Friday, December 27, 2013

Writing in the New Year



We have all heard Einstein’s definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over expecting to get different results. As we usher in a new year, most of us ponder the year just passed and consider what we might do to make next year better. In my case, 2013 set a pretty low bar. 

On the other hand, Jan and I did get a lot accomplished in 2013—things that had been put off for many years because they were stressful and we dreaded them. As Brian Tracy says, “We ate the frog” this year, tackling home repairs, etc… The many things that went wrong are probably not worth mentioning. 

If you follow my posts, you know that I believe life is lived forward, but understood backward. Looking back, I have to admit that most of what I did in terms of promoting my books last year did not work. I suppose I could put a positive spin on it and say that the methods just haven’t had time, but my instincts tell me that what I have been doing is not likely to ever work for me.

I have attended many seminars and read many books on the subject, but have not seen broad-based empirical evidence that social media is efficient for promoting (selling) the type of books I write. Many (make that most) strongly disagree with me and I certainly want to hear more arguments to the contrary. But don’t bring me any more stories of outliers and flukes. I have heard plenty of those. I want the same sort of statistics and proven results that any company would use for launching or scrapping a product, service, or marketing campaign. 

I post a lot of book reviews to Amazon and Goodreads. I do Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google Plus, and many others. None very well, however, because I simply don’t see that as the highest and best use of my time. I think I understand why others do. But one thing seems sure—one must seriously post to and read these sites to make them work. You can’t do it halfway. Doing it right takes up a tremendous amount of time—time that I feel would be better spent writing books that reflect my best efforts.  

I enjoy writing blog posts, but I don’t enjoy posting them to all of the social media sites. I like writing books more than Tweeting or Pinning. And I like writing and reading print books more than e-books and serial books. Now there are studies that show comprehension rates for reading a print book is 30% higher than reading from a screen. 

I sincerely hope that the day of the print book is not gone. Woe to good books if it is. Will “curling up with a good book” really be replaced with “curling up with a battery operated gadget”? Will Tweeting ultimately destroy spelling and grammar? Will the style of blog posts become the style of good books?

I like taking the time to structure a novel, to edit and revise it until I think it is a good as I can make it before showing it to others. I feel the need to let it simmer in my mind and on the page before I release it. I feel an obligation to myself and my loyal readers to do those things. 

Lest I sound elitist or grandiose, I am well aware of my limitations and my low position as an unknown writer. That’s probably one of the reasons writing requires so much concentration for me. With all that, errors are still missed. And those errors will always be there.

I don’t write thrillers, science fiction, fantasy, suspense, crime, romance or any of the genres that usually make up the bestseller lists. Home Light Burning would fit on historical fiction shelves, but bookstores don’t have a section for my other novels.

My protagonists are not cops, private detectives, doctors or lawyers (not so far, anyway). There are no superheroes in my books, only ordinary people handling extraordinary as well as normal problems many of us face. I learn from how my characters deal with these problems and hope my readers do the same. Elmer Kelton once said something like this, “Most Western heroes are six-two and fearless. My heroes are five-nine and afraid.”

So far, all of my novels have been based on real events and people. Most have a central theme, a symbol or two and lots of metaphors. I try to put in subtle, positive messages.

Many say that all that is required for high book sales is to write a good book. Nonsense. Some of the best books I have ever read failed to sell well and many of the worst were best-sellers.  Best- sellers are usually made by an organized and efficient marketing campaign, the kind that can usually only be accomplished by a large publisher. Other best-sellers have almost always benefited from some type of unusual event or events.  

I have found that I can only write the type of book I like to read. And yes, I read many writers who do it better. Thanks to them for setting the bar high so I have something to try and reach.

My readers have taught me so much. They are an eclectic bunch, but have a lot in common. They like stories; they don’t like to be manipulated with artificial hooks or too many flashbacks; they want almost no flash-forwards; they want characters and events to be believable (that’s why I base my books on reality); they don’t like to “work” to read a book and don’t appreciate authors who sacrifice readability on the altar of literary style.

They like antagonists they can root against, but the bad guy doesn’t have to reach the level of Hannibal Lecter. And they want at least one character they can like and identify with—someone they can pull for.
I am grateful for all my readers, and yes, I wish there were more of them. 

I have my next novel almost ready for a team of early readers. I continue to believe that one should pay attention to the little things in life, because we may later learn that they are the big things. Stories are little things that I consider really big things. I plan to continue telling them—even if they are read only by a small but loyal audience.
    
Unless I am convinced otherwise, I plan on changing things in 2014. If not, I would have to plead insanity. I am just not sure what those changes should be. Maybe you could give me some ideas.

2 comments:

Richard Ellison said...

Greetings, Jim. I hope 2014 will be dazzling for you, your writing skills, and many fans alike. Your gifts to us all are your keen analysis of characters you write about, your writing skills, your interest in the colorful lives in focus and those just in the shadows. 2014 will be fun for you; we look forward to your stories. Cheers!
Richard Ellison.

Carroll Kennemer said...

Jim, Hope you & Jan had a really good Christmas with the Kids. Sounds like brainstorming time is needed for your 2014 plans. As you have experienced first hand, some of my brainstorming, or rather out-of-the-box thinking, sometimes gets out-of-the-planet Earth-unreal. But I still think it's a good thing to do. I know you have other friends/acquaintances who can assist you with brainstorming. I have some of the same issues as you & think it's time we get together -- & not just over lunch. I always come away a feeling I'm a better person after having visited with you. After re-reading; that last sentence could be taken two ways. I meant it that you have a way of inspiring me Jim, & I'm sure other people can attest to the same!