Tuesday, July 5, 2016

"Playing God"

There’s a hidden satisfaction that comes with being an author of fiction. We are creators of people, creators of worlds, and creators (or destroyers) of every action in it. It is an addiction that makes us forget the pot cooking on the stove, miss the next train, forget to pay a bill, or even “lose” a day or two when we ourselves are lost deep in our writing zones, barely making time to “come up for air” (Did you say it was Tuesday? Already? Wow…)

Fiction writers, with the stroke of a pen, can make their characters sick or well, hungry, sad or silly, or make them experience a gambit of emotions in the space of two paragraphs. We name them and give them brown eyes and long hair, or green eyes and short hair. We give them triumphs and tragedies. We also have the power to kill our characters, or (as in the case of Like Sweet Buttermilk), bring them back to life …

In the original version of Like Sweet Buttermilk (LSB), Rick Phillips died. Readers were upset; they liked the ending—but they didn’t. Given the flow/chain of events, his death made sense. And then, it didn’t. Although his death occurred in the original published version—it wasn’t my original idea for the ending. Sometimes writers go against their original instincts or plans for a work in the interest of spicing things up or to challenge the status quo or simply challenge themselves. Nothing wrong with that at all; it’s an experiment in creativity every artist is entitled to. But the original ending of LSB, while fitting, stuck in my craw. For some time. In fact, for too long.

With the relaunch of LSB, I changed the ending to match my original idea for it. And, like fine wine, Like Sweet Buttermilk has gotten better with time. I’ve set things right in my fictional world and I’m not looking back. I had plenty notes on or about Mr. and Mrs. Phillips; so much more I wanted to “say” when it came to them, and now I get to. It’s a good thing. In the works following LSB, Dr. Alexander has two new friends—and exploring the dynamics of those relationships will be my pleasure.


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

“Getting ‘Thin’ Can Be a Big Mistake” (My takeaway for first-time authors self-publishing)

With the relaunch of Like Sweet Buttermilk (LSB), I decided to assume the role of Lot’s wife and look back. I didn’t turn into salt, but it was an opportunity to ponder: If I Knew Then What I Know Now …

Excitement breeds distraction. And the internet breeds too many things to name. So much comes after writing “The End,” that it becomes too easy to lose focus. And when writers (or anyone really) lose focus, they begin the often ill-advised endeavor of spreading themselves too thin. This is especially true of first-time authors. I should know.

Check it: The book is “finished” and now we’re ready to shout about it. We’re excited. It’s been a long road to “The End.” We’re Facebooking and Twittering and Blogging and Pinterest-ing and (online) Book Touring and LinkedIn-ing (some of these aren't real words, I know; just go with it). We’re signing up for this promo service and joining this online publishing group. We’re excited! And we’re all over the place—spreading ourselves too thin with all of the distractions pulling us away from what we need to be doing: staying disciplined, staying … well … focused.

I was all over the place in the beginning, back in the day. I had the all-sizes-fit-all marketing plan, chasing after every shiny new book-publishing whatever. So, yes, mistakes were made. To begin, LSB wasn’t ready for anything other than more editing. My cover was still in the concept stages (and that was another faux pas that I’m not even going to get into).  There were a few other missteps, but those top the list. There are proponents for building ‘buzz’ while you’re finalizing your work, before you even write your book, but this is where major planning comes into play, allowing for variables that can negatively impact your book’s release. It’s a matter of preference of course, but when it comes to my writing, I’m more of a ducks-in-a-row than a fly-by-the-seat kind of person—and I learned the hard way to stick with what works best for me. There was nothing more frustrating than responding “It’ll be ready soon,” (or some variation of that) to an interested reader ready to buy.  

My takeaway is this:  When it comes to spreading word about your book, “baby” authors should take baby steps.  Not that I’m “full grown” with this author-thing, but I have learned a thing or two. And hey, even toddlers can “teach” babies, right? So, here we go:

  1. The givens? Professional: editor, cover designer, book designer. Budget for this. Converting your word processor file into an Adobe pdf file and considering that “ready for distribution” is not what we’re after here.
  2. The “All-Sizes-Fit-All” Marketing Plan is definitely NOT the way to go. Before you can even formulate a plan, you must identify your target audience. Here’s a hint: Your target audience is not “all readers,” nor is it “all women” or “all men .” No matter how well-written your masterpiece is, your book is not for everyone; genres have categories or sub-genres for a reason.  You’ve likely written your book with a particular reader in mind. Apply the five W’s and the “H” to that reader and you’re on your way to identifying your audience. Your marketing plan should then be tailored to how your audience moves and shakes in their reading world which, of course, requires even more research.
  3. Before signing up for all of the social media platforms, know what your own platform for your book is going to be.  Why have you written the book, and why are readers going to dig what you’ve written? Your platform incorporates your passion for writing, but takes it a little further.
  4. Understand terms like metadata and keywords and branding. I’m still working on the best fit for some of this myself.
  5. Work one or two of the main social media platforms.  If you’re green with social medial like I was/am (the tide shifts on this one daily), one or two will be enough to handle in the beginning anyway. And in reality, one or two may be all you end up needing.
  6. Find and research social sites specifically for authors/writers and pick one to join. You’re likely to be more comfortable here—these people are speaking your language after all.
  7. Research the many online administrative tools that can help with tasks such as managing emails and social networking posts and determine which will work best for you.
  8. Stay encouraged. When you’re all over the place trying everything and then little happens, it’s discouraging. Seek reward in getting results from the smaller efforts first.
  9. Take your time. Spreading too thin is not just having too many tasks; it’s also trying to do too much too soon. Keeping in line with the whole “baby steps” metaphor: walk before you run.
  10. I’m sorry; I don’t have a “10.” But research has shown that people seem to prefer round numbers, so … <Insert your own ‘baby step’ recommendation here.>

Discipline is what got you from “Once upon a time …” to “The End” and it’s really needed once you put the pen down for the ‘final’ time (or save your file, whichever the case may be). Take a moment to celebrate your achievement because it is a big deal. And then, get back to work, focus. Staying the course couldn’t be more important. 


Monday, June 6, 2016

“The Reappearing Act” (a journey from nonexistence to obscure presence)

Ten years. Almost. Almost ten years ago I completed my first novel, made a whisper of noise about it—and then disappeared. Was it fear? Sure. Was it doubt? Most definitely. Did I stop writing? Never. I’m writing even when I don’t want to.

So, yeah: almost ten years. That was then, this is now. I’ve had some life-changing events in those almost-ten-years. Events that have inspired my writing endeavors (for better or for worse). I finished Like Sweet Buttermilk and then revised it. Finished a book of poetic commentaries and poetry, and then shelved it. Finished my second novel, Obscure Boundaries, and then saw it through.

I’m in this thing. Figuratively speaking, I’ve written myself into a corner—and don’t want to get out. Not this time. I’m reemerging as a writer, reinventing the platform, I’m … reappearing.

Welcome to S.F. Powell: Sans Serif. A blog about my writing life (mostly) without the extra “fluff” or flourish. It’s just me.

Is there still fear? You bet. Doubts? Plenty.

Let’s ride …