Monday, November 29, 2010

Communicating In 140 Characters

 Important Announcement--If you haven't yet used the tab at right to join my mailing list and get my newsletter, please consider doing so. I send out only a few issues per year, and you can easily unsubscribe. I'll be sending the next issue by the end of the year, and I plan to share some exciting news plus  a giveaway that's only for subscribers. Thanks. "We now return to our regularly scheduled program."

I've been "tweeting" for quite a while now. At first it was fun--keeping up with friends, announcing such events as a win by my favorite football team. However, somewhere along the way, Twitter and I have grown apart. Oh, I still have my account. And my posts there also go to my Facebook site. But I'm beginning to feel like a character in a play I once saw, who said, "I've seen a lot of changes in my time, and I've been against every dang one of them."

One pet peeve of mine, for example, involves people who absolutely can't limit what they have to say to 140 characters (the limit for a "tweet," which is a Twitter message). They get around this by posting two or three consecutive messages, each one running right up to (and often over) the limit, in order to get their post across. Somehow, this seems like cheating. It reminds me of the saying attributed to mathematician Blaise Pascal: "I have made this letter rather long because I did not have the time to make it shorter." It takes effort to organize your thoughts and trim them down, and apparently that doesn't work for some people.

I confess that despite its faults, I continue to Tweet. Also, my phone allows me to send and receive text messages.  But few days go by without my wondering if all this "progress" is going too fast for me.

For example, with the growing popularity of messaging of various sorts, there seems to be an increasing number of abbreviations used now. Oh, I don't mean LOL (which some people use the way I use commas) and Q4U (which makes me wonder what the shorthand for "answer to your question" is). I finally figured those out, but others elude me. So I decided to look up some of the abbreviations I've seen recently, only to discover that there are several hundred of them listed in one article alone. Just about the time I learn one, two more crop up, sort of like pulling weeds.

So I leave you with a question--excuse me, a Q4U. Do you love or hate Twitter and texting? What online/texting abbreviations do you commonly use? Are there some that leave you laughing out loud--I mean, LOL?

Well, that's enough for this post. Bye for now--I mean B4N.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving means different things to different people. To some people, it means turkey, dressing, and Mom's sweet potato casserole. For others it's a day spent in front of the TV set watching football. To many, it's a day to be with family.

Unfortunately, for some it's another day of wondering where they'll sleep, what they'll eat, how they'll stay warm and dry. We have been blessed individually and as a nation. Give thanks today, then tomorrow do something for someone less fortunate. Pay it forward. You'll be glad you did.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Cathy West's Advice For Writers

My friend, Cathy West, and I are represented by the same agent, and that's how I first met her. Since she lives in Bermuda, we don't exactly meet for coffee from time to time, but we do swap emails and social media posts. Recently Cathy got her first publishing contract, and her debut novel, Yesterday's Tomorrow, will be published by Oak Tara Publishers next spring. I'll be doing an interview with Cathy later, but this recent post from her blog so nailed it when it comes to the struggle of a writer seeking publication that I've asked for and received permission from her to post it here. Here's what she has to say:

Since announcing that I am, at long last, stepping over into Published Land, I've been asked two questions with alarming frequency.

The first is, of course, "When is the book coming out?" My answer: "You will know when I know."

The second is, "How long did it take?" Or "How did you do it?"

Okay, that's three questions.

But the last two are both how questions, and kind of interrelated, so let's discuss the how.
One thing I say often, mostly when I'm muttering to myself over having started the tenth revision on a manuscript, is that I wish I had known then what I know now.

* If you want to be a writer you must must MUST be willing to learn. *

But, you say, my mother, cousins and aunties all read my book and loved it! They cried.
Yeah, bully for you. You're going to be crying in a few months when you get your first rejection.

Harsh? Maybe, but don't take my word for it. Go ahead and send out that query letter with an unpolished manuscript and see what happens. Unless of course you're a literary genius (In which case, I hate you), I can pretty much guarantee that you're setting yourself up for a good old-fashioned pity party.

But how do you know this? I'm glad you asked.

I know this because I did it. Several times over. I knew my writing was good. The stories were amazing, honest. I cried while I wrote them.

Did I read one single book on craft apart from Writers Digest Guide to Literary Agents and Publishers? No. I did not.

Did I belong to a critique group, online or otherwise? No, I did not.

Did I know what passive writing, deep POV or head-hopping were? NO. I did not.

See a pattern here?

Listen, you don't just wake up one day and decide to be a brain surgeon, pluck some poor guy off the street and do a frontal lobe lobotomy on him. Well, you could try, but methinks it would end badly for both of you. No, you go to university. Then you go to medical school. Then you do your internship, then a fellowship. And a hundred years later, you're a brain surgeon.

So it is with writing.

It is one thing to want to be a writer. It is a wonderful thing. A beautiful dream. But one that takes time, energy, fortitude and a certain amount of humility. If you seriously intend to make that dream a reality you must be willing to make the investment.

If you know without a doubt that you are willing to follow that dream, whatever the cost, wherever it takes you, great.

Here's some free advice for you. Take it. You'll be glad you did.

1. No pain, no gain. Find a writers group near you and join. Immediately. Then enroll in a critique group. Immediately.

If you have never, ever let anyone read your work because you're embarrassed or it's not good enough, get over it. If you want to be a writer you must be willing to subject yourself to criticism. Yes, sometimes it will hurt. You will bleed. But you will learn.

I belong to two. American Christian Fiction Writers - they have zones all over the US. Likewise with Romance Writers of America. If you belong to one or the other or both, you're well on your way to rubbing shoulders with those who have paved the way and are more than willing to help, teach and advise. Take full advantage of this. In the nicest, politest way possible of course.

2. Read to Learn. Do you know what genre you write in? Do you know what genre is? Arm yourself with a library of how-to books on writing. There are literally dozens to choose from. Do a search on Amazon and see for yourself. I recommend Anne Lammot, Dwight Swain, James Scott Bell and Donald Maas, just for starters.

3. Read for pleasure. If you're a writer, this is a no brainer. You love to read. Do. I often find it very difficult to read while I'm writing, but I force myself. There is no better way to learn your craft than to read published books. Whatever those authors are doing, it's working. I tend to read in my genre, but I think if you can step outside the box and read a bit of everything, you'll be ahead of the game. Okay. a warning here. As you grow as a writer, you will quickly develop a pain in the rear thing called The Internal Editor. It's that little voice inside your head that starts pitching a fit when you're in the middle of that bestseller and heads are hopping all over town, with the wases and the just as and the thens and you just can't stand it anymore because this junk is published and your brilliant novel has just been rejected again. For the tenth time.

I get this.

However, said author with the head-hopping issues is #1 on the NYT Best Seller list and is making a bajillion dollars a year churning out the same stuff. You are not. Get over it.

The biggest trap for a writer is to start comparing yourself to somebody else. I have done this too many times. I'll say, "Oh, I just love her stuff. I want to write like her." Uh. Good for me, but I'm not her. I'm me. I have learned to be satisfied with that. I will write like myself, thank you very much.

4. Go to writers conferences. Seriously. I know it is a lot of money. I know it's scary, especially if you're new at this and you don't know anyone. But it is so worth it. If you are serious about becoming a published author - find the money. Decide which conference you want to attend (do the research), start saving, find your babysitters or dogsitters or whatever, and just do it. You won't regret it. There is nothing like sitting in a room with several hundred other people who don't think you're weird. They're weird too. Go be weird together. Be writers.

5. Support System. You might say this does not apply to you. Your spouse is amazing, fully supportive in whatever you do. Your friends love you, they think it's cool that you're doing this writing thing, and your family is always asking when that book is coming out.

Awesome. However--once you have been at this for oh, five or ten years, and you're still not published, they might not be so supportive. Now I'm not saying they're going to call you an idiot behind your back or anything, but you know... This is a long, hard road. You may be one of the fortunate few who lands that agent and publishing contract within a year or two, and if so, great. Chances are, it'll take a lot longer than that. Surround yourself with like-minded individuals who can support you along the way, no matter what. Writing is, for the most part, a solitary occupation. Well, you know. As solitary as it can get with five or six people talking to you inside your head, sometimes all at once.

There will be times when you'll want to give up. You will want to rant and wail when you receive a no that you were a hundred percent sure was going to be a yes. It's a tough gig. Family and friends are great, but sometimes they just don't 'get it' like another writer will.

6. Believe in yourself. You must believe you can do this. If you don't, why should anyone else? Find your faith, spit polish it every day and smile at yourself. You can do this. It will not be easy, but if you want it, you must be willing to go after it.

Thanks, Cathy. I hope each of you reading this will check out Cathy's blog and website. And join me in congratulating her on the end of one journey and the beginning of another. Oh, by the way, Cathy. It doesn't get any easier from here on out. Just thought I'd cheer you up a bit.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Reviewers, and Endorsers, and Influencers, oh my!

In my last post, I discussed the practice of sending Advance Reader Copies (ARCs) to reviewers, endorsers, and influencers. Let me explain about these groups.

You didn't really think those book reviews in the New York Times or the major newspaper in your home town just appeared on their own, did you? Publishers provide advance copies of  books to the reviewers at these papers. Multiply that by hundreds of publications, from large ones such as Library Journal to smaller or specialized ones such as The Suspense Zone and you see the magnitude of the process. There's a good bit of decision-making in sending out ARCs to reviewers. But one good review at a major site can result in the sales of hundreds of books. Each publisher has a long list of potential reviewers. It's the job of the marketing and publicity department to match each book with appropriate sites to receive ARCs.

As for endorsers, these are the people who write one- and two-line squibs that appear on the cover or just inside book. For example, my publisher and I hope you're more likely to buy my novel if you look at the back cover and see that respected author Colleen Coble said, "I was riveted by Richard Mabry's Medical Error--compelling story and characters with fascinating medical detail. Move over Robin Cook." Who lines up endorsers? It varies. Authors, agent, publishers all participate in the process, and it varies with each of them. In my case, I personally contact all my possible endorsers. I make the following stipulations: if they agree, they'll be sent an ARC with a view to endorsement if they have the time, can read the book, and truly endorse it. So far, the only negative responders have been those with time crunches due to their own writing deadlines. And I'm excited over the line-up of potential endorsers who've just received (I hope) their ARC of Diagnosis Death.

Then what is an influencer? These are people whom you hope will read the book, like it, and tell others. They're people with large blog followings. They're church and public librarians. They're the heads of book clubs. The list can be huge, but again economics rears its ugly head, so distribution of ARCs to influencers must be limited. I sweat bullets over the list I turn in with each book, knowing that I've probably forgotten some important people.

Now I've got to get busy finishing my next novel. Then comes the editing process and more worry over ARCs and endorsers. The fun never stops, does it?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Don't Miss The Ark...I Mean ARC

When we had torrential rains in this part of Texas recently, I was worried that we might need an ark. But lately, my thoughts have been more about ARCs. Advance reader's copies. Most publishers provide ARCs to reviewers, influencers, and endorsers. In order for endorsers and reviewers to read them and provide feedback, ARCs must go out several months before the publication date of the finished book. And if they're delayed, that's one more cause for author heartburn.

You might have noticed that I said "most publishers." I've discovered that some publishers no longer furnish ARCs as printed, bound copies. Instead, in this age of Kindles, Nooks, and computer-friendly ebooks, they make the material available electronically. And at least one of my author friends tells me that her publisher no longer provides ARCs at all, sending out copies of the finished book instead.

The first time I received an ARC of a fellow author's work, I was excited. I'd obviously been included in a select group, receiving this material before members of the general public. Imagine my surprise when I found that ARCs aren't perfect. They are printed from the uncorrected final manuscript provided by the author, a manuscript that will later have mistakes corrected and discrepancies cleaned up. I don't know about other authors, but in my case I appreciate the editorial team that discovered errors that were corrected between the ARC of my about-to-be-published third novel, Diagnosis Death, and the final copy.

In addition to the wave-of-the-future electronic copies, bound ARCs go out. They are sent to reviewers, endorsers, and influencers via a number of carriers: FedEx and UPS, first class mail, or media mail. Since the publisher may be sending a couple of hundred copies, you can understand that they may need to economize by using the least expensive of these methods--media mail--but that may cause the material to be a couple of weeks in transit. In the meantime, the author is pacing the floor, waiting to see what the reviews and endorsers will say.

Diagnosis Death will be my third novel, and I have engaged in the floor-pacing with each one of them. The ARCs are always a bit later in production than predicted at first, a bit slower in being sent out than we'd wish, and thus slower in arriving at their destinations than I or any other author would like. This was the case with this latest group of ARCs, but that's just part of the process and I've learned to accept it.

You may have been asking yourself, "Who are these reviewers, endorsers, and influencers he keeps talking about?" Glad you asked. Come back next time for a discussion of all that.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veterans Day

For hundreds of years, brave men and women have put themselves in harm's way--at home and abroad-- to defend our country and protect our liberty. Please pause for a moment and give thanks for the men and women who have served America in her armed forces. I'm proud to be among their number. May those efforts never be forgotten, nor be in vain, and may God bless America.

Richard L. Mabry, Capt, USAF, MC
1605th USAF Hospital, Lajes Field, Azores

Monday, November 08, 2010

Blame It On Daylight Savings Time

For those of you keeping score, you may have noticed that I'm a bit late with this post. I generally post on Monday and Thursday, having decided that the world--well, my world, anyway--is going too fast for me to post every day. I checked this morning to see what gem I'd chosen for today and found that I'd completely missed this date. Blame it on Daylight Savings Time, blame it on depression over the sorry state of the Dallas Cowboys, blame it on what you wish, but there it is.

Speaking of Daylight Savings Time, how many of you think this exercise in turning clocks backward and forward is totally ridiculous? I know, Congress tells us it saves energy. Then again, they've told me other things I can't prove, either. To me, it's sort of like cutting an inch off the hem of a garment and sewing it back on the top to make it longer.

Anyway, that's my wisdom for today. Hope this is a good week for you all.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Golf As A Paradigm For Life

Readers may puzzle over the title of this post, much as the two psychiatrists who met each other in the elevator of their office building one morning. After exchanging pleasantries, they emerged and turned away from each other, thinking, "I wonder what he meant by that."

In this case, I'm not talking about the honesty required in score-keeping. I'm not even concerned with the observation by Jerry Gilmore, my friend/golf partner/attorney, who says that you can tell a lot about a person by whether they fill in their divots when no one is looking. No, I think my life is most enjoyable when I live it the way I play golf. And I want to share that philosophy with you.

For some people, golf is a blood sport. They live and die with every shot, playing the game with an intensity that will surely result in a bleeding ulcer someday. I tried that for a while, but decided that the game was supposed to be fun, and this certainly didn't meet that definition.

That's when Jerry and I developed OFBB (old fogey's best ball). If we hit a shot we don't like, we declare it a practice ball and hit another. However, we limit ourselves to three tries on any shot, because otherwise we can't remember where all the balls went. And--horror of horrors to the purists--we don't keep score! We figure that we play the game for enjoyment, and we enjoy it more when we just remember the good shots and don't worry about the bad ones.

What's the relationship of this attitude toward life? Just as a shanked 7-iron shot almost always follows a good drive, life is full of ups and downs. Obviously, we have to do our best. Bills have to be paid. Obligations must be met. But to measure our achievements by the amount of money we make or the position we attain can be like the golfer who drains all the enjoyment from his life by agonizing over his game. As I said of one playing partner (a preacher, no less), "He didn't say anything, but no grass grew where he stepped." I don't need that intensity in my life.

Lest you think it's easy for me to recommend this because I'm living a life of luxury with no crises on the horizon, that's not the case. We've had tragedy upon tragedy in our family this year--personal, financial, you name it. But I've tried to remember that bad times don't last forever, and God is sovereign. Those two thoughts help me through each day. And when I find something to enjoy, I try to do just that. It's the equivalent of a "mulligan" in life, I suppose. And I'm thankful for it.

Monday, November 01, 2010


Many of you may have already taken advantage of the opportunity for early voting. For those who haven't, I'd like to urge you to vote on November 2. Regardless of your political views, please exercise this right that we sometimes take for granted, a freedom for which our forefathers spilled their blood. And regardless of the outcome of the races, please continue to pray for our nation and its leaders.