Well, it’s about that time. Numerous BGs are now getting ready to go to Mount Hermon Writers’ Conference. Wish I could be with you.
I haven’t missed an MH conference since I started attending in 2000. In 2004 I started teaching there and have been on the teaching and critique staff ever since. Every year when I go to MH, it feels like old home week.
After my accident I waited and prayed about 10 days to figure out what I should do. It became obvious to me I needed to pull out for this year. There’s a lot of walking at Mount Hermon, and the ground is hilly and very uneven. In 2003 I attended in the middle of my Lyme disease battle by driving around in an electric cart. Thing is, as sick as I was, at least I could hobble off that cart into the dining room, etc. Now I’m completely on crutches with no weight-bearing on the left leg. It just seemed like too much for me to try to get around the campus.
So I will miss all of you. Hope you have a wonderful time. While you’re sitting around in the lounge at night, think of me and send me an email, okay? Write something entertaining about the conference, and I’ll run it here. Just don’t go killing off anybody without me. Although I don’t know who you’d kill. I managed to bump off every Christian chick lit author last year—so who’s left who deserves to die?
Maybe the agent or editor who turned you down. Or some nasty critiquer. Hm. A tale of revenge …
So who’s going?
Last Thursday The Wall Street Journal reported that Borders, the #2 book retailer, announced its plans to reopen its own online store in 2008, ending its current alliance with Amazon.com. At the same time Borders is stopping its efforts to expand internationally, and will close almost half of the Waldenbooks outlets it owns in the U.S.
The reason? Online sales of books are rising, capturing a growing share of the book market. Figures from Bowker put online sales of books in 1998 at a mere 2%. In 2006 that number grew to 13%, while sales at traditional retail stores fell from 42% to 38% in the same timeframe. Volume of dollars spent for books online rose from just under $1.5 million in 2000 to around $2.7 million in 2006.
Borders first teamed up with amazon.com in 2001, shortly after the dot-com bust. The company put its dollars into expanding stores, increasing the number of U.S. superstores from 290 at the beginning of 2000 to a current 499. As business trends changed, doing exactly opposite of what Borders expected, the company was hit hard. Ergo the company’s decision to put its expansion dollars into online selling.
Meanwhile Borders’ main competitor, Barnes and Noble, has operated its own online web site for some time. But it’s had a difficult time competing with Amazon.com due to the latter company’s discount rates. Amazon is able to sell books at a cheaper price because it sells so many other items as well. Ditto with cheaper book prices from such places as Sam’s and Costco. Barnes and Noble’s fiscal year ending February 3 showed its online sales fell 1.1%. In recent years its online sales have been flat—at about 10% of total revenue.
The bottom line for authors—don’t forget marketing efforts at online stores. Frankly, I had. I’d done a couple posts on Amazon.com when its whole author blog thing began, but hadn’t put up anything new in a year. This article prompted me to write a new post for Amazon.com and to promise myself to do so on a more regular basis. I made sure the post has plenty hyperlinks to my web sites, this blog and the Scenes and Beans blog.
Ever noticed the percentage numbers on the page for any book at Amazon.com? They’re listed under the heading: What do customers ultimately buy after viewing this item? For example, on the Coral Moon page, 41% of viewers of the page buy the book. (Percentages are also listed for what other books a viewer of the Coral Moon page will also buy.) The Violet Dawn page shows that 64% of viewers buy the book. It’s my theory—based on the highly unscientific fact that I do it myself—that many people use Amazon.com as a way to find out about more a book, even if they’re not ready to buy, due to all the information Amazon.com now offers about the product. You can see reader reviews, who published the book, how many pages it is, see the link to the author’s other works, and sometimes get a sneak peek inside the first 15 or so pages. I figure with so many people checking out any book of mine on Amazon.com, I should have a consistent marketing presence on that page.
If you’re a published author and haven’t set up your profile in order to blog on Amazon.com, I suggest you go through the process. It takes a few days to set up, as another party has to verify that you are the author of the books you claim. I had gotten so slack about this I hadn’t even claimed Violet Dawn yet. So the new blog post I wrote shows up on all my other books, but won’t show up on Violet Dawn and Coral Moon until the author verification goes through.
How about you? Do you visit Amazon.com for information about books? If you’re an author, are you using its blog program? Or as a reader, do you take time to read the author blog posts?
Hello, this is Bailey. Just a short note, as we are all still in shock. I'm writing this Thursday evening, to post for Friday. Thanks to those of you who've been asking about us. We have lost a very dear friend today. Vesta Johnson, a wonderful saint. A woman in her seventies whom everyone loved. I can't give details. The police are still investigating. I can only say that this is beyond our understanding, in many ways ...
Think there are no "hard-boiled PI" novels in CBA? Let me introduce you to John Robinson ...
I met John about a year and a half ago at Glorieta Writers Conference. Basic scoop: He's fifty-four years old, and proclaims he’s married to the finest woman on the planet, his wife Barb. The father of two grown sons and grandfather of two, in 2003 John retired after thirty years as owner of a successful financial planning firm. He’s author of the acclaimed Joe Box suspense series, and says he has made some good friends in the Christian publishing world. These include Karen Kingsbury, Al Gansky, Wanda Dyson, James Scott Bell, and somebody by the name of Brandilyn Collins. John says, "All of these fine folks have selflessly used their talents to help me hone my craft." His works include Until the Last Dog Dies, When Skylarks Fall, and To Skin a Cat, all published through RiverOak.
John, thanks for coming on my site to chat. So what's up with you?
Brandilyn, thank you for inviting me here to publicly pry open my brainpan. Let’s see what oozes out! My latest book, To Skin a Cat, is the third in the Joe Box series. This one features our intrepid PI going up against a porn king, who’s taking his twisted view of sexuality to a new—and dangerous—low. It was released on September 1, and so far, like the others, the reviews have been good. Thank God.
How long had you been writing before you had a publishing contract? How did that come about, and what went through your head when you got the news?
Oddly, I believe I received the writing call on my life in early childhood. I loved spinning stories; sometimes I’d get in trouble for it! But I didn’t get serious with the craft until I was nearly forty-seven, in 1999. That’s when I got the idea of an end-times novel with a twist. Without going into too much detail, the thing turned out to be a trunk novel in the truest sense of the word … so far. But I feel my obedience to the Lord in sitting down and pounding out the recalcitrant beast was rewarded in His giving me the Joe Box character.
How I got the contracting call was interesting, to say the least. My former agent had been shopping Until the Last Dog Dies around, including to Cook Communications, and getting some positive feedback. But no contract. In mid-July of 2003 she was at the CBA (now ICRS) trade show in Orlando. It would take more space than you have here to tell it, but through a miraculous set of circumstances one of the head honchos at Cook (which owns RiverOak) sought her out. He said that after speaking to a senior buyer at one of the major book chains, Cook had reconsidered their position. Long story short (see? self-editing!), they ended up cutting the verbal deal for the book right there on the floor of CBA. My agent called me that same night, and coyly asked if I was sitting down. Then she sprang the news. I started screaming. I told my wife; she started screaming. We began jumping around like a couple of The Price is Right winners while our cat gazed up at us with that bemused and superior expression cats do so well … it was a wild evening.
What's your process for writing draft copy and editing?
There are at least two schools of thought about that. The first says to get the entire work down, and then go back through and edit. The second, and the one that seems to work for me, is to edit as I go. Sometimes that’s at the end of a chapter, sometimes a bit longer. What I absolutely must do every day before a session begins is to check out what I’d written before. Many times (too many!) what looked like tight, compelling and red hot and ready to rock prose at 11 p.m. seems likes so much cold gray gruel at first light. After that initial rush of “Robinson, you eediot!” (Ren and Stimpy voice) despair, I set about fixing the problems before moving on.
Speaking of despair, have any such difficult moments in writing now?
Absolutely. Any writer that says they don’t have those seasons of doubt is living a fantasy. I just need to keep reminding myself exactly Who it is that’s guiding the task. As the Word plainly says, He who’s begun a good work in me is faithful to finish it (my own paraphrase).
On your journey did you hit any major bumps? Speed traps?
Oh geez, yes. My very first Joe Box novel, the one before Dog, was shopped around without an agent (these days for fiction especially I feel that’s a bad move). Every house that saw it took a pass, saying it was “too dark…too edgy…too…everything.” That’s when I made the mistake of going with a certain secular outfit which trumpets itself as a “traditional publisher” (their own meaningless phrase; bear in mind, this was in early 2000, when there was very little on the 'Net concerning them). “Kid, we’re gonna make you a star!” That’s almost verbatim what they told me. Needless to say, that didn’t happen.
Later, after acceptance, I found out to my horror they were not only a print-on-demand outfit (the kiss of death in fiction), they literally take on everything that comes to them. Again, long story short, it took time, prayer, and the aid of a certain toothy lawyer, but I finally got the rights to that book back in February 2006. The whole experience was a hardcore, drippy-fanged, full-tilt-boogie nightmare. I’ve since heard stories of their dealings with other writers literally killing those writers’ desires to ever write again. That’s plain evil.
That book has since been rewritten, with a different main character, and my new agent has been shopping it.
Was there ever a time you thought of throwing in the towel?
(See what I mean? The stairs--16 on the first part, then around the corner to the right and up another 8 to the master suite. Cornering left leads to the other side of the greatroom and more bedrooms.)
So I crutched to the staircase. Went down the steps on my rear, leaving my crutches at the top of the stairs. At the bottom I picked up my walker and walker-hopped into the kitchen. The coffee was already made—it goes off automatically, being set the night before. I poured some into Mark’s Starbuck’s silver keep-it-hot-mug—the kind with a rubber top with one area left open for drinking. Then I hopped over to a drawer for some masking tape. Taped up the mug’s drinking hole. Put the mug in a plastic grocery bag. Wrapped the grocery bag tight around the mug and taped it. Took the handles of the plastic bag and tied 'em over the front brace of the walker.
So far so good. I walker-hopped back to the stairs. Now how in the heck to get the coffee up stairs, when I needed both hands to lift my rear end to the next step, all the while holding up one leg?
Read Part 6
Thanks to all of you wonderful folks for your kind comments over the last few days. Your care and concern--and inimitable humor--has done much to lift my and Mark's spirits. You BGs rock!
Now for today--a recommendation. Rarely do I step out and speak this strongly in favor of a book. But I'm doing just that for Tom Morrisey’s brand new book, In High Places.
From the book jacket:
A Breath From Tragedy, a Whisper from Glory
For Patrick Nolan, every climb tells a story. And now maybe it's his own. He's right at the rim, staring over the cliff's knife edge and wondering how things went wrong so quickly.It all started after arriving home from a weekend climbing trip with his father, Kevin. That's when word reached them. In a silent moment, they'd lost the person most important to them--her death raising unanswerable questions and dangerous doubts ...
This book is beautifully, hauntingly written in first person. Its characters will live with me for a very long time. The story brought me to tears more than once, and after a certain chapter I simply had to close the book for awhile, unable to read on as the strength of the scene washed over me.
Tom is a rare breed in a writer. First, he’s a man’s man—a certified full cave diver, rock climber, second-degree black belt in Karate, and a competitive semiautomatic pistol shooter. Second, he’s a novelist who, as Athol Dickson says in his endorsement for In High Places, “knows the human heart” and “who can write with such a well-balanced combination of sensitivity and adrenaline-charged adventure.”
In addition to writing novels, Tom is executive editor of Sport Diver magazine. Tom’s previous novels include two featuring cave diver Beck Easton (Deep Blue and Dark Fathom), Yucatan Deep, also about cave diving, and Turn Four, featuring stock car racer Chance Reynolds. Tom’s nonfiction title, Wild By Nature, tells nine true adventure stories from a Christian perspective (finding the way out of a flooded cave, without light; going into a spin in a private plane…). All of these works have been extensively researched. Tom is well-known in Bermuda for his research travels there during his writing of the Beck Easton novels.
Do visit the Backstory page on Tom’s website to read more about him and how he began his spiritual walk. His moment of recognition happened at a little deeper place than for the rest of us.
Opening scene of In High Places:
It was not the rock—it was never the rock; it was the air. Air: gusts and threads of it, rustling my hair at the edge of my faded red rugby shirt collar. Air: swaying the thin red climbing rope that dropped beneath me in a single, brief, pendulous loop. Air all around me and above me and behind me, open and empty and unsubstantial, drying the sweat on my dread-paled, beardless face, an entire sea of air, an ocean of it, lying vacantly beneath my jutting, quaking heels.
By fingertips and the thin toes of my shoes, I hung over a deep pool of nothing, a drop one could pass through for an eternity before being swallowed by the bright green, spring-leafed treetops of the Monongahela National Forest.
The Gendarme was an exceptionally airy place, a thirty-foot, twenty-ton, top-heavy block of Tuscarora quartzite perched tenuously upon the soaring, thin, cloud-feathered notched ridge that joined the twin summits of Seneca Rocks.
From the valley floor, hundreds of feet below, it seemed very nearly insubstantial, a blip in the naked stone skyline, the slightest thin twig of stone. But from its base, it was a gray, orange-lichened obelisk, a tower, soaring high into the stark, blue West Virginia sky.
You didn’t step onto the Gendarme; you boarded it, a stretching traverse to the initial foothold, a tentative and overbalanced tiptoe, like stepping into an empty canoe...
Rock climbing plays an important part in In High Places both literally and symbolically. As you see in the opening scene, sixteen-year-old Patrick is clinging to a rock—as he is to life itself. So often life can seem like empty air, a free fall. We cling to it with mere toes in a crack, clawing fingers. At the beginning of each chapter is a brief nonfiction excerpt from works about rock climbing. A reader can get so to into the story that he/she will be tempted to overlook these excerpts. Don’t. Each one is full of symbolism for events in that chapter.
Besides the exquisite writing, the effective use of symbolism, the characterization—In High Places also showcases great pacing. And coming from me as a suspense writer—it’s got terrific chapter hooks. No doubt those hooks come from Tom’s cave diving suspense novels. He’s sure got a handle on how to use them effectively. They kept me turning pages long after I should have turned out the light and gone to sleep.
In High Places resonates with readers because of its realistic depiction of life. No easy answers, no everything’s-perfect ending. It’s real and heart-tugging. It’ll make you cry and make your heart soar with hope. It depicts God’s mercy, although I can’t remember that word ever appearing in the book. It shows God the Seeker, God the Merciful. God the Rock.
Do yourself a favor and buy this book. Any of you out there who’ve decried the lack of quality in Christian fiction—you can put your money where your mouth is on this one. Writers, read it to learn great craft. Readers, read it to be enthralled. As Lisa Samson says in her endorsement, “Beautifully exciting, haunting, and satisfying. Morrisey leaves you hanging by your fingertips.”
I agree. I read the book over a week ago—and I’m still hanging.
Read Part 5