Friday, September 30, 2016

Writing: Don't Listen To The Ads

Over fifteen years ago, when I was still writing occasional editorials for the Southern Medical Journal, I had one published that bore the title, "Gee, You Oughtta Write That Up." (Sorry, seeing it now requires a subscription to a service). The gist of the short editorial was that, although doctors often hear those words about cases or situations, few take the time to prepare a paper, and fewer still have the knowledge and skill to do it right. Although I had over 100 papers published in professional journals during my four decades as an otolaryngologist, I often said that I was turned down more times than a Holiday Inn bedspread. Why? The material wasn't worth it, what I presented wasn't new, or (gasp) the paper was badly enough written that even the most skillful editor couldn't save it.

When was the last time you heard someone say, "I'd like to be a CPA...or brain surgeon...or attorney...or...?" You get the picture. All of those things take not only determination but special training. And to do them well requires experience as well.

That's why I cringe at the TV ad I've been seeing lately about a "service" that guarantees they'll publish your book. Not only that, they aver they'll get it publicized and sold via both online and brick-and-mortar stores. What they don't tell you is that it will cost you (they are, after all, a for-profit business), and at the end you'll wind up with a few boxes of the book in your garage, while they wind up with the money you paid.

Let me hasten to say this isn't a knock on "independent" or self-publishing, using one of the reputable channels for that activity. To do that requires a great deal of work on the part of the writer. I'm talking here about those who advertise what amounts to a turn-key operation, where all you have to do is provide a manuscript and they'll do the rest. Unfortunately, there are individuals who believe that, and it's sad.

I didn't start out to be a novelist. It took a lot of study, a lot of learning the craft, a lot of writing, and a lot of failure. But here we are now, with the scenery changing every day around those of us who consider ourselves writers. So you can either say to yourself, "I'd like to write a novel," or you can say, "I'd like to be a writer, so I'll learn the craft, practice, get rejected a bunch of times, but (hopefully) eventually succeed." But my advice is don't fall for the ads. They don't really offer a shortcut.

Have you had experience with those who say they'll publish your book for a price? I'd like to hear your thoughts.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

A Personal Note

Some of you know this, others don't, but I want to recognize the importance of the approaching date by mentioning these events that have helped shape my life.

It was a blessing when Cynthia Ann Surovik did me the honor of becoming my wife in 1959. Our forty years of marriage brought forth three wonderful children, many positive memories (and a few negative ones), and seemed like it would never end. But it did--on September 28, 1999, when she passed away after a sudden episode of bleeding on the brain. Out of my journaling that followed came my first non-medical book, The Tender Scar: Life After The Death Of A Spouse. And that, in turn, helped me transition from the practice of medicine to a new career in writing.

Then God blessed me a second time with the love of a wonderful woman, Kay Glasgow. We've now been married for over fifteen years. A second marriage takes some adjustment--matter of fact, I've written a chapter on the blended family for the second edition of The Tender Scar--but it's been good to have her at my side as I move forward.

I want to pause and thank God for these two women whose love has blessed me.

And I'd like to thank those of you who've followed me as I pursue this new career path that has opened up for me. I appreciate your support.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Writing: Don't Forget The Library

Next month I'll be speaking to a group of church librarians. It should be fun, as well as a chance to introduce myself (and my writing) to representatives of a lot of libraries.

Not only is having their book in a church library a great way for authors to show their writing to people who might not go out and purchase their work, but for some people libraries are the main source of the books they read.

More and more I'm hearing from those with a limited income who say that winning books is nice for them, since they can't buy them. I wish I could give my books away, but since I can't, I suggest these people check with their church library or the public library nearby.

I always make certain that my books are in the public library in my home town, and I've donated copies to a number of church libraries. It's good PR, as well as a nice humanitarian gesture. Do authors get any kind of royalties on the books they give away? No. But as I've said before, having your book in a library is a good way to let people get acquainted with your writing. And the reactions of the readers (and we hope they're positive) are great advertising. Besides, some libraries buy additional copies of these books if the demand for them is great enough. And we do get royalties on those purchases.

Have you ever checked your church library or the public library in your city to see if a book by a favorite author is available there? Do you know that if a library gets enough requests, these books will be added to their budget for purchase? Did you even think about a library as a source of books you want to read?  Don't get me wrong--I'm happy for you all to purchase my books, but if that's not possible, this is a great alternative for you.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Where To All These "Days" Come From?

Each morning I check Facebook to see what's new. Yesterday I saw a picture of my golf partner and his wife eating a cheeseburger...because it was National Cheeseburger Day. Really? National Cheeseburger Day?

I recently discovered that my son and daughter-in-law's wedding anniversary falls on National Talk Like A Pirate Day. He swears he didn't know about it when they set their wedding date.

I've missed out on some free stuff by not realizing until too late that it was National Donut Day. But my wife told me that if we'd gone by Krispy Kreme today and talked like a pirate, we'd get a free donut.

I recognize holidays like Christmas, New Year's, Thanksgiving. I even realize that Columbus Day is a holiday (although I'm not sure why). But where do all these "National" days come from? Got any ideas?

Well, while you ponder that question, I'm going to do a bit of online searching. I might find that there's a national New Car Day...and, if so, surely there's a dealer somewhere giving one away to the first dozen people who come by.

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Friday, September 16, 2016

Writing: What's In A Name?

Chances are that you never paid much attention to character names as you enjoy a book, but most authors usually give them a fair amount of thought. I must admit that when I wrote my first novel--not the first one published, just my initial try at writing one--I chose names pretty haphazardly. It was only later in my writing journey that I discovered that, to expand on a well-known saying, "Names make the man...and woman." Shakespeare may have said "That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet." But names if we called it a snuffle-hacker we probably wouldn't be as anxious to smell it. Names are important.

First, when you choose names for characters you have to keep in mind the time when they were named--i.e., when were they born? I've learned to use my favorite reference tool, Google, and look for the most popular first names given to babies born during that year. For instance, if my character is in his or her mid-30's, I check for names given in 1980. There are books devoted to this, and there are even apps that help. But whatever the author chooses, some research has to go into it.

Then I try to choose a name that goes with the character. If it's a hero, I probably won't use Murgatroyd. (My apologies to those with that name--it's not your fault). If the person is likely to be a sidekick I'm looking for a different name than the one I give a person who's an out-and-out villain from the start. Authors obviously gave some thought before assigning names like Reacher, Dirk Pitt, Harry Bosch to their heroes. You get the idea.

One thing that novelists do to avoid making big boo-boos in their books is to create character sketch lists. This keeps the hero from climbing into his Subaru in one scene and exiting from his Chevrolet in the next. This also helps the writer keep names straight. For example, by reading through the character sketches (and mine are usually only a paragraph), he can see that he has two people with the same or similar names. No two people named Alex, no Jack and James in the same novel. That's obviously to be avoided.

Despite multiple edits by the author, plus numerous other eyes on the manuscript during the editing process, the error I'm most prone to make is using the wrong character name in a place or two. I call the heroine by the name of the lead in a previous book, I forget what I've called the police officer. And believe me, there are people who find these errors, and let the author know about them. By the way, telling the author won't help, nor will communicating to the publisher unless the book goes into a second printing. Sorry about that.

So that's it. There are other tips that writers pick up as they go along, but what I wanted to do was point out that a significant amount of thought has gone into choosing the names of the characters in the book you are reading.

Do you ever pay attention to names? What do you do when you find a misuse in books by your favorite author? Any other comments you want to make? I'd like to hear them.

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