Persistence – Look that up in the dictionary and it will say : see Virginia Pye!

When I decided to write a novel, I had no idea what kind of time I would have to dedicate to doing so. But I trudged on. At first, I wrote like hell. It was something new..exciting. And then my writing slowed down. I wasn’t sure if I had what it would take. Fortunately, my wife kept telling me that I could do it. She had read the portions that I had finished and thought it was good. But she is my wife. She’s prejudice. Anyway, I did continue and as I accumulated more and more words, I found myself on a roll. Chapter after chapter, until finally, I had written a novel. I persisted! “Tip of the Iceberg” was born. And it only took me five months. Being a ‘newbie’, I thought this was pretty good. I had no idea…

As many of my new readers have found out, I recently joined a writer’s group. I know…it’s kinda like closing the barn door after the horse has gone out.

Why? Because I joined the writer’s group after I wrote my novel. (But that’s another story for another time.)

The writer’s group that I joined is called James River Writers. It’s a fantastic group! They help all kinds of writers, both professional and aspiring, and build a community that brings writers and readers together to share everyone’s experiences. The group was formed in 2002. Among the board members is a lady by the name of Virginia Pye. She is a multi-faceted person who has a resume that is eye-catching. Not only is she on the Advisory Board for JWR, she served as chairperson for three terms. Her Masters in Fine Arts degree lead her to teach writing at the University of Pennsylvania and New York University. Now, someone of this calibur, you would expect to have written many things herself. And she did. Her award-winning short stories have appeared in literary magazines such as The North American Review, Failbetter, The Baltimore Review and Tampa Review. Her acalades go on and on. But that is not why I am writing today.

Every month, JWR has what they call the Writing Show. It is attended by all genres of writers, and readers, to learn the craft from the best. The most recent meeting was entitled “The Gritty Truth About Editing”. The meeting is lead by a panel of guest speakers from all across the literary world. And, yes, you guessed it, one of the panelists was Virginia Pye. As the title suggests, Virginia was there to talk about the process of editing your manuscript. Along side of Virginia, was the person who helped her through the editing process of her debut novel, Nancy Zafris. On the other side, was the moderator of the show, and a college classmate of Virginia, Patty Smith.

These three ladies did an excellent job of discussing the editing process from how long a book should be, to what time span it should cover, how to setup a plot and follow it, and the complete storyline. But, again, I digress.

The novel that the group used for discussion of the editing process, was Virginia’s debut novel, “River of Dust“. It was published on May 14th, 2013 by Unbridled Books. It is also the Next Indie Pick for the month on May, 2013. Great accomplishment, Virginia! But it didn’t come easy. Virginia worked on the manuscript for a couple of years. It covered three generations, starting with a husband and wife missionary family in China, in 1901, and continued for one hundred years to the War in Vietnam. It was an incredible story, but it just wasn’t doing it for Virginia. Enter, Nancy Zafris. Between the two of them, they took Virginia’s story from three generationss, one hundred years, to one generation and one year. The unbelievable part…Virginia rewrote the whole manuscript…in just 23 days!

Hey, Dave! The title of this blog is Persistence!

Yes, you’re right. You could say that Virginia persisted and finally got River of Dust to print. Great! Her debut novel is being read by hundreds, no, make that thousands, of readers. But here is the Persistence part of my story. River of Dust was NOT her first book. In the past twenty five or so years, Virginia has written five other manuscripts, but never got any published. Now, that’s what I call persistence. To spend that much time writing manuscripts and never get one published is mind-boggling to me. Most writers would have given up long before they ever got to their River of Dust. Virginia is the epidemy of a writer who loves the craft. And now, her persistence is paying off a hundred fold. I feel deeply honored to have Virginia Pye as a friend, a fellow author and writer. For any aspiring writers out there reading this post, take a lesson. If you love the craft, don’t ever give up. If you have a story in you, get it out. Don’t let rejection get in the way of your River of Dust. I feel proud of my accomplishment of getting my debut novel written and to press in a year and a half. But Virginia has twenty five plus years of hard earned talent in her debut novel and it shows.

Congratulations, Virginia, for showing all of us that persistence does pay off in the end and one should never give up on something they love to do!

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No Longer Wandering Alone

Two years ago when I decided to try my hand at writing (which came after much proding from my overly addicted book reading wife), I thought to myself, “How hard could this really be?” I have never had a problem writing, or should I say, putting words together on paper for whatever project needed to be done at any particular time. So, without any forethought, I started pounding away at the keys and word after word scrolled across the screen. “See, I knew this wasn’t hard.”

Five months later, book one done! Piece of cake. I sent out samples of my manuscript to a couple of traditional publishers, and within a week and a half, I got offered a contract to be published. That was easy! (Jumping for joy!) Ten months later, Oct 1, 2012, “Tip of the Iceberg” was born. Then on January 8, 2013, it was officially released to the book world. Happy Days!

Now all I had to do is sit back and wait. WRONG!!!!!!!

Sit back and wait for what?!?! Was I so naive as to think that my book would just fly off the shelves in bookstores or online sales would be backed up? Man…what in the hell was I thinking? So I gave my marketing rep a call. First words out of his mouth….”Now that the easy part is done, writing your book and getting it published, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get to work selling it.” Huh???

Wait a minute..I thought that’s what bookstores were for. WRONG AGAIN!!!!!!

Sure, your book is available online, and you might even be lucky to get some bookstores to carry on their shelves. But so are a gazillion other books! And why would I think that my would stand out any more than any other book. And one has to worry about getting reviews and those ‘star ratings’. Reality sets in…I’m just a tiny little fish in a very, very, very large book pool.

And on top of all this, I hold down a regular forty to sixty hour a week job. What was I going to do?

For the first month after my book was published, (Oct of 2012) I sold quite a few copies, autographed, of course, to friends, coworkers, and family. But now what do I do? I guess I should explain one thing. You see, I have only been in Virginia for about eight years, being a transplant from northern New England. Other than people at work, friends that I bowl with, and people at my wife’s work, we don’t know anyone. And I did all the “social networking” stuff…Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Goodreads…you name it, I tried it.

But then came my very first book signing. The Fountain Bookstore on Cary Street in downtown Richmond. Super Bowl Sunday! Since I had already sold to all the people I knew here, my turnout wasn’t that great. But I did meet some great local authors and one very special person. Kelly Justice. Proprietor of Fountain Bookstore. After my scheduled signing hour, I was chatting with Kelly. That’s when she said the three most important words to me since my book hit the market.

James River Writers

After looking into what JRW does, I signed up. Started getting their Newsletter. And last night, Macrh 13th, I attended my first Meet & Greet at the Capital Ale House in Midlothian.

I walked in and was immediately greeted by Denise, the host for JRW’s Writer’s Wednesday. She was very cordial and friendly. She introduced me to the few other members that were there (I was so excited about this event, I got there right at 5:30) and I felt like I was being welcomed to one of my High School reunions. I met Mike and Shawna Christos and spent the next half hour talking to Mike. He told me that Shawna, his wife, was the writer in the family. But he had been escorting her to these WWs for almost two years, at which time he decided that if he was going to be there anyways, he might as well become a writer also. Science is his thing, so obviously, he is trying his hand at writing Science Fiction.

I have to say that Mike spent considerable time telling me all about JRW and all the events that they put on during the year. I was impressed. He didn’t leave out anything. The Writer’s Group, the yearly Writing Conference, all the guest authors, publishing people, and many more. I was soaking things up like a sponge.

It wasn’t long before Shawna joined our conversation and mentioned that she was a stay at home writer. I told her how much I envied her. I mentioned I was hoping to be looking at retirement soon and make writing my full time job. Of course, she did mention that being at home all the time came with other household duties. That made for some laughter.

I soon had the priviledge to meet JRWs Executive Director, Katharine Herndon. I mentioned to her that I had just read her profile on JRWs website and that I was impressed. Katharine is very well suited for her position and she was very friendly to chat with.

It wasn’t long before we were joined by Vernon Wildy, Jr. and Robert Toms. Vernon is into poetry and is a very high energy person. It was a pleasure listening to him. Robert, on the other hand, managed to cross off one of the things on his “bucket list”. He went skydiving for the first time. After mentioning the it was a birthday gift from his son and that he had posted a video of his jump on Facebook, we agreed to become friends on FB and I did indeed watch his video. He’s definitely got one up on me, and probably always will.

Wandering around for a bit, I had the pleasure of meeting Debbie and her friend Katie. (Sorry, ladies. I didn’t happen to catch your last names) We all chatted a bit about the genres that we write in, or at least try to, when our day jobs don’t interfere. That’s when Debbie mentioned that she knew a group of men, sitting at a table in the back of the room, who were all officiers. Having served in the Armed Forces myself, I obviously assumed that they were from Fort Lee. Debbie informed me that they were officiers on the Chesterfield Police Force. At the point, I said, “Do you work for the Police Department?” Her response, “Yes”. As a matter of fact, she is a Police Sargent. With that, the conversation really got interesting.

It wasn’t long before we all realized that the two hours had flown by. We all said our good-byes and paid our tabs. I met Denise on the way out, and in telling her I would be back, she reached out and gave me a big hug. WOW! I finally realized that there were others out there just like me. We all have one goal in mind. To make the written word reachable and enjoyable by all. I departed feeling really changed. I didn’t have to wander alone any more. The folks that I met on this night gave me cause to think that I did the right thing in wanting to be a writer.

Thank you, James River Writers!

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Review or Not To Review

Ever wonder how books get sold? Better yet, ever wonder how books get bought?

Probably for quite a few readers, the answer to this question is…by word of mouth. And that is what most authors would want. They sell, or in a lot of cases, give a book to a friend or family member. And if they are like me, one of the lasts things that they say to this person is, and I quote, “Make sure you tell all your friends about my book!” And this is good!.

But for a large majority of avid readers, especially in this high tech era, they peruse the online bookstores in search of that next great read. Now for some, the real hard core readers, they may have a few authors that they especially like and they will read anything and everything written by these trusted authors, good or bad. Others, well, they just kinda play the field.

There is, however, one factor that they all use in their search for that next cozy-up-on-the-couch book. They all look to the stars. No, I don’t mean that they run outside and peer into the night sky at the constellations where they might see the title of their next purchase outlined by the stars.

I’m referring to that system of stars, one to five, that all booksellers use to promote their wares. The more colored the stars are, filled in usually by red or black, the better, or more popular the book is.

OR IS IT???

Know how these stars get their bright red or black coloring? REVIEWS! REVIEWS! REVIEWS!

Readers, like my wife, for instance, will look throught the endless rows of books on a website. And as they cruise by all the titles, they look for the ones that have the most stars. (Filled in, that is) If they see a book with all five stars colored in, then they automatically think, “This has to be a good book.” And that may be true…to some degree.

What they are forgetting to look at is how many people reviewed that particular book. If only one person read and reviewed a certain book, and gave the review a 5-star rating, then that’s what you see. A book with all five stars filled in. Let’s say a book has four and a half colored stars. That could be one reader’s review rating or twenty readers’ review ratings that average out to four and a half stars.

My point here is that nobody will give a second look at a book that has no stars colored. (Unless they happen to be looking for a particular title) This doesn’t neccessarily mean that the book hasn’t sold, say, 20,000 copies. It means that nobody has come back to write a review of the book and give it a star rating. One of the worst feelings for an author, such as myself, (and I can attest to this) is to check online at any of the booksellers’ sites and see their book with five naked stars after it and the words…”Be the first to write a review“.

So, I hope now you can see how important it is, both for the author and the bookseller, to have readers come back to the site of their purchase and write a review for the book that they bought. Even if you didn’t think the book was THAT great, leave a review and rating anyways. (I guess a bad review might be better than no review) If everyone wrote a review and rated a certain number of stars, it is all averaged out. Your one star review could still end up with the book getting an overall rating of four or four and a half stars.

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