Sunday, April 13, 2014

Lousy Sleeps Aren't All Bad for Writers

A few years back, about twelve of us from the mid-morning writers’ group had gathered together when one of us began yawning. She’d had insomnia the night before, which wasn’t uncommon for her. Another writer said that she hadn’t slept well either, as did another. I’ve always been a light sleeper accustomed to interrupted sleep, so I asked the group how many of them also had sleeping difficulties. Just about everyone raised their hand. Now admittedly, no one in that particular class was under forty and more than half of us were well beyond that, but I found it interesting that, despite chronic sleep problems, all of were still writing regularly.

This week, I came across a blog by a writer named Claire Simpson, who wrote about creativity and insomnia. Claire has had insomnia issues off and on since childhood. She maintains that after three hours of sleep, she often feels good enough to write, pointing out that insomnia is not the same as a restless night’s sleep.

Claire writes that studies have shown that sleep deprivation can actually help with creativity. Apparently it’s to do with the way our brains are wired. A poor night’s sleep might not be good for analytical thinking, but it can be good for letting ideas come forward. It’s a left brain-right brain thing. Sleepiness lets the right brain bring random, outside-the-box thoughts forward, which often connect with other ideas.

This was exciting to read because I’ve experienced this for years, but didn’t realize how common it was in others. After a really bad night, I stay away from heavy editing as I can’t concentrate long enough to make much progress; however, if I let my mind wander and do something mundane like washing dishes, ideas start jumping forth and connecting with current WIPs. For this reason, I don’t really stress anymore after a bad night’s sleep. After thirty years of writing, I can pretty well tell what kind of a writing day I’m going to have based on the previous night’s sleep.

This blog is a classic example. I often do my reading and come up with ideas for the next entry on Saturday evening, after a day of errands, chores, and editing. The ideas gel, I make a few notes, and start to write the opening paragraph. But on Sunday mornings, the analytical part of my brain kicks in and the words flow quickly in the order I want them to, most of the time.

Incidentally, all you chronic insomniacs should take heart. As Claire points out, Charles Dickens, Marcel Proust, Mark Twain, and Frank Kafka, along with many other famous writers, were also insomniacs.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Writers Find Their Future on Shaky Ground

Lately, I’ve come across a couple of articles about successful traditionally published authors whose incomes have been steadily dwindling over recent years. An article The Guardian quotes authors who claim that the credit crunch of 2008 and rapid change in the publishing/bookselling world have hurt their bottom line so much that some of them are in dire straits and facing some tough decisions.

The article isn’t talking about aspiring first-time novelists who’ve enjoyed lucky breaks. It’s talking about writers who have an impressive body of work under their belts and multiple awards. The publishers these people work with apparently can’t afford anywhere near the advances they gave before 2008. Book review sections in newspapers and magazines has been drastically cut, the flood of freebie e-books and cheap novels has made books more competitive and ultimately the writers’ bottom line.

I’ve been writing for over thirty years, and I’ve seen and heard all this before. The merging of publishing houses all over the world, and especially in North America, over twenty years ago eliminated many midlist writers back then. Midlist writers are disappearing again, and so the cycle continues.

In a sciencefiction article, bestselling fantasy author Tracy Hickman told an audience at a conference that he was fighting for his professional life. He stated that he used to have blocks of people lined up at bookstores to buy his books, but with the bookstores dying out his fans can’t find him anymore. Like the authors quoted in the above article, Hickman has to do a lot more work just to scratch out a living, and after thirty years of writing, he’s not sure it will last.

And that’s the disheartening part. So many well-known, award-winning authors are now in their sixties and nearly broke. Now they’re wondering not only if their careers will soon end, but what will happen when their meager savings runs out.

So, what’s wrong with this picture? The answer is that none of the authors in the two articles have figured out what Joe Konrath and others have. That adapting is not only crucial but quite possibly highly profitable for writers who’ve already created fans and a body of work. Why aren’t they embracing the digital age? Hickman says that he’s lost readers because they can’t find him. Huh? Are all of his fans technically illiterate? Or is it that they know how to find him but there are so many authors now available the digital world that their attention has wandered?

In this business adaptability means as much as awards, advances, and lots of published books. It’s about taking those titles and awards and incorporating them into this brave new world. Maybe they should start by reading Joe’s blog.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Have You Got the Whole Marketing Thing Figured Out Yet?

By the end of this year, I will have published five mystery novels since 2008. While I’m kind of proud of this accomplishment, I have to say that effective marketing is still a hurdle for me. Discussions with colleagues and my writers’ group over the years has provided some useful insights, but as with everything, things change.

My return to a full-time day job six months ago forced me to drastically cut the amount of time I spend on social media promotion and you know what? It’s okay. I’ve found that participation in the ten social media sites I belonged to had little to do with generating sales. Part of the reason was that most of the people who followed, joined, and linked with me are also writers eager to promote their books. How many of us actually reach readers? Are we doing enough? Are we doing the right things?

When I came across a blog by Anne R. Allen, listing seven ways writers waste time building a social media platform, I found myself agreeing with a lot of what she said, and feeling kind of relieved because I wasn’t doing most of it anyway. In Allen’s view the following are time wasters:

. Racking up thousands of Twitter followers
. Madly promoting your ‘Like’ page on Facebook
. Gathering a huge list of names for a newsletter
. Participating in expensive, grueling blog tours
. Blogging everyday
. Blog hopping
. Worrying about your Klout or other social media rating.

Allen provides reasons about why these things are often useless time sucks. Of the seven, the only one I tried was promoting ‘Likes’ on FB, but again, most of the Likes came from other writers doing the same thing. I’ve never been overly interested in checking out my ratings, and stopped using Klout because it was just annoying. Two blogs a week have always been plenty for me. My other blog focuses on fraud and was created to help keep people informed and aware of the importance of protecting their personal information. It’s more of a personal service thing than a buy-my-book thing.

Allen also identifies the promotion strategies she believes works these days, which is freebies and book sales through places like Bookbub, E-Reader and News Daily, if you can afford them. She also points out that the online world reinvents itself every couple of years. I’m not sure it happens that quickly, but it does change. The real challenge and time drain is trying to keep up with it all and find what works.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Interesting Info on the State of Publishing

Author Jane Friedman is a woman after my own heart. She loves stats and charts, and recently shared five of her favorites on her blog. By the way, she is also the co-founder and co-editor of Scratch Magazine, which focuses on writing and money. She’s also an editor at Virginia Quarterly Review and was the publisher of Writer’s Digest for more than a decade.

For me, the charts didn’t provide any earth-shattering information, but basically confirmed what I’ve read elsewhere. Basically, it comes down to this: 

 By the end of 2012, nearly half of all print and ebook sales were happening online. In fact, bookstore retail share dropped from 31.5% to 18.7% by the end of that year.

.  Sales of adult print books peaked between 2008 and 2009, however, children’s books are still holding their own. In other words, they still rely heavily on physical stores for sales.

.   Mobile and tablet devices are growing more popular while e-readers are lagging well behind the pack. Friedman’s right when she states that this has had an important impact on where and how we buy books, let alone how we read them. 

Ebooks are far more profitable for publishers than print books. The standard rate of royalties is 25% but will it remain so? Apparently, Hugh Howey of is stating publicly that royalties will have to go up. He has raised an interesting point. After all, how long will authors put up with 25% when Amazon pays 70% to indie authors?

The link between metadata and sales is clearly defined. This means that books that are specifically tagged, for instance, will have an easier time finding readers than a work of fiction that is put under the category of ‘General Fiction’. Properly tagged books sell more often in both nonfiction and fiction. It’s a no-brainer, right? 

If you want to take a look at the colorful and easy-to-read charts, you can find them at

Friday, March 21, 2014

Mystery and Horror in a Fluffy White Wrapper

A somewhat misleading post title to introduce a short story appearance.

Yes, Mardi Gras is over, but a dead body is something you'll always have, right?

Mystery and Horror LLC accepted one of my Mr. Sugar and Mrs. DiMarco stories for their spring anthology, MARDI GRAS MURDER. All the stories center on Mardi Gras; most are set in or very near New Orleans. Mr. Sugar lives (other than in my mind) in an unnamed Midwestern small city, and Mrs. DiMarco lives down the street. Mr. Sugar is a gay, neutered, white Persian cat; Mrs. DiMarco is only human. She has the deadliest throwing arm and the bluest language in the neighborhood, but she and Mr. Sugar have bonded.

"Mr. Sugar vs the Cake Thief" teams the two again to solve a mystery the don't even know exists.

They're just that good.


Available through Amazon in print or Kindle format.

Marian Allen, Author Lady
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Hard Times for Harlequin

Anyone who’s read or written romance knows that Harlequin has been the most recognized brand name for decades. For years, they ruled the roost when it came to publishing and selling romances. But the tide has turned. In fact, over the past five years, Harlequin reports a loss of nearly $100 million in sales. This is important for all traditional publishers and authors to know, because the reasons speak to the e-book and self-publishing revolution in every genre.

Digitalbookworld’s article quotes the reasons for the downfall directly from Harlequin’s findings and they probably won’t surprise you. Harlequin cites increased competition from e-books, self-publishers, and Amazon. Harlequin also used to dominate direct-to-consumer marketing through catalogues and mail-order options. Well, online sites like BookBub have adopted the direct-to-consumer angle big time by offering thousands of free and $.99 romances, making Harlequin’s $4.99 prices seem expensive. Adding to Harlequin’s woes is the reduction of physical shelf space and the increased availability of movies.

Digitalbookworld offers a link to Harlequin’s report on their financial troubles, but there might be more to the story. There have been a number of blogs and articles written by former Harlequin authors complaining about the publisher’s unfair contracts and small royalty payments. It does appear that a number of Harlequin authors have jumped ship to self-publish their work. I don’t know what Harlequin contracts say, but I do know that rights and royalties are an increasingly contentious issue between publishers and authors elsewhere. It looks like Harlequin will have to make big changes to survive either in their contracts, their pricing, their marketing, or all three. Will they survive? We’ll have to wait and see.