Writer's Notes

It Takes a Village


By Thonie Hevron

You’ve all heard the African proverb (a cliché these days), “It takes a village to…” fill in your blank. My answer is “write a book.” Writers are solitary creatures—shy by nature. But if you think a writer completes their work alone, let me educate you.

Granted, most of the hard work is done solo. Charlotte Bronte hardly had a critique group to whip her text into shape. While “taking a village” may be a stretch, the support systems we have now weren’t around in their day. I refer to critique groups, beta readers, editors, and experts.

Here are a few words on my support systems:

  • I owe my growth as a writer to the members (current and past) of my critique group. They’re honest enough to say, “This just doesn’t work,” and tell me why. If I want compliments, I’d ask my mother. If I want the truth (and constructive suggestions), I ask my critique partners. To be clear, I’ve written these pages in solitude. But their review and input are part of the process. Their criticism can only improve my work—and it has.
  • Another writer notion is that writers prefer aloneness. We do. I cannot deny it. But having a group of people behind you, cheerleading, challenging, and empathetic, soothes the ouch of an agent’s rejection letter. When I joined Redwood Writers (RW—a branch of the California Writers Club) in 2006, I had two books completed and I needed to figure the next step. Between monthly speakers and workshops, I realized I had more work to do before the manuscripts were polished enough to submit to a literary professional. Through the club, I found my critique group, mentors, learned how to set and achieve goals, and many other lessons. I learned the value of networking. As my genre is mystery/thriller/police procedurals, I joined the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA). I applied RW lessons here. This group was comprised of active and retired law enforcement, fire, emergency medical, and military personnel. Several publishers also belong. It was through PSWA that I found my publisher.
  • While I could write a post on each of these support systems (I think I will!), here I need to stress how important it is to put another pair of eyes on my work. I wouldn’t think of letting an agent look at a manuscript without review from two or three Beta Readers (readers who check for general critiques-flow, plotting, etc.).
  • An editor is critical. A submission should be as error-free as possible. More on that later, too.
  • I can’t live without my “experts.” I had my third novel almost half done when I found Mike Brown, a retired lieutenant from Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office. I’d worked with Mike years before and re-connected on Facebook. After he looked at my outline, he said, “It couldn’t happen like that.” Sheesh. As I market heavily to law enforcement, I knew my story had to be authentic. Back to the drawing board. The result was, “With Malice Aforethought.” Yet to be published, it won PSWA’s Writers Contest second place award in the 2016 unpublished novel category.

All this before the book is even published! In the weeks that follow, two of my esteemed colleagues will present their ideas on the same topic. Be sure to check in every Friday, or better yet, subscribe to my blog post, Just the Facts, Ma’am.




Writer's Notes

Another take on ebooks vs print books

Another stellar Redwood Writers’ meeting! The speaker was Peter Beren of the Peter Beren Agency. Beren is a Literary Agent and Publishing Consultant who came to our chapter armed with solid information about the future of publishing. He proposes a different scenario: e-publishing will support, not eliminate printed media. He predicts this will evolve in the next five years. Amazon’s sales of “singles” or novella-length stories have been hugely popular and seem to be indicators of changing markets. There is talk of “bundling” which include purchase of an eBook bundled with a print book-the theory being that one can read their eBook during their commute to work but read the paper copy in bed. He expects “how-to” books to be enhanced with video.
The majority of eBooks are mass market paperback-types. 26% is fiction, 17% is YA, 29% is sci-fi with juvenile bringing in the least—only 7%. Parents are reluctant to grab eBooks for their kids as they want them to experience color, print copy like they did as children.
Beren said both Simon and Schuster and Penguin e-published their backlists which accounted for an 11% profit in that media for S&S last year.
For authors, there is still the traditional means (time consuming, limited author control and lengthy process), self-publishing (pricey if you want to do it right), and epublishing. In all three methods, authors will still have to work like hell: promotion and platform. Discoverability remains the biggest issue. EBook authors who want to attract a brick and mortar publisher generally need to sell over 5000 units (books). Most eBooks top out at 1000-2000 units.
How do people discover books? 50% is word of mouth, 35% is store experience or employee tip. Reviews and social networking comprise the balance.
In the meantime, I have a book to publish. On to the agent queries, contest entries, and research into epublishing!

Writer's Notes


When I was a teenager, I was like everyone else: I thought I’d live forever and never get old.
Since I retired last June, I’ve had ample time to consider my projects and the attendant timelines. My most important task is to finish the novel into which I have invested so much time and energy. The book has a working title—Probable Cause—and is now complete. I say complete because it’s been written, revised and re-written, edited and revised. Within the next few days, I plan on sending it off to a fiction contest sponsored by the Public Safety Writers’ Association. I hope that placing in the contest will make my manuscript more marketable.
But here’s the thing: How much time will I allot for the traditional route of publishing? It is a cumbersome process—finding an agent who will represent you, re-working the book then waiting while the agent finds a publisher. Tick-tock, my literary clock is counting down. I don’t have time to waste.
At lunch last week with my friend and critique partner, Billie, we talked about the attraction of e-publishing. Low overhead, no agent, no real publisher, the book sells at a lower cost but still puts more percentage of profit into the author’s pocket. Also, we discussed how we need to push forward with our works to be published in whatever form we decide will work for us most expeditiously.
Redwood Writers next meeting is on March 11th and will feature Peter Beren, formerly publisher of Sierra Club Books, V.P. for Publishing at Palace Press International and Publisher of VIA Books, a division of the California State Auto Association. Beren is now a Literary Agent specializing in nonfiction with an emphasis on illustrated books.
Is this the Golden Age of self-publishing? Will self-publishers supplant traditional publishing and become the new mainstream? Is the rise of e-books simply giving traditional publishers a second wind? Beren, a 30-year veteran of the industry, will share his views and expertise on the subject, and offer guidance through the tangled terrain.
I can’t wait. I need some answers and soon!

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