Marchbooks' Blog

March 15, 2010

Life Interrupted Presents New Possibilities

Boy, it doesn’t take much to throw me off my mark. I have had a bear of a cold for 3 weeks – yes, 3 weeks and it’s not over yet. I feel as though the dog has been dragging me around for 3 weeks and then someone threw me in the wash cycle – wash, rinse, repeat.

Needless to say, my focus has been less than lazer sharp. But, if that wasn’t enough, my computer decided to reek havoc on me as well. A crash necessitated the replacement of both my hard drives – egads! Fortunately, I live in constant fear of losing files so I have backups everywhere. But, that does not mitigate the hassle: 3 days without my laptop and another 3 days spent reinstalling files and software programs.

In the midst of all of this, I continue to work on merging my two lives (insurance advisor by day/writer-publisher by night). Sigh! What ever made me think this would be a good idea? Trying to switch back and forth between the left and right sides of my brain has proven to be quite a challenge.

I enjoy helping people to evaluate their financial situation and formulate a plan that will help them hold onto the money that they work so hard to earn. However, it is so vastly different from writing fiction. It is more than just putting on a different hat, it is like becoming people. The author, the publisher and the insurance agent, all vying for dominance.

In an effort to resolve this conflict, I have set aside my fiction writing (for the time being) in order to work on my first nonfiction project. The working title is ‘The Cardinal Sin of Capital Gains – Leaving a Better Legacy for our Children’.

In these tough economic times, perhaps I can help, in my own small way. Let’s see how it goes.

elizabeth marchand
author/publisher/insurance professional

January 11, 2010

Life Interrupted by M.J. Claire

Filed under: Comments from our Authors — marchbooks @ 4:13 pm
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Writing, at least for me, requires a tremendous amount of focus. I envy those people who can put a hold on their lives for a few minutes – just enough time to jot down a few lines of their current work in progress. I am not one of those folk. That is not to say that I need a quiet, sterile environment in which to work. In fact, the saying ‘ a cluttered desk is the sign of an organized mind’ could have been written for me. Well, I’m not sure about the organized mind part but I do seem to work best when surrounded by a certain amount of disarray. What I cannot do is spend several hours working in the office (on insurance matters), balance my finances, deal with the occasional personal drama and then sit down to write. At least not on anything of length.

I have those occasional inspirations; driving down the road, eating my lunch or riding my exercise bike when a thought encroaches which keeps banging against my head until I put it on paper. Those light bulbs are almost exclusively limited to poems, titles or ideas for new projects. Rarely, if ever, do they pertain to an ongoing project.

Once I have set the first few chapters of a novel down, the die is cast, that world has been created and my job as a writer becomes tuning into that world and those characters so that I can find out what is going on. I feel like less of a creator than a voyeur. In a way, for me, writing is like being a transciptionist with a radio. I play with the dial until I hit the right frequency, then I just write what I hear – ‘just the facts Ma’ am’ as they say.

If there is too much of my own life going on, there is interference and I won’t get clear reception. If that happens, I may get it wrong. Sometimes, even when my life is calm and I can devote all of my attention to radio surfing, the station in question isn’t broadcasting. That is why I always keep multiple projects going. If I am having difficulty falling into one story, rather than forcing it and putting words into my characters’ mouths, I will move on to another story.

So far, it works. Please feel free to share your own writing process. I am always interested to hear how a writer gets from a blank page to a finished manuscript.

October 12, 2009

Even The Prettiest Font Won’t Rescue Weak Prose

Filed under: On Writing and Publishing — marchbooks @ 4:48 pm
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Just a short post today. I received a children’s story from a member in a writing group I attend. A aggressively bold 16 point font screamed across an 18 page document. I had to laugh, because I can well remember making the same mistake when I started writing. I would painstakingly search through dozens, nay hundreds, of fonts looking for just the right one to display my lovely words.

Of course, I can see, did see the attraction. There are 50 million, fun and exciting, fonts out there (that’s not an exact count of course – I’m just saying that there are a lot). That does not mean we should use them. I don’t remember if it was a writing teacher, an agent or an editor who first broke the news to me, but the plain and simple fact is that you should keep it plain and simple. Any serious writer should stick to a handful of standard fonts.

It was not until I opened this story on my computer that I fully realized the rationale behind this. When I first opened this document, I have to be honest, I had no desire to read it. I felt as though I was being assaulted by this hard-hitting type. It took over 15 minutes of formatting and removing hard returns for me to reduce this 18 page document to six pages.

As a purely environmental point of fact, using three times the necessary paper to print your story is not a good idea. Sure, if you only intend that your work be read online, it doesn’t matter. In this instance, the writer wants feedback. The best way to provide feedback (at least for me) is to work from a hard copy, with a red pen. Many agents and editors still prefer to receive hard copies of submissions. Even on a computer, someone with anything less than a 20 inch monitor would spend all of their time scrolling back and forth because of the size of the font. If you want to dress up a one page poem with a font that catches the mood of your poem, have at it, but believe me, no one wants to read through your 5000 word story in a large, ornate font.

Looking at these unconventional fonts for long periods of time can cause eye strain. Imagine being an agent or editor; their desk is covered with manuscripts and they are all printed in a different font. How old would that get? I know, you want your manuscript to stand out – find another way.

Lastly, and I cannot say this emphatically enough, a fancy font will not compensate for bad prose and it will only distract from good writing. Do yourself a favor, stick to Times Roman, Garamond, Palantino, it doesn’t matter which but stick with a conventional font and let your stories stand on their own merits.

BothCovers copysmaller










October 3, 2009

If You’re Not Willing To Edit, You’re Not Ready To Publish?

I have been participating in an interesting discussion about self publishing

To self publish, or not to self publish, that is the question. Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune…

It is a big question, not to be taken lightly. For some, this may be the biggest endeavor of your life. Fortunately for us, even if the big publishing houses have closed the door on you, fate has opened a window. That window is POD. Self Publishing is now available to everyone, but that does not mean that it should be availed of by everyone. If your intent is to simply dust off your old manuscript, run your spell check program (I’m sorry to say that some people even omit this step), generate a Word document and slap a generic cover on it before sending it the printer, do the readers of the world a favor and put it back in  your sock drawer.

That might sound a bit harsh, but I think the world needs a little protection from substandard prose. Ever since the Gutenberg press, mass marketing of books has been recognized as an excellent way to exchange ideas and share stories. Everyone has something to say, but not everyone is willing to invest the time and effort that is necessary to make their words palatable to the public.

As I am sure I have mentioned, there are a multitude of steps involved in publishing a manuscript, not the least of which is the editing process. Unfortunately, that is often the step that new authors seem to omit, or skrimp on. Believe me, this is not the time to be miserly, with your time or money, if your intent is to have your publication compete with those put out by the big boys.

There are traditions which have been passed down in publishing that no longer have the relevance they once had (large print runs, blanket return policies and inequitable royalty structures). Editorial practices do not fall in this list.

Every publisher should have the benefit of a twelve person editorial staff. Few of us do, but that does not mean you should throw up your hands and refuse to do the step at all. Your attempts may not be perfect. Things may still slip through the cracks, but believe me, your effort will be recognized and appreciated.


August 24, 2009

The Downside to POD

I always enjoy being devil’s advocate, even when the devil is me. Therefore, this entry is devoted to a counter argument to a previous post –  ‘POD – The Greener Side of Publishing’.

Many authors burn with the desire to see their words in print. Surprisingly though, not enough of those authors are willing to polish those words to a perfect sheen before sending them out into the world.

Editing is a lot of work. It is tedious, boring and worst of all, it keeps you from doing what you were born to do — write. You have already written the story. Now it’s time to move on to your next literary masterpiece, n’est pas? Proofreading is even worse. If an author does make an effort, beyond the cursory running of spell-check in their word processor, they will soon find their brain atrophying from the proofreading process. Their eyes will eventually begin to glaze over, sabotaging the author’s efforts by skimming over their undeniably perfect prose.

News flash – editing and proofreading are not optional if you desire to put your writing out there for public consumption. Unfortunately, authors do it every day. The evidence is everywhere. Go to any community writing site. and WritersCafe are my favorites. These communities are wonderful and an absolute must for any author who is trying to guage how the public will receive their writing, but throughout these sites, you will find an abundance of poorly written prose.

Admittedly, posting a short piece online is quite different from arduously preparing a book for print, especially when one purpose of that post is to garner constructive criticism of the piece. And, it is not my intent to be cruel, but let’s call a spade a spade. It is no secret when a writer is merely posting their words as quickly as they fall off of their pen. This is hugely inconsiderate to the potential reader. Sadly, this phenomenon, all too often, carries over into a writer’s self-publishing efforts. And, how unfair is that to the unwitting buyer of the product of this slovenly effort? Excuse me for saying so, but if I have laid out my hard-earned money to buy a book, which I do often and with enthusiasm, the very least I can expect is that I not have to stumble through a minefield of typographical and grammatical errors. I have no right to expect that this author be the next Hemingway, but I can expect that they have made every reasonable effort to produce a text free of obvious spelling and grammatical errors.

There seems to be an all too pervasive misconception, among new authors, that publishing is easy. Second news flash – not if you do it right. There is a reason why publishing houses are uber selective about which submissions they will accept. Publishing and promoting a book is a long, arduous and expensive undertaking (if it wasn’t there would be no reason not to publish everything that came across their desk). Publishing a book the right way is more than simply uploading a raw text file and encasing it in a generic cover. And, when that book does finally roll off of the presses, the lion’s share of the work is just beginning.

And there, my friends, is what I consider to be the downside of POD. This new technology has made it all too easy for anyone, with only a small initial investment and minimal effort, to publish their writing – thereby flooding the market with numerous substandard books. The result is a stigma that a diligent self-publisher must now overcome.

As with most new technology, with the good comes the bad. This is the downside of a wonderful, new, groundbreaking technology. It is surmountable, it just makes the job of the serious small publisher that much more difficult.

August 14, 2009

The Beauty of The Written Word

Filed under: On Writing and Publishing — marchbooks @ 12:10 pm
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Ahhhh, words. Ever since the first Egyptian put the first letter on the first piece of papyrus, the beauty and utility of the written word could not be denied. The advent of words on paper, as a way to disseminate information, has arguably been more important to the evolution of mankind than any other invention. It is, in many ways, the mother of knowledge and creativity. Certainly, mankind is infinitely creative. But, where would we be if that creativity had to survive in a vacuum? How many of Edison’s inventions would have gone unrecognized if he had been unable to write them down, unable to convey them to more than his housekeeper and the local shop owners? How many great ideas would have died with their originator, if they had been unable to write them down?

Certainly, seeing one’s words in print is a swan song that calls out to many – as evidenced by the ever-increasing number of books being published every year. Being able to share one’s thoughts, feelings and ideas with others has incredible appeal for some. Others are just as ravenously waiting to read those thoughts and insights. It is a marriage made in heaven – a special kind of bonding that brings us all closer together.

The physical beauty of a book cannot be overlooked. A book’s inviting cover, the intoxicating smell of ink on the page and the satisfying crack of the spine as you initiate your first journey through its pages is something that every book lover has come to cherish. As much as the new internet and wireless technologies have to offer information sharing, nothing can compete with the feel of a real book in your hand as you settle down (bedecked in your flannel jammies) in front of a roaring fire with a nice glass of wine or mug of hot chocolate. The reading experience is a vibrant one, on many levels.

To me, however, the real beauty of the written word lies in the magic. When an author has managed to create a world, dragging me into it (sometimes kicking and screaming)… ahhhh, words. What an amazing thing it is when you can stand beside a character as they charge across the desert on a new adventure. Or, when you can puzzle out a murder mystery with one of New York’s finest. The author can take you on a journey with an anguished mother whose son has been abducted by a predator or on a blossoming love affair between two lonely people. They can take you inside the head of a psychopath, a 13-year-old autistic girl or a destitute mother trying to survive with her three young children in their 1983 Chevy. Wherever or whenever the author takes me, the true magic happens when that author’s writing touches my emotions: when I am holding my breath in suspense, crying at the loss of a beloved character or laughing out loud at the irony of life. That is the beauty of the written word – let it live on forever.

July 20, 2009

POD – The Greener Side of Publishing

In the constant pursuit of information on all things publishing, I recently finished Peter Bowerman’s, ‘The Well-Fed Self – Publisher’. It is a handy tool that does a good job of taking the reader through the process of self-publishing, in an easy, step-by-step progression. I have no mind to remake the wheel here. Suffice it to say that, if you are thinking of self-publishing, this would be a useful addition to your library.

This blog is devoted to the one area in the book that I took exception to – the consummate disparagement of POD as an option for the self-publisher. Bowerman devotes a full chapter to this issue ‘Print-On-Demand (POD): Dream or Disappointment’. Throughout, he paints POD with a pretty dark brush.

I’ll begin by acknowledging the fact that one reason for this jaundiced viewpoint may be the fact that the information is dated, the book being copyrighted in 2007. I will piggyback on this statement by pointing to this as clear evidence of how fast this technology is moving along. Perhaps, in 2007, the author’s comments rang true, but in only two years, the picture has changed dramatically.

First of all, Bowerman seems to contradict his own text when he, time after time, refers to POD as only a technology (which it is). But, in castigating it, he points to turn-key publishers like iUniverse and Author House (apparently Lulu was just coming on the scene at that time).

This blog is not meant to criticize Bowerman for being short-sighted and failing to see into the future, but to clarify a misconception that a novice might draw from this text.

First of all, POD is a technology. It is a technology which, as time goes by, is becoming more widely available and, if we are smart, will someday be credited with changing the face of publishing.

The traditional publishing model, which has changed little in several hundred years, is founded on speculation – write a book, print it in huge quantities (to reduce the per unit cost) and buckshot it to as many outlets as possible to see if it will sell. To accomodate this business model, we must use vast amounts of energy and natural resources to print the books. Then we waste more energy to ship these books to their temporary destination, where we will expend many more man-hours unloading, unpacking and displaying these books for the customer (let me repeat – ALL ON SPECULATION). We hope, but don’t know, that people will buy these books. The hope of the publisher is that, if they put a book in every window and on every display table, the customer will eventually relent and buy a copy.

Inevitably, after three or four months (sometimes much less), these books will get subplanted with the new flavor of the day. So, we expend more man-hours and energy to ship these books back to the publisher where they will be discounted, remaindered or turned into pulp. This arrangement benefits no one. The bookstore owner may see this as a positive, no-risk solution and certainly, there is little incentive for them to seek change. They are filling their stores with inventory that is often returned for credit before their checks have even cleared, effectively turning them into so many consignment shops.

Perhaps, if these store owners had more of a vested interest in whether or not their inventory sold, there would be more regard for purchasing saleable titles in realistic quantities and applying effective marketing techniques.

I realize that instant gratification is an integral aspect of our lives today. However, would it be such a crime to be in a position where you had to  order a book and return two days later to pick it up? And, that is only the worst case scenerio. For a small increase in the end cost, POD removes the necessity for huge print runs. Certainly, the Kings and Grishams of our time will still merit offset printing, but now there is a better option for the other 95% of titles on the market. Now, with the arrival of Lightningsource’s Espresso machine, a customer can have their book printed right on site, while they wait. Ain’t technology grand? I am sure the quality will not be that of offset printing, or current POD standards for that matter, but that is what is wonderful about human ingenuity. There is no doubt in my mind that the quality of these books will improve at lightning speed, now that we have the technology in hand.

The publishing industry is struggling and it is not because the community-at-large has lost its interest in a good book. It is the industry’s refusal to change that will be its downfall. POD is the cure for this flawed business model. The quality of POD is now almost on a par with traditional offset printing. The speed and efficiency of the model allows for a title to be printed and delivered in days. Self-publishers can take advantage of the turn-key operations like iUniverse, Outskirts Press or Lulu  to fulfill their needs for book design, or they can do it themselves with printers like Createspace or Lightningsource (if they have a strong heart and nerves of steel – believe me, it is not a task for the faint of heart).

True, if you use one of the turn-key operations, you will pay for the service – in two ways 1. an upfront charge for the design of your book and 2. a percentage of each sale. This is somewhat unfair, in my mind. These companies should not be entitled to a portion of sales unless they generate from that company’s site. But, hey, it’s their company, so they call the shots. In the end, your % return on each sale will still be better than the meager royalty you would receive through a traditional publisher.

POD is not an option to be disparaged. It should be embraced and seen as what it is – the key to a better future for the publishing industry. But, I key does not work unless you use it. Change is not comfortable for anyone, but the time has come. Let’s embrace a new era for the written word.

July 14, 2009

Thoughts on Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ by Janus Kane

Filed under: On Writing and Publishing — marchbooks @ 8:38 pm
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I recently finished reading Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ for the second time. What a wonderful addition to any writer’s library. The first time I read it, I was on vacation. Understandably, it did not get my undivided attention, but I didn’t fret. I knew that it was a book I would be returning to.

Stephen King is a very generous author – he does not seem to hold much back. The first half of the book is a delicious buffet of reminiscences; the history that brought him to the typewriter and kept him there. For someone who admits to only spotty childhood memories, he manages to give us the full flavor of the experience.

Although it is autobiographical (not my first choice in reading matter), it is peppered with so many lively anecdotes and injected with so much humor, that I found myself laughing out loud on more than one occasion. It is such a departure from his traditional horror/fiction, but he handles the transition with ease.

King then moves on to the nuts and bolts of his writing process. There is not much by way of revelation in this material but his analogies are interesting and thought-provoking. He begins by summing up his thoughts on what writing is. To King, (if I can paraphrase) writing is a form of telepathy between author and reader. It is an interesting concept that rings true to my ear. King takes you through an exercise where he ‘telepathically’ plants the image of a table covered with a red cloth. A cage, containing a rabbit with the number eight on its back, sits on the table.

That image, like so many that he has drawn before, easily takes shape in my mind. I cannot dispute the fact that writing is, in fact, a type of telepathy, sending stories, emotions and images across the miles. However, that is not the first thing that came to mind when I read the word ‘telepathy’.

I do not try to over-think it, but the question of where my own stories come from is one that trots through my head from time to time. After all, my own genesis as a writer came much later in life than did Mr. King’s. It is a strange and humbling experience, the first time you see a story take shape beneath your pen. Even stranger still is when you see that story take a U-turn, following a direction that you never anticipated.

My recently completed novel, ‘Fate Laughs’, was originally meant to follow a 15-year old Southern girl through the fallout resulting from an unexpected interracial relationship. Suffice it to say, the story took many twists and turns before it touched on that particular social aspect. Was it planned, plotted or contrived? Not in the least. I just put my pen to the paper and followed where it led.

That is what I think of when I hear the word ‘telepathy’ in relationship to writing. Call it your muse, the universe or divine inspiration, these stories seem to be coming from somewhere. At least for me, it does not seem to be an act of pure creation.

When I am truly in writing mode, I have come to see myself as a receiver (much like a radio receiver). Because I generally work on more than one story at a time, I sit with my brightly colored composition notebooks piled before me. Then, I tune into the story by reading the previous chapter. Once I get a clear reception, I write until the reception gets muddy, at which time I pick up another notebook and tune into that story. It is the greatest of entertainment. I hope you enjoy the results half as much as I do.


To Be Released in August 2009

To Be Released in August 2009

March 6, 2009

Publishing in Today’s Tough Economy

Filed under: On Writing and Publishing — marchbooks @ 8:02 pm
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Is there ever a good time to start a venture of this magnitude? Entering the complex world of publishing is a daunting endeavor under the best of circumstance. These are certainly not the best circumstances. With businesses folding all around us, what besides temporary insanity would prompt such an undertaking?

The answer is simple. There has never been a greater need for a little dose of healthy escapism. What, other than a good book, can better transport us out of the sea of troubled waters that is now our reality? What else can give your mind the kind of vacation that it so desperately craves?

A good book may not cure your problems. It won’t make them go away. But, perhaps it will put us in a better frame of mind to come back and deal with them. And even if it doesn’t, it will still give us those blessed hours where we can focus on someone else’s problems, someone else’s life, someone else’s story – all for less than the price of a take-out pizza.

March Books is all about bringing good stories to eager readers. We believe in good, healthy escapism – wherever and whenever you can get it.

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