Friday, February 17, 2017

Writing: Free Books

Note in apology: This was inadvertently posted last week before it was completed, and it was probably my fault--technology isn't my strong suit. Would those of you who commented last time re-post your comments? I promise to react to them. Thanks.

I've recently begun to wonder about the author practice of offering a free copy of their book to a person leaving a comment on an interview or a guest blog post. It probably is a good way to introduce your writing to someone unfamiliar with it, but are there people who leave comments in hopes of winning free books, yet never post a review, tell others about the writer's work, or help the author in any way afterward? 

In writing, we learn to look at ROI--return on investment. Is there ROI for giving away our books? I realize you can dine on free samples from Sam's sometimes, but do dry cleaners give away samples? Grocers? Dentists?

I queried several of my colleagues about this. All of them are established writers, some traditionally published while others had gone the "indie" or "hybrid" route. Here's the question I asked: “Do you really think giving away a copy of your latest novel helps sales?”

The response of one author echoes one of the concerns writers have: "Only if a review is actually posted online." Unfortunately, as you'll see below, there are those around who enter every "contest" but never follow through with the review we ask them to post--it doesn't have to be good, just an honest opinion.

Another author is probably a bit less cynical, and answered yes, saying that many people had become loyal readers "after reading a gift, contest, or giveaway copy." Okay, that definitely represents ROI.

Another writer voiced a concern a bit different from the one already detailed. "I fear that most free books go to (people who are already) fans. (They) tell me how delighted they are when they get a free copy from the publisher or a site like NetGalley. If our fans are no longer buying our books because they have learned to get them for free for the promise of an honest review, who will buy them? I think the 'culture of free' is harming Christian fiction a great deal.” Well, at least it's harming the pitiful monetary return most of us have. I've heard that becoming a writer is essentially "taking a vow of poverty." 

A well-known author has a different take on the subject. "If you mean doing a blog post interview, which includes giving away one copy—I don’t know. The interview gives some publicity. I don’t know that giving away a copy gives any more. But it might be a requisite for doing the interview." And this is correct--some bloggers and reviewers expect the author to offer one (sometimes more than one) copy of their book at the time they are given blog space.

A number of blogs encourag interviews or guest posts be accompanied by a free book to a randomly selected commenter. To this, yet another author says, "Why should we pay people to read our work?" I don't have an answer to that, at least not when it's phrased that way. Do you?

Well, it's your turn. Do you leave comments in hopes of winning a "freebie?" Have you ever won a free copy of a book? Did the book inspire you to post a review, tell a friend, or in some way help "influence" on behalf of the author? Have you ever been tempted to sell (or give away) a book you've won? I'd like to know. And if you'd prefer to remain anonymous, feel free--I'm not offering anything to commenters except my thanks.

Click to tweet: "What's your opinion of authors giving away copies of their books?" Click here to tweet.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Guest posting today

I'm over at Seekerville, posting about what makes a story great. Hop over and join us.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Valentine's Day

Today is Valentine's Day. If you intend to take your wife or sweetheart out for dinner tonight and haven't made a reservation already, enjoy your hamburger or pizza! I made the mistake once of that oversight. Fortunately, we were friends with the restaurant owner, so the wait wasn't long. But let's just say I won't do it again.

In case anyone is curious, the stylized "heart" you see about this time of year, often as  a box containing pieces of chocolate, looks nothing like a human heart. There are a number of stories about how this shape came to be used. For instance, I've heard that the curves at the top indicate the vessels running from the heart downward to supply the rest of the body--anatomically incorrect, but the thought is there. If you want to read other theories, click this link.

How do you plan to celebrate Valentine's Day? Leave a comment telling us (or say it's none of our business). Either way, happy Valentine's Day.

PS--My apologies to those who read and commented on my post about free books that appeared briefly in this space. It was meant for this coming Friday, and for some reason the incomplete draft got published much too early. Come back in three days for the finished product. Thanks.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Writing: Devising A Twist

The late Donald Westlake called it "push fiction," which I like better than the more common designation, "pantser" writing. He wrote by the seat of his pants, rather than outlining, reasoning that if he didn't know what was coming next, neither could the reader.

Although I don't advertise it, there's no secret to the fact that I don't know who the "bad guy" is in my novels until I'm writing the last third of the book. I try to leave the option open, which means setting up some blind alleys and rabbit trails for the reader. Sometimes that works, at other times it doesn't. And, as James Scott Bell taught me long ago when I learned his LOCK system, I want to have a "knockout" ending ready.

There are a number of twists that can be used to keep a reader engaged. One is the "tasteless, odorless, traceless poison." Another is the "locked room" death, popularized by Edgar Allen Poe. And Agatha Christie even brought a dead person back to life to be a murderer. (I read that last one while alone in the Bachelor Officers' Quarters in the Azores, and kept the lights on the rest of the night).

If you ever have the opportunity to be in the same hotel as a writers' conference, keep your ears open in the elevator. A person who doesn't know what's going on might call the police!

So, what's your favorite twist? Let me hear them. I promise I won't use yours--well, maybe, but I'll try to disguise it so you won't recognize it.

Tweet with a single click. "Plot twists, ways to kill without being caught--all part of a mystery novelist's life." Click here to tweet.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Change In Occupation

For over forty years, I practiced medicine. In that time, first in private practice and then as a professor at a prestigious medical center, I looked at myself as a physician. The facets of my occupation included patient care, surgery, writing, lecturing, teaching--but when asked my occupation, I replied, "Physician."

My first wife, Cynthia, died less than a month after she retired. We were set to move to some acreage we'd bought and enjoy the time we had left together. But God had other plans. The result of her death was the publication of  the book that came out of my journaling: The Tender Scar: Life After The Death Of A Spouse. And at a writers' conference (the first of many I attended) came a challenge to try my hand at fiction. As I've said before, after four years spent writing or rewriting four books that garnered forty rejections, I got my first contract. Now I've had ten novels of medical mystery published by traditional houses, plus self-publishing two (soon to be three) novellas.

After a decade, the publishers of The Tender Scar decided to print a second edition, which will be out soon. I didn't want to change a word from the first edition, but I have included an additional chapter, one on the blended family. As always, I hope the book continues to minister.

I still haven't come to terms with my switch in occupations, but I suppose that when pressed I'd give a qualified answer: I'm a retired physician, now writing. Some would say my story bears out the adage, "Man proposes, God disposes." I prefer to look at it this way: "God doesn't make bad things happen--but He can use even the worst of them for His purposes."

What about you? Have you experienced an unexpected turn in your life? How did that work out? I'd like to hear.

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