May 31, 2009

by Sunny Frazier

Small publishing vs. BIG PUBLISHING.

Every Author sets out with high hopes of publishing their book and seeing it on the shelves of the big chains. They deserve to be there. After brain-sweat and sacrifice, the reward should be wonderful book signings and lines of buyers waiting for an autograph.

That's the carrot that keeps writers pounding away at the keyboard. It happens to a lucky few. But sometimes the author published by a major publishing house is a one-book wonder and left to contemplate why the publisher deserted them. Sometimes they can't meet the sales expectations of their publisher on the second book and get pushed to the sidelines. Sometimes the economy downsizes them right out of their career as big publishing can't balance cost of putting out a book with a frugal public. Authors never fantasize about that aspect of the industry.

Then there are the small press authors. We're the ones who looked at the slush pile and the long lines in front of agent's doors and said, “I can do better.” We rolled the dice and took a gamble on a small outfit, a one-man-(or woman)-band. We were impatient and wanted our work out there before we were too old to travel and promote.

I started my career by joining with two girlfriends and putting out a regional mystery anthology of our prize-winning short stories. Anthologies are tough to get published, but nobody told us. We found a reluctant publisher, designed the cover and each paid $2,000 dollars to co-publish. The publisher put in a thousand dollars. Soon it was apparent that no store, not even the independent book stores in our city, would carry the books. It was also apparent that we had a public delighted to read about the San Joaquin Valley. We had published the first mystery anthology in this region.

I'm lucky to have such a rough start. It banished my own illusions of the publishing world. I actually had to learn everything from the ground up. I knew when my first novel was published that my success would happen under my own steam. I love having a big say in how I market, it makes me feel in control of my career. I didn't hand my work over to corporate strangers and trust that they would have my best interest at heart. I bounced off the contacts and savvy I'd learned from the first books I published. I had a readership in place salivating for the next book in the series. I also delved into Internet promotion and invited several of you to join me.

What I love about being with a small publisher is that I feel nurtured. I know my talent is respected.
I still get to be a player in the literary world. Some may feel they are too big for small publishing. I feel you can't promote what doesn't exist, so while some authors spend time looking for an agent and a publisher and hoping lightening strikes, I'm out selling my next book.

Small publishing is a choice. My career is what I make it, not what a faceless committee decides. I choose to enjoy the freedom, explore the possibilities and reap the fruit of my labors.

May 24, 2009


I have a thing for research. This serious relationship evolved over many years. That first tingle of excitement happened on the day I walked into the main branch of the public library. I fell in love with the knowledge that I needed to use the elevator to reach all the books I wanted to check out. No more tiny school libraries or even branch libraries for me. I had discovered my home away from home.

During my childhood I was never without a book to read. As a young adult I let real life take priority but found my interest renewed with the birth of my children. When my children were too old for me to read to them I returned to my old voracious reading habits. But I soon realized, just reading fiction was no longer enough. I trolled the stacks looking for something to catch my eye and was mesmerized by the non-fiction section.

Most of my story ideas come from a piece of information or a moment in history that I have come across when reading non-fiction.

I always start my searches with the original and still the best place to go for information, your local library. There is always someone there to help you out. The research section in most libraries is unique to each location and the non-fiction by state section will carry books with the history of the particular area you are in.

Libraries now have all their books listed on an online catalog system. You can request a book from any city, county or state branch and have it delivered to your local branch. You could even have it delivered to your front door. This makes it so easy for me to check out books from the comfort of my own computer.

A large part of my research is done online. The speed and access we have to information increases almost daily. One big rule to follow online is to always have more than one source to back up your information. There are so many sites that are full of just the right type of information you are looking for.

The best and most desired way to do research is to visit the location of your story. If this is not possible then the library and online are again the best resources for travel information on your setting.
Another way to find out more on a subject or profession is to interview someone with the knowledge. Remember to come prepared with a list of question.
With all this new research at your disposal remember the number one rule. Don't overpower your work with the details and lose the idea you started out with.
Do you love it or hate it? What are your best research tips?

May 17, 2009

Living Your Writer's Dream

By: Dorinda Ohnstad

Dreams are nothing but dreams, unless you are willing to do the hard work to see them through to fruition. That means putting the time in to write, avoiding the distractions that get in the way, learning the craft, and persevering with or without a support network at home. I can’t emphasize learning the craft enough. Although, I’ve been a highly paid and skilled business and legal writer for years, I have had to learn the craft of writing. Being a good writer doesn’t mean that we can write a novel with ease. Writing this narrative for me is much simpler than learning the craft of writing a novel, external and internal conflict, dialog, tension, pacing, point of view, scene construction, plot development, etc.

Bottom line, writing a novel is a lonely, difficult path to walk. To be able to persist in this endeavor you need to be passionate about the writing, not about the possibility of success and fame as defined by being on the shelves of Borders or Barnes & Noble. That doesn’t mean that you can’t want those things, they just can’t be what drives you to write. If fame and money are your only motivation, you are likely to be easily side-tracked from the work of writing; for there is no way around the fact that writing a novel is damn hard work. More difficult yet is the fact that you don’t get paid for that hard work until it is all done, if you get paid at all, even though it may take you years to accomplish.

That is why the incentive to plow down that road has to be something different than the money and fame. You need to let those stories in you that are screaming to be written be what drives you. Stop daydreaming about fame and success, feeling envious of others living your dream, and decide that you are going to commit to the hard work and focus on telling your stories to the best of your ability.

Keep in mind that even when you do this, it won’t be easy and there will be days, weeks, months even, when you will doubt whether it is worth all the work. It is in those darkest moments that we as writers have to dig deep within ourselves to discover whether this is the life for us. It’s definitely not for everyone. I’ve had to confront these feelings myself.

If you decide that you need to write those stories, and are willing to put in the work regardless of whether or not money and fame are at the other end, then pick one novel and work on it. At the same time read about craft, attend conferences, participate in critique groups (who can also be the support network you need and don’t get elsewhere) and avoid those distractions. Commit to the work and see it through one page at a time.

Labels: , , ,

May 10, 2009


I made an exciting discovery this week! I found that outlining a book is very much an act of story-telling. For a long time I have taken creative pride in my ability to write Ironic Dance as it unfolded like a movie in my head. I enjoyed not knowing what was going to happen unitil it spilled from my pen, or was tapped on the keyboard. There on my computer screen I watched as my story presented itself like magic to me, the first to get the inside scoop.

Then one day, the Muse in my head went on vacation. I realized that all along the story had been coming from a source. It "came" to me because I had the basic plot and action coursing through my neurons. Suddenly, in the middle, I faced the fact that my game plan had ran off the page. Without it, the movie could not be directed. Hmm. My baloon deflated, I took a few weeks (ok several) to sulk, then an entirely different kind of inspiration hit me.

Instead of smugly ignoring the likes of Sunny Frazier, I picked up my pen and began to plot. Nothing overly elaberate. I just wrote Chapter such and such and wrote down what I wanted to happen. And you know what-I told a story. I looked upon my work (yes, it IS part of the work of writing) and realized that I was building the skeleton of the rest of my story. It was exhilerating. It was fun! I kept coming up with deeper plot elements that I could connect to earlier parts of my story. I discovered that I knew my book, and my characters more intimately than ever before.

Now I can sit at my keyboard and form the flesh for the skeleton. This has given me a greater sense of power as a writer. Because I am acting as a deliberate planner of my story, I am not dependent on my subconsious to drop gifts to me. Of course it still does and that is pleasurable, but now Ironic Dance is MY story. I am the storyteller, not the story receiver. It means that I always have plenty to do. Even when I am not writing the story, I am engaged in forming it. Whether ploting, doing character analysis, or storyboarding. I am performing real work. The work of brining Ironic Dance to fruition. Thanks to EVERYONE who has helped me learn this lesson.

May 3, 2009


Sunny here.

Last week at my writing group, one of the aspiring authors had a bit of a breakdown. She suffered from what all writers eventually go through. Her faith in her abilities was shaken, the struggle to get her story on paper seemed overwhelming, and the awful question loomed: Am I really a writer?

This rite of passage is crucial. Writing a book initially seems like fun. The potential novelist thinks, “Oh, I have stories to tell, I have a great imagination, I got an 'A' in English class in high school/college. My mother and friends say my emails are quippy, they delight in my ability to tell a good story. I'm a natural.”

The reality is the plain white sheet of paper waiting for words. The cursor on the computer becomes a throbbing curse. Minutes tick by as phrases refuse to come. The story percolating in the brain falls short in print.

“I know what I want to say, but I can't get the ideas to come out as I imagined,” one in our group complained. “I wanted to kill my husband for interrupting my flow of words,” the most mild-mannered member fumed. “I feel like I'm ignoring my children, but I'm determined to get this book written,” the young mother confessed.

Like addicts at an AA meeting, we admit we write to the detriment of other parts of our lives. Spouses get neglected and have to take on extra duties so we can get pages written and attend critique sessions. We needed our writing “fix” so badly, we went from meeting twice a month to every Friday night. Our social lives now revolve around professional organizations like Romance Writers of America and Sisters in Crime in Fresno. We show up at library events to network with published authors. We crave writing conferences and conventions, the cost be damned.

But, wanting to be a writer and being a writer are two distinctively different animals. The wannabe sees the fun, the fulfillment, the praise, the bucks. They have passion and a story to tell and probably some talent.

Real writers expect to get saddle sores from sitting in front of the computer. Their eyes go bad from staring at the screen. Coffee, a shot of brandy and dark chocolate will only keep them functioning for so long. The only exercise they get is in their fingers—if they don't get carpal tunnel first. They crave distractions, any reason to leave the ball and chain of the chair. They don't want to talk to anyone who can't empathize with their suffering.

And that, folks, it the crux of the problem. Does the world care if there is one more writer or one more book on the shelf? Not really. Is writing worth sacrificing the real people in our lives in favor of the fictional people we create? Are the rewards worth the effort? Am I really up to the task?

Writing is a choice. Nobody is standing behind us with a gun to our heads telling us to publish or perish. Writing is hard. More than just imagination and plot, good writing includes craft, strong word choices, constant editing, the illusive element called “voice,” and a thick skin. Writing is a gamble. Even the best novels often don't see publication. Writing is about going the distance, not running a sprint. Writing is not graded, except by sales. Writing demands sacrifices, and each aspiring novelist has to ask, “What am I willing to give up to reach my goal?”

I gave up housework, TV and a marriage while writing my first novel. I cleared the way to write full time by forfeiting what others consider necessities: relationships, a social life and a steady income. I live in a bathrobe surrounded by cats unable to complain to the neighbors when I kick them outside so I can write. A balanced diet is TV dinners, smoothies and chocolate. My yard work goes neglected and housework is negligible. I live like a spinster and don't have time for bad habits, except biting my nails when I'm working on deadline. Do I feel this life is what I want? Absolutely. I'm living my dream.

But, that's my story. My writing group gave the aspiring author empathy and a tissue to wipe away tears and years of frustration. Her life is full of overwhelming obstacles, yet I know she'll show up next Friday night ready for more criticism. Last week she had a breakdown--next week, perhaps a breakthrough.