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 I had dabbled in short stories over the years and wrote a pretty mediocre novella in the 90s (unpublished).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

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WeekendCoffee WooHoo

bookofweekIf we were having coffee today it would be all about the contest.  “What contest?”  The weekly Cover Wars contest.  I don’t know why, but I chose not to proselytize here last week when the contest was starting. I don’t know why.  I guess I thought I had a lot of followers from here already and I posted about it outside of weekendcoffeeshare, but I just didn’t feel right about talking “vote for me” here.  Ah, but the week is over and my cover won!

One of the perks of winning:  A CURSE THAT BITES DEEP is the book of the week!

A little background: This competition is hosted by a book marketing site called Author Shout.  They offer a lot of author and book services and when you purchase marketing from them, they promote the heck out of your book on social media.  Every week, they have a free “Cover Wars” competition … they put up a batch (usually 10-15) cover photos and people vote for their favorite.

Sure, I think my novel A Curse That Bites Deep has an awesome cover, but I also know, this is WAR.  I enlisted the aid of my FaceBook friends and tweeted and posted on several mailing list groups I belong to.  The key to this contest is repeat votes … people can vote once every 24 hours.  I was able to gently pester my friends enough every day for seven days to get the win.  I’m always amazed at covers that get less than seven votes.  I mean, even if I was totally not going to win, I’d make sure I got at least seven votes, right?

So please excuse me for tooting my own horn a little this morning.  After all, it IS an awesome cover for an awesome book.

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

Weekend Coffee Research

Public domain image, royalty free stock photo from www.public-domain-image.com

If we were having coffee today I’d have to hurry because I’ve been busy researching and want to get back to it.  Book three in my Traces of Treasure series has been off to a slow start and I am finally making some progress.  I’m pretty much what they call a “pantser” in my writing.  Well, a total pantser just starts writing, as if by the seat of their pants, going wherever the story may take them.  I’m not that hard-core. I have the germ of an idea and I cobbled together a basic outline based on that idea.

But at this stage of the story, early in, I tend to get bogged down in simple details.  I want to set the stage just right, and possibly set up for future action.  Working in the past (the story is set in 1983) is tricky and I am in a somewhat unfamiliar locale.  Limited resources prevent me from traveling there so I use a combination of Google maps & Satellite views and USGS topographic maps to help me.  I’m lucky on the latter because I can get USGS maps from the past.  Most of my action takes place in far West Texas so things don’t change too much.  But they do change, so I rely on the topographic map to keep me in the time frame.

I used to buy the maps for some location work.  Ironically, one of the characters in my first book did the same thing, spreading them out on the floor with a huge magnifying glass and a big lamp.  Now, you can get those same maps in PDF format.  I have to say, zooming the PDF gives one a much better view than any magnifying glass.  Awesome details emerge.

I found something so interesting, I had to write to the actual ranch I identified in the PDF to get some clarification.  I hope they write back.  They should.  It’s a big operation and they have their own web page and had detailed contact information.  It’s a working ranch so I’ll have to be patient.  It is funny where research takes you.  Their web page had a history of their ranch and it was a fascinating look into a place I’d never heard of before.  But it was a typical story too, one small piece of history that helps to fill in an overall sense of time and place.  Really interesting.

It feels really good to be actively writing again.  Getting excited about this story.  I think it is going to rival the other two in suspense and mystery.  I had to take off so long because of my eyes, then got lazy because of that downtime, it’s been tough to start up again.  Today was the first day I felt like I was really back.

 

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina.  Yes, a writer.  And he’s writing.  I promise.  More info: http://thefensk.com

Breaking the Code

img_6284If we were having coffee today, I think I’d have to break into my annual moaning session about marketing.  Yes, the books.  Again.

If you have ever aspired to be an author you really need to be aware of the biggest pitfall: Marketing.  I joked in a facebook writer’s group not long ago … writing a novel is hard.  Editing/revision is even harder.  Marketing kicks me in the …
Well, you get the idea. Now, if you are talented enough or lucky enough to attract the notice of a big publishing house, they do all that for you.  Oh, I imagine even then you have to do quite a bit yourself.  But as an indie author or an author from a smaller publisher, the mantle of marketing responsibility falls on your shoulders.

Marketing is a special skill I am still struggling to learn.  I actually worked in publishing for over twenty years, but it was mostly in IT.  Now I sort of wish I hadn’t treated all those marketing people like lesser beings.  To be fair, we IT hacks generally treat everybody as lesser beings.  Still, now I regret it.  I could use some help.  In an irony of ironies, sure, I could buy help but I really need to sell some books first so I can afford it.

There is another irony at work here too.  Writing.  Most of the type of marketing I am talking about involves writing.  I have published two novels and written three others that are in various stages of revision.  I used to be intimidated by a novel’s length but now I find that hammering out a ninety thousand word novel is not that big a deal.  What’s hard, is a two hundred word book blurb.  Sheesh.

So here I am, on a Saturday, when I am supposed to be chipping away at the third book in my series but I’m struggling to, once again, revise my Amazon book blurbs. Succinct, catchy, to the point.  Sell the book.  It sounds so easy.   There is no shortage of advice on-line, some of it is maddingly contradictory.  Mention names, don’t mention names, ask questions, don’t ask questions.  “Short” is the common suggestion.  Okay.

I first encountered this when I got my original book contract.  I blinked at it for quite a while.  They wanted me to supply the blurb.   Uh, uh, uh … I managed to cobble out something.  It was awful.

One impressive thing about having a book on Amazon is the fact that if you register as the author, you can revise your own book description.  I am on what is probably the fourth major revision of my first novel’s description.  Sure, I use the same one on my web page.  If I think it is good enough, I poll the other vendors like Barnes & Noble to change … but you have to ask.  Same with my publisher’s website.

So this is what I’m doing today … One day I’ll crack the code.  I’ll be able to tell because I’ll maybe start selling some books.
Here are the amazon book links … click read more at the bottom of the description to get the whole thing.

How did I do this time?

The Fever
A Curse That Bites Deep

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina.
More evidence of his lack of marketing skill can be found at http://thefensk.com

Giveaway!

How about a new giveaway for the new year?

I’ve partnered with TomeTender Book Blog to give away a signed copy of both of my novels  … so you have two chances to win
thomas-fenske-banner

Enter the Giveaway

These books follow the story of Sam Milton and are inspired by a Texas legend — you’ll find mystery, romance, danger, and a touch of the supernatural.

… a riddle, an obsession, & a curse …what could possibly go wrong?

More info on the books can be found at www.thefensk.com … there are giveaway links there too.  Don’t forget to reblog!

WeekendCoffeeShare-Update

img_6284If we were having coffee today I’d have to tell you I am very happy to see you.  Last week I talked about my upcoming eye surgery on my cataracts, so I thought I should give you a little update.

It is nothing short of amazing.  And that’s just one eye.  Of course, my right eye was my dominant eye, it always has been, but I’d been depending more and more on my left eye, although I knew it was rapidly deteriorating too.  The doctor suggested I have the right lens removed from my glasses but I actually think I function better without that … since my left eye, even corrected, is pretty bad.

I was just standing on the front porch.  There is a small store across the street from us.  I can close my left eye and see the small, lit “OPEN” sign clearly.  If I cover my right eye, I CAN’T EVEN SEE THE SIGN.   That’s uncorrected.  I can see that there is a store there, as I can with most other big things.  It is like looking through smoke and haze.  Understand, this eye is about 50% better than my right eye had become.

I had become pretty used to my deteriorated vision.  I was still driving up to two weeks ago, depending on the weather and the light conditions and how my eyes seemed to be functioning at the time — some days I could see better than on other days.  Since the surgery, my wife had been reluctant to let me drive again, but I told her, really, I can see so much better than I could even see two or three months ago.

The new situation is not without its adjustments and pitfalls.  I still have what they call “floaters” … including one I was calling a dragon’s claw, shifting back and forth just out of my central vision, a bit like a hair on an old projector lens at the movies.  It has diminished over the last several days, now more like a spider or fly, dancing around.  The doctor said it is not uncommon and should likely fade over the next couple of weeks.  The nature of my eyes precluded a complete adjustment … although the eye tested at 20/20 for distance, I still need enhancement to read.  Although this seems a minor adjustment, it is actually more than I anticipated.  I’ve worn progressive lenses for almost 20 years … basically trifocals without lines.  I used to joke they were like being young again.  Now, I don’t need glasses for distance but have to relearn what I used to do years ago before the progressives and keep reading glasses handy.  I haven’t had to do that in a while and it is different now with things like tablets and smart phones.  I’ll know more when I have the other eye complete.

But considering I struggled to even see the screen to type last week’s dispatch, I can see the screen clearly now with minimal strength reading glasses, although I think I’ll need to take it easy because even now I can detect eye strain as my left eye struggles to help. Not complaining, mind you, as I know this is temporary.

Eye two scheduled for early December.

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in NC.  Find out about his novels The Fever, and A Curse That Bites Deep at http://thefensk.com
He really needs some sales to help pay for all these related medical expenses!

WeekendCoffeeShare-Giveaway

 

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obligatory ghost-cat picture for halloween

If we were having coffee today, I’d suggest you enter my Halloween Giveaway.

“Giveaway?”

Well, I’d explain, I just finished yet another lackluster Amazon giveaway.  They are easy to set up, Amazon handles it all, but I’ve had mixed results with them.  Sure, I’ve picked up twitter followers with some, have had a lot of entrants, but none of them have attracted as much attention as I’d hoped.

The way the Amazon giveaways work is that you buy the prizes up front and they take it from there.  It’s a lazy-man’s giveaway.

“Oh, a perfect fit for you,” you might say .

Right.  I had an extra copy left over … from the last giveaway.  They give you the option of running another giveaway or getting a gift code for that copy.  So, I decided this time, to get the gift code.

And here we are.  I have this gift code for a kindle copy of my latest novel, A CURSE THAT BITES DEEP.

Here’s the deal … either comment here or leave a comment on my web page.  I’ll take the names and throw them into a hat and pull one out and if you win, I’ll send you the gift code.  Not as easy as Amazon … and maybe more depressing.  But here we are …

Either comment here on the blog or on my web page (blog or web page comments only) indicate that you are interested in this Halloween giveaway … I’ll draw from the entries early on November 1.  I’ll announce the winner on the blog.

WebPage comments:– just click >>. HERE
Or comment below.

Feel free to reblog or share.

Thomas Fenske is a North Carolina writer.  His latest novel is A CURSE THAT BITES DEEP

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Weekendcoffeeshare-Video Tales

 

img_6284If we were having coffee I’m sure I’d eventually end up talking about the video.  “Video?  I thought you were a writer,” you might ask.

Then I’d explain that there is a lot of business to being a writer and videos are one of the newer things.   “Oh, you mean like movie rights?” You might ask innocently.

No, not movie rights, that’s another thing entirely.  Getting started in this business requires a lot of outside work that does not include writing.  Some of it does, though, like this blog.  Having a blog is part of a writer’s business, and thankfully, it includes writing.

I think every writer goes through this.  One tends to see the dream of being published with a limited vision, like looking at the world through a paper towel tube.  The concentration is on words and revision and editing.  Once the contract is signed there is a new harsh reality to actually having a book published:  you have to help market the danged thing.  There is a LOT of competition from other writers, especially in the world of independent writers.  A new author must master a number of different new skills, like blogging and tweeting to get the word out.  Website design is another skill.  Of course, if a writer has deep pockets, they can pay someone to do these things for them.  The idea is to get yourself noticed ahead of all the others.  Sadly, you are just one of many.

“But what about the video?” you’d ask, thankfully getting me back on track.

Video trailers are one of the latest things.  I paid for my first one, one for my first book.  I was really late in the game for that one.  It’s not bad, a little funky.  It was cheap.  You get what you pay for.  I was going to pay the same people for a new one.  I had an idea and thought I’d work up something to more explain my idea.  Decided to use Power Point to see if I could work out my idea.  I’d never used it before.  I’m fairly technical but I had never really had a reason to use it.  Microsoft bundles it in with Office … so it was there.

It didn’t take too long for me to realize that I could actually use this.  A book trailer is generally text based, so why not?  What I wanted to do required specific timing … visual effects that were timed with a specific musical score.  This presentation software had functions that facilitated that.  It took some time, especially to fine tune the timings, but I managed to work it out.  Then I found out it would even export a video file.  That’s a little funky, and it messed up the timing a little but I anticipated some of the blips and re-edited and managed to work through them.  I’m sure I could use some other video tools but I already had this and gave it a shot.

Is it perfect?  Naw.  Is it okay?  I think so.  It introduces the story and builds suspense and introduces the mystery.  The music is raw and edgy but I think it fits the video nicely.  Check it out here … tell me what you think.

https://youtu.be/DZu48lyY-Tc

Note: replaced link with newer version. 

Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina.  His latest novel, A Curse That Bites Deep will be published October 1 — presales of ebooks are available now.  More info at http://thefensk.com

Judgement day

WeekendCoffeeShare…How are YOU?

Public domain image, royalty free stock photo from www.public-domain-image.comIf we were having coffee today, since I don’t have much to talk about I think I’d just listen.
Well, I do, but these little sessions all seem to be just about me so for once I would just shut the heck up and let you take the lead.
I’d want to hear about your woes and your joys and your concerns and your observations. I’d laugh at your jokes, and express sympathy for your sorrows.
No matter what craziness you seemed to have going on in your life, I’d nod and commiserate.  I’d do my best to bite my tongue and not tell you how much worse my situation(s) have been.
We would hug or shake hands and part and you might feel just a bit better about getting it all off your chest for a change.
I’d still be carrying my burdens, but they’ll keep for another week, don’t you think?
Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina.
His latest novel, A Curse That Bites Deep, will be published  October 1 … and the eBooks are currently available for a 25% pre-release disccount … Links and other information are available at  www.thefensk.com

Violating My Own Rule

If we were having coffee today I’d apologize for violating my own rule.

You can see it right on my blog … where I mention that I’ll talk about a lot of things, but not shoes.

But today, I’m sorry, I gotta talk about the shoes!

Our daughter is getting married in a couple of months and my lovely wife  is beside herself with preparations. The happy couple are both dancers and the bride expressed some interest in somehow incorporating her immense back stock of old, dirty, used, pointe shoes as part of the table decoration.

If you didn’t know, ballet dancers save these shoes the way sports stars save memorabilia from their playing days.  Pointe shoes are expensive and dancers grind these things into the floor, day after day, supporting their entire weight on one set of toes then the other, until … finally,  the shoes, as they say, are dead, and they get tossed on the pile with the soiled, frayed, and spent remnants of their sister shoes.

I have often been proud of my wife’s skill at crafts but I must say she has outdone herself this time … enacting a most remarkable transformation on these pointe shoes.  I was absolutely  gobsmacked when I saw the first one and they keep getting better and better.  They will ultimately be  displayed upright in a vase as part of the centerpiece for each table at the reception.
I guess you would say in taxidermic terms … in a more natural state

What do you think?

Thomas Fenske is the author of The Fever and the upcoming release of A Curse That Bites Deep.
Download The Fever for FREE all July … Details http://thefensk.com
Or even better, buy it and the other book when it comes out. He has a wedding to pay for…