Two Years On …

 It has now been just over two years since I became a published author. This was something I aspired to for a long time. I’m proud of my accomplishment and am working on a third book in this little series that has come to be called Traces of Treasure. Will there be a fourth book? Who knows? At the time I wrote THE FEVER I hadn’t even dreamed of a second book.

It wasn’t an easy goal to achieve. I had dabbled in short stories over the years and wrote a pretty mediocre novella in the 90s (unpublished). On my way to my English and History degrees, I had taken quite a bit of creative writing. At first it was an attempt at a “blow off” course but it wasn’t. Sure there weren’t tests, especially no final, but you had to produce and you had to read. And you had to develop a thick skin because your work went on display to the entire class and everything you wrote went under the microscope of peer review. Believe me, in some respects I preferred tests. Oh, and you had to participate so that meant you had to read everybody else’s stories. If you didn’t write and/or didn’t participate in class, you didn’t get a good grade. 

A lot of people are drawn to short stories. I was. The prospect of writing a novel is daunting. They’re long and drawn out and detailed and involved. Short stories are, well, uh, um, how can I put this? They’re short. They have to be easier, right? 

Allow me to burst your bubble. A good short story is much harder to write than a novel. I mean, to pull it off as a literary work of art. In a novel you can take your time to develop a story, to draw your reader in. To explain things. The aspects of beginning, middle, and end can be fully explored

Understand this: a really good short story is very hard to pull off. Sure, anybody can string a bunch of words together and tell some kind of story. It might even be entertaining. Most are at the high end of mediocre at best. And even if you do manage to pull it off, the financial prospects are minimal at best. There I said it. Financial prospects … and having said it I’ll let you in on a little secret. I shouldn’t disallow short story writing based on financial prospects because the financial prospects of being fabulously successful as any kind of author are pretty dim. 

In the long run, we write because we want to write, the same way an artist sketches or a wood worker sands with the grain for long hours to draw out the soul of a piece of timber.

Then there is the fact that being a writer involves a bit more than stringing words together. Sure some people can do it the first time through. Many more think they can. But there is another level of work that is required to produce a viable written work. I can’t speak for now, but creative writing classes when I was in college didn’t address any of the nuts and bolts aspects of being a writer. For one thing, revision. Of course a novel takes a lot of revision. As I said, we wrote short stories back then. Revision is one advantage to short stories. They’re shorter. Revision on a novel is hard. I spent three years on THE FEVER start to finish. That is entirely due to the fact that in the beginning I didn’t really understand how to effectively revise, how to edit myself, in short, how to actually craft the novel.

Oh, I knew the basics of what I needed to do, technically anyway. I had a foundation laid down, but there is an artistry to sit down and actually build something on top of that foundation of words. I changed the ending three times. I changed the beginning four times. Each time I thought it was better, and maybe it was, but as I read through it I would find myself dissatisfied. My first three revisions were pretty much a waste of time, useful only as a starter course in novel revision. 

I did hit upon a technique that has served me well since then. AT first I would run through a revision cycle, then pause and regroup my brain a little, and read through the novel start to finish. I noticed that the quality eventually improved through the work and I reasoned that in my revision cycle I was getting better and more insightful as I found my groove. So in the fourth revision, as I reached the end of the book, I went back around and attacked the beginning AGAIN, while I was hot. Eventually, I just began to swing around again and to start again. My revisions were more productive after that.

I did decide to take a short break later, after revision seven. I was burned out. So what did I do? November was coming up … and that meant NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month (where one endeavors to write a 50,000 word rough draft in 30 days). I took a month off, not from writing, but from THE FEVER. I wrote another novel. I still have that one, waiting to be revised. Then I started right back on revision eight of THE FEVER.

About other novels: I wrote two others before THE FEVER. All three are good stories but they need to be revised and crafted. All five, including THE FEVER and A CURSE THAT BITES DEEP were NaNoWriMo projects. 

A testament to my learning curve from the first novel revision is the fact that I only spent six months revising A CURSE THAT BITES DEEP. 

So, here I am, two years on, with two novels in publication, plus a whimsical promotional cookbook that I spent a lot more time on than I ever thought I would, and I am working on a third book in the series (but working on that one outside of NaNoWriMo.) This one has been slower going, but that is due to the breaks. One long one because of eye surgery then, just as I was starting to roll I got the idea for that cookbook. It was fun, and it also taught me the rudiments of self-publishing. I hoped it would help draw attention to the novels and increase sales. THAT is still a work in progress. 

See, that is the other aspect of being a writer they didn’t teach me in school: marketing. Even the lucky few who get picked up by a major traditional publisher have to deal with it; although those publishers do a lot of the marketing, you still have expend a bit of effort to market yourself. With small publishers, or in self-publishing, the lion’s share of the marketing responsibility falls on the author. At just about this exact time two years ago, that reality started to dawn on me. “Okay, I’m HERE … Now What?” 

I had no web page, no blog, no Twitter presence, no “book” or “author” page on Facebook, no Instagram account or Pinterest presence. I hadn’t even thought about any of these things. What did I do? I googled “book marketing” and I scrambled to get things in place. As part of my pre-publication work I was presented with the opportunity to provide blubs and key words … huh? I cobbled something together. Remember what I said about short stories? You want to work literary wonders of high art? Learn to write effective 200 word book blurbs. A 95,000 word novel is child’s play compared to that. I’m still learning. Feel free to peruse my blurbs on Amazon and give me pointers. 

There is always work to do: I don’t post to this blog enough. I depend a lot on Facebook and Twitter. Sales are still lackluster and sales of my second published book lag far behind the first, which surprises me because I think it is really a much better book. Although a sequel, I feel I did a good job of making it stand on its own. If I had anything to do over, I would have asked the publisher to de-emphasize the “book 2” on the cover. I think it causes people to hesitate. You need that gut level … THIS LOOKS INTERESTING … you don’t want them to hesitate and wonder “what about book 1?” I remember the time I was looking for something to watch on Netflix and saw the series “EARTH 2” and started searching for “EARTH 1” …. Then realized, oh, we live on Earth 1. Anyway, I’m telling you now … you don’t have to read the first book. Sure, it helps … it’s a great story too, but you can read “Curse” all by itself and not be lost at all. 

Heck, even The Mossback Café Cookbook helps for both books. And it’s free! Mostly. Still trying to get Amazon to price match. 

So, two years on and I find that my status as a novelist is firm … and I’m making just enough money to keep working full-time at my day job, er, probably forever.

I will say this, I have a core of very enthusiastic fans for which I am very thankful. Through them I have found that once people read the books, they really enjoy them. Even my editor kicked back one scene in “Curse” then recanted because she realized she got too invested in the characters. I thought at the time, “my editor got invested in my characters … that can’t be a bad thing.”

So check them out. Don’t forget, I’m Author of the Month at authorshout.com


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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina … for information about all his books go to http://thefensk.com

Weekend Coffee Celebration

img_6284If we were having coffee today I’d mention my celebratory mood.  Yesterday was the second anniversary of the publication of my first novel, The Fever … but yesterday I was also announced as “Author Of The Month” at a bookish website called AuthorShout.

About two weeks ago both of my books were announced as short-list finalists for Book of the Year at ReadersGoSocial too.  Sadly I did not make the cut but at least I placed.  Or would that be a “show” in horse betting?

Of course, this has all had a minimal effect on sales.  But we indie authors just keep plugging away.  We have to.  We have these stories clogging our brains that just have to find their way out.  At least I do.

My constant joke is that I make just enough money writing to keep working at my regular job full-time.  But the bills still have to be paid.  Stuff breaks. The Water Heater for instance … just sustained a huge unbudgeted financial hit from that.  It never ends, does it?  I really need to sell some books.

Anyway, the Author of the Month thing is really cool.  Check me out at AuthorShout!

authorshout

Be sure to have a happy and safe Fourth of July!

By the way, can you pick up the tab today?

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina.  Help him celebrate!  Buy his books. He really needs the money.  Heck, he’ll even like it if you “buy” the free one at this point (that’s the cookbook, free everywhere but Amazon).   Go check them out:  http://thefensk.com

 

The Mossback … another look

This is just another fine-tuning of my Amazon blurb … I think it’s getting there.

cover-lg2a“The Mossback” made it’s first appearance in the pages of Thomas Fenske’s debut novel, THE FEVER, when owner Smidgeon Toll delivered a massive serving of Huevos Rancheros Especial to Sam, that book’s hero, and proudly exclaimed:

“There, what do you think of that?”

The description of gooey, spicy, goodness that followed spurred several readers to ask the author, “Is that a real dish?”   Now you can see for yourself!

Fiction has become kitchen.

Smidgeon will entertain you with her quirky, homespun wisdom as she shares a mini-history of the cafe along with some insight into what helps to make The Mossback a unique and delightful locale in the world of fictional eateries.

Along the way you’ll learn how to make her awesome square biscuits.  She also reveals details about the full-sized heap of bacon they serve on “THAT BLT, ” and introduces readers to other local favorites like the “Double Trouble Dog” and what has to be the “Best-Danged Buttermilk Pie” you’ve ever tasted.  As an added bonus, she has agreed to share her famous Potato Salad Secret, something surprising and simple that will take even the best potato salad recipe and crank it up a notch, maybe two!

Simply put, these are all part of what would have made The Mossback Cafe famous, well, if it actually existed.

So hop out of your pickup truck and mosey on in … there just might be some breakfast tacos or enchiladas lurking in your future.

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The Mossback Cafe Cookbook is still mostly FREE … check out my website for the free venues as well as the link to Amazon where it is 99 cents.  Feel free to share one of the other sites to them using the report a lower price option.  Or if you insist, buy it but be aware that there is a kindle version available at the Smashwords link.
While you’re there, feel free to browse my other books … summer is a great time to Catch THE FEVER!

WeekendCoffeeShare

img_6284If we were having coffee today, I’d be brimming with news.  I know it’s starting to sound like a broken record but most of it is about the cookbook.  It is what’s happening this week.  At long last the book has finally completed it’s initial rollout.

For almost a month it has been available on Smashwords, but at long last it is on Barnes & Noble, iBooks, and Kobo.  There is a process on Smashwords that verifies the format … they came back with some formatting tweaks I needed to make before it could roll out to everything else.  Now that it has been tweaked, the rollout is complete.  All the links to the various venues can be found on my web page.

The last piece of the puzzle, Amazon, is in place, but there are a few kinks.  For one, although it is free on Smashwords, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo, I can’t offer it for free on Amazon, at least initially.  So it sort of a Firesign Theatre thing … “Free, Only a Dollar.”  Or ninety-nine cents to be more precise.  It should be up on Amazon for a few days.  In theory,  once Amazon notices it is free in other venues, they will price match.  We’ll see.  If you want, I think you can “report” a lower price, like on Barnes and Noble, and that should help spur them to action.

Anyway, that is what’s going on.

bookofweekIn other news, as reported last week, the cover of my second novel, A Curse That Bites Deep, won a contest last week, AuthorShout.com‘s Cover-Wars.  My stint as “book of the week” has given me a slight boost in web page views.  Today is the end … it’s been a nice run.

Have a happy Easter Weekend.

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina.  More info on his books can be found at http://thefensk.com

Please help a fellow out …

What? Three posts this week?  Well, things are happening.  Like this little ditty:

My latest novel, A CURSE THAT BITES DEEP is currently in a cover competition.  I need your vote!  Yeah, it’s a beauty pageant of sorts … or a popularity contest.  I’m beating the bushes trying to get some votes.  You can vote once a day.  I’m really proud of this cover.  I won this competition a while back for my first novel, and I want to repeat that success.  So I need your help.

It’s on a marketing site (Author Shout) that hosts this competition every week.  All you have to do is cast your vote (hopefully) for A Curse That Bites Deep.

Here’s the link:  http://authorshout.com/cover-wars

You can vote once a day.  Please do!!

Thanks!

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Thomas Fenske is a writer currently living in North Carolina.  Information on his books can be found at http://thefensk.com