Monday, May 20, 2013

My interview with Jody Seay is live

In late March, I had an interview with Jody Seay, a good ole girl from Texas, who has a cable access show called Back Page, where she interviews Northwest writers. I interviewed with Jody four years ago after my memoir was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award. This time she and I talked about writing and recovery, and my two new books: Sober Play: Using Creativity for a More Joyful Recovery and my first novel, The Color of Longing.

Jody's a great interviewer and I so appreciate the help she gives us local writers. You can watch the interview here:

Friday, May 10, 2013

Eric Maisel's new Making Your Creative Mark

I've been a reader, fan, and student of creativity coach Eric Maisel for quite a long time. I got my first Maisel book, The Creativity Book, about 10 years or so ago. It opened up a whole new world of ideas for me. Since then I've read a number of the others and taken a half-dozen online courses with him. His honest teachings about the creative life have been both encouraging and grounding as I move my way further into a life in the arts.

His new book, Making Your Creative Mark, takes the same honest and practical approach to creating a life in the arts: things to know, things to do, things to consider, things to sort out. He addresses some of the most hidden issues for creatives: confidence, passion, empathy, stress, and managing our minds, our self-talk. I think you will find this book of great value.

Here are some of my favorite ideas from the book:

1. There is almost nothing that we are free to control. By the same token, there is almost nothing that we aren't free to influence.

2. Complete projects for the sake of making progress.

3. Remember that passion isn't optional.

4. You need to be a calmly confident seller.

I also want to put in a plug for Eric's book Natural Psychology, which changed my life. It's an articulated philosophy for those of us who are concerned with finding meaning in life. Happy reading!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

New blog name, expanded blog focus

When I started The Writing Wheel blog in 2008, my interest in the creative process was pretty confined to helping writers do better work. Over the last five years, while I have continued to work as an editor and have spent a lot of time working on my own fiction writing and writing about that here, I've become more and more committed to my visual art practice. I've also written and published a book on the creative process called Sober Play: Using Creativity for a More Joyful Recovery.

I'm really fascinated by all aspects of the creative process and want to expand my discussions in this blog to more aspects of the creative process, both for artists and for everyday creatives. I'm also linking this blog to my Jill Kelly Creative Facebook page where I'll be posting as well.

I've got lots to stay about creativity: tips, suggestions, musings and amusings. For today, here's a new piece from my studio and a quote from Luciano Pavarotti: "People think I'm disciplined. It's not discipline, it's devotion, and there's a great difference."

How can you turn your devotion to your creative life?

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Reworking a set-aside novel

Last June, I finished a second draft of my third novel, When Your Mother Doesn't. I proofread it and then sent it out to several trusted early readers. The story concerns three women, a mother and two daughters, who are getting together for the first time in 24 years.Weaving together by means of this reunion, I tell the stories of each of them and how they came to be who they are in relationship to each other.

I had tried something experimental in the first daughter's story by using reverse chronology, and while the general comments about the book were very favorable, only one person liked the experiment. The other four readers felt confused by it or had to keep looking back at what was happening to keep things straight. Not good news for me.

I'm currently on a writing retreat at the Oregon Coast and one of my tasks was to reread Frankie's story and see how I could resolve this issue. I decided to scrap the experiment and go with a more straightforward telling of the story. That required quite a few changes and I also decided to simplify Frankie's life. I'd written the other two stories first and felt a need to make Frankie's story as complex and dramatic as her sister's and her mother's, but I realized today that that was both unnecessary and inauthentic, for part of Frankie's story is that it isn't all that dramatic. My challenge is to make it compelling in its ordinariness. I'm not sure I've succeeded in that yet but I think I'm closer.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The wheels of traditional publishing grind exceeding slow!

In early February I signed a contract with Skyhorse Publishing for my second novel, Fog of Dead Souls. Since the odds of getting a traditional publisher these days are about a thousand to one, I felt very lucky. And I'm very glad I did as this is the easiest way to widespread sales although there is no guarantee that that will happen.

But I'm learning how slow this old process is. It's been two and a half months and the advance check has just finally arrived at my agent's. It now has to clear the bank and then they send me the money minus 15%.

My book is scheduled to be published in February 2014, basically a year from signing. Of course it is fiction and not a time-sensitive subject so there is no hurry, but when I finished my Sober Play book in late December, I had it proofread, designed, uploaded, and copies in my hand in less than 3 weeks. I am mindful though that I had only one book to get done and they have a rotating list of quite a few happening. I'm just one of the authors they publish for. But it is a curious and interesting process.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Another treadmill writing episode: 43:28

As I've mentioned in some earlier posts, this new novel I'm working on is posing many different kinds of problems than the ones before it where I seemed to automatically know what each next episode was going to be. This process is much more one of fits and starts. I show up every morning to write, but I often have to wait a while to know what to write and some days I don't get very far.

This morning was one of those days. I reread yesterday's drafting as always and tweaked a couple of words and added a little description. I had two other chapters started (a couple of sentences in each) but I couldn't figure out where to go with either one. Finally one of the characters told me she wanted to go to a Chinese restaurant so we ended up there but I couldn't figure out why and then my time was up.

I went to the gym after that. I needed to go early as I had a memorial service to attend later in the morning and I was conscious of the time so I decided on 40 minutes on the treadmill. As I got to the end of that 40 minutes though, something in me said "do another 10." But I had decided on 40 and I was already cutting it close to get ready to leave for the service.However, the little voice just wouldn't let go.

And so I stayed, listening to Foreigner and thinking about the book, and suddenly at 43:28 on the treadmill, I knew a big piece of what happens. It just came into my mind--all laid out. And it was so cool!

And yes, I walked the full 50 in gratitude and yes, I made the memorial service in plenty of time!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Book marketing #3

When I published my first book and the whole marketing challenge settled in on me, I felt overwhelmed and baffled. Even though I knew a fair amount about marketing (I had written press releases for clients, knew how to put together a press kit, knew how to get information), I felt pre-discouraged by all the bad talk I'd heard about how impossible it was to get your book out into the world on your own.

I'm a chronic list-maker and so that's what I set out to do. Make a list of all the feasible, practical, and possible things that I could do to market my book and an equal number of crazy, impossible, and impractical (i.e., too expensive) things I could do. But I didn't get very far until I asked myself two questions, which, are, I think, at the heart of marketing.

1. Where do I buy books/art objects?
2.  How do I learn about new books/art objects?

Here are some of the answers I came up with:

Question 1:
a. from catalogs
b. from amazon
c. through online searches and the retailers that show up
d. small retailers, including independent bookstores and gift shops (museum and otherwise)
e. Fred Meyer's
f. at workshops and classes I take

Question 2:
a. friends
b. chance encounter (see it in a shop)
c. looking for something similar to what I already like

So I began to target my marketing efforts in those directions. What would be your answers to these questions?

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Book marketing #2 Why bookstores may not be your best bet

While there are many possible venues and routes for selling self-published books, traditional brick-and-mortar bookstores are probably not your best bet. Here's why:

1. Most small, independent bookstores carry only 1-2 copies of any particular book unless it is guaranteed to be a big seller (usually a new book by a well-known author).
2. It is up to the distributor (that's you) to check to see if they have sold the 1 or 2 copies of your book and need another 1-2 copies.
3. They expect a 40% discount from the list price. Depending on what your book costs you, you may make only pennies on the sale, not enough to cover your gas in visiting the store and checking to see if they sold that one copy.
4. They will expect you to take the book back if they don't sell it.

So you end up with a lot of effort for the sale of 1-2 copies of your book. There are better ways to go.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Marketing your books #1

Last December at my annual open house, one of my clients was talking about his poor book sales. He was very disappointed that nothing much had happened. He asked me how my memoir was doing and I told him I was doing well. He looked frustrated and perplexed, and I asked him a few basic questions about how he was marketing his book.

You probably know what's coming. He wasn't marketing his book. After a very small initial flurry of activity, he'd stopped doing anything. He had no plan, no list of tasks. Even the most obvious, getting his book on Kindle, hadn't happened. He'd thought about it but never taken action.

Fast forward to yesterday and lunch with two friends. We were all in a marketing group for freelancers together, a wonderfully facilitated and structured program to help us get more clients and more income. After I self-published my memoir, Donna dusted off a book project very dear to her heart and finished it and self-published it. We were both finalists for the Oregon Book Award in successive years. Yet after that first flurry of activity, she too had stopped marketing her book. She talked of some of her ideas but she hadn't found time to take action on them.

You can certainly self-publish a book and not market it. You may only want the sense of completion that publishing brings or to give your book as a gift to friends and family. Some people never want their stories or efforts to be public, just to be published. And there's nothing wrong with that. In fact, as a creative, I applaud it. Many of us do creative things--write, paint, quilt, garden--for our own pleasure and that of those close to us.

But if you want your work to get out into the world, and if you want a chance at recognition or money, you have to do the marketing.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Why it's good to belong to a writing group

Both of the writing groups I lead met this week and I was struck both evenings by the high level of comments and compassion from the participants. Some of these writers are very good and some are are still developing basic skills. Some have been coming a long time to the group; others are relative newcomers. But their encouragement of each other and their careful listening is really inspiring.

Note that these writers belong to a writing support group and not a writing critique group. My own experiences with critique groups were so painful, I soon stopped going. I tried three and in each case, the groups seemed to run on fear and scarcity. Fear that they weren't any good and fear that there weren't publishing opportunities for everyone, and so they needed to make others feel less adequate in some way. I will admit that those experiences happened over 10 years ago and publishing has changed so much that perhaps critique groups are now less competitive. But back then, I needed support, not critique, so I arranged my own groups, where seldom is heard a discouraging word and we believe in everybody's right to write.

Here's some of what I see writing support groups offering. The opportunity to:

1. Read out loud before an appreciative audience.
2. Be heard by the same audience over time so they note your progress.
3. Ask questions about the writing process from others who are in that process. No question is too elementary to be entertained.
4. Receive encouragement no matter what your skill level is.
5. Listen to the same writers over time and note their progress.
6. Celebrate small and large writing successes with people who care about your creative expression.
7. Receive compassion and understanding when the writing isn't going well.
8. Feel safe as a creative.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Tip #1 for a better self-published book

 More and more of my editing clients are self-publishing. Yet for all of its time and money advantages, self-publishing presents additional challenges to the writer, challenges that would have otherwise been handled by the publishing house with its many resources. The next few posts are going to cover some ways to handle these challenges.  

Tip #1: Use a professional cover. 

Although most self-published books don't end up in brick-and-mortar bookstores where potential readers will pick them up off a crowded table, you still need a great cover. People look at the cover first thing on your amazon site and then read on. People consider the cover first if you are selling your book at a book fair or event. Readers are visual people and like all visuals, they are attracted to color and patterns. Many people buy books just because they like the cover.

In self-publishing, there are three ways to create a cover: 

1. Pay a graphic designer or book cover designer to do it. Costs for this vary but $250-500 is a reasonable investment. I suggest getting a firm price from the designer that includes the initial front and back design, at least one design re-do if you don't like it, and up to two text changes. The designer should be willing to supply the cover to you in both pdf and jpg formats. Cost may increase if you do not supply ideas or the cover art. If you're short on funds, consider whether you have something you can trade the designer for their services: massage, yoga, editing, writing, home-cooked meals, etc. 

2. Pay the self-publishing venue to design it for you. All self-publishing companies sell additional services in design, editing, marketing. If you're buying other services from them, it may prove more cost-efficient to have them design the cover. 

3. Do it yourself. There are cover templates available and companies like amazon's CreateSpace make it very easy to do, even offering you a variety of cover images. Unless you have design experience, however, I don't recommend going this route. You'll most likely end up with an okay cover but not a great one. 

If you can afford it, get a piece of original artwork for your cover. 

There are thousands of artists out there with beautiful, original work. If you spend some time looking on line at art websites, you are apt to find several perfect things for your book cover. Contact the artist and find out about buying the piece or about buying the right to put the piece on your cover (with appropriate back-cover credit, of course). Many artists will be thrilled at the chance to get their work in front of a larger audience and may well be interested in a trade or a good deal. 

Choose an image that intrigues the reader to enter the story.

Two of my clients wrote a very interesting book about their move from urban to rural living in the wine country of Northern California. They chose a lovely picture of themselves with their dog in a vineyard to put on the front. For those of us who know them, it's a great cover. But for someone who doesn't know them, it doesn't work well. The authors aren't celebrities and the cover doesn't invite readers to imagine themselves in the stories, in that vineyard. One option would have been to show themselves from the back with their dog. That kind of anonymity might have created a romance and mystery that would beckon the reader in. Even better would have been a painting of a landscape that invited the reader in.

Bottom line: A beautiful and intriguing cover may make all the difference between sales and no sales.   

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Sitting with uncertainty

As the retreat in rural Tennessee continued, I wrote a number of poems, but nagging at me was getting started on the next novel. I went back through my writing sketch book, where I draft poems, write fictional prompts, and gather ideas, and I typed in about 8 possibilities, prompts that had a nice ring to them or an intriguing character or situation.

And then on the third morning of the retreat, I get up early, having finally adjusted to the time zone change, and I plunged in on one. For the last five days, I have written on this piece first thing. I don't know what else to call it. It isn't a short story. I know that it's way more than that. But is it a novel? Will the characters speak to me for  the next year? Will I find a theme that is substantial enough to build a whole novel around?

I miss the certainty of the last novel adventures, knowing that I was on the right track from the beginning. And yet, this is just another kind of adventure, and I'm willing to take the ride.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The value of having to set an example

I've long known that when I want to learn something, offering a class in it is a good way for me to figure things out. The same is proving true of the retreat I'm currently on. Since I finished Sober Play at the first of the year, I've had trouble getting back into daily writing. And by that, I mean writing new material. I've spent plenty of time in the last two months working on my writing: I've been editing, publishing, and marketing so I'm in the writing, but I haven't been getting up early enough to spend a half hour or more writing something new--new stories, new poems, a new novel.

Part of the stuckness is around what to work on. Each time I've finished something before, I've known exactly what was coming next. I've kind of figured that was how I worked. But this time, I've got 8-10 ideas and none of them is certain. None of them says: Pick me! Pick me! And I've been hesitating and waiting for that to happen.

Now I'm leading a writing retreat in rural Tennessee outside of Nashville and I'm encouraging people to keep writing and work through blocks and just not worry what's going to come of it, and I'm having to take my own advice. So this morning I got up and made tea and went right to the computer and plunged into one of the ideas. I've had to give up the certainty and waiting and just write my way through it. And it feels good.

Friday, February 8, 2013

It's official!

Wednesday afternoon, I signed a contract with Skyhorse Publishing in New York to publish my second novel, Fog of Dead Souls. I'm really thrilled. Even my wretched experience with one of the nasty viruses going around can't dampen my enthusiasm.

There was no bidding war for my book. In fact, 56 or so editors had read it and most had really liked it, but just not enough. Too dark, said one. Not dark enough, said the next. Loved the characters but didn't like the plot, said a third. Loved the plot but didn't like the characters, said a fourth. This had gone on for 18 months, but my agent never lost her enthusiasm or her energy behind the book. "It just takes the right one," she said.

And Skyhorse is that one. As a college mate remarked, now I'm a real novelist. Actually, I started feeling like a "real" novelist, when I started Fog. I'd finished one novel and moved right on to the second. I just love writing them.

I'm excited that my book may have a chance to make it big. I'll keep you posted.

Friday, February 1, 2013

My new books are out and available!

I'm very excited to announce the publication of two new books. The first, The Color of Longing, is a novel I completed in 2009. I had had such a good time writing it that I immediately moved on to writing a second novel (the one that is in negotiation with the publisher in New York). Then last summer I decided I would self-publish Longing, just get it out there and see what can happen. It took me a while to edit it, get it proofread, make some changes, proofread again. But mostly I couldn't seem to paint the image that I had in mind for the cover. Then in November, that happened and I moved ahead.

Here's a brief synopsis:

What’s a guy to do when the woman he’s loved for 15 years asks for help leaving her alcoholic husband? And what if that husband is his best friend? In this unconventional romance, artist Jake Logan makes a painful and inevitable choice that sets him adrift. Crisscrossing the country with his cat Sadie, he seeks answers to his quest from several helpful strangers, but it isn’t until he has a deep spiritual encounter with himself that he begins to find his true way home.

The second book is a how-to book called Sober Play: Using Creativity for a More Joyful Recovery. It promotes using creative self-expression in any number of forms and media to have a more joyful life. This has long been an important part of my own recovery from alcoholism and I wanted to share all I've learned and all I believe about the connection between creativity and recovery.

Both books are available on amazon and kindle and through me at If you read one or the other and like it, I hope you'll review the book on amazon for me. Happy reading!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The contract stage of traditional publishing

On my flight to Florida last week, I read the contract my agent forwarded from Skyhorse Publishing, which is interested in buying my second novel, Fog of Dead Souls. In fact, I read it twice. It was pretty accessible in language, and I made a list of about 10 questions for my agent: phrases and sentences I didn't understand and one issue I wanted to reword concerning when the rights to the book revert to me.

My great agent, Andrea Somberg, had made some revisions of her own to protect me and I agreed with all of them. Yesterday we had a good conversation and she will send our revisions on to them.  She doesn't believe they'll give us all we want but we'll see. The negotiations continue.

At the same time, I'm self-publishing two books through CreateSpace, a much faster way to get things out. It's going to be interesting to compare the two processes and their results. I'll keep you posted.

Friday, January 18, 2013

self-publishing adventures

I've been in the midst of self-publishing two books these past weeks. I had hoped to have both books out and about for my workshop with Karen Casey next week in Naples, Florida, but all my efforts have been insufficient to pull it off. Feeling both a bit frustrated and knowing that it's not the end of the world by any means.

While I have dealt with CreateSpace before for clients, this is the first time it has involved my own work. I am impressed with a lot about their system. The customer service folks are almost instantaneously available by phone. I've called four times with questions and had somebody on the line who could help me within 10 seconds. Courteous, friendly. Unfortunately I had a glitch with both cover and "guts" of the book that were unusual and so it took 9 extra days to resolve the color of the cover and the technical issue (involving the em dash), and only today was I able to finally approve the novel and complete the pages and move it on to Kindle as well as amazon. The novel, The Color of Longing, should be available on both starting tomorrow.  
And I just ordered some sent to Florida and some to my house for a book launch next month.

The other book, Sober Play: Using Creativity for a More Joyful Recovery, is still in the design stages. We're awfully close but not close enough to complete all the process before I leave on Wednesday morning. I knew it was ambitious to try to get two books out in the early part of the New Year (the holidays were a hold-up) but it was worth a try.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Negotiating and learning about the publishing contract

I came back from my New Year's writing retreat to the next phase of the traditional publishing adventure: negotiating the contract.

There's a complicated scale for royalties for hardcover and paperback and ebooks, depending on how many you sell (higher royalty the more you sell) but it isn't great under any circumstances. Publishers only really make money with volume sales. They sell the books to bookstores at a 40% or greater discount off the list price and incur all costs of insurance and shipping and buying the books back if they don't sell. A book like mine, by an unknown, unproven author, is a big gamble and they're only willing to invest so much. Maybe it will take off, maybe it will flop. Of course, they want it to be a big seller and so do I, but that depends on so many of the stars aligning just right, so many unpredictable factors.

In the short run, I could probably make as much money by self-publishing as I will initially get from the publisher so it's a gamble for me too. My hope, and theirs, is that their possibilities for exposing it to a wider public in ways that self-publishing can't do will garner us more readers.

At the end of the week's conversations with my agent, I told her I wanted to pursue this with the publisher for the experience of it. To have a traditional publisher and go through all the steps and see what happens. To be honest, this is already farther than I ever thought I'd get. So it's thrilling no matter what!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Story magic

Today is the last day of the 8-day writing retreat. With no big project to work on, I floundered the first few days, not knowing how to structure my time or direct my energies. But I fell into a comfortable rhythm of drafting 2-3 poems a day and writing a fictional prompt. Some of the poems have real potential and that pleases me and I have liked being back in the kind of thinking that poetry gets me into. I become more observant of what's going on around me as I am always looking for poem ideas: a snippet of conversation, light on a tree trunk, a face seen in a store.

The prompts have been less successful though fun to write. My good friend Bridget gave me a Storymatic box of prompts for Christmas. It has two kinds of cards, characters and situation, and they've been fun to fool with. Then yesterday, as I was writing a prompt that needed to incorporate a parade and a smoker, story magic happened. About the fifth sentence, something in my creative self began to tingle and a character showed up, one with great possibility for something more, something larger, maybe the next novel. I don't know yet but my excitement while writing a few more sentences and then taking a few notes of possibility was palpable. Even better, I woke up thinking about the prompt this morning and what different things could happen next.

And this morning I wrote a different prompt and had the same tingling, the same excitement. I don't know if the two prompts are connected or are two separate stories or are even really stories, but something has opened up and it's way cool!