Childhood Release in Four Days

Wow. I’m amazed, relieved, and in a way saddened that Childhood is coming out in four days. I decided this blog post was going to be free form writing, or, in other words, writing without thinking, or a stream of consciousness, with no editing. There’s a reason for that which will hopefully become apparent.

I should be happy about this date. After all, while Childhood is only a novelette (about 11,000 words but honestly I forgot the exact count), it is still a professionally produced product. Besides the writing, which I’d like to say is professional as I have a few novels and other works under my belt, the editing was top notch (thanks, Darling Axe) and the cover conveys the simplicity of childhood with the hint of issues in the future (the rip in the sky, a nice add from Diane Turpin Designs).

I’m going to go on a tangent for a second about the editing. Michelle from The Darling Axe was excellent, and not just from an editing standpoint. I felt like that after working with her I’d taken a couple of graduate courses in fiction writing. She challenged me to do better. I’m a type-A personality, and I can’t deny a good challenge. Her influence will be reflected in all of my future works, regardless of whether I ever work with her again (but I hope to).

georgeI’m anxious. A dozen or so readers will be reviewing Childhood and posting their thoughts starting February 11th as part of the Celebrate Lit blog tour. I participated in a similar tour for my last novel, Leaving Darkness, and none of the reviews were negative, but not all were five stars either (I think it averaged out to four out of five, which isn’t bad, especially for a self-published work by a relatively unknown author). What if they hate it? Geez, I’m starting to sound like Marty McFly’s dad. It’ll be good, no matter what they say.

Sad. I’m sad because I had hoped to have Fatherhood completed by now. Childhood is the prequel to Fatherhood, a full-length (~80,000 words) novel about abortion from the father’s point of view. Yes, a heavy subject. I pounded out 50,000 words for the NaNoWriMo November challenge (yay me), then stalled. I “lost that loving feeling” for writing temporarily. That’s not a bad thing. Writing is my retirement career, and I’m laying the foundation for it now. My daytime job as principal for a small but successful information security consulting firm takes precedence. I’m only 52; more than a few years from retiring.

“Slow down, you crazy child, you’re so ambitious for a juvenile” – words from Billy Joel (43 years ago – wow) that I heeded. Fatherhood would come in its time when it’s right. and it’s time is God’s time, because my writing is God-inspired. After Leaving Darkness, which I was called to write based on my experiences with a Christian support group, I prayed about what I would write next. The call came about three months later.

Abortion? Really? I thought depression was a heavy topic. My first reaction? No.

Saying no to God is never a good idea.

I’ve had a personal experience with abortion but that neither is an impetus nor a major influence in the story. That personal experience somewhat influenced my first novel, Forgiveness. For Fatherhood, as I seem to do with all of my main characters, I create, then immerse myself in their lives. I almost become them, not the other way.

Writing is a journey. If I have learned anything with my limited experience with Fatherhood, it is to not sacrifice the joy of the journey for the pressure of creating something in an artificial time frame. It will come when it’s ready. A time for everything. My time for returning to Fatherhood is probably a month or two out. Now it’s all about Childhood. Here’s hoping for favorable reviews, but one-star reviews won’t deter me at all. In fact, being the type-A I am, it would spur me to lick my wounds, then do better.

Image from Back to the Future, 1985

From a Certain Point of View

In Return of the Jedi, Luke confronts Obi-Wan about not revealing Darth Vader as his father. Obi-Wan responds with what I can only call thin logic that he didn’t lie when he told Luke that Vader killed Anakin, that it was the truth – from a certain point of view.

scott-eckersley-irtWpLLwRX4-unsplashPoint of view, or POV, in a manuscript describes from what character the scene is experienced. The reader is “in the head” of the POV character – what the character sees, the reader sees. Changing POV within a scene, or even a chapter, can confuse the reader by removing the perspective anchor. Referred to as “head-hopping,” maintaining what I refer to as “POV discipline” is a basic skill novelists need to master.

However, the perspective is a part of the equation. While working with an editor on the manuscript for Childhood, a novelette to introduce the main characters and situations of my upcoming novel Fatherhood, two recent revelations have revealed that perhaps I’m not as skilled in POV as I thought, and that POV can be a powerful yet subtle story-telling device.

The first example was a simple dialogue tag – “Dad said.” I, apparently mistakenly, have always avoided using Dad and Mom and other similar dialogue tags because they’re not names, defaulting to “her father” and so on. My editor made the change to Dad. I am fortunate to be working with an excellent editor. There has to be a correct reason for the change, and it tied to POV. In this scene the character POV is the daughter of the man who spoke. “Dad” is the daughter’s name for her father, therefore is appropriate (and conveys a feeling of family). “Her father” is rather stuffy. Point taken.

The second example is more subtle. My editor replaced “egg innards” with “slimy egg.” That bothered me at first, as I liked the description “egg innards.” Enter POV again though. The story is told through a young girl’s eyes, not a 52-year old man’s. While I may lob “egg innards” in casual conversation, she, as a twelve-year-old, probably not.

Can you see the connection? Going beyond POV discipline and using POV to inject aspects about the POV’s character is a powerful tool I honestly had never considered before. Editing is often tedious work, but this revelation has energized the process for me. I feel that a certain “tunnel vision” point of view has been lifted.

Photo by Scott Eckersley on Unsplash

How I Increased My Mailing List by 800 in 80 Days

Navigating the publishing world is not easy. The deeper I dive into the marketing area, the more I realize I don’t know.

On Twitter some authors, indie and trad alike, often engage in follow-backs to increase their following to hopefully impress agents and publishers, but if you ask the pros, they will most often discount the Twitter follow number if it is roughly 1:1 proportionate (equal followers and following). That’s because Twitter follow backs most often are not following because of content but rather numbers. It’s a hollow strategy that unfortunately many seem to spend much time on.

However, constant advice from writers and agents alike is to have a strong mailing list. This demonstrates marketability by showing a following of readers interested in your work. This is important because strong reader following equates to potential book sales. But how to gain interested subscribers? Book shows and author signings may net a handful if you’re lucky.

Here’s the key – you have to provide value first in exchange for a follower. How can they follow you if they are not familiar with your work? And how do they become familiar with your work if they don’t follow you?

An effective solution I have found is book promotions, specifically through BookFunnel. For those unfamiliar with Bookfunnel, it is essentially a book distribution service. Whether it be sending out beta copies, providing a reader magnet, or offering free copies of a novel, Bookfunnel is an efficient and secure method to manage your free electronic distributions. It’s not free; the basic plan begins at $20 per year, but it’s the mid-level plan at $100 per year that offers the ability to collect email addresses.

You can place a link on your website offering a free download that will collect the reader’s address, but that requires constant traffic to your site. You can of course promote on social media, but I didn’t see much chance of success going that route. What did produce results beyond what I’d hoped was a Bookfunnel promo.

Promos are hosted by an author and usually focus on a specific genre. The more that join the promo, the better chance of exposure. It’s a multiplier; instead of posting that you have one work for free, depending on the promo participation you can post on social media a link to dozens of free ebooks. Every participant is encouraged (sometimes by offering perks such as a premium place on the landing page based on number of shares) to share their unique link to the community page.Capture

I signed up for my first one in April, a twelve-day window that I hoped might result in twenty or so addresses. I ended up with over two-hundred. This prompted me to participate in two more promos in May and June. My total subscriber list approached 900 at the end of June, from a starting point of zero in April. The image to the right is from one of my giveaways (still active at https://dl.bookfunnel.com/kc5ix83t35 ) that I provided for two of the three promos.

There are caveats, of course, the first that you have to have something to give away. All of the promos I’ve seen require a published full-length work. If you have yet to publish, this venue isn’t for you at the time. Also, if you are fortunate to have a catalog to draw from and offer a different work per promo, you will get duplicate subscribers.

You will also lose subscribers when you send your first email to the new signups. From my limited experience I expect around a 10% attrition rate, but your mileage may vary. Note that may trigger an alert from your mailing list service (you need to use one to satisfy spam laws) that your unsubscribe rate exceeds industry standards. At least I did get a note from MailChimp. So long as you can prove that your subscribers provided consent (a feature of the Boofunnel process) you should be fine (though I have yet to have to provide this).

To summarize, from three promos running less than 80 days total (though two ran concurrently), I gathered 882 signatures, of which I anticipate 88 unsubscribes on “first contact,” leaving roughly 800 followers. Plus, that’s 800 readers that now have one (or more) copies of your work to enjoy. True, this method produces no direct income from sales, but when you’re an author looking to build that important email following, perhaps the compensation is greater than sales.

 

Three Attributes Every Writer Needs

One thing I have learned is that every writer seems to have advice but there is no one-size-fits-all set of rules or guidance. Still, I believe there are three core attributes every writer must possess to be successful: authenticity, tenacity, and business acumen.

Authenticity
Whether fiction or non-fiction, I believe a reader can sense the genuineness of an article or book. The passion poured into the creation of the words transfers through the reader’s eyes to their heart and mind. Conversely, lack of authenticity, in my opinion, results in a substandard product.bernard-hermant-621390-unsplash

This isn’t much different from the common “write about what you know,” advice, except knowledge doesn’t equate to passion. I suppose this makes no difference when writing a textbook or Wikipedia article. But when the reader feels the author believes in their work it compels them to read more. I don’t think you can fake that.

Tenacity
Writing is easy. Writing well is difficult. I have painfully experienced, particularly with self-published works, examples published before sufficient polishing. It takes time to learn the trade. What is the oft-quoted rule of thumb, ten-thousand hours to become a master of anything? With my years of writing experience, I am unsure just how close I am to that mark.

There’s more. A huge mistake new authors (myself included) make is assuming once published the work is done. No, readers will not magically flock to your book. Writers speak of their platform, essentially their (mainly digital) reputation and exposure. It takes time and determination to build that. I’ll let you know when I get there.

Business Acumen
Writing is a business, even if it’s a hobby, and writers need to approach it as such. That begins with keeping detailed financial records, to track your expenditures and income and to generate information for tax filing if so fortunate (if you have to file income taxes based on your writing, you’re making money).

Then there’s marketing, dreaded more than rejection letters. You not only need determination to market, but you also have to market correctly. That can require trial and error and learning from mistakes, which in turn requires some business analytical skills to interpret marketing action results. Twitter ad analytics is a great example.

I’ve been writing for many years now, off and on (recent years more on) since I was in high school in the 1980s (this post’s stock photo is reminiscent of the old Smith-Corona typewriter I used back then). It’s only been about a year when I became serious about my craft beyond a fun hobby, which required the attributes above.

Incidentally, all three attributes above apply to entrepreneurship as well. I launched a small consulting firm two years ago and would not have achieved the success I enjoy today if not for authenticity, tenacity, and business acumen. In fact, extending that successful model to my writing life was an easy decision.

What about you? Do you agree with these? Any others?

Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash

 

 

Tackling Abortion

A dismembered arm, a torso, a head – all bloodied, lifeless, gone.

Joseph Barbetti turned away from the image, magnified a hundredfold so anyone within the bounds of the ellipse in front of the Nashville courthouse could see the grossness, and suppressed the urge to retch. He acknowledged their right to protest and agreed with their position on abortion.

But why did they have to do it like this, in your face with shock and awe, and first thing in the morning?

The is the first draft opening of my novel-in-progress, Fatherhood, revised this morning. The original opening was more benign, with main character Joseph Barbetti slamming a gym bag against a locker in frustration at the edge of losing his job, anxious to relieve the tension with an early morning five-mile run.

This book is neither about job loss or running. It’s about abortion.

greg-rakozy-38802-unsplashI have to begin it there, and with “shock and awe,” because the taking of a human life is too serious an offense in my opinion to introduce on page seventeen. It needs to be up front, in your face.

I’m not a father, nor have I endured the abortion of my offspring. Yet for as long as I can remember I have not understood why this is such an issue. In my eyes, it’s murder, whether inside or outside the womb. I don’t think you need to be a father to see that. From my perspective, abortion for convenience is wrong.

I know many others have a differing opinion, and I respect that. I only ask for the same.

Abortion in cases of incest, rape or when the mother’s health is in danger is a much more nuanced topic. I never have, and never will, walk in those shoes. For that, I don’t have the answer, only that love and compassion is needed.

I don’t intend Fatherhood to be a black-or-white look at abortion. Like Leaving Darkness, my novel about depression, I hope to create (I’m only about 2,300 words into what I’ve planned as an 80,000 work novel) a story that someone may read and gain a different perspective on a difficult situation. Not just the mothers, but the fathers as well. Hence the title – I’m writing from the father’s perspective.

It’s a difficult road in front of me, one I don’t relish, but this is what God called me to do, and I plan to respond with a work filled with compassion on all sides. I’d appreciate prayers that I’m able to find the right words that will reach the right people.

A first draft of a novel is full of mistakes, not usually found until the second draft process. I found perhaps the biggest one today before the end of Chapter One. We don’t need to bury abortion, we need to discuss it. Millions of lives – unborn children, mothers, fathers – are at stake.

Childhood, the novelette prequel to Fatherhood, available free this summer. Sign up for your copy at http://eepurl.com/gk67iD

Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

 

 

 

Blessings of Abundance

I often get down on myself for not meeting writing goals. Didn’t hit 1,000 words. Didn’t write a single word. Didn’t blog for five days. Didn’t finish my crits for my group. And so on. Then comes the other points of reality that stab at the fledgling indie author. No sales today – this week – this month. No reader magnet downloads. No comments on my blog posts when I do post.

Oh, woe is me.

This describes many indie and trad authors lives. At least with trad, there is more than just the author on the team to create and promote (but all authors, indie and trad, bear the weight of most if not all marketing unless you’re of the Tom Clancy status). We mope and whine and then somehow pull ourselves together the next day with a fresh cup of coffee, a hearty breakfast, and an attitude to again conquer the world.

How much we take for granted.

IMG_7580In the United States, we are so very blessed with the abundance of fresh meat and produce and clean drinking water. This morning I biked to my office, chose from among 20 or so different varieties of coffee from our office machine, and dined on chicken breast and raw carrots (yeah, not typical breakfast food, but I’m on a sort of health kick).

As I sat at my office computer pondering today’s #8AMPrayer tweet, still moping about my Amazon Author Central stats, I stared at the chicken and the carrots and the coffee.

I hadn’t even given thanks for them.

I took them for granted, hung up in my “first-world” problems.

I can do better.

I tweet the #8AMPrayer every workday around 8 AM Central to help center myself on the true purpose of the day – serving Him. Sometimes I am late with the tweet, but always when I do tweet I have moments like today when I realize the blessings I have and the opportunity to be a blessing for others.

Lord, let us appreciate and give thanks for these blessings and pray for the elimination of hunger and thirst worldwide. In Jesus’ name, amen.

 

It Takes a Community

Whatever endeavor in life, community multiplies the efforts providing results that cannot be achieved alone. Yesterday, this smacked me in the face – hard.

Because of a calendar mistake I made six months ago, I nearly missed an event I was supposed to be at – in this case, a technology conference (that began at 7:30) for which I was manning the booth for our company. Well, it was at 9:59 AM when I received a text from a colleague that asked if I was fine because as he wrote, “I see you did not make it today.” I texted back within a minute “Make it where?” and right after I sent it, I realized with horror what he referred to.

I had mixed up the days.

I thought the vendor portion of the conference was the second day, not the first.

I had blown it.

IMG_7563I called my colleague and he assured me he thought it would be fine to set up so long as it was before lunch. The conference center hosting the event was about a 40-minute drive – add in driving home from the office to change, I made it onsite in just over an hour and set up in a few minutes. As it turned out, the planned morning break for attendees to visit the vendor area never really materialized. In the end, I missed very little.

Had I not been active in my professional community, I would not have built up the relationships whereby someone would have noticed my absence and reached out. If I had played the game alone, I would have only realized my error by arriving the next day and finding the vendor area empty.

IMG_7568After the conference day ended I returned to my office, dimmed the lights in the common area, grabbed a beer left over from the afternoon networking event, and enjoyed the view of the old town square – all while realizing just how blessed I was to be an active participant in community.

Writing is the same. We cannot create literary masterpieces without input from colleagues, editors, and beta readers. We need each other as we hone our craft and our works, else we never reach our author potential.

The Angel on the Road

I am fortunate to be able to ride my bicycle to work when the weather allows for it. At about five miles each way, I get in a cardio workout while saving gas, plus the enjoyment of the outside. I can’t do it every day even if the weather is nice as my schedule does not always allow for it, but I do ride when I can.

IMG_7557This morning I planned to expand my ride to swing by the gym for a short weights workout. For me, it was more about testing the feasibility of the idea than anything else. This increased my mileage to work by only about three miles. It was a beautiful, clear morning, ride temperature about 60 degrees, and light traffic as I planned the journey before rush hour. What could go wrong?

I need to step back to about three weeks ago when I was prepping my road bike for the first ride of the season. I had foolishly left it standing on its tires in the garage instead of putting it up for the winter in the basement on its rack. When I wheeled it away from its parking spot near a stepladder, I discovered the front tire was flat. No problem, as I’ve changed tires (well, tubes) before.

The last time was several years ago.

I began by unhooking the front brake cable and flipping the quick release. Except the quick release did not live up to its name. Despite prodding from pliers, I could not move the release handle. Whatever. My bike shop is a mile from my office. I’d take the bike there on the way to work and get it tuned up for the year. So far, so good.

Except I kept meaning to practice how to change a tire. For several years I promised myself to do so, yet never did. The time caught up with me, of course, on a busy highway on the way to the gym with a front flat. I wrestled with the thing for 45 minutes, finally turning to a YouTube video to figure out what I was doing wrong (oh, inflate the tube a bit, put in tire, mount tire on rim, not my method which I’m not even sure what it was).

I was about 95% done when an SUV pulled over and a woman about my age came over to render assistance. She was a cyclist as well, and in short order we finished the job. I thanked her, calling her my angel. In reality I was really a few minutes away from finishing myself but I appreciated her being there to provide assistance and assurance I was doing the job correctly.

What does this have to do with writing?  Well, yesterday I tweeted about the necessity for writers to strive for excellence in the trade. I’ve seen writer’s tweets that contained embarrassing errors – not typos, minor misspellings, or fat-finger mistakes, but writing “to” instead of “too” or “advise” instead of “advice.” Just because it’s Twitter doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive for excellence on that platform as well.

I did not achieve excellence in my cycling preparation. A lesson learned. Maybe before I hit the road again I’ll practice what I preach in other aspects of my life.

Writing to Serve

IMG_7540I took this selfie before rehearsal for the second of five Easter services at my church. This is my fourth year singing in the church choir. We are a worship choir, not a performance one, meaning we focus on our church’s goal to help people become more fully devoted followers of Jesus of Nazareth.

That’s not to say, though, that we don’t strive for excellence – we do. Several weeks of rehearsals one night a week together and listening to MP3s and studying our written parts during lunch, in the evenings, or whenever we can find time is necessary to create the worship atmosphere we strive for. Every church is different, I know. Then there are the pre-service rehearsals, a full set before the first (Friday) and second (Saturday), then a warm up Sunday. This picture is as we’re getting set to begin the Saturday full set run through.

Christian fiction writing is similar in the desire for both service and excellence. For me, my writing mission mirrors the church mission, to help people become more fully devoted followers of Jesus. Of course I also strive for excellence. When we, a group of 80 or so mostly (or solely) amateurs in the choir sing together, we sound professional because we want that excellence, not for ourselves but for those in the seats.

I want my writing to launch to that same level of excellence for the same reason, to benefit the readers. It’s a long, arduous process to conceptualize, write, and market a book. I admit I’m not the best at the latter but am learning. I have to, because I genuinely believe my story can help others, but only if I can get it in the right readers’ hands. To that end, I continue to strive for excellence, not for me, but for them, and Him.

Leaving Darkness, about leaving depression through faith, is available at major online retailers.

Photo by Greg Schaffer

 

Why I Quit My Job So I Could Write More

Heh – when I logged onto WordPress this evening, I had no idea what I was going to write about, then saw I had saved this title two weeks ago. Present Greg thanks Past Greg!

It’s true, in a way – I quit my job so I could write more, but that was one part of the equation (yay, a cliche and I’m only on the second paragraph). I was in charge of information security for a decently sized community bank and I could have remained in the position for many more years beyond the five-and-a-half I had already served – maybe even to retirement. It was a comfortable existence. But God had other plans for me.rye-jessen-1145106-unsplash.jpg

On the professional side, the message I received was that while I was using my talents well, I could apply them more effectively. Small and midsized businesses don’t have access to the information expertise Chief Information Security Officers (CISOs) bring, so we provide part-time virtual CISO services that fit their budget and risk tolerance. I’m using my talents more for service while still earning a living.

On the writing side, I am called to write Christian fiction novels, as I’ve mentioned before, but it wasn’t always that way. My first two novels are more fantasy with some Christian elements and some non-Christian ones. I struggled to find writing time, and quitting my job was supposed to provide more bandwidth to write.

Here’s the odd part of all of this. I am working harder in my professional field than I ever have before, and yet I have more time for writing. How is that possible? My making this move, I’ve eliminated several time-wasters:

Commute – I cannot begin to calculate how much time I’ve wasted in traffic. Podcasts and audio books can only go so far. For awhile, I rode a commuter bus to work and was able to then write during the commute, but the conditions were not ideal.

Now, my drive is less than five miles each way in light traffic. I could have kept my home office and reduced my commute to zero, but I found that I accomplish much more outside the home office.

Meetings – It’s a fact of corporate existence – meetings. Meetings to discuss meetings. Meetings to examine output from meetings. Meetings just to hold regular meetings. Meetings that you don’t need to be in. Sure there are productive meetings, but in hindsight looking back on my career probably 50% of the time I spent in meetings was wholly unproductive. Now all of my meetings are productive, because my clients pay by the hour.

Low-Value Projects – This relates to meetings, as all projects hold meetings to discuss progress. But when those projects are not significantly advancing the core reasons why you’re employed, all activities associated with the projects, including meetings, become an exercise in checking boxes. I once sat through a series of meetings on designing policy templates, including the type and size of font. Is that really an efficient use of a senior executive’s time? See the “pay by the hour” comment above.

Nine-To-Five – I have the flexibility to create my schedule as I see fit. This means that often I start the workday at 5:30, take a writing break from 7-8:30, and work until 3:30, then go to the gym, ride my bike, or whatever. When inspiration hits, I can stop what I’m doing (for the most part) and write. You can’t do that on corporate time.

The takeaway? God has given me the opportunity to use my time efficiently. It’s up to me to do so for His glory.

Photo by Rye Jessen on Unsplash