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My new novel, The Summer Son, comes out in January. Certainly, there is a lot of seemingly interminable waiting — to see the cover (finally did), to get proofs, to hear from marketing, etc. All perfectly normal, and frankly, my publishing story has unfolded at lightning speed compared with most. I’m not good at patience, but it’s something I’ve had to learn to develop. If you think writing and publishing books might be for you, learn to live with the waiting.

Behind the scenes, though, I’ve been plenty busy. Starting January 24th and continuing for two weeks, I’ll be on a virtual tour to promote the book, doing guest spots on a series of blogs related to books, writing, culture, etc. So for the past week or so, I’ve been writing that material — posts on building characters, finding a publisher, real-life inspirations for fiction, fathers and sons, writing in Montana. I’m about halfway through that stack of work, and still other appearances will be in a Q&A format, so I’m awaiting questions from my kind hosts.

The goal, for me, is to have my plate largely cleared by mid-October, three months before The Summer Son is released. Then, I’m bearing down to finish the first draft of the next novel, so the cycle can begin again. Wouldn’t have it any other way.

I’ve been meaning to comment on this article from Snarkmarket for a few days. That I haven’t until now is just more proof that I’m a bit out of sorts.

The key bit:

Flow is the feed. It’s the posts and the tweets. It’s the stream of daily and sub-daily updates that remind peo­ple that you exist.

Stock is the durable stuff. It’s the con­tent you pro­duce that’s as inter­est­ing in two months (or two years) as it is today. It’s what peo­ple dis­cover via search. It’s what spreads slowly but surely, build­ing fans over time.

I feel like flow is ascen­dant these days, for obvi­ous reasons—but we neglect stock at our own peril. I mean that both in terms of the health of an audi­ence and, like, the health of a soul. Flow is a tread­mill, and you can’t spend all of your time run­ning on the tread­mill. Well, you can. But then one day you’ll get off and look around and go: Oh man. I’ve got noth­ing here.

But I’m not say­ing you should ignore flow! No: this is no time to hole up and work in iso­la­tion, emerg­ing after long months or years with your perfectly-polished opus. Every­body will go: huh? Who are you? And even if they don’t—even if your exquisitely-carved mar­ble statue of Boba Fett is the talk of the tum­blrs for two whole days—if you don’t have flow to plug your new fans into, you’re suf­fer­ing a huge (here it is!) oppor­tu­nity cost. You’ll have to find them all again next time you emerge from your cave.

Man, oh, man, do I ever understand this. With a recently released novel that I’m actively promoting — my schedule here — and a full-time job and a marriage and needy dogs and football and a Wii that simply must be played, I’m finding it more difficult than it’s ever been to just write.

I’m not, by the way, suggesting that anyone feel sorry for me. I’m the luckiest bastard in the world to have a novel and a full-time job and a marriage and needy dogs and a Wii that simply must be played. Thousands, perhaps millions, of people would trade places with me in a heartbeat, even if it meant taking on my horrible fashion sense. I get that.

I’m simply saying that I’m struggling with the balance. I’m sure I’ll find it. I have to find it. Aspiring writers are told at every juncture that they need to have a platform, that writing well isn’t enough, that they have to drum up interest in their work. All true, but also all beside the point if the work suffers.

Johnathon Schaech’s character in “That Thing You Do!”, Jimmy, got almost everything wrong in the movie — he walked away from Liv-Freakin’-Tyler! — but was unassailably correct on one thing:

“The point of all of this,” he tells Mr. White (Tom Hanks) while the manager is regaling the band with all the fun they’ll have in California, “is to make more records.”

Amen, Jimmy Mattingly.

Thus concludes today’s flow. Stock awaits.

I’m afraid this will be a rather meager moving of the chains. Much is going on, but none of it is particularly earth-rattling. I’m trying to create a temblor with a thousand tiny leaps.

Some notable things:

  • I continue to line up events related to the launch of 600 Hours of Edward. The latest: I’ll be at Borders Books in Billings on Saturday, Nov. 7, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. to sign copies of the novel. This will be the first week of the book’s release, so come on out and get a copy.
  • I’ve finished the writing of blog posts for my virtual book tour, which begins on October 28th (a week from tomorrow) at Blood-Red Pencil. Here’s the complete list of blog spots: https://craiglancaster.wordpress.com/2009/10/08/on-tour/. A signed copy of 600 Hours will be given away every day of the tour, so get in there and mix it up with me in the comments sections of the host blogs.
  • Kudos department: I finally finished reading Carol Buchanan’s lovely debut novel, God’s Thunderbolt: The Vigilantes of Montana. My delay in reading it had nothing to do with the book, which is excellent from cover to cover, and everything to do with my own crazy schedule. Carol won a Spur Award for this book, and it’s easy to see why: She has the era, the characters and the dramatic arc locked cold. It’s just a wonderful piece of writing, and fans of fine literature would do well to add it to their to-read list.

More soon. I promise.

Heidi_headshotI met Heidi Thomas when she was wending her way through Montana on tour with her debut novel, Cowgirl Dreams, and have since enjoyed bandying thoughts with her on the craft of writing and seeing another print journalist break through in the fiction world. Her novel has received strong notices from critics and readers alike. Consider this from a reader on Amazon.com:

It takes the reader into Big Sky country on the back of a strong horse flying over the rugged terrain. I felt that I was there with Nettie experiencing her life and adventures. The descriptions are vivid, detailed, and heart breakingly real as evidenced in the story of little baby Esther. The rodeos and bronc busting found me holding my breath.

Below, Heidi talks about how the novel came to be.

Q: Walk us along the road to publication for Cowgirl Dreams. When did you start writing it? How long did it take get it published?

I started writing it in 1999. It took me about 2½ to 3 years to write and rewrite a few times, then it took until the end of 2008 to be published, so almost 10 years from start to finish. I collected 17 rejections, including two “yes, but it’s not in our budget right now” non-rejections, before Lee Emory at Treble Heart Books took on the project.

Q: The main character, Nettie, is based on your grandmother, and the book started as nonfiction. Why did you switch?

I didn’t really start the book as non-fiction. Before writing a book, I tried writing some scenes based on family history, and I found that I was apparently too close to the characters. I didn’t have the freedom to elaborate, to embellish, to create conflict and make a better story, so that’s why I chose the novel form. My grandmother was not a “famous” cowgirl — she wasn’t as flamboyant as Prairie Rose Henderson; she didn’t win competitions in Madison Square Garden; and for her time, she was just an “ordinary” horsewoman who happened to ride steers in local rodeos. Fiction allowed me to fill in the blanks and ask “what if?

Q: You published with Treble Heart Books. How has the support been? What have you learned about marketing?

Dreams_1_x_1.3Great editorial support, and the nice thing about being with a small publisher is that the author often has more “say” in how the book turns out, both in content and in cover design. I was able to give my ideas about what I’d like to see on the cover, whereas I know that in many cases with large publishing houses, you have no idea what they might come up with and it might not relate to the story at all as you see it.

Most publishers these days (even large New York houses) don’t put out much, if any financial support for marketing, so authors have to do most everything on their own. I’ve read books on marketing, studied the internet, and done my marketing on the “trial and error” basis. You have to get your name out there, so networking via the internet is important — having a website, writing a blog, joining social networking sites, building your “platform.” But it also takes pounding the pavement, talking it up, and driving many miles (as I did on my Montana book tour). It’s fun, though, and rewarding. I’m basically a shy person, but I do have a bit of “ham” in me, so I’m finding that I’m actually enjoying the public speaking, meeting people, and talking about my passion—my book and my writing.

Q: What is the role of the West in your writing?

The West (Montana) is my setting and becomes almost a character in the book. I didn’t set out to write a “Western,” but authors have to have a spot on the marketing bookshelf for a book, so because Cowgirl Dreams was about rodeo and took place in the West, it is labeled a Western.

Q: How do you work? What’s your approach to getting down a draft and then revising it?

The familiar litany “I should be more disciplined; I should have a set schedule for writing, etc” is my lament. With my marketing, teaching classes and editing for other authors, I sometimes put my own writing on the back burner. But I belong to two wonderful weekly critique groups, so that gives me a deadline. I know I have to have some pages to present, and that keeps me going. I guess that working against deadlines stems from my old newspaper days.

Q: What books lit your fuse and set you on a path toward becoming an author?

Oh, I’ve always been a voracious reader from a young age. Zane Grey and Nancy Drew were favorites, of course, and throughout elementary school, I wrote many stories. One teacher told me I had a “wild imagination.” But I read many genres, from classics and literary works to police procedurals and courtroom dramas. I greatly admire the writing of Ivan Doig, a fellow Montana author, and Jane Kirkpatrick, a western historical author.

Q: You do a lot of blogging on writing technique. Do you find that it helps you when you sit down to do your own work?

Yes, it does, actually. I also have taught community adult writing classes for several years. I’ve had many experiences where I’m telling my students about a technique and I suddenly realize that’s exactly what I should be doing in my writing. It solidifies an idea when you have to explain it to someone else.

Q: What are you working on now?

I just submitted my sequel, Follow the Dream, to my publisher, and I am working on an idea for a third Nettie novel. I’d originally planned that the third book in my series would be the next generation, based on my mother who came from Germany after WWII. But I found that the way I ended my second book left it open for another, and it may help me bridge a gap between the Nettie years and the next family story.

*****

Heidi Thomas’ Web site: www.heidimthomas.com

Heidi Thomas’ blog: http://heidiwriter.wordpress.com

Heidi Thomas’ book at Treble Heart Books: www.trebleheartbooks.com/SDHeidiThomas.html

Literary agent Nathan Bransford, as he’s wont to do, has posted a fascinating take on his blog about one of the prevalent myths of publishing: that novelists can write books, turn them over to the publisher and start writing again. No promotion or marketing responsibilities. Just coax out the literary brilliance, baby.

Bransford’s conclusion: Some can do it, among them Thomas Pynchon, the inspiration for the blog post. But not many, and certainly very few among those who are trying to find a footing in the business.

The key bit from Bransford:

Every author is a product of their time and had to deal with the realities and constraints of their publishing industry. Hemingway found his way to publication in part because he knew the right people (namely F. Scott Fitzgerald), and his success owed a great deal to his larger than life stature, a literary self-promotional archetype dating back to Byron and beyond. Herman Melville became famous because he wrote travelogues about far flung locales during a time when technology and trade was opening up the world, then crashed and burned when he tried to write novels about silly things like white whales, which didn’t even sell through its 3,000 print run.

Bransford’s well-reasoned musings set me to thinking about the unique challenges and opportunities for authors now. Social media and gadgetry have fundamentally changed the methods in which we communicate with each other and, in many cases, the way we form our language. (ROTFLMAO!) These aren’t exactly revelations; if you’re reading this now, you’re no doubt aware of these transformations. For me, as a new novelist, the Web comes with all kinds of opportunities and all kinds of hesitations. With such seemingly limitless ways in which to promote one’s self and one’s work, which do you choose? How hard do you push? Where is the line between effectively aggressive and annoyingly nettlesome?

I don’t know, exactly. But I have some ideas.

Yesterday, I set up a fan page for myself on Facebook. (You should totally visit it, by the way.) It was every bit as self-centered as it sounds, and I cringed as I sent out invitations to all 600-some of my Facebook friends, inviting them to become my fan. (The embarrassment was even worse when someone told me that the message came across as “Craig Lancaster wants you to be a fan of Craig Lancaster.” Oy!)

Still, I did so knowing that the advantage of such a page was not in allowing me to talk to people who might be interested in my book, but in clearing the way for us to talk with each other. That’s the power of social media; it’s not the amplification of the message (though that’s a nice side benefit) but the establishment of a connection.

To understand this value, you need only look at the appeal of other areas where the barriers between fans and artists or athletes have come down. NASCAR figured out a long time ago that it could engender a loyal following by making its stars accessible to the legions who pack speedways to see them. Joe Pernice earned a fan for life in me when my note to his business office in praise of a song was answered by Joe himself. Bransford himself has a huge following. Yes, many hope that he’ll someday add them to his roster of authors. But the bigger factor is that he discusses things of import to them and opens up a conversation.

Here, then, are some guiding principles I try to stick to as I go around beating my chest on social networks:

  • DO promote news, reviews and interviews. These are professional achievements and things that readers and potential readers alike will be interested in.
  • DO NOT bang the same old drum, day after day after day. I’m not selling T-shirts on the corner. Not yet, anyway.
  • DO try to engage the people who have been nice enough to express an interest in the work.
  • DO NOT come on too strong with any of them. (Naturally, this concept can be lost on someone who lacks the self-awareness to know what “too strong” means.)
  • DO look for legitimate opportunities to plug the work.
  • DO NOT hijack friends’ Facebook/MySpace pages for the aforementioned plugging.
  • DO try to come up with innovative ways to let readers interact with the work. Check out my friend T.L. Hines’ site for some excellent examples of this. He offers a free book download to people who have sent in a picture for his montage, and he has turned readers into characters in books. All very, very cool.
  • DO NOT let screwball promotional ideas usurp the excellence of the work being offered.

What say you?

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