I’m hearing a lot of hoopla about AI being here. I’m also reading some interesting social media posts about it from fellow authors. Let’s just say we’re not impressed. None of us plan on using it.
I’m also perfectly capable of writing my own blog posts, thank you very much. I’ve been writing them for years, and I certainly don’t need a robot to write them for me. And, like all writers I have own unique writing voice. So why would I allow a piece of software to take my voice away from me?
For novel writers, writing is very much a form of art. We tap into our wonderful human imaginations and create stories. We create imaginary people and bring them to life. Over the years readers have told me how believable my characters are. I take it as a complement. Interestingly enough, I don’t consciously create them. I’ll start out with a few basic ideas, such as their age and physical characteristics. The magic happens when I put them on paper. They come to life, and they tell me who they are. I also put a lot of love into my stories. No machine can do that. Machines aren’t living beings. Therefore, they cannot experience emotions.
Lord willing, I plan on writing romance novels for many years to come. Writing novels is my life’s calling. It’s what gives my life its meaning and purpose. I will also continue using human editors and proofreaders. Of course this means my books might contain a few errors. No human being is perfect. Making mistakes is one of the things that makes us human.
I’m currently working on my next Marina Martindale contemporary romance novel, and I will be adding the following to my disclaimer.
This book was written and edited by real human beings. We do not include content generated by AI (Artificial Intelligence) software of any kind.
I’ve worked hard to create a following. I want my readers to feel confident in knowing that the novels they are reading were written by me, and not by a machine.
Whenever I log into Facebook I always look at my memories page. It’s interesting to see something I posted years ago. Sometimes it’s bittersweet. I’ll read a comment, or see a like, from a good friend or family member who has since passed away.
The other day I found something notable on my memories page. It was something I posted back in 2018 about how artists sometimes have to deal with people who disrespect them and refuse to pay them a fair price for their services. One man commented that perhaps the problem was supply and demand. He thought there were simply too many artists out there. Therefore, we should give up our art.
Everyone is entitled to their opinion. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean the person who is giving their opinion is right.
My arts are writing and photography. They are my life’s passions. My art is what defines me as a human being. It’s what gives my life its meaning and purpose. Other artists, whether they be writers, musicians, actors, or painters, will tell you the same.
The Myth that Artists are Merely Hobbyists
It’s age-old misconception that way too many people seem to embrace. Art is nothing more than a hobby. People who are serious about earning a living need to get a “real job.” Whatever a real job is.
Some artists are lucky. They’re able to make a living full time with their art. Or they may find a career where they can use their artistic skills, such as a copywriter or graphic designer at an advertising agency. Most, however, will have to find a day job, and they are not alone. There are teachers, office workers, and others who have to work second jobs in order to make ends meet. So why are they not called, “hobbyists?”
They Would Be if They Could Be
There are some who get into the arts, not to express themselves, but because they want to become rich and famous. I recall once talking to a man who told me he was going to write a book, but he refused to tell me what his book was about. All he would say was he had come up with an idea that was so unique no one in human history had ever thought of it before. Therefore, his book was going to be a runaway bestseller. Hollywood would want to buy the screen rights to his story. This was why he couldn’t tell me what his book was about. If he told me, I would steal it from him.
Sometimes it’s hard to keep a straight face. I asked him how far along was he in writing his book. He said he hadn’t started writing it yet. Of course he hadn’t. No surprise there. So I wished him the best of luck. He will need it.
The man was a total fake. Real artists aren’t trying to impress anyone. They’re much too busy creating their art. The others, the ones who would-be if they could-be, are just blowing hot air about what they’re going to do. Someday. When they have the time. Right now they’re just too busy. I’ll give the man credit. He became the inspiration for a feature article called, The Author Myth, which is posted above the blog banner.
Some people do enjoy dabbling in art simply because they enjoy it. To them it’s strictly a hobby. They’re not interested in becoming professionals, and that’s okay too. However, they should never be confused with other artists who are professionals and are paid for their work, even if they have other jobs.
So What Defines an Artist?
An artist is someone who creates art because it’s their life’s calling. They will do whatever they have to do, including working day jobs, to pay the bills so they can continue being artists.
I consider myself an artist. As I mentioned before, my art happens to be fine art photography and writing contemporary romance novels. I’m an author with a good following. I also created my own publishing company, Good Oak Press, LLC. Many of my fellow independent authors have done the same.
We’re in this gig because writing is our life’s passion. We’ve put many, many years of blood, sweat and tears into learning our craft and becoming the people we are. As far as we’re concerned, anyone who thinks we should, “give up our art and get a real job,” is woefully ignorant.
It happens to all of us at one time or another. We run into a proverbial brick wall and suddenly find ourselves unable to come up with something to write about. Oh, no! It’s the dreaded writer’s block. Ugh!
Creativity is a funny thing. We can’t turn it on and off whenever it’s convenient. This can be particularly frustrating for fiction writers who have to juggle their writing between work and family time, only to end up staring at a blank screen or paper and wondering what to do with it.
Sometimes switching gears and writing about another topic can help. I have friends who typically work on two or three different books at the same time. If they get stuck on one they simply set it aside and work on another one. However, if you’re like me, and you only work on one story at a time, then you may have to get a little more creative. Try stepping away from the computer and doing a project that’s been on your to do list for too long. Those nagging issues really can effect your creativity.
If that doesn’t help, then why not take a break and do something you enjoy doing? Bake some cookies. Play a round of golf. Go to a movie, or a ball game. Take a day trip somewhere. Read a book that you haven’t had time to read. Call a friend or relative you haven’t spoken to in awhile. Taking a time out and doing something different, particularly if it’s something you really enjoy, but don’t get to do too often, gives your mind a chance to focus on other things, giving your creative muse a rest.
Don’t worry about your story. It’ll come back. And when it does, you can pick up where you left off.
I saw a Twitter post the other day from another author asking which was best. A blog or a newsletter? I responded by saying I use both. I also have websites. The Internet is an interesting place. You never know how or where someone will find you. Therefore, I’m of the opinion that you can never have too much online presence.
The Difference Between a Blog and a Traditional Website
Years ago I attended a meeting with the now defunct Arizona Book Publishers Association. The speaker, whose name I unfortunately can no longer recall, was an expert on online book marketing. He talked about how you need both a website an a blog. He described a website as the place where “you wore your business suit.” It should be straightforward and formal. As an author, I use my website to showcase my books.
The speaker then described a blog as less formal and more personal than a website. It was where you wore your sweats. In other words, a blog was where you could talk one to one with your readers. I use my Marina Martindale blog to share excerpts from my books, talk about my inspiration, and discuss my characters in depth.
Using a Blog as a Website
Nowadays many websites include a blog feed. At one time I included them on my website as well. Then one day it mysteriously vanished. I called tech support. They had no idea what was going on, but they couldn’t restore the feed either. I’ll just say I’m glad my blogs and websites use different hosts.
Some people use their blog as their website. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that. In fact, I recommend Blogger to those authors with limited budgets who can’t afford website hosting. Blogger is free and easy to use. You can customize your template to give it a unique look. The only out of pocket expense would be buying your own domain name. It’s optional, but I highly recommend it.
I use a WordPress blog for my historic cookbook website. Cookbooks are unique as they’re not actually read. They’re used for finding recipes. Therefore, my blog/website is for posting recipes and cooking tips, with a link to buy the cookbook at the end of each post.
One final word about author websites. Some authors like to include a bookstore. I once had one on my website as well. However, I soon discovered that readers don’t feel comfortable buying directly from the author or publisher. They prefer to buy from reputable online booksellers, such as Amazon. I’ve since taken my bookstore down and replaced it with links to where they can buy the books.
My newsletter is where I pitch my books. Each newsletter includes at least one “free sample” article with a link to a book except on my blog. I also have a monthly contest where my subscribers can win a free, author signed paperback edition of one of my novels. All they have do to enter is answer a multiple choice question correctly. The question is always something from the book I’m giving away, and I include a “hint.” The hint is a link to another blog post with with an except revealing the correct answer. It’s a great way to get people to read a sample. It’s an even better way to get a book into a reader’s hands. Back when I used to distribute through Ingram I always opted to have them ship returns to me. I’d much rather use them as contest prizes than have them end up in a landfill. It’s a win win for everyone.
A few words of caution regarding newsletters. People have to opt in. Never sign anyone up without their permission. You also need to limit how often you send them. I limit mine to one newsletter a month. The only exception is when I’m launching a new book. I will send them a short, to the point announcement with a link to where they can buy the book. I save the rest for the next newsletter. The number one reason why people unsubscribe to a newsletter is because they’re receiving too many of them. So when it comes to newsletters, less is more.
Throughout this blog I’ve discussed many of the advantages of indie publishing over traditional publishing. Now here’s another item to add to the list. Owning the rights to your work.
First things first however. Before going any further, I need to state that I’m not an attorney. Nor is anything in this blog ever to be considered legal advice. This discussion concerns works of fiction, written of the author’s own volition. In this context it is common knowledge that the author owns the rights to whatever fictional stories he or she wishes to create.
The Problem with Traditional Publishing
The business model for traditional publishing is for the publisher to pay the author an advance against their royalties. In exchange, the author signs some or all of their rights to their work to the publisher. It all sounds wonderful. At least on paper. But when talking with traditionally published authors, I often hear the same story. “My name is on the book, but it’s not what I wrote.” Unfortunately, this is what happens when the author signs away their rights to the publisher. The publisher can revise or rewrite the story in ways that the author never imagined or intended.
Some authors may not care. As long as they’re getting their royalty checks, they’re okay with it. However, those of us who pour our hearts and souls into our work may find it problematic.
The Advantage of Nontraditional Publishing
Like many fiction authors, I put a lot of thought into what I write. For example, I may name my lead character Erica after a favorite aunt. She has long blonde hair and brown eyes like my best friend in fifth grade. The story is set in Idaho because my family vacationed there when I was a kid. In other words, everything I write is there for a reason. I also have my own unique writing voice. It’s like a signature and it distinguishes me from other authors. So the last thing I want is a nameless, faceless editor to come along and change Erica’s name to Sarah, and morph her into a brunette living in Boston. Nor do I want anyone taking away my voice. This is why I do nontraditional publishing.
Partnership Publishing and Self Publishing
There are two avenues for nontraditional publishing. Self publishing and partnership publishing.
Like a traditional publisher, a partnership publisher prints and distributes the book. Many, if not most, offer additional services, such as editing, proofreading, typesetting, and cover design, just like a traditional publisher. But unlike a traditional publisher, they do not buy the rights to the author’s work. All rights remain with the author. This means they do not make any changes to the content or story without the author’s okay.
There are a number of good partnership publishers out there. Unfortunately, there are others that are not. Therefore, it is up to you, the author, to do your research and find the right company. Fortunately there are resources, such as Writer Beware and Trust Pilot, which can help you weed out the bad guys
The other option is self publishing. In this model the author is in charge every aspect of writing, producing, and distributing the book. I tried self-publishing when I first started writing. We’ll just say it was a humbling experience. I then worked with a partnership publisher. Later on, when I understood how the business worked, I created my own publishing company, Good Oak Press, LLC. Having been a graphic designer before I became a writer, it was the right choice for me, but it’s not right for everyone. If it’s not for you, don’t worry. Partnership publishing gives you plenty of options without signing away the rights to your work.
When to Consult with an Attorney
Those with specific questions about copyrights should consult with an attorney who specializes in copyright law. I also highly recommend consulting with an attorney before signing any publishing contract, regardless of whether it’s with a traditional publisher or a partnership publisher. Licensing agreements can be complicated, and there may be loopholes in there which the author does not expect. You need to fully understand your specific legal rights before going forward.
I’ve been blogging for so long that I can’t remember exactly when I started. It was sometime around 2005, when I published my first Luke and Jenny novelette. I used a blog host called Blogspot, which has since become Blogger. I liked Blogger for many reasons.
Blogger is user friendly! You don’t need to know HTML code or have other technical skills to use it.
It’s easy to build a template with Blogger. Even the advanced template design tools are user friendly.
The Blogger platform is secure. Your blog is less likely to be hacked.
Blogger includes an easy to use stats feature. It includes the number of hits, traffic sources, operating systems and so forth.
Blogger is free! It comes with it’s own hosting.
Blogger has no technical support. Google no longer supports Blogger. If you’re having an issue you have to rely on online forums, which may or may not resolve your issue.
There are few plugins for Blogger. Blogger includes “gadgets,” which you can add to your blog. However, the selection somewhat limited, so you may or may not find what you want.
I loved Blogger. I’m a right-brained creative, and Blogger is certainly intuitive. I used it for years. I found it easy to modify the templates, so I could give my blog more of a custom look. However, because there were limits, I could only do so much.
Along came WordPress
While I was using Blogger, some of my author friends were using WordPress. Blogger has a distinctive look. It doesn’t matter how much you modify your template, it still looks like a Blogger blog. WordPress blogs, on the other hand, look more professional.
WordPress has dozens upon dozens of third party themes and plugins. This gives you infinite possibilities for designing and customizing your blog.
You can pick and choose your own host. Unlike Blogger, you can pick your WordPress own platform. Some may offer tech support, while others may not. Prices may also vary. I recommend shopping around.
WordPress is not user friendly. It’s definitely NOT for people who are unfamiliar with HTML coding or lack other technical skills. Those who are not technically skilled will most likely end up extremely frustrated.
WordPress is open code. While open coding allows third parties to create all those wonderful themes and plugins, it also makes WordPress more vulnerable to hacking.
Spamming. Spammers love to post their spam in your post’s comments. WordPress has plugins to block spammers. However, they can also make it extremely difficult for legitimate readers to post a comment on your blog.
If you have the technical skills, or if your budget allows you to hire a webmaster, then I highly recommend WordPress. A customized blog makes you look more professional. I like to keep my websites clean and simple, and I was able to create this blog with the Twenty Sixteen WordPress theme. Please note that some WordPress themes are easy to use while others are not. My WordPress guru helped me find the right plugins for my specific needs, and if I need help she’s only a phone call away.
For those on a budget, I once again recommend shopping around. Nowadays many web host companies include blogs with their packages. This option wasn’t available when I started writing, so it’s worth looking into. WordPress has also changed with the times. It too now offers website hosting, with or without a blog.
Once upon a time, there were two book distributing services in the United States. Ingram, and Baker & Taylor. Baker & Taylor distributes to schools and libraries. Ingram distributes to book sellers.
Then the book publishing industry began changing in the early 21st century. Personal computers were becoming more sophisticated and more affordable. At the same time, new software was allowing people to publish from home. It even had a name. Desktop publishing.
So along came Lightning Source
Ingram created subsidiary called Lightning Source. I’m not exactly sure when this came about. However, I first heard of Lightning Source in 2003, after I wrote my first Luke and Jenny novel. My original publisher used Lightning Source for their distribution.
I began working with Lightning Source directly in 2011, when I created my own publishing company, Good Oak Press, LLC. At the time, they were a fantastic company to work with. They were there to help you succeed. If you had any question or concerns, or if you just needed a little help uploading a file, they were only a phone call away.
Then came Ingram Spark
A new subsidiary, Ingram Spark, came along a few years later. It worked with independent, or self-published authors, so I migrated to the new site. Same company, same great customer service. I had a long and happy business relationship with both subsidiaries for over a decade
Unfortunately, times have changed, and I’m afraid it hasn’t been for the better. It all started when I was having some serious log in issues with my account. No matter what I did, nothing would fix it. It’s a rather long, complicated story, so I’ll sum it up by saying that after much frustration and many emails back and forth, I was told the problem was fixed. Only it wasn’t fixed. The issue still persisted.
Why I Left Ingram Spark
All I can tell you is Ingram Spark is longer the helpful company I signed on with back in 2011. They have discontinued telephone support. Tech support is only available by email only. Unfortunately, the more complicated the issue, the more difficult it is to resolve it by email alone.
The initial response to the emails I sent always asked me for information I had already included in the original email, along with a screenshot. Each response came from a different sender, who had obviously never bothered to read the prior responses. So each time I’m having to describe the issue all over again, and sending them yet another screenshot. Needless to say, this only made matters worse. As a result, the issue was never resolved. Sometimes you need to communicate in person, but I no longer have that option. There came a point when it finally became a deal breaker, and I gave up on Ingram. Thankfully, there are now some alternatives.
I recently learned that one of my author friends has never used Ingram Spark. This came as a big surprise. He’s been writing books longer than I have, and he has built himself a good following. He distributes his books through Amazon’s KDP Publishing, Draft2Digital, and SmashWords. So, I’m now changing course. I will no longer be distributing my books through Ingram Spark.
Kindle Direct Publishing
As we all know, the Amazon Kindle has been a game changer. I started publishing my ebook editions directly with Amazon shortly after the Kindle came on the market. The platform easy to use, and I could upload my files for free. However, I had never published a print edition with KDP Direct. That all changed with my latest Marina Martindale contemporary romance novel, Aquamarine. When I uploaded the print edition to KDP Direct I found it was almost as easy as uploading an eBook.
I admit I was a little concerned about the printing quality, but after receiving my first author’s copies, I can find no difference between KDP and Ingram. Both companies produce good quality print books. The only difference is that Amazon does not charge you a fee to upload your files. You upload them for free. So why spend money when you don’t have to?
Amazon also has outstanding customer service. You can contact them by phone, email or chat. I’ve found their phone support to be friendly and helpful. No long waits on hold either. You enter your phone number, and they will call you back. They will also work with you until the problem is fixed.
Other Book Distributors
I’ve started distributing my eBook editions through Draft2Digital. They offer virtually the same eBook distribution as Ingram Spark. My eBook editions are now available for the Barnes& Noble Nook, Sony and Kobo eReaders, Apple Books, and others. There is no fee to upload your files, and their customer support is available by phone or email. Draft2Digital is also merging with SmashWords, and I will soon be distributing my print editions with them as well.
Ingram Spark is by far the winner when it comes to convenience. Those who don’t want the hassle of having to upload their files to multiple accounts may think the forty dollar upload fee worth it. To each their own. Unfortunately, because of all the grief they have caused me, I’ve decided they simply aren’t worth headache, and I’d rather keep the forty dollars in my own pocket. I can only hope, for their sake, that they will take whatever steps are necessary to improve their customer service. They lost a loyal, long-term customer when they lost me, and somehow I doubt I’m the only one. All I can say is I won’t be coming back.
UPDATE: Smashwords and Draft2Digital have merged. If you are using D2D they will now publish your books on Smashwords.
Once upon a time, I offered publishing services to other authors. It was an interesting experience, and I met some very nice people. I also learned about the misconceptions authors sometimes have about the services publishers provide.
What publishers do
Publishing services, sometimes called partnership publishing, print and distribute your book. Some may offer other services, such as typesetting and cover design, while others may not. I was a graphic designer before I became an author, so I offered typesetting and cover design. The only services I didn’t offer were illustrating and editing.
For the most part, my authors were pleased with my work. I would send them the proofs. Once the author approved them, I would publish their book. Then came the problems. Now that they had their printed copy in hand, they found typos and misspellings. And why hadn’t I caught those errors and fixed them before I published their book?
Because it wasn’t my job.
What publishers don’t do
When it comes to independent publishing, or self publishing, it is oftentimes the author, and not the publisher, who is responsible for editing and proofreading their manuscripts. This is why you need to carefully review the contract before you sign it.
As I mentioned in my earlier blog post, It Takes a Team to Write a Book, there is a lot involved in writing and publishing a book. Editors and proofreaders are also needed. They are the people who catch your errors before the book goes to the publisher.
As human beings, it’s difficult for us to see our own mistakes. This is why we need a fresh pair of eyes to go over our manuscripts. I use both an editor and a proofreader before publishing my work. The editor does most of the heavy lifting. He or she looks for spelling errors, grammatical errors, continuity errors, and to insure the author is using the proper syntax. The proofreader comes in later to catch any errors the editor may have missed. Even so, we’re all human, and there will always be those few mistakes we all missed. The goal is to catch as many as we can.
Of course, if I happened to catch an error, I would fix it and let the author know. However, typesetters simply don’t have time to read the text. They’re only concerned about how the text appears on the page, so please, don’t count on these people to look for typos and other mistakes. They’re not proofreaders.
Unfortunately, I soon discovered that it simply wasn’t profitable for me to publish books for other authors, so I no longer offer this service. However, it was still a good learning experience, so I have no regrets.
One of the things I love the most about writing fiction is the dialog. It’s what brings the characters to life. However, like any other kind of writing, there is a technique for writing effective dialog. In fact, there are entire books about how to write dialog. If you’re new to writing fiction I highly recommend reading them. In the meantime, I’m going to cover some of the basics, and the way I go about writing dialog.
What is the purpose of dialog?
As most of you already know, fiction writing is all about the conflict. The conflict is what drives the storyline, and the dialog helps build the tension. For example, the more a character talks about their big plans, and how they made everything foolproof, the more we know something is about to go terribly wrong.
Dialog also defines the character’s personality. A character who has a PhD will undoubtably have a different speech pattern than a character who’s a high school dropout. Here in the United States, different regions of the country have their own dialects. A character from Boston will speak differently than a character from New Orleans. Therefore, it’s a good idea to set your story in a location where you are familiar with the local lingo.
Dialog and Grammar
People don’t use perfect grammar when they are speaking. We tend to shorten words. We’ll say, “gonna,” instead of, “going to.” We speak in incomplete sentences as well as comma spliced sentences. Therefore, none of my characters speak perfect, grammatically correct English. Fortunately, my editor gets this. She’s a fiction writer herself. However, it’s been an issue with some of the proofreaders I’ve worked with.
Gloria, who proofread many of my earlier Marina Martindale romance novels, passed away a few years ago. She was a dear friend who I will always miss, and she also loved my books. While not a writer herself, she had once been a proofreader for a newspaper. Trust me, nothing got past her watchful eye. She also understood the difference between narrative and dialog.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t so lucky with the proofreaders for my next two novels. One was a retired English teacher who not only corrected all the grammar in my dialog, she also argued with me when I pointed out, more than once, that real people do not speak perfect, grammatically correct English. My most recent proofreader was someone who had learned English as a second language. To her credit, she was very fluent in English, and she had also written a few nonfiction books. However, when it came to the dialog, she didn’t always understand slang words and common idioms, which caused some confusion.
The Use of Grammar in First and Third Person Narratives
I write in the third person narrative. When my characters aren’t speaking I use proper grammar and punctuation in my narrative as I describe the events from an anonymous and detached point of view. However, the rules may vary when using the first person narrative. Since your character is telling the entire story from start to finish, you need to let the character speak in his or her own voice. The same is true when writing dialog in the third person narrative. Let your characters have their own distinctive voice.
Someone I follow on YouTube recently posted a video about why he finally left Twitter. He made some interesting points. Twitter has an unusual dynamic. While most Twitter users are well educated people, he noticed they all seem to behave like middle school kids.
I use Twitter to promote my books and photography. However, I don’t engage as much on Twitter as I do on other social media platforms. I’ve always found their platform odd. Twitter used to call their tweets, “mini blogs.” When I first signed up posts were limited to 140 characters, which I found too limiting. I’m a writer. I want to express myself. They’ve since doubled it to 280 characters, but it’s still pretty limiting. Therefore, I mostly use Twitter to post links to my blogs and websites.
I use third party websites to post my Tweets. One is Hootsuite, the other is Buffer. Both offer free accounts with some nice features, such as shorted URLs for your links. Hootsuite has a nice dashboard where you can see how well your tweet performed. Buffer gives you preselected time slots to schedule your tweets. It too is a nice feature which can save you valuable time. However, both limit how often you can tweet per day. If you want to tweet more then the limit, you’ll have to upgrade to a paying account.
The YouTube vlogger also talked about Twitter “tribes.” Like other social media platforms, Twitter algorithms suggest people for you to follow. It also recommends you to people with a similar interests. Interestingly enough, my tribe is other writers and photographers, so I’m adding new hashtags, such as, “#romancereaders” and “#photographylovers,” to my tweets. Hopefully, this will attract more prospective readers and art buyers.
From time to time I’ll log on to Twitter itself, but certainly not every day. If a major news event is happening, particularly in my local area, Twitter is the best platform for real time updates. My tribe mostly tweets about their writing. So if someone asking a question about their writing, and I think I can help, I’ll send them a reply. I honestly enjoy helping other writers whenever I can.
Even though my tribe is a friendly one, I’m still very cautious about what I say on Twitter. If there is anything which could possibly be perceived as, “controversial,” then rest assured, someone will get pissed off and start screaming and name calling. Hate to say it, but the vlogger was right. A grown man or woman will indeed behave like a middle school kid. This is why Twitter is, unfortunately, a hostile platform. I find it very sad. It has the potential to be a whole lot more.