Archive for May, 2012


May 31, 2012

There may be as many answers to the above question as there are published authors, but a fairly major one today would be, “I do.”  Whether through frustration over a long drawn-out submission process, the simple wish to be in control of one’s own publishing destiny, or another reason, that’s certainly a valid answer.  Good self-published authors understand the need for critical, independent editing, for a willingness to do massive promotion, and careful keeping of business records. Then it’s “go for broke.”

However, for many years the center of book publishing was in New York.   A number of mostly successful companies controlled the destiny of writers, most often benevolently.  Companies worked through agents who represented a “stable” of authors whose work they saw as promising, and sold to company editors who agreed.  Though there were certainly disappointments a-plenty on both sides, for the most part, the system worked.

Then things began to change rather rapidly.  Publishing companies themselves were gathered into stables under the umbrella of a massive investor, often outside the United States. The theme became “sell-sell-bestseller,” and many felt that new quality work was being overlooked in deference to books displaying big names,  maybe revealing meaty facts (or gossip),  or for novel number umpteen in a top-selling author’s output.

The advent and popularity of e-books added to the mix, and we ended up with a multitude of frustrated authors and a need for something to fill the gap.  The answer?  A ballooning number of smaller publishing companies.

There have always been small publishing companies, but in the void left by New York business decisions and an expanding number of people who write,  smaller companies “out here in any state not named New York” have been a growing, many of them successfully.

Most of these small-to-mid-size publishers do take chances on new and promising authors. Many know well how to evaluate the talent and promotion possibilities of an applying author.  Sure, there are still rejections (which maybe tells the applying author something?)  but a large number of writers are chosen by one smaller company or another, and make it, often very successfully, into print and also into the e-book field.

So, the question now becomes, what makes a good book publisher?  If you are one who will settle for nothing but New York, go for it!  Though advantages there are diminishing almost daily, it’s still a big deal to be published by a big name house, and many organizations and reviewers pay attention to those big names.

What are your ideas about a good publisher?  I can only tell you mine.

My first (non-fiction) book, DEAR EARTH: A Love Letter from Spring Hollow, was published by one of the smaller New York houses.  I was as green as they come, so, back then, it was lucky that publishers took care of book promotion for the most part.  Publicist and publisher did the work.  I followed instructions.  But, observing, I learned.   (Un-agented, I had sent my book out to many publishers listed in WRITERS’ MARKET, accumulated rejections, and eventually sold the manuscript to Brett Books, a publisher I found written up in one of the writers’ magazines. Brett gave a significant advance and generous royalties.)

After I decided to try writing mystery novels, I began the submission process all over again, but this time I acquired an agent I had pitched to at a writers’ conference.  She seemed enthusiastic about my work and, for a couple of years, submitted it to New York publishers, acquiring nice words leading to rejections. We parted company, and I decided to try submitting on my own.

I eventually read about a promising publisher in Kansas that was written about in the Mystery Writers of  America magazine.  St Kitts in Kansas bought my first mystery novel, A VALLEY TO DIE FOR, and ended up publishing five books in the series.  I got a small advance and very generous royalties.  Then the two women running the company decided to devote full-time to family demands and the company closed.  (Always a hazard with small companies.)

Publisher number three was met on-line through list discussions about a cause we both believed in.  He was also recommended by friends.  This was a one-man company, but many things about it appealed to me.  Again, there was a standard contract and royalties. Things went well for a while, but then he bowed to financial pressures and quit the royalty part of publishing.  I decided to move on.

I am now with my fourth publisher,  Oak Tree Press, headquartered in Illinois.  Larger than any of the others, with more employees and, wonderfully,  more terrific ideas, we are on our way with book number seven in the mystery series, just released.  Every sign is good.

All these publishers helped in some degree with promotion, with numbers one, two, and four being outstanding.  But one other BIG thing stands out with all of them.  I can call every single employee of every publisher I worked with my friend.  In all cases, they are people I admire.  In all cases, they are people who have earned my gratitude for many reasons. And, in all cases, they are life-long friends.

(In fact, publisher number one and I exchanged conversational e-mails yesterday.)

How about your experiences?   Are you published?   If so, are you happy with how things are going?

Comments?   Questions?                      (


May 25, 2012

Books in Bloom is one of Arkansas’s premier book festivals, and, without a doubt, the most beautiful. Held each spring in the gardens of the 1886 Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs, it draws book lovers from several states.  Authors are all there by invitation, and are right to feel honored when invited to appear under fluttery tent roofs spaced throughout the gardens during the festival. Flowers are everywhere.

This year was to be a special Books in Bloom for me. My newest novel, A FAIR TO DIE FOR, was near its release time, and my publisher said work on the book could be expedited so at least one case would be ready in time for Books in Bloom. I offered to pay the nearly $50.00 extra shipping to assure quick arrival, and UPS guaranteed delivery by the Friday before the event, which always begins at noon on a Sunday in May. So–in spite of the fact several earlier blips had come up to slow the novel’s appearance (vanished e-mails about cover art,  for example)–everyone breathed a sigh of relief, and I left for an already scheduled book signing featuring my earlier novels in Branson, MO. The new books would be safe on our porch until my return.

But they weren’t. The porch was empty. Frantic phone calls to UPS, reaching mostly recordings, finally told us that the books were re-scheduled for Monday delivery because there was a mistake in the address. (We later learned it was three numbers off–11444 instead of 11447.  We live in a rural area and no one has an address close to ours, so if it had been our regular driver the box would have been left. He was on vacation, and the substitute had to work to rule.)

My husband decided to make the sixty mile round-trip to the UPS distribution center to see if they’d release the box to him.  I prayed that some miracle would bring us those books.  The answer to my prayer was “No.”  My husband returned without the books.  For a time I wondered if I could claim that some awful disaster made it impossible for me to be at Books in Bloom and not mention I had no new books.  Then I changed my prayer to one asking that I could be able to see whatever good things were in store for me the following day.

That prayer was answered.  Eureka Springs’ residents are a cross-section of every type of humanity, from left-over hippies to sedate church ladies; from those living whatever their chosen alternative lifestyle might be to Mr. and Mrs. Mainstream America.  They were all at Books in Bloom, including many from adjoining states who were just as colorful and varied as local folks.  I think all stopped by my tent to chat, and many bought one or more of my earlier books. My publisher had sent publicity material to a large part of the USA, and some did come to buy a copy of A FAIR TO DIE FOR.  However, not a single person seemed upset when learning why the books weren’t there.  Though I offered to mail books, postage paid, to some, no one took me up. I gave the name of area bookstores and also information about how to connect with other sales venues. I suspect it was too beautiful a day tor anyone to be unhappy.

The case of books arrived Monday evening at 6:30.  Most are already spoken for.

Aren’t life’s lessons interesting?


May 16, 2012

Writing is a profession, a business as much as an art, and if I’d known that back in 1985 when I wrote and sold my first essay about the Ozarks, I might not be a writer today.  I didn’t know I was starting a business.

Eventually I learned that, while the creativity and art may come first–if you want to make it, writing words the public, and not just you, your family, and perhaps your high school English teacher will see–there is much more to it, especially if you are talking about publishing a book.

Through what I call practice and process, a successful writer creates, not just an artistic product, but a saleable one, made to fit the market.  During this phase in a writing career, we practice writing, over and over.  We look at our product,  and process it, not just with a creative mind, but with analytical intelligence and reason, and answer the question, “What does this product offer the reading public?  Something of value?”

If the answer is yes, then it’s time to sell ourselves as well as our product.  And that’s the hard part, not back-breaking work, but sometimes heart-breaking, because it frequently takes a long time to get noticed as a writer.  There are thousands of people out there who write well and want to sell their writing, or at least share it publicly.  Many today are choosing to publish their own work as an e-book, and that’s a satisfying outcome for some.  It is demanding, business-wise, however.  You have to learn the ropes, understand the financial arrangements, know how to format your work for readers on Nook, Kindle, i-phones, and much more.  And you have to keep records.  But then, any writer has to do that.

The writing business includes detailed record-keeping.  True, if  you connect to a traditional publisher, they handle some of this for you, as well as much of the sales effort.  But you still have to keep records of your work schedule, and of any business-related travel or study.  (The IRS will ask for this if you are ever audited.)  Do you stock and sell your books for events when the venue hosting you demands this?  This requires more record-keeping.  Know how to print invoices if you take your books to a signing or leave them on consignment.  Keep records of where each book goes.

Keep records of income–from book sales, and from talks or teaching.  Of course books cost you something, so, in the end, you deduct all related expenses from the price you got for each book.

Another aspect of the business is promotion.  Again, your publisher may help you with this, but many writers hire a publicist to arrange events such as radio and television appearances and bookstore signings.  Otherwise, making these arrangements is all done “in-house.”  In other words, by you.

And there’s Internet promotion:  A web site to maintain, blog-writing,  various social networks to keep up with.

I think you begin to get the picture.  Reading words you have put in an order that pleases you, and seeing what wonderful ideas they can express and share is a glorious thing and a wonder.  Just remember, though being a creative artist is primary, you are also running a small business.  Today, these two facets of a writer’s life must go hand-in-hand.

Learn more at



May 11, 2012

I recently had a back-and-forth e-mail conversation with a good Internet friend, author Jenny Milchman.  We were talking about our friends–the ones we’d never seen in person, and the ones we had actually been able to reach out and hug.  In one message Jenny said something like this:  “Good friends are the ones we can eat cake with and we don’t mind if frosting gets on our nose.”

Oh wow, did that get me thinking.

I have heard myself speaking fairly frequently about someone I call “My good friend —————.”  Then I stop, smile to myself, and realize I have never met this person–anywhere but on the Internet, that is.  I participate on several lists geared to mystery fans and writers (mystery writing being my field) and conversations both off and on list develop there. I am a member of several Facebook groups and meet people there.  I meet people on blogs, both mine and theirs.  I read books, and get to know the authors through their writing and by seeing their websites and making other Internet connections with them. And I call these people “my good friends. ”   We communicate in cyberspace, “meet” on lists, on my Facebook page, through blog comments.

Last weekend my husband and I participated in what is probably the mid-USA’s largest writer’s conference, the Oklahoma Writers’ Federation Conference held every May in Oklahoma City.  OWFI draws writers from many states in the south and central area–and a few outside here, with New York and California being primary on that list.  There are several tracks of talks and panels over two and a half days, plus a number of “extra pay” special sessions.  The talks I chose to attend were very helpful. Yes. And they were one relatively small reason I went.

What else is there?


I had the terrific experience of sitting down with four other writers I’ve known for a while to enjoy both casual and heart-to-heart chats.  I met new people.  During breakfast I sat at round tables on three different mornings and enjoyed (mostly) listening to the chatter. (Embassy Suites was host hotel–terrific breakfasts.)    I could hug and be hugged.  None of this virtual stuff.  I have met and chatted with many of these people on line, but, when I do, I hear their voices, I see them in 3-D and  living color. In most cases, we have actually touched hands!

Facebook?  No.  Meeting there tends to be impersonal, posts are often stating the poster’s personal agenda.  I have read communications on my wall that run a range from  “We had pizza for dinner–yum,” to sharp political and religious rants.  Sure, that’s far from all, and communication on Facebook can be good and helpful, but, for me at least, much of the time it remains impersonal, separate from real human communication.

E-mail is better.  At least that’s one-on-one, relatively private, and can ramble like real conversation does.

Recently our great-nephew, who’s graduating from high school with honors this weekend, corresponded with me. He sent me a letter.  Oh yes, I can see bits from his multitude of Facebook communications every day, and I see him in person a couple of times a year.  But this time, oh my goodness, an envelope came in the mail.  Envelope with a stamp, an address written in ink. And inside–THE LETTER.  A real ink on paper hand-written letter.  Not even written on a computer and printed out.  (I wonder if I shouldn’t take it to my safe-deposit box in the bank.  I think you all understand what an incredibly rare thing it may be, and how valued by one honored aunt.)

As for you and me?  Well, here we are in cyberspace.  Oh how I wish you could see me with frosting on my nose!

Your friend,  Radine