General Writing


One of the present trends is to scoff at books that don’t portray people, places, things or eras “realistically.”  I get those reviews for my historicals all the time – “this isn’t how things went during the Regency” or “this behavior would never have been tolerated during the Regency.”  That really disturbs my ducks.

Whether it’s Regency England, the American West, Highland Scotland, Myrtle Beach, SC – or some imaginary modern day town (coming soon, perhaps) – I DON’T WANT TO PORTRAY IT REALISTICALLY.  You know what?  Reality really sucks.

If readers were overjoyed with their reality, they’d have no reason to ever pick up a book.  If television viewers were tickled twitless with their lives and their worlds, TV would no longer exist.  YouTube would go away and there would be no gaming industry because people would have every bit of the fun and danger they could ever want in their everyday lives.  In the real world, people aren’t going to balls every night, surgeons find their jobs more tedious than titillating and people don’t get paid to travel to exotic locales to spy or kill people.   All of that – every last bit of it – is not realistic.   Yet people spend beaucoup bucks on books, movies, and games and then they spend hours reading, watching or playing.

Why?  Why do that if what they are seeking in their entertainment is a “realistic” experience? Do people have so much money that we need to toss it away for something we’ll despise experiencing?

We – unfortunately – presently live in a world where too many talented, hardworking people are unemployed or underemployed.  Simply to survive, to hold on a little longer, more people have to lower themselves and destroy their souls daily by taking welfare and food stamps from the government.  People still lose their homes in droves and bankruptcy and judgments are facts of life most of us never wanted to face.  That’s reality and – like I said – it sucks.

Let’s have LESS reality.

People who spend money they really need for food, bills or utility payments on books are –  for the love of all ducks – not looking to get more reality in their lives.  They’re looking to escape from whatever wolf is presently lurking just outside their door.  If people want more reality, they can turn on a 24-hour news channel and be depressed and enraged constantly and it’s probably part of their basic cable package.   People buying books or spending entertainment dollars are looking to bring fun and excitement into their lives.  They desperately need some time away in order to give them fuel to work at surviving for a few more days.

The LAST thing writers, artists, actors, producers or directors owe people is “a slice of life.”  Real life slices people into slivers of themselves just fine in today’s world without their paying to get sliced and diced a little faster.  We owe people something more, something different, something BETTER.

Don’t buy my books if you’re looking for a realistic portrayal of anything.  I’d never shortchange my readers by giving them reality.  If you’re looking for reality — open a window, answer your creditors’ calls, and turn on a 24-hour news channel.  If you’re looking to escape to a place that looks and feels nothing like your everyday world – pick up a Quacking Alone romance where a happy ending is guaranteed.

Authors expect bad reviews after a book is published.   Great Ducks Of The Universe – how authors should expect bad reviews.  Good reviews come as well, of course, and they make a writer’s world a better place but the bad ones can really play some mind tricks on a writer who actually reads reviews.  I’ve learned to screen them – one quick glance through and then no more.  No hair shirts will be employed.  There will be no weeping or gnashing of teeth.

Opinions are like personality quirks and pet peeves – everyone has them, they are often vastly different, and the only opinion you should follow is your own.  Often people will play follow-the-leader with opinions, snap judgments or bad behavior.  I don’t do that because I think PC stands for Petty Crap and that followers will NEVER arrive at any destination of their choosing.  I have my own opinions.  You’re not required to like them, agree with them or follow them.  You’re only required to respect my right to have them.  For example,  I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE me some old school romance – yes, bodice ripping and all.  I’m actually bright enough to separate what I read from what I believe or how I’ll act in real life.  I read to get away from real life.

In real life, I wouldn’t put up with a bodice-ripping guy no matter how hunky he appeared.  I’d also NOT leave a shoe and wait for a handsome Prince to show up and rescue me – but I still love Cinderella.

Yes, we expect bad reviews AFTER a book is published, but no one expects to be tormented, bullied or threatened over a book, specially not BEFORE it’s published.  Yet that’s what occurred this week and it has caused one author to pull a book she was about to publish and to give up on writing altogether.  That’s sad and it’s sadder still that it occurred on Amazon’s Goodreads community.  It was – or was intended to be – a site where readers discovered books and sometimes had a chance to interact with other readers who were also authors.  (Every writer is a reader.)

Lauren Howard, a/k/a Lauren Pippa, fell victim to a campaign of abuse and bullying on Goodreads and cancelled the release of her debut novel, “Learning To Love.”  Here’s how Lauren described events:

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My last post mentioned romance author Marie Force’s killer survey in the context of my deciding that I needed to do more marketing through Facebook.  I haven’t yet changed the format of QA’s Facebook page (click the link and like it — I’ll wait).  However, thanks to Marie’s saavy tips, I have started doing more linking of my books complete with hashtags.  And it has helped so Marie was right about that – people do find books through Facebook.  This post is because I promised a follow up to delve into more of Marie’s marvy info.

Now, my question is about the survey’s finding that contemporary romance has become more popular than historical romance – 27.55% of responding readers preferred contemporary to 23.15% preferring historical.  Why do I find that interesting?  Because my numbers don’t bear that out at all.  My historicals sell far, far better than my contemporaries although I think the contemporaries are great books.  My personal sales ratio is about 85% to 15% in favor of the historicals.

I’d LOVE, LOVE, LOVE for the contemporaries to catch up to the historicals in sales.  Heck, I’d cheer if they passed the historicals.  My historicals are composed entirely of my wicked, wacky and way warped imagination.  They’re over the top tales where the heroes tend to be bad boys who fall in love as hard as they fell into risky, risque behavior.  My contemporary heroes share the over-the-top personna to a point, but those books also call upon knowledge I’ve gleaned from my “day job” – as a lawyer. My contemporaries all take place at that precarious point where love and the law meet.  It’s a dangerous spot, which is why those books are my “Dangerous Relations” series.

None of my contemporaries takes the reader inside the courtroom as much as Dangerous Relations:  Seducing the Billionaire. That book starts in the Family Courtroom where the hero is divorcing his “belle bitch” wife.  It’s a tricky endeavor because he doesn’t want a separation from his soon-to-be ex’s half sister, Rachel.  She’s only 17, but the hero fell in love with her about a year earlier, when he rescued her from an abusive foster home.  She’s been too young to allow her any idea of his real feelings, even if he hadn’t been too married to show her.  But, at the beginning of the book, everything is about to change.  When it does, the hero finds himself in a Courtroom, where his only defense against felony charges is to show the jury his helpless adoration for the girl who vanished just when she could have saved him.  If you like love stories, trial stories or romantic suspense, you’ll love Dangerous Relations:  Seducing The Billionaire.  Pick it up and give it a read today – you’ll be glad you did!

My other two (2) contemporaries are also at the juncture of love and the law – at different stages. Dangerous Relations: Griffin’s Law is about a law student who commits the serious offense of falling in love with one of her professors.  And the professor?  He’s hiding more than she could’ve ever imagined.   Dangerous Relations:  The Office Ink is about a young associate targeted by the law firm partner who hired her.  Too bad for her that she was also targeted by the partners brother.  And when Cupid’s passing out flaming arrows, someone could die.  Did the young associate’s boss kill the competition, brother or not?

This post is my test marketing of my contemporaries.  Marie Force’s survey says contemporaries are outselling historicals.  Like I said earlier, my experience has been the opposite.  Will my numbers from this test prove Marie right or wrong?

Via a piece in Forbes, I ran across some fascinating survey numbers from bestselling author Marie Force.   In case you’ve spent the last few years imprisoned in the Big Brother House and aren’t familiar with her work, I can tell you one thing that will tell you that she’s a great author.  Ready?  Her current book, “Lethal Attraction:  Against The Rules\Fatal Affair” is a collaboration with LINDA HOWARD, no less, put together by Harlequin’s HQN.  If your writing can keep up in that company, then it’s pretty danged fabulous.  Marie’s most recent solo effort is “Time for Love” and since that one’s self-pubbed – (all Marie and nothing but Marie/ like mine are all Mary Anne and nothing but Mary Anne), I bet she’d appreciate your checking it out as well.

But I digressed – as usual.  Okay, I’m boogling back to the point now.  The point is an oh-so-interesting survey that Marie conducted recently via Survey Monkey with about 2,951 people replying to questions put together by Marie and “about a dozen other authors.” The questions covered a number of areas, including preferred genre, preferred reading format, shopping preferences, and discovery tools.   The Forbes article is  “Reader Surveys Provide Insight, But How Much?” The title tells us that Forbes is going to disagree with Marie’s numbers – and it does.  It compares and contrasts them with a 2012 survey done by RWA (Romance Writers of America).

The first thing that caught my eye was the big ole’ important place where the two survey numbers agree – although Forbes wishes to quibble.  Both surveys agree that romance is the “King of Kings” – it dominates other genres in terms of sales.  In Marie’s poll, 81% of readers listed romance as their favorite genre with mystery coming in second, with only 5%of reader preferences.  That jives with the RWA numbers which showed that romance was the best-performing genre on bestseller lists in 2012 and generated $1.438 billion in sales in 2012 alone.   To me, those numbers mean that far more people prefer to read about love and desire than fear and pain.  It also proves that readers want more from a book’s ending than a “resolution” or a “solution” – they want a happy ending.

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I figured out why I haven’t made enough money from romance novels to quit my day job (practicing law) yet. I even know why I haven’t made enough dough to support myself writing full time and pay cash to buy a new house. One of my tweeps steered me towards the secret, and I wanted to share it here on the blog.

Even the duck lady is bright enough to know that what I need is a bestseller – or better yet, several. And yes, even I who am more quackers than the average quacker know that the secret to launching a book to the bestseller stratosphere is one word — PUBLICITY. I also know what publicity is – you know what it is? EXPENSIVE.

And because I’m a strange duck lady who communicates best in writing, I’m one of those things that most people think is as real as the proverbial Magic Genie. Yes, Virginia, because I’m a lawyer who practices research and writing (a scrivener) I’m something else that far too many of you can understand. You know what that is? POOR. Yes, a poor lawyer. Go figure.

So I can’t afford all that publicity, which leaves me hanging around here, on Twitter (@quackingalone) and on Facebook. I shuffle my feet a lot and try to think of pithy, not totally insane things to say that might interest readers into checking out my books. (“Hey, Ethel, this one might be good for a laugh. The writer’s a complete nutcase.”) But I thought that was pretty much the limit of the options my non-existent publicity budget could afford. Then, one of my gang tweeted the link to an article.

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Hi there kiddies, it’s been awhile since you heard from the ticked-off obese guy, so here I am in all my aggravated glory on a cheerful Saturday.

By the way, I’m not much on Native American mumbo-jumbo, but I’ve decided that if I have an animal spirit, it’s Grumpy Cat.

I keep a steady level of rage at all times. It’s what keeps me somewhat motivated. But rare is the time that my anger and both of my wife’s occupations, lawyering and writing books, all cross paths simultaneously.

This is one of those times.

Not with anything my wife has done, however. She knows not to go where angels (and most demons) fear to tread. That particular act takes a special kind of person.

An asshole.

In this case, I’m talking about Jesse Ventura – former Vietnam Navy SEAL, Minnesota governor, actor, motorcycle gang member, actor, pro wrestler, steroid abuser; current conspiracy theorist and asshole.

I hadn’t given half a damn about Jesse Ventura since the original Predator movie and his governorship. I think I fairly represent most sane Americans when I write that. After that, I have no idea what the hell happened to Ventura. Maybe the steroids he took back in the day caused substantial brain damage. Maybe he saw all the money Alex Jones was making in pushing bugshit-crazy conspiracy theories and decided to get in on the action. I honestly have no clue.

What I do know is what he did that hit on my wife’s two occupations:

  1. LAWYERING – He decided to sue a dead man, record-holding SEAL sniper Chris Kyle.
  2. BOOK WRITING – Ventura is suing Kyle because of something Kyle wrote in his bestselling autobiographical book, American Sniper.

Of course, since Chris Kyle is deceased, Ventura is not really suing Kyle, he’s suing Kyle’s widow and children. What kind of man could take a livelihood from a widow and her children? I’ll tell you. AN ASSHOLE.

It’s not like Kyle even mentioned Ventura’s name in the book. You see, I own a copy of American Sniper and I’ve read it a couple of times. I had no idea until I heard about this lawsuit that it was Ventura that Kyle was supposedly writing about.

To me, this was another case of the Streisand Effect, where Jesse plays Barbra.

Even before all of this Internet stuff gave us terms like “Streisand Effect”, though, things like this happened. For example, way back in the 17th Century Shakespeare wrote about a lady protesting too much.

In the South, we describe things like this with colorful metaphors stemming from our unique culture, dialects, and life experiences.

It wasn’t (and still isn’t in some very rural areas) uncommon to see a bunch of unruly, half-feral dogs near your house around here. Of course, this is a fairly troublesome and possibly dangerous situation, and the best thing to do is find a way to disperse the dogs before something bad happens.

That’s when you pick up a decent-sized rock and throw it at the dog pack. It doesn’t have to be accurate, especially if the pack is large; the rock is nearly guaranteed to connect with a canine.

And how can you tell you’ve hit a dog with your projectile? Why, that particular dog begins to howl and yelp and bawl as if it suffered the most egregious injury ever endured by dogkind. It… hollers.

At that point, the rest of the dogs quickly scramble to find other places to sniff around, while the hollering dog runs like its ass is on fire.

If you could question the dog later about the incident, it could lie about it and say it wasn’t anywhere near that pack of other dogs, and it surely didn’t get hit by any rock. It would probably do so, especially if it was an asshole dog hanging with a bunch of other asshole dogs.

But you know what? The hit dog always hollers. Usually long after it’s prudent to just shut the hell up and skulk off.

Trust me, I knew about it long before today – when I found out it had a name:  THE DISCOVERY PROBLEM.

It’s the perfect name because that’s the problem —  how to be discovered.   You could call it THE FOUND PROBLEM but that implies that you’re lost and you’re not.  Not exactly.   You know where you are.  On a good day you even know who you are.  On a very good day you remember what  you’ve written.  But the readers, do they know?  No, and that’s the problem.  How does a new writer get discovered by readers?

Perhaps, it just takes the right project.  My favorite example is the McDreamy one – Patrick Dempsey.  He had some success in his younger years and then he fell off the radar.  I understand he even left La La land for a while and went home to Maine.  But he rebuilt his resolve and returned.  In 2002 he finally got his big break.  The project that would make viewers, producers, studio honchos and everyone who mattered discover him — or so he thought.  Getting cast in “Sweet Home Alabama” turned out to be not as sweet as he expected.  Well, if that movie didn’t get him discovered — would anything?  It took 3 more years before Shonda Rhimes watched him audition, knowing she’d found her Dr. McDreamy.  And yes, Grey’s Anatomy got him discovered – but he could have, so very easily, given up.

I guess you don’t get to pick your moment to be discovered — you just have to keep working and keep believing.

What brought all of this to mind?  A frequent source of information — a must read romance blog for everyone who loves love – Dear Author.   DA posted this today – their Friday news. The story about JK Rowling was interesting — but what set my insane little ducks to quacking was the piece about “The Discovery Problem in Crime Fiction.”  It linked to this blog by Nancy Bilyeau, which included this eye-opening paragraph:

It was M.J. Rose, author of the enthralling Seduction: A Novel and founder of Author Buzz, who first told me about the “discovery problem” in fiction. Novels by debut authors keep hitting the shelves, but some are having a hard time finding readers, no matter how well written. Newspapers and magazines have eliminated their review sections; bookstores are struggling; fiction fights for people’s attention as twitter, Facebook and cable TV series beckon.

Dearest Duck, what’s a writer to do?   Well, she might want to consider writing ROMANCE.  The article says:

“Among fiction fans, thriller and suspense fans are the most obsessed of all–telling us they primarily read authors they know and love most, to the exclusion of trying new writers,” Peter emailed me. The debuts “have the greatest challenge trying to reach a new audience that simply isn’t interested in reading unknown authors.”

Romance readers are “more open to new voices,” Peter explains. Of the number of books bought last year by fans of the thriller genre, 19 percent were written by unfamiliar authors–but when looking at fans’ purchases of erotic romance, a whopping 45 percent were penned by new authors.

“Fans read their favorite category to satisfy different needs,” Peter says. “My personal view: thriller fans want guaranteed, consistent entertainment with minimal risk of disappointment–romance readers want new experiences, to experiment and take risks.”

So, romance readers are risk takers who are the most willing of all readers to take a chance on new authors.  I guess, I need to take a page from a McDreamy playbook then.  I need to keep writing, stay available and — wait for a call from Shonda Rhimes.  (Okay, okay, but a girl can dream, right?  I wrote Dangerous Relations:  Griffin’s Law as a tribute to Grey’s Anatomy.  Who better to film that movie that Shonda Sunshine?)

Romance may be risky business, but authors in this genre are mighty lucky to have a reading audience that will risk their hard-earned money on a new writer.  Someday — soon, very, very soon — maybe millions of readers will decide to take a chance on a historical or a contemporary romance by yours truly, MARY ANNE GRAHAM, a/k/a the crazy duck lady who believes that like life, love is best over-the-top.

 

As I write this, the trial of George Zimmerman for the death of Trayvon Martin is about to go to the jury.  The State’s lawyers just completed their closing argument.  Tomorrow morning the defense will close, the state will get a brief rebuttal and then the Judge will charge the jury.  The jury should have the case tomorrow afternoon.

At issue is Zimmerman’s legal liability for the death of 17-year-old Trayon Martin.  The mixed race Hispanic/Caucasian Zimmerman, a member of a neighborhood watch group, spotted African American Martin walking through his neighborhood in the evening, during a rain storm, wearing a hoodie.  At the end of the encounter, young Mr. Martin lay dead from a bullet fired by Mr. Zimmerman who claimed he was defending himself.  For the last several weeks Mr. Zimmerman has been on trial in a Sanford, Florida Courtroom but the trial has hardly been confined to Florida.  The case has preoccupied the nation.

There is, of course, no question that the death of a 17-year-old is always a tragedy.

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It’s July – so y’all know what that means, right?  Yep.  It’s time for the annual Smashwords Summer/Winter Sale.

Books by many of your favorite authors are available at SW this month at discounted prices varying from 25% off all the way to free.  ALL OF MY BOOKS ARE 50% OFF for the promo.

As SW owner and all-around ebook Guru, Mark Coker says, “It’s that time of year again for our annual Smashwords Summer/Winter Sale promotion, running July 1 through July 31!  It’s summer here in the northern hemisphere, and winter for our reader friends south of the equator. The promotion’s cheeky “Summer/Winter” name acknowledges the fact that there’s a global market for ebooks…”

This year, there’s a special reason for everyone to LOAD UP on all my books at Smashwords — SW and Publisher’s Weekly just launched a monthly bestseller list. It will feature the top 25  highest grossing SW ebooks for each month and the top 10 from the list will appear in the print issue of Publisher’s Weekly.  The first month’s list rated the top 25 ebooks based on May sales.

I’m very proud to note that 16 of the top 25 on the list are romance novels.  A big congrats to the SW authors who made the first list.  HOWEVER, ahm,  **clears throat**  I must note that unfortunately — none of my books made the debut list.  And all of you know what that means, right?

It means you should rush over to the Summer/Winter sale and buy all my books – and if you own them already, buy several dozen copies of each book and give them to your friends as either Beach or Snuggle Under the Comforter reads, depending on your hemisphere, of course.

There are enough quackers out there to waddle at least a couple of my books onto next month’s list!  So head on over to Smashwords and be sure your button finger is nimble enough to set new speed records.

This sale is the best way to fill up your ereader with great books at prices that will smash your budget barrier.

Why am I the last to know these things?

There seems to be a 10-step plan for everything these days, but somehow, I thought the eternal quest for writing the Great American Novel was above and beyond all that.  Not so, according to a new piece from Huffpo by Ester Bloom, entitled:  “Write the Great American Novel in 10 Easy Steps.”

And they’re EASY steps?  Geez!  Just think of all the time I’ve been wasting behind my keyboard.  Worse- think of all that stress and strain on my wee, already-stressed and strained brain.  Come on Ms. Bloom – give a girl a clue, why don’t you?  OH, that’s right – she just did.

Let’s see – step one is to be a dead dude like Mark Twain, William Faulkner or Nathaniel Hawthorne.   Well, that doesn’t sound so easy.  It sounds pretty impossible.  Wait – there is a sub-choice!  If I’m not a dead dude, it’ll work if I’m Toni Morrison, a one-book wonder like Margaret Mitchell or Harper Lee, or a privileged, white drunk like Fitzgerald or Hemingway.  Well, I’m white – but I’m pretty much out of luck on the other qualifications for the first step.

I have more luck with step 2.  Reclusive I can do.  I can’t do masculine seclusion but feminine seclusion – that’s my natural state.  So I can be the female Pynchon or Salinger.

Step 3 is to tell a violent story set in rural America’s Southern or Western regions.  Well, most of my contemporary romances  are set along the coast of South Carolina and this is a pretty darned rural area.  And love is the ultimate violence, isn’t it?  Besides, in most of my contemporaries someone dies – which is a double whammy for violence.  I guess that equates me with Penn Warren, McCarthy and McMurtry.

Then I’m supposed to center my tale around a white male hero who wrestles with diversity – preferably involving brown people –  while he travels.  Well, in “A Magical Forever” the hero has to overcome his prejudices against love and magic and he takes a trip that’s literally out of this world.  I’ll count that.

Next, I have to title my book something with particular keywords like “Great,” “Wrath,” “Love,” “Fury” or “Death.”  Woah, Nelly – Eden is on the list.  Hot dog – “The Duke of Eden” fits that one.  We’re making progress!

Uh Oh – there are questions.

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