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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Three things I learned while writing "Finding Billy Battles"

During a recent "virtual book tour" with several book bloggers, I was asked what three things I learned while writing Finding Billy Battles. It was a good question because it caused me to stop and think about the fiction-writing process in a way I never had before.

Here are the answers I provided...

 NUMBER ONE:  When I was teaching journalism as a Dean and Professor at the University of Illinois, I learned more from teaching than I ever thought possible. The same goes for writing fiction. I spent most of my professional life as a foreign correspondent for the Chicago Tribune in Asia and Latin America. That work required me to deal with facts, real people, real events and real human emotion. I couldn't make up what I was reporting. I had to stick to the what I saw, what I heard, what people told me, etc.  And I had to do my best to write compelling stories using only those facts. I generally succeeded, but it was often hard work.

When I began writing Finding Billy Battles, I found myself in a strange new world where I could create the facts, the people, the events, the human emotion. At first it was a wonderful sense of freedom--especially for a journalist previously confined to a life of non-fiction. Then I realized that with freedom comes a need for discipline in one's writing. You need to keep the story "real" even as you make it up. In historical fiction, which is what I classify my book as, you need to understand the boundaries of the time and place in which you are writing. Otherwise, you are forcing your readers, many of whom may be more knowledgeable about the time and place in which you have set your story, to suspend their beliefs  beyond what they should.


NUMBER TWO:  So I learned that if I was going to do this correctly, I needed to do the kind of research that would allow me to create accurate representations of people, places, events, as well as the senses that all authors need to engage readers with when writing--smell, sound, sight, touch, and taste. I spent a lot of time trying to get 19th Century Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, etc. right. I worked hard on getting the lingua franca of the time and place right. I used a lot of the colloquial speech I grew up hearing my great-grandparents, my grandparents and my parents use. I incorporated a lot of the idiomatic expressions that were intrinsic to Kansas and the American West of the 19th Century.


NUMBER THREE:  Finally, I learned that writing the book is the least of the job. Once the book is finished you have to get it out to potential readers, reviewers, etc. Marketing your book is quite possibly even more difficult than writing it. I have learned that there is an enormous universe out there of book bloggers, reviewers, book websites like Goodreads, Smashwords, Independent Author Network, Historical Novel Society, Createspace, NetGalley, Story Cartel, Book Daily, Authors Den, iAuthor, etc.

I have spent 85 percent of my time engaging with book bloggers, reviewers and the aforementioned websites and only about 15 percent of my time actually writing. So marketing your finished work is a colossal investment in time--and money. My previous books have been with traditional publishers so I didn't get involved in the marketing process. 

I like the Indie route simply because you have more control over the way the book looks, the content and the various venues for selling it. However, it does take time and if you are not ready to make that kind of investment of time, you need to think twice before going the Indie publishing route. As for me, I plan to continue along the Indie path now that I know the lay of the new publishing landscape.
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