5 New Year Resolutions for the Aspiring Freelancer

2016-New-Years-ResolutionWith the new year, lots of folks cast their minds to a life change. For many, that change involves leaving the 9-to-5 working world and becoming a freelancer.

A while back, I was supervising my son at a birthday party for one of his elementary school classmates. The birthday boy’s father and I got to chatting about work, as dads often do in social situations, and he revealed that he was an engineer. He asked what I did, and I told him I was a freelance writer. When he probed for details, I shared my relatively flexible, work-from-home lifestyle as his eyes widened in awe.

“Oh, man! You’re living the dream!”

I demurred, as I often do when confronted with others’ disbelief, because I know in my heart that as good as freelancing sounds to people who don’t do it, it can have some pretty big ups and downs for those of us who make a living without being tethered to a single employer.

Sometimes I’m asked what the “secret” to a freelance career is. Truth: There is no secret. But there are a few commonsense steps you can take to prepare yourself if you’re seriously considering breaking free of the corporate cubical farm and going out on your own. Here, then, are my five things to do before you become a freelancer. Continue reading → 5 New Year Resolutions for the Aspiring Freelancer

For Your Holiday Book Shopping Pleasure, Here’s How To Get Inscribed Editions of ‘Immaculate Deception’

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The holiday gift-giving season is here, and one of my favorite ways to say how much I care about someone is to give them a book that I either know or suspect they’ll really enjoy. Usually they turn out to be books I’ve enjoyed myself.

What makes this sort of gift really special is having it signed or inscribed by the author. So if you’ve considered purchasing a hard copy of Immaculate Deception as a gift for someone this year, here’s your notification that there’s only one way to get a custom inscribed and signed copy of the novel, and that’s  either by bopping over the Novel Pursuits page to click the “order your very own signed copy” link or clicking here on this very page.

When you click the link, you’ll be redirected to PayPal. To request an inscription, simply type what you’d like me to write in the “Add special instructions to the seller” field, then complete your order. Charges will appear on your PayPal history or credit card statement as Write On Time LLC. It’s that easy!

Please note that since the Codorus Press crew is finished with live events for 2013, this is the only way you can receive an inscribed and signed edition (other than, you know, bumping into me on the street) in time for the holidays. Sorry, but I can’t guarantee that orders placed after Dec. 16 will arrive in time for Christmas Eve delivery, so make your orders soon!

Thanks, and happy shopping!

Tonight, I Invade Your Earholes (In the Most Pleasant of Ways)

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As I’ve written here before, I love being on the radio. It’s like TV, but without the need to actually be handsome or … you know, wear pants.

So when after enjoying an awesome family Disney World vacation this past spring, I returned home to find frantic e-mails from Codorus Press honcho Wayne Lockwood telling me a radio host was trying to get in touch with me … well, that was just the cherry on top of the Disney princess sundae.

Turns out it was Dr. Howard Margolin, who’s a host of the popular science fiction radio show Destinies: The Voice of Science Fiction. Needless to say, I got back to him very quickly and we arranged for an on-air interview. You’ll be able to listen to that interview live tonight at 11:30 p.m. Eastern. If you’re in the New York City/Long Island area, you can tune into 90.1 WUSB, or click the Destinies link to listen to the live stream. The show will also be posted as a podcast for you day-dwellers to listen to at a more amenable hour.

Howard’s a great interviewer and in a few decades of doing this has talked to a lot of really big names in the genre for the program. I’m truly honored to be among them.captphil_online-destinies

Perhaps the best part about talking to Howard is he doesn’t just read the book’s back cover blurb and ask a bunch of general questions. He reads the whole book, then takes copious notes and asks some very specific and probing questions. Honestly, I’m prepared to have to answer some questions about Immaculate Deception that even I hadn’t considered, so be ready for a thoughtful and in-depth discussion of the book.

Howard was also kind enough to invite me to read an excerpt of the novel, which I recorded ahead of time and he was kind enough to tidy up a bit for broadcast. So there’s another little bonus for you, since the only other readings I’ve done have been live and – except for one instance – haven’t been documented for posterity.

So join me tonight on the radio for some fun. And if you’re lucky, I might even decide to wear pants.

 

Summer Reading Can Still Be Foundational Reading

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So I spent a good portion of the spring and early summer slogging through an exceptionally dense non-fiction tome on Napa Valley that was serving as background for a large scale co-writing project that, unfortunately, tanked hard in mid June.

I don’t consider it wasted time, because I’m one of those folks that considers any reading good reading. And in addition, I learned some things I didn’t know before, so it all evens out. Also, now if I ever want to set a story in California wine country, I’ve at least got a jumping off point.

But with the burden of research-related reading lifted, I got to return to some writing by several of the authors that have really inspired me along the way.

The gentlemen represented here aren’t going to be taught in high school English classes anytime soon, but I’ve immersed myself in their work over the years nonetheless. And that’s not to say that I haven’t spent my time with some English class stalwarts – diving back into the pool with Ernest Hemingway helped me learn how to write with a bit more economy. Then again, a few walks along some long dark alleys with pulp-master Mickey Spillane (who, incidentally, lived the last years of his life in Murrells Inlet, S.C., just down the beach from Myrtle Beach, where Immaculate Deception is partially set) helped me pull some tough-guy detective fiction tricks out of the bag, too.

But as far as modern-day writers who are still busy writing go, these guy are my boys. If you’ve read Immaculate Deception, you can probably see each of them peeking through the narrative, the subject matter and the writing style here and there.

Derivative? Some might say so. But others – mostly other writers – will be the first to tell you that the way to get started writing like yourself is to write like the people you love to read. What comes out after it’s passed through the creative filter of your own unique brain is – shazam! – your style of writing.

God Bless Allyson Bird, For She Speaks the Truth

A few weeks ago I wrote about why going into journalism is a great career choice for people who want to write for a living but aren’t sure how toNewspaper readers actually translate that into rent and grocery money.

What I might have glossed over is the fact that today, possibly more than ever, it is one of the lowest paying, most thankless jobs out there. You will be called upon to do twice the work of normal humans for about a third of what most college-educated professionals are paid. It is stressful, relentless and exhausting.

No one has summed up the negatives of the field lately better than Allyson Bird. Allyson is a fellow University of South Carolina journalism school alum who distinguished herself in her undergrad years and went on to work at the highly-regarded Post and Courier, the major newspaper in Charleston, S.C.

Full disclosure: I attempted on numerous occasions early in my newspaper career to get a job at the Charleston paper, to no avail. While you don’t hear much about it outside Charleston, it’s a fine paper in a spectacular old city and generally considered a plum gig.

So when I received the USC J-School alumni newsletter that referred to her blog Sticky Valentines (named after a line in the Elvis Costello song “Alison” – which only increased her cachet with me), where she wrote at length about why she, not yet out of her 20s, was leaving journalism, I was intrigued.

It turns out that a decade apart, Allyson and I shared many of the very same concerns about the newspaper world and our place in it – specifically, how we would continue to survive the business in the face of increasing work demands and ever diminishing returns. She did what I attempted to do on a number of occasions – left the business and found a non-news job that let her put her skills to work and afford something other than a four-person apartment share and Ramen noodles.

I’ve actually written before on this same topic in response to a column by Connie Shultz, a Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated columnist formerly with the Cleveland Plain Dealer and now a columnist for the Parade magazine Sunday newspaper supplement. In it, she lamented the dearth of young people going into journalism, with many of them saying they would prefer to go into marketing, advertising or media relations. She expressed horror that j-school students would opt for “The Dark Side.” I, however, was not surprised at all.

I replied to her column via the Poynter Institute comment thread by noting that her outrage was silly, because for a college graduate – even one devoted to the cause of truth – to expect no more in her paycheck by her third job than a Burger King management trainee would is a travesty, and that until newspapers learned to pay people like the college-educated, highly skilled individuals they are, the trend would continue.

So as a counterpoint to my earlier blog entry, I invite you to read Allyson’s thoughts and consider them well before you jump into journalism as a long-term career. Per my earlier statements, I still heartily stand by the news biz as a great entry point for young writers. But as Allyson notes, it might not be the kind of career you want to stay with for the rest of your life.

Oh, and a little something for my fellow Gamecock, because I simply couldn’t resist.

One Amazon/Goodreads Combo, Comin’ Up

goodreads-and-amazonSo, Amazon – great, lumbering consumer juggernaut that it is – gobbled up literary social networking site Goodreads in (an impeccably timed) Good Friday announcement.

If you’re interested in catching up, check out the New York Timesoriginal story and this interesting bit of analysis on Amazon’s motivation from the Washington Post.

I saw the news but, consumed with pre-Easter prep and the celebrations of the weekend, put off posting until today. Not very New Media of me, but what the hell. Not much thoughtful analysis takes place by the bozos who insist on posting first.

But what struck me right off the bat when I heard of this move was, “Huh … Amazon, which already owns Shelfari, now feels it should own Goodreads, which was run by Barnes & Noble. Amazon makes Kindles, the most popular e-readers around, but couldn’t build itself a workable, popular literary networking site, while B&N, which produces the floundering Nook, had what was the most popular literary networking site around. Interesting how each could make one part of the puzzle work, but not the other.”

As I said, lots of other better informed folks have already chimed in on this, but I would like to point out that while ownership of the formerly pseudo-independent Goodreads by Amazon will likely put the recommendations portion of Goodreads under tighter control, it also puts two of the biggest arrows of the independent author/publisher arsenal into the same quiver.

Whether this will be good or bad for me and other indie authors remains to be seen. As both an author and a member of Codorus Press, I think my biggest concern is the danger of reader reviews somehow being deleted or diluted. As any author will tell you, one of the best ways to sell books – whether hard copies or e-books – is through word of mouth. And typically, that word of mouth these days comes thanks to online reviews from readers.

To take that major selling point from us kicks a leg out from beneath authors and small publishers who, shunned by big-box booksellers – of which B&N is the last – were standing on just one leg to begin with.

What Amazon should remember is that for many indies, Kindle Direct and the Amazon-owned print-on-demand service CreateSpace are the only places where some titles are available. For the company to keep Goodreads as intact and independent as possible would better serve Amazon by continuing to drive sales in what I would suspect are its two biggest growth sectors.

Another Public Display

Tonight I have the pleasure of doing something a lot of writers don’t enjoy – talking to people in public.

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Yours truly at a Brandywine Valley Writers Group public reading in the fall of 2012. Unlike many writers, I like public speaking. Maybe too much. OK, I’ll shut up now.

The topic will be indie and self-publishing and I’ll be one of three writers on a panel made up of members of the Brandywine Valley Writers Group, a great bunch of professional, amateur and aspiring writers based in West Chester, Pa.

Joining me on the panel will be fellow authors Jim Breslin and Jorgen Flood, both of whom have gone about their own publishing adventures via independent or self-subsidized means.

Jim is an editor by day, writes short stories and has produced his own anthology titled Elephant, as well as shepherded the excellent Chester County Fiction anthology, featuring a number of friends and fellow BWVG members. Jim is also the founder of the West Chester Story Slam, a monthly storytelling competition that is now so popular he has to sell tickets and has since spread to other areas of Southeastern Pennsylvania.

Jorgen, who hails from Norway (cool accent!), has three titles to his name, non-fiction and historical fiction among them.

One of the reasons I was invited was to discuss the unique structure of Codorus Press, the publishing collective I helped form along with my good friend and former newspaper colleague Wayne Lockwood.

But along with chatting up the many upsides (and occasional downsides) to publishing independently, one of the things I always stress when speaking to groups of writers is this: Whether you’re publishing through traditional means or independently, the fact remains that you can’t just write a book, put it out there, hide at home and hope it sells.

It’s incumbent on every author – no matter how his or her book is published – to get out there. Talk to people about your book. Make connections. Pick up a copy of your book and put it in someone else’s hands and tell them how good it is. Inspire other writers to do just what you have done. I’m constantly hammering away at the same point: Wayne and I are just a couple of guys who had an idea and a manuscript and decided to do something different, and there’s nothing stopping anyone from doing the same thing.

The fact is that being a writer can clearly be divided into two areas. First, there’s the artistic. If you’re a fiction writer, you’re creating something new entirely out of your own imagination. If you’re writing non-fiction, you are using your journalistic talents or your own experiences to convey to the reader a truth or your own observations and experiences.

Second (and this is the bit that lots of writers like to deny), there’s the commercial. Once the art has been rendered, you must now think of the resulting work as a product that has to be appropriately packaged, marketed and sold. And part of that is being willing to get out there and talk to people. Sure, social networking and PR services will help. Great reviews are wonderful. But I’m convinced that one of the most important parts of being a writer – or any kind of artist – is making that connection with the audience.

I will admit that I have a slight advantage in that I’m a naturally gregarious person who is comfortable speaking to groups. But not every public appearance you make needs to rank up there with other great moments in public speaking. The key is to make yourself available, be friendly, respectful and willing to engage. Most of all, be appreciative that anyone has shown up at all, and those who are there want to hear what you have to say.

 

The Story On Toy Story

With the Thanksgiving holiday and school out for a long weekend, there’s been lots of kid TV on around the house. And with all the junk that’s out there, I’ve been reminded of what gems the movies of the Toy Story trilogy are.

Such gems, in fact, that when Toy Story 2 came out, it was cited as one of the few films that represent the “golden ratio” of film – that combination of factors that make for a perfectly balanced screenplay.

Another great thing that the Toy Story movies did was free animated film – and specifically Disney-produced and distributed animation – from the bonds of musical featuring princesses and rehashed fairy tale stories. Nothing against musicals – they certainly have their place in the world, and even in genre film.

This happened once before, if you remember, in the 1950s when Walt Disney (the man) got consumed with creating his eponymous theme parks and left the studio animation division to others. It’s funny how you can tell exactly when that happens – it’s when stories based Grimm brothers tales diminish and the number of plot contingent musical numbers decline or are replaced by those that swing rather than soar.

Eventually – whether because of laziness or because of perceived saleability – the Mouse decided to go back to fairy tale musicals and began following a pretty strict formula that Pixar animator and director Andrew Stanton details in this TED video.

Pretty soon, you could recite in your sleep what each new Disney animated feature would entail – a trite retelling of a tried-and-true childhood story that would be girl-centric without abandoning the Mouse’s ever-present princess fantasy of a happy ending married to a handsome prince. For a while there, Disney just gave up.

What Pixar chose to do, Stanton explains, is to take that formula and throw it in the trash. They created original stories that, while appropriate for children almost from the moment they can understand that they’re watching a movie, are universal in their appeal and cut no corners in the level of their quality or storytelling. They were built from the ground up – no source material from the 18th century or designed to appeal to a particular demographic.

So what does this have to do with your writing in novel or short story form? It’s a great example of how you as a writer aren’t bound in any way by what people (or your genre) might expect or suggest you should create your work.

In this day of entire bookstore sections devoted exclusively to subgenres like “Teen Paranormal Romance” – also known as the “sexy teenage vampires in love” genre – it’s easy to think that the best way to have success is to write something that fits into a specific box. You can even see it in book titles, particularly among the indie e-book market, where nearly ever title seems to contain either “shades” or “grey” – or some combination thereof – to in an attempt to somehow capitalize on the success of the ubiquitous erotica phenomenon Fifity Shades of Grey and its sequels.

If all you want to do is sell some books, it’s easy to ride another’s coattails or cram yourself into a pre-existing pattern that someone else has created and others have replicated.

But keep in mind that he most renowned writers are the ones unafraid to toy existing structure or form. Some of the most popular are the ones who decide to willingly cross boundaries of style or genre to create something truly amazing.

In other words, don’t try to fit into a box for which someone else has already set the dimensions. Instead, create your own box, work within the parameters you create and don’t worry about the hot genre of the moment.

Radio, Radio

Once upon a time, I aspired to be a broadcast, rather than print, journalist. It was during those early, heady days at the University of South Carolina that I realized as much as I loved being on the air, I loved writing better.

And honestly, I was probably better at the writing anyway.

For the last 20 years or so, my full time job has been writing or writing related, but I’ve still relished every chance I’ve had to appear on the radio, usually promoting something.

Last night I had the chance to join Carlette Norwood Ritter on her podcast Lette’s Chat. The show was co-hosted by my good friend and fellow Codorus Press team member Tom Joyce, and we had a great time talking about Immaculate Deception, the process of writing, combining sci-fi with erotica and satire and what’s up with those scuppernong grapes, anyway?

We were also joined by a special guest caller, so listen in and see how much fun we had. You can link directly to the podcast here.