"Roundheads and Ramblings"
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Why Didn't Your Book Win a Prize?
How Do You Hook a Bookworm?
The Price I Pay for Being a Historian
If It Sounds Too Good To Be True . . .
Which Would You Prefer -- Reading or Listening?


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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

Why Didn't Your Book Win a Prize?

Several days ago,  I posted a rant about authors who need to remember that they are writing for readers, not for themselves.  My words came in reaction to having spend several days judging entries in a writing contest. Now that I am completely finished with the contest judging, I've discovered an even more important requirement. Every author needs a mirror.

A mirror? Why? Well, go find yourself a mirror and take a good, hard look at yourself. Don't worry about a bad hair day, or those bags under your eyes, or the zit on your nose. I'm not concerned with your physical appearance. but WHO you see in that mirror? Start by labeling the image as "AUTHOR." Your are what an author looks like. Now what else do you see? Are you an artist, a printer, an English teacher, a grammar nazi, a photographer, a layout expert, a lawyer, an advertising executive, a computer whiz, an accountant, a glad-handing publicity agent? Can you be all of those things at once? And if you could, what would you look like?

No matter what anyone says about self-publishing, writers need to understand that they can't do it all. In one sense, creating a book has never been easier. But it's also never been so full of dangers. As I worked my way through ten newly published books, I found two from traditional publishers.  They were attractive and looked -- "finished." Of the other eight, all self-published in some sense, only one really appeared to be professional. The others had amateurish mistakes -- uneven margins, crooked page blocks, weird cover designs, cheap paper, silly fonts, blurry illustrations, awkward grammar, misplaced chapter headings, incomplete sentences.

The authors had good ideas and good intentions. But they needed to take a hard look in a mirror and realize that nobody can do it all. A great book requires the attention of many people, not just the author. It needs editors, layout artists, designers, and media experts. Yes, they cost money. But they make the difference between a great book and a  . . . . book.

How Do You Hook a Bookworm?

I just "scooped" an important post about writing and egos and audiences. You'll find it at:
among other places.

The message rings true to me this morning because most of my week is filled with other people's writings, and I'm realizing how important it is for a writer to step back and think about the people who are going to read a particular book.  I'm one of a group of judges working on a major writing competition. As such, I'm reading stuff I might otherwise never have picked up. And what an eye-opener the experience has been.

I'm spotting contradictions between form and content that I might never have recognized in my own work.  I'm thinking about symbols, and how they can mean different things to different people. For example, I just ripped someone for using a symbol in his company logo that can represent a very negative impression on others.  Then I looked across the desk and saw my own books with their black cat logo. Now, I have a beloved black cat, and to me that little symbol reminds me that Miz-Miz is asleep on the rocking chair across the room, patiently waiting for me to have some time to scratch her ears. How cute she is! But for others? Black cats also mean bad luck, don't they? Maybe my logo needs a little modification.

Other examples of failure to think about the reader are all around me. Several of my assigned readings have an ego-specific component, which in itself is fine, but all too often there is also an underlying assumption about the superiority of one's own nationality, or faith, or ethnic background, or gender, or skin color. What happens when a reader finds himself (or herself) being condemned for the sins of another individual? How does a male reader react when a female author makes a judgmental remark like, "All men are little boys." As writers, we like to think that our stories tell universal truths--that they hold up a mirror to the world. But what if that mirror shows only the reflection of the writer? 

I look across the room at the stack of books waiting for me to assign a ranking, and the responsibility weighs heavily upon me. I keep reminding myself that each book contains the heart and soul of its writer. How can I presume to judge another author? In this context, Roy Faubion's piece, "Remember the Reader," offers a useful guideline. A book that offers something to its readers will touch the world. A book that reflects only the writer's ego pales in comparison.

The Price I Pay for Being a Historian

When people ask me what kind of books i write, it's easy for me to say "historical fiction." And that  answer is a popular one.  I can almost count on someone in any crowd saying, "Ooooo, I LOVE historical fiction." A couple of weeks ago, someone on Facebook recommended that authors should always be ready to answer the question, "What do you do?" with a five-word sentence. Again, i find that answer easy: "I combine fact and fiction."

OK. But when it comes to writing historical fiction, the easy part is over. Fact and fiction are two very different animals, and when you've been trained to stick with facts (and footnote them, too!), the fiction part comes hard.

Over on "ScoopIt" today, I curated an article on this very topic.  It popped onto my computer screen after a long, sleepless night during which I struggled with the facts of Reconstruction in South Carolina and the structure of a fictional book. I'll be re-reading this article a lot in the next weeks, and it occurred to me that there are probably others out there fighting the same sort of problem.

Colin Falconer's description of history as a "pain in the butt" is dead on.  It's messy, it's disorganized, the bad guys often win, and nothing turns out the way it should. Trying to fit the follies of Reconstruction into a novel format -- with a leading character, his antagonist, a clear conflict, rising drama, a crisis at the 75% mark, and a satisfying resolution --is going to be a real challenge. So if I'm quiet for a while, that struggle may be part of the explanation.

If It Sounds Too Good To Be True . . .

Here's the message Kindle Select customers received in their email today:

Today we are excited to introduce Kindle Unlimited-–a new subscription service for readers in the U.S. and a new revenue opportunity for authors enrolled in KDP Select. Customers will be able to read as many books as they want from a library of over 600,000 titles while subscribed to Kindle Unlimited. All books enrolled in KDP Select
with U.S. rights will be automatically included in Kindle Unlimited.
KDP Select authors and publishers will earn a share of the KDP Select global fund each time a customer accesses their book from Kindle Unlimited and reads more than 10% of their book-–about the length of reading the free sample available in Kindle books-–as opposed to a payout when the book is simply downloaded. Only the first time a customer reads a book past 10% will be counted.
KDP Select books will also continue to be enrolled in the Kindle Owners' Lending Library (KOLL) available to Amazon Prime customers in the U.S., U.K., Germany, France, and Japan where authors will continue to earn a share of the KDP Select global fund when their book is borrowed. KOLL borrows will continue to be counted when a book is initially downloaded.
For July, we've added $800,000 to the fund, bringing the July fund amount to $2 million.
Learn more about Kindle Unlimited. Visit your Bookshelf to enroll your titles in KDP Select, and click on "Manage Benefits" to get started.
Best regards,
The Kindle Direct Publishing Team

What's not to like about all that?  Quite a bit, as it turns out.

1. In order to participate in this program, an author must remove his book from all other outlets. If you sell your books to Nook users, or in Apple's iBooks, or in other distributors' catalogues, you have to remove them completely.  Can you spell monopoly?

2. The Kindle Unlimited agreement says the author will receive "a share of the global fund" each month for every time a book is accessed.  But "Share" is not defined, and we already know that the "Global Fund" varies in amount from month to month.So there's no solid information about how much each book access will amount to, except for the fact that it is always subject to change (and I'm betting that change won't be for the better!) The author gives up a set royalty for a gamble.  And just like a casino, you can be pretty sure that the house [read: Amazon] will always win.

3. There's another small detail that bothers me.  The author doesn't get paid until the reader reads more than 10% of the book. Now, how many times have you purchased a book and then discovered that you don't have time to read it right away?  How many books are in your own "to be read" stack?  So in this new arrangement, the author has to wait for you to read the book before he gets paid. Have you ever gone to a movie where you didn't have to pay before you went in?

4. Furthermore, readers, how do you think Amazon is going to know how much you've read? Does that sound like a little invasion of privacy to you? It does to me. And since they don't pay the author if you don't read the book, will they refund your money if you don't read the book? Not a chance!

Is this good for Amazon? Of course! They're betting on those automatic payments of $9.95 a month ($120.00 a year!) to add up, especially when some of their customers forget to cancel the account when they quit ordering books.

As for what it will do for authors who do not drink the kool-aid, that remains to be seen.  Will my readers continue to pay $4.99 for "Damned Yankee" when they can spend $9.95 and get ten books? I hope so, but the prospect is worrisome. I hope you'll think carefully before you jump on this particular bandwagon.

Which Would You Prefer -- Reading or Listening?

I've never used audiobooks.  Curling up with a book has always been my greatest pleasure. The printed word -- whether on paper or electronic screen -- is my catnip. So I was first surprised, and then utterly delighted, to listen to my own book being read by a talented voice-over artist. Suddenly I was hearing things in the story that I had forgotten.  The characters were speaking directly to me. Their emotions became mine. 

I loved it, and not just because I was listening to my own book.  The sensation of listening to a story takes me back to my own childhood. The first book I remember hearing was (naturally) a cat story called "What about Whiskers?", and I still have it somewhere. But reading it now, while fun, is no match for hearing my mother's voice reading the story to me. Maybe that's why I'm so pleased with this new release.

Here's  the audio version of Beyond All Price, originally published in 2010. This biographical novel is based on the life of Nellie M. Chase, who served with the Roundhead Regiment as their matron and nurse during 1862. Readers met Nellie for the first time in A Scratch with the Rebels. Now Nellie gets to tell her own story -- how she came to the Roundheads, and what happened to her after the Battle of Secessionville.

The audio version was produced by ACX, the audio branch of Amazon, and is available through several channels: Amazon, Audible.com, and  Apple iTunes.  The book's narrator and producer, Adrianne Price, is a multi-talented voice-over artist. Here's a small sample as she reads a confrontation between Nellie and a wise old slave woman from Beaufort, South Carolina, about the dangers of running away from one's troubles.

You need Flash Player in order to view this.

Want to hear more? Just click on the album cover above to download your own copy.