Friday, February 10, 2012

THREE QUESTIONS You Really Want to Ask a Published Author But Are Afraid To

Award-winning author, Christie Craig, is my guest, today. She answers some good questions about self vs traditional publishing. 

You write for two different publishers and do self-publishing, which route do you recommend for new authors? 

A lot of writers find themselves trying to decide between self-publishing and the traditional publishing route.  Frankly, it’s a great time for writers because we do have options that weren’t available a few years ago. 
There is no right or wrong decision; it really is about what is right for that author and where they are in their career.  The self-publishing route offers the benefit of making your book available to readers, without facing possible rejection and revisions.  And that can be a wonderful thing, as long as your book is ready to be published.   That said, most traditionally published authors will tell you that they are glad their first books didn’t get published because they learned so much during the journey — even though at the time, they were certain the books were fabulous. 
A lot of authors who have written a book that just didn’t fit into a genre niche are finding success in self-publishing because readers aren’t nearly as picky about genre specifics as publishers have to be. 
A writer serious about her career and considering self publishing should attempt to make sure the end product is as close to perfect as possible.  This may or may not require the hiring of others to help you through the process.   So the overhead of getting a book ready to self-publish — including editing, line editing, formatting, and cover design, may vary. 
However, as many self-published authors are finding, having the book available doesn’t ensure readers will buy it.  Self-publishing means self-marketing, and that can take a lot of writing time away from an author. That said, today even traditionally published authors have to spend a lot of time marketing themselves as well.  Some authors simply are better at promoting their work than others.  And while there have been numerous success stories of authors who have built themselves a very lucrative career through self-publishing, others who followed this path are not finding the financial gains as they had hoped.   It bears mentioning, however, that many new authors who have gone the traditional path of publishing are equally unhappy about their financial gain.  Also, many of the traditionally published authors may find their contracts dropped if sales are really down — something a self-published author doesn’t have to worry about. 
In most instances, writers who have already made a name for themselves, and have a fan base, are finding the self-publishing route an easier path than do new writers.   However, the truth is that anything and everything is possible. 
If a friend came to me with a first book, and this friend simply wasn't a marketing whiz, I might suggest they attempt the traditional route first; but if that route didn't pan out and she felt her book was ready, then I would encourage them to take it the self-publishing route.   That said, if this person has a viable marketing plan to ensure that her book goes out big, I’d say her chances of earning more financial gain might be with the self-publishing route than the traditional route because of the smaller royalty rate earned through traditional publishing. 
Having a publisher behind you does NOT mean your book will be any more successful, but a publisher’s name still carries some weight to some readers and traditional bookstores.   Building a name with a publisher behind you is a little easier than building it on your own.   Another thing to take into consideration is, unless you are one of the talented writers who have the ability to do everything from designing a cover to a final editing, there is overhead in self-publishing.
 So as you can see, both routes can bring success and both come with some positives and negatives to consider. 

Thirteen things you’ll learn from reading Murder, Mayhem and Mama:
1)       Grief sucks.  Love heals.
2)       Believe it or not, sometimes mama does know best.  Even when    she’s dead.
3)       Painting your toenails is equivalent to a happy pill.
4)       Sometimes there’s a hell of lot more to our dreams than we think.
5)       When a tough guy resorts to sniffing a girl’s sweater that she left behind, he might as well give up the bachelor pad, he’s on the road to falling in love.
6)       A guy who offers you a shoulder during a meltdown and doesn’t try to cop a feel, just may be a keeper.
7)       When a guy says all he wants to do is sleep with you, he might not be talking sex, you might just be his answer to insomnia.  Then again, he’ll probably want sex when he’s had some sleep.
8)       When all else fails, try saying the magic words:  please and thank you.  It’s a manners thing.
9)       Be leery of opening your boyfriends medicine cabinet, it’s not just what you might find, but what might fall out and bounce right into the toilet.  Explaining how his 36 pack of condoms got wet could be embarrassing.
10)    While being a better bitch isn’t something we should aspire to, learning to stand up for oneself is definitely goal worthy.
11)    Sharing food off each other’s plate could lead to sharing a toothbrush.  And after that all bets, and possibly the clothes, are coming off.
12)    Bad habits die hard.  Then again, the sergeant general doesn’t say anything about smoking after you’re dead.  Just ask Mama.
13)   Take a man’s favorite leather jacket, and he might offer you his heart to get it back.
You can find out more about the book, learn how to win a copy, Christie's very cool contest, and read and excerpt. BUY: Amazon, Barnes and Noble.


A lot of writers are now questioning if they need an agent in today’s publishing world.  What is your advice?

  • If you know upfront that you are going the traditional route, I think having an agent is as important today as it was in the past.  Maybe even more so.  With self-publishing, the answer depends on the circumstances.  Many of today’s agents are assisting their authors in the self-publishing route by handling everything from securing covers to copyediting duties, and the author/agent split can well exceed the traditional 15% agents normally charge.  While I think authors need to be careful about the deals they make with agents in the self-publishing arena, I personally can say that my agent is as much of an asset to me in my self-publishing ventures, as she is in traditional publishing.   She’s served as editor, assisted in the formatting process and uploading of books, and she’s obligated to listen to me whine.  That alone earns her that 15%.  LOL.  In all seriousness, though, most authors are going the self-published route without agents.  For those who are doing both — and traditionally publishing for two publishers, such as myself — having an agent is critical, in my opinion.

      We've all heard the horror stories about the dreaded revisions that editors can request.  Is it true, and how should an author deal with them?

  • Ah, revision hell.  We’ve all heard the stories about an editor coming back with a 50 page revision letter.  While nothing that severe has ever happened to me, it very well may have happened to other authors.   However, I don’t think that’s the norm.  This isn’t to say that I haven’t gotten revisions, or that I have agreed with all the revisions my editors wanted. 

    I always take try to take time going over all the editor’s points.  I try to let some time pass before answering revision requests.  I also follow the same rule I did with raising my children:  Pick my battles.  If an editor wants something tweaked that I don’t feel is needed but won’t change the work, why not give in on that point and save the debates for things I don’t think are good ideas.  First, I consider the reasons the editors feels the changes are needed.  If I see her point, I may come up with my own solution to fix the issue rather than the one she might have suggested.  I’ve never had an editor disregard my suggestions.  With over thirteen books out, I have never felt an editor was unreasonable in their requests for revisions.  But I also have never changed something in a manuscript that I really didn’t want to change.  You can’t be afraid to stand up for your work, but neither can you refuse to listen to their ideas.  One solution is s to figure out a way to fix the problem the editor has with the scene/plot point with a way in which you feel comfortable.  But I will say this — more times than not, I was happier with the manuscript after the revisions than before. 

    Christie, thank you for stopping by and answering some tough questions. 

    Thanks Sia for having me here today.  And I’d also like to offer an e-copy of Murder, Mayhem and Mama to one lucky poster. 

    You can find Christie: Website, Facebook, Twitter   

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


It's my pleasure to have award winning humorist, John Philipp, visiting with us Over Coffee. He is one of the authorssome of the funniest writers in America: the people who win humor contests, syndicate columns, appear on comedy stages, create the jokes on TVof My Funny Valentine. I had a chance to chat with him about his writing and My Funny Valentine. 

Share a bit about John Philipp with us. You’re originally from the east coast, aren't you? Did California’s sunshine blue skies and temperate weather lure you to the west?
I was born outside New York. Lived there for 20 years and then Cambridge, Mass for about the same time. Like all red-bloodied American men I was lured to California by Annette Funicello and everyone named Bambi. Also my boss made me go.

Ironically, I met a "Bambi" and married her but she would never let me call her that.

Among other things, you’re a humor columnist. How did that come about? Did you wake up one day and say, hmm, I like making people think and chuckle; I think I’ll start writing humor?

Seriously, I wrote humor because I wasn't good enough to write fiction — and not patient enough to learn how. Humor has a quite payoff. You tell a joke and people laugh or don't. With a short story, first you have to get it accepted. In those days, editors frowned on simultaneous submissions. So you'd send a story in, wait four months, get a form letter rejection, and send it somewhere else. If you persisted, eventually you'd sell it 12 years later. I was never much for delayed gratification.

Who were some of the humor writers that influenced you and how?

I love almost all humor. My first steady humor exposure was to Art Buchwald. We got the NY Herald Tribune at home, and my dad thought Buchwald was hysterical. Perhaps that's one reason I valued humor. This could be a story about a young boy who learns to write humor so his dad will love him but I discovered at age two that my dad did love me so I didn't start writing humor for another quarter century.

I know you’re very good with writing satire and humor and you’ve won awards for it. I also know that writing humor isn't as easy to write, as people would assume. Do you keep a notebook to jot down ideas to develop later?

I do. Articles in the newspaper, something in a cartoon, something someone says in the locker room, I get ideas all day long. Some ideas get developed during the day, usually when I'm in the steam room because that where my muse hangs out (A column about that is coming out shortly — as soon as her lawyer okays it.  Winking smile 

Typically, how long does it take you to put together a humor column?

I have no idea. Most often a short paragraph of a concept gets typed into a file. Maybe a week or a month later I'm going through my pile and I see that and write more. Or, I hear something that fits that topic and I dig out the file and add it.

Other times, like in the steam room, I play with an idea and organize it in my head, go home sit down and an hour later the complete first draft is done.

Not only do you write a humor column for a newspaper, but you also write one for a social media site-Gather. How long have you been doing that?

I've been writing for Gather for four years. Mostly I posted copies of columns I had already written but I did write some just for gather, including some of the "How to Write Humor" articles you included here once.

Yes,  you did a 5 part series on writing humor, in June of 2009. I'll link the the introductory article. At the end of the article are links to all of the articles in the series.

You also write fiction. Is it also comedic? Would you care to tell us a bit about it?
Usually my fiction is semi-serious, often with a surprising ending. But I just finished the first draft of a novel involving four generations, Jews in Europe during the war, a 13-year-old girl molested by her uncle, etc. Not much humor there except for her teddy bear, Monsieur Flaubert, who she talks to and I use as a device to get inside a young girl's mind.

True story. I read an article about survivor guilt and decided to write a story about a guy who fakes a heart attack to escape a hostage situation and then a bomb explodes and everyone else dies. He wrestles with, in this case, deserved survivor guilt and eventually gives himself a real heart attack — think "Crime and Punishment."
I started writing the story last week. The man is on his way to the bank. He's mad at his wife who doesn't appreciate his hypochondria and he starts fantasying leaving her and she's on her knees begging him back and pretty soon I had this sad, funny character on his way to an adventure.

So, the story will be humorous. And when it's out of the way, I will go back and write the serious, tragic one.

Available print and e-book
AmazonBarnes and Noble

My Funny Valentine is not your typical Valentine’s Day stories. How did you become a part of this project?

One of the other humorists told me about it. It was fun. It was the "Book of the Day" on the Kindle site yesterday. They've started another one about funny car stories. I'll probably submit to that for the fun of it. It's primarily a marketing vehicle for the writers in it and it gets you an "Author page" on Amazon.

What is the title of your contribution to this book?

Don't Surprise Your Valentine. Surprising your sweetheart with a non-traditional valentine's gift is the leading cause in the United States of mid-February ER visits.

Any lessons you've learned, as a writer, you’d like to share with us?

Read voraciously, especially the type of writing you want to do. Some of it will stick on you and it improves your "ear." You read something you write and you can tell whether that rings true or not.

Write as much as you can, as often as you can, you don't have to do anything with that writing if you don't want to. But you will get better. Someone recently said that mastery of anything is doing it 10,000 times. Get started.

Be part of a writing group — you are blind to your mistakes and will often miss your own brilliance. I have found that learning how to critique others is the best training for learning how to write better myself.  

John, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat with us. 


John Philipp is a weekly humor columnist for four Marin County, California newspapers and has won numerous humor and memoir writing awards. His humor columns are posted at GatherHis wisdom (with Phil Frank's cartoons) is posted at Thought~Bytes 

You can also find John on Facebook, where he offers Daily Ponder and Thought Bytes.

Monday, February 6, 2012

MONDAY MUSINGS: Feeling Out Of Sync

Out of sync with time--I'll let you pour your own coffee, today!

I've been feeling a bit out of sorts and edgy the past couple of weeks. Out of sync. I don’t particularly like the feeling. I’m not sure why, but there is a part of me waiting. For what? I don’t know. Maybe I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Could be happening because I’m feeling much better, though not totally at full health but I can see the steady progress. My mind is coming back to life after being on survival mode. My creative side is alive and kicking after close two years of two speeds—stuttering spurts and long grinding stops. Writing ideas, decorating ideas, ranch projects are bombarding my mind. There are so many things I want to do. But I can’t. Not yet.

Then there is the weather, which is certainly not normal and it adds to that feeling of life being out of sync. February is not spring. It’s the tail end of winter here. Usually, from mid December to the end February there is frigid (for us) temps, snow and ice storms in January/February, and brief days that promise spring. This year, it’s all kaddywumpus. I actually turned off the heat during the day for a little over two weeks. Evenings were just cool enough, after the sun went down, to need to take the chill off. March weather.

I think nature is out of sync, too, with the unseasonable mild temperatures, because I have lots of Robins. Sunday several flocks of geese were flying north, the silver maples are creating their red fruit buds (which means tree sap is running), and my Daffodils are budding—I’ll have opens flowers by Monday and Tuesday. I didn’t check, but I bet my early tulips are breaking ground. Even the grass is getting a green haze to it. It’s too soon, by about three weeks, for all this. The last time this happened in southern Missouri, was 2007. Winter came back with a major blast of freezing temps. Half of our trees were partially naked in May and struggling to put forth leaves and normal fruit. I lost an entire apple crop that year because the flowers froze. Even some well-established shrubs and trees died that year—not to mention a lot of our birds and small animals.

On one hand, I’ve liked the warmer winter. Didn’t have to break the ice much this year or shovel out the driveway and paths to the animals. I almost lost my Quarter horse to anemia (he got tangled up with a couple of big seed tick nests) this fall and was dreading weeks of icy cold weather because there wasn’t enough time to fatten him up for the winter and I worried I lose him to pneumonia or whatever. He’s alive and mostly well and still a couple hundred pounds underweight, but he has is shine back. He moves faster than a stumbling shuffle, and I’ve actually caught him trotting. Yay! So, that’s all good. 

On the other hand, I’m longing for spring and the winter weather is pretending. It’s out of sync with normal time and that bothers me and puts me on edge. I find myself wanting to put away snow boots and winter coats. I eye my projects lists with longing. I want to dig and build and can't because, despite all the signs, it’s not yet spring.

Go figure.

This week on Over Coffee:

Wednesday: My Funny Valentine, a book written by some of the funniest writers in America, on love and life, including award winning syndicated humor columnists, like John Philipp, one of the contributors in that book.

Friday: Christie Craig will be visiting, talking about Murder, Mayhem, and Mama. Great read that made me laugh and cry.

Other upcoming guests: Jo Robertson, with her latest romantic thriller, Stephen Tremp and Alex Cavanaugh with their latest books in their Sci-fi series, Terry Spear, with her latest para romance, Mike and Kathy Gear with the latest in their Battle of America series. There are many more so be sure to check back.