Monday, May 29, 2017

Memorial Day: 2017

Today has been designated as Memorial Day, a time to honor those who have given their lives in the service of our country. When I was growing up, we were proud of the fact that our country had never begun a war, nor had we ever lost one. I'm not sure we can say that anymore. But whatever your views about the various police actions, interventions, and battles of the past half century, there can be no debate about one thing: courageous men and women have put themselves in harm's way to make our world and our nation safe from the incursion of forces attempting to take away the freedom we hold so dear. And for this, we can never fully thank them

I'm proud to have served my country. I salute my fellow comrades and honor those who gave the "last full measure of devotion" in that service. God bless America.

This will substitute for my usual Tuesday post. Come back on Friday, when we talk more about the writing life and "Fast, Cheap, Good--pick two.".

Friday, May 26, 2017

Writing: Royalties and Advances

Generally, those of us who write in the Christian genre don't do it for the money. If we did, there'd be a lot fewer of us. But royalties and "earning out" an advance are parts of our conversations among ourselves. And, as the picture to the left indicates, except for a minority of writers, the amount of money that comes to us isn't huge.

A contract (or its precursor, the "deal offer") includes an "advance against royalties." The first thing to realize is that this is exactly what the words imply--an advance. There's a specific royalty structure for every book, and in order to get more money the writer's book has to sell sufficient copies to "earn out"--that is, after applying the royalties for those copies to the advance, there is an overage. Only when that happens does the writer actually get a check from the publisher. Oh, and that statement comes at a particular interval (the contract spells it out), and payment usually runs behind. That's just the way it is.

How often do writers' work "earn out?" One agent says that only 25% of writers do this. Another agent says it's all a guess. Actually, no one knows.

Oh, and what about the writer who independently publishes his/her book? They have to put in money to have the book edited and a cover design made, so you can look on this as sort of a reverse advance. Once this amount has been returned via royalties, their book can be considered to have "earned out."

Does it matter to you, as a reader, how much the author makes on each book? When you see a chance to get a book you've wanted for a discounted price, do you take the offer? (I do--but then again, I'm a reader as well as a writer).

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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Where Would You Go?

Summer's upon us, and many of you are thinking of vacations. I've found that, the older I get, the less I look forward to travel. And since we have no idea where the next terrorist strike might be, some of us feel a bit uncertain about the place we choose.

As a physician, I was privileged to speak in many countries around the globe, as well as in North America. I've thought about returning to England, Germany, the Middle East--but would it be safe to go there?

With my second profession, that of an author, my speaking and teaching has thus far been confined to the US, but even that is narrowing.

A typical question used to be, "Where in the world would you go for a vacation?" Now most people ask the question, "Where would you feel safe going for relaxation?" What do you think? I'll be interested in reading your comments.

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Friday, May 19, 2017

Writing: Profession or Hobby?

One of my favorite "writing" books is Lawrence Block's Telling Lies For Fun And Profit. It was one of the first such books I read from cover to cover, and I still go back to it from time to time. Block has written a number of such books, most of them based on his columns in Writers Digest, and they influenced my growth as a writer. In one of them, he talks about the "Sunday writer," and I long ago decided that's where I fit in. I didn't think I'd ever make a living at this writing game, and I was quite comfortable where I was. But that's changed over the years.

Block wrote and published a number of books, and I've read and re-read most of them. He also wrote (sometimes using various pseudonyms) some magazine articles and books that varied from the noir variety to what I would call "erotica." But the main thing is that he wrote a lot. And because of that, he was able to support himself through his writing.

I've noticed, especially since many writers are turning to self-publication (the "indie" publishing route), that writers are finding what Block (and some of his colleagues) said was true--the more books that are out there, the higher your income is likely to be. I say "likely" because readers are learning that not everything that's self-published is worth paying even a low amount for the e-book version. But for those who spend the time and money to have professional editing and memorable book covers done for their work, there's indeed a significant market out there.

What of the "Sunday writer?" I'm not certain that class exists anymore. Writers seem to be like cyclists going down a hill, needing to do more and more (while making less and less), until eventually they crash or slow down.

Am I still a "Sunday writer?" I guess I left that class when I was first published. Of course, since I'm retired I don't depend on a day job to meet expenses, but I'm hearing from fellow writers (and experiencing this myself) that it's becoming harder to generate a dependable income via writing.

Do you see changes in the publishing industry? Good or bad? Any suggestions? I look forward to reading them.

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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Country Boy In The Big City

This post appeared quite a while ago, but I thought it was worth bringing out of mothballs. The top picture is of the Waggoner mansion outside my home town.

The other day, I saw a commercial that had a city limit sign showing a population that was almost exactly the same as that of that town when I left there: 2578. And that started me thinking.

When I finished high school (BTW, we only had one of them, plus  one other for the lower grades) and left to enroll in college for my pre-med classes, I jumped to a city that was ten times as large. That wasn't too big an increase in size for a small-town boy, and I adapted. Then I went to Dallas for medical school, and the jump in the population of the city in which I lived represented a logarithmic increase from what I'd become accustomed to. But, again, I adapted.

Over the years, I've been fortunate enough to visit (either as a visiting professor or via a leisure trip) places like New York City, Chicago, Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas, and lots of other US cities. I've travelled and delivered medical talks in Canada, Mexico, and Central America. I've even been in places like Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Germany, Great Britain, Denmark, The Netherlands, and several others. Quite a step up for a small town boy.

I guess it's possible to adapt to one's environment, no matter how large or small the city in which you live may be. But sometimes I wish I were back in that small town in North Texas where I knew everyone, could find my way around blindfolded, and we never locked our door. Then again, those days may be gone forever, even if I tried to go back. As Thomas Wolfe said, "You can't go home again." And, if you do, you'll find it's changed...and so have you.

Do you sometimes find yourself wishing you could go back home? If you did, would things be the same? I'd like to know.

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Sunday, May 14, 2017

Mother's Day 2017

My mother has been gone for many years now. But I can think back and see how she instilled in me some of the characteristics I hope I passed on to my own children.

Whatever woman to whom you owe a debt of gratitude, whether they gave you life or helped shape your life and made it what it is now, thank them today.

And to all the mothers out there--Happy Mothers Day.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Writing: How Do Authors Get Paid?

If you're like me, you receive a number of emails each day offering discounted or free e-books. I confess that I often take advantage of these, and sometimes (not as often as I'd wish) I find a new author so I end up buying more of their books. Of course, that's the whole idea behind these "loss leaders." It's the same reason grocery stores have sales and put a discounted item on an end-cap or other prominent place. They want customers to think, "For that price, I'll try it." And often (they hope) the customer comes back for more, even at full price.

Authors do this for the same reason. But I'm afraid our culture has reached the point of agreeing with Hawaiian legend Duke Kahanamoku: "For free, take. For buy, waste time." On one of the author's loops of which I'm a member, an author recently said she was told, "I really like your books. When the new one's free, I'm going to get it."

The average author spends six months to a year writing each book. If they have a contract with a traditional publisher, they receive an advance against royalties, but not a cent more until the book(s) in question "earn out." Since many books never earn out their advances, the author doesn't get any more money. The publisher runs specials and puts them on sale at a discounted price, but it rarely lines the author's pocket.

If an author is one of the new breed of self-publishers, they've paid out to have cover art developed and the manuscript edited (if they want the book to be something that will bring readers back for more). Their royalty structure is better, but there's a certain amount of up-front cost to them.

What do you think? What's a fair return for the writer's efforts? Or should books be available for free, much like air for our tires at a 7-11 store? Oh, wait. Those compressors require payment now. What's next?

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Thursday, May 11, 2017

Almost Forgot--Chatting Today on CAN Blog

Does your life ever get so busy you almost forget an important event? Well, mine does. I almost forgot that I was doing a chat on the Christian Authors Network blog today. I hope you'll click on over and read it. You can learn why author Kevin Thompson and I feel the way we do about the comparison between a cup of coffee at your favorite Starbucks and a novel written by an author.

And come back here Friday for my blog on how (and why) authors get paid for their efforts.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Does The Internet Make Us Cowards?

In a previous post, I talked about the "masks" we hide behind that allow some of us to say or do things we wouldn't if our identities were obvious. You might consider this an extension of that post.

This week I've started reading a book about entitlement. As I've said in a recent Facebook post, I started reading the book thinking like a parent and grandparent, but soon realized it also applied to me. And there was one chapter that really hit home.

I confess that I read things on Facebook--not everything, but probably more than I should--and I've found my blood pressure rising when I see some of the political posts. I can remember situations when, if we didn't get our way in an election, we might be steamed for a while--we tried to be what in Great Britain is sometimes called the "loyal opposition" But the posts and comments nowadays are sometimes more than I can take.

As a writer, I'm encouraged to maintain a social media presence. For a long time I accepted essentially all Facebook friend requests, except those that are from people obviously trolling for friends. But now when I see a comment that raises my hackles, I click on the name, and if I see that I've "friended" them I use the tab that "unfollows" (and sometimes "unfriends") them. And that brings me to what this book said. There are things that we'd hesitate to say face-to-face, but we feel free to say them via electronic media. The Internet has made cowards of many of us.

Do you agree? Are some of these people who think nothing of spewing their vitriol going to eventually regret it? Is there anything one can do besides "unfollowing" or "unfriending" them? What do you think?

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Friday, May 05, 2017

Writing: A New Type of Multi-Author Book, with Angela Hunt

Although I don’t usually read stories with a supernatural element, I’ve recently finished Invitation, designated as “cycle one” of the Harbingers collection. I have to admit that the way it was put together fascinated me. In it, four authors—Bill Meyers, Frank Peretti, Angela Hunt, and Alton Gansky—each have written stories in the voice of a different character. The stories are freestanding, but tied together by a common theme. (book cover pic)

I was told that one of the authors, Bill Meyers, had the idea for this one, and invited other authors to join him. It seems reasonable to put together a project such as this, since I have held for some time that in our TV and computer dominated society the attention span of the reader is getting shorter. But is this new type of book a fad, or one of which we’d see more? I decided to ask one of the authors of the work, Angela Hunt, for her comments.

What did you think when you were invited to participate in this project?

I was delighted. I don’t usually write supernatural suspense, but I’ve always said that a writer ought to be able to write anything, so I was tickled to have the opportunity. Plus, my schedule is usually full, but I knew I could easily squeeze in a 20,000-word novella. And the other writers are good friends—how can you turn down that kind of fun?

The idea of several authors writing stories that could be drawn together into a coherent book would seem to be an impossible task. How did you all handle this?

We created a series “bible,” in which we were supposed to note things that had happened in each installment, but then nobody wrote in it, so that idea fell by the wayside. We did, however, hold occasional Skype conferences where we talked about the overall story arc, and how we wanted our characters to act and react along the way. We also suggested adjustments when we thought “our” character wasn’t reacting in a way true to his/her personality—and I noticed that we all grew quite possessive of our assigned characters. As if they were real . . .

Do you foresee more books in this cycle?

I couldn’t have answered that a few months ago, but now I can. There will be five cycles, twenty novellas. We are about to release the final book, and Alton Gansky is hard at work on it as I’m typing.

What do you think about the current state of publishing? Do things need to change? And is this type of book one of the changes we’ll see in the future?

I think the state of publishing has adjusted to the ebook revolution and the recovering economy well. Prior to the economic crash of 2008, publishers were publishing so much there was almost a glut, and the lean times pared down the list. I know that’s not comforting news to new writers, but it means writers have to be more skilled and more persistent than ever before.

Any other thoughts you’d like to share with the readers of this blog?

Just this: for the writer, reading is more important than writing. And living is the most important of all. How else will you have anything to write about?

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Angela Hunt has published more than 130 books in fiction and nonfiction, for children and adults. You can visit her website at 

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Professional Burnout

Although I've been retired from medicine for more than a decade, I still read the literature of my specialty, including some very interesting thoughts published recently by a valued colleague writing on burn-out among physicians in training. It's interesting that this phenomenon is observed in medical students and practitioners alike. How often? Up to 50% across all stages of education and practice.

I still remember sitting at my desk in the medical school fraternity house at 2 AM, studying my gross anatomy book, trying (not very successfully) to commit some of the material to memory. Cat-a-corner from me, through the windows I saw Jerry doing the same thing. Soon I heard his book slam shut, his footsteps thump down the stairs, and the front door close (not very quietly). He was gone for two days, and when he came back he wore a Navy uniform. What he did is one example of what I and others in medical school faced and how some of them react.

What does this have to do with writing? I'm a member of several writers-only Facebook groups, and recently I read a post by a mid-list writer of Christian fiction who essentially said, "I give up." I have no idea of all that was in play here. He said the joy was gone, there was no impetus to write. Perhaps it was difficulties getting a publishing contract (eight or nine publishers have shut down their Christian fiction lines in the past year), perhaps the time and effort a writer has to spend on marketing and building their "platform," maybe other factors. Of course, the door is always open for a writer to "indie" publish their work, but this is unknown territory and many of us don't like to venture there.

I'm sure burn-out occurs in other professions and situations as well as the two I've noted. Perhaps it has to do with the reasons one has chosen a career path to begin with. Maybe things have changed since the person has started down that road. How would you suggest putting an end to the "drop-out due to burn-out" situation? I'd really like to hear what you have to say.

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