Was it murder--or something serious?
Philip Marlow in Murder, My Sweet

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

To Say Nothing of the Dog

I've been trying to catch up on the stack of Publisher's Weekly collecting dust by the sofa and I happened upon their bi-annual Self-Publishing Edition.

I've got to give those folks who submit to their work for review in that edition credit because PW really goes in for the snark these days, and they sure as hell don't temper it for newbies. Not that they should, but...ouch.

Anyway, what really caught my eye were the ads run by Authorhouse and iUniverse. Or, more exactly, the blurbs for the books being advertised.

I really think the three key elements to attracting the random book shopper online (which is pretty much where all self-pubbed work is sold) are TITLE, COVER, and BLURB.

Now writing a great book is difficult. Selling a great book is difficult. But putting together a great title, a great cover and a great blurb? Not so difficult.

Actually, let me revise that. Putting together a great cover is not easy (I sure can't do it), but it's easy to find someone to do that for you for a reasonable price.

But these blurbs! Godalmighty. I mean, I hate writing blurbs as much as anyone but...

Jordan never took things for granted. He knew the value of one's dog and a beloved girlfriend -- when unworldly puppets kidnap them he chases them through a twisted portal! Somehow he must save his girl. He must get them back.

I puzzled over that one for a while. Putting aside all those unwieldy "thems"....unworldly puppets. Hmm. Does the author mean OTHER worldly puppets or does he actually mean puppets that don't get out much -- barring the occasional beloved girl and dog-napping? WHAT is a twisted portal? And that poor hardworking exclamation point trying valiantly to infuse a little excitement into the proceedings. Or preceedings, as the case may be.

And then finally that limp last line, which reads like a pained attempt to get some afterthought reference to the dog in there, since the dog was specifically mentioned.

Or this one.

Get ready for a 3D emotional rollercoaster ride. You will laugh and cry with all your senses being aroused. Read Scherf's Poems and you'll reflect on, remember and relive your emotions evoked by a profound relationship and the growth you experienced from loving.


It's so difficult to feel my way past the 3D emotional rollercoaster ride. I mean...aren't roller coaster rides already in 3D? And the laughing and crying with all senses aroused. So...I'm smelling, hearing, tasting, seeing, feeling my laughter and tears?

I guess what's most distressing here is this is a blurb for a book of poetry, and if anyone ought to know how to make each and every word count, it should be a poet.

The key to writing a good blurb is to keep it smart and simple. Just say what you mean -- while focusing on what would make that interesting to someone else.

I'm not trying to be mean here. It's just...the blurbs are the easy part. If the blurb is a mess, why would anyone take a chance on the book?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Road Not Taken

Last night I nerved myself to break down the doors and enter the tomb that is Diana's email.

Pretty much as chilling an experience as expected. The last time I checked that email was February 2011. And the time before that was September 2009.

There were letters from libraries, booksellers, readers...all unanswered, all ignored, all -- eventually -- forgotten.

Awful. Awful. An awful way to treat people who were kind enough to write me.

It brought back anxious-making memories of when I began to let my blog responsibilities slip. First my own blog, then Cozy Chicks, then even The Good Girls. I remember hearing fellow authors talk about joining Twitter and Facebook and Goodreads -- and I wanted to throw up. I quit my discussion lists, I went on hiatus at I Love a Mystery, I resigned from all my blogs. And finally I quit even checking my Diana email.

It was not a retreat, it was a rout. It was a matter of survival. I had stretched as far as I could stretch and something had to give. It turned out to be Diana Killian. It's not like I wanted things to go that way. I'd worked hard to build my Diana brand, and I was grateful for the success I'd had. But you can only stretch so far, and I opted for...Brand X. The brand that paid the bills. More importantly, the writing that inspired and excited and fulfilled me.

It was the right choice. No question.

Had I stayed on the Diana road, continued promoting, pushing...well, I see where the writers I started out with are now. I think it comes down to what you want from your writing career. Money and satisfaction in the work has always been paramount for me. Name recognition...not so much. In fact, that's alarming. Contrary to the writer temperament, I think.

I wonder if part of the gamble was my bitterness over the way things had gone with the Poetic Death series. It's such an old story in publishing now -- well, it was then too, but it was new to me. I do feel bad that I didn't lift a finger to promote the yoga series or the fourth Poetic Death when it came out from Perseverance Press. It wasn't a choice, though. There are only 24 hours in a day and I was working a minimum of 16 of them 365 days a year.

 So now I've faced the ghosts and deleted most of them out. What can you really say after a year or three?  It's a relief to have that over and done with. Bit by bit, I'm reclaiming Diana, but with it comes the attendant anxiety. Am I taking too much on? Even with my vastly reduced work schedule, is it going to be too difficult to juggle these disparate online worlds? If I'm going to end up dropping all the balls again, it would be better not to pick them up in the first place...

Friday, July 13, 2012

Just One of Those Things now available

Way back when Mr. Thrilling and I first hooked up, we put together a little anthology of crime stories written by members of the Wicked Company mystery discussion group. The anthology was called Down These Wicked Streets. I wrote a little shorty that was in effect a bit of a love letter to Mr. Thrilling, who at the time I only knew online.

Anyway, the story was set in 1935 and it featured a smarty-pants female operative not long out of college, a bit idealistic, very adventurous -- and who was also an aspiring writer of the pulps. I loved writing about Mary Kelly, and I envisioned doing a number of stories about her, but everyone I talked to (with the exception of Mr. Thrilling who had been wooed and won by Mary) warned me that girl detectives and historical mysteries set in the 30s were just not selling.

Which was true. Of course now days I would say damn the torpedoes and write exactly what I wanted to, but back then I very much wanted to be a successful writer when I grew up. And I believed the best way to do that was to follow the approved path to mainstream publishing. Not that High Rhymes and Misdemeanors was exactly on the beaten path, but it wasn't ranging through the woods tearing down log cabins and eating redwoods. If you know what I mean.

So I reluctantly shelved my Mary Kelly stories -- in fact, I'd been writing a serial novella on my website, and I got so busy and was so convinced I was wasting my time, I abandoned it after a few chapters.

Fast forward and I've decided to resume work on the Kelly books. We've started by taking the original short story and putting it up on Amazon as a Kindle exclusive.

I don't know that it will always be a Kindle exclusive. In fact, I don't approve of Kindle exclusives, but this was easiest to start with.

Welcome back, Mary!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Peaceful Easy Feeling

I've been getting weekly massages for several months now. I always promised myself that if I ever managed to write myself to a financially secure position, the two things I would grant myself would be housekeeping service and regular massage.

Of course, it's one thing to say it, it's another thing to do it, and even after I was able to catch up and then surpass what I'd been making in the old day job, I couldn't get up the nerve for a long time to grant myself either of those things. Yet as self-indulgent as they sound, my reasoning was largely practical. I have trouble focusing on work when the house is a mess (and it was ALWAYS a mess), so I knew eliminating the mess was going to be good for my concentration and my general mood. And so it has proven.

The massage was more about the ongoing pain in my hands, wrists and arms. Also my ongoing battle with stress -- which continues even though I've basically hit every single goal I ever set myself growing up. That's because those goals have been immediately replaced with new goals. Such is the way of life. My life, at least.

Anyway, after all those years of reading the health benefits of massage, I knew there could be no downside. So I started booking regular appointments. I've been lucky enough to find a wonderful therapist and while I have been known to cancel a much-needed hair appointment and even put off dental appointments, I NEVER miss a massage appointment.

But something I realized early on was that lying on the table and expecting to instantly and magically relax, just wasn't going to happen. In fact, for the first weeks, I found myself falling into the same routine that troubles me at night sometimes. I finally relax, start to get drowsy...and am hit with a wave of everything I need to do or forgot to do or could be doing...


Despite the warmed, clean sheets and soft lights and soothing music, I was lying there buzzing like a live wire thinking of everything I needed to do the minute I left the studio.

I realized that relaxation was a two-way street and that I couldn't just lie there like a lump and expect the wonderful Erin to do all the work. Which probably sounds counter-intuitive, but relaxation requires work. I really have had to learn to focus on what I'm experiencing on the table and not let my mind wonder out of the room. Just as with yoga, I concentrate on my breathing and my muscles and finding a harmonious lack of thought. 

The last one is the hardest. It is very hard not to think -- or at least not to think in concrete terms of getting this done, getting that done. And the last thing I want is for my massage sessions to turn into silent brainstorming Things To Do.

It's getting easier with each month and I feel like I'm getting more and more out of each session. So now when I leave, I really do feel relaxed and calm. And, okay, maybe a bit pampered.

The Book Biz

I received this announcement on one of the discussion lists I belong to, and for some reason it tickled my funny bone. Has it really come to this?

Good Morning Everyone,

I just wanted to share the latest news from XYZ  Books Publishing.

XYZ Books proudly announces that award-winning author Judy May Winnmahl is joining the XYZ Books family. Judy brings 20 years of dynamic, cutting edge storytelling to XYZ, and her achievements include: 2 ACLS awards and a Niche Award nomination. We are thrilled to have such an accomplished author on our team. Please share in our excitement by welcoming her to the XYZ Books family. We look forward to an exciting new chapter at XYZ Books with Judy May on board.

Look for Judy May Winnmahl's newest releases: Night Fall, in the Fall paranormal series, and Get Out, in the Get Off It series, coming from XYZ Books in 2013.

You can find more information about Judy May Winnmahl by visiting the XYZ Books website .

Not that there is anything intrinsically wrong with it -- what author doesn't want to be welcomed and fussed over by a new publisher? It's just this could have been lifted (and I suspect was) from someone's day job email loop. That line about bringing 20 years of dynamic, cutting edge storytelling to the company. It's so...corporate.

But then again, I'm always complaining that too many writers don't view their writing careers like a real job. It doesn't get much more running-your-writing-career-like-a-business than this.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Oliver's Travels

I've been watching Oliver's Travels. This was a PBS Mystery! series that I'd heard a bit about over the years and as it was described as witty and quirky, I thought it might be fun. I hunted till I finally found a used copy on Amazon.

I'm sorry to say that it's turned out to be more quirky than witty, and probably more silly than genuinely quirky.

Bates and Cusack do a very solid job with the talky script and the convoluted plot. It's the kind of thing that probably works better as a book, although I don't think this ever was a book. I believe it was created for television.

Mr. Thrilling could only take two episodes. I suspect it will prove most useful for falling asleep to.

I'm sincerely hoping the copy of Jemima Shore Investigates that I managed to locate turns out to be a greater success.

Still looking for a copy of Brat Farrar.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012