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Welcome to From the Writer’s Desk

a blog for novel writers

There are a lot of writing blogs out there, and many offer great advice. However, most of the ones I’ve seen are geared toward nonfiction writers. As novel writers, we have different goals and needs. We’re storytellers. We write to entertain.

This blog is about helping you write a better novel as I pass along what I’ve learned about this crazy business. So please, pull up a chair and make yourselves comfortable. And if you see something you like, please be sure to post a comment.

Gayle Martin

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And Now for a Time Out

Photo by Gayle Maritn

I’ve finally completed my latest Marina Martindale novel and now I’m ready for a much needed break. In fact, I typically go on a long hiatus after a new novel is published.

While writing truly is one of my life’s passions, I’m also aware of the thin line between creativity and burnout. Burnout can happen when we overextend and push ourselves too hard, but sometimes we’re so into what we’re doing we’re not aware we’re overdoing it.

By the time I finish one novel I’m already formulating the next one in my head, and that’s okay. What’s not okay is starting page one of that new novel the day after my current one goes to press. Like the tide, creativity ebbs and flows, and none of us want to ebb unexpectedly. I’ve learned, through experience, that for me the best thing to do after finishing a novel is to put my writing muse on the back burner, even as ideas for the next book pop into my head. Or, should I say, most especially when those new ideas are popping into my head. I’ll jot them down, but I won’t take them any further anytime soon.

I enjoy my down time between novels. It can last for a few weeks to a few months because I’m no longer on a time schedule. Then, when I feel I’m ready, I’ll start my next book. Until then, it’s my time for me.

GM

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The Three Options for Publishing Your Book

© Can Stock Photo/ Baloncici

So you’re a new author and you’ve just completed your first manuscript. Congratulations. This is a big accomplishment. However, it’s only the first step for getting your work out there, and one of your next tasks, if you haven’t done so already, is to decide how you would like to have your book published. You have three options; traditional publishing, partnership publishing, or self publishing. Each has their advantages and disadvantages.

traditional publishing

Let’s begin with the option most people are familiar with, traditional publishing. Some of the most well known traditional publishers in the United States include Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins and Penguin Random House. No doubt you’ve heard of them as they’re part of a group known as The Big Five. This is certainly the big leagues, so you may be thinking, “Yeah, I’d love to have them publish my book. I’ll send them a copy of my manuscript and wait for them to call me.”

If only it were that simple. In reality, getting onboard with one of the Big Five publishers is about as easy as going to Hollywood, walking into a major motion picture studio and telling them that because you were the star of your high school play, you’re now ready to become a movie star, and would they please sign you up. Signing on with a major publisher, especially when you’ve never been published before, is a long, complicated and daunting process filled with rejection. Even if you have a good literary agent and a well written manuscript, there is no guarantee they will accept your work, and even if they do, they will drop you if your book sales don’t meet their expectations.

Partnership Publishing

This can be a viable alternative as partnership publishers provide many of the same services as a traditional publisher. They produce, format and distribute your book, and they pay you a royalty. However, unlike a traditional publisher, they don’t buy the rights to your book. You keep the rights, and you pay them for their services.

There is, however, a huge difference between partnership publishing and vanity publishing. A vanity publisher will produce your book, usually for a hefty fee. However, they don’t distribute your book, and your printed books are often poor quality. A partnership publishing company on the other hand will distribute your book, typically through Ingram. It is up to you, however, to do the research and find out if the company is indeed a legitimate partnership publishing company. Most importantly, before signing any contract, ask if they distribute through Ingram. If the answer is no, walk away.

For the record, I started out with a very reputable partnership publishing company, and my books did quite well. I did have to pay them for their services, and they took care of the cover design, the printing, and the distribution. Like a traditional publisher, they paid also royalties, but unlike a traditional publisher, I retained the rights to my book, and I could leave them at any time.

Self publishing

Self publishing has lost much of the stigma it once had, and, on rare occasions, a traditional publisher will pick up a self published author.

The big advantage to self publishing is that the author has complete control over all aspects of the publishing process. This includes editing, proofing, typesetting and ebook formatting, printing and distribution. In other words, it’s a lot of work. However, Amazon has made this process somewhat easier with their self publishing tools; CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing. Even so, editing and proofing are still the author’s responsibility.

I was lucky. I was a graphic designer for many years before I became an author. In 2011 my partnership publisher decided she wanted to change her business model and specialize in children’s books, while I had switched genres and had started writing contemporary romance. She was, however, a mentor as well as a publisher, and I learned a lot about the publishing business from her. So I started up my own publishing company. For me, this was the perfect choice. With my graphic design background, I’m able to format and design my own books. My company is an LLC, registered in the state of Arizona, so I was able to distribute through Ingram. However, after I started up my own company, Ingram created a division called Ingram Spark, which caters to self publishing authors. That said, I still recommend setting up an LLC if you’re serious about self publishing. Not only will you come across as more professional, an LLC can help protect your personal assets if you should ever experience an unexpected legal challenge.

Marketing Your book

Please note that regardless of which option you choose, it is up to you, the author, to promote your book. While book distribution is the publisher’s responsibility, selling the book is not. That is on you, even if you’re a traditionally published author. Like publishing a book, marketing a book can be daunting, but there are resources out there to help you. Again, it’s up to you to find those resources and use them.

Good luck with your book. If you would like to see my company website please click on the link below. I’m including it as an illustration of what you can accomplish if you’re willing to invest the time and effort. Please note, however, that I do not provide publishing services for other authors.

GM

Good Oak Press, LLC

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How to Write an Honest Review for a Book You Don’t Like

© Can Stock Photo / Pixelbliss

Whether we write fiction or nonfiction, all authors want their books to be read, and reviews are an essential marketing tool. This is why authors ask other authors for reviews.

A good review is like gold. The author may include it on his or her website and media kit, or even as a back cover blurb. This can benefit the reviewing author as well, as his or her name, and book title, may get a free mention. Most of the time, it’s a win/win for both. Most of the time. However, there are times when it can be problematic.

Authors often post review requests on online forums, and back when I was a newbie author, such a request caught my eye. It was for a nonfiction book about UFOs and aliens, and he wanted someone to write a review on Amazon. While not my writing genre, I grew watching Star Trek, and I’ve always been interested in UFOs. So I contacted the author, and he mailed me a copy of his book..

It wasn’t what I expected

I eagerly opened the envelope as soon as it arrived. However, once I started reading the book, I realized it wasn’t at all what I expected. While I make no claims of being an astronomer, I’m well aware of the fact that we live in a vast universe. New solar systems are being discovered. And while I’m hardly a mathematician either, I do know that we live in a galaxy with trillions of stars and perhaps billions of planets. Therefore, it seems logical to me that a certain percentage of those planets would have life. Maybe not life as we know it, but if I were a betting person, I would say yes. There is life on other planets. This author, however, didn’t think so.

The author turned out to be a born again Christian who didn’t think there is life on other planets. And, what we may see as UFOs, and aliens, such as the grays, are demons.

Okay, we won’t be having a religious debate here. I’ll simply say that while I believe in God, I also believe in science. (Many people believe in both.) However, until life on other worlds can be definitively proven, (if ever), people will have their own opinions and beliefs on the matter. I happen to believe that extraterrestrials, if they do exist, are not demons. A demon is a spiritual entity. An extraterrestrial is a living being with a physical body, even if that body is only a single, microscopic cell.

The conundrum

In the meantime, the author is waiting for a review, and I don’t like his book. So do I decline? Do I write a bad review? Or do I try to come up with a different approach?

Declining to review a book is awkward. It’s even more awkward when the author and I are on the same forum. Writing a bad review can have unintended consequences as well. I don’t want to make enemies or risk getting retaliatory negative reviews. Nor do I want to earn a reputation as someone who only writes bad reviews.

My solution

To the author’s credit, the book was well written and professionally edited. And while I certainly didn’t subscribe to his point of view, his argument went well beyond simply quoting Biblical scripture. In other words, he didn’t come across as some hyped-up preacher screaming hellfire and damnation in a Sunday morning sermon. He had his own hypothesis, and his theory, while rooted in his faith, was well thought out. I just didn’t happen to agree with it. So, I tried to come up with a way to write an honest review. Then, it hit me. Why not address the review to the people he wrote the book for? Christians. After all, Christian books are a recognized genre.

I gave the book a four star review, and mentioned some of the things I’ve mentioned in this article. The book discussed the UFO phenomenon from a Christian perspective, it was well written and edited, and Christian readers might find it an interesting read. I didn’t go into my own opinion or debate the author on the subject matter. Again, the subject matter has yet to be proven. All we have at the present time is speculation, conjecture, and opinions. And opinions are like a certain body cavity. Everyone has one.

In conclusion

Book reviews should be honest and fair, and if you decide that you don’t want to review a book you can certainly decline. Had his book (or any other book for that matter), been poorly written, I would have declined it for that reason and told the author it needed more editing. However, that option didn’t apply in this case. So before writing a bad review, consider doing what I did. If possible, try writing a review for the author’s intended audience, and tell that audience why they might find the book interesting.

After I posted my review on Amazon I got a nice thank you note from the author. And while I certainly won’t be reviewing any more of his books, it was nice for both of us to walk away happy.

Gayle Martin

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Naming Names

A banner saying, Your Name Here."
© Can Stock Photo / MSPhotographics

Just received my weekly newsletter from a fellow writer. In this issue, he discussed his technique for naming his characters.

Naming your characters is something all fiction writers must do, but coming up with the best names isn’t as easy as some may think. In fact, it can be downright challenging. I think we all have different ways of doing this. In reading my friend’s article, I noticed his way of coming up with character names is very different than mine.

My approach for naming my characters is simple and straightforward. I create names that are reasonably common and that most readers can relate to.

Choosing with the right surname

I don’t use Smith, Jones or Johnson as they’re so common they’re almost a cliche. I prefer using familiar surnames, such as Palmer, Campbell, Bennett, and Walsh. One of my friends once mentioned that her maiden name is Bennett. I really liked the name, so I asked her if she would mind my using it for one of my lead characters. She was certainly flattered, but I highly recommend asking before using a friend’s surname, even if theirs is a common one. You don’t want anyone getting the wrong idea.

There have also been plenty of times when I’ve gotten stuck trying to figure out the right surname. This is why I keep an old white pages phone book. I’ve been known to open it to a random page and skim through the listings until something pops out at me.

Finding the right first name

For me, this is where it becomes a lot more fun. I write contemporary romance, and my novels are much like the soap operas I watched years ago. Therefore, I’ll sometimes give my characters the same first name as a favorite soap opera character.

For example, two of the characters in my Marina Martindale novel, The Stalker, are named Rachel and Alice. I grew up watching the now defunct soap opera, Another World. It was famous for its ongoing feud between two characters named Rachel and Alice. Their feud began while I was in grade school, and it lasted all the way through college. So, to pay homage, I named my leading lady Rachel, which is also a popular Millennial generation name. I then named her sister Alice. But unlike their Another World namesakes, the two characters have a close relationship. And, because the name Alice is less common today, I also named their grandmother Alice, as many families name children after their grandparents or great-grandparents.

I also invested in a baby name book. It contains hundreds, if not thousands of names, including many different ethnic names. It’s a handy tool that I often use.

Naming fictional businesses and places

Naming a fictional place is just as important as naming your characters. Again, you want names that are reasonably common that readers can relate to. Another Marina Martindale novel, The Reunion, is set in Denver. Jeremy, a supporting character, works as a bartender at a sports bar called O’Malley’s Grill. When I was a kid, we had next door neighbors named O’Malley, and I always thought it was a cool name. However, before using it, I did an online search to make sure there were no bars or restaurants in Denver with that same name. Whenever naming any fictional business always make sure there is no business with that name in the location your using.

And finally, a disclaimer

With over three hundred million people living in the United States, and billions more on the planet, it really doesn’t matter how you create your character’s names. There will be real people out there with the same names. This is why you need to include a disclaimer in the frontmatter of your book. Make sure you clearly state that your story is a work of fiction, and that any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

GM

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How to Skillfully Use Flashbacks in Your Novels

A section of a clock placed in front of a starry sky.
© Can Stock Photo / Nikki24

Readers give us great feedback. Nearly all of the reader reviewers for my debut Marina Martindale novel, The Reunion, commented on how well the flashback scenes were done.

If used properly, flashback scenes can greatly enhance the story. They can be a terrific tool for telling the backstory. Poorly done, however, and they can become a distraction or even a hindrance. They block your story flow and annoy the reader.

How to use flashbacks in your novel

  • Use flashbacks sparinglyThe Reunion has fifty chapters, but only four include flashbacks. The story is set in the present time. Therefore I didn’t want to spend too much time with the flashbacks.
  • Your flashbacks should be relevant to the present time. The Reunion is about two lovers having a second chance many years later. The flashbacks were a tool to allow the reader to see the characters meet for the first time and get a general feel for their earlier relationship. I decided not to show their original break up as a flashback. That backstory is instead told in dialogue. Dialogue, by the way, is another great tool for telling the backstory.
  • Watch where you insert a flashback. Never drop a flashback in the middle of a scene, especially if it’s cliffhanger. This will greatly upset and annoy your reader. I lead up to the flashback at the ending of a present day chapter. This prepares the reader for the flashback.

how to place a flashback

This flashback from The Reunion includes the ending paragraphs from Chapter One, with the last paragraph setting up the flashback scene. The flashback begins with Chapter Two.

* * *

Gillian looked a good ten years younger than her actual age. Despite all the time that had passed, she still looked much the same. About the only noticeable difference between then and now was that her long blonde hair was now a shoulder length pageboy. She started to reminisce about the past and her mind suddenly filled with a whirlwind of images of all they had shared, the good times as well as the bad. It was like watching a movie, but the scenes were spliced together out of sequence.

“Calm down, Gillian,” she told her reflection. “You’ve got to pull yourself together.”

 She took a few more deep breaths, and as she did the events of one particular day began playing back in her mind with crystal clarity. It was the day she first laid eyes on Ian Palmer.

Chapter Two

Gillian jammed her paintbrush into her palette and glanced at the wall clock. It was almost four twenty-five. Class would be over at four-thirty.

“Damn it,” she muttered to herself as she tried to work more white paint into the canvas.

This particular painting was one of those projects that simply wasn’t coming together, and the more she worked with it the worse it got. It happened to every artist from time to time, but it was never good when it happened in a university art class the day before the project was due, and the painting in question would count toward the final grade.

In conclusion

As you can see, I’ve set the reader up for the flashback by referencing about how the events of one particular day played back in the character’s mind. The reader is then well prepared, and even expects, the next chapter to be a flashback.

And finally, I only used flashbacks in The Reunion. I only did so because of the long interval of time between two characters interactions. None of my other novels include flashbacks.

GM

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Hey Google! I Can Think for Myself

A block of letters that read "Search Rank."
© Can Stock Photo / Curioso_Travel_Photo

As some of you may have noticed, I recently migrated this blog from Blogger to WordPress. Part of me hated doing this. I loved Blogger because it was so easy to use. Unfortunately, there was a problem. Google owns Blogger. And, like Facebook, Google is getting much too creepy.

As I discussed in my previous post, The Best Search Engines for Novel Writers, no writer should ever use Google for their searches. And not just writers. In my humble opinion, no one should be using Google. No one. Google has become too powerful. So much so that it’s now trying to tell us what to think.

How Google is trying to manipulate us

Last night, as I was listening to Coast to Coast AM, the host announced her guest, an expert on alternative medicine. She began her introduction by stating that Google has eliminated ALL alternative medicine websites from its search engine. All of them. It has replaced them with ANTI-alternative medicine websites. This means that if you’re looking for alternative treatments for your allergies, because all the conventional treatments have failed you, you won’t find any information on Google. Why? Because Google thinks you’re too stupid to decide which treatment would be best for you. They will decide the treatment you need, not you.

When my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and the doctors told him there was nothing more that they could do, he took matters into his own hands. This happened in the late 1990s. The Internet was still in its infancy. There was no Google. So my father drove to the nearest health food store and purchased every book he could find on alternative treatments. He then followed up and sought those treatments. And guess what? His cancer went into remission. Alternative medicine gave him an extra year with a good quality of life, without any side effects. It was an extra year he would not have otherwise had. He and I both believed that had he used alternative medicine much sooner, he probably would have beat the cancer. Assuming he would have even developed it in the first place.

Alternative medicine can work. Unfortunately, this is but one example of how Google is trying to manipulate you and tell you how to think.

We have the right to live our lives as we see fit. And, lucky for us, there are other search engines that DON’T think they’re God. They will give you the information you are searching for, and they will allow you to think for yourself. These search engines include Bing and DogPile, as well as GoDuckGo, one of the search engines I discussed in my last post.

Hey Google! We can think for ourselves. Stop using Google. Find a better search engine.

GM

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The Best Search Engines for Novel Writers

Contrary to popular belief, writing fiction isn’t about making things up as we go along. Good fiction writers know their craft. They can easily spend as much time researching their subject matter as they do writing about it. And that can be problematic.

Novel writers sometimes have to research the strangest things. My plotlines, for example, often revolve around crime. That’s because when it comes to creating a good conflict, few subjects work better. And crime isn’t limited to mystery stories. It works well in other genres too. I write contemporary romance, so having a character accused of a crime he or she didn’t commit works well for me.

Now let’s say I’m using that idea for my story. I want it to be believable, so this is where research comes in. However, a Google search on, for example, how many years would you get for armed robbery, could possibly raise some red flags. Google records your IP address and your searches. Google also tracks you around the web. And while police officers would probably enjoy a good read as much as anyone, we don’t anyone getting the wrong idea. After all, that unexpected knock at the door could really ruin your day. This is why we need to do our searches anonymously.

StartPage and GoDuckGo

There are two search engines that you can use for anonymous web searches. Startpage, and GoDuckGo. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.

I’ve been using Startpage for years. Startpage works with Google. It doesn’t record your IP address. It also gives you the option of visiting a website anonymously. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t as some websites do not allow anonymous viewing. However, it’s a nice option to have. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I don’t like being tracked after I visit a website.

As much as I like Startpage, it’s far from perfect. As said, Startpage only works with Google, and lately Google has become creepy. They’ve been very outspoken in their commitment to weed out websites whose points of view they happen to disagree with. And that troubles me in many ways. However, I’m going to limit my comments to this. As writers, we can, and should, be able to see ALL points of view on a given subject; not those with whom Google happens to agree with. We’re writers. We can think for ourselves.

Thankfully, there is another anonymous search engine out there. GoDuckGo. I’ve not used it as much as Startpage. However it has one advantage over Startpage. It’s not married to Google. But there is also a disadvantage. GoDuckGo doesn’t allow you the option of visiting a website anonymously.

And there you have it. Neither search engine stores your information, nor do the track you. Both have similar looking homepages. I would recommend using either, or both. Which one you choose, however, is entirely up to you, as there is no wrong answer.

GM

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No, You Don’t Need Facebook to Promote Your Book

© Can Stock Photo / Curioso_Travel_Photo

For the past few months I’ve had issues with Facebook over censorship and their flagrant privacy violations, both of which remain  ongoing.

It’s no secret that Facebook has become a data mining platform pursuing its own political agenda. But I’ve been told, over and over again by all the so-called experts, that because I’m an author, I had no choice but to put up with Facebook’s crap. If I wasn’t on Facebook, my books would surely languish on the shelf. Well, after being on Facebook for nearly a decade, I have to tell you that as usual, the experts are wrong.

Most, if not all, of my Facebook friends know I’m an author. Many have liked my Facebook author pages. Whenever I posted something about my books, they’d hit the like button. Wanna know how many of them actually followed through and bought my books? Well, I know of one who did. Maybe one or two others might have, but I’m not sure. I could probably count the total number of Facebook friends who actually purchased my books on one hand.

Likewise, I had hundreds likes for my author pages. Yet whenever I posted on those pages, I would, on a good day, maybe get twenty people who actually saw the post. And out of those twenty, maybe one or two engaged with it. Wow. If I were a betting person, I’d bet that out of all the people who liked my author pages, the number who actually purchased a book is close to zero. 

I stopped advertising on Facebook several months ago. My ads no longer had the reach they once had. It’s been well documented that fewer people are on Facebook these days. And those who haven’t left the platform spend less time there. But even before all the Facebook controversy, I wasn’t getting a good return on my investment for my ads because people weren’t purchasing my books. And that’s the bottom line.

The other morning I read a news article about how Steve Wozniak, one of the founders of Apple, is saying that people need to delete their Facebook accounts. Wow. That’s coming from a credible source. An insider who knows more about cyber spying than the average Joe or Jane. So I’ve deactivated my account, which, to be honest, is something I’ve wanted to do for sometime now.

Yes, social media is a good tool for promoting your books. However, a presence on Facebook doesn’t mean you’ll sell more books. We want people reading our books, not just hitting a like button. So please, if you’re concerned about Facebook and its complete lack of ethics, and if you don’t want third parties spying on your every move without your knowledge and consent, then please don’t feel that you have to stay on Facebook to promote your books, because you don’t. It’s okay to shut down your Facebook account. And if you do, you’ll probably be better off for it.

In recent months I’ve an uptick in book sales. It started when I stopped wasting my time on Facebook. I got back into blogging. I’ve updated and optimized my websites and blogs. I’ve also started up a newsletter. Coincidence? Well, you tell me.

GM

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So You Think You Don’t Need an Editor–Part Two

© Can Stock Photo / swellphotography

In my previous article, So You Think You Don’t Need an Editor–Part One, I talked about how your editor is a fresh pair of eyes to go over your manuscript and give it the polish it needs to become a successful book.

I understand that money is an issue for many of you. But unless you’re one of the very few lucky writers who lands a deal with a traditional publisher, you’ll probably have to invest your own money into producing your book. Typically, a good editor will charge one to two cents per word. So, for an 80,000 to 100,000 word manuscript, you could be spending $800 to $2000.

I know that’s a lot of money. So you may be tempted to take some shortcuts. My advice? Don’t do it! Asking your friends, your cousin, your spouse or your mom to do your editing may seem like a good alternative. However, if they don’t have experience in journalism, teaching English, or any other professional writing experience, they’re not qualified for the job. You would never your best friend to work on your car if he or she had no experience in auto repair. So why would you ask someone who isn’t qualified to edit your manuscript?

Nowadays anyone with a smartphone can write a manuscript and upload it to Amazon Kindle. The market has been flooded with poorly written books. So do you want four and five star reviews? If so, then you need a  professional book editor. Because nothing will end your writing career faster than a poorly-written book with bad reviews.

GM

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Redeemable vs Non-redeemable Villains

© Can Stock Photo / hjalmeida

I enjoy streaming a syndicated radio talk show called, Ground Zero with Clyde Lewis. The show has interesting, offbeat topics. Listening helps me unwind at the end of a busy workday. The other night Clyde talked about the latest Godzilla movie. He described how the title character has evolved from an evil beast to a defender of the planet. That’s quite a leap indeed, and it was a fascinating discussion.

(To hear a podcast please click on the link above.) 

While I don’t write science fiction or horror myself, those genres do allow more leeway for using symbolism for political undertones. This may be the case with Godzilla. However, there are certain unwritten rules that fiction authors must follow because it’s what readers expect. High on the list is that good always triumphs over evil.

Fiction plotlines, regardless of genre, are conflict driven. The antagonist creates the conflict when he or she interferes with the protagonist. The antagonist is there to block whatever goal the protagonist is trying to achieve. This is why most antagonists are villains. And the more devious and evil the villain, the more drama and intensity to the story.

In real life, however, people can and do make poor choices. Some learn from their mistakes. In fiction, they would be redeemable characters. For example, Josh, from my most recent Marina Martindale novel, The Letter, is a con artist. He’s working a Ponzi scheme with two unseen characters. However, as the character took shape I noticed he had some redeeming qualities. So, I did a rewrite and made him into a redeemable villain. I don’t want to spoil the plot, so I’ll sum it up and say that things aren’t always as they appear.

Most of my villians, however, are unrepentant. Some, like Maggie in The Deception, remain defiant, even while they’re carted off to prison. Most however, are their own undoing. They police shoot them, or they’re killed in accidents while trying to escape. They’re the unredeemable villains. The Godzillas, who have to have their comeuppance, otherwise readers won’t accept it. After all, karma’s a bitch. Not only in fiction, but in real life as well.


GM

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