Friday, July 19, 2019

Writing: Annuity, Hobby, or Occupation?

My agent (yes, I still have one, despite now self-publishing) tells me that I'm doing very well publishing my own books. For those keeping score, I've self-published (actually, agent-assisted published) six novellas and two full-length novels. I've also had my work published by traditional publishers (ten novels). So I guess I'm able to comment on both types of publication. Which is better? And the answer, of course, is "it depends."

One of the better posts about income from writing is this one, although it's almost ten years old. That one cites the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but qualifies their figure by saying that novelists' income varies widely. The post has a fairly thorough discussion of  indie-writing, and I highly recommend it. They pretty much get it right.

In a nutshell, here are the positives and negatives of each type of writing, as I've observed them.

Traditional published: First, it's hard (and getting harder) to land a publishing contract. Publishing is a for-profit industry, and a publisher has lots of costs that aren't obvious to the writer. For instance, they have to project how many copies of the book they'll sell, look at their expenses, consult their editorial board about whether this writer will be a success, offer an advance, and cross their fingers. Sometimes they win, but at times they lose. I signed a three-book contract with a major publisher, who paid a nice advance but decided to pass on further books. Those novels earned out the advance, and I still get royalties from them. But the figures weren't good enough to keep me. It's a business decision.

Indie published: I learned early on the importance of using a professional editor, as well as having my cover design done by a good designer--all at my expense. Whereas I was used to getting a box of free books, and thought nothing of asking my publisher to send a book to various sites and sources, I could do that myself but had to buy the books to do it. Admittedly, they were at a discounted price, but they weren't free. As for doing blog posts and interviews, it was up to me to line them up, as well as providing the books for a give-away. The person who made the decisions was me--which was both good and bad.

Do you get rich from writing? Not unless you're one of those authors who do it full-time. Honestly, I am retired from the practice of medicine, and (Jim Bell, cover your ears) some day I don't write at all. Is it satisfying as "second profession?" For me, it is. Would it be for you? I'd be glad to hear.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Cell Phones

I enjoy--perhaps more than most--the social media video that shows people watching their cell phones while they walk into lamp posts, make their way into fountains, even narrowly avoid being hit by autos. If you are familiar with my blog, you know that I maintain a love/hate relationship with social media. And cell phones are high on my list of devices I keep around but don't particularly like--at least the way they seem to have taken over our lives.

Maybe it comes from decades of being "on call" and available, being dependent on pagers, cell phones, and other devices. My wife, bless her, uses her cell phone for email, as a small, portable computer, takes pictures with it, as well as making and receiving calls. I, on the other hand, carry mine almost unwillingly, receiving and occasionally initiating calls.

It also seems to me that text messages (with or without emojis) have almost replaced phone calls. Maybe I'm old fashioned, but what happened to simply calling? The person on the other end will either answer or they won't. And if they don't, we can leave a voicemail. You remember voicemail, don't you?

James Scott Bell recently posted about the time he left his cell phone behind, and what he discovered. I have to agree with him that perhaps our dependence on those devices, and our constantly checking them, has robbed us (especially the authors among us) of our usual powers of observation.

I  know I've come off as sort of a curmudgeon. Maybe I'm just anti-progress. As my hero, OC Detective Adrian Monk used to say, "I'm not against progress. I just don't like to be around when it happens."

What do you think?

Friday, July 12, 2019

Writing: Am I Too Old To Start?

I celebrated a birthday a few days ago. How many, you ask? Let's just say that I've been getting mail offers from AARP for more then a couple of decades. (I'm now getting them from Retirement Communities, which sort of upsets me). How long have I been writing? My first book, which was written after the death of my first wife, Cynthia, was published in 2006, and I'm proud to say that The Tender Scar is in its second edition and continues to help thousands who have suffered a similar loss. But I started writing it shortly after her death, in 1999. Was I too old to write? I never considered it.

Almost against my will,  I began writing fiction. I acquired first an agent and then a publishing contract. My first novel, Code Blue, was published in 2010. Since then I've published a total of 12 novels and 6 novellas, the latest of which is Bitter Pill. That's eighteen books in the past nine years. No wonder I'm tired. And I still don't consider myself an accomplished writer.

All this is to say, "You're never too old to write." Will you be published? Maybe, maybe not. Will your writing affect others? It will always affect at least one person--you. Is the effort worth it? I think so. Not only does it, as my uncle used to say, "keep me off the streets and out of pool halls," but it paints a picture of how God impacts the lives of everyone--the faithful, the fallen, the seekers. And if it does that, it's served a great purpose.

How about you? Is there something you'd like to do but you haven't started because you're too old? Or have you started something despite your age? Let me know.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

What Did You Do?

We stayed home for the 4th of July. Watched some great programs, including the parade, the President's speech, and the fireworks that capped off A Capital Fourth. I know of some who went to the lake, others who worked around the house, etc. What did you do for the fourth?

At almost 40K on the first draft of my next book. Slow but (I hope) sure. After I finish it, there'll be several more revisions

Maybe by the end of this week, I'll be ready to blog. Meanwhile, talk among yourselves.

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

Independence Day, 2019

Thursday of this week is July 4, the day we celebrate the independence of this great nation. Some people will take off for a varying length of time. Others will work. Some will head for sales. Others will go to the lake. But whatever we do, let's understand the meaning of the holiday.

On July 4, 1776, the thirteen colonies marked the signing of the Declaration of Independence, declaring themselves free from the British Empire.The framers of our documents of freedom--the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution--didn't all agree. And sometimes, their discourse wasn't very civil. But as Benjamin Franklin put it, "We must indeed all hang together, or most assuredly, we shall all hang separately." Remember that these people put their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honors on the line to help give us the independence we celebrate.  This Independence Day, may we reflect on all that has gone before. What we now have is too precious to lose.

God Bless America.

I'll see you next week. Enjoy the holiday--but recall why we celebrate it.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Writing: Publication In Other Lands

Before I came (kicking and screaming and dragging my heels) into this business of writing and publishing non-medical books, I'd edited or co-authored a number of medical texts. Along the way, some of those books found their way into the hands of people who wanted to translate them and market the resultant volumes in their homelands. So publication in other languages and lands was nothing new to me when it dawned on me that I had gone from 'doctor' to 'author.'

What about translation of our novels? This is something that I've left up to my publisher for my earlier novels, and have yet to face since I've been on my own. As I recall, it was pretty much up to the publisher, and I didn't have a lot to do with it.

But what about marketing the book in lands other than the US? I came to think about this when I saw a recent detailing of the sales of my latest novella, Bitter Pill. It should not have been a total surprise to me that a number of my sales came from other English-speaking countries, such as Canada and Great Britain. But seeing it in black and white brought it home to me. Thank goodness that the woman assisting me in 'agent-assisted publication' listed the novella for sale in a number of English-speaking countries. Not just one. Would you think of this?

This is just another thing that the author has to bear the responsibility for in the world of independent publication. I'm finding out more and more that there are things we lean on the publisher for that are now our responsibility. And one of these is where the books is sold. Live and learn.

Questions about publishing? I may not be able to give the answers myself, but I'll bet I know someone who does. Try me.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Speaking Of Weather...

...we've had rain, high winds, lightning, and a few tornadoes every Sunday night for at least three straight weeks. We've also had enough rain on Wednesdays that my golf partner and I have been unable to play. We did get in some golf this past week, but played "cart path only" (which ranks right up there with a high colonic in my pantheon of pleasures).

Of course, in a few weeks we'll be longing for some of that rain as we look at our water bills and the grass on our lawns. We're never satisfied, are we?

It reminds me of what I've often been quoted as saying when I consider my age. "I'm not as young as I once was...and probably never was."'

The grass is always greener, isn't it? What's sending you looking over the fence at the grass on the other side today?

Friday, June 21, 2019

Writing: Starting With The Weather

Too many writers read various "rules," and try to make their writing conform to it. I'm thinking now of the "rules" of  Elmore Leonard, starting with this one: "Don't start a book with the weather." That may be good advice in most cases, but let me remind you that Madilyn L'Engle started her award-winning novel, A Wrinkle In Time, with the often-quoted line (frequently the subject of many jokes), "It was a dark and stormy night." I honestly don't know whether L'Engle just didn't care, or simply chose it because it worked. In either case, I have to say she came out ahead.

Would I start a novel with something about the weather? I might--if it worked into the plot and set the scene. But I'd try to make it something that would encourage the reader to keep going past the first paragraph or first page. Let me give you an example. Would you keep reading a novel that began in this way?

He switched the windshield wipers from intermittent to slow to fast as the rain grew steadily worse and sky darkened until his field of vision was confined to what was illuminated by his headlights. Parker strained to avoid missing his turn-off as he guided the car toward the Cutter mansion. He spared a glance at the dashboard clock. He was cutting it awfully thin, and he knew Cutter would be angry if he was late. Perhaps the weather was an omen of what was coming. But, good or bad, he needed to make the meeting. Whatever came after that... Well, he'd just see.

I not only started with the weather. I incorporated the rainstorm and darkening skies into the plot. We don't know what's around the bend, but it sounds bad.

So, what do you think?

Tuesday, June 18, 2019


Ever wonder what goes on behind your favorite author's work? Honestly, neither did I. Like most of you, when I'm not reading to gather facts, I read  in order to lose myself for a short time in the world crafted by a talented novelist. But I came on something recently that set me thinking about the person behind the words.

Like many of you, I've enjoyed the work of Agatha Christie. I still recall the time when I was alone in the BOQ of Lajes Field, waiting for the eventual arrival of my wife and small son, who were separated from me by an ocean. I decided to read a book to help pass the time, and ended up staying up all night to finish Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians. Many of us have enjoyed her mysteries, but did you realize that she was often in the midst of depression, that she once disappeared for almost two weeks, and that her marriage was anything but happy? Neither did I.

Poe was said to be an addict. Virginia Woolf and Ernest Hemingway, among others, committed suicide.  We never know what tortured lives are behind the words we enjoy. By the way, lest you worry about me (if you were going to), although I have the usual problems that beset all of us, I haven't reached the stage yet where you have to be concerned about me.

Would it help or hurt your enjoyment of books to know the circumstances of their authors?

Friday, June 14, 2019

Writing: A Writer's Oath?

When I received my MD degree, we didn't take the Hippocratic Oath. Even as far back as that time, we didn't  use that particular oath. We didn't swear by a number of pagan gods "not to cut for the stone" and similar things. Rather, what we took was a doctor's oath--one that bound us, for example, to "respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps we walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is ours with those who are to follow." There were other things that we committed ourselves to--things like putting the patient's welfare first, and being honest in our dealings. I daresay that none of us recalls the exact words of that oath, but all--at least most--of us tried to practice by those principles.

Should writers commit themselves to a similar oath? I was curious, so I did what most of us have learned to do: a Google search. And I found that Gail Carson Levine penned a simple oath for writers, one that I think bears passing on. Simply put, she commits to 1. writing as often and as much as possible, 2. respecting herself as a writer, and 3. nurturing the writing of others. That's it. In thinking the situation through, I'm not certain what--if anything--I'd add. What about you?

NOTE: Read this interview with Lena Dooley, leave a comment, and be entered for a chance to win a copy of Bitter Pill. As I recall, this is your last chance for a "freebie."