My editor for Teddy’s War, my new novel about World War II, returned her edited version of my manuscript on Tuesday. Yea! She and I then talked (on the phone; stay-at-home rules plus our usual coffee shop meeting place is closed) for 3 hours on Tuesday afternoon, 5 hours on Wednesday, and an hour on Thursday morning, working through a list of questions that she had written down regarding specific words, sentences or paragraphs in the text. She also had some questions about the story itself, usually regarding how much a reader was going to understand or appreciate the information I was using.
Here's a survey: if I use the terms in the context of World War II, how many of you know what a grease gun is? What a deuce-and-a-half is? Who Sad Sack was? Who Willie and Joe were? Can I use those terms without explaining what they mean or who they reference?
When we were done, she created a pdf of the file and taught me how to use the “notes” feature in the pdf reader to indicate changes that I would like to see. Following this, I launched a marathon editing session of my own that eventually involved almost 25 hours over the next three days of my going word-by-word through the text, making changes for correctness, conciseness, smoothness, and completeness. I made three passes through everything, including one pass where I went backwards through the chapters.
I finished with about 100 changes to be made, which, using the “notes” feature, will take my editor less than an hour to put into her Word file. I deleted more words, phrases, and sentences than I added. In my mind, at least, the resulting manuscript will be near perfect in both content and structure. I am very happy with the effort that she put into it, her final result, and my final result. The book reads much better than what I had initially written. It is a helluva story.
The next step is the publisher transferring the final Word file into Quark, which is publishing software; reformat the text for appearance, including page size, text size, font type, pagination, page numbers, and special features (like italics, underlining, different margins); add in the front pieces – title page, copyright page, blank pages; and then put the cover on it, including the front page with title and author, and the back page, with the text, bar code, and pricing.
The next time I see the book, which may be a month or two, I will be able to hold it in my hand. That will be the “proof” of the novel and I will review it for any printing errors. I’ll return it to the publisher and he will incorporate it into his final publishing file and give it to the printer. He’ll then notify the distributor that it’s ready to sell.
The editor and publisher have asked that the book include two special, back-of-the-book features: an interview with the author (me!) about writing the novel and a list of questions that can be used for book clubs. This is exciting to me because it sounds like they consider my book worthy of the features and also that there will be an audience who will appreciate the features. I will work with my editor to create these.
The bad news for the month was the publishing schedule. The initial projection was that the book would be available on Amazon on November 1st. Whoa! This year is the 75th Anniversary of the end of the war in Europe (VE Day), the liberation of all the concentration camps, the end of the war in the Pacific (VJ Day), the Trinity Test, the dropping of the bombs, the Nuremburg Trials, the return of the soldiers, and a slew of other dates that celebrate the end of the war. Waiting until this year is over to publish a WWII-centered book seems like a disadvantage to me.
Ignoring the fact that COVID-19 may prevent many of the activities, I was expecting the book to be published by early summer so I could take advantage of the many military veteran activities, newspaper articles, magazine stories, and media reports that would occur. I don’t honestly expect to participate in these things, but I wanted to identify the people (especially the military) who were talking, hosting, or were heads of the organizations involved, and get them a copy of the book. I’m hoping that they will then talk about it to others who would be interested.
I wanted printed books to give them, not a sheet telling about a book that wouldn’t be available for several months.
The problem, by the way, is not the publisher or the printer, but the distributor. The book distributor is an organization that front-ends the publishers to the sellers. Amazon and Barnes&Noble, for example, don’t buy books from the publisher, but from the publisher’s distributor. Distributors work on their own schedules that define when books are released to the sellers.
I expressed my concerns with my publisher, who negotiated with the distributor, and the publisher has decided to print the book by sometime in July and have it available for preview, give-away, and selling-by-hand before the books become available from seller outlets on September 1st. That’s three months earlier and I can live with that. Given COVID-19 slowing down businesses everywhere, no one will be surprised.
The problem with my living in a “socially distant” society is that my creativity goes to zero. I’m not sure if it’s directly related to being forced to be “socially distant” because I’ve always been relatively that way, but being forced to stay away from people and places (especially places to eat) is feeling vastly different from it being a simple choice on my part.
Being isolated is not the same as feeling isolated. I rely on seeing life to write stories about it and if I’m prevented from seeing (touching, talking, hugging, listening, sharing), it’s as if I’m waiting for someone to restore my password or something. Just waiting. Not working, not thinking, not feeling like I’m on a vacation, not using the time to dream – just waiting. It’s not freedom or extra time off. It’s like being constantly reminded that I’m boring.
The Tucson Festival of Books was canceled so verbally selling my books at large gatherings remains to be tested. My regular meetings of the New Mexico Book Association have been canceled. The New Mexico Book Co-op meetings have been suspended. My regular writers’ group in Albuquerque is also on hold.
The community of writers that I like being part of is trying to convince itself that we can still socialize and support each other without physically being around each other. I don’t think it’s going to work. Even if you don’t overtly visit with individuals, there is a connectedness that develops when you’re surrounded by a group of people with similar interests. I don’t think having an “electronic closeness” will satisfy us.
There have been some positive things happening.
My novel editor, whose regular job is being a high school teacher, is at home for a while (NM schools are closed for three weeks). I’m expecting her edit of Teddy’s War may be completed by the end of next week, so I’ll be getting back to it. A preliminary book cover has been developed and I think it looks great. Wait until you see the historical photograph that was used.
I’m working on the tenth Mogi Franklin mystery, called The Death Train. It features the Castaneda Hotel in Las Vegas, New Mexico, with a bank robbery and murder happening in 1942. The plot is tied up with the troop trains that were used during World War II to move soldiers around the country. I wrote it two years ago but was not satisfied with the plot and put it on the shelf. I’m now rewriting it for publication sometime this year. I’m not sure what to change to make it on the par with the other mysteries, but I’m working on it.
I am continuing to read books about the Santa Fe Trail and have made the commitment to drive the trail in the fall. It should be a lot of fun. I’ll take two or three weeks to hit all the good spots and I’m planning on using a small RV to make the drive, rather than staying in hotels and buying every meal. I’ll keep a daily journal and will self-publish a cheap travelogue about the trip that will guide other travelers. Next year is the 200th anniversary of the beginning of the Santa Fe Trail and there should be a heightened interest for learning about it.
I’m going to the yearly Tucson Festival of the Book next week, held at the University of Arizona. It’s the third biggest book festival in the United States. I’ve not attended before and it’s not clear how or how long I will be involved. Saturday and Sunday will have talks, classes, presentations, interviews, round table discussions, and panels, plus a large venue where individual guests, writers, authors, publishers, sellers, distributors, librarians, bookstore owners, representatives from big box stores and other organizations can visit with authors, writers, and publishers, and buy books.
My role is to be at a table full of books for sale, amongst which will be three of my own – The Lost Children, The Lady in White, and Outlaw. Each serves as an example of the Mogi Franklin Mystery Series. The table is hosted by New Mexico Book Association officials and will feature books written by the members of the NMBA in Santa Fe. I am a member and I have volunteered to be at the table and talk with people who stop to peruse the books.
I’m betting that shaking hands will be discouraged; I will have to remember to take disinfecting hand wipes.
I will have five copies of each Mogi Mystery at the table, with more copies in the trunk of my car. I can sell each copy (NMBA handles the money) but I prefer to use them to illustrate the form, function, plots, characters, and types of stories used in the series, and then give away lists of all nine Mogi books, with addresses of the distributor and publisher.
I expect to not sell a single copy of any of my books, and expect that no one will be interested in ordering them. Not that the Festival is a worthless trip, but I have been to other venues for selling my books and most of the buyers that I meet, other than random individuals, will be accustomed to buying books recommended to them by national organizations like the American Library Association; the six major publishers (Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin USA, and Simon & Schuster); bookstores like Barnes& Noble; or follow recommendations from best book lists (like the New York Times Best Seller list), Goodreads, BookBub, Amazon, and the million book bloggers and/or book reviewers who put out suggestions.
In short, an individual author with a hang dog expression, standing next to a table of typically unremarkable books, holding a never-heard-of book in his hands, doesn’t stand a chance.
Unless the prospective buyers actually stop and talk.
My writing books, as well as other authors and publishers, tell me that personal contact is everything when you’re selling books. Not blogs, not websites, not fancy brochures, not business cards, not bookmarks, and not even the cover or the blurb on the back of the book, is as effective as an author personally telling someone about their book. That’s why I will develop and rehearse a short (under a minute) paragraph about my books – what makes them different from other middle grade mysteries, why they are good to read, and why middle grade students will enjoy them. I’ll also prepare a short paragraph about myself – how I got started, why I write for middle grade students, and what I like most about the series. After that, the buyers typically ask questions.
I’m not, and never have been, Mr. Warmth when it comes to talking casually with strangers, but I will answer honestly and directly, and then, hopefully, ask questions of my own – where the buyers are from, what kinds of books they are interested in, who their audience is, how they like to buy their books, and how successful they have been in the past with picking the right books. If I can make to that level, then my speaking to others will go okay.
And, to be honest, selling my books isn’t really why I’m going to the Festival, anyway. I’m going because I’m a writer and an author and I like to be around other writers and authors, and because I like to be around books and the book business. I like the excitement of people who have created books; I like their stories of how they did it; and I like being reminded that I’m a member of a community of people who write.
Don Willerton has been a reader all his life and yearns to write words like the authors he has read. He's working hard at it and invites others to share their experiences.