Monday, January 30, 2012

Monday Musings: Authoring with Integrity

There is a lot of temptation in the writing world. There are the big ones like plagerism and copyright infringement, but what about the smaller ones? It really equates to the 'little white lie' scenario.

Being an author is more than just a hobby for most of us. It is a profession, or the quest to achieve the accomplishment of the profession. Some of us are great writers, some of us are still honing the skills, but one thing we must always do, whichever side of the gray area we live, is maintain our integrity.

I am probably not going to make very many friends, and may even lose a few, by today's post, but I was raised to call a spade a spade, without beating around the bush about it.

Publishing is a cut-throat business. It is full of the 'wine, dine and sell sunshine' avenues of marketing, but every authentic agent and publisher knows where to draw the line. Like independent authors, publishers and agents are in the game to make money too. They learned, along the way of their journeys, exactly where to draw the line, and generally adhere to their professional code of conduct. Every publishing house in the world has a code of ethics, or moral standard, which defines the integrity of the business. Every publishing house that has ever crossed the line, or will cross the line, has, or will, eventually find themselves in the not so great view of the public eye, from authors and agents, to readers. They already know it is just not good business practice to operate without integrity.

As the rise of the independent author continues to climb, so does the public discontent with the marketing tactics of some authors and author groups. I have noticed another growing trend: authors, great and small, are also becoming discontent with these same marketing tactics. Why? Independent authors are all lumped into the same group; identified identically, across the board, by the reading public.

Examples of the source of discontent:

Review Manipulation still tops the list. When you manipulate the reviews on sites, such as Amazon, it really equates to fraudulent practices. It is one thing when friends and family are excited for an author and 5 stars every piece of prose they put out there, but it is quite another when an author actively seeks out 5 star reviews for their works, offering to return the favor to any other author who is willing to accept. Readers are becoming wary of books that have hordes of 5 star reviews, and for good reason. No one likes to be defrauded into buying something that is less than the advertised quality. Review manipulation, although a stellar form of increasing sales, is just bad business ethics.

The Author Attack is something that seems to be increasing in frequency on sites with reviews from readers. Using intimidation, or bullying tactics, against any reader who dares not like an author's work is not only bad business, but also shows a complete lack of professionalism on the author's part. Rallying the troops to support, and further the attack, is as low as an author can sink in the writing world. Not to mention the best way to drive away an author's reader base in droves. Criticism and rejection are the core downfalls of writing. An author needs to take the bad with the good; most often there is more criticism and rejection than there will ever be praise and adoration.

The Paid Review is becoming popular among authors, which is leading to reviewer abuse. Good reviewers are honest in their endeavor to lead readers to the best works. Sometimes reviewers just do not like what they read. An author has to ask themselves, "Why am I paying this person to review my book? For the honesty, or for an assurance of a good public review?" There are reviewers who will withhold from publishing bad reviews at the author request; but I have read comments from many reviewers who are becoming more jaded by the insistence on the author's part of only a good review. This places the reviewer in the difficult position of having to tell the author they operate with a code of ethics, and they will not compromise the trust they have built with their own followers.

Integrity is a core value in businesses across many industries. In most cases, it is THE most important value in a corporate culture. In publishing it is THE most important value in the industry. An author without integrity will soon find themselves an author without a readership. Avid readers are finicky, picky, unyeilding and relentless in their quest for a good story. When an author consistently exhibits signs of lacking integrity in their marketing tactics, the readers will catch on, and abandon them post-haste; most often without an explanation.

For some authors, it is about the money. That is self-evident in the publishing world today. For some authors it is about the money and the passion. For some authors it is strictly about the passion. Readers are about the passion for reading. When a passionate author makes the connection with passionate readers, the money becomes a by-product of the relationship.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Monday Musings: A Christmas Snow

I wrote this some time ago, in 2010. As my home state of North Dakota is consumed by the frigid artic air, dropping down from the artic circle, the plight of the homeless becomes a serious concern. There was much conversation regarding previous years of unfortuante incidents of homeless people freezing to death in the streets of our cities; particularly Fargo. I am glad to know today eight churches in Fargo have opened their doors, taking part in an emergency shelter program through Churches United for the Homeless, as well as other shelters in the community.

The following was an exercise in understanding homelessness, as I have never been homeless. As you read through the paragraphs below put yourself in the shoes of the woman seeking shelter from an approaching blizzard.

A Christmas Snow

The world lay in silent anticipation of the coming storm. The air was heavy, causing me to take a single, moisture laden breath, that was let out with a humbled gasp. The stillness of the silence shattered my ear drums as I looked across the plains and saw the darkness overtaking the blueness of the sun-filled sky. It was only a matter of time before the clouds, in the far off distance, would reach down and touch the frozen earth enveloping the world with a blinding whiteness. Daytime; no light would penetrate that whiteness as the strong winds carried it across the land.

I pulled my parka close to my body. The frigid temperatures, foretold by the weatherman, were slowly creeping into the nooks and crannies of the city. I searched for protection from the sure death that was approaching. I pulled and pulled on the sidewalk grate, as people passed me by without a single glance, or question. Finally, it came loose and I lowered myself down, down into the underbelly of the city, where the stench hung frozen in the air, but the wind no longer bit my cheeks and nose. My fingers began to melt into the warmth of the material surrounding all but one. I could hear the hustle and bustle of the traffic on the street high above me. The sounds of gentle, merry-filled voices drifted down through the tunnels, carrying the sounds of well-wishing for a good holiday. I wanted to wish those above me a good holiday in return, but my voice only traveled through the darkness of the tunnels before me.

Darkness fell, and the sounds above me dwindled into silence, with only the ocassional howl of the wind that had arrived in the city. Snow lilted down through the holes of the grate, lit only by the street light above, some distance down the tunnel, creating a tiny snowglobe effect. The cold sunk into the tunnels wrapping its icy fingers around me as I drifted off to sleep. My mind wandered back to the days when I lay in my childhood bed shaking the snowy mountain scene, watching as the snow twisted and twirled in a world of fancy and imagination. Such peace that was beheld in that one tiny scene.

It is Christmas morning, the sun is shining and I am alone and warm. I see her lying there still asleep and wonder if she will ever awaken. It is Christmas morning and I am alone and warm. I am alone and warm. It is Christmas morning and the sun is shining. The winds have passed over and the snow has ceased its descent. I am alone and warm. My parka is shared with the sleeping woman just feet away; and I am warm. A single light shines some distance away as she lies sleeping; dreaming of a snowy mountain scene. I cannot stay, and move into the light wondering if she will ever awaken.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sunday Conversations: Ms. Hawkins Flies Away

The legendary, Etta James, born Jamesetta Hawkins, January 25, 1938, took her final flight from a life of trials, tribulations, and triumphs, on Friday, January 20, 2012.

Most recently, Etta James was renownd for her song, At Last, which resurged in popularity after the election of U.S. President Barak Obama. In her own style, Ms. James publicly ridiculed President Obama for not inviting her to sing her own song at the Presidential Inaugural Ball in 2008; and Beyonce Knowels for disrespecting her by agreeing to sing it.

Etta James's voice ranged from doo-wop and swing, to her melancholy love songs and gospel music, and everything in between.When Etta James sang, it wasn't something you just listened to, it was an experience. There was deep passion and emotion embedded into every performance. It wasn't something that had to be forced or practiced, it was pure, raw talent. She was an artist with the free will offering of pieces of her soul to the world; which she gave often.

Today, Etta's talent lives on in remakes of her songs by such artists as: Adele (Fool Such as I), Jewel (Summertime), Beyonce (At Last), and many more. Even the late Amy Whinehouse (Someone to Watch Over Me) and Mama Cass Elliot - Mamas and the Pappas (Dream a Little Dream of Me) had a remake of an Etta James song, but, there was, and is, only one Etta James, the original.

Etta James often interchanged the roles of butterfly and phoenix. She had times when her world was filled with love and laughter, and times when her world was on fire; but she never failed to rise from the ashes.

Friday, January 20, 2012, Etta James flew away to a home on God's celestial shores. But her legend will live on in the recordings of her gifts to the world.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Monday Musings: Time, Patience and Practice

Writing can be an ardous task. It takes time, patience and practice. I'm still practicing .That's why I am a daily blogger again. Some people are born with a natural talent for writing; some of us have talent that needs to be developed.

When I decided to take on the task of developing this skill, it was never my intent to go about with an air of haughtiness, saying things in my haughtiest of voices, like: "I am an author. I have published a bigillion books, therefore thou shalt bow down and worship the very ground upon which I tread." My journey into the world of writing is based on my passion and joy for the art itself.

I write based on the authors I read and admired as a younger person. Going further back, the high school literature teachers of my time not only taught the content of the piece we were studying, but also required - not encouraged - required the studying of the author themselves. That part of my education has stayed with me all these years. It has also created a picky reader in me. If I do not know anything about an author, it is likely I will not choose to read their works.

I also recognize, not every reader is like me. There are plenty of readers out there who could care less why authors write what they do, or how they are inspired, or why the subject of the work was chosen in the first place. They simply enjoy a good story. They may just enjoy something they can curl up with and get lost in another world, or a torrid love affair, or even take an adventure to far off lands.

As a writer, which has a different definition than author, I enjoy writing my blog, things that will never see the light of day, and working on the manuscripts for the books I will publish. I don't mind sharing bits and pieces of my life with my blog readers - even the not so pleasant pieces. Why? Because it allows them to have a greater understanding of the things that will eventually end up in the hands of the public; and in some cases lends credibility to the work itself.

In my first and only published novel, Sticks and Bones, the character, Marcia Grant, bears a great resemblence to myself. Many of the oddities about her personalty are strikingly like my own. Coincidence? I think not. I actually did work as a registered private investigator in my day, although I never had a desire to be a police detective, or work in law enforcement. I am a cold person in some regards. I keep my emotions in check most of the time. I separate work and personal life ninety-nine percent of the time. I had a cat, who was much like Marcia's cat, Mr. Murphy, in personality and even breed. Marcia's cat was named after the old Murphy's Law - not the TV show.

Currently, I am reading (studying), State of the Fantastic: Studies in the Theory and Practice of Fantastic Literature and Film. Selected Essays from the Eleventh International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts 1990. Edited by Nicholas Ruddick. Why am I reading this, insteading of pounding away at the keyboard to get my next work out there? As someone aspiring to be an author, I have some pretty high expectations for my next work. I am not a novel mill. I cannot, and will not, publish drivel, or poorly written - filled with grammatical as well as punctuation errors - garbage, to turn a dollar, at the expense of my readers. Sticks and Bones, is not the great American novel. However, it carries a message with it that was important to twenty-eight other people. Something they wanted, or needed the world to hear. It has received positive and negative feedback, which I have used both to improve my current work.

I am not a foremost authority on writing, or being an author. I hope my studying of the art of writing will someday bring some sense of enjoyment to readers worldwide. Until then, I will continue to take my time, exercise patience, and practice.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Monday Musings: 2012 - Year of the Indie Author

According to the Chinese calendar, 2012 is the Year of the Dragon; the Water Dragon to be specific. The mightiest sign of the Chinese Zodiac is the Dragon. Fierce, ambitious, powerful, and creative. The Year of the Water Dragon although, all of those things, promises to be tempered as the water dilutes the fire of the Dragon, or so sayeth the Chinese Zodiac gurus of the world.

In my world, the world of publishing and authorship, I see 2012 as the Year of the Indie Author. (Independent Author) This will be the year the market is flooded with millions of ebooks, published in multiple languages, and sold worldwide via the internet.

Internet book giants like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, Createspace and Good Reads will be abuzz with activity. Reviewers will be scarce, due to the sheer volume of books reaching the reader market - all conveniently priced at the low, low cost of 99 cents.

In 2011, I have spent a considerable amount of time creeping on the reader boards of several sites. Although the projected onslaught of Indie books is expected, there's something else going on in the world of books. Readers are becoming more select in what they will and will not tolerate from the authors.

Here's the top three consistent points from my notes on the reader boards:

Review manipulation is going to continue to be a growing sore spot with many readers. Authors need to think twice about the 'you review mine, and I'll review yours' marketing tactic. Books with nothing but glowing reviews are becoming more of a turn off, than a turn on, for readers. It raises the flag of suspicion that review manipulation is happening. Tread lightly in the review area.

Quality of writing is becoming something readers crave after purchasing less than stellar quality books over the last few years. This seems to be especially true in the mystery, fantasy, and steampunk genres, with an even higher expectation of those publishing as literary works. Make sure your work is polished and ready for publication. Although the big publishing houses are starting to lose control of quality in the market, readers are beginning to take note of quality works versus the unpolished 'get it to market and sell a billion copies' works. The expectation of the readers will eventually reach the old expectations of the publishing houses. An increasing number of complaints are showing up on the reader boards already.

Fantasy, Sci-Fi, and Steampunk will be top sellers, behind the ever beloved romance. As the economy continues to stagnate, escapism is still part of the market desire. Although, it appears the readers are tiring of the regurgitated vampire sagas.

We, Indie Authors, have the opportunity of a lifetime before us. Success is going to depend a great deal on listening to the readers, valuing their opinions, and keeping a sharp eye on the market trends.

Have a great week everyone!