By Keith G. Laufenberg
It was suggested to me that I write an article about writing the 400 page novel Semper-Fi-Do-Or-Die and I have decided to take up that challenge.
Semper-Fi was a story that I knew that I wanted to write and indeed felt I had to write, almost from the time I got out of the Marine Corps but it took me many, many years of writing poems and short stories before I felt I was ready to take on this task which I first approached in the early 1980's, and very hesitantly. I knew what I wanted to write and I knew exactly that it would be divided into four parts (books). A writer is lucky if he has this vision before he even begins writing. Some stories you just begin and the story progresses as you go, as in many of the poems and short stories I have written, but sometimes, as in this case, you have this vision, as I did. This is usually true for me when I have lived through either part or all, of the story personally, as I had in this case. But I had a dilemma and that dilemma was reality vs. research.
What I mean by that is that I knew that I had to include the Vietnam War in a book about the Marine Corps set in the 60's and 70's and I hadn't served in Vietnam. I knew that anyone who read the book would take it for granted that the author had been in the Corps and had served in Vietnam. I was in the Corps, for 3 years, but never in Vietnam and so I knew that the first two parts (books) would be, and were, easier to write than the last two.
It took me twice as long to write Book Three and Four as it did to write Book One and Two and that was due primarily to research but a funny thing happened in my search for the truth, which, by the way, is what every writer is searching for when he writes anything, in my opinion. The funny thing that happened is that, after many, many months of research and many first drafts, I came to the conclusion that Book Three and Book Four were going to be more fulfilling and maybe even more truthful than Book One and Book Two, even though I had lived through the first two books and did almost no research when I wrote them. How can this be then, if truth is, as they say, the daughter of Time. I think that is, indeed, exactly, why, because time not only reveals truth but blurs the mind to the exactness of it and so if we are all given but partial and fragmented glimpses of the truth, and not pure truth, then the more that one glimpses this truth the better a story can he write. And so saying this, I was only one who wrote Book One and Book Two, by his own recollections, but Book Three and Book Four were written by many, like my good friend Dennis Byrne, who served in Vietnam or his brothers Jackie and Jerry, or my neighbor Richard Anway, another Nam vet, along with dozens of others that I spoke with or whose story's I read in one book or another. Of course this is a novel and, I suppose you could say that, because of that, I shouldn't worry about the truth of it but, on the contrary, I believe it is possible to actually get as much truth from a novel as it is from what claims to be a factual report because in a factual report everything has to usually be cleared by those in power and those in power very seldom wish to hear the truth and therefore, as Voltaire said, he who seeks truth should be of no country.And also, those factual reports are almost always written and/or reported by more than just one person. It is my belief that a writer can get more truth alone if he only owes his allegiance to the truth, which is to say to God. Just as daylight follows the night the light shall overcome the darkness in the end and truth shall prevail and, I believe, that when that truth concerns a war such as Vietnam, which is almost identical to Iraq in its absurdity, and who we're fighting and why we're there, than it is critical that the truth prevail if there is even a smithereens of a chance that it could help to prevent an escalation in Iraq or another war, because, in the end, any novel, or factual book or report, on a war should be anti-war, because if it shows the reality of war then who could be in favor of that, more, war.
And so, I believe I have written as fairly and truthfully this book that I call 'Semper-Fi-Do-Or-Die'.
Yet the deepest truths are best read between the lines, and, for the most part, refuse to be written.---Amos Bronson Alcott, Concord Days: June.
But, I wish to contend that in Semper-Fi, the truth refused NOT to be written and was written as best that I could write it.
Pure truth hath no man seen nor e'er shall know.---Xenophanes, Fragments. No. 34.
What shall I tell Xenophanes then?
I shall tell him that even if he is right, that man still seeks this truth, and even if the light shines too brightly for us to see this truth, then we shall write it down, quickly, so that we may know it when it does come and when we do see it.
And, as long as we have a breath in our bodies we shall search for it and then have the guts and faith to proclaim it, whether it is popular or not and whether it hurts you or not.
I have found that the harder it is to write something the more a writer should attempt to write it and that's why I wrote this short piece that you have just read.
The Missing Links to Successful Authorship
By Patricia L. Fry
It happened again today. A new author contacted me through the SPAWN Web site asking for—no, begging for—help with promoting his book. Like so many hopeful authors, he wrote the book of his dreams and then signed a contract with the first publisher who expressed an interest in his manuscript. In this case it was AuthorHouse, but it could have been PublishAmerica, Lulu, Trafford or any number of other “self-publishing” services.
What’s wrong with this picture? Isn’t the author’s ultimate goal to get published? Yes, but the author who goes directly from writing to publishing is omitting some essential and vital steps toward his success—there are missing links. If you’ve searched the Internet for a publisher within the last few years, you know how many companies are pushing to get your business. Type in “book publisher” at the Google prompt and your screen is filled with promises to publish your book for a fee. Choose one, almost any one, and they will tell you what a wonderful manuscript you have and quickly offer you a publishing contract.
Now there’s a thrill. You call your mom, aunt Mary, cousin Sid and all of your former co-workers to share the exciting news. After giving it a quick glance, you sign the contract and then sit back and wait for your shipment of three (four or six) books. You order several more copies to give to mom, aunt Mary, cousin Sid and your favorite former co-workers.
In the meantime, I’m counting the minutes, hours and days until you contact me (or someone like me) asking for help. Because, at some point, you will suddenly realize that it is your responsibility to promote your book and you don’t have a clue where to begin. It’s true! As the author, promotion is your responsibility whether you land a traditional royalty publisher, go with a fee-based POD publishing service or self-publish your book.
Some of you will also go back over the contract you signed and figure out that where it says, “We will make your book available to bookstores,” doesn’t mean “Your books will be sold by the thousands through bookstores nationwide.” Instead, it means, “If a bookseller comes asking for a book like this, we will tell them about your book.”
Yes, I speak to many disappointed, disillusioned authors every year. That’s why I’m currently on a mission to find authors before they start making expensive, heart-breaking mistakes. Now this is not to say that signing with a fee-based POD publishing service is necessarily a mistake. The mistakes occur when the author is not industry savvy—when he or she makes uninformed decisions.
So what constitutes the missing links I speak of? What are the steps an author should take after placing of the last period on his manuscript and before signing a publishing contract? See below.
Note: Actually, I’d rather you follow these steps even BEFORE you write the first word of a novel, memoir or nonfiction book.
1: Determine your motivation for writing this book. If you have a book inside that just must come out and you’re interested only in sharing it with family and a few friends, go ahead and do your thing your way. On the other hand, if you are driven by the desire for fame and fortune—if you want to be published and widely read—keep reading. It could make the difference between pitiful failure and wild success.
2: Study the publishing industry. You wouldn’t start any other business without knowing something about the field. Well, publishing is a business and your book is a product. It’s imperative that you know something about the industry, your publishing options and the ramifications or consequences of your choices. When you take the time to learn about publishing, you’ll also begin to understand that you—the author—are responsible for selling your book. This fact comes as a shock to many hopeful authors, especially those who learn the truth after they’ve entered into the extremely competitive publishing field.
Learn about the publishing industry by joining publishing organizations such as SPAWN (Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network) www.spawn.org, SPAN and PMA. Read magazines and newsletters related to the industry: SPAWNews, PMA Independent, SPAN Connection, Book Promotion Newsletter, RJ Communications Publishing Basics and many others.
Read books such as, “The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book,” “The Successful Writer’s Handbook,” (by Patricia Fry), “The Self-Publishing Manual” (by Dan Poynter) and “The Fine Print of Self-Publishing,” (by Mark Levine)
3: Write a book proposal. A book proposal is a business plan for your book. It’s something that you need in order to make the best decisions for your book and you might even land a traditional royalty publisher with a well-written book proposal. A proposal for a nonfiction book might include a synopsis, a marketing plan, a comparative study of similar books and a chapter outline. It will also identify your target audience and, if you plan to approach a publisher with your proposal, you would include an “about the author” section.
4: Identify your competition. Why is this important? You (and a prospective publisher) need to know if yours is a viable book. Is the market saturated in this area or is there room for another book on this topic? How is your book different from what else is out there? If there are no or few books on the topic or in this genre, perhaps there is a reason. Maybe there is no market for this book.
How do you conduct a comparative study of similar books? Visit a major bookstore in your area and go to the shelf where your book might be. Look at all of the books shelved there. Read many of them. Determine what’s different about yours—what makes it better? Maybe you’ll discover that your book idea is quite similar to several published books. Can you come up with an angle or a slant that is different—one that makes your book more useful, interesting, entertaining or informative, for example? If your nonfiction book is just like all the others, why bother producing it?
How healthy is the fiction market? Your comparative study will most likely reveal what sort of fiction is popular today. Young adult novels are selling well, for example. There also seems to be a big desire for fantasy and thrillers.
Maybe you plan to write a memoir. If you are not a high profile person, you may want to rethink your desire to write a memoir for national distribution. Many authors write memoirs in hopes of using their own tragic stories to educate or inform others. You may well discover that a memoir isn’t the best way to do that. Ask the hard questions and use the comparative study of similar books to get the answers you need in order to make all of the right decisions.
5: Identify your target audience. Even before you write that book, you need to know who you are addressing. If it is a historical novel, presumably, those who typically read historical novels will be interested in yours. It’s a little tricky, though. Most novel readers are loyal to certain authors and aren’t easily lured to read something by an unknown.
If yours is a nonfiction book, you must identify the audience who wants the information you are providing or who is interested in the topic. This does not include those who you believe should read the book, but those who will want to read the book. If you are honest in the evaluation of your target audience, you may discover that it isn’t a very large segment of people. This knowledge may even prompt you to change the focus of your book or abandon the project altogether. I can’t even begin to tell you how many authors I meet who have written the wrong book for the wrong audience and now regret the money spent, the time involved and the emotions invested.
6: Locate your target audience. So now that you know who they are, you need to know where they are. And if you say, “Bookstores,” you’re probably wrong. Bookstores aren’t always the best place to sell books, especially nonfiction books. Just look at the competition in the mega-bookstores. Your book on gnarly ski slopes throughout the U.S. might sell better through winter sports stores and catalogs, appropriate Web sites, magazines and newsletters and at ski resorts. A book on dog grooming would sell best in pet stores, grooming shops and through reviews and articles in pet magazines, for example.
If you discover that you don’t have a solid target audience, take another look at your book idea. Maybe you need to refocus. Now doesn’t it make sense to discover the truth about your book before you publish it?
7: Plan your promotional tactics. Some people will buy the book just because they know you or know who you are. So start by developing a massive mailing list. List everyone in your personal addressbook, your rolodex at work, your class reunion roster, your Christmas card list, you email list and add your child’s teachers, fellow church and club members, your mailman, neighbors—everyone you know. Collect business cards from everyone you meet. Offer your list a pre-publication discount if they order the book before the publication date. I have managed to pay a good portion of my printing expenses for several of my books through pre-publication orders.
Build a Web site related to your book. List magazines, newsletters and Web sites that might review your book. Outline articles/stories you can write to help promote your book. (Read, “A Writer’s Guide to Magazine Articles for Book Promotion and Profit” by Patricia Fry.) Obtain a list of civic organizations seeking speakers. Contact bookstores nationwide and plan book signings. Ask local radio/TV stations to interview you. Send press releases to appropriate newspaper editors throughout the nation. Discover many additional book promotion ideas in books by Patricia Fry, John Kremer, Fran Silverman and others.
8: Build promotion into your book. For a novel, choose a setting and a topic that will be conducive to promotion. For example, give a character diabetes. If he handles it in a positive way or has something to teach others about the disease, the American Diabetes Association might be interested in helping you to promote your book. For a history or a how-to book, involve a lot of people and agencies. Interview people, quote them and list those people and agencies who helped with your research. They’ll all buy books and promote the book to their friends and acquaintances.
9: Establish your platform. Your platform is your following—your way of getting the attention of your target audience. The most successful authors are those who establish a platform before they produce a book. If your book relates to conserving California water, your platform might be that you have been the general manager of a water company for 25 years and on the California State Water Board for most of that time. You have name recognition and credibility in that field.
Maybe your book is on an aspect of acupuncture. Your platform might include the fact that you’ve studied and taught acupuncture internationally for many years. You’ve written articles for numerous magazines on topics related to acupuncture, you have a column in a local newspaper on alternative healing practices, you have a Web site and a newsletter that goes out to 20,000 people.
What if you have no platform? The time to establish one is before you write the book. Maybe you want to write a book on personal finances after retirement, but you don’t have a professional background in finance. Here are some things you can do. Build on the financial background you do have—join organizations, take classes and become known in financial and senior circles. Involve experts in your book—maybe even share authorship with someone who is well-known in the financial field. Join Toastmasters to develop better public speaking skills and start presenting workshops locally for retirees. Write articles for a variety of magazines. Develop a Web site and start circulating a newsletter related to your topic.
If you hope to sell more than just a few copies of your book to friends and relatives, follow each of these nine steps and you will experience the success you desire.
Patricia Fry is the author of 25 books, including “The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book.” www.matilijapress.com/rightway.html. Visit her blog often: www.matilijapress.com/publishingblog.
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The World of Writing
By Dave and Lillian Brummet
What was it like as new authors in the publishing world?
As free-lance writers of informative articles, we had no prior experience with book publishers. We did a lot of research and were aware of some basic contract and publishing procedures, yet there were many things we were not prepared for. For instance, there was the book cover design to conceive of - which our good friend Brian McAndrew created. The back cover text had to be developed, an author's bio written, photos to have taken and lists of nearly 2 hundred contacts to sort out. The marketing research took weeks to do, but it resulted in a 12-page plan to ease our way. Then there were formal things like dealing with the Library of Congress and Copyrighting. For instance, copies of the book had to be sent to the Library of Congress at our expense. There are rules to be aware of as well. The rights for free use (using quotes from other people) is so gray that we opted out of including this kind of text. Unfortunately, that meant more editing. We were disappointed because there were some very good quotes that would have added a great deal to the book.
What were some publishing experiences or unexpected turn of events?
While Lillian was browsing the Internet looking up information on other publishers, she came upon Publish America's website. It inspired her to send a query in on the spot. Within 3-days we received a request for a sample manuscript. Now, these publishers only accept 20% of the thousands of queries that cross their desks, so we were excited to have such a good response in a very short time. Unfortunately, we were also relocating our home from one part of town to another, finishing a garden year and working as well. Time was short and stress was high. We got that sample manuscript off in a timely fashion, however, and we received an acceptance within a few days. The heady sensation of signing the 7-year contract flew by us in a blur.
What time and resources do we put in for promoting the book?
Every day we put in 2-6 hours into some aspect of the book. The Internet has proven to be a powerful tool where an immense amount of information can be found from newsletters, publishers, forums and authors. Every on-line communication we have is an opportunity to plug our book by simply attaching an auto signature. We developed promotional materials (flyers, mini-posters, large posters, bookmarks, labels) and, of course, galleys and sample packages for editors and booksellers. Most importantly, we had a great website built for us by Brian McAndrew of Beyond Graphix.
What did you learn in researching the book?
We thought we were committed to the concept of the book in our lives, but when researching and writing this book we found we became much more motivated, more committed and more informed about waste reduction.
As a writer, what have you learned about staying organized or motivated?
Having a plan of action for every project is vital. Every project should have an outline starting from the title through to the end. There should also be a market plan laid out. Who are you marketing to? How you are going about it? What will you do first? These are the most important tools of a writer. Most people think of a writing career being one where you have lots of leisure time and creating with words. On the contrary, most of the time is spent marketing and organizing projects. For instance, we might write an article and query it to a market. That market may take a few days to get back to us, but it may also be as long as a year before we hear from them. That article is idle and we do not get paid until after it is published. A writer may have hundreds of pieces of their work at various stages of writing and marketing at one time. They need to know where it is and its status, at a glance. We use the Excel program to take care of this. For the book, plans were indispensable. The market plan alone is a book in itself and will take us years to complete. That is normal, actually. A writer must spend much of their time promoting the book for years after publication in order to keep sales happening. Unfortunately, promotion and writing time are unpaid hours in the meantime.
When do you write?
We have to do a bit of juggling to manage our business, day job and writing career with some kind of balance. Usually, We work as a team, though we write separately and then conglomerate and edit the work together. Because we share one computer, this can be a bit of a juggle. Dave works shift work so when he is at work or sleeping Lillian will use the computer to research and promote.
What is your professional background?
Dave and Lillian began their (paid) writing career working as staff writers at Openminder Newsletter where they experienced the harried pace of getting several articles and even feature or interview articles ready for a by-weekly deadline. It was our start in the writing world and plunged us head-first into the community, interviewing unique and enterprising people. The concept of Trash Talk was already developed and this market snatched up the column immediately. When Openminder closed shop, we started a free-lance career. Our articles have since appeared in a variety of magazines including Seeds of Diversity, Country Connection and ISKRA.
Have you won any awards or contests?
Yes, Dave has recently won first prize in the Nature category of BC Cottage Magazine's 2004 Photo contest. Lillian has won several editorial awards for her poetry and has had her work published in 5 hardcover anthology books of poetry through contests.
What is the most important lesson in your writing career?
Research. If you know something is coming up, research it and make a plan of action well ahead of time. If we did not start the market plan and develop a plan of action and estimated schedule soon after finding out the manuscript was accepted, we would have never been ready for the myriad of work ahead of us, much of which is time-sensitive. Doing it right is essential - there is but little chance to make an impression with a reviewer, reader or publication. Even with the best of preparation you will be caught off guard or unprepared. Don't sweat it too much if you make a mistake. Think of it as a lesson.
Have you any advice for new writers?
We hate to sound redundant, but again, do your research. Join forums and research the previous messages for several months ago. You will find many novice questions are thoroughly answered with many different people contributing ideas and opinions. Always research your market and query them in a professional manner before sending a finished product.