Friday, October 2, 2015

What's in a Book? by Susan Oleksiw

I have been slow to switch to an eReader for a very specific reason. When I’m asked why I don’t have a Kindle or other device I give various answers—hard on my eyes, hard to learn to use the devices, or something similar. But the real answer is that I discover books by handling them.

In a bookstore I pick up a book and study the title, feel the cover paper, and read the back. Is it filled with blurbs by other writers, excerpts from established or unknown review magazines, or a photo of the writer? Does the cover match what the story seems to promise? Sometimes the clues on the cover of a mystery novel never show up in the story. If there's a leopard on the cover, there should be a leopard in the story. How does the cover feel? Is it embossed, matte, glossy? What kind of paper is used for the text? And what else is there, beyond (or before) the text?

In the dark ages, when I was young and a graduate student, a nonfiction book arrived with a discussion of ideas to change the world and enough supplemental matter to buffer the onslaught of the opposition. A scholarly or any other serious nonfiction work contained a half-title page, title page, copyright notice, dedication, preface, foreword, introduction, introduction to the revised edition, table of contents, text, endnotes (if no footnotes), index, and bibliography. There was no separate biography of the author, since his or her qualifications were most likely indicated in the preface or introduction as part of an explanation of the origins of the book.

When I was considering buying a nonfiction book I could flip through the supplemental material and evaluate the scholarship partly on what was present, or absent. I learned something of the topic in the process and knew more about what I was getting into if I decided to buy—and spend time with—this book. I can’t do that easily online.

Also back in the dark ages, a crime novel might contain a half-title page, title page, copyright notice, dedication, brief note if the story was based on a true crime, list of chapters, and novel. Some novels included a map and list of characters. Many novels closed with lists of the publisher’s other books available for sale. The front matter was a way of easing my way as a reader into another world, an unknown one, warning me that with the turn of another page, things would be different.

The copyright page tells me something about the publisher. The standard the statement declaring this story a work of fiction is the least of what I expect to find. I look for information on the printing, such as font, or the quality of paper. I can usually tell by touch, but sometimes the publisher has gone so far as to state this is permanent paper, or printing is in accord with certain library standards. And then there's the Library of Congress cataloging-in-data. Sometimes the choices announced here are enlightening, a way of seeing the book through another's eyes.

I’ve described a lot of supplemental material. Is anything missing? Yes, if the novels I’m reading today are any guide. The novel I just finished reading ended with a five-page list of acknowledgments. Five pages! And this is not unusual. Many of today’s novels contain almost a summary of the entire research and writing process. I do find this interesting, but I’m not sure it belongs in the novel. In my third Mellingham mystery, Family Album, I included an Acknowledgments page with one paragraph of five lines, and a bookseller told me it was “excessive.” I wonder what she thinks about the current practice.

In my 1926 copy of Agatha Christie’s Murder of Roger Ackroyd, the book includes a half-title page, title page, copyright notice, dedication, table of contents, and text. There is no biography of the author anywhere, and no acknowledgments of assistance or guidance. Not even the book jacket has a bio on either flap. Most of today’s books have “best-selling author” slathered across the cover, but this edition of Ackroyd has only a few words across the top: “A Baffling Detective Story.”

As if to make up for the lack of hype and biographical information, the bottom of the front flap contains this charming notice: “The issuance of this new edition at a reduced price is made possible by (a) use of the same plates made for the original edition: (b) acceptance by the author of a reduced royalty.”

If I switch to an eReader, I will miss these details and the process of discovery that comes with picking up a book in a bookstore and flipping through its pages, discovering how it’s organized and how the writer thinks about the topic. Publishers may not announce their royalty practices on a book flap anymore, but there are other discoveries to be found there.

Friday, September 25, 2015

What Inspires

Many years ago the Shirley Temple doll sitting on my bed inspired me. I think I was about seven when the NY Daily News held a contest and a life size Shirley Temple doll was the prize. I won her by answering the question:" What would you do if you were Shirley Temple.?  My answer was:
            "I would teach all the other little girls how to dance and I would take good care of my health because               there will never be another Shirley Temple."

Even though I had to ask my older sisters how to spell some of the words, the simplistic, innocent, sheer answer must have convinced the judges. Shirley sat on my bed as you see her here long after I went away  to college. Did she inspire me when I was a child?  You betcha. Winning her convinced me I could  do more with pencil and paper.  I wrote little poems to my Mom on Mother's Day and her birthdays. I wrote short stories and more poems when I was in high school during WW2, but they are shelved away for my children. 

It wasn't until I  retired that I had time to attempt to write for publication. I wrote a newspaper column called Reflections. When husband, Tom and I retired  to Florida, I wrote feature articles for  a regional magazine about places of interest in our locale. You might say I was a late bloomer in the journalism world, but  I was convinced I could write when my first Historical novel was awarded a contract by Five Star/Gale Publishers in 2006. That book was Four Summers Waiting.  
It was inspired by a true ancestor.  When the rights reverted to me I published Four Summers Waiting as an eBook with a new cover, and I'm happy to say it is still selling.  I did the same with my contemporary series, Maine Shore Chronicles, combining the trilogy in a boxed set which is available on all eBook venues. 

Yes, my journey may have begun with Shirley Temple, but I hope you will agree my work  has evolved with a unique voice. Do look for the latest two novels, The Red Cockade, and Safe Harbor.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Rollercoaster of Book Sales and Comparing E-books to Print editions

There’s an interesting article in the NY Times today (Sept. 23, 2015) on “The Plot Twist: E-book Sales Slip, and Print is Far From Dead.” Between 2008 and 2010, e-book sales soared by over 1,000 percent. Now the trend has slowed, and big publishers such as Penguin Random House in New York are investing money in print production and faster distribution. What does this mean for readers and authors? Well, perhaps that more readers have become hybrid readers, choosing electronic reading for some books and print for others. Price matters: some paperbacks are cheaper than some e-editions.

For me, it comes down to several factors in addition to price: Patience, convenience, and weight. If a new book has a long wait list at the library and the price is not more than $10, I often choose to download it and read it with my Kindle app on my tablet. Would I take my tablet into the bathtub? Never, but I might take a cheap secondhand paperback into a hot soak with me. When traveling by airplane, my capacious purse will hold either a paperback or my tablet in its nifty outer pocket. The lighter-weight print book wins for easy reading during take-off and landing, but I’ll often carry the tablet in my carry-on bag for additional reading options. The only time I don’t like print books is when they go moldy and make me sneeze, like the ancient paperback mysteries my parents kept in a mildewed basement on Cape Cod.

Here’s another article from last May on the Author Earnings website.

It reinforces my feeling that watching sales numbers go up and down is a lot like watching the stock markets these past few months. It can drive you crazy, roil your gut, and make you wonder why you’re in the publishing business. Prices for self-published e-books average under $5 for electronic edition, whereas small-medium publishers and the Big Five average between $8 and $10 for Kindle editions. 2015 to. Authors also lost income when their e-books were sold by the Big Five compared to Indie publishing.

Big Five publishers lost market share compared to Indie publishers during the first half of 2015. Authors also lost income when their e-books were sold by the Big Five compared to Indie publishing.

The Author Earnings report summarizes the findings: “Publishers fought hard to take back control of e-book pricing from Amazon. This was a stated intent by Hachette to its investors in 2014, and it was touted as the end result of their lengthy negotiations. What has that control brought? By our data, which matches industry reports, this control has brought higher prices to consumers, lower sales for publishers, and less earnings for their authors. It has also brought greater market share for self-published authors, which is why many were pulling for publishers to get their way during negotiations with Amazon.”

But the NY Times article says, “E-book sales fell by 10 percent in the first five months of this year, according to the Association of American Publishers, which collects data from nearly 1,200 publishers. Digital books accounted last year for around 20 percent of the market, roughly the same as they did a few years ago.”

So, if I understood correctly, TOTAL e-book sales are down a bit across the board, but it’s clear that cheaper-priced e-books are doing better than those priced over $8 per copy. And, if you read this report from Author Earnings, you’ll see that Indie authors are doing better from e-book sales in the past six years than earlier.

The picture is still changing. My take: Both readers and authors seem to prefer having books available in both e-book and print forms, print is not going away, and I will never give up my treasured print library.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Beware the Inner Critic

Lately my Inner Critic has been working overtime. "Why are you writing about that?" he says. "Who cares about this?" "Who told you that you could write?" and on and on it goes.

It's time to remind this meanie that he is supposed to be advising not criticizing, regardless what his name happens to be. But it's hard to "control" the voice once it starts. If you let it and the doubt slip in, then it keeps on coming like our beloved Energizer Bunny.

What do you do to still the Inner Critic? (good question!)

I attended a writer's retreat years ago and the instructor asked us to bring some small object that represented the inner critic. I took one of those rubber dolls whose eyes, ears and tongues still out when you squeeze it's tummy. The first thing we did when we arrived was show off our inner critic to the other workshop members. Next the instructor held out a black garbage bag and we all deposited our critics inside. She tied up the top and stuck it behind the podium for the week. Interestingly enough, the act of giving up our little critics made it easier to not think about them and their nasty little voice. Perhaps it is time to do that again!

You must admit, though the Inner Critic gets a bad rap. It can be a valuable tool once we get that first draft done. We can employ the noisy little bugger to help us revise and edit away the "little darlings" that really don't propel the story forward.

It helps to keep us humble. If I've learned nothing else in this industry, it is that no one is an "expert." Sharing our valuable experiences with each other is important, but we each follow our own path. There is no secret formula. There IS, however, a lot of hard work and spilling of our blood upon the page. We have to love what we do to succeed. And it shows in our stories.

So, the next time my Inner Critic growls in my ear I'm sending him on vacation so I can get some writing done. How about you?


To find out more about Bonnie Tharp's books go to  

Friday, September 11, 2015

Tips on Building a Brand by Jacqueline Seewald

Let’s pull out the branding iron and get ready to sizzle! Businesses of all kinds are looking to publicize and advertise their product brand. In recent times, it has become important for business people to become a product, a brand themselves. Athletes and entertainers knew this long ago. You find their personal brands on every conceivable product. Let’s discuss ways in which people can build a brand:

  1. Create a website that represents the image you want people to see. If you’re an expert in a particular field, make that clear through both photos and words.

  1. Create a blog in which you discuss matters relevant to your area of expertise. Interview others in your field. Try to blog at least several times a month to build a following. Once a week would be even better.

  1. Do interviews on other blogs.

  1. Use social media to create connections. We’re talking Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc. to get your message across.

  1. Write articles for many types of media both in print and online to establish expertise in your particular field. TV is the best, but radio isn’t bad either. Personal appearances are always great. Meet and greet!

It has been observed that personal branding is one of the keys to success in today’s world. As such it takes time and effort. However, by branding yourself you are demonstrating who you are and the expertise you have to offer.

What about writers? Is branding a help or hindrance to authors? There’s been a lot of discussion among writers as to whether it benefits authors to be branded--by that I mean that writers want to market themselves by promoting their name, associating their name with a particular type, genre or style of writing. The premise? This is the best way to build a readership. For example, when we see the name Nora Roberts we immediately think of romantic suspense. The name Stephen King is immediately associated with horror. But these writers have also chosen to write under other pseudonyms as well. Jayne Ann Krentz, for example, writes her contemporary romances under that name, her sci-fi’s under Jayne Castle and her historical romances under Amanda Quick. The advantage is that her fans know exactly what to expect.

Many writers choose to use pen names. They write in a variety of genres and assume a different nom de plume for each. The theory is that it will confuse readers if writers use the same name for different types of work. There is also a tendency for publishers to try to place writers in neat categories. It’s more convenient to connect a name to a particular format.

But what if you resist branding? Are you destroying your chance to be taken seriously as a writer or build a readership? I don’t have the answer to this question. I can only admit that I don’t limit myself to one particular format or genre. However, all of my adult novels, YA fiction and children’s books are published under my own name “Jacqueline Seewald.” Does this confuse readers? I sincerely hope not.

 I have written the Kim Reynolds mystery series which includes: THE INFERNO COLLECTION, THE DROWNING POOL, THE TRUTH SLEUTH and THE BAD WIFE. Each of the novels stands on its own as a unique murder mystery although the main characters existing in each book grow and change much the way real people do. I’ve also written several stand alone mysteries like DEATH LEGACY which were critically well-received as well.

My most recent novel for young adults, THE DEVIL AND DANNA WEBSTER, was published both in print and all e-book formats by Clean Reads Press.

STACY’S SONG, another of my YA novels for girls, originally published by L&LDreamspell, has been rewritten and re-edited and will be published by Clean Read Press October 27th.

My latest adult romance DARK MOON RISING was recently published by Luminosity. I deliberately chose a cover that would indicate this paranormal romantic Gothic tale is for a mature readership and not young teens although it would be suitable for new adults.


My poems, short stories, nonfiction articles and plays, are published under my own name and with a variety of publishers.

I suppose if you were to ask me to elaborate on my “brand” I’d have to answer I really don’t have one. To paraphrase Shakespeare’s description of Cleopatra, I am a writer of infinite variety. Is it possible to build a readership without a definitive brand?

Your thoughts, opinions and comments are most welcome.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Favorite Writing Exercises by Susan Oleksiw

Like many other writers, I spent a few years teaching writing, among other subjects, to people of all ages--college students on up to retired folks and occasionally middle and high school students in weekend workshops. Each class was different, but I relied on several favorite writing exercises to get students writing. I still find myself thinking of them when I face a particular challenge in a manuscript. Here are a few I think are worth trying, no matter where you are in your career.

First, write one descriptive paragraph for each of three people: someone you know very well; someone you have seen in the neighborhood but have never met; and someone you make up.

Second, write a three-page dialogue of two people meeting for lunch, or a coffee break. One is unhappy with his/her job, and the other is satisfied with work.

Third, what is a zipper and how does it work?

Fourth, write the opening page of a short story or novel from the point of view of each of the main characters in the story.

Fifth, if you are a woman, describe your Saturday morning as if you were a man. If you are a man, describe your Saturday morning as if you were a woman.

Sixth, write about things that are silver.

In each exercise, the writer is challenged to observe and record, to think through a specific behavior or incident. In a good story, there is no room for anything vague or unclear, and the greater specificity or detail, the more compelling and involving the narrative.

In For the Love of Parvati, the third Anita Ray mystery, I open with a scene of peril, a man tied under a bridge in a rural area, with the monsoon raging and a river starting to flood. The idea came from an effort to describe a bridge I encountered and how unstable parts of it had become over the decades while other parts looked as sturdy as the day they were constructed. I liked the contrast, and out of that came the opening scene.

In the second Anita Ray book, The Wrath of Shiva, Anita has several conversations with people she is trying to get information from. The key to a strong dialogue is creating the tension between two people who have different goals. Anita goes from store to store, and her goals clash with each storekeeper's.
In the first Anita Ray, Under the Eye of Kali, the opening scene at a breakfast table introduces several women, some of whom I imagined and others whom I had seen in the States or in India. Only the waiter is real.

Readers pick up a book looking for an experience, and it is the writer's job to create that experience, that journey into another world. These exercises are steps on creating that journey.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Reading and Reviewing

On these sultry summer days it has been my pleasure to soak up the sun on the Gulf with a good book, or two, or three. I walk the beach first, to strengthen my body for the long trip ahead for husband, Tom & me. We are traveling to Hawaii for the commemoration of WW2's surrender aboard his ship, The Missouri. Tom was a very young sailor when he first boarded that ship, and we are  excited to be a part of the  70th celebration on September 2nd. I plan to bring my kindle on the long flight to Honolulu.  I hope to tell you all about  the ceremony and our week on Waikiki  when we return.  In the meantime, here are  reviews of a couple of books that were not exactly "beach reads", but good reads, especially if you like historicals. the first is a short review I gave to convince my book club to select  it.
This  review  is for The Light Between ML Stedman. Honesty, faith, love and morals, with a little bit of mystery are all found in this story about Tom and Isabel, who become caretakers of a remote lighthouse in Australia. A small boat washes ashore carrying a dead man and a live baby. Therein lies the plot, and you will want to read it  to find out what happens. Descriptions are beautifully done, helping me to learn much about Western Australia. It is plot-driven, yet the characterizations are real and memorable. Well written, poignant , sometimes heart.wrenching, The Light Between Oceans was so memorable, I would rate it highly and recommend it.

The following is a review I posted in Goodreads.
's review 
Aug 13, 15  ·  edit

bookshelves: currently-reading 
Read in July, 2015

Award winning author, Gaynor has written a sweet story, historically accurate,and vividly described. It is a subject which I had no knowledge of, the plight of East London's orphaned and/or crippled flower sellers.The author weaves the story of two long-lost sisters, Florrie and Rosie whose lives took different paths. The first part is told from Florries's perspective. Next we meet a young girl, Tillie Harper who leaves her home to take a job as assistant housemother at Mr. Shaw's home for Watercress and Flower girls. The houses originated in Chapel hall until Shaw could find rented homes for the many flower seller children he took off the streets of London. The homes were based on the real-life ones established by John Groom in that era. It is a sentimental tale, with many amazing coincidences. Although the existence of these flower sellers was one I had no prior knowledge of, it was a redeeming story, heart wrenching, but historically significant with a poignant plot which I enjoyed.