Rosanne Dingli

Rosanne Dingli

Monday, August 29, 2011

How to be a special reader

We have all heard how publishing is changing, and how fast the shifts are taking place. We have also heard how this is affecting publishing - how the big publishing houses are trying to catch up with the technology, trying to understand it as well as the smaller publishers do. We've heard of the decline of the bricks and mortar bookshop... and how people are buying everything - including paperbacks - online.

What does all this mean to the humble reader? All I want is good books, the humble reader cries. Yes - a reader reads, but that simple reading means a lot of things to a great number of people. Reading provides jobs and makes money for a very long chain of interested parties. Humble readers and their purchases, habits, likes and dislikes support a whole industry.

IRex iLiad ebook reader outdoors in sunlight. ...Image via WikipediaThe industry is currently experiencing a momentous upheaval. It will in turn affect the humble reader, in what that reader can obtain to read, the form in which it can be read, and its cost. How - as a reader - can one ensure that there will always be good, affordable reading material to read? How can you and I be special readers?

A special reader knows there are key roles in the publishing game that need to survive in order for books to stay available as a source for education, information, and entertainment. Special readers know that the whole industry is there because of them. All of it. No readers, no book industry. No publishing.

The most important roles in the industry are the indispensible ones. One needs authors, and one needs publishers. One needs producers of physical and digital books. One needs a place to buy the books. Sometimes, these roles overlap - some authors write, publish, produce and sell their own books. Some use producers and retailers. Some use publishers and sell some of their titles themselves. It's a melange that has many possibilities.

Endpapers of the original run of books in the ...Image via WikipediaA reader is a reader - and yes, many writers also read. How can a humble reader become a special one? Here are the things you can do to make sure you support the industry in the best ways you can. The book industry needs sustaining. It runs on what readers do. If you are a reader, you need to DO things to make sure it lives on to bring you more books.

ONE: Buy books. It seems obvious, but borrowing, stealing and finding books does not support either the industry or the authors you like so much. Stealing books is especially nefarious: books are getting cheaper (If you haven't noticed it yet, you will soon.) Buying inexpensive eBooks is great. Downloading them from pirates is not - it will eventually destroy your authors, so pay the three bucks!

TWO: Discover as much as you can about your favourite authors. Not only the titles of their books, but where they work, what else they write, how they come by their ideas, whether they are on FaceBook or GoodReads or your favourite hang-out. Do they write in another genre? Have they published short stories? Do they give out any free reading examples? Free reading examples supplied by authors and publishers are different from stealing an illegal copy of a book.

THREE: Let your favourite authors know you love them. Most are approachable, nice, contactable... they love their fans back. Write a review, send a message, like them on FaceBook, reTweet their Tweets. Follow them, wherever they hang out.

FOUR: Special readers spread the word. Authors know that word of mouth is the greatest seller of books. So talk about your favourite authors at parties, at the supermarket checkout, on the phone, in your posts and comments. Mention their names, tweet their links. Message the titles of their books. In this way, more people will know about your authors, more people will buy their books, and they will be more likely to still be around when you next want something good to read.

Being a special reader makes the authors you love special. They will survive to go on and write more books. Do you know what it takes to write a book? Think about it - it is much harder than you think. For your authors to keep writing those fabulous books they need support from special readers like you.

If you are an author, tell me what you'd like your readers to do. If you are a reader, what have you done lately to show your favourite authors you like what they do?
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Saturday, August 20, 2011

How to be a Special Writer

There are 68,200 bloggers who identify themselves as writers or authors on Blogger alone. Think about it: it's a spectacular number. It's especially spectacular if you are an author who blogs using Blogger. I am one. There are 68,199 others.

Image representing Blogger as depicted in Crun...Image via CrunchBaseHow on earth am I going to stand out, and bring my work to the notice of readers? The thought does occur: are there more than 68,200 readers out there ready to purchase and read my novels and short stories?

How on earth can any writer seem special, or worthy of note among this competition? There must be a number of ways.

One can have outstanding book covers. A good book cover sells itself. There is much written about colour, size, typography, illustration, layout and meaning of book covers. Reading up on that aspect is important, and should be a major consideration on the part of anyone producing a book: author or publisher.

One can devise a brilliant marketing plan. Raising awareness of one's book is a major task, which is time-consuming, sometimes baffling, and always exhausting. Before marketing, of course, a writer ought to identify the market. Isolating the people most likely to want to buy and read a book is not an easy task, but it is possible, and should be undertaken early - perhaps even before the book reaches the final production stages.
An author can write strictly within a genre, and write for a particular ready-made audience. There are some very popular genres: romance, mystery, sci-fi, fantasy, urban myth, historical, and post-apocalyptic spring to mind. They are everywhere, and seem to assure the author there is a bottomless pit of readers seeking new material to feast upon.

The writing must be good. No question about this - it's got to be invisible: conveying the content - whether it is fact or fiction - in a seamless error-free way. It ought to pack punch, show style, experience, knowledge. It ought to shine in form and content. Not easy at all, but some authors manage. There is a wealth of excellent writing out there, and many readers have found it. Whether we can continue to improve and achieve is a question of effort, striving for improvement and putting in the hard miles.

And then there is the question of quantity - in my mind, one of the most important factors in the life of a writer. One must keep producing material for an audience that seems to latch onto the work of a particular author, once they have liked one example of their work. 'Gee, I could not put this thriller down. I must find more by this author.' The search is on. Any writer is expected to turn out more than just one book. Being a one-book wonder is every author's fear. Publishers do not like one-book wonders, and that is the first question they ask when wooed by a new author: is there more where this came from?

Being a special writer means all this and more: but the last facet is the most important. It is much easier to market nine books than it is to publicize and promote just one. The books of any one author seem to sell each other. A reader browsing for material clicks on the author's name more often than we tend to guess. Authors' names are important, because they are like brands - readers go back for more of the same if they like what they read.

Write more: that seems to be the ticket. If you want to be a special writer, you need to be a prolific one. It is probably more useful to write the next book than to chase the publicity and promotion wagon. It all starts on the next page, doesn't it?

If you are a reader, please tell me if you seek books by writers whose one example you read was pleasing. If you are an author, let me know if you are seriously pursuing inspiration and material for that next title.

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Monday, August 15, 2011

Priests in love: fact or fiction? Fiction or fact?

1.09.10-Annual ReadImage by kmevans via FlickrSince Colleen McCullough came out with the topic in the 1970s, with The Thornbirds, people have wondered about Catholic priests, their emotions, and whether the strength of their faith must do battle with the strength of their human drives. Priests tend to crop up in fiction from time to time, which raises the old question of the value or necessity of celibacy in the priesthood: a debate that will not go away until it goes away.

Fiction about priests is not rare: one can easily make a list of books that cover the topic. From Father Brown to Father Crompton to Sylvia Plath's Father Shawn, they have been knitted into fiction for centuries. Although it has not evolved into a genre of its own, fiction about priests has joined hands with other genres to constitute a nice reading portfolio for those to whom the topic seems entertaining, culturally interesting, or intriguing because of its quirky nature. But fiction about priests in love is not that common. Colleen McCollough started something, but too few novelists have taken on the tricky subject.

Den Adler, in his To Become a Priest - A Love Story tackles the opposing forces that battle inside the male adolescent mind and body. Intense friendship is tackled in the book The Company of Women by Mary Gordon. From what I hear of it, Jan Karon's A Light in the Window is a rather light and subtle touch. The All of It, by Jeannette Halen probably touches upon all the long-held morals and tenets of priests in a close community and how they are perceived by women.

For those with curiosity about priests in general, this is a nice list to start from. The point is of course to include my own According to Luke, whose story includes a very important romance woven into the entire plot.

In this novel, I place a handsome Australian priest in a situation whose thrilling aspects are external to his priestly vows, but which at some point in the story become so enmeshed with the whole plot that one seems impossible to solve without the other. It is not unlike The Thorn Birds in the sense that higher authority in the Church intervenes with clout. The power to affect people and change their lives comes into play, and is - in this novel at least - shown to be linked to other unresolved issues in a man's life.

It would be very interesting to hear the opinions of readers - both Catholic and not - of this kind of novel. Is there room for more: are there too few or too many novels that treat this aspect of the way love enters and affects the life of a man ... all men? How realistically are the problems treated by this kind of novel? Leave a comment with your thoughts.

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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Gender genres? Thrillers for women!

A car chase sequence of The Chain Reaction.                                           Image via WikipediaSay the word thriller, and immediately people think of car chases, conspiracies, fancy hardware such as guns, and lots of money. High stakes, high jinx, high everything. Tension, excitement and thrills, however, are not limited to ransoms, heists and revenge. Thrillers attract an audience (largely, but not exclusively, male) that demands cliff-hangers, fringe theories and paranoia.

The thriller genre has spawned some very familiar household names in fiction: Michael Crichton, John Grisham, Clive Cussler and Scott Turow need no introduction. They spin out worthy volumes that merit the popularity they glean for their authors and the genre in general. The audience they write for is mainly male, adventure-loving and hooked on malevolence and action.

What about the girls, and those who are a bit less blood-thirsty and wild thrill-seeking? There must be a sub-genre to suit them. An intellectual thriller, more tuned to the thoughtful and considered reader: the reader who demands more in the way of character-depth, well-researched background and locations, and a premise that requires concentration, analytical skills, critical thinking, and focus from the reader. And perhaps a bit of background knowledge, culture even.

The kind of thriller a female reader might enjoy would involve deeper emotional engagement on the part of the protagonist, a premise that needs more than one sentence to describe it, and a background that might be historic, philosophical or psychological in nature. How about a couple of female characters?

Sub-genres to the thriller have recently sprung up that cater to an audience with broader tastes. There are religious thrillers, that deal with alternative biblical interpretations. There are psychological thrillers, that play with the labyrinthine twists and turns of the mind. There are also political thrillers that delve into the nefarious schemes and plots that shake governments to their foundations.

From deviantart
Then there are romantic thrillers. Ah! These are novels in which the characters are more than simply sketched or lightly drawn: they become real to the reader, because who they are determines how the story goes, how hard the action is driven and in which direction the ending leads. Romantic thrillers are novels that entertain not only with their deftly twisted plots and stories, their action and their intrepid protagonists: they also engage the emotion, and demand the reader to pay attention to more than what is just seen and physically endured. They demand examination of the emotion, engagement with feelings and sensitivities.

These are thrillers that female readers might enjoy. Not all women relish comfortable romances where the ending - although not always predictable - can be guaranteed to tie everything up favourably for the protagonist, usually female. Not all female readers require stories that are only engagements of the heart. Romantic thrillers provide enough excitement, thrills and action to deliver an exhilarating read without ignoring the attraction between men and women, the possibilities and risks of a relationship that accompanies a mystery, and how sexual tension can liven up and complicate a plot.

Look out for Tara Moss, Roxanne St Clair, Linda Howard, or Jamie Freveletti if you seek thrillers with a bit of heart.

Now I might have raised questions here about readers, genders, genres and whether authors write for a specific audience of males or females! If you have an opinion about any of these questions, by all means leave a comment.

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Monday, August 1, 2011

My guest this month - Linton Robinson

This is a rare occasion, so sit up.

Linton Robinson's name is well-known enough for him to be able to pick and choose where he appears. I am very glad he agreed to this interview. I hesitate when choosing a word to describe this denizen of the world's most important online meeting places. He has experience and know-how, and some very direct ways of sharing them. Linton does not suffer fools easily, so his reputation precedes him. I have asked him special questions: none of the commonplace routine questionnaires for this guy.

Please make Lin Robinson welcome...

Lin, we keep meeting on threads, blogs, writers’ sites and forums. How do you think authors benefit from commenting on various online meeting places – is it time well spent?
In my case frequently mis-spent I'm afraid.  I probably piss off more people than I sell and spend hours fooling around.  Of course, it keeps me off the street.  What's cool is that the opportunity is available.  If  there had been a way I could show my writing to professionals when I was in high school, maybe get some comments, I'd have fallen over in shock.  Now it's taken for granted.  (And the little mutts get sassy about it.)  If you're having fun and communicating with people you like to, how better to spend time?

I’ve read a few wonderful chapters in Mayan Calendar Girls – tell us a bit about the concept, and how the idea came to you.

Wow, twisty question for this book, and actually in dispute.  Not legally, thank God.  The whole thing started in Cancún, at what was either a writing conference where nobody went home when they were supposed to, or a short-term, time-shared writers' colony.  It's pretty much established that somebody at a party, where everybody was just messed-up enough, said you couldn't take the Mayan Calendar thing seriously because they didn't have calendar girls. I'm pretty sure it wasn't me, but at least three members of what came to be known as "Team 2012" are rabidly sure it was them, leading to hard feelings and a couple of food fights.  The concept is all in the title:  "Mayan Calendar Girls" says it all.

The real concepts of interest there are "team written"-- itself a long story full of recruitment, desertion, frantic groups shouting at somebody trying to bang out an episode we promised three days before and were getting flack for not having up, and people sneaking in and rewriting posted episodes -- and "weekly webserial" -- over one hundred chapters posted once a week and delivered to our growing number of fans online or by RSS feed, even cell phones.  Both are uncommon means of writing a novel, but both have some powerful advantages.

Your works are a fascinating colourful mixture of the exotic, the sensual, the gritty and the eccentric. Are you influenced at all by the visual arts?

Wow, thank you.  I was just trying for "completed".  I'm a very visual guy and am often impressed and inspired by visual input.  I don't really make any distinction between some masterful painting,  a beautiful landscape, a nineteen year old girl's butt on a website, or seeing a car run over somebody: it all adds up.  I often compile little portfolios of my characters, so I know what they look like: in fact sometimes the character becomes who he or she is because I saw "their" picture on the internet.  That said, I don' t like writing description and am not very good at it.  Why I like doing screenplays.

A really good example of how this can work was, again, at Mayan Calendar Girls.  Once the title had been uttered and everybody got wiped out enough to think that writing the book was a good idea, we were astonished by how much Mayan calendar cheesecake was out there. Take a look at the website.  The cover, by Robin Crandall, came up at some point and was very inspirational.  We'd been working on something kind of book like Wilson's Illuminatus -- lots of intellectual stuff, archaeological tidbits.  But that image caused us to swing towards "cheesecake rules".  You look at that picture; ancient stone calendar with that innocent, playful, tawdry chorus girl shot, and that's a lot of what the book is all about.  Girls of many cultures and skin tones: being cute, dashing around on adventures, losing their clothing a lot.  There are still serious elements, straight-out romance, Perils of Pauline, and political humor that's probably already dated (a danger for serials, by the way)  but that isn't just a cover slapped on the book, it was part of what made the book whatever the hell it is. The idea of writing a novel to "illustrate" a painting might be a little far-fetched, but I think it's legitimate.

What do you think drove the success of your Mexican Slang book? If you were starting it right now, would you do anything different?

Mexican Slang 101 has sold tens of thousands of copies and I think the reasons are pretty simple.  It's a book a lot of people want, but don't know it yet.  Another "title equals concept" thing:  you see the title and you know you want it immediately.  Or not.  Jessica Kreager's cover helps, but it sold well with no art at all, just grungy title type.  I used to try to make it look like something you'd buy out of a street hustler's opened trenchcoat.  It's also cheap.  It sells for the same "Five Gringo Dollars" now as it did in 1985.  Despite, let me whine, the fact that production cost has doubled. 
Also, it's pocket-sized.  Doing pocket-sized books is a pain in the heinie.  And none of the POD producers have quarter page sized formats.  But for a book like this, it’s worth it.  This is a great format for poetry, by the way--and the size makes it twice as thick.

If I was doing it different, I'd have gotten on the internet sooner (my first online sales were eBay, by the way -- which led me PayPal) and done it less beachbum outlaw.  I was just selling it where I happened to be.  The reason it has some sample trashtalk on the back with page numbers is so little Mexican kids could go up to gringo tourists, flash them the title, then show them the back page.  They'd start laughing, showing it to their friends, looking inside -- and they were hooked.  I think using back cover references to draw people into the book are a good, and little-used, idea.  I was way ahead of Amazon's "Look Inside" gizmo.  Way ahead of POD, too: I made 99.9% of those books on copy machines, sometimes doing only like six, dashing out to the beach to sell them and get enough money to print more and pay my hotel room.  I used to sell them in beach restaurants to pay for dinner.  Once I had them at the counter of a backpacker hotel, where they sold well enough to pay my rent -- subsistence with no cash changing hands.  I'm trying to be a little more corporate than that these days.
Did I mention it's cheap?  Maybe I should do an ebook for $0.99.

We all say that where a writer lives doesn’t matter these days, because of the internet and rapid communication. You live in Mexico – surely your location has affected the way you write, or what you write about?

In a lot of ways "where" doesn't matter much to me.  I was born in Occupied Japan--not even a country -- and went to twelve schools before I started getting kicked out of colleges and armies.  But it has a major effect on what I'm writing.  Don't people generally write about their environment?  I was laying out novels in Seattle, wrote "The Weekend Warrior" in San Diego (and if you think Mayan Calendar Girls is racy, wait until you catch THAT little bit of zaniness and surrealistic spinouts) and several books at the border, as well as the TV series that will spawn a trilogy of novels starting this fall.  Mayan Calendar Girls would have been pointless to write outside the Yucatán

I move around a lot and have lived less than half my life in the USA.  I find US culture weird when I visit there, frankly.  And the politics are boring compared to other countries I've written in.  On the other hand, they don't try to kill you for political writing in the US, and that's exactly what happened in Mazatlán. I'm hoping this Tijuana bigshot doesn't have me shot over that Borderlines series: he's been known to do it to other writers.

This could be a disadvantage, actually.  Writers who have roots and a sense of place have a niche they can work with, and hopefully can develop core readerships based on their region or city.  Or... Somebody writes about life on a starship or other dimension or ancient Rome and it just doesn't matter at all.

You have been around the traps a few times – how have your writing and publishing experiences informed the way you treat the business now, in 2011?

I just wish this whole paradigm had come along when I was younger.  I'm a solo type guy and actually kind of despise the people in Manhattan who make the decisions on what people get to read.  I was publishing my own underground papers in the sixties and seventies, my own lines of poetry in the eighties, Mexican Slang101 in the nineties.  I like to deal directly with the reader.  Nobody ever reads my books without liking them.  But nobody in the "industry" finds them interesting enough to, apparently, read past the first page.  So screw them.

And we can do that now.  You can sit in your apartment or trailer or cellblock or whatever and write novels, publish them, and make big bucks.  Get read all over the world, not just in stores.  The very potential to be able to do that is earth-shaking.  It completely eclipses Gutenberg:  it’s a revolution that writers are feeling sooner than readers, but it’s all coming.  Young writers are so lucky to have the opportunities available to them and should take full advantage of them.  Don't be swayed by any of the "real book fetishist" or "gatekeeper bait" niggling about this.  It's the most powerful thing that's happened to the written word in history, and the greatest thing for writers of all levels, period.

I see you have collaborated with writers and artists a number of times. How easy – or hard – have you found it to come up with a successful joint effort?

Well, I think I've said enough about the Mayan Girls Team to scare people, but another example is my "Imaginary Lines" with Ana Maria Corona.  It's always tickled me that people keep asking me "So who wrote what?"  I think it's pretty obvious that many of those pieces stem from stories of her Guadalajara girlhood, and some of the work stems from my own cynical investigations: but the thing is, collaborations are a blend and exchange.  Would it make sense for me to ask who was responsible for your last orgasm?

I think teamwork is going to play a LOT more of a role in my future work.  Team 2012 has another serial in the works if we can stop bickering and seducing each other -- and sooner or later we have to spring for the sequel -- which ties up the plot and the history of everything in general.   If I have huge hits with three books I'm preparing for print right now, on small presses, I don't know where I'd find the time to write the second book in each series.  I find myself getting more and better ideas lately, but less time and energy to complete them.  (This may be a general condition in men of my age, actually, but I'm talking about literature.)   I'm actively looking for young writers to team up with on projects.  People like Santana bringing out albums where they play with younger musicians got me thinking about that.  I have one long-term "dream series" that I would want to approach with a team of writers and researchers to do like ten novels spanning two decades.  I would REALLY like to do it, but have no interest in writing it myself.

A lot of things are changing, and I can see value in it.  There's no reason the author of a book has to be some auteur, any more than with films.  There's no reason for novels to be 100,000 words long: there is an epublisher called "40K Books" and I just converted a screenplay to a novel (in seven three-hour days) that runs 43,000 and will make a very nice ebook.  It will come out on a new publisher that specializes in screenplay novelizations.  I have no idea where things will be in a year, but the toothpaste is not going back in the tube and it's just going to get cheaper and easier for writers to reach readers.  I've said for years that in the future everybody will be an author, and nobody will make a living at it.  An exaggeration, but what if it turns out that way?  There's no problem with that: what's a problem is writing sitting around in a drawer, unread.

Thank you for spending time with us, Lin. 

Linton Robinson has been a professional writer for far too many years, in genres and formats that often make no sense whatsoever.  A lifelong self-publisher, he just thinks all these newbies are crowding the field and cramping his style.  After decades working with magazines, newspapers, catalogs, and whatnot, he exuberates to the new models in which he doesn't have to get along with anybody.
Most recently he was a member of the team that wrote Mayan Calendar Girls
See more, including videos, pictures, and meandering, at

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