascinating characters and an exciting plot, genre fiction usually depicts an “unreal” world where the denouement serves up a healthy dose of justice and fairness. Let’s face it. Many of us, maybe even most of us, like stories where the bad guy gets caught in the end, and the good guy lives on to engage in another adventure.
Perhaps this goes back to before the written word, when all stories came down through an oral tradition. We may even be hard-wired for genre stories. One could make the case that the children listening to campfire tales probably had a better chance of learning to find food, evade predators, and get along with other people if the stories they heard had characters who, while triumphing over bad guys, did just that. And if the stories had endings that worked out well, so much the better for encouraging kids to shoot for good endings of their own. Had those early humans been brought up on stories where the endings were realistically bleak – where the dogs often met an equally bad end – those kids probably would not have succeeded as well at life.
So it gets back to not killing your darlings. Unrealistic? Perhaps. But we write genre fiction. We don’t have to be realistic.
A woman from Seattle emailed me some time back. “I’m partway into your first book. I like it so much, I’ve ordered all of your others. But now I’ve had a horrible thought. Can you promise me that no real harm ever comes to Spot? If not, I’m not reading any further.”
Message received. Note To Self: It’s The Dog, Stupid.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Notes For Writers - Think Long Term

Years ago, my wife and I were having dinner with friends and we were talking about things we’d like to master some day. Something came up to which one of us said, “But that kind of accomplishment would take a really long time. I’d turn 40 before that could ever happen.”
Our friend said, “Yeah, but if you’re lucky, you’ll turn 40 anyway, so you might as well pursue it.”
Talk about an epiphany that has stayed with us since.
Some time after that, I was at the Northern California Publishers and Authors (NCPA) conference, and one of the speakers, whose name I forget but who was quite accomplished in the world of books, said, “Don’t judge a writing career until you have at least ten books out.”
At the time, I had two books out. They were doing well, but it seemed that I was a very long way from being able to quit my day job. But I always remembered what he said.
Ten books. Whoa. It would take a long time to write ten books. Probably ten years. But, hey, ten years were going to go by anyway, right?
After my 4th book came out, I started to get the sense that if I quit my job and threw myself at writing full time - no, Double time, Triple time! - I might be able to sell enough books to earn my living from writing.
I talked it over with my wife, who was, as always, incredibly supportive. She said, “Go for it!”
So I quit my job and began working on writing All the time. No weekends off, no vacations, no skiing, no play. It was a ridiculous schedule. Seven days a week. Three hundred sixty-five days a year. If I wasn’t writing, I was giving talks at service clubs, libraries, schools, writer’s groups, and book clubs. I exhibited my books at countless art festivals, the State Fair, street fairs, any library that would have me. I did signings at several dozens of bookstores. I joined every author group from Reno to the Bay Area and went to their meetings. I purchased booth space at the L.A. Times Book Festival, the Tucson Festival of Books, the Sonoma County Book Festival, the Carson City Library Book Festival. I hustled books at every venue I could find from the Reno Rib Roast to the San Diego Harvest Festival. It was expensive, but I scrimped wherever possible. When I was on the road, I never once ate at a restaurant, saving money instead by eating grocery food. More times than I can count, lunch was a peanut butter sandwich while I was driving from one event to another.
If you visit the Events Page on my website and scroll down you’ll find hundreds of events where I’ve done my song and dance. And I didn’t even start that events page until something like 2008.
I entered contests and won awards. I submitted my books to reviewers and got reviews from all across the country. Over the next four or five years, I had maybe four or five complete days off.
What happened as a result of this effort?
My books sold more every year. The news spread. People move around the country and carry their books around with them. Every day I got more emails, and they came from farther afield. Florida, New York, Japan, Australia, Germany. Soldiers in Afghanistan wrote me.
A publishing company in France wrote and bought the French rights to one of my books.
And every year after I quit my job, I came out with a new book. I’m not a fast writer. I identify with the tortoise. I'm slow, but I never missed my annual deadline.
In 2012, I came out with my 10th book. I was finally there, ready to “judge” my writing career.
What was my conclusion?
The man at the NCPA conference was correct. Writers shouldn’t judge their career until they have ten books. My sales tracked a steady upward arc with each additional book. By the time my 10th book came out, I was all grins every time I looked at my sales.
Was I finally able to earn a good living because I wrote ten books? Well, the correct statement would be that I was finally able to earn a good living by the time I’d written ten books. Yes, ten books makes a huge difference in the eyes of readers looking for a new author. But in the process of writing ten books - the focus, the motivation, the drive to get it done - one learns a thousand things about this business. By the time you’ve written ten books, you’ll know better how to write stories, how to publish stories, and how to connect to readers.
In sum, ten books is critical to a career. But it’s not just writing ten books. It’s all the other stuff that comes with it.
Of course, you’re thinking that there are some writers who strike it big with their first book. True. But they are one percent of one percent of one percent. The vast majority of successful writers have a bunch of books on their backlist.
Readers tend to be impressed by writers even if they have only written one book. But if a reader is looking for a new author and they find two whose books seem equally intriguing, they’ll often choose the author with more books. Why? Partly, because more books creates the subliminal impression that the author is more invested in the process and may possibly be a more sophisticated storyteller. But mostly, because readers want to know there are more books to read if they end up liking the author.
So the message is… writers WRITE. One page a day gets you a book a year. Nearly anyone can do that. Yes, of course there is lots of rewriting to be done. Nevertheless, ten years from now, your bookshelf could feature a stack of books with your name on them. The time is going to go by either way.
If you dream of being a writer, don’t ever think about just writing one book. That would be like dreaming of opening a restaurant and serving just one entree. It could possibly be done, but the success rate is almost non-existent.
Get in it for the long term. Think multiple books. At least ten.