Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Sometimes Being Professional Only Gets You As Far As...

I have been holding my tongue. As a newly published author, I can't afford to mouth off about everything that ruffles me when it comes to the world of writing and publishing. Yes, we're allowed gripes now and then, but writers who slam the publishing industry at every turn are burning bridges. Not smart when you are hoping to move "up" in that industry.

I recently saw a video made by a fellow author (no, I won't mention her name nor provide a link) who was giving the virtual finger to the publishing industry for ignoring her work. The method had me baffled. How does she expect to *gain* respect by showing pictures of herself in outfits that are one step above lingerie, accompanied by music and text meant to accuse the publishing industry of being unfair?

To me, that is taking things too far. Way too far. But it begs the question: How far can we take things? What gripes are legitimate? How much do we voice our opinions and experiences before we have crossed a line?

A couple of weeks ago I experienced something I considered blogging about right away, because I was angry. I held back, thinking it would be in bad form. But the more I've thought about it, the more I realize people need to be aware of things--both writers and readers.

Here's what happened:

I was contacted by a local middle school reading coach, who asked me if I'd come speak to the kids for National Literacy Week. Despite the request coming only two weeks in advance, I said yes. Since I've never done a speaking engagement at a school, I asked about the procedure. I got an email reply describing, somewhat vaguely, what to expect. It included something about "presales" going through a local indie bookstore. I said that would be fine, awesome even, because I'd love to support an indie bookstore, but that being small press I'm not automatically carried at that store.

That was the end. The offer was suddenly dead in the water. I got no further reply from her.

I of course began to question myself. Had I said something wrong? Been unprofessional in some way? I read the email I'd sent over and over, searching for something to clue me in on how I'd killed the deal.

And then I realized it was not me.

My email was professional, polished, and positive. Error-free, grammatically correct, well-formatted, and clearly worded. I showed willingness to work with them, on their schedule, at the drop of a hat. I was willing to comply with any and all procedures, and I followed up quickly.

The reading coach who'd contacted me, on the other had, wrote her email in a cutesy font, in one-big-ginormous-paragraph, with no paragraph breaks at all. It contained improper grammar and punctuation, sentences that started with lower case letters, and run-on sentences. Not to mention it meandered all over in content. The one thing she did make clear was that this was a hassle for her, mentioning "red tape" several times. And she made sure to tell me that the "big names" who'd visited their school never charged a fee. Thanks. Way to make me feel small. Especially since I never brought up money in the first place.

Now don't get me wrong. I know teachers and pretty much anyone working at public schools are overworked and underpaid. But she is the *reading coach*--I would expect a better grasp on email writing. And I felt snubbed. She should have emailed me back and explained, or sent a "sorry, this isn't going to work" form letter, rather than just dropping the conversation like a hot potato.

The writing world is one of competition, of trying to shine above the rest. Of being bold and professional to prove we have what it takes. Yet, when we do work hard to polish and edit our books to perfection, painstakingly create and arrange original cover images, and step valiantly out of our comfort zones, we still get shot down. Because the local indie bookstore won't carry indie writers. Because of  "red tape."

And what irks me the most: Because of other people being unprofessional.

Small press publishing has a bad rep for being filled with bad writing, bad editing, and bad cover art. But many of the same people who feel it applies to ALL small press and indie authors exhibit those same things in their dealings with us. Slapped-together emails. Snarky replies. Patronizing statements. Unclear descriptions for procedures and parameters. Lack of organization and detail. And sometimes, flat-out rudeness.

Yet we are to clamp our mouths tight, except for the words "thank you for your time" and move on.

I'm not posting all this as a gripe, or a rant, or to vent. I am doing so because I think indie writers need to know what they are in for. You will be snubbed at some point, probably by someone with half your professionalism. You will have to take the high road, books tucked under your arm, unsold, and search for another venue.

And readers, you will be barred from reaching a lot of awesome books because there are unprofessional people who put themselves in the way. My books will not reach the kids at that school now--not because I was unprofessional, but because their reading coach was.

Time to finish the statement started in my blog title:

Sometimes being professional only gets you as far as the unprofessional people let you.

**Fortunately, though, there ARE professional people out there--like the awesome people at Bloomingdale Library, who are letting me speak and sell books THIS SATURDAY, Feb. 4th, at 3:30. The whole experience so far has been organized and detailed and clearly explained. The librarians have been immensely helpful and quick to answer questions, and for that, I am grateful!**

Monday, January 30, 2012

Facing the Fear

This image is dedicated to my dear friend Turtle,
 who is facing some fears of her own.
We're in this together!
It has taken some serious force of will, but I have finally jumped back into working on the sequel to Finding Angel.

"Right now?" you ask. "Seriously? Isn't it due out later this year?"

Yes, yes, and yes.

But hang on. I started scribbling ideas for this book waaaaaaay back when I was writing Finding Angel. We're talking 2007, folks. And in between bouts of editing Finding Angel and writing short stories, I worked on it bit by bit. A chapter here and there. So when I say "finally jumped back" I mean into a manuscript sporting 58,000 words.

Okay, it's less than that now. I've been editing what I've written so far.

Still, you are right. It's been months (many, many of them) since I last looked at the manuscript. I should have jumped back in the day Finding Angel released. I could give you a whole list of excuses right now. Most of them legitimate. But I won't, because I know deep down the reason was fear.

It sounds ridiculous to me, but it's true. I know, I've already proven I can finish a novel. But there is still this odd fear that I can't do it again. That I'll get partway through and my creativity and talent will just dissipate. Gone. Never to return.

Even more ridiculous sounding is my fear of disappointing my "fans." All four of them! Okay, there are more than four :P, but I'm nowhere near NYT bestseller, so let's be honest--it's not like a sucky second novel will be disappointing masses of people. But the ones it would disappoint mean SO much to me.

There has also been the fear that I've mis-remembered what I've written so far. In other words, I'd open up my document and find mindless drivel rather than the brilliance I thought it was when I was writing it. This is nothing to snicker at. We writers all look back on early drafts and wonder what we were thinking. I expect a certain amount of that, but my fear has been that the amount would be daunting.

Fortunately, so far, that has not been the case. I've had a few "eye roll" moments, and a "cringe" here and there, but for the most part, the story and writing are pretty well what I want them to be.

(Aside: A new point of view is added to this novel. Finding Angel is all in Angel's pov, except for a few blurbs from the villain. This one, however, toggles back and forth between Angel and Someone Else. Someone I loooooove writing.)

Lastly, there is fear of the critique and editing process. Yes, I've been through this. Yes, my skin has thickened. Still, this is my heart and soul we're talking about. Bared to someone with a bloodthirsty knife--er, red pen. I know critique will only make this book stronger. But it does so through torture.

It took a while for me to admit to myself that fear was the culprit here. But admitting it allowed me to face it, and move past it. I spent all day Saturday editing. Pages and pages. The fire for this story was still there, and it's now burning even more brightly, I'm happy to say.

I'd heard many times that the second book is the hardest to write. I've seen blog posts by other authors attesting to this fact, and maybe that added to my fear. I now understand where they were coming from. I also know it probably won't stop with this book, but I believe it will get a little easier (otherwise they'd all be saying it's the third book and fourth book and twenty-seventh book that is the hardest). If nothing else, next time I'll know it's fear, I'll know what its ugly face looks like because I've seen it before. No more excuses.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Women of the Secret Place

The newest anthology containing my writing is available for pre-order! I have two stories in this book, btw :).

Women of the Secret Place is a compilation of personal experience stories--think along the lines of Chicken Soup for the Soul, but with a distinctly Christian focus. 

The "official" blurb:

Faith. Hope. Humor. Who wants to face the challenges of life without them? Not the Women of the Secret Place! Explore this collection of real-life experiences and glimpses into a woman s personal relationship with God. Discover for yourself what the Women of the Secret Place have learned. As you relax with the fifty-two devotionals in Women of the Secret Place, you will laugh, cry, and be encouraged. You will gain new appreciation for God s unique plan for you as a woman of faith. You will be inspired to trust Him through life's most difficult circumstances! The power and beauty of story is captured in the spiritual reflections of award-winning author Ruth Carmichael Ellinger and other contributing authors who candidly share their experiences.


Women of the Secret Place is the perfect bedside table companion: start your day with encouragement or end it with comfort. Readers will relate to touching, heartfelt, candid stories that are embroidered with meaningful scripture. Over fifty-two devotions, written by several different women, are sometimes funny, sometimes sad, but always inspirational. This book will appeal to women of all ages and all walks of life. 
--Suzanne Woods Fisher, author of Amish fiction and non-fiction Christy Award Finalist, The Waiting

These heart-felt readings took me from laughter to tears within a few pages. The real stuff of life, this. From the whimsical to the sublime, a variety of gifted writers transport the reader to the throne of God on the wings of soul-stirring personal anecdotes accompanied by scripture and prayer. A marvelous devotional that magnifies grace and fully satisfies that need within for quality face time with our Savior and King. 
--Debora M. Coty, award-winning author of Too Blessed to be Stressed and More Beauty, Less Beast.
Find it on AMAZON and B&N.COM.
RUTH CARMICHAEL ELLINGER is the primary author for this inspirational collection, Women of the Secret Place. She was born and raised in the Ohio Valley, the setting for her historical and inspirational trilogy, The Wild Rose of Lancaster, Wild Rose of Promise, and Sword of the Wild Rose. Ruth is a two-time recipient of the American Christian Writers Writer of the Year award and the 2010 Brandon Arts Council Award, Artist of the Year for Excellence in the Arts. She has received numerous writing awards for both fiction and nonfiction. Ruth is currently the co-director of Florida Inspirational Writers Retreat, and founder and president of Brandon Christian Writers. As a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Ruth celebrated her patriot ancestry by winning first place for OH DAR, Bells of Freedom. Ruth is a member of two Scottish clans, Carmichael and Davidson. The author s unique ministry experiences have taken her and her family from deserts of Arizona to the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia to the tropical banana plantations of Central America. She writes about her experiences in her blog, The Shepherdess. Ruth and her husband, a pastor, make their home in Florida and spend time at their summer home, Wildrose Cottage, an 1882 restored historical cottage in the picturesque Ohio Valley area. They have four grown children: Lucy, Kendy, Kathy, and James.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Latest Interview

My latest interview is on the blog of a short story writer named Jeff Chapman. As far as short stories go, he and I write on very similar ground. We've been in a few of the same magazines and anthologies. So, he's read quite a bit of my writing.

Which means, when he went into reading Finding Angel, he had some real background. And when he sent me some interview questions to answer, he didn't cop out and ask a bunch of generic stuff. He knew where to dig. (The picture makes sense now, eh?)

So, without further ado, HERE IS MY LATEST INTERVIEW.

And if you have any hypotheses on the "wall and fire" question, feel free to put them in the comments--here or there--because I'm rather curious.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Customer Service is a No Go

My latest blog post at New Authors' Fellowship is a (rantish) piece about the dying art of customer service. You can read it by clicking HERE.

I don't want to pull my fellows into the fray, so on NAF I left out the name of the company that inspired the post. This, however, is MY blog. So take heed people: If you need to register a domain name, steer clear of Yahoo. They are not the only company I've had CS issues with, but they are the latest. And their "you must follow the rules, but we don't have to" attitude has made me decide I will never, ever use their services again.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Mish-Mash, Again

I hate that I'm constantly posting these mish-mash posts. But here I am again.

First, my fellow fantasy/horror writer Jeff Chapman reviewed Finding Angel on his blog today. It's rather detailed, although I wouldn't go as far as calling it spoilerish. If you'd like to delve into his ruminations, click HERE. I love his keen eye for detail and deeper meanings.

Second, there are now TWO contests in which you can vote for Finding Angel:

As I told you in a recent post, the Grace Awards are open for reader nominations. A short--very short!--email is all it takes to cast your vote. Details can be found HERE.

But there's also the Family Fiction Readers Choice Awards. This one is even easier to enter--just a simple form to fill out. You only vote in the categories you want to. Click HERE.

In both instances, remember--Finding Angel is YA and fantasy :). And in the Family Fiction awards I fit "favorite new author" as well (er, I hope!).

And my fellow author Keven Newsome's book Winter is up for several awards, including one for cover art (see it there to the left) and two for his rockin' book trailer. Check out his blog for details and to view the trailer.

Finally, I mentioned last time that I have an upcoming speaking engagement. If you happen to live in my area, or whatever whacked-out reason have chosen to visit here during the first week of February, here are the details. It is open to everyone:

Where: Bloomingdale Library (Valrico, FL)
Date: Saturday, February 4th
Time: 3:30 to 5:30

I'll have books for purchase that I'll be signing afterward.

I suppose that's it for now. And I probably shouldn't say I hate these posts. Lots of good stuff, eh?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Record Your Speech to Erase Your Nerves

One of the best things I ever did for my writing career happened more than fifteen years before I started writing. While attending community college, I was required to take a public speaking class. At first it was THE most terrifying thing I had ever done. I heard somewhere that more people fear public speaking than fear death, and I was one of them.

And when the teacher pulled out the video camera and set it up....

But wait--THAT is actually the very thing I am referring to here. That video camera. IT was the best thing that ever happened to my writing career. Because these days so much of being a writer is getting up in front of people.

Here's what happened: the teacher taped us during our presentations. But *she* did not ever lay eyes on the videos, nor did the other students. We each had our own tape (yes, VHS tape...) and she sent each tape home with its respective owner. We had to watch ourselves and only turn in our notes about what we saw--the good, the bad, and the ugly--and how we intended to improve.

Let me tell you, the first time I sat down to watch I knew I'd see a stuttering, paaauuuusing, fidgeting fool. But I was wrong. Sure, I about wore out the word "um", but I didn't look nearly as awkward as I'd felt up there.

I realized several things:

You don't look as nervous as you feel. That heat you feel in your face and neck? Invisible. The trembling in your hands? Too subtle to see from waaaaay out in the audience, even if they are only ten feet away. If you still worry about it, make your notes on index cards which don't rattle and sway in your hands the way loose-leaf paper does.

The biggest giveaway to nervousness is lack of eye contact. LOOK at people. It will give the illusion that you are confident even when you are not. Don't write your speech out word for word, but use key words and phrases so your eyes are not glued to your notes. And hey--the notes are only for YOU to see, so if you need to, write in reminders like, "look at the audience" and "don't say 'um' too much."

The pause that to you feels like seventeen minutes is probably less than one second. You know the saying "time is relative"? It really is. It will run differently for you than for your audience. If you pause, they experience real-time, while you feel some sort of warped time flow that makes a single, half-second pause stretch into an unnatural length. Remind yourself of that over and over--I promise it helps. And if you don't believe me, record yourself just like I did and see for yourself.

With the exception of the world's most extroverted extroverts, everyone is nervous about public speaking. The fact that you even got up there is going to impress them to a certain degree. And most people will be rooting for you, not hoping for you to blunder. They sympathize, and are merely glad it is you up there and not them, so they want you to succeed.

I never thought that video camera would have such an effect later in my life, but without it I would never have gotten through the speeches I've done already. Knowing what was on that tape completely changed my view on public speaking.

And it's a darn good thing, because I've got some speaking engagements coming up, and boy, am I nervous.

Monday, January 9, 2012

My Blues Boy

Funny--I said in a recent post that I pretty well never post videos on here. Guess what? Today I'm posting a video. But it's not just a fluff for fun thing.

Almost two years ago I posted here about an up-and-coming musician named Logan Lind. As you would see by following that link, his music is described as "folk/blues with a Scandinavian flair." Oh, yeah.

He's still around, folks, and going stronger than ever. Wanna know why?

Because. He. ROCKS.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Link Collection

A few things have collected this week, so today is a post of links. But they are good links. Really, really good.

First, Kersten Hamilton joins us today on New Authors' Fellowship to share her journey to publication. She's the one who wrote Tyger, Tyger and In the Forests of the Night, which I have been raving about lately. Her post is truly worth a read. Very encouraging. Very entertaining. Please, please go by and check it out and leave a comment!

Second, another blog to check out today is Magical Ink. Heather Titus has announced the book she has chosen as "Book of the Year." She gives hints in her post as to--ahem--which book it is, with a link to her Bookshelf that reveals the--ahem--title.  So seriously, go find out which book --AHEM--she has chosen...and enter there to win a copy!!!

And last...but definitely not least in importance...the Grace Awards have opened for voting. This is a reader driven contest, which means readers get to send in votes for their favorite books of 2011. I would love...really, really love...to see Finding Angel win the Young Adult category. So if you are so inclined (please, please be so inclined), head over to the Grace Awards site and check out how to vote. It is a short 25-word email telling what you loved about Finding Angel. The only prerequisite is some sort of social media account as "proof" you are voting only as yourself.

See, told you they were good links! Now get scootin'.