YOUNG AUTHORS BEWARE

No matter our age at the time, all authors were young and aspiring at one time. Of those who read this, some fall into this category. In my case, I became a “young author” at age 49. The topic of this blog is to warn “young authors” of the snares and pitfalls related to the craft.

How often has someone said, “Oh, you should write a book about that.” Writing is a demanding craft. Just because a person has an interesting experience or has a story to tell, does not mean that person has skill in writing. There are sites on-line that will accept almost anything an aspiring author submits. Yes, it is good exposure. Some of the stories posted are good and interesting, but a most are simply atrocious. One short story lacked a good plot, was poorly presented and had a dialogue based primarily on profanity and disrespect. If this website is representative of many aspiring writers, it is no wonder editorial assistants dread having to sort through the “slush pile”. There are so few exceptional manuscripts in the slush pile and so many manuscripts that are simply trash.

If you really do believe you have a story, start writing. Keep in mind that the standards of the publishing world are high. Plots and story lines are expected to be attractive to the readers. Spelling and grammar are expected to be near perfect. Writers spend time revising and proofreading. Perhaps you have finished your first manuscript. Do not rush it off to a publisher expecting it to turn into a bestseller. Your mother may like the story, but it is unlikely it will be accepted. Very few first short works are worthy of publication. Most of us need to hone the craft. That means practice, practice, practice. Most of us have many “drawer manuscripts”. These are the manuscripts that never were accepted for publication.

Some aspiring writers say, “Of course my first book will be published, or else would I have wasted my time writing the manuscript?” I am pleased to hear such confidence, but while sending out queries on your first manuscript, start the second. All of these “drawer manuscripts” you produce are valuable practice. Keep writing.

Be aware that as an unknown author, it is very difficult to get your manuscript past the dragons at the gates of traditional publishing houses. No matter how good, your manuscript is simply one of many in the “slush pile”.

A better option is to seek a literary agent to present your work to the traditional publishers. Unfortunately literary agents are in the same position of having overflowing “slush piles”. Remember most of the “slush pile” is substandard manuscripts, and only a few are worthy of the literary agent’s time to represent them. Your manuscript must stand out among the dross.

Literary agents work under a set of ethics that prohibit them from charging a fee, including a reading fee. Agents expect to make their living from a commission of 10 or 15 % of the royalties you receive. The exception is that some literary agents ask you to also reimburse them for copy costs and postage. If you ever have a literary agent offer to represent your book for a fee rather than a commission, drop that agent. He or she is a fraud. Also ignore agents who charge reading fees.

The third option is to query a small press. They are more willing to take chances on manuscripts that are only good without being exceptional. A first time author may also find it difficult to penetrate even the small presses, but authors with one or more published books will have better success there. Most small presses only accept manuscripts they think will sell. Most charge no fee from the author. A few will charge a nominal fee.

Your last option is self publishing. In the past two decades, the number of companies who call themselves self-publisher has grown. A self-publisher will accept almost any manuscript because you are paying them all the costs to produce and market your book. If you simply want to produce a quantity of books to give to a small group of people, it is ideal. It is less ideal for selling books to the masses. Nevertheless, small-publishers can get your book out in the market place. After having numerous editors and literary agents reject my manuscripts with notes saying, “Your manuscript looks good, but it does not meet my interests at the moment.” I finally paid to have my first book published. No it was not a success, but it did get my foot in the door with several small presses that have published my other novels.

There are a few good and ethical self-publishers. They are, essentially, heirs to the vanity presses of the 20th century, but with modern technology they can produce your book more effectively than the old vanity presses. They care less about marketing the book. Their first priority is to collect a fee to cover the publication of the book and the cost of the “free” copies they will ship you. Of course, the more of your books they sell, the better for them. If your book later gets picked up by a traditional publisher, they get more remuneration.

Certainly there is nothing wrong with a businessman who charges for a service or product. Your financial risks occur when they start offering additional services, usually for publicity, websites or marketing. They may ask you to spend thousands of dollars on advertising, promotions or a presentation to movie producers. The deals I have been offered generally are little more than speculative ventures. Sure, I may sell more copies of the book, but how many will I have to sell to pay for the cost of the advertising campaign? They can not guarantee results nor give you an accurate projection of sales. If you need help with publicity, advertising or marketing, look for an established group who are dedicated to that field. Then do your research. Work with a professional whose goal is making you successful.

Do not worry about a publisher or literary agent stealing your manuscript. US copyright law protects you the moment you produce an original work. You can sue anyone who publishes your work without permission. Furthermore, editors, publishers and literary agents are professionals with reputations to protect. They can make more money by representing your book or publishing your book than they can by stealing your manuscript and publishing it as their own. If caught, the results to their career will be disastrous.

You may write on anything original “Copyright 2018 by (your name)”, and you are protected. The hitch is that you must be able to prove it is yours and that you wrote it before anyone else. For that reason, the Library of Congress offers Copyright registration for a small fee. This gives you definitive proof. Of course there are other means of proof. Some writers send a copy of the manuscript to themselves by registered mail. the manuscript is then stored in the sealed envelope until a court of law requires proof of the date when you produced it.

Beware of pickpockets. Many people and organizations are simply looking for your money. They may sell you a product or service without providing what they promised. The self-publisher of my first novel, did a wonderful job producing the book, but I paid a hefty fee. Part of the contract was that they were supposed to help me market my book. After shipping me a crate of beautiful books, they then started charging me for their marketing efforts. In general, I never felt I got good value for the fees I paid.

Publicity agents, marketing consultants and similar people or organizations who promise to increase you sale should be suspect. Also suspect are those who push you for quick decisions and who pester you with frequent phone calls.

I have received a lot of phone calls and e-mails that promised me the moon but at too high a cost with far too little expectation of return. Be very careful to chose those who serve you in a professional way.

Having published 4 novels, I now consider myself a “middle age author”. I still aspire to publish through one of traditional publishers, which means I will have to get a literary agent willing to represent my manuscript. I would like to think my writing has improved enough that my current work in progress will impress someone. In the mean time, I will continue to practice writing. Practice may not make us perfect, but it can improve our skills.

I encourage “young authors” to keep writing. Try some marketing  by querying magazines for your articles. Don’t waste a lot of time and money on marketing until you start getting positive responses. Once you have a book length you are proud of, query a few literary agents and small presses. Again, do not invest a lot of time or money, but try several. Often you will get a few sentences of feedback along with the rejection letter. Such feedback is of great value.

Very few authors even get anyone to look at their first manuscript, but keep writing anyway. Persistence pays off.

~Reynold Conger

Reynold Conger is a retired scientist and teacher who writes fiction as a retirement career. To learn about him and his writing, go to ReynoldConger.com. Just to make the website more fun, Reynold has a page with pictures and articles about his bees.

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Chat With Me (About Books)

Please come and chat with me about my book or about literature in general. I am in the Kellan Publishing chat room the second Thursday of every month from 5:00 to 6:00 (Mountain Time) [7 Eastern, 6 Central or 4 Pacific]. To enter the chat room, go to KellanPublishing.com. If this link does not bring you directly to the chat page, use the drop down menu under “More” to get to the chat page. Once on the chat page, click the logo for enter chat room.

Kellan Publishing Company is the small publisher who published my book, Reducing Medical Costs(At the Cost of Health). That book is a medical mystery.

Kellan Publishing Company sponsors a chat line for its authors. I am one of several authors who have taken advantage of this opportunity. I would love to chat with you, and so would some of the other authors. Our schedules are found on the chat page. Join any of us at the scheduled times.

The chat room being used is dedicated to Kellan authors so there will be no outside chatter.

 

Reynold Conger is an author of fiction written from  a Christian perspective. Read about his books on , and join in his author chats.

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A Calabacitas Summer

The last several summers, I have grown Gadzukes in my garden. Gadzukes is a hybrid zucchini squash sold by Burpee. It looks like and tastes like zucchini except that it grows fast. Within a week a blossom grows into a squash 3 inches in diameter and 18 to 24 inches long.

Traditionally, people pick zucchini at 5 to 8 inches in length because the slow-growing squash gets tough and grows large seeds. We prefer our zucchini a bit larger. With the usual varieties of zucchini, we generally grow harvest at 12 to 14 length. Because Gadzukes grow so fast, the 18 to 24 inch fruit is still sweet and tender. The seeds are still very small and immature. The 18 to 24 inch fruits are excellent for eating raw, frying, boiling, stuffing with a mixture of meat, onions, chili and tomatoes, as zucchini bread or making into calabacitas.

Calabacitas literally means small squash. It is the name given to a dish very popular in New Mexico and other parts of the Southwest. It is chunks of zucchini squash cooked with onions, corn and green chili. Some cooks add other vegetables.

Calabacitas is very popular among our neighbors. Even the restaurants offer it in season. Now most of you are asking, “What kind of a restaurant offers squash on their menu?” Here in New Mexico, I have been served calabacitas as a side in some very high-class restaurants

The disadvantage of a fast growing squash, is that it can get away from the grower. I try to pick the squash at the 18 to 24 inch size, but often they hide. If I do not pick them at the desirable size, they grow to a diameter of 4 inches and length of 30 inches within the next day or two. The seeds also start to mature.

Because squash bugs usually decimate our squash vines, I planted the entire package of seeds this summer. Because we are in a drought, we had no squash bugs until the late summer rains hatched a few out. As a result all the seeds grew and none were taken out by the bugs.

As you can guess, we have a bumper crop of zucchini squash and the vines are still producing. All summer our kitchen has had 2 to 4 baskets of squash, some 30 inches long. We have been enjoying the squash and giving it away as fast as we can. We take a basket to church and all the squash disappear quickly at our small church.

Most of our friends make the squash into calabacitas, but I am sure there are other uses. One friend told me she made 5 loves of zucchini bread from a 30 inch squash. Another woman ground a squash up and froze it in anticipation of baking zucchini bread next winter.

My wife has begun slicing the large squash into thin slices and drying them in the dehydrator to make zucchini chips. We find them an interesting snack.

2018 will be known as the calabacitas summer.

This blog post was not sponsored by Burpee, nor was it intended to endorse Gadzukes. The description of the squashes grown this summer is factual. The author does identify the source of these hybrid seeds as a service to those who may wish to try growing such fast growing zucchini.

Reynold Conger is an author of fiction. Visit his web site at http://ReynoldConger.com/ to learn about the books he has written. The website also contains a bee page with news about the bees that pollinate Reyold’s vegetables and produce honey.

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Maintain Your Stuff

Our church is small with a small budget. We manage our money by doing a lot of things ourselves. For example, the church building is cleaned regularly by a crew of volunteers. Needless to say, cleaning a church takes a toll on the vacuum cleaners.

Recently an old woman died and our church was given her vacuum cleaner. It is old, but a good quality machine. The woman had been sick for some time and had been cared for by a young housekeeper.

For reasons I do not understand, my wife and I are the ones church members run to when something break down. We received the vacuum cleaner just before the start of a series of revival meetings. The “new” vac was assigned to the fellowship hall. One night, one of the women tried to clean the fellowship hall following a time of refreshments and fellowship. The woman called my wife over. “This isn’t working.”

We hauled the machine home and together we worked on it. It appeared in good condition except that the brush and its bearings were filled with dirt, etc, so that the bush did not turn easily, and the machine was not pulling much of a vacuum. While my wife went to work removing strings and dirt from the brush, I looked at the hose connecting the power-head to the dirt container. I brought my sewer snake in from the garage and cleaned 3 feet of debris out of the hose. With the brush turning freely and an empty hose, the machine worked very well.

The old lady’s housekeeper is a member of the current generation of young people. My wife and I are in our mid 70’s, having been born during WWII. The housekeeper most likely paid little attention to the condition of the vacuum cleaner. She probably would have kept using the vacuum cleaner with little or no thought to maintenance until, in her opinion, it was time to replace it. In fact, I was surprised that the dirt in the brush and hose had not caused the motor to overheat and burn out.

Had it been our vacuum cleaner, we would have occasionally cleaned the brush and periodically cleared things that stuck in the hose, but then, we are old-fashioned.

Our parents had grown up in the Great Depression. Then there was no money to buy new things. Our grandparents had financial incentive to keep things working. Furthermore, my wife’s father was a mechanical engineer, and my father was a “shade tree” mechanic who never took his car into the shop because he maintained and repaired all of his vehicles himself. Our parents maintained their possessions with period cleaning and maintenance. Our mothers shared in the cleaning and maintenance. While my father was in basic training, my mother made repairs to the family car.

When something broke, our fathers would fix it. My father kept a barrel of scraps in his workshop. when something broke, he usually fabricated the replacement part himself. Nothing was thrown out or replaced until it was well beyond repair. Similarly, my wife’s father kept machinery working and was known for helping his neighbors with simple repairs.

Granted, not everyone in the 1950’s and 1960’s had mechanical skills, but everyone had the common sense to keep possessions maintained, and when something did not work properly, they would get it repaired before it destroyed itself. Those with skills, did it themselves. Those without, would ask a neighbor or find a repairman.

Until well into the 1970’s machines were relatively simple and easy to repair. Repair men worked for reasonable fees that were usually only a fraction of the value of an item.

Why is it that the “younger generation” finds themselves frequently having to buy new appliances and vehicles while members of the “older generation” often are still using vacuum cleaners, washers and dryers. that are older than 10  years old?

Part of the reason is that our fathers taught us the principles of making basic repairs. While I usually do the more demanding repair jobs, my wife does her share. More important is that our parents taught us to keep our possessions maintained. When hoses start to get plugged, a cleaning is in order. When a wheel or brush does not turn freely, we know to look for something such as a carpet string jamming it or to look for a bad bearing. Some bearings can be replaced easily. Some wheels and pulleys can be replaced easily,

Why can the “younger generation” not keep possessions clean and lubricated? Even a squit of WD40 does wonders when applied periodically.

Keep your possessions clean and lubricated. When something isn’t working as well as it should, look for a problem such as a wad of carpet fuzz in the vacuum cleaner hose. A little observation, common sense and some effort will keep the appliance working longer. By golly, you might even have more cash in your wallet when it is time to replace something.

 

Reynold is a retired scientist who writes as a retirement career. Please visit his website, ReynoldConger.com to learn about his books. Most of his books are available for sale on that web site. Books sold on that website are autographed.

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Name, Rank and Serial Number—Your Author Biography

 An author biography is a form of identification. When you are interviewed for a job, you tell the interviewer as much as you think will help you land the job. On the other hand, a soldier who has been captured by the enemy is trained to give only name, rank and serial number. Your author biography needs to contain information that helps to sell books, but perhaps not too much information.

When you submit your manuscript to a publisher such as Kellan Publishing, you will be asked to provide your author biography. Your publisher will use your author biography for publicity purposes. For example, Kellan Publishing uses the information to post an author page on the Kellanpublishing.com website. Some publishers even include biographical information on the back cover.

As you write your author biography, include enough information to interest potential readers without over burdening them with trivia. Unless your book is about animals, there is no need to tell the reader about your childhood pet.

I like to identify myself in the first paragraph of my biography with my name and something linking me with the type of books I write. Many authors add a sentence about their occupation or former occupation. Only if you are writing a scholarly book do you include your college degree or degrees.

Writing an author biography is like baiting a fishing hook. If something in your background relates to your book, include that. A sentence about what inspired your book can be interesting to readers. Other information is up to you. Many authors make a brief mention of spouses and children. Some authors mention where they live. This is particularly useful if the author lives in an exotic place such as Paris, but authors have drawn interest from readers by saying they live just about anywhere.

Just like the prisoner of war, there are some things you do not want to tell. You do not want to list your address or phone. In most cases it is enough to list the state you live in if you think it will attract readers. You probably do not want to give the names of your spouse and children. If you think it will make you appear to be an interesting author to let readers know you have a spouse and children, simply say, “. . . lives with his wife and three children in [name of a state or large city].” If you choose to mention your occupation, you will probably not want to name your current employer. Your age or birth date is probably not useful to your biography.

Remember your publisher will use your biographical information to bait a hook to catch readers. Good fishermen know that too small a bait gets ignored, but too large a piece of bait can scare off fish.

Spend some time polishing your biography. A good author biography will sell books if it makes you, the author, look human and interesting.

~ Reynold Conger

Get your copy of Reducing Medical Costs (At the Cost of Health)   from Kellan Publishing or buy an autographed copy from Reynold’s website.

Follow me on:

Facebook: Books by Reynold Conger

Twitter: @RConger_author

My Blog: Reynold Would Not Write if it Were Not Fun

My Website: http://ReynoldConger.com/

Reynold Conger is an author Go to his website to learn of his books and his writing philosophy. 
Books he has published include:
  Chased Across Australia
       A travelogue style thriller
  My Knight in Shining Armor
       A Post Vietnam era Romance
  Reducing Medical Costs (At the Cost of Health)
       A medical thriller
  Stoned for His Faith
       A Thriller about religious persecution
Reynold has also written the Richard Tracy Series
   (A series of novellas available as e-books)
  Book 1.  A Dangerous Bike Ride
  Book 2.  Gone Running and Gone
  Book 3.  Dem Bones Shall Rise Again
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Love Your Political Enemies

Jim Crow laws have returned to New Jersey, but now it is not blacks who are refused service in restaurants, but rather Republicans. The president’s press secretary, Sarah Sanders, was asked to leave the dining room of the Red Hen Restaurant in rural Lexington, Virginia. To Sarah’s credit, she left quietly and without commotion after being asked to leave.

The world is aware that liberals in general and Democrat liberals in particular are so angry that Trump beat Hillary, they have been openly attacking Trump, and have been refusing to work with the Trump administration. In the 54 year I have been voting, I have seen a lot of voters disgruntled by election results. There is always close to half of the electorate who are unhappy at the results of any election. There are usually many who dislike the new president, but I have never seen so many people express blind hatred for a president. The hatred started before Trump even had the opportunity to take office, and many people I talk to can not say why they are angry.

Jesus tells us to love our enemies (Luke 6:27). This is good advice to all, even to those who reject Christianity, for hating someone harms the person who hates more than it harms the person who is hated. Psychologists and psychiatrists teach anger management as one way to reduce stress. I think it is fair to say that it is not good for your health to hate. The experts agree.

It would appear that this great outpouring of hate is all aimed at influencing voters in the mid-term elections. I hope the voters are smart enough to ignore the hate for Trump and instead vote on issues and candidate qualifications.

I find it ironic that only a few weeks ago liberals were criticizing Starbucks for calling the police to remove two men who appeared to be taking up counter space without placing an order. Now the owner of the Red Hen Restaurant thinks she is acting wonderfully by ejecting a member of the Trump administration from her restaurant.  The actions of the Starbucks manager were wrong, but at least the Starbucks employees thought they were acting in the interest of the company. In this case, the owner of the restaurant is only trying to make a statement about her hatred for Trump. This looks like a double standard to me.  It is possible the owner may also have been trying to make publicity against Trump.

Everyone seems to be getting publicity. There are those crowing about Sarah Sanders being kicked out of the restaurant and those criticising the action. It is interesting that members of both parties have criticized the owner’s action. I wonder if the owner of the restaurant will have the effect she intended.

Were I the owner of the Red Hen, I think I would have handled it differently. I would have let Sarah Sanders and her family enjoy the meal and then approach the table personally with the bill. I would have informed Sarah that the meal was on the house, but would she please convey to President Trump the feelings of the owner and employees of the Red Hen Restaurant. I would then have handed Sarah a short letter expressing a few of the most important grievances. Perhaps I would have collected as many employee signatures as I could. I think that would have had more impact.

We will never have complete agreement in our country, but we could work together as we work to keep the United States strong and civilized. We need to be kind and respectful to our political enemies, for in doing so, we will facilitate the type of cooperation we need to govern well. We may even keep a vast number of Americans more healthy just by eliminating unnecessary anger.

 

Reynold Conger is a retired scientist and teacher who writes in his retirement. Please take a moment to visit his website, http://www.ReynoldConger.com, for information about his books.

 

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Should Your Hero be Perfect?

I wrote Stoned for His FaithA Christian thriller about an American pastor who is stoned because Muslims do not like the book he wrote teaching Christians to witness to Muslims. This book is fiction.

A reviewer wrote some kind words about the plot and how well I had crafted the story, but then wrote the were disappointed that the hero, a Christian, had flaws in his character. The reviewer lowered their rating on the book of these flaws. Apparently the reviewer expected a Christian hero to be perfect or near perfect.

My hero showed his humanity by being tempted and having been tempted in the past. Everyone is tempted. Should I be using a different standard for Christians than for anyone else? Obviously not. Literature should not contain double standards.

I would be hard pressed to create any character, Christian or non-Christian who is perfect the way the reviewer wants. Even if I did create such a character, it the book would be terrible. Even Superman has a weakness, kriptonite. Writing teachers instruct us to create conflict in our stories. Look how often Superman has to deal with exposure to kriponite. Flaws and weaknesses in characters, and in the hero in particular, help set up conflict. Plots are established, in part, by how or characters respond to conflict. In most stories, the hero overcomes the conflict. Perhaps they are strong enough to win the conflict, but more often, the hero changed during the story to be better prepared to meet the conflict. In tragedies, the hero goes down in flames. The reader mourns their demise but cheers at the limited successes they have achieved in striving for their nobel cause. Even the heroes of tragic stories generally show some change.

As it turns out, every good hero has weaknesses and character flaws.  What makes a book into a great book is how the characters each face life in spite of these weaknesses and flaws.

A flawed hero or heroine also gives the author the opportunity to let the hero grow or mature into a less flawed individual. Most readers are thrilled, at the end of the book, to see a hero or heroine who is even better than at first.

Do not be afraid to write a hero or heroine who has imperfections. That makes him or her better. In fact, I often try to build imperfections into my heroes and heroines.

In a week or two, I will write the post: Should Villains be Bad to the Bone?

 

 

Reynold Conger is the author of fiction written from a Christian point of view. Please visit his website, ReynoldConger.com.

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