I write daily. I must. Creators—painters, photographers, musicians, and writers too—are like athletes: to keep in the game, you must stay fit. In order to strengthen our plots and dig deep into our characters, authors have to stretch their minds.

We can't do this by sitting in front of a computer for five to eight hours (or more) a day.

For me, even a hour or two's worth of scenery allows me to rethink work in progress. And because I have the great blessing of being married to a writer, we do our best to take our breaks together.

When we do, we walk.

Martin and Josie Cascade Falls MV

We are very fortunate in that we live in a beautiful place: San Francisco, California. If you're not opposed to taking in a few hills when you come upon one (a great cardio workout) it truly is a very walkable town. They say San Francisco is seven miles long by seven miles wide. On a normal day, we'll walk four to five of those. On a day in which we really want to get out of our heads, we'll walk as many as ten miles.

During that time, we talk: sometimes about our three wonderful kids, but mostly about our plots.

If you're a writer and you have a critique partner, you know the drill: you've chosen someone who knows and appreciates your work, understands your characters, and with whom you feel comfortable enough to explain the plot hole you may have fallen into.

Maybe they'll come up with an insight that you somehow missed. Maybe not. But just hearing you explain the concern out loud, you'll work through it. You'll have some sort of “Eureka” moment. 

Even if you don't, you'll be in sunlight. You'll hear others' conversations as you pass them. Something in the sky will catch your eye. Or maybe it'll be something on the bay. Or a front door of a house you've never seen before. Or wisteria is in bloom, and you it stops you in your tracks.

By the way, if you write but have not yet found a critique partner—and for that matter, if you are just dipping a toe in the process—check out the writers' collective known as the 85K Writing Challenge. There, you'll be inspired and challenge to come up with a daily word count that may result in the book you know lives within you. It is the brainchild of Author Julie Valerie, whose debut novel, Holly Banks, Full of Angst, will be out Fall 2019.

If we have the time, sometime we cross the Golden Gate Bridge and take in one of the many hikes in the trails in and around the tiny gem-like towns of Marin County. One of our favorites is in Mill Valley, California. Many of the houses are built on the lanes that zig and zag through the foothills leading up to Mount Tamalpais—or, as the Miwoks (first people of the area) called it, “the sleeping lady.”  This time of year, especially after a rainy season, a few of the falls that in the area are at full strength. The most accessible, and perhaps the most beautiful waterfall in this town is called Cascade.

I want to share it with you.

If you click onto this video you'll enjoy a tiny moment of zen.

—Josie

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Why Authors Choose to Self-Publish

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Most authors walk a financial tightrope. 

Hey, don't take my word for it. In a September 2015 an article on a recent Authors Guild survey of its members' incomes,  Publishers Weekly put it this way:

 

Authors Guild Survey quote

Yikes.

Thank goodness for self-publishing. It saved my career, and those of many other authors I know.

Even with four novels (one optioned for television) and two-nonfiction books published traditionally, as early as 2010 I'd dipped my toe into the choppy waves of self-publishing. My subsequent success with it is why I now self-publish exclusively.

Whereas self-publishing has grown by leaps and bounds in the past ten years, ours wasn't the first generation to discover its financial rewards. Jane Austen, Emily Dickinson, Marcel Proust, and Walt Whitman self-published their books. Misery loves great company indeed.

But before self-publishing became a financially viable option for the current generation of writers, traditional publishing—that is to say, print books, primarily by one of the Big Five New York publishing houses—was the only venue for the sale and distribution of books. Even ten years ago, the thing authors love to do most—write novels—was not possible without running an unwieldy gauntlet that put their manuscripts in front of any literary agency that might deem the book sellable to a publisher, and any publishing house editor who might actually like it enough to purchase it. 

Besides editing, printing, and distributing a book, part of the publisher's job is also to promote it. For doing so  the publisher holds on to anywhere from 80-92 percent of the book's retail price.

(Yep, some authors get only an 8 percent royalty. Worse yet, royalties are paid twice yearly, and they are only paid if their books "earn out"—that is, return any advance paid, which may not happen for years if at all, what with the other variables tied to this equation, including book returns, of which there are no cut-offs; and perhaps the payback of advances of other books as well.)

Sadly, in traditional publishing, marketing is the last consideration—never the first—when purchasing a book from an author. Compared to other products as a whole—and entertainment products in particular, including films, music, magazines, and video games—it gets a negligible budget, if any at all.

Steve Hamilton Publishers WeeklyDon't take my word for it.  In this article regarding the breakup between bestselling thriller writer Steve Hamilton and his former publishing house, St. Martin's Press, Publishers Weekly outs its industry's dirty little secret: there is no there, there:

 A book can be beautifully written, have scintillating dialogue and a page-turning plot. But without the adequate marketing and promotion that puts it in front of a targeted audience, a book is as dead as a beached whale. 

At this point in time, most Authors Guild members are traditionally published. Coupled with the Hamilton/SMP breakup, the Authors Guild survey certainly makes an excellent case for the guild to reconsider what it must do to protect its members. For example, the guild—along with literary agents and intellectual property attorneys—should insist that any publishing contract contain clauses that:

(a) Succinctly spell out a yearly quantitative financial base for the book, with instant reversion to the author if not met. Right now, most publishing contracts hold onto rights forever, under the assumption that digital distribution means that a book never goes out of print.

(b) Outline an advertising budget, tied to an actual, very specific media plan for the marketing of the book—at least for the first full year in print—and allow for immediate reversion of rights if there is no follow-through.

Is it any wonder that hybrid authors—that is to say, those authors who have been published traditionally, but then, like me, elected to publish their books independently of a publishing house—are a growing breed? Of course not. Like everyone else, authors have to eat. They have to pay rents and mortgages. They raise children, and pay for health insurance, taxes, and all the other expenses that come with being self-employed.

I personally know many hybrid authors. Under the traditional publishing model, their advances and sales shrunk along with the demise of both chain bookstores, and the winnowing of independent brick-and-mortar bookstores in the most recent recession. Several of these authors were at the brink of financial disaster (homes soon to be repossessed, couch-surfing, near bankruptcy) when they made the decision to walk away from traditional publishing contracts. After doing so, they rolled up their shirtsleeves and did what they had to do to self-publish: write good books; have their books professionally edited and digitally converted; distribute their books—primarily as eBooks.

The successful one know they must also promote their books.

The good news for their readers: the books are priced lower than their offerings still distributed by their traditional publishers. 

The great news for these authors: now that they retain 70 percent of the book's retail price, they are making a sustainable living for themselves and their families.

Some are doing better than that, having already sold millions of books since starting this journey. Sylvia DayBarbara Freethy, Stephanie Bond,  Bella Andre, and Kate Perry are perfect examples of hybrid authors who took advantage of the changing bookselling marketplace to not just survive, but to thrive. And whereas Ms. Day, Ms. Andre and Ms. Bond still have one foot in traditional publishing, Ms. Freethy and Ms. Perry are in total control of every facet of their books' design, distribution and promotion. 

Another hybrid author who made the leap to indie publishing and never looked back was thriller novelist Barry Eisler. Recently, I had the opportunity to interview him for the International Thriller Writers Organization's e-zine, "The Big Thrill." Some of what Barry says regarding the advantages of self-publishing versus traditional publishing can be found in the article linked here.

However, some of our Q&A was cut. Since the questions are relevant to this post's topic, I've included them here:

JB: If there were one (or two, or three) things you could change about the publishing industry and the novelist’s role within it, what would it be?

BE: The first thing I’d like to change is the popular perception that organizations like the Authors Guild and Authors United primarily represent authors rather than establishment publishers. I have no problem with organizations advocating for publisher interests, but the dishonest way in which the AG and AU go about their publishing industry advocacy misleads a lot of authors. I could go on at length about this topic and in fact I have—so for anyone who wants to better understand the real agenda and function of these “author” organizations, I’d recommend starting with this article I wrote for Techdirt, Authors Guilded, United, and Representing…Not Authors.

JB: But isn’t it true that the AG speaks out on various topics of concern to authors, like unconscionable contract terms?

BE: Hah, the AG going after publishers is like Hillary Clinton going after Wall Street. I’ve had a lot to say about this, including thecomments I wrote in response to this post at The Passive Voice.For anyone who’s curious, just search for my name and you’ll find the comments, the gist of which is, when the AG wants to accomplish something, it names names and litigates; when it wants authors to think it’s trying to accomplish something but in fact isn’t (or, more accurately, when what it’s trying to accomplish is maintenance of the publishing status quo), it talks.

When the AG talks, it’s a head fake. The body language is what to look for in determining the organization’s actual allegiances and priorities.

Another thing I’d like to change is the generally abysmal level of legacy publisher performance in what at least in theory are legacy publisher core competencies. Whether it’s cover design, the bio, or fundamental principles of marketing, legacy publishers are content with a level of mediocrity that would be an embarrassment in any other industry. I’ve seen little ability within legacy publishing companies to distill principles from fact patterns (particularly patterns involving failures) and then apply those principles in new circumstances. Institutional memory and the transmission of institutional knowledge and experience are notably weak in the culture of the Big Five. My guess is that the weakness is a byproduct of insularity and complacency brought on by a lack of competition.

JB: Agreed. Having spent fifteen years in advertising before becoming a novelist, I was abhorred as to what passed for “marketing and promotion.

BE: I'd also like to increase awareness of the danger a publishing monopoly represents to the interests of authors and readers. No, I’m not talking about Amazon; “Amazon is a Monopoly!” is a canard and a bogeyman. I’m talking about the real, longstanding monopoly in publishing (or call is a quasi-monopoly, or a cartel), which is the insular, incestuous New York Big Five. An important clue about the nature of the organization is right there in the name, no? See also the Seven Sisters

Okay, another thing (and then I’ll stop because I could go on about this stuff forever): I’d like to see more choices for authors; new means by which authors can reach a mass market of readers; and greater diversity in titles and lower prices for readers.

Wait, that last set of wishes is already happening, courtesy of self-publishing and Amazon publishing—the first real competition the Big Five has ever seen, and a boon to the health of the whole publishing ecosystem.

Hybrid author success stories are now numerous. As author advocate Jane Friedman's wonderful blog points out,  Claire Cook, Harry Bingham, and William Kowalski are just a few other examples of hybrid authors who made the leap and never looked back.

Products are created from a perceived need. Industries are created by providing sales and distribution venues for products.

But sometimes how the product is distributed changes also how the product is purchased by its consumers. 

Books—in whatever form they take—will always be needed. They entertain, they provoke thought, they provide knowledge.

In publishing, books are the products. Still, how books are distributed and sold doesn't change how they are made: by authors with the perseverance to write a good story, and then do what they can to find readers who will fall in love with it. 

 

Like Mr. Kowalski, Ms. Cook, and Mr. Bingham, I love what I do. Now that 2015 has come to an end, I now know that all my hard work toward creation and release of the my latest four books and a novella (The Housewife Assassin's Garden of Deadly Delights, The Housewife Assassin's Tips for Weddings, Weapons, and Warfare, The Housewife Assassin's Husband Hunting Hints, Totlandia Book 5, and Gone with the Body) was worth it.

It is confirmed by my bookstore royalties. More importantly, it is substantiated by the many kind comments received from my supportive readers. 

Thank you, readers, for taking a chance on me, loving my characters, and chatting up my books with others who they felt might enjoy them, too. 

Here's to a wonderful new year filled with more great stories from your favorite authors.

—Josie

 

10 Things You Should Never Say to a Novelist

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(c) 2005 Alex Steuart Williams  (FLIP) and Erica Rothschild

 

I'm being serious.

Okay, here goes:


1. "I'd write, too, but I can't stand the thought of all the trees I'd be killing." 

Yes, I've heard this one. My response back then was, "Don't worry. You won't sell enough books to raze a sapling, because your pub house won't push you that hard to begin with."

Today, I'd add, "And besides, most books are digital, so you can't use the tree-killer bullshit as an excuse not to write anymore."

 

2. "I'd write, too, but I just can't make the time."

Good. Stay busy. The world doesn't need anothor author. Here's a hint: It's not a hobby. It's a profession.

3. "Why don't you kill off your series' villian?" Because then I wouldn't have a series. And if I don't have a series, I don't have the rent money. I'll make you a promise: when and if he quits paying the rent, I'll quit writing about him.

 

4. "Honestly, what do you really do to pay the bills?"

 
I write novels and I'm proof that not all writers live a life of poverty.

Then again, I'm not JK Rowling, either.

If a writer is persistent and lucky, he or she will find that their income is somewhere in between minimum wage and unimagined wealth.

I'm not saying it's an easy way to make a living. It took years to crawl my way up beyond the government set poverty line. To make the rent, I wrote other things: game questions, greeting cards. magazine articles, even horoscopes. (No, I was not a licensed astrologist, just a mom with two growing kids who could go through money like the Pentagon).
 

 5. "The best authors–like JD Salinger, or, say Margaret Mitchell– only wrote one, or maybe a just few, books in their lifetime."

Oh, really? I guess that leaves out Dickens, Twain, Wharton, LeCarre, Dreisher, Trollope, James, Chandler, Christie, and Doyle, to name a few–all of whom are on my favorite authors list–along wtih Salinger and Mitchell.  

And by the way, some of the worst writers only wrote one book as well.

I'd say the odds are with those who get the most chances at the plate. Don't forget, Babe Ruth broke records for hitting home runs and for striking out. 

Not to mention, a writer's skill level rises each time up to bat. 
  

6. "When am I going to see you on the New York Times Bestsellers list?"

Maybe never–and that's okay with me. A Times review won't necessarily pay the bills. 

For that matter, a Times review won't necessarily be a good one. Just ask any author who has been scorched, panned, or ridiculed by one.
 

 7. "When will I see your book reviewed in the New York Times?"

Again, maybe never–and that too is okay with me. I write commercial literature–romantic suspense, funny mysteries, contemporary women's fiction–and those books usually don't get a NYT review unless they're deemed such a cultural phenomenon that even the Times can't ignore them. 

As for those authors who are waiting for some news outlet to review their books, all I can say is, good luck. Even the best New York publishing house publicist rarely scores a major newspaper review for a mid-list or debut author, let alone a segment on the Today Show.  Now, if you're willing to change your first name to Snooki, or your last name to Kardashian, you may actually get that review, or some air time.

It's just the way of the world: a ghosted celebrity can garner more air time for a mediocre book than a gifted author will receive for a notable work. 

So suck it up. 

Better yet, don't reach for the stars when that is not the lasting definition of success. You're better off working the crowd instead of waiting for the crowd to come to you. In fact, I know many authors whose books have gotten better–and substantially more reviews–than those I see in the Times–

From readers.

Rude awakening: many major newspapers have done away with book reviews–and book reviewers–altogether. That being said, the voices that are ever more important to authors are avid readers, especially those readers who are willing to write a review on the websites of the bookstores (both online, and brick-and-mortar) where they buy their books. Even better is when they chat up your books to friends.

In today's book market, a four-plus star reviews by hundreds of readers on an online bookseller's site can generate more sales than a few kind words in a Times review on any given Sunday.

Bottom line: word of mouth means everything.
 
 

8. "You can write more than one book a year? Hmmm. You're not an artist. You're not even a craftsman. You're…a hack!"

Here's the scoop. Even painters have to produce more than one painting in a lifetime–let alone a year–in order to eat, pay rent, and pay for their kids' braces.

The same goes for musicians. They have to play more than one gig. And songwriters have to write more than one song.

No one wants to be a one-hit wonder.

In fact, even one hit is akin to winning the lottery.

As for being a craftsperson: the proof is in the satisfaction of the buyer.

I'm very proud of my body of work. Every book has received an average of four or more stars. And every day, I get  letters from readers who were kind enough to take the time to tell me how much fun they had with my books, or how much they love my characters. I love to hear that it kept them up at night (it certainly did for me when I was writing any one of them!) or that they laughed so loud that it woke their spouses. 

That, my dear friends, is satisfaction.
 

9. "It must be nice to be able to set your own hours."

I write at least ten hours a day.

Believe it or not, some chapters are written in my sleep. 

When I'm not writing, I'm plotting. Or researching.

The creative process is the most important aspect of my profession. But the marketing of my books are just as important. That being said, when I'm not writing, plotting or researching, I'm concepting covers, going over edits from my proofers and editors–

And promoting, promoting, promoting.

In any regard, I'm thinking about my books twenty-four/seven.

None of it is easy. But it can certainly be rewarding. I guess that's what makes it a "job," and not a hobby.

10. "It must be great to have such a fun job."

I wouldn't be doing anything else. And I'll do it, as long as I please my readers–and myself.

But like any job, it's not always fun. Sometimes it's frustrating. Sometimes I disappoint myself with how slow I am at it. It takes time to craft a sentence, let alone a paragraph, a scene or a chapter.

Then you have to do it time and again, until you have a cohesive story. Creating a work that even you enjoy, despite having read it so many times, you want to scream.

I remember the reaction my sister had when I told her I'd sold my very first novel. "In fact, the contract is for two books," I proclaimed proudly.

This was met with a look of horror. "You mean, they can make you write another?" 

"God, I hope so," I declared.

 Eight years and seventeen novels later, I still feel that way. 

And, now a bonus comment…

11. "I've got a great idea for a book! Why don't I give it to you, and we can split what you make, 50/50?"

Ha ha! I get this one a lot! I've even gotten it from my sister.

Thank you, but I respectfully decline your offer. You see, I have so many ideas already, that I wonder if I'll have the lifespan in which to write them all.

And besides, at best, a concept is a one-liner (at the most ten words). Even if it's the best book concept in the world, but then you're leaving me with the heavy lifting–that is, coming up with the other eighty thousand words that makes it a book.

You see, a book may start out as a high concept, but it needs a beginning, a middle, and an end. That's a lot of sweat equity–especially if the concept doesn't resonate enough with you to (a) spend the time to research the era or topic, or (b) create characters who go through the motions to bring it to life–and make readers laugh, cry, or write you to tell you how much your words meant to them.

That being said, go ahead and write it, as only you could do.

And let me know when it's published. I look forward to reading it, and supporting you, just like you read and support me.

 

HA Prequel The-Housewife-Assassin's-Deadly-Dossier-FinalJosie Brown is the author of The Housewife Assassin's Handbook series, as well as the Totlandia series. Her next book, The Housewife Assassin's Deadly Dossier, will be released in June 2014.

My NaNoWriMo Tips!

WriteWriteWrite
A tip a day keeps you scribblin' away.

Okay, not exactly a great line, but it gets the point across. And as my tips say here, "I'll edit on the back end."

And so will you–but first things first

Every day through November, I've been supporting those participating in National Novel Writing Month by launching posts on creative writing tips (usually by 12 noon PDT) that will help them reach their goal: writing 50,000 words in their novel.

Here are links to my tips:

Tip #1: Treat writing a if it is your career.

Tip #2: Outline the plot of your story.

Tip #3: Don't give up!

Tip #4: Meet your word count first; then edit.

 Tip #5: Show, don't tell.

Tip #6: Recognize when your" backstory" is really your story.

Tip #7: Chapter doesn't work? Fix it in "post."

Tip #8: Why every story needs a beginning, a middle and an end.

 Tip #9:What to do when your story is boring, even to you.

Tip #10: Better late than never. Here's why.

Tip #11: Choose the right writing voice. If your voice is wrong, change it.

Tip #12: Stuck? Change your writing pattern.

Tip #13: Make your readers love your hero.

 Tip #14: Is writing a craft, or an art?

Tip #15: 3 ways in which you sabotage your creative writing process.

Tip #16: How to get out of "paragraph paralysis."

17. The emotional depth of your characters is important.

18. Writing a novel is a marathon, so pace yourself.

19.Scene needs a rewrite? Try changing the point of view.

20. Write the way George Clooney acts: with confidence.

21. Every word counts. Here's why.

22. If your dialogue doesn't match the character, fix it! Now!

23. Make sure your novel isn't half-baked.

24. It's not what you mean, but how you phrase it.

25. Yes, you need an agent. Here's why.

 

Good luck with your own manuscript. I look forward to buying your book, too!

 Josie

 

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Why MacBook Air is “Meh” for Authors

MacBook Air I'm a big Apple Mac fan. Always have been–

Until now.

This past year my travel schedule heavied up. I wasn't looking forward to hitting the road with my iBook laptop. (Walking through the streets of New York and Chicago with the strap of your computer bag dragging you down is not a great fashion statement.)

At first I thought I'd splurge on an iPad. Heck, that way I could easily read my (and other authors') books on it as well. The price was a bit daunting, I'll admit. But what really turned me against it was the omission of a real keyboard. No, not that li'l picture of one under glass, which shared the screen with anything else you were viewing, but a real, separate keyboard.

"You can always buy the keyboard attachment," my techno-savvy sis-in-law told me.

"What would be the purpose?" I answered. "For me, flying is down time. It's the best time to write chapters of my next book. The airplane seat room is small enough as it is! Usually I have to bribe the person in front of me with a drink so that they don't recline the seat, snapping off the lid of my computer. The last thing I need to do is juggle a tethered keyboard and the iPad on some little stand…"

Not to mention the crick I'd get in my neck, for hunching over that faux keyboard.

The solution: No Apple.

Instead I purchased a slim ASUS Netbook. It's 10 inches and under 3 lbs, has 13 hours of battery life, a 2GB memory, a pricetag of $349–

And best of all, a REAL keyboard.

The first few days I had it, I'll admit it: I got hives thinking about being away from my seamless OSX Apple Snow Leopard operating system. Slowly but surely, though, I let go of my iBook. It felt soooo heavy, compared to the ASUS.

Yeah, okay, I miss some of the wonderful shortcuts that Apples have, which make our lives easier. But I'll gladly trade it for the convenience of tossing my ASUS into a tiny bag and taking it on the road with me.

And I certainly don't miss the sore shoulder.

Apple must have missed me, too, because now it's got its own solution to the Netbook: the MacBook Air.

I thought it might bring me home to Apple . . .

But no. Why? NO HARD DISK DRIVE.

In other words no place to save my chapters, or access my research, or archive my most important (read: security blanket) files.

Grant it, it's wafer slim, only 11 inches in length, has a 5-hour battery–and yes, a keyboard.

But NO HARD DRIVE?  Fuggedaboutit. This article, in FORTUNE, convinced me to stay away.

I'm over forty. I''ve lost enough memory as is.

I guess Thomas Wolfe was right. You can't go home again.

Have Netbook will travel,

–Josie

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Josie's latest book:

SECRET LIVES OF HUSBANDS AND WIVES

(ISBN: 9781439173176)

In bookstores June 1, 2010. Order it TODAY!

"Hollywood's got nothing on the cast of characters living in the bedroom community of Paradise Heights, who have the secrets, sex, money and scandal of an OK! Magazine cover story. Josie Brown is a skilled observer whose clever dialogue and feisty style make for truly entertaining reading." –Jackie Collins, Hollywood Wives