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Take Me to Your Weeder

23 April 2014 | No Comments » | fictorians

A guest post by Shelley Reddy.

Passages_Shelley Reddy

Two aliens walked into a library, and approached the front desk. “Hewwo, Wibrary Wand. Take us to your Weeder.”

I love that libraries are offering new ways for people to encounter stories and content. The library district where I work offers four online libraries, free music downloads, video streaming, language learning programs, virtual magazines, and over 300 free online classes –including courses on writing and publishing. Furthermore, the branches host workshops, e-publication seminars, author visits, as well as other programs. Those are a lot of opportunities for writers to improve their skills or connect with readers.

As a book lover and writer myself, I feel supremely lucky to be in such an environment. However, I’ve found that there are two great challenges to working in a public library.

  • I will never read all the stories that are out there –nor even all the great stories.
  • Libraries do not have enough room on the shelves or in the budgets for all the material which is being released into the world.

While the first is frustrating fact of life, the second creates a fundamental problem for libraries and their staff.

Like any reader, library staffs love stories, engaging characters, and the way writers spin worlds from varying combinations of a mere twenty six letters. We firmly believe that there is a book for every reader, and a reader for every book. The archivist in us treasures the ability to preserve the stories and match their authors with readers. However, when the books keep coming in and circulation slumps, the books sit, waiting like the residents of the Island of Misfit Toys.

Eight months ago, we had this problem in our large-print section. The books – built up over years of healthy budgets- were so numerous, and packed so tightly together, that it was nearly impossible to pull a title off the shelf. Many popular items were on the lowest shelves, forcing our most elderly patrons to bend or kneel to find them. The shelves themselves were located in the darkest portion of the building –which hadn’t been a problem when half-empty shelving allowed sunlight to filter through. We didn’t have a way to showcase the amazing titles and authors in our collection. For our readers, the wonderful adventures they wanted to experience were lost –buried amongst the blurred, shadowed mass of text and color.

Something had to change. In library land, we call the process of choosing what not to keep “weeding”, and it is a battle for the soul as much as for inches of clear territory. If you ever had holes seared into your jeans in an Arizona July while crouched on burning gravel engaging in tug-of-war with mutant dandelion roots that may well survive nuclear holocaust and overtake the planet… you understand. For the beginning library professional, weeding is an alien, uncomfortable process. The Archivist in our soul battles with the Grim Reaper’s devotion to the big picture.

“It won an award,” the Archivist begs. “It changed the way we view prosaic noun development.”

“No one’s read it in twelve years. There’s more dust on it than King Tut’s tomb. Let it go.”

“But it won the Nobel! The movie was adored by critics, and it’s only eleven months until the Oscars. It could be in a display…”

“The movie came out five years ago, the critics were the only ones to embrace it, and you have two copies that haven’t been touched. Let it go.”

And -unless we want to appear on a future spin-off of Hoarders- the Archivist usually must acquiesce. In time, we learn to merge those different personalities –Archivist, Entertainer, Promoter, Reaper, Teacher- into one vision and one voice. Even so, each time I go out to the shelves, I am girding myself for battle -with the collection, and with myself.

As hard as weeding can be, however, I’ve found it to be one of the most essential skills a librarian –and a writer- can possess. The ability to step back and take a look at the larger picture, analyze the weakest points, and either strengthen those struggling elements or –if necessary- remove them, is essential to presenting a stronger, more tailored and unified whole.

In writing, extraneous characters appear from the ether and run off with the plot just when the action is building. We are introduced to a mass of characters that all have similar, strange names, forcing us to stop in the middle of the climactic battle and ask “Wait… Is Oleo the alien prince, or Ollea? Or Olyvan?” We struggle to find the critical message of the piece amongst the bright, bubbling, endless –and ultimately circular- analysis of the main character’s daughter’s friend’s shoes.

We all have scenes and sentences we love. We birth them, shelter them, dote on them and sing their accomplishments to the world. Sometimes, however, as the story grows and changes, that scene or character or bit of dialogue that we love just doesn’t work the way we expect. It drags the pacing, weakens our characters, and provides irreconcilable plot challenges. We scold it, shift it, stare at it in consternation, and wonder why it just won’t play with the rest of the group.

Sometimes, as hard as it can be, we must accept those story elements for what they are and stop trying to force them into our vision of how we want them to sing in our magnum opus. Adopt the eyes of the alien –the outsider, the foreigner, the expert critic. Look at your creation and analyze what does and doesn’t work. Ask yourself why it isn’t working. Then change it.

In the library, we recently overhauled our struggling collection. We removed the underperforming, the damaged, and the extraneous. We reorganized the structure so readers didn’t have to stand on their heads to identify the gems. Amazing stories and characters created by wonderful authors now had space in which to shine. Our readers loved it. Yours will, too.

In the library, and in my own writing, the weeding process continues. There may be a mutant dandelion or two, but fortunately I work in a library. I’m sure there’s a cookbook around here with a recipe for dandelion stew…

Two aliens walked into a library… it sounds like the start of an interesting journey.

Shelley Reddy picShelley Reddy Bio:
Like many authors, Shelley Reddy has been a bibliophile and library lover since a young age. A paraprofessional with the Queen Creek library in Arizona, she currently is working on her next book.

Book Reviewing in the Trenches

22 April 2014 | No Comments » | fictorians

A guest post by Ann Cummins.

Red Ant HouseTwo aliens walked into a bar.

Well, that’s not quite right. They were New Yorkers just beginning to mutate. One was a writer, the other a tailor. The bar was crowded. It was karaoke night.

The writer was miffed. Had a bad week. It wasn’t his writing. His writing was great. First novel done and sold, review copies out; there would be royalties, he was sure.

But he’d spent the week trying to track down some fool tailor, who was never in his shop. The writer was getting married. This tailor was supposed to be the best, and the writer wanted the guy to sew him a wedding shirt. But the dang tailor was MIA, which made the writer’s skin crawl. He liked people to be where they said they’d be when they were supposed to be there.

The tailor, his skin was crawling, too. Some sub-species writer had flamed him on Yelp. For ever-so-long, the tailor had enjoyed a 5-star rating. “I’ll pan him on Amazon,” the tailor groused. “Just wait ‘til his book comes out.”

The writer’s day was getting worse. There were so many people between him and the microphone. He needed to vent. He wanted an audience. In frustration, he shouted to the room in general: “I’ll yelp him again. I’ll give five-stars to his competitors.”

“Who?” the room shouted back. So the writer told the story, and the tailor, he listened.

Blood in his eye, he could barely see the abomination that was calling himself a writer. “You!” he shouted.

The writer stared in horror at the needle-fingered couturier.

Both lunged. One skittered spider-like, the other bull-dogged: Over shoulders and under legs, they tore through the crowd in a dead heat toward the stage, each desperate to get to that microphone first.

(For details on the non-fictional story, go to: http://www.dailyfreeman.com/general-news/20130820/writers-new-woe-revenge-e-reviews)

*****

 I published a short story collection, Red Ant House, with Houghton Mifflin in 2003. I was lucky. They assigned me a publicist, who sent out many review copies, followed up, and as a result my book was widely reviewed.

It was my first book, and I didn’t have much name recognition. My editor suggested I start reviewing books. Get my name out there. So I contacted the wonderful Oscar Villalon, who, at the time, was Book Review Editor for the San Francisco Chronicle. Oscar gave me a shot. Actually, he assigned me a 250-word review for a 600+ page tedious historical novel. A challenge? Yes. But I guess I did OK, because for several years after that, Oscar assigned me books. I graduated to the 800-word review.

But then, the congenial world of writing and book reviewing morphed into what it is now: the free-for-all electronic media driven Tower of Babble (not that that’s a bad thing, but it’s definitely a new frontier). Newspaper sales dwindled. Editors slashed or eliminated their book review sections.

In 2007, I hit the trail, promoting my new book, Yellowcake. The scene on the street was depressing: vacant buildings where bookstores used to be; conferences where bug-eyed writers paid for a ten-minute shot at sweet-talking an agent. And where were all the readers? I, and many writers I know, gave readings to empty rooms in a few holdout bookstores. The only writers getting any attention were showboats emboldened to camp it up and draw blood if necessary. Whatever it took to get an audience.

I decided to go home: To do what I could to promote writing and reading in a civil environment at the grassroots level. I contacted my local NPR station in Flagstaff, Arizona, KNAU. We launched Southwest Book Reviews. I aimed to review books by small regional publishers that might not get the wide media attention big bucks publishers could buy.

So how does a writer get reviewed these days? My advice: Read. Work at the grassroots level to promote reading. Contact favorite magazines, radio stations, websites. You’d be surprised how many will say yes to a well-written review about books by favorite and new authors.

What goes around comes around. Writers who read and write intelligently about books inspire readers. Readers, we hope, get excited about books. We all fan the dying embers, and everybody wins.

Bio:
AnndesertAnn Cummins is the author of a short story collection, Red Ant House (Mariner, 2003) and a novel, Yellowcake (Houghton Mifflin, 2007), a San Francisco Chronicle notable book and Best of Kirkus. Her stories have appeared in The New Yorker, McSweeney’s, and elsewhere and have been anthologized in a variety of series including The Best American Short Stories, The Prentice Hall Anthology of Women’s Literature, Best of McSweeney’s, and The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories. A 2002 recipient of a Lannan Foundation Literary Fellowship, she’s a graduate of Johns Hopkins University and the University of Arizona writing programs. She’s on the fiction faculty at Northern Arizona University and the Queens University low-residency program in Charlotte, North Carolina.

I Swore I Would Never Go Into Business…

21 March 2014 | Comments Off | Colette

ebook cover 9…And then I became a writer.

When people talk about finances, business models, marketing, and spreadsheets, all I here is, “blah, blah, blah…” That’s how I’ve been most of my life. I can discuss calculus with more energy than I can muster up for anything related to business. I had to stop and recognize that becoming an author meant I was going into business. I had to make a shift in my way of thinking, especially regarding the works I would self-publish.

We’ve talked about the business side before, but I’m going to say it again, one of the best places to learn about that aspect of writing is Superstars Writing Seminars. Check it out. Beyond that, as I went through the process of putting together my short story anthology, The Black SideI realized forming my own publishing company was probably a good idea. Jace Sanders addressed this in his post, “My friend said to get an LLC”, but I’m not going to talk about reasons to form publishing companies or types of companies. Instead, let’s talk about some of the business decisions that might need to be considered in conjunction with forming a company.

Money: Where does it come from and where does it go? Trees, right? I’m still wishing for one of those, but in the meantime, I had to decide if I needed a separate bank account for my business. Depending on the type of business you organize, it may be a necessity, but what if it’s not? After spending time talking with a bank manager, I realized I had a few options. There were multiple types of accounts to choose from and I’m glad I didn’t jump on the first one they suggested to me. I took the time to talk with them, fully understand the pros and cons for each one and the possible tax implications, and then I made an informed decision based on my current needs. In a few years, those needs might change, and that’s something to keep in mind, too.

But it didn’t end with the bank. After getting my account, checks, etc. , I still needed to get everything in place on Amazon, Paypal and any other service related to my business. I’m still in the process of deciding whether to get the Flint app for payment services or the traditional Square. Maybe that can be a future discussion.

Thanks to Heidi Berthiaume and her excellent advice on how to run a Kickstarter, at least I had money with which to publish my first novel and to make the whole process possible. I can’t wait to get her upcoming book on the subject. Money doesn’t bring happiness, but it helps make a business.

Privacy: You know the part of the copyright page where it says the publishing company and then the ADDRESS? That’s not the only place where you might want to have contact information, but you might not want it to be your home address. This is where a PO Box can come in handy. The postal service offers small boxes for very reasonable fees that won’t cost you more than a night out to dinner. Not everyone takes this option, but I think it’s worth it. When I send out the rewards for my Kickstarter, that’s the return address my supporters will see, further allowing me to separate my personal life, from my business life.

Perception: I don’t think forming a publishing company really changes anyone’s perception of the self-published writer. For those of us familiar with traditional versus self-publishing, it doesn’t take much investigation to recognize whether a writer went through an outside publishing company or formed their own. But registering my company name with the state, the bank account, PO Box, getting an EIN, and all of the other things involved, changed my self-perception, reminding me that I must treat this venture for what it is, a business. I must market, I must work, and I must be professional in order to make it profitable. I also developed a business logo that has personal meaning. Each time I put that on the cover of a book, I’m reminded again, that I’m not only an author, I’m a businesswoman.

So, as you contemplate whether or not to take self-publishing to the level of forming your own publishing company, I hope this gives you some information to consider in your pros and cons.

*As has been stated in previous posts, by other blog contributors, this is not legal advice.

Steamed Up Anthology Virtual Launch (Marketing in Action!)

26 October 2013 | Comments Off | mary

 

SteamedUp_FBThumb

It was the better part of a year ago when I signed up to organize a Fictorians month around the topic of “Marketing and Promotion.” At that time I was still unpublished, in the phase of my career where I sent out submissions and hoped for the best. I’d chosen the Marketing and Promotion topic in the hopes of gaining knowledge for that far-off time when I’d have something of my own to promote. Little did I know that by the time October 2013 arrived, I would have it…

So here’s an opportunity to see a Virtual Book Launch in action. Tomorrow, Sunday October 27, myself and other contributors to Dreamspinner Press’ Steamed Up Anthology will be on the Dreamspinner Press Blog to celebrate a virtual book launch. We’ll be providing background on our steampunk stories, excerpts, chat and more! Visit us at http://dreamspinnerpress.com/blog/

My contribution to Steamed Up is “Ace of Hearts”: All Aeroplane Mechanic First Class William Pettigrew ever wanted was to fly, but due to an old eye injury, he can only maintain the aircraft and fantasize about the pilots. When Captain James Hinson, war hero and dirigible flying ace, joins the squadron, William catches his eye. But William lacks the confidence to see James’s overtures as anything but friendly interest in his innovations. Then James is shot down over enemy territory, and for William that changes everything. The time has come for him to choose: believe in himself and fly or lose forever the man whose heart he hopes to win.

Join me in celebration of an era of zeppelin aces, clockwork cavalry and mechanical marvels…in an age of high adventure!

Steamed Up is now available in paperback:

http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=4324

or Ebook:

http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=4267

Hope to see you there!

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