In the on-deck circle

At this time next weekend, I’ll be noveling.

It’s been two or three years since I’ve made a serious stab at National Novel Writing Month, but – along with several of my recent “Daddy’s Dyin’” castmates – I’m going to do so this year.

National Novel Writing Month – “NaNoWriMo,” to participants – is an annual writing exercise, just for the fun of it. It’s not competitive (unless you make it so!), and anyone can participate, whether you normally consider yourself a writer or not. The idea is that you write a 50,000-word novel (which some would call a novella) entirely during the month of November. You can prepare in advance (plot outline, character biographies, etc.), but the normal interpretation is that you do not start any actual writing until Nov. 1.

If you get to 50,000 words by November 30, even if you haven’t finished the novel, you have “won” – although bragging rights and personal satisfaction are the only stakes.

The idea here is that 1,667 words per day is a very fast pace. It’s too fast for you to stop and do any editing, and it’s too fast for any long pondering about what to add. You have to make yourself sit down and write, period.

Some of what you write in that fast a pace is, almost by necessity, going to be horrible. The novel as a whole may turn out not to be anything at all good or marketable (which are not the same thing). But by forcing yourself to write every day, and hopefully turning off that little “no” voice in your head, you sometimes come up with little creative ideas and twists and turns that would never happen in a careful, more deliberate environment.

The official NaNoWriMo web site offers you a chance to connect with other participants, gives pep talks, and allows you an easy way of tracking your word count. You enter your word count and the site and you can see an easy-to-understand line graph showing whether you’re ahead of or behind pace. If you’ve missed a day (I doubt I’ll get much writing done on Election Day, for example), the site will show you what your pace needs to be to catch up and still get to 50,000 by month’s end.

In some areas, there are actually author meet-ups or “write-ins” at some quiet place like a library or coffee shop, where you can bring your laptop and do what’s normally a very solitary activity in the company of others. (“Anybody got a suggestion for a character name?”) I don’t have a laptop, and the closest location for the meetups is in Murfreesboro, but I’d love to go to one some day just to see what it’s like.

If you make it, there’s usually a little certificate you can download and print out, plus a little logo you can post to your web site or social media. It’s all on the honor system, though. Sometimes the Amazon-owned self-publisher Createspace offers you a free proof copy of your novel, which is how I came to publish my own Bad Self-Published Novel, which began its life as a NaNoWriMo project.

You can always go back later, after November has ended and you’ve taken a bit of a break, and see whether or not you think there’s enough there to make it worth trying to rewrite the novel, taking out the terrible stuff while leaving in those moments of inspiration.

There have actually been authors who have traditionally published novels which began during NaNoWriMo. Many others, of course, have self-published their NaNoWriMo novels. I still wonder what would have happened to “Soapstone” if I’d been a little bit more patient and gotten it professionally edited.

Anyone can participate in NaNoWriMo. It’s completely free, although they do sell merchandise and solicit donations to keep the web site up and running. The sense of accomplishment you feel when you get to 50,000 is amazing.

Day 4: 7,756 words

Well, I’ve just barely made my daily 1,667-word NaNoWriMo goal. I maintained the cushion that I built up during the first three days, but I’ve only added 10 words to it, unless I write some more before bed tonight. Given that this was a weekend day, 1,677 seems like a disappointment.

The novel is coming along OK, but I’m wishing I had picked a different premise. Even though it’s fiction, and I’m trying in various ways to make the lead character different from me, I keep circling back to my own personality, my own fears, my own private struggles. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; the novel can be more cathartic than marketable. A few NaNoWriMo novels have been professionally-published, but it’s really not about churning out the next New York Times best-seller so much as it is about personal challenge and the discipline of writing. And no novel written at such a breakneck pace is going to be very good without a lot of editing.

Even so, it’s a motivating factor if you feel like there’s something good about what you’re writing, and so far I’m worried that this is going to have all of the most self-indulgent qualities that went into my Bad Self-Published Novel (which also started with NaNoWriMo).

There’s something to be said for writing what you know, and there have been some terrific writers who have put their own personality traits, real or imagined, into classic fictional heroes and heroines. But that can also turn maudlin and self-serving very quickly. And if the novel gets too personal, I may not want to show it to others anyway.

With “Soapstone,” the main character was obviously based on me, but I worked very hard to make sure that none of the other characters (with the exception of the Kenyan minister and his wife) were based on any specific person with whom I’d been in mission. I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. I specifically made it clear in the notes at the end of the book that none of Jeff Doermann’s mission trip teammates were based on any of my specific mission trip teammates. But I still sometimes have friends ask me if, for example, Schuyler was based on this person or that one.

That’s another trouble with a character who seems partially based on me but who is also partially fictional. People might wonder which attribute falls into which category.

I’m plowing ahead for the moment, but I’m less and less convinced that I’ll be able to rework this into something marketable after NaNoWriMo has ended.

Speaking of “Soapstone,” by the way, I offered it for free Kindle download on Nov. 1, to celebrate the beginning of NaNoWriMo. The Kindle program for self-publishers allows you up to five days a year for such promotional giveaways. The idea is that hopefully someone will review the book on Amazon or recommend it to their friends, although there’s still not a single review of “Soapstone,” either the print or Kindle versions, after several years on the Amazon site. That may be a good thing, all told.

I mentioned the Nov. 1 giveaway briefly in a blog post a week or two ago, but I intended to call it to everyone’s attention again on Nov. 1, or maybe the night before. I completely forgot to do so. It looks like 126 people stumbled across the book and downloaded it that day for free anyway. I also have one sale in Kindle format this month, which is a good thing, although far from the minimum threshold before they’d actually pay me any profit.

There may not be such thing as a free lunch, but …

In 2007, for National Novel Writing Month, I wrote a book called “Soapstone,” a work of fiction that drew heavily on my experiences on foreign mission trips to Kenya. I thought about marketing it, but I knew it wasn’t perfect, and the former professor of mine who promised to look at it and give me advice never did so. The following year, a publish-on-demand concern gave NaNoWriMo participants the chance to get a free proof copy, and I thought it might be fun to self-publish the novel.

It has been fun. I’ve probably sold about 100 copies – 35 online and the rest in person. I have been given to referring to it lately as “my bad self-published novel,” and it’s the nature of self-published stuff to be a little self-indulgent, but the truth of the matter is there are parts of it and things about it that I’m quite proud of. I also think I have another novel in me somewhere, one that maybe I can get more serious about editing and publishing.

Sales have slacked off lately, and I haven’t been actively trying to market the thing. I was debating at the end of 2011 whether or not to drop my publisher’s “pro plan” (you pay an annual fee in return for higher per-copy profits and other benefits), but they did away with the pro plan and upgraded everyone, saving me the decision.

Meanwhile, of course, I’ve bought a Kindle . I’ve enjoyed it, and I’ve benefitted greatly from various offers of free or deeply-discounted books.

I had set “Soapstone” up for Kindle sales way back when it was first published, but I don’t think I’ve sold any that way. Now that I’m a Kindle customer, I decided the book might be a dollar or two overpriced, and that led to me going onto the Kindle publishing site and making some changes in how the book was set up there. In addition to reducing the price, I switched the book from one marketing plan to another, and the second plan allowed me to give the book away for free for up to a certain number of days each year, if I think I can get some promotional benefit from it.

So I’ve decided to celebrate Leap Day, and how much I’m loving my Kindle, I will offer “Soapstone” for free all day tomorrow, Feb. 29. Amazon’s sales periods are based on the Pacific time zone, so the sale will run from midnight to midnight PST, or 2 a.m. to 2 a.m. Central time.

By the way, the changes I made this week also mean that the book can be borrowed anytime for free from the Kindle Owners Lending Library if you have an Amazon Prime account.

If you don’t own a Kindle yet, you can still benefit from this. There are free Kindle apps that will allow you to read Kindle books on your smartphone or your desktop or laptop computer. While I was waiting for my tax refund to arrive so that I could order my Kindle, I used the Windows Phone app to read two Jules Verne novels on my smartphone, and it was actually a lot better than I’d imagined it would be. (The Kindle is still way better.)

Please feel free to pass this deal along to your friends with Kindles. I have been following some of the web sites that list and link to free Kindle books, and I’m not sure exactly how they work, so I don’t know if my book will turn up on any of them or if I need to specifically ask them to list it. (If it’s the latter, I may have another free day later in the year, and promote it properly.) It will be fun to share the book with a wider community.

All I ask in return is that if you decide to buy a Kindle, you come here and click on one of the Amazon links on this site. It won’t affect your price, but I’ll get a commission.

 

52 short stories can’t all be bad

If you have aspirations to creative writing, you might want to watch this. (Occasional salty language.) If anyone alive speaks from authority on this topic, it’s Ray Bradbury:

“Don’t live on your … computers and all that crap. Live in the library.” Ouch.

I need to do a lot of what he’s prescribing.

By the way, if you go to the YouTube page for the video, there’s an option to download. Click the description under the video to expand it.

Hat tip to Mental_Floss magazine.

“I’ve never worked a day in my life ….” he said. “I want you to envy me my joy.”

A favor to ask

If you have recently purchased one or two copies of my novel “Soapstone” from anyone other than Amazon.com, I have a favor to ask.

I recently signed up for the “expanded distribution” channel from CreateSpace, my publish-on-demand provider. This means that my book is now available from outlets and sources where it was not previously available.

My most recent sales reports show that I’ve sold a couple of copies through expanded distribution, for the first time. If you bought one of them, please drop me a line or leave a comment below (anonymous is fine if you prefer) to let me know where, specifically, you bought it. All I’m looking for is the name of a web site or store.

Thanks!

Price hike

Well, we have good news and bad news about “Soapstone,” my self-published novel.

The good news is that CreateSpace, the Amazon-owned publish-on-demand company through which I self-published the novel, now offers expanded distribution, meaning that for the first time the book can be offered by independent bookstores, libraries, and online book sites other than Amazon.

Because my book is already set up under CreateSpace’s “pro” plan, this expanded distribution doesn’t cost me anything.

But the bad news is that the profit margin on these new markets is low. Very low. So, reluctantly, I have increased the online price of the novel from $11.95 to $12.95, and even that gives me a very small amount per copy when sold through any of these new markets.

The nice thing is that when I order copies to sell in person, I will still be able to get them at the same price as in the past, and so I think I will keep selling in-person copies at the old price.

Speaking of libraries, the book has already been available for many months at the library here in Shelbyville, to which I donated a copy.

Book report

Well, I whined a couple of weeks ago about not having sold any novels in a while, and since that time I’ve sold two. I’m not sure whether it was the whining or whether it was my post on the health care Bible study a day later, which was linked to and resulted in a spike in visitors. Or maybe it’s just coincidence.

I went to an economic outlook conference today in Murfreesboro. Most of the speakers talked about the economy, but at one point they gave out an award to an elderly businessman and he gave an entertaining but much-longer-than-scheduled acceptance speech. It turns out that at one point, H. Jackson Brown was doing the advertising for the award winner’s car dealership in East Tennessee. That led to the award winner telling the story of how Brown ended up, almost by accident, self-publishing, and then selling, “Life’s Little Instruction Book.” It made me feel a little inadequate, and a little guilty, at my offering and at how little I’ve done to promote it.

At a standstill

Why is it everyone who comes to Africa has to write a book about it? One silly beggar even dedicated his to me! Never came back or I’d have shot him in the pants!
– Johnson (played by Torin Thatcher) in “The Snows of Kilamanjaro”

I’d been meaning to post something about the novel for several days now, and when I heard that line on TCM just now it reminded me.

A couple of weeks ago, when I spoke to my nephew’s class, the teacher had suggested I talk a little about the fact I’d written a book. I looked for a nice clean copy to take with me as a Visual Aid, but I couldn’t find the three or four nice copies I had in the apartment, so I ended up having to take one of my weatherbeaten proofs, with the covers all curled up.

I found the books over the weekend; they were right out in the open, in a place I thought I had looked. I don’t know how I missed them.

I haven’t sold any copies, online or in person, for a while now. Now that the trip is over with, I need to figure out some way to get things started again, if that’s possible. Perhaps it’s not; perhaps the novel has run its course. But I keep thinking there’s something else I should be doing.

I tried not to push the novel on my mission trip teammates, though one or two of them heard about it and read it anyway. There was one who asked me about it several times during the week and I was sure he would buy one once we got back to the states; he hasn’t, and I think it would be inappropriate of me to remind him too directly. Maybe I can work it into the conversation next time I see him.

Fortunately, none of the three people to whom I have dedicated my novel has shot me in the pants. Not that I haven’t given them reason from time to time ….