I'm a writer. There, I've admitted it. I wonder if there's a 12-Step program for folks like me...

Most of this blog will be about writing for a living. Or maybe about trying to earn a living as a writer. Or maybe about trying to have a life while you write.

And maybe I'll be able to avoid the driving temptation to write about politics. But I'm not very good around temptation, so all I can promise is that I'll try to avoid writing about politics.

But I will write about the software I use, and the software I try out, and what I think about it. I actually spent lots of years in software testing - as a tester and as a manager of testing departments. I actually started work in software development in 1971, so I have a bit of experience with computers to back up what I have to say on this subject.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Self Publishing


I’ve posted entries to this blog on traditional publishing vs. self publishing before. Here I want to concentrate on what you can expect once you do decide to self publish you work.

“A man who works for himself has a fool for an employer”. It’s been around for a while, but many self-employed people will not disagree. If you have a full-time job and write in your ‘spare’ time, and whatever income you derive from your writing can be consider the cherry on top of your ice cream sundae, you have the best of all possible worlds.

Don’t quit your day job.

But if you write for a living as I do, you probably sympathize with whoever came up with that old axiom.

Writing is the easy part; marketing your work, and making a living off your writing, is a whole ‘nother kettle of fish. I can’t help you with your budget (I can’t help myself, so don’t feel lonely), but I can provide a bit of useful information to those who are considering self-publishing as a means to a good livable income.

Some people do make a living as self-published authors. We’re not including freelance writers or ghost writers in this discussion. I am neither, so I cannot speak to any issues such folks have to deal with. But I am self published and have been for the last three years or so.

I have published three novels and  a collection of articles I wrote while living in Israel. All are available through Amazon in both paperback and Kindle, and I recently published my novels for the Barnes & Noble Nook. I also do as many personal appearances at book signings as I can. I post entries to this blog once a week and am a member of several writing groups and on-line communities.  And I make the time to visit these groups daily and post something to each.

If you work for yourself there is no such thing as a day off.

Writing is the easy part. Whether you follow the traditional publishing route or self publish you will face the same issues; you and only you are responsible for any and all promotion and marketing of your work. That alone is plenty of reason to self publish (well, that, and the increased royalties since there’s no agent who can claim 15% off the top). No traditional publishing house will invest a penny in promoting a new author. They can’t afford it.

Don’t bother paying someone several thousand dollars to set up and maintain a pretty web site for you, and don’t throw your money away on some SEO professional who promises to fine-tune you search engine placement. There is plenty of information available on setting up web sites and deciding on keywords and meta tags for the pages on your web site is mostly a matter of common sense. Find a bunch of author web sites and choose one that you like. There are several free web sites available that allow you to customize one of their templates to suit your fancy.

Author web sites are not in the same league as big business sites, or lawyers web sites or even auto-body repair sites, and you don’t need a lot – or any – flash player technology to attract visitors. People who search for author web sites are looking for content, not entertainment or special pricing for their next oil change. People who look for author web sites want to see content. So get sample chapters, an author bio, a few photos, and a blog they can check back on each week. Get content on your site and leave it there. Don’t change it every week or every month. Leave it there. Update your blog frequently, add some info to your home page when you update your news, keep your calendar of events up to date, but leave the content – your sample chapters – alone.

When you join on-line groups or begin to attend local writer’s groups, be respectful and considerate and friendly and helpful. And listen, very, very closely. Take notes, ask interesting questions, and always be respectful. Many of the people you will meet have been writing productively far longer than you, and have been through the mill on many occasions. So listen, very carefully.

Get your books into independent bookstores and listen to what the owners have to say. Visit frequently – in person, not phone calls – and talk with them. People who own bookstores are some of the best friends you may ever have.

As a self published author, you are not just selling your work; you re selling yourself. And keep in mind that even if you did ‘luck out’ and get a contract with a literary agent and traditional publisher, you are still responsible for all marketing. Just because your book may find their way into a brick and mortar bookstore chain, you still have to promote yourself and your books.

And in case you haven’t noticed, bookstores are hurting, very, very badly. I’m not surprised their coffee bars are bringing in as much as their book sales. I am surprised that bookstores have converted some of their very expensive floor space to freezer cases and shelves for baby food cat litter, dog food and toothpaste.

As a self published author you are competing for buyers with authors who market through chain bookstores, independent bookstores, on-line retailers and author appearances. Just like you. Every time you sell a book to a customer you make a friend. Every time you you close a deal with a buyer you take a few dollars out of Carl Hiaasen's pocket.

Think about that the next time a reader says he enjoys your stuff. And giggle. Quietly.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Business of Writing


Writing a book of any genre in order to build an income –whether it be fiction or non-fiction – can take a month, or six months or a year or more. After the first few days the writer begins to gain some idea of the scope of the job he or she has taken on.

The very sad fact is that once the manuscript is complete and edited the job has only just begun. And the new writer has no idea of that fact until the manuscript is complete. That manuscript is now a product to be marketed and sold, and very few people who take on the avocation of writing for a living are in any way suited to the job of selling.

That’s why Heaven tolerates the existence of literary agents. But unless you or your ‘product’ are as marketable as Tutankhamen's golden death mask, literary agents simply cannot afford to take you on as a client

So you are very much on your own. Don’t bother flogging your manuscript to publishing houses. If you can’t attract the attention of an agent (and some people do, I’ll admit it. Otherwise the number of literary agents would be closer the three instead of three thousand), you are just wasting your time and money of printing costs and stamps.

Writing query letters to agent is good practice. Write several, and staple your rejection letters on a large and otherwise empty wall. Buy books on writing query letters – there are a lot of them out there and their authors need the income, so buy them and read them. Write many more query letters using what you have learned from those books. Staple your new rejection letters onto the wall.

When you run out of patience, money for stamps and staples, or reach retirement age and begin to collect Social Security (whichever comes first). look into self publishing. You will find that your royalties will be much greater without having to consider splitting them with your non-existent literary agent.

You will also learn that you and only you are responsible to any and all marketing and promotion of your book. But even if you had landed a literary agent and signed a contract binding you to paying your agent fifteen or even twenty percent of your royalties, your publisher (if your agent was able to put you with a publishing house), you would learn that you and only you are responsible for any and all marketing and promotion of your book.

So there you are, considerably older and hopefully much wiser than you were when you first put pen to paper or finger to keyboard. And free of any obligations – financial or contractual – to literary agents and publishing houses. And you don’t owe nobody nuthin’.

But you do have a manuscript, and with a bit of cash your manuscript is going to become a book, ready for sale just as soon as you connect with a POD publisher. It’s also called self-publishing.

You do enter into an agreement with the publisher, but in the case of self-publishing, you pay up front to have them do all of the pre-press work on the manuscript and work on the cover design (unless you do this yourself or have it done for you), and at the end of a month or two you receive a number of printed and bound copies of your book. If you want more copies they print them at a pre-agreed price and ship them to you.

Normally these publishers have access to one or more web sites such as Amazon where your book is allocated a book page and space in their on-line catalogue so customers can order your book and have it printed and shipped to them.

Which is when you begin to receive those royalty checks we were talking about earlier. And no percentage is paid to a literary agent.

Personally, I think Heaven has given the matter of literary agents some serious reconsideration.

In short, you now have some options to the traditional writer/agent/publisher relationship. Options are good. Especially when those options put you, the writer, in charge of your own life and work. That is a good thing.

And that’s not all. eBooks aren’t just the Next Big Thing. They are the 900 LB gorilla in the room, and all of those literary agents and traditional publishing houses have no idea why its gotten so damn crowded in that room.

A recent newsletter from Amazon states that 60% of their annual sales is now in eBooks. I don’t have the numbers for Barnes & Noble, but I will to be they are growing, as well. My novels are now available in paperback, Kindle and as of this week, in Nook format as well.

And I could not be happier about that.

Whether you have one book or a dozen, a part of your marketing plan must be to make your content (all those words you typed) available to the largest possible section of your target audience (you do have one, don’t you? You did know who your audience would be before you started writing, didn’t you?) on as many platforms as you can. Consider each of those platforms as a revenue stream – another way for money to stream out of your reader’s pockets and direct (without passing through an agents greedy paws) into yours.

That should be your goal.

Friday, June 17, 2011

“Twisted Key”, “Lonesome Cove”, writing and what I’m reading


I’m getting this blog out early. I don’t recall ever doing this before, but then I’ve never been this busy before, either.

I sent out a notice to my readers last Saturday evening offering signed and numbered copies of “Twisted Key” in return for a contribution toward the publication of the novel. Health issues over the last few years have come close to wiping me out financially, so it just made sense to do this.

This offer is being run through Kickstarter, an on-line ‘Crowdfunding’ organization. You can click on the link below to read through the offer:


The response has been very encouraging. I have received about a quarter of the necessary funds during the first week. The offer for advance copies of “Twisted Key” will run through 11 July. If you enjoy a good mystery novel, you can’t go wrong with “Twisted Key”. It is by far the best I’ve done to date.

Work on “Lonesome Cove” has been put on hold until “Twisted Key” goes off to the publisher. I can have the first draught complete with another month’s work, but that means I have to be able to concentrate on nothing but the writing, and I just can’t do that right now.

I suppose some writers could, but I rely on my characters and their read of the situation for guidance when I write. My characters drive my stories, and getting into that ‘zone’ means not having any distractions to deal with.

Outlines work really well for me when I work on a non-fiction project; but I just can’t write fiction that way.

I start with a snapshot of a scene – a brief moment in time – and ask myself three questions: what is going on in the scene, how did those people come to be there, and what happens next? Then I write the first draught. That’s all there is to the ‘creative’ aspect of writing. Everything else is rewriting. And editing. And marketing.

My bookshelf is growing. I recently acquired Winston Churchill’s 6-volume work on WW II, and am about a third of the way through the first volume. This mammoth work ahs been labeled as Churchill’s effort to make himself look good for posterity. Well, of course it is.

Why would anyone in his right mind spend so much effort to make himself look bad? Churchill wrote to get his point of view events across to historians, politicians and people in general, and I salute him for that. If Winston Churchill hadn’t stood up and done his job we’d be living in a much grimmer world right now.

I’m also working my way through Terry Pratchett’s “Unseen Academicals”. I’ve read just about everything he’s written over many years and enjoyed all of them. I’ve also got S.M. Sterling’s “High King of Montival” on my nightstand (okay, I don’t have a nightstand, but the book is close by, I promise), and I’ll get to it right after I finish Mr. Pratchett’s novel. One must stick to one’s priorities, or why have them at all?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

An interesting request for my readers…

Hello, Friends and Readers:

As you may know, my third novel, “Twisted Key”, is ready for the publisher.

This is the back cover text for the novel:

Terry Rankin has a new client; Fatima al Natsche, a Muslim woman living under a sentence of death for her work on behalf of women suffering under Islamic law. Terry’s a businessman – he’ll protect just about anyone who can pay the freight. In fact, he admires Ms. Al Natsche and the sacrifices she’s made to get her message out.

But then her daughter flies over from Norway and gets snatched off the street in front of her mother’s home, and all of the masks come off and all of the dirty little secrets come out to play in the Florida sun.

And this is the cover art for the novel:


It has been ready for about two months. In fact, “Twisted Key” has been available in kindle format for the last eight weeks and has been selling. But paperback copies require hands-on prepress work and cover design, and that costs money up front.

Unfortunately, my finances hare not up to the task of covering those costs. I self-publish, which means that I pay to have the novel formatted and for the cover art to be prepared according to my direction.

I have had a rough few years due to health issues, including surgery to repair a torn retina in my left eye and the onset of Type 2 diabetes. I have lived a very interesting life, and now I’m paying for it. And those expenses just had to come before I spent a single penny of publishing costs.

All of which brings us to the point of this little missive.

I am asking you to contribute to the publishing of “Twisted Key”. Think of this as pre-ordering a signed copy. In return for your cooperation, I offer the following:

For $20.00 to $30.00, you will receive a signed and numbered copy of “Twisted Key”, with a short note offering you my heartfelt thanks for your help.

For $30.00 and up in addition to the above your name will appear on the Acknowledgements Page of the novel.

You may, of course, provide any help up to $20.00, but due to the cost of the copies and the shipping and mailing charges I cannot afford to mail out any copies of the novel. But you will still have my eternal gratitude for your contribution.

This fund raising is being run through a “CrowdFunding” web site, Kickstarter.com. CrowdFunding is a new and legitimate fund raising method for small projects such as mine, and has grown rapidly due to the cost of raising money through banks and IPO’s. The Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) rules and regulations have no control over crowdfunding since no ‘Investing’ is being done and no shares are involved. In return for funds raised through crowdfunding the participants receive value from the fund raiser.

I have set a minimum of $1800.00 on this project, and a time limit of 30 days. Your funds will go into an escrow account controlled by Amazon.com. If that limit is not reached during that time, your money will be returned to you.

Any funds raised over and above that $1800.00 will go toward the publication of my fourth novel, Lonesome Cove”. LC is about ¾ written and should be going to my editors in October of this year, with a publication date of July of next year.

You can learn more about crowdfunding and this project by clicking on the link below:


The page should look something like this:


Click on the Play Video for a short presentation by yours truly.

The Pledge buttons on the right side are pretty self-explanatory.

I thank you for your time, and wish you well:

Gary Showalter

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

On Writing

One of the several discussion boards of which I am a member had an interesting post this morning – “Why do you write?”

The respondents were supposed to reply in three words or less. It took me four: “I need the money”.  I’ve never been much of a rule follower. I think that’s one of my most attractive features.

Not only that, it’s true. I’ve been a writer most of my life, and it has been (and still is) a very interesting life, in the Chinese sense of the word. Not my fault, really. I’ve lived and worked in several interesting parts of the world, served in a couple of armies, worked in government and private security and spent several profitable years in the software development industry.

I’ve also built cattle pens, worked in botanic gardens and professional golf courses, painted houses, flipped burgers, built furniture and made pizzas. And other stuff.

And I’ve learned a  lot. Most of that knowledge and experience is very nearly useless, in this century at least, but it is interesting, and it’s mine.

But in 2008 I found myself facing what I knew was going to become a very long term of unemployment, and the job I had at the time was just filled with quiet bits. So I opened up a word processor and began to write what would wind up titled “The Big Bend”.  Several months later most of the first draught was complete and I was out of a job.  I found another one, but with the downturn in the economy it didn’t last six months and no amount of job hunting has turned up another.

After the first two years I gave up looking. Besides, I’ve sort of made up my own job. I’m a novelist; a full-time, professional liar. I’ve even though of putting that on my business cards the next time I have a bunch printed.

So I write because I have to and because my books sell and my readers assure me they will buy my next novel when it comes out. I love my readers. They are without a doubt the best employers a fella could ever hope for.

Now I just need to find more of them.