Claudia McGill, artist, writes poetry. Did you know that?

This post is about Claudia McGill. It came about because I was in promotion mode, and since I don’t seem to be very successful at it on my own behalf, I thought maybe I could pitch in for somebody else.

You might be more familiar with Claudia for creations like this

Postcard - Houses in Washington DC 2016 small

But Claudia McGill also write poetry. Did you know that? When I posted a series of dog rose haiku, last week sometime, Claudia replied in response to the last one with this string of poems.

Haiku Group Thorn

Thorn-lacerated

and now infected. You fool

who forgave the wound.

 

First class work it was,

that ragged gash on your arm.

My aim was superb.

 

You and your quick eyes,

but I moved too fast. My thorns

scratched out my message.

 

Forgive, no. The thorn

left its suppurating mark.

I will die angry.

 

6/11/16

She also creates quirky collage image/words like this one entitled ‘Disappointed mother’. Absolutely spot on!

ATC Disappointed Mother 3-16 small

Last week I heard that Claudia had released a new book, so I asked her if she would like to write a little bit about herself and I would post it. Here’s what she replied.

As far as a biography, I’m not sure what you’re interested in knowing? I was born in Tennessee but have lived in Pennsylvania, USA, all my adult life. I have been an avid reader since I learned to read and go through several books a week. I was an English major at Bryn Mawr College and worked for a bank, making loans to small businesses, for 13 years – then I left the bank and for a hobby started doing art. The hobby turned into a profession for me and since the mid 1990’s I’ve exhibited fabric work, collage, paintings, and clay work in local and regional shows.

I have written poetry for my whole life but only in the last few years have I really turned my attention to it. Being able to publish on a blog spurred me into action, and that led to the poetry volumes I have published. The four “seasonal” ones I did in 2015 were part of my effort to recover from a long-term series of health problems. The others have been collections of poems published on the blog (putting my “inventory” into print). I plan one more book as “catching-up” and then I think the next ones will reflect where I am right now.

I have also  published a mystery novel, in 2000, and reissued last year, “Distractions Can Be Murder” (based on my banking life); and a critical examination of the works of Joseph Conrad (written as my thesis in 1980 for my English degree.). I’ve also had my fabric work published in a book – Drafting and Design Simplified –  and self-published a couple of how-to fabric collage books relating to creating house portraits or landscapes in fabric.

I am married and have one son, who got married himself last September. I like to exercise and be outdoors and I run, do orienteering, and swim. I’ve lived in suburbia all my life and that’s what I know about, so that’s what I write about.

I asked Claudia to choose a favourite poem and she picked this one from her collection, Autumn opens a door.

 

Nothing But Happy

 

I have absorbed enough sad for a lifetime

and no more I’m going to do it. Squeeze myself out

like a sponge

and wipe up happy instead

That’s what I’m going to do. I’m all wrung out

people say

meaning

lost all their vigor and the next thing that happens is

stiffened up and dried out.

Not me. I’m all wrung out

limber and ready

to sop up any happy I see spilled anywhere.

And if I get too much to carry

I’ll squeeze out some for you. Hold out your hands

I’ll say

Nothing but happy.

 

October 2015

from Autumn Opens a Door

 

As well as poetry and painting/collage, Claudia makes ‘snippets’ a quirky, amusing, thoughtful hybrid of the two. Here’s one to give you an idea.

Snippet -1- 6-16 small

If, like me, you are rather in awe of so much talent, you might be interested in taking a look at her new collection, Get to the point. You can find it at Amazon.com

If you go to Claudia’s Amazon author page, you will find details of all her other books. I hope you do. Leaving you with one more painting entitled:

We Will Never Be Friends At This Rate.

We Will Never Be Friends At This Rate 4-16 10 x 8 small

New blog agenda

Life is getting very full and complicated and I need to be more organized so I’m starting with this blog. From now on, there will be less random posting, and more theme days.

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday will be poetry days:

Monday I thought I’d start a poetry showcase. If you’d like a poem, or your poetry in general to feature in a post send me the link to your blog where the poem is posted. If I get a lot of entries, I’ll either have to choose a ‘winner’ or use a first come first served system. Either way, if you don’t get the spot one week keep trying. Contact form is at the bottom of the page.

Tuesday is poetry challenge round up,

Wednesday is the new poetry challenge . You know the rules for the poetry challenge, and that will remain unchanged.

Thursday and Friday will be flash fiction days.

Saturday and Sunday I will post book reviews, my own promotions, and author interviews. I can’t take any book review requests, I just don’t have the time, but if you would like to take part in an author interview, just use the contact form, specifying that’s what you’re interested in.

There’s still time to sign up for my newsletter

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and for details of my own books

Gooseclick button

 

If blogging doesn’t sell books, what does?

I’ve read several posts lately about whether or not blogging is helpful in creating the fabled ‘author platform’. Amie Gibbons, in her blog post suggests that blogging about what you’re knowledgeable about could be the answer to gaining readers, on condition, of course, that your book is also on your pet subject. That seems quite reasonable, as far as it goes. If you’re a policeman and you blog about crime-related subjects, then one day you spring it on your crime-enthusiastic blog followers—Hey! I’ve written a thriller about a copper. Please buy it—I can see that you might already have a captive audience.

But to take my case, for example. I blog poetry and bits of prose, about my garden, the town where I live, the people I meet, the animals who share my life. I get quite a few readers. But I don’t write gardening books, or pet care manuals. I write fantasy. While a reader might enjoy a post about Purple Emperor butterflies, that doesn’t make him or her an obvious fan of YA fantasy fiction. The readers who enjoy my pastoral poetry won’t necessarily want to buy a novel about boys behaving badly in the shopping mall at the end of the world. If all your passions hook up in your novels, fine. If they only put in a fleeting appearance, your blogger audience isn’t going to be particularly interested.

So, discounting blogging as a way into gaining big time reader numbers, what do you do? Get an agent, dummy! Easier said than done. Something that bemuses and rather saddens me is my complete invisibility as far as agents are concerned. Out of the dozens I have queried with several books, most never reply, and of those who do, only one has ever asked to  read the whole thing. I’m an enthusiastic lurker on the AW forums (fora to the purists) where the received wisdom seems to be that you query and query until you find the one agent in the galaxy who ‘loves’ your book. This raises at least two questions in my obstreperous mind:

  • If only one out of the plethora of agents I have queried likes my book enough to be sodded trying to sell it to publishers, what does that say about my book’s chances of finding a good publisher? If most agents won’t touch it with a ten-foot pole, why would Random House or Harper Collins jump at it?
  • If it’s such a personal thing—you know the kind of line, “I loved the premise, the writing was terrific but there just weren’t enough Chinese nuns in it, and this week I just really crave Chinese nuns.” or “the writing is tremendous and the hero is swoon-worthy but I just didn’t connect with the colour of the heroine’s socks”—how are these people going to convince a big publisher to buy it? Isn’t the whole point that a commercially viable novel ISN’T a purely personal, quirky, idiosyncratic opinion, it’s a spot on, bang on the nail, sure fire BLOODY GOOD STORY?

So, if you haven’t written a story with a completely whacko premise, or alternatively, something almost exactly like the hottest best seller, forget the agent. I know, I’m not being fair. An agent has to like the story to be passionate about it with potential publishers, and we can all cite novels we’ve read (all of Henry James, for instance) that are undoubtedly brilliant literature and dull as ditch water. Even the BLOODY GOOD STORY won’t please everybody.

You can give up on the self-publishing lark and take your chance with a small publisher. Best of luck to you. You’ll need it. Some small publishers spend the time and the money required to get their books noticed. Most don’t. Most just don’t have the resources. And as it’s all about getting noticed, if your publisher doesn’t pull their weight, you’re no further on than you were doing it yourself. My next YA series is being published by a publisher who I fervently hope has much more clout than I ever will, knows how to market and advertise, and is going to actually sell me some books.

So, the 64 million dollar question—without an agent, without a good publisher, how do you get noticed? Simple. You pay for advertising. Try it. It works. You don’t need the famous ‘author platform’ that most of us have sweated blood to achieve—blogging, Goodreads blitzes, mailing lists, interviews, FB events, blog tours, joining endless social media—just keep chucking money at the advertisers. I believe it works even if you’ve written a monumental pile of crap. Now, that IS dispiriting.

Christmas blues continued or: what I am going to do with the rest of my life

Today was supposed to be big book promotion day for The Dark Citadel with an Amazon countdown deal and a couple of advertising sites weighing in. I’ll have to take Amazon’s word for it that the deal is actually on because I can’t see any price change. So, no more promotional links from me, as they don’t show a new low price.

There are also only three shopping days left until Christmas. Having abandoned shopping last Friday, I had a look on the flea market yesterday and found a few pretty bits and pieces. I had intended looking up town this morning before the crowds get there, but wasted half of it in futile emails to Amazon. Taking my boiling blood to the shops was not a good idea, so I took Finbar for a long walk instead.

The morning was beautiful, sunny, cool and the colours all so vivid. We were overtaken down by the river by a Tibetan monk, saffron robes, shaved head, sandals, the lot. He stood in quiet contemplation, looking through the golden trees, across the beautiful blue river where a thin veil of mist was dissipating in the sun. His hands were lost inside his robes and I assumed he was looking for his rosary beads or whatever thingies Buddhist monks use to get the spiritual juices flowing. When I looked back he had got out his smart phone and was taking a pic of the cityscape behind us. Somehow, that made me feel even more depressed.

What I realised though, as I watched the placid river, the robins, and a pair of magpies inspecting a likely-looking nest, is that this whole book lark is taking over my life. I spend hours each day writing. When I’m not writing new stuff, I’m trying to write synopses, query letters, polishing completed mss, or looking around for places to submit novels or short fiction.

Many writers claim that the creative aspect is enough to keep them going. I thought it was too, with a little recognition from time to time. When a lovely review comes in, or a story or a poem is accepted for publication, I get a real thrill of happiness. But it would also be nice to see my paypal account filling up. That is the real litmus test—do the punters, not just the literate, like-minded and possibly indulgent people who ‘know’ me, want to buy my books? If they don’t, I feel that I’m bashing my head against a brick wall.

From now on, and I suppose this counts as a New Year’s resolution, I am going to spend more time on OTHER THINGS. I will sit down and write when I feel I have something to say, not because it’s like a nine to five job where I sit in front of the computer until I find something to whitter on about. I am not going to sweat to get Beyond the Realm of Night into paperback because I don’t think it’s worth the time, hassle, and the expense of buying a proof copy.

I’m going to…well…I could wash the dog’s blankets, or clean out the kitchen cupboards, or…something.

Version Two: No buts

Is this an improvement?

Deborah has a secret
Though she doesn’t know what it is.
The Protector does
And so does Abaddon, the demon king.
Both of them want her destroyed.

Between them, Jonah and Deborah have forged a weapon
that even the demon fears:
Love.

With this arm, the pariah girl and the dog boy
will change the world.

Or die in the attempt.

The but censors should prefer it anyway.(This line isn’t in the blurb, Fran :))

For the readers who don’t like arms either, there’s this version

Deborah has a secret
Though she doesn’t know what it is.
The Protector does
And so does Abaddon, the demon king.
Both of them want her destroyed.

Jonah and Deborah have forged a weapon.
A weapon that even the demon fears:
Love.

Between them, the pariah girl and the dog boy
will change the world.

Or die in the attempt.

Spam, irritation, and the twitterverse

Talking about social media—because we were, weren’t we? Twitter’s a funny thing too. A few minutes ago I saw that a gentleman wearing full Saudi sheik gear was following me. I went to his profile and saw just scrolls and scrolls of arabic script so I didn’t follow back. I mean, why would I? He could be ranting off about anything and I wouldn’t be any the wiser. A minute later he’d gone. He’d given me about two minutes to decide to follow back or he wasn’t playing.

It made me think that I really don’t understand what makes twitter users tick. At first I just watched in consternation as the jumble of ads, spams, and incoherent, meaningless messages scrolled past. Then I discovered twitter poetry prompts and settled into a little backwater of the twitter stream full of little gems of poetic imagery. It’s fun, useful, and entertaining. I slip in a plug for my own books every couple of weeks but since I don’t believe it makes one iota of difference, it’s not something I do with any conviction or perseverance.

I follow back many of the people who follow me as long as they’re not selling anything or promoting hate or some religion or other. Often these followers come through the poetry connection. Others though seem to be simply working their way through the entire twitterverse starting with the letter A. What good does it do me in any way whatsoever to be followed by a Saudi sheik or a computer programmer in Seattle, or a lady who knits lace doilies in Hong Kong? Often their twitter feed is just a constant dribble of : Thanks for the follow. What intellectual stimulation is there to be got out of the kind of messages that are composed half of hashtags and half of single letters or contractions and numbers instead of words? Why do people follow twitters who don’t even use the same alphabet? How the hell do you know what they’re tweeting about?

So many questions. Any answers?

I wrote that a few days ago. That was before I reached the tipping point with spam demands. I know this strikes a chord with a lot of people. You accept a friend request or return a twitter follow and your inbox or DM box starts pinging away like crazy with messages like: Thanks for the follow, now follow me on FB/ follow this Amazon link and buy my book/ go to my profile and RT my book ads. Who do they think I am? A social service for wannabee best sellers? Do I really have nothing better to do with my time than spend it puffing up complete unknowns who won’t even say thank you? I’d have to be suffering from terminal boredom to do half what these people expect.

I’m quite prepared to admit that there is a way of using social media to get readers for my books. I just haven’t found it yet. I have though found lots of ways in which social media would drive potential readers away. So far away they would never come back. I have a theory that the advocates of using social media for saturation spamming have an evil ulterior motive. By encouraging other authors to jump into the spammers’ black hole, they clear the way for themselves to gain readers using the more subtle methods they aren’t letting on about.

As we all know by now, selling books isn’t about the quality of the writing, it’s about the way you put it over. There are quite a few popular expressions to describe the process—none of them very complimentary. As Susan Toy points out in her excellent article I have just taken the liberty of reblogging, if what you are looking for is readers not sales, the tactics are completely different. Then, you just have to write a great book, offer it to people, and thank them heartily if and when they enjoyed it and tell you so. That’s maybe how we authors should count our success.

End of rant.

When you feel like taking your author platform into the woods and losing it

My first fantasy series was finished last August, together with a handful of spin-off stories for readers who want even more of the world of The Green Woman. Without waiting to draw breath I went straight on to polishing the two other projects I had finished, and getting on with revision of the series that follows on from The Green Woman.

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Last week I finished the first full revision of the first volume of the new series. I sat back and looked at it and asked myself: now what? Where exactly is this going?

I am pleased with the result of my self-publishing efforts; the covers are attractive, they read well without any glaring typos or formatting errors that anyone has pointed out to me anyway. I have a collection of beautiful reviews and have been encouraged as a writer by some of the comments made about the books. But to follow the exhortations of the promotion gurus I would need another life, a parallel existence where I could get out those 100 tweets a day, add 50 twitter followers a day, 50 FB followers, post to 50 FB groups, join 50 Goodreads groups, organise blog tours, giveaways, and Amazon promotions.

It isn’t going to happen, folks. Not any of it. The only alternative to becoming a brilliant self-publicist is to get a good publisher and for that I need an agent, and for that I need a publishing contract. Apparently. Catch 22. I was feeling pretty despondent about the whole thing, and then I read this.

http://www.writersworkshop.co.uk/blog/9-ways-to-persuade-an-agent-to-take-you-on-the-only-ones-that-matter/

For all of those who, like me, find themselves coming over seasick when they see the words ‘author platform’, this blog post is a must read. The least it will do is cheer you up. It might even push you into striding out with a firmer step.

Do you have the can-do factor?

Reading through Monday morning blog posts, my eye was caught by Clare O’Dea’s post about the narcissistic possibilities of blogging. At the end of the post she proposes a test to check your narcissus score. I know I’m not exactly oozing with ‘can-do’ but was still a bit shocked to find how close to the ocean floor I was crawling. Somewhere between the bit the Titanic’s resting on and the bottom of the Mariana Trench.

I don’t think I am falsely modest about my writing—I believe that it’s good. Not exceptional, not brilliant, but good. In fact it would be pretty strange to go to the trouble of publishing books that I considered to be a load of rubbish. If one of the 40 questions had been ‘Do you reckon you are a good writer?’ I could have answered in the affirmative. One brownie point to me. But there were 40 questions about behaviour, not self-esteem, and I score very low on all the—‘If you’ve got it, do you flaunt it?—type questions. Thinking, in a smug sort of way, well at least I know I’m good, doesn’t get you any marks at all.

Transpose all that into marketing and promotional behaviour and you have, in a nutshell, why some of us writers sink without trace and others, who are not afraid to shout their talent from the rooftops, con(vince) readers they know what they’re talking about and sell thousands of copies.

A case in point. The Dark Citadel was in a best YA fantasy competition. It was beaten by a book that the judges, from their comments, seemed to think verged on perfection. Leaving aside how I feel about my own book’s merits, the winner’s was surprisingly bad—derivative, facile, and in places utterly silly. What struck me as typical of the can-do factor at work was how the author lapped up the praise and took it all in her stride, saying that some of the other books in the contest were pretty good so she was pleased though not surprised to have won, because of course her book was awesome and richly deserved to be awarded first place.

This woman has the ‘can-do’ factor in bucketsful. And in one way at least she deserves success, because she has written a book so many people want to read. It’s very similar to books they have already read and enjoyed, and the silliness comes from writing about a city and a country the author has never visited, but most of her readers won’t have either so who’s to know?

I know that many authors hate to be told that they should be pushing their book as a product, targeting a market and hitting their audience where they hang out with the kind of message that appeals to them specifically. We have a tendency to bristle and reply that selling books in not like selling potatoes or washing machines. We like to think that there is something intrinsically ‘worthy’ about a book that sets it on a higher plane than vulgar vegetables or white goods.

I have come round to the belief that the marketers are right. You can sell any old rubbish as long as you can convince people it’s the rubbish they want. Publicists (sorry) are not in the business of telling gospel truths, they are in the business of persuading people to buy product X in preference to product Y. Product X might be utter crap technically, but the publicist’s skill is in convincing the potential buyer to overlook that unfortunate fact and instead look at other advantages. They might be street cred, the colour of the laces, the woman draped across the bonnet, whatever.

Same with books, I’m afraid. The mass market is not made up of discerning literati—they form only a small percentage and they probably wouldn’t ever look at your book anyway if it’s genre fiction—but of people wanting accessible entertainment. That’s the market most of us are hoping to interest. It isn’t important that, unlike books, you can judge all washing machines using the same criteria. People still ignore the evidence and buy crap washing machines. Conversely, many people do judge a book the way they judge a washing machine, ticking off their own set of criteria.

Selling isn’t about hard facts; it’s about wrapping a product up in an attractive package. If you are lucky enough to have a good publisher, you have a head start in the kudos race and can afford to concentrate on your art. The rest of us have to go down the marketing route with our books or doom ourselves to failure.

I’ll stick to getting my thrills from making a modest few ripples in this big pool.

 

Promote yourself: how to do it on this blog

For all writers, poets, photographers, artists who would like to get a promotional blog post together, this is for you.
Using the contact form makes it all rather cloak and dagger, so to simplify things for those of you with questions about what to include in your post, here are a few guidelines you might want to follow.

1) Introduce yourself in whatever way you prefer, personal or professional, and give us an idea of what you do.

2) Choose a sample of your work—prose, poems, photographs, illustrations—that does you credit. It can be as long as you like. Book excerpts are fine, just bear in mind that reading a lot of unbroken text on the computer is tiring, and you might lose readers if it’s too long.

3) Send any images that are relevant, like book covers, illustrations, author pic if you want. Again, be reasonable. Please don’t send clippings images—neither I nor WordPress can cope with them.

4) The point is to promote you, so please send links to your blog/website, social media sites where you are active, purchase links, Amazon author page.

Send all the material you would like to include in your post to:
jane.dougherty@dbmail.com

In theory, I’ll get back to you with an idea of when your post will go live. In practice, I probably won’t know until about a week beforehand. This is so organised for me you wouldn’t believe it