Friday, November 29, 2013

Should Readers and Writers Be Thankful for E-Books? By Jacqueline Seewald

According to Bowker’s last publishing report, the number of self-published book titles available in the marketplace went up 59% between 2011 and 2012.  These are staggering figures. The report looked at U.S. ISBN data to identify that there were more than 391,000 books self-published in 2012!  Of these, E-books made up approximately 40 percent of the ISBNs.

Does it surprise anyone that so many e-books are flooding the market, often being offered for free on Amazon among other places? Even for the e-books which are not given away for free, prices have dropped dramatically. Is this a good thing for readers?  I was using a treadmill recently in our building’s gym on a rainy day. The woman next to me was reading on a Kindle as she walked.

“How do you like your Kindle?” I asked.

She smiled. “I love it. I get to read so many more books than I ever did before. And lots of them are free. It’s wonderful.”

I think that says it for many readers. Some of the features are great for readers. For instance, e-book readers are lightweight and compact. Yet they hold many titles. Also you can adjust the font size. This is a blessing for those of us who prefer large print which is easier on the eyes.

But what about writers? Is this good for them? Here’s one positive. Many writers have had books and short stories published in the past. Too soon these titles have gone out of print. This is one way to make backlist titles available to the public for long periods of time. By self-publishing an e-book, a writer can keep work available to readers indefinitely.

A second positive for writers: many would remain unpublished but for the advent of e-books. Publishers will only invest in books they believe will make money. A majority of books will earn out very little, especially if the author is unknown. By self-publishing an e-book, a frustrated writer has the opportunity to get his/her work out in the marketplace and hopefully read by the public.

For those who believe in democracy, this is indeed a democratic revolution. The internet has provided a forum for writers of all kinds. It has opened the floodgates of self-expression. Of course, it is also a bit overwhelming. Certainly, not every e-book will go viral—nor should it. But at least hopeful writers will get the exposure they so crave.

The negative factors are quite obvious as well. First, with such a flood of e-books on the market, quality writers may be ignored. Secondly, as to reviews, they often come from friends and relatives and are not necessarily meaningful. Third, many readers simply ignore unknown names and look only at the work of famous writers and celebrities when they buy books. The attitude is that they may download a free book when it’s offered, but won’t buy subsequent books as the author is hoping. This leads to much disappointment among wannabe authors. It may be coming to a point where there are many more books than readers. And of course, if there are no gatekeepers, anything and everything can be published with little regard to quality. Readers are still much more willing to pay for “brand” name authors. E-publishing appears to be something of a mixed blessing.

For me as a writer, I don’t know what the future will hold. My co-authored Five Star/Gale family mystery THE THIRD EYE, initially out in hardcover in September, is now offered by the publisher as an ebook on Kindle for $3. Will the novel now draw a wider readership?

My short story collection, BEYOND THE BO TREE, was published as an ebook on Amazon this summer. Do such collections draw readers?

I won a writing contest sponsored by Australian publisher, Eside Media. There was a generous cash prize as well as publication which occurred yesterday. This will be my first novel published initially as an e-book in all platforms. THE CHEVALIER is a sensual historical romance set in the Georgian period.  I hope it draws many romance readers.

 What are your thoughts? Does the e-book revolution thrill you as a reader and/or as an author?

Monday, November 18, 2013

One thing in life you can count on...things CHANGE.

Sounds like a paradox to me.'s true.

You can always count on life changing, and not always in a good way. But isn't that what makes the best stories? A change or challenge to the character that turns their world around? It happens to us every day, so everyone can relate, right? At least anyone who has felt something similar.

What kinds of change do you enjoy? A change of scenery is one of my favorites. That's why I like to read different genre's. I love to explore other cultures. And traveling to new places is awesome! The changing of the leaves in autumn, the pristine blanket of the first snow, the colors of spring flowers and leaves popping from the trees, and the clear blue sky of summer.

What kinds of change aren't enjoyable? Oh, man - that's quite a can of worms. Health changes. Job disruptions. Family deaths. A change of fortune. Those things then affect other things in our lives, like the snowball that rolls down a snowy slope picking up more snow and getting larger and larger
and smacks into whatever is at the bottom of the hill. Like one of us, for example. Splat! We're knocked flat. We're cold. We're wet. We're buried with the wind knocked out of us. (Okay, so I got a little carried away there...sorry.)

What's my point? Hum. Good question. Most people are creatures of habit. We like to find a "comfort zone" and only change it when we have to or when we can control the outcome (like a vacation). We get used to doing things a certain way and don't like it when something changes, like when the computer breaks and we have to...write with a pen. (OMG) Temporary life changer, folks! The key here is "temporary." A life that doesn't vary much from day to day, week to week, or year to year is BORING. We need a bit of variety fairly often if we're going to be happy. Try a new recipe or restaurant. Try a new road to work. Try to learn something new. Try to write something different. Try a new author you've never read before. Try, try, try. I sound like my grandmother, who was very wise and that pleases me very much.

There's a whole lot in the world we don't know or understand. Explore. Investigate. Don't be afraid to change. Most of all...enjoy the journey!

B.D. Tharp
Wichita, KS

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Common Themes in Literature by Jacqueline Seewald

Whether authors of fiction write short stories, plays or novels, theme is an essential component, just like characterization, plot and setting. The theme of a book is a universal idea or message that stretches throughout a work. Themes are often sociological or cultural in nature.

Some themes reoccur often. For instance, I just finished reading a thriller novel in which the theme was conspiracy theory, common in suspense genre. Fiction writers often pull their themes from nonfiction and then write faction. Dan Brown and Brad Meltzer are two very popular suspense authors who do this. Shakespeare used the underlying theme in his plays that appearances are deceiving. This works particularly well in the theatre.

Good fiction writing needs a cohesive theme to hold the work together. The lesson is generally about life or humanity and is preferably implied rather than stated outright. The show-not-tell rule works well with theme.

In YA lit, the theme is often coming-of-age. However, there may be more than one theme, especially in a novel. One way to convey theme is through recurring use of symbolism. Hawthorne and Hemingway were both particularly talented in that regard. My forthcoming YA novel THE DEVIL AND DANNA WEBSTER which will be published by Astraea Press uses symbolism as well.

Romances concentrate on the theme of finding love everlasting. This is true of my short story collection BEYOND THE BO TREE offered on Amazon Kindle:

However, even with romance fiction there are often secondary themes. My soon be published prize-winning historical romance THE CHEVALIER is very much connected with themes of war and politics.

 Mysteries are about finding solutions and discovering the truth about puzzling situations such as solving murders and imposing order where there was chaos. For instance, my romantic suspense spy thriller DEATH LEGACY, both romance and mystery, explores whether a CIA agent was an enemy mole or a murder victim. 

There are often socially significant secondary themes in crime fiction. For example, in my co-authored novel THE THIRD EYE: A PINE BARRENS MYSTERY

we deal with the theme of bullying. Jim who is short for his age is bullied by an older boy. He learns how to cope with the situation. His search for a murderer also interconnects with the theme of bullying. This is a theme that has increased awareness in our modern society where young people have tragically ended up committing suicide owing to cyber bullying. Even successful pro football players are not immune to this kind of abuse.
All types of writing need an underlying idea which serves as a fundamental component. Writing without a theme is like sailing in a rudderless ship. It will eventually flounder and sink.

What themes interest you in particular as a reader or a writer? What themes appear to be especially important?

Friday, November 1, 2013

Just How Crazy Is the Marketplace Today? by Susan Oleksiw

I was casting around for an idea for my monthly contribution to Author Expressions when I thought I’d settled on something timely—the topic of whether or not writers should give away their work. An article in the New York Times by Tim Kreider on just this issue had sparked a lot of debate on various lists. The topic appealed to me because when a friend, Ann Perrott, and I founded The Larcom Review I insisted that we pay every contributor, even if it was only a nominal amount.

Those who write well enough to be published deserve to be treated as professionals; they should be paid. Ann agreed, and we paid every contributor (writer, poet, interviewer, reviewer, photographer, artist) a modest $25 plus one contributor’s complimentary copy. The amount is pathetic but it’s better than nothing.

Today thousands of writers blog for free (like me, right here), put their novels and short stories on line for free (I haven’t done that), and contribute stories and articles to anthologies for no money at all (I haven’t done that either) and no free copy. It is so much the norm now that fewer and fewer people are arguing that writers should never write for free. It is argued that this is unrealistic—there are simply too many writers willing to fill the screens with their ideas and beautifully wrought sentences, hoping someone will offer them a paying gig.

This isn’t just a problem for midlist writers like me and most other mystery writers. It’s common knowledge that the writers who made Huffington Post worth purchasing were paid nothing for their contributions. They got nothing from the sale of the online newspaper. That doesn’t make anyone feel any better, but it does remind us just how widespread this problem is—writers should write for free and be glad of the opportunity to have their work disseminated. The marketplace for writing is out of whack.

So, how out of whack is the marketplace today?

While I was searching for a book by Mavis Gallant I decided to take a vanity detour and check out my own list, to see if the new covers were now on the Amazon site. They were. I scrolled down to admire them, and noticed that various issues of The Larcom Review were mixed in with the book titles. And then I took a better look.

I’m used to seeing paperbacks at $0.01, with the total cost being the shipping plus a few pennies. But I was not ready for the price I saw on one issue of The Larcom Review. The spring/summer 2001 issue was priced at $2,350.70. (Seventy cents?) The cover price is $10.

I remember that issue. In fact, I had just given a copy of it to a friend as a hostess gift when she invited me to dinner. The issue contains 61 works in prose or poetry and 15 artworks, including photographs, line drawings, and prints. The issue includes an interview with Andre Dubus III by Rae Francoeur, a poem by Erika Funkhauser, one by Rhina P. Espaillat, two prints by John Martin, and a cover photo by Robin Paris, among other items. Is all this worth $2,350.70?

I’ve emailed the bookseller to find out what is so special about this issue that he’s charging over $2,000. After all, I still have several copies in storage I’d be glad to sell. I have't heard anything from him yet, but I'll let you know if I do.

And now you can see how out of whack the publishing business is right now. I’ve forgotten my topic and where I was going with it. The ludicrous amount of money being offered for one issue of The Larcom Review has completely thrown my brain off kilter. What more do you need to know?

To purchase copies of The Larcom Review at a normal price, email me. To read Tim Kreider’s article, click on the link below.

Susan Oleksiw is the author of the Mellingham/Joe Silva series and the Anita Ray series. Her books can be found on Amazon, Nook Press, and Smashwords. For more information, go to