Friday, February 28, 2014

The Writing Life: "The Expectant Author"

Recently I read a comment by my friend and fellow author, Candace Calvert, that the impending release of a new book is something like the birth of a baby. I've asked Candace to expand on that aspect of the writing life. So, here's Candace:

In the weeks preceding a book release, I sometimes joke that I’m practicing my Lamaze breathing, likening the process to a birth. I’ll say something like, “. . . at least I don’t get stretch marks.” These giddy-anxious quips—via Twitter and Facebook in today’s world—tend to get a chuckle from readers, and a knowing nod from fellow authors. Because “having a book” does indeed require labor.

Whether it’s a first book or fiftieth, it’s an experience that is at once unique, emotional, and nerve wracking. And, in those last weeks before release, very much like becoming a parent. For male and female authors, alike.  Because:

It’s been a long haul from your “twinkle in the eye” idea stage, to typing THE END.  Appropriately, my book deadlines span a 9-month period.

Your book is given a release date, much like a baby’s due date. It appears online in countless places.

Regardless, readers (and family) will forever ask, “Is that book ever going to be released?” Personally, I consider this impatience encouraging. And I’m grateful no one has yet to pat my stomach when they ask.

You must prepare for the book release. Website updates, blog rolls, ARC (Advanced Review Copies) sent to early readers, newsletter announcement, launch party prep . . .
Life doesn’t come to a screeching halt because you’re “expecting.” A book is in production for many months (multiple edits, cover art, sales and marketing plans) and the author must move on to the next project. The deadline for my next book (2015) is the very same date as the official release date for this current book. Authors of a book series may be juggling several books at once, draft stage, edit stage, and release promotion stage—much like being expectant while caring for toddlers!

Your book might release earlier or later than expected. Though books are assigned time “slots” by a publisher, stuff happens. Release dates may be delayed or moved up. Though I’ve never experienced a delay, I can now predict that some online book sites will “scoop” the release date by as much as two weeks. When Critical Care, my first medical novel, began shipping via Amazon weeks early, I panicked.  I was suddenly the mother to a “preemie”—crib wasn’t ready, onesies weren’t pre-laundered, house was wreck, and . . . To this day, I still smile at the reaction of my wonderful (and wise) Tyndale House marketing specialist, Babette:
“Relax, deep breath, Candace. We have everything in place. And . . . congratulations!”

Your story is out there, for all to see. And review. This where giddy-pride meets angst. Fortunately, newborns aren’t subject to star reviews from Amazon: “Cute Face but So Boring.” Even as an author’s skin thickens, there are many instances in which reader connection brings true blessing—and reminds us of why we answered this crazy and wonderful calling.

And, lastly, there are stretch marks.  With each completed manuscript, a writer learns and grows creatively in the process. Perhaps we risk digging deeper emotionally with our characters;  choose an “edgier” subject matter; maybe explore a very different genre. Writers (and readers) can attest to the fact that early work is often quite different when compared to later work.  We streeeeetch.

As I write this, my newest medical drama, Life Support, is popping up as “In Stock” via online sites in the US and abroad, arriving on bookstore shelves, and making its way into the hands of readers. And into my own hands as well. I’m happy, I’m anxious, and the thrill never gets old. My new baby.  Deep breath. Give it a little smack on the back cover . . . Welcome to the world!

Important Announcement: Candace has very graciously offered a signed copy of Life Support to a randomly chosen commenter about this blog. So comment away, but don't forget to include your email address so we can contact the winner. (Use this format, to foil web crawlers: Dr R L Mabry at yahoo dot com). Note: The contest is now closed. Feel free to comment, but they will not be included in the random selection process. Check this blog on Friday, March 7, for the name of the winner. Thanks everyone. RLM

Fellow authors: How have you “stretched” with your newest work?
Readers:  Do you ever re-read a series book while waiting for a favorite author’s newest story to be “born”?

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Talk Among Yourselves

I recall being in a meeting once when the person running the discussion was called away. His instructions? "Talk among yourselves until I get back."

Yesterday, Kay and I observed thirteen years of marriage. The fact that God gave us this opportunity when neither of us thought we'd ever be married again is just another indication of His goodness.

To celebrate, we took a brief trip, which was wonderful, but it left both of us scrambling to catch up. So, while I do just that, talk among yourselves.

Hope to see you back on Friday, when fellow author Candace Calvert discusses how the process of writing and publishing a book is like birthing a baby.

Special note: Recently subscribers to my newsletter got a preview of Critical Condition, and Brian Reed won a signed Advance Readers Copy. I've sent Brian an email. If you'd like to receive my newsletter, with news of my writing journey, previews of my novels, and opportunities like this, please subscribe using the tab in the right margin.

(photo via

Friday, February 21, 2014

Writing: "For Free, Take..." Or Not

If you've ever been to Waikiki Beach in Hawaii, you've probably seen the statue pictured here, a tribute to world-class surfer Duke Kahanamoku. Back in the day, Arthur Godfrey would frequently quote The Duke: "For free, take. For buy, waste time."

I've sometimes employed that logic when telephone solicitors call, but more recently I've even been skeptical of the free stuff. Really, is anything really free anymore?

Two different publishers have published my novels of medical suspense, and interestingly enough, they've had different philosophies about free book (e-books, that is). One used limited free offers to introduce readers to my work, the other preferred to discount books for specific periods but never give them away. And both had statistics to back up their stand.

One more thing: ten days ago, my current publisher offered my most recent novel, Heart Failure, as a $1.95 download for the two most popular e-readers. By the end of the day, that book was #2 in its categories on one site, #1 on the other. We'll have to wait to see what the actual sales figures are, but that's interesting.

So, fellow authors and readers of this blog, what do you think? Are free downloads a good marketing tool, or have readers become so jaded that they won't pay even a nominal fee for a book, hoping it will someday be free? You tell me.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

President's Day

Yesterday was a federal holiday, as many of you who wanted to visit the Post Office or your bank discovered. The term "President's Day" is featured prominently in all the ads for sales centered around the date. The holiday is still officially known as "Washington's Birthday" by the federal government, although some states have changed the name for the third Monday in February to adopt the popular term. There's a lot more here, including the information (new to me, at least) that this holiday does not necessarily celebrate Lincoln's birthday as well as Washington's.

So here's my question: Did you try to visit one of the offices that were closed yesterday? Do you wait for President's Day sales?

And here's another important question: To you, does this holiday honor the office of the presidency, not just our first President or any other man occupying the office? When I was in the Air Force, I was taught that I saluted the uniform, not the man wearing it. What do you think?

And, by the way, did you fly your flag yesterday? Is it still up? Ours is, and will stay up until the elections this fall.

(photo via

Friday, February 14, 2014

Valentine's Day

I'm breaking from my usual schedule of posts about the writing life on Friday to wish everyone a happy Valentine's Day. There is lots of lore about this day and the martyred priest who died in the 5th century for which it's named. A cynic has said that this is a day when a man can give his wife chocolates and flowers without being asked, "What did you do?" Or this is a day when a woman can fix her husband's favorite meal (if he's not taking her out) without his wondering, "What's up?"

Seriously, I hope each of you enjoys the day. I'll be back on my regular schedule of writing next week. In the meantime, tell me how you plan to celebrate (if at all).

Note: If you're a subscriber to my newsletter, watch your email tomorrow for a special edition, with a preview of Critical Condition and an opportunity to win a signed Advance Reading Copy of the book. If you're not a subscriber, use the link in the right-hand margin to sign up now.

(Picture via

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

"Ride Around Slow"

For some reason, the words of a cowboy song I heard decades ago have been echoing in my mind lately: "Ride around little dogies, ride around slow, for the fiery and snuffy are rarin' to go." I always figured that "fiery and snuffy" related to cattle that were ready at any moment to stampede--thus, the need for cowboys to ride around them slowly as they herded them. There are other interpretations, but I think this one makes as much sense as any.

And there's a real-world application for this, at least so far as I'm concerned. Go slow. Think about the possible consequences of your actions. In this modern world, where it's easy to pound a few keys, hit "enter," and see your words go out on the worldwide web, where they'll reside forever, the lesson is think before you hit send. Because an ill-chosen phrase or more can cause the "fiery and snuffy" to stampede--right over us.

There are a number of examples of someone failing to "ride around slow" with their public utterances, but since I suspect you know as many as I do, I'll leave it to you to fill in the blanks. Meanwhile, the next time you're tempted to snap back, either verbally or in written communication, remember that "the fiery and snuffy are rarin' to go." And there may be consequences.

Care to share some examples? I promise not to tell anyone.

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: If you're a Nook owner (or know one), my most recent novel, Heart Failure, is a Nook "daily find," priced at $1.99 today only. Here's the link. The book is also available at that price as a Kindle version. You can get it by clicking here.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Writing: The ARC

When a writer talks about an ark, chances are they're not referring to the vessel built by Noah. (And, what do you think of the recent discovery that suggests the ark was round?) The writer who mentions an ark is talking about an Advance Reader's Copy.

ARCs may take one of several forms. Some are simply printed pages, bound by a spiral coil like something that you'd get from Kinko's. Others, like the one shown, are printed copies that look very much like the finished book, except that: 1) they are clearly marked as unedited copies, 2) they may or may not contain marketing and publicity information, and 3) whether stated or implied, it's assumed that they are not to be passed on or distributed in any way. They are sent for one reason--to allow selected people to review them.

I've just finished reading an ARC of a cozy mystery written by Ellen Kennedy. It will release in September under the title, Murder In The Past Tense. I found it charming, and had no problem providing an endorsement for it.

The ARCs are sent not only to endorsers but to reviewers such as Library Journal and Romantic Times Book Reviews. These reviewers get tons of books and can't possibly review them all, so authors feel it's a special honor when their book is reviewed, much less when it receives a good review. I've been fortunate enough to receive such reviews, but I have to confess I bite my fingernails with each new book, hoping to see a review and yet dreading the content.

Selected bloggers and individual reviews also receive ARCs, and the competition is sometimes fierce to get on a publisher's list. Sometimes the author can ask the publisher to add a name or two, but at other times all the ARCs are already designated for distribution.

Have you received an ARC? What did you do after you finished it? Give it to a friend? Sell it on eBay or Craig's List? Do you know what you're supposed to do with it?

Do you have questions about ARCs or any other aspect of the writing and publishing process? Ask away, and I'll either answer them or find someone who knows the answer. Thanks for dropping by.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Writing: Some Rules May Just Be Legends

This picture of Gayle Roper's class on writing at Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference reminds me of the journey I and some of those other folks have made as we pursued the writing life.

One of the things I was told early on in my writing life was that 85% of the readers of Christian fiction are women, and they prefer a female protagonist. Since I'm a slow learner, my first novels had a male protagonist--and those books are still on my hard drive, unpublished. Then I wrote what ended up as Code Blue with Dr. Cathy Sewell as the main character, and more contracts followed. As one of my medical school professors said, "Hey, you can teach a white mouse in three times. Learn from experience."

After four successful novels, I decided to test that rule with my fifth book, Stress Test, featuring co-protagonists Dr. Carrie Markham and Adam Davidson. My introduction of a strong male lead didn't seem to bother my readers. By then I began wondering if the rule was only a legend. Thus, the survey. Here are the questions and responses.

Do you prefer the protagonist to be male, female, or makes no difference? 85% said it doesn't matter. Here's a typical comment: "I like strong, human characters who push boundaries to solve problems in search of an ideal (i.e., who fight fights worth fighting)."

Does the author's sex matter? 91% didn't think so. One commenter said, "I've found many male authors leave out an essential element that draws me to their work - the emotions. When an author shares his heart with me in his writing, as James Rubart does (for example), he can suck me in just as effectively as a female author. But I've found few male authors to date who do that. If they don't, I won't read their work." I'll pause here to acknowledge my wife, Kay, who is my first reader and helps me write with authentic female characters, something for which I've been complimented.

Does the publishing house matter? Not to 84% of respondents. Here is a typical comment about that:
"I do consider the publishing house--certain houses tend to publish clean fiction and clean is important to me--but it does not determine whether I read the book or not. Good story and that it is clean are most important to me."                                

I also asked about preference for romance vs. suspense (I write medical romantic suspense and this was just for me). 14% voted for romance, 68% for suspense, and to everyone else it didn't matter.

I believe the following comment pretty well sums up the responses I got. "If the writing is great, I don't care if the protagonist is male or female. (It is interesting to get the male perspective at times though.) I usually read books from Christian publishers because I can get a good read without language and explicit sex scenes. Other than that, I don't care who the publisher is. My favorite genre is romantic suspense, but it doesn't matter where the emphasis is if the book keeps me on the edge of my seat."

I recognize that this survey is far from scientific. The sample size is too small, and it's obviously biased since the people taking it either read this blog, my tweets, or my Facebook posts. But it's accurate enough for me.You can draw your own conclusions, but to me it seems that readers don't care about the sex of the main character, the sex of the author, or the name of the publisher. They just want a good read. And that's what I'll keep trying to give them.

How about you? What do you think of the responses? Anything you'd like to share? Let me know.

(Note: For those who were expecting a post about the Super Bowl, I refer you to your local newspapers, radio, TV, and the Internet. I'm ready for baseball season.)