Go for it, US peeps!
Stay tuned! Next week I expect to give away a signed Advance Reading Copy of BARDWELL’S FOLLY!
Go for it, US peeps!
Stay tuned! Next week I expect to give away a signed Advance Reading Copy of BARDWELL’S FOLLY!
Robert, we were in the same graduate fiction writing program at the University of New Hampshire in the mid-1980s. You’ve been working away as a literary writer ever since, part of that time also teaching as an adjunct. I’ve done enough of that to know it’s not an easy way to make a living, or to have energy left over for writing. How have you survived and persisted all this time?
It hasn’t been easy! Soon after I received my MA at the University of New Hampshire, I moved to Tucson and received my MFA degree in Fiction Writing from the University of Arizona. Around that same time, my graduate school thesis project, a collection of short stories titled LIVING WITH STRANGERS, won the Bobst Award for Emerging Writers and was published by NYU Press. I also received a year-long screenwriting fellowship from the Chesterfield Writer’s Film Project out in Los Angeles, so for a few years I was playing around with screenwriting. During that time period I had a screenplay optioned by Amblin Entertainment and Warner Brothers.
In the mid-90s I decided to leave the City of Angels and move to the Big Apple, where I’ve lived ever since. I also did the adjunct teaching routine for over a decade, and trying to find the balance between writing and teaching was always a challenge. Over the past three years I’ve been making a living off freelance editing and occasionally tutoring students one-on-one with their novels and story collections.
One thing I’ve been pretty good about doing over the years is making time for my own writing. On most days I require myself to write on my own work for a minimum of one hour. No matter how busy I am with other stuff, or think I am, I have to log in at least one hour. No excuses! No “this can wait.” Often we fall into the trap of spending our time “making a living,” and so we neglect to set aside the time needed to sit at the desk and just write and ponder (although who writes and ponders at a desk anymore?).
Flannery O’Connor was a big proponent of sitting herself down in front of her typewriter for two hours a day, even if she just stared at the blank page or wrote a page or two of labored prose. She said, “I write only about two hours every day because that’s all the energy I have, but I don’t let anything interfere with those two hours, at the same time and at the same place.” I admire the discipline of that practice and try to follow it myself, minus the same time part.
I know you had a literary agent at one time, and the story of how you moved on from that is interesting. What can you share?
I had an agent at a highly regarded literary agency. As I was working on the final rewrite of BARROW’S POINT, she told me she didn’t think she could send it out to major publishers because the novel had “so many gay people in it.”
Needless to say I was floored by her comment. She later apologized if the remark came across as homophobic, and explained that she’d had another client whose novel she’d been sending around for some time. That novel had a lesbian protagonist, and my agent had a difficult time placing the book. Eventually, a small publisher took on the novel, but my agent said, “I don’t want to go through that again.”
Well, even the apology was problematic. She was assuming the reason the other novel was having a difficult time getting accepted was because it had a gay lead character. But don’t books get rejected by commercial publishers all the time, including ones with straight characters? Why did she automatically assume the reason for the rejection of the novel was because of the gay lead character? Were the publishers really writing back and saying, “Hey, we like this, but that lesbian main character is a problem.”
In the end, I parted company with that agent. Whatever her reasons for her perspective, I decided I wanted—deserved—an agent who was going to fight for the book and any other novel I might write. Even if she was right and the commercial publishing world does have a bias against fiction with “so many gay characters,” I wanted an agent that would push back against that mindset, one who wasn’t just submitting to the bias but was at least trying to fight against it.
Related to that issue of the market for LGBTQ-themed fiction, do you think your writing and publishing trajectory would have been different in a world that was more tolerant when you first began? Do you feel it has opened up a lot now? Or not as much as we might hope?
To tell you the truth, BARROW’S POINT (and “Fag Killer,” the short story the novel is based on) are the only LGBTQ-themed fiction I’ve published so far, so I don’t have a great deal of past experience in this regard. In a certain way, I want to believe that as the general culture has grown seemingly more tolerant (the legalizing of gay marriage and so on), that must mean the publishing world is more tolerant as well. On the other hand, since so much of mainstream publishing has become corporate and focused on the “bottom line,” I suspect there are still barriers to knock down. Certainly, if we’re to believe my ex-agent, a barrier to LGBTQ fiction still exists.
The movement toward corporate publishing has led, I think, to an increased need to pigeonhole fiction into a particular genre. Today’s publishing world seems to want a clear picture of what they’re selling, something familiar, an easy brand to market—so fiction with a gay lead character gets pigeonholed as “gay fiction,” fiction with a female lead is “chick lit” and so on. More complicated work that can’t be easily categorized is at a disadvantage.
In BARROW’S POINT the general premise of the novel is that several gay men have been killed in a small college town in Wisconsin. One of the lead characters is a gay cop. The novel really isn’t a whodunit/mystery/serial killer book, but you’d be surprised how many people connected to the business wanted to try and lump the story into the genre of “murder mystery” and were bothered when the novel started straying out of those confines and wasn’t following the traditional steps of a mystery/suspense novel. Again, it was the need to pigeonhole the novel into an easy marketing brand/genre.
So to bring the answer back to the original question, I do think there are still barriers to publishing LGBQT-themed work in the commercial market, but part of that barrier is getting publishers to understand these books can engage with a universal audience, and just because the lead character is gay doesn’t mean it will only appeal to a gay audience.
Separate from that issue, is there anything in terms of your writing career that you would do differently if you could? What is your advice for aspiring literary writers today?
I do feel as if I spent too many years on the adjunct teaching wheel. If you can get a full-time creative writing teaching gig, that’s probably a different matter, but trying to write while also teaching full-time as an adjunct gets exhausting quickly. Or at least that was the case with me. And the pay is deplorable, needless to say, so I wish I’d thought a little more about the gloomy financial picture I was willing to settle for.
But the main thing I would try to do differently is alter a certain character trait within myself. I’m a very prolific writer in many ways, but I’ve only published two books so far. The biggest problem is that I’m a terribly inefficient writer. I write so much and yet finish so little. My head in constantly jumping over to new stories, new novels, even occasional attempts at plays or screenplays. I have over thirty novels and story collections sitting around in various stages of completion. I have twice as many incomplete short stories lying around in my Brooklyn hovel, many of them written (half written!) in longhand in various old-school notebooks. I’m the Joyce Carol Oates of unfinished work! If I never have another original story idea for the rest of my life, I still have enough projects to work on, just finishing up all the stuff I’ve already started.
Over the past 3-4 years I’ve gotten better at focusing on one thing at a time and actually finishing work rather than just starting it. So a piece of advice I’d offer is finish what you start. The market is really bad for incomplete works! And always remember the quote that says “with ordinary talent and extraordinary perseverance, all things are attainable.” The market is really bad for incomplete works! -- Robert Schirmer Click To Tweet
BARROW’S POINT is an expanded version of a short story titled “Fag Killer” that was published in Glimmer Train back in 2006. As I mentioned in an earlier question, the novel focuses on a college town in Wisconsin where several gay men are getting murdered. The novel won the Gival Press Novel Prize in 2015 and was published in October 2016. After I parted with my agent, I hadn’t sent the novel around much, so I’m fortunate the book found a home at Gival Press so quickly. The experience has gone pretty well—there’s good communication with the editor, Robert Giron, and the entire process, from notification of winning the award to the novel appearing in print, took exactly one year.
Of course, the difficulty in publishing with an independent press is that it’s more challenging to get exposure and get your novel read. Getting reviews is also problematic. I had to learn to do my own publicity and legwork, which I hate, but more and more writers are having to market their own books these days, even a lot of writers publishing with the big houses. I guess it’s just the way things are done now.
It is indeed! To learn more about Robert Schirmer and his work, check out his web site: www.robertschirmerwriter.com.
Feel free to join the conversation about publishing, persistence, literary fiction, LGBTQ fiction, or anything else by leaving a comment below. (You might need to click on a little dialogue bubble next to the headline to see it. Please note that comments are moderated.)Robert Schirmer on persisting as a #literary writer, challenges #LGBTQ fiction can face. Click To Tweet
Last year I was asked by a friend to write a short monologue for Jessie Fremont Traver Moore, a woman who’d spent most of her adult life as a missionary in Assam, India. It was for an original theater experience in the Sand Lake (NY) Town Cemetery called Amazing Graves. It featured monologues from a number of the cemetery’s dead residents to benefit the Sand Lake Town Library, where I used to be a trustee.
Since I had inveigled this friend into taking my spot on said board of trustees when I left town, I owed her. And of course I was happy to support the library.
Except…was she kidding? She wanted ME to write from the point of view of a Baptist missionary?
My Episcopal church family knows I’m a faithful parishioner but not a very pious one. I would rate myself a 1 out of 10 on ability to earnestly participate in spontaneous prayer. I’m mostly silent in group discussion of scripture. My evangelism consists of suggesting we have free bread and coffee and conversation on Saturday mornings and advocating in a more general way for justice and mercy.
If there are moments in my novels that suggest Christian belief might not be pointless or ridiculous — THE AWFUL MESS comes to mind — I try very hard not to bash anyone over the head with it.
Maybe this arises from an agnostic childhood. To this day my birth family finds my beliefs peculiar. And, even as a believer, I’m on the skeptical end of the spectrum. A lot of Christian rituals strike me as deeply cultural (and patriarchal and superstitious) ways of sharing the fundamental message of God’s love. I suspect I feel at home in the Episcopal tradition mostly because it’s so Anglican (yep, I’m an English major) and because the national church is decidedly liberal.
Even so, I don’t believe Episcopal practice is inherently superior to any other faith tradition that preaches love and forgiveness instead of hate and exclusion. Including non-Christian traditions.
I have attended Baptist services and Methodist services and Congregationalist services. I have also attended Christian and Missionary Alliance services, where missionary work truly is the focus of that congregation’s outreach. But whenever people talk about missionaries, I automatically wonder what the native people think of these white people coming in and trying to win their souls for Christ. Especially given some pretty brutal, imperialistic history connected to those efforts.
So I was leery of Jessie Fremont Traver Moore. But she surprised me.
She was named Fremont after an abolitionist candidate for President who lost. So in her family there wasn’t any of that blindness to the evils of slavery and of racism that we tend to associate with American Evangelicals today — not that this is necessarily fair.
And what a woman Traver Moore was! She left published journals behind, some of which her descendant in town loaned me, and another of which I found on Google, so I got to hear her official version of her life. I had to read between the lines for the unofficial version, of course, but there were hints of it there. (I never got the feeling Mrs. Moore suffered fools gladly.)
Here’s a woman who trained in seminary and crossed the globe multiple times by sea (the last time right as WWI broke out), going into regions where poverty and disease were rampant. In Nowgong, the village where she and her husband based their work, the Moores learned the native language, translated books to it, published them, and taught in it. The school they started there is still educating students today.
You can read the entire short monologue (which got a few edits from the descendant, Dee Erickson), but this is my favorite part:
In Assam we not only brought many Assamese to Christ, we started a school that eventually was educating over 100 girls, Hindus and Muslims as well as Christians. We participated in the civic life of Nowgong, and I counted many lovely Hindu and Muslim ladies among my acquaintance, even those who did not feel compelled to accept Jesus despite my best efforts to share the Good News with them over tea in their homes. In my diaries – which, by the way, I published — I remarked how I nonetheless hoped I would see them in heaven.
Now, I would forgive you for thinking at this point that since I have clearly passed already I could tell you whether I have met with those lovely ladies in heaven, but I’m afraid I have not been authorized to reveal any information about what comes next. We who are dead leave all that gazing into mirrors darkly to you.
You might be interested to read the other monologues, too. I’d start with the introduction and then follow the gravestone links for each. It was fascinating to see how the Rent Wars in particular foreshadowed some debates we’re still having today. (If you don’t think who you vote for ever matters, read this.)
The Advance Reading Copy (ARC) of BARDWELL’S FOLLY is up on NetGalley for most of November, and reviewers are welcome to request a copy. I’m not actually the person who decides who gets these, but if you are a blogger or reviewer who might potentially give the book some play, you should be approved (if not, let me know!).
My pub date of November 29 sure is coming up fast. Too fast, really, since the end of the semester and Christmas are also racing into view. If you want me to reserve a signed author copy for you, please do let me know so I can get it to you before Christmas. And if you’d like to attend a reading or a launch party, let me know that, too, through any channel.
by Sandra Hutchison
I’ve been contemplating bringing THE AWFUL MESS: A LOVE STORY (2013) in from wide distribution to Kindle Select, where various promotional opportunities can give it a boost. But the cover was a problem. Because it had a naked lady on it, sort of.
Still widely distributed, without any recent promotions, I get the occasional foreign sale through Kobo and almost nothing in domestic or foreign sales from any of the other retailers except Amazon. About one in five Kindle purchasers of THE RIBS AND THIGH BONES OF DESIRE (2014), which is in Kindle Select, also buy THE AWFUL MESS, which is nice, but will never get it ranking high on its own.
As indie authors with any experience know, if I go back into Kindle Select, even for a while, I can more easily try to goose those sales a bit. (This will indeed hurt my ranking at the other sites, but as noted above, I don’t have really have one.)
However, there was little point in going back into Kindle Select if I couldn’t at least promote it on Amazon from time to time. And so I had an exchange with Amazon about their AMS marketing standards and whether this cover would meet them. (Thankfully, they were willing to consider the question.)
No, I was eventually told, there could be no nudity. Not even tasteful, blurred nudity.
So I tried going back to a more professional version of my first (homemade) cover. But sales fell during that test, so I returned to the naked lady.
Next, I tried drawing a blurry underwater bathing suit on that naked lady. That was pretty funny.
Then I decided to try to cover up her blurry naked behind with a nice blurb. Would that be okay, I asked Amazon? Nope, that was still no go. Even if we couldn’t see it, nudity was being suggested. (The helpful representative told me that standards have toughened a bit recently — even a male nipple disqualifies AMS marketing nowadays.)
I suppose this sensibility may also explain why I’ve had a harder time getting BookBub and other slots lately. Who knows why, though? My books are getting dated now, definitely backlist, so that’s a possibility. I won’t shut up about the current election, or race issues, or whatever, so maybe they think I’m too outspoken. Or maybe they blacklisted me for my post “The Five Stages of Grief of Being Rejected by BookBub,” even though it was free advertising.
Making your opinions public as an author or any small business person is always a risk. But so is publishing a book, right? I’d rather err on the side of telling the truth as I see it than tip-toeing around.
Of course, I’m not depending on my writing to pay the bills, so I get to make that choice from a position of privilege. Many others cannot.
Besides the really beautiful design by Damon Za, what I like about that semi-nude cover is that it signals the book might include some racy stuff. Which it does, in two short sex scenes. Some readers have an issue with that, which is understandable, although I could wish they would read the whole product description before they start reading.
Meanwhile, of course, other readers are disappointed when I don’t have any explicit sex, as I’ve noticed with my beta readers on BARDWELL’S FOLLY. It has some bedroom scenes between heroine and hero, just as RIBS does, but getting graphic about slot A and tab B in the two of them didn’t, to my mind, serve any non-prurient artistic purpose.
Occasionally I’ve thought of excising the explicit aspects from THE AWFUL MESS, too. But I feel those explicit scenes do add something to the characterization in that novel. And anyway, what’s done is done (except, cough, with covers and typos).
I do still, sometimes, toy with bringing back the clean PG-13 version, much as MM Jaye did with a recent romance, but since my clean version sold a total of two copies back in the day I doubt it would be worth the trouble.
It’s not as if a novel addressing misogyny and gay rights is suddenly going to find great favor in Amazon’s Christian romance market. The only reason I still toy with the idea is that I’d just like to try marketing it as a progressive Christian novel. Many Evangelicals are more progressive or at least less prudish than you might expect, and there are plenty of Christian readers like me who are quite liberal.
Anyway, I just recently purchased from Tugboat Design a pre-designed cover of a fully dressed woman that I hope gives at least a suggestion of sex while also, perhaps, hinting at the theme. I really like it, even though I personally envision Mary having slightly darker brown hair and even though I’m still not entirely sure what is going on in this photo. (What do you think?)
As long as I was investing in real design work, I had Deborah at Tugboat clean up my design for BARDWELL’S FOLLY, and get the paperback cover done, an effort I was procrastinating figuring out for myself. Hopefully this means the ARC will be ready next week to start going out for review. (If you’re a blogger or reviewer, feel free to request one).
Or, if you’re a reader who has strong opinions one way or the other, I’d love to hear from you. Do you think explicit scenes usually add to your experience of a novel, or get in the way? And even if you don’t mind them yourself, does it keep you from recommending a book?
By Sandra Hutchison
In interesting timing for me, the white author Lionel Shriver just caused an uproar at the Brisbane Writer’s Festival for rebuking the liberal left for sometimes condemning the “cultural appropriation” of other ethnic groups in fiction. As she puts it:
In the latest ethos, which has spun well beyond college campuses in short order, any tradition, any experience, any costume, any way of doing and saying things, that is associated with a minority or disadvantaged group is ring-fenced: look-but-don’t-touch. Those who embrace a vast range of “identities” – ethnicities, nationalities, races, sexual and gender categories, classes of economic under-privilege and disability – are now encouraged to be possessive of their experience and to regard other peoples’ attempts to participate in their lives and traditions, either actively or imaginatively, as a form of theft.
She mentions, for example, criticism of Chris Cleave for writing from the point of view of young Nigerian immigrant girl in LITTLE BEE (which I loved). The full text of her speech is available at that link above and it’s well worth reading.
My ears pricked up because my next novel, BARDWELL’S FOLLY, gets into that discussion. It obviously commits the offense in question, too, since it includes African American characters. Protagonist Dori’s white father wrote a bestselling novel about slavery years ago, but Dori and a black character, Maya, travel into his past and uncover something unexpected about what inspired him.
It really angers Maya, and I think her frustration is entirely reasonable. As she puts it:
Maybe I’d like to see some other beautiful books about the human condition get a little more air. Some that aren’t written by white people. Some that might actually be about an authentic black experience.
On the other hand, as Shriver points out, if condemnation of cultural appropriation is taken to its extreme, no one could ever write a character of another race, another gender, another economic class, another location, another era. Basically, all we’d be left with is memoir. Careful, inoffensive memoir.
Which would mean we never got HUCKLEBERRY FINN. Or TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, THE MEMBER OF THE WEDDING, THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES, THE INVENTION OF WINGS. Most of Faulkner, racially problematic as it may be. Lots of novels, poof. Gone.
Do we really want to go there?
Aren’t white people who’ve read those books more likely to pick up AMERICANAH, or THE COLOR PURPLE, or THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD, or THE INVISIBLE MAN, or BELOVED, and so many others? Aren’t they more likely to consider issues of fairness and justice and the history behind today’s debates? (Which, frankly, is alarmingly reminiscent of the George Wallace era I grew up in.)
Also, why should it be politically incorrect for me to wrestle in good faith with something that’s been a significant part of my existence on this planet, just because I’m the wrong color?
I was born in Florida in 1960. I remember watching the Rev. Martin Luther King’s funeral on TV. I remember my white parents expressing regret that they hadn’t thought twice about segregation before the Civil Rights movement. I remember the arguments in our neighborhood about desegregation in Hillsborough County, and the first day of school in August of 1971 when some angry whites threw rocks at our court-ordered bus as it made its way from the white suburbs to a black neighborhood in Tampa. I remember my best friend suddenly disappearing into private school. I remember having a nervous stomach-ache every morning before leaving for the bus stop.
I also remember that year as a great blessing. That’s also how I remember every year after that when I was privileged to attend integrated schools or live in integrated areas or attend integrated churches or teach in integrated classrooms. (It didn’t always happen. I’ve also lived in some very white places. And I won’t claim that marrying a white Puerto Rican counts as integration, either.)
The thing is, it’s much harder to hate or fear or hold idiotic beliefs about a whole group once you know enough individuals in it as friends and neighbors and students and colleagues and fellow parishioners and perhaps even members of your family.
A lot of Americans never really have that opportunity. They may actively avoid it, out of fear, or they don’t seek it out because they don’t know how illuminating it can be. Or they live in a very white area. And even in people of good will, that lack of personal knowledge creates enormous potential for racist stereotypes to take root.
Surely the empathy that arises from reading good fiction with diverse characters can help avoid that? No matter what color the author may be?
In BARDWELL’S FOLLY, Dori has grown up largely cut off from the diversity of the larger world. She’s not intentionally racist. Her Southern-born parents weren’t intentionally racist. Her father wrote that Pulitzer-Prize-winning book about slavery – not that she’s impressed. She’s burdened with her own resentments, and she also suffers from youth and ignorance. As the daughter of a famous author, she also has just enough name recognition to get herself in trouble for it.
This is a novel about family secrets and lies, about public shaming, about cultural appropriation and authenticity, and about the ties that bind us or break us apart. Ultimately, I hope, it’s about the redemption that can come when we seek out the truth about each other, even if we can never really know all of it.
Without any African-American characters, this novel couldn’t exist. I suppose it could have been slimmed down to basic small town women’s fiction. I’ve always written in that category. But I’ve always wanted more chew on than just a bunch of relationships. I’m thinking about faith and gay rights in THE AWFUL MESS. I’m thinking about sexual politics and how we treat rape victims in THE RIBS AND THIGH BONES OF DESIRE. And I’m thinking about cultural appropriation and race and poverty in BARDWELL’S FOLLY.
I knew I was living a little dangerously. I sure as hell sought the feedback of African-American friends in the hope of avoiding any terrible missteps.
And yes, I know there’s an element of irony here: White author publishes novel in which white appropriation of a black experience is one of the themes, tags it “African American,” and the pre-order promptly shows up in the “Hot and Trending New Releases” list of African-American literature, quite possibly bumping an African-American author off the list.
I know. I get it. Sorry.
Not completely sorry, though, because I’d still really like you to read my book.
Florence, you mentioned in a recent helpful blog post for new novelists that you had “never lost money on a promotion.” My ears pricked up at that, since I’m sure I’ve had some losing promotions (or, at least, promotions without an immediate, verifiable profit). What do you think is the secret of your success there?
The way I look at it, there are six basic rules when it comes to launching a successful book promotion.
It doesn’t matter whether I pay $200+ for a BookBub promotion, $25 for an www.fkbt.com one, or anything in between, I have never lost money. And the more I pay for the promotion, the better the return on investment. The first time I ran a BookBub promotion and paid $220 for it, I feared that I wouldn’t even break even. But after I gave away 76,769 freebies and then sold (or readers borrowed through Kindle’s lending library) 4,648 copies during the thirty days following the promotion, my fears were quickly allayed. You have to spend money to make money.
You mention at your web site that you had a long career in business before taking up writing. How has that impacted your practices as an author? And what would you say was the single most useful aspect of your previous career when you came to writing?
In my previous career in administrative management, I constantly sought out challenges—ways to improve my skills, someone else’s skills, departmental performance, or my own job performance. Things haven’t changed much as an author—challenges still motivate me. The most useful aspect of my previous career is the importance of communicating the written word in the right manner to the right audience. As an author, you may have an interesting story to tell, but if you don’t communicate it well (that’s why we have editors) to the right people (your target audience), you will have missed opportunities.
I write women’s fiction and your lovely covers strike me as fitting that genre, although your subject matter doesn’t, exactly—at least two of your novels are focused on a man’s emotional journey rather than a woman’s. How do you think about genre and your covers, and your work? Has there been any evolution in that?
I’ll get this out of the way first—the covers for my first two books were going to be renditions of my family home no matter what. I had just lost both parents, and I wanted to dedicate my first two books to them with their home on the covers. Not the best marketing decision, but something I had to do.
I find that genre descriptions are fairly subjective and somewhat overlapping. That being said, I strive to write literary fiction, which I define as having characters with depth and complexity and thought-provoking plots that challenge readers as to their own values and beliefs. But at times others have pegged my books as women’s fiction, contemporary fiction, historical fiction, and even cozy mysteries. My goal is to create covers that reflect the literary fiction genre while portraying the essence of the story and providing enough intrigue to cause the reader to turn the book over and read the back cover.
The conversation that led to this blog post was held in an Awesome Indies group. How much has networking through various writer’s groups impacted your career? Do you have advice for other writers in this regard? (I also notice that you don’t use your various seals of approval from these curated groups on your covers. Is there a reason for that?)
When I was new in the industry, I joined every social media writer’s group I could find, and while it was time-consuming keeping up on all of them, what I learned from my fellow authors was invaluable. Now I’ve narrowed the list down to a few where I believe I can contribute the most. The writer’s groups that have had (and still have) the most impact on my career are the closed social media groups where members share their experiences and knowledge with a known faction of authors, Awesome Indie Authors Facebook group being one of them. Members of closed groups tend to share details of their successes and failures more freely than in open groups, making each closed group a great learning venue.
With regard to using group seals of approval on my covers, I’m embarrassed to say that it never occurred to me. I typically note the award/honor in the book blurbs I post, and I have affixed physical stickers to paperbacks when they’re made available, but I could also incorporate them on the covers of the Kindle versions of my books. I’ll have to look into that.
I notice your web site includes some rather entertaining comments from agents who passed on your work before you self-published. Is it safe to say you’re completely satisfied with your life as an indie author-publisher? Would anything ever entice you to switch?
The only scenario that would entice me to switch from self-publishing to traditional publishing is if I could make more money and spend less time with promotion. I don’t see that happening any time soon.
Tell us something about you that might surprise an audience of readers and writers.
I am often asked how I conceived the story line ideas for my books. I knew that I wanted to write novels when I retired, so for years prior to that, I accumulated an assortment of ideas that I thought could be useful in my writing later on. Whenever I heard an interesting conversation that could potentially lead to a plot or sub-plot, or observed an incident that would make an effective scene, or saw a movie that inspired me in some way, I jotted down the thought on any scrap of paper that was handy. Then, when I was ready to start writing my first book, I emptied the large shoe box that contained these hundreds of scraps of paper, categorized them, and put them in separate piles. When I was finished, three distinct story lines had emerged that later culminated in four books.'You have to spend money to make money.' Florence Osmund on indie book promotions. #interview Click To Tweet
After a long career in the corporate world, Florence Osmund retired to write novels. “I strive to write literary fiction and endeavor to craft stories that challenge readers to survey their own beliefs and values,” Osmund states. Florence’s website offers substantial advice for new and aspiring writers, including how to begin the project, writing techniques, building an author platform, book promotion and more. Florence lives in the heart of Chicago on the shore of Lake Michigan, where she continues to write novels. You can learn more about her at her Facebook page, on Twitter, or at LinkedIn.
Florence Osmund will be giving away an e-book of RED CLOVER to someone who responds to this post (and she might just give away some of her other titles, too). If you’re having trouble finding the comments, make sure you’ve scanned down the page all the way, or click the little conversation bubble up next to the headline.
He had felt like an outsider in his own family his entire life. Now twenty-six—confused and emotionally bankrupt after suffering a childhood fraught with criticism and isolation—Lee leaves his dysfunctional upper-class family to find his true self.
Determined to cultivate a meaningful life, Lee discovers a world poles apart from the one he had left behind and an assortment of unforgettable characters to go with it. But just when things start falling into place, he is made aware of an alarming family secret that causes him to question who he is and where he’s going.
What do you do when the people who had been entrusted with nurturing you during your formative years are the same ones responsible for turning your world upside down?
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Maria, you’ve recently tried something that I tried and failed with back in 2013 – publishing a new book that has both a “spicy” (NC17) and “clean” version. I had done that with fanfiction in the past, and I thought it would be nice to offer two different versions since THE AWFUL MESS has some progressive Christian themes, but the two explicit sex scenes might be too much for some religious readers. Your book doesn’t appear to have any Christian appeal per se, though. What prompted you to try offering both a spicy and clean version?
I’ve seen a number of Facebook and Goodreads groups that feature “clean” books only, and since my stories are a lot more than just the physical attraction between the protagonists, I thought I’d offer a version of the story minus the sex scenes to appeal to those readers as well. Later on, I discovered that there are also a lot of bloggers who are willing to host only PG-13 books and covers on their blog, and in author exchange posts, having a “milder” version proved useful.
How did you actually go about it?
It was fairly easy. I wrote the spicy version, then went back and deleted the sex scenes and some heavy foreplay and also toned down the language in certain parts. (I decided against including “f” bombs in the clean version just to be on the safe side.) The only challenge was rounding up the parts where I deleted a scene, so that the story flow was seamless.
At this point, I’d like to note that I feel there’s a difference between “sweet” and “clean” stories. “Sweet” romances have a more wholesome feel with an inspirational theme, whereas “clean” can be sassier reads (in my clean version, the protagonists have pre-marital sex), just without the “which part goes where” bits. I don’t think I could turn the spicy version in a “sweet” read, bearing the above distinction in mind, simply because I’d have to write a different story.
I notice you use the same title, but different subtitles, and beautiful covers that are related but noticeably different. What was your thinking there? Did it cost twice as much or did you get a break on the pricing?
Thank you for the positive vote on my covers. Luckily, my cover designer didn’t charge more for the “clean” cover. I bought all images myself, used the same background for both versions, so it was just a matter of placing two different images on the same background. Same fonts. No extra charge.
As for the concept behind the covers, since this is a series, I chose a stunning backdrop with a predominant color (green for FATE CAPTURED, orange for FATE AWAKENED, the upcoming Book Two in the Greek Tycoons series) and then chose a portrait image of a girl that bears resemblance to my heroine for the “clean” cover and an image of an intimate couple for the “spicy.” The tricky part was finding a girl in the couples’ image that looked like the girl that would go on the “clean” cover, but browsing those stock photo sites is fun.
When I tried doing this with my debut novel back in 2013, I slapped a “PG-13” burst on the cleaned-up version and added that as a subtitle, but despite the separate ISBNs, Amazon ultimately decided to list both editions together on their site. I felt that led to some confusion for readers. Have you managed to avoid that so far? Would it bother you if it happened? Did you have any discussions with Amazon or other authors as you undertook this dual publication?
I had no problems with Amazon. The covers are different, and I made sure the titles (not subtitles) were different as well. FATE CAPTURED (CLEAN ROMANCE) and FATE CAPTURED (SPICY ROMANCE). I guess since the covers and titles were different, Amazon saw them as two separate books. I also used different keywords. Naughty, naughty words for the spicy version, milder and more generic (no bad boy alpha male) in the clean one.
With my book I discovered that very few people seemed interested in the clean version vs. the more adult one. I think in its first month the difference in sales literally ran 25 to 1. Have you noticed a difference in sales between the two editions?
I have had the exact same experience. Just a trickle of sales for the clean version. But, to be honest, I don’t promote it as much as I do the spicy one. It helped me a lot when author friends wanted to review my book and didn’t feel comfortable with explicit sex scenes, so I had something to offer to them, and I also offer the clean version to blogs that host only PG-13 books. So I feel that the clean book helps more with marketing and connecting with other authors rather than with bringing income. Oh, and, of course, I have something to show to relatives. Let’s not forget that!Which sells better, clean or spicy? Two indie authors' experiences. Click To Tweet
Your price point on all your books right now seems quite a bargain at 99 cents. Do you have any thoughts about pricing and promotions based on your experience so far?
Well, both FATE CAPTURED and my Gothic mystery romance, HOUSE AT THE EDGE, are under 50K words. They’re borderline novellas. That’s why I priced them at 99 cents. FATE AWAKENED, which stands at 80K words, will get a $2.99 price tag. But the group of authors in the World of Gothic series (atmospheric mystery romances in exotic locations around the world) I’m a member of are currently discussing raising the price of all novellas to $2.99 as it better reflects the quality of the work involved in releasing the titles, and I agree. FATE CAPTURED will remain at 99 cents as I want it to be an attractive lead-in for my contemporary romance series.
Do you feel that indie publishing is getting easier, or harder?
I’m a new author. I feel it’s getting easier for me to write stories because gradually I’m getting faster (and hopefully better), and there are a number of nifty tools available out there to either help your writing (Scrivener, Grammarly), or to boost awareness of your work (from bloggers willing to host new authors and Facebook groups to Thunderclap and Headtalker campaigns which help spread the word). However, the competition is getting tougher and although the availability of tools is great, reaching a larger audience is becoming more difficult. I have friends who have earned serious money from writing romance, using Facebook ads as their main advertising tool, who told me recently that Facebook ads seem not to work anymore because of the staggering number of marketers using them. So, to sum up, it’s easier to get things done but harder to make money from indie publishing.
In addition, I’d love to share a great free tool for creating beautiful landing pages for your books. I’ve noticed that adding the URL I get from this app to my Twitter posts (instead of my book’s Amazon page) sales have increased. It’s a free app for an iOS device (Adobe Spark for iPhone or iPad) but it’s also available online: https://spark.adobe.com/. It’s basically drag-and-drop easy. Here’s the landing page I created for my Gothic romance: HOUSE AT THE EDGE.
In FATE AWAKENED, a meddling thriller writer ruins the career of a Greek shipping heir then tarnishes his family’s name and faces his inevitable wrath—because to fix him, she needs to break him first.
MM Jaye’s mother claims that she spoke her first word at the age of six. Months. As a kid she would record fairy tales in her own voice, play them back, and then re-record, adjusting the pitch and tempo. Later, she used her voice to inspire young adults and teach them the art of translation. But there came a time when life took a turn for the worse, and her voice temporarily died out. That’s when she turned to writing. FATE CAPTURED is the first book in her Greek Tycoons series, set on the Greek island where her husband proposed. MM Jaye lives in Athens, Greece, with her husband, daughter and Kindle.
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/MM-Jaye/e/B00OX44NSO
Lisa, first you wrote a couple of YA science fiction novels, “Quake” and “Aftershock,” as Lisa Arrington. Then you began a series in African-American paranormal erotic romance, using the author name Lisa Ann. I’m going to guess there are good reasons to keep an erotica author’s name separate from a Young Adult author name, but I’m curious how workable you’ve found that. Does it ever get awkward?
I wanted to keep some separation between my YA identity and my new erotica identity. I would hate for a young reader to think that I released a new book for their age group, and I would hate even more receiving an angry letter from a parent! Thankfully it’s been easy so far, but it’s only been a year, so “Lisa Ann” is still a newborn if you think about it.
As I googled “Lisa Ann” in preparation for this interview, I discovered that’s also the name of a porn actress! Did you know that going in? Has that created any special challenges for you, or does it help?
Oh God! No, I did not know that, I honestly used my first and middle name. With such a common name (as my mother so nicely put it the other day), I’m sure this isn’t a new thing. And who knows, maybe it will help us both out.
You helped me out recently by reading the manuscript of my next novel, which has a number of African-American characters in it. What do you think are some pitfalls white authors who attempt to write black characters can fall into?
I think that if the author doesn’t have black friends or do research they fall back on stereotypes a lot. Or not write them in at all.
I notice that your erotica gets marketed as African-American but your YA titles do not. I know that’s hardly an apples-to-apples comparison, but do you sense that it changes the equation to label your niche African-American?
To be honest, I categorized my paranormal-romance African-American because after reading several books that revolved around Motorcycle Clubs, I hadn’t found one that had any African-American characters or, if it did, they were depicted as stereotypical thugs. I wanted to write a book that had strong African-American characters that could overcome the same problems and fall in love the same way, and I wanted to give relatable characters to African-American readers. It really had nothing to do with my YA book or sales.
I know you read a lot — probably more than I do! Which authors out there have inspired you the most in your personal writing journey?
I wish I was reading as much as I used to. I read everything from “Pride and Prejudice” to “Twilight.” I would say that Linda Howard, Lisa Jackson and Janet Evanovich made me a bigger fan of reading than I already was. And friends like Stacey Lynn and Lee Gjertsen-Malone inspired me to even try to find my own voice.
What has been the most challenging thing about your indie publishing career? What about the most rewarding?
The most challenging, hands down, is doing it on my own as an Indie author. Luckily, I have learned from my mistakes and now have a small team of people I trust to help me through the process. The most rewarding is always hitting that “publish now” button.
I know from our online friendship that you’ve faced personal challenges with a physical disability. How does that impact your writing?
I battle fibromyalgia and it makes it hard to be “on” when I need to be. Like right now, I’ve had a scene going through my head for the past couple of days but just thinking about picking up my laptop was too exhausting. Or I have “fibro fog” days, days when I can’t remember my address, let alone what my characters are up to.
What are your future writing and publishing plans, and what would be the fulfillment of all your dreams as an author?
In my Microsoft OneNote I have twelve notebooks for future stories/series and am constantly adding to it. I plan to keep writing as long as I am physically able and as long as people want to hear from me, which I hope is a very long time. What would be the fulfillment of all my dreams? I don’t know. My dream of becoming an author already came true.
More about Lisa Ann
Lisa is a stay-at-home mom by day and as a writer by night. She attended a local technical college and received an associate’s degree in computers, which she put right to use. Lisa lives in Southern Arizona with her two sons and, when not writing, can be found curled up on her favorite chair with Kindle in hand, reviewing books for her blog, chauffeuring the boys around town for basketball games, or playing Game of War on her phone.
She loves the color blue, can’t get enough Arrow or Castle, loves Junior Mints, can’t live without coffee, and will forever be in a power struggle over the big screen TV with her youngest.
Lisa reports that Riders of Sins Eternal has been a bestseller in African-American Romance and is available exclusively on Amazon.com.
Learn more about Lisa at:
Her blog: http://lisaawritesreads.com/
Via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
When I visit my friends in Maine, we are cut off from most of the Internet and from most television, and frankly that’s always one of the lovely — if disorienting — aspects of the trip. It was dismaying to return from that to news of two more killings in just two days of black men by white policemen, topped off by the killing of five white police officers in Dallas by one angry black veteran.
So what can those of us who aren’t black do about it?
As a novelist, I am always tempted to think that if I can just help someone put themselves in someone else’s shoes, they will develop empathy for that person and his problems. And in fact, my next novel does get into racial issues.
But because I have also taught argument and persuasion in racially mixed classrooms using contemporary topics, I also know firsthand that there are some young white people (men, usually) who absolutely refuse to imagine what it might feel like to be, say, a frustrated black man, or the family of a black man slain by cops over a minor offense.
I’ve watched them refuse to do this even as part of an exercise that might help them produce a more effective argument for their own side. In their view, the cop is always right, the black suspect always had it coming, and to entertain any other possibility is letting down the team.
So whites who are capable of noticing that there is such a thing as racial bias in the world really need to do more than just sympathize with its victims.
I was hoping for something explicit in my somewhat racially mixed church this week, since our presiding bishop had suggested as much. Our white priest gave his usual excellent sermon, though it was (also as usual) without a mention of recent events. But it was about the parable of the good Samaritan, and examining Jesus’s answer to that question by the lawyer — “Who is our neighbor?” felt appropriate.
Later, the priest did explicitly address recent events during the announcements, and instead of an offertory hymn, we heard a reading from Lamentations, an expression of grief in lieu of what he said would be our tendency toward self-righteousness at this time.
And, yes, it seemed fitting in many ways — defeated Jerusalem surely had something in common with those who feel they’ve been abandoned to poverty and violence and injustice, though the Jews had obviously experienced being the group in power in their own country at some point, and you can’t say that about black people in this country.
And then the reading ended on a note asking us to wait patiently for the Lord.
Sorry, Father Steve, but here’s where I get all self-righteous.
Because surely waiting patiently for the Lord is the oppressor’s game? Surely waiting patiently for the Lord is a perk of white privilege? Surely waiting patiently for the Lord assumes that everything will work out eventually if we just wait in love and hope and faith for goodness to win out?
As far as I can tell, unless people actually fight for something, goodness only wins out on an eternal scale. And, yes, eternity is the focus of church. But surely not the only focus of a church that says it’s concerned with justice and peace. Jesus didn’t wait patiently for the Lord. He went around saying and doing stuff, and he delegated his disciples to go around saying and doing stuff.
Waiting patiently for the Lord doesn’t do anything to address the injustice of the world we have now, the lives being lost now, the human potential being squandered now. And no progress on this planet has ever happened without people fighting pretty damned hard for it … and then continuing to fight for it when the usual suspects try to reverse it. (Just look at what has happened to economic inequality in this country in the last thirty years.)
The Rev. Martin Luther King rightly insisted on “the fierce urgency of now.” His classic Letter from a Birmingham Jail, written in response to the clergy of Birmingham who expressed sympathy for the plight of African Americans in that violent city while deploring the protests he and others led there, made this especially clear:
I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured. (Excerpted from the full text here.)
This is what the Black Lives Matter movement attempts to do, and obviously not just in the South. Even if you don’t agree with all the movement’s specific positions (I don’t), you can still support its goal of ending America’s largely unjust pattern of policing and sentencing black people.
We already know who doesn’t get it, or chooses not to get it. They’re the ones who say, “All lives matter!”
The white people who most frustrated King did get it, but responded with grief and prayer and moments of silence and hugs and yeah, okay, all that is lovely — but not if it’s all we do. Not when it becomes a substitute for actually trying to take steps to solve the problem.
In a related note, I just finished a good book, ONCE A COP, by former New York Police Department Deputy Inspector Corey Pegues, that vividly details the appeal of selling drugs and belonging to gangs to young black boys in tough neighborhoods. He was one of those young drug dealers, who somewhat miraculously managed to escape into the military and then became a rising NYPD cop. From that vantage point of the insider, he illustrates how “broken windows” policing — when driven to extremes by politicians — can cause arrests to skyrocket, especially among young blacks.
In fact, he shows how simply being stopped without ID at hand can cause a young man who wasn’t doing anything wrong to be taken in and get entered into the system, something that may dog him the rest of his life.
And that’s just in New York, which doesn’t have a private prison system providing a profit motive for incarceration. Which doesn’t, presumably, see incarceration as an easy way to strip voting rights from a whole bloc of people almost as effectively as any Jim Crow laws did in the past. Which does hire some black members of the police force (though it would appear from the book that they mostly get promoted when racial scandals make it temporarily expedient to do so).
So what do we do, those of us who can see the score here, besides grieving?
Well, there’s this advice compiled by Sally Kohn.
You can also vote for the politicians and parties that recognize there is a problem with racism and poverty in this country and appear willing to do something about it rather than fanning racial fears and hatred. Not just at the national level, but at the local level.
And then you have to hold them to it.
And then you need to continue to support them when some of that change threatens to reduce some of the many advantages you and your children enjoy simply by virtue of being white and middle- or upper-class.
Even if it means volunteering and contributing and voting in less sexy midterm elections and local elections. If politicians who do the right thing think it will cause them to lose the next election, many of them are going to play it safe.
It also means, sometimes, compromising your ideological purity to avoid electoral and judicial disaster.
There are, sadly, a lot of people in this country who think this world is a zero-sum game, and the more benefits they can get for themselves at the expense of others, the better.
For the religious among us, however, there is supposed to be that pesky matter of loving our neighbors as ourselves, and not just those who live in our own zip code.
And religious or not, there is also such a thing as enlightened self-interest — the idea that prosperous people without serious grievances are less likely to pass along disease, or mug us to make a buck, or get angry enough to overturn our government. They are also way more likely to pay taxes and in other ways contribute towards the greater good, perhaps even cause our stock portfolio to rise in value. Maybe even take care of us in our old age.
So there’s that. If simple humanity or religious duty doesn’t appeal to you, maybe enlightened self-interest will.
Something’s got to do it. Because it needs to get done.
“Bardwell’s Folly” has been read by five beta readers now, and thanks to that feedback I’m making some good revisions. I’m hopeful this version will be done by the end of the week. Then it goes to my fussiest beta readers in the hope they will throw in some proofreading, too. Then it’s into Kindle Scout, unless I chicken out and just put it up for pre-order. I did stick a toe in the water with regular querying (if a tweet and one query count), but my heart just wasn’t in it.
This week I finalized a new (or, actually, old, re-imagined) cover for the ebook edition of “The Awful Mess” because Amazon won’t allow me to advertise with a nude-ish person on the cover. (They also refuse anything with blood, I’m told by author Julie Frayn.) Now I just have to upload the new cover and update, like, everything. (Actually, the paperback will retain its lovely and striking and not exactly prurient Damonza.com cover — and I did lean heavily for inspiration on an option he’d given me back in the day, when I’d asked for something with those rocks as well as an original option.)
Of course, having made that decision, I finally got an offer to do something interesting just because it’s a SELF-e Select title, so I might hold off on trying it in Kindle Select until after then. I’m still going to change the cover, though. For all I know, that’s why BookBub keeps turning it down lately.
Speaking of Self-e, why Amazon considers a program that gives curated indie ebooks to libraries free as infringing on Kindle Select is beyond me. If I were them, I’d be happy to see my indie authors building a library readership, especially since SELF-e books now include buy links.
SPECIAL DEAL FOR KOBO READERS: Use code 50Jun through June 27 (midnight EST — that’s coming up fast, of course) to save half off “The Awful Mess” and many other indie titles.
For the next book I keep stalling out on my original plan. I’m thinking of returning to Lawson, New Hampshire instead. They do say series are the way to go. I’ve had a story in mind that would offer interesting challenges to Winslow and Mary, one related to issues that sometimes arise over immigration in small town New England. And Annie Soper deserves a love story. But I’m just beginning to flesh those ideas out.
While you wait for a new book, you or your reading friends might want to sign up to enter the Goodreads giveaway of an autographed paperback of “The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire.”