Monday, November 25, 2013

Oil & Water

by John Klawitter

Copyright © 2013 John Klawitter
Originally published by 1st Turning Point, 2010

Lots of things don’t mix, of course.  There’s booze and driving, guns and young kids, angels and devils, to name a few.
John Klawitter

Mulling in this vein, I can see that some writers fail to realize how alien and unmixable the disciplines of writing and marketing can be.  Writing, of course, is your very lifeblood, your soul, your heart, your passion.  Marketing your writing is something different.  It can feel like writing is talking directly to God, while marketing is formality, chants, thumbing the beads, spinning the prayer wheels.
The proof is in the differing career arcs of the followers of these disparate disciplines: Writers may die of starvation or despair, but copywriters burn out, become zombies, members of the living dead.  That’s why ad agencies hire kids, burn their candles at both ends and then boot them up the ladder (to supervise the new crop of innocents) or boot them out the door to find another career path.
A closer look reveals that, while authors have the whisper of the entire universe as their subtext, the subtext of every ad and commercial is simply Buy this Product. Hey, even the slickest medicine men get tired after a while.  But you can get around these dire conditions and find a way to survive.  After all, do not the oak tree and the willow both thrive in the same world?
Good heavens, you ask, has the Klaw finally gone off the deep end here? Maybe, but I was a famous copywriter for decades, and yet I avoided becoming a total word zombie.  So maybe a few of the lessons I learned would be helpful to you, the still living, breathing scribblers of magic.  And, in this case, you can have the gain without the pain.
As you know, when writing, you are and must be the absolute dictator and master of your creation.  But, what you may not recognize completely is that, once finished, you must become totally another being, in a sense the opposite of what you were.  You have to replace your bold confidence with skepticism, your glorious sharing openness with cunning appraisal, your fierce tenacity with a willingness to let good ideas pass in favor of better ones.
Oh, what a different world it becomes the first time an agent says "Feels too much like Nora Roberts to me!"
Nora Roberts
You have to fend off that plunging darkness of the heart, find resolve, and learn to use parrying thrusts like There’s always room for another best-selling Nora Roberts. You see, as a novelist, you were a god without peers.  As an author looking to publish, you have to dig in a different direction for resources you may not realize you have.
Once you were writing absolute truth.  Now your talents must turn to persuasion, to selling, to Buy my novel. Interestingly enough, once you are of this frame of mind, you may find some new avenues open up for you.
First off, you come to realize you’re actually selling two things, yourself and your work.  It’s more than just buy my novel, it’s I’m the real thing, take a shot on reading me. This self-marketing thrust may be only a few lines, but they have to be the right ones.  English author Dick Francis, who wrote, until recently, thrillers centered around horse racing, let it be known that he was not just an experienced jockey–but the Queen of England’s jockey. Richard Halliburton, a fabulously successful travel writer of 90 years ago, didn’t just quit school to bum around the world–he left a prestigious ivy league college to follow the Royal Road to Romance.
Now don’t tell me this doesn’t apply to you.  You may not be a famous horse rider or an advantaged kid who throws it all away for romance, but there is something original and special about you or you wouldn’t be writing in the first place.  Your marketing assignment is to find that specialness, what ad biz people call your inherent drama, and then you have to market that difference.
It may not be obvious or come about all in one illumination.  You may have to reach into your world of possibilities, to polish your strong positives and ignore the few negatives.  Could be, you’ll have to turn the negatives into positives.  Consider the wild and
Oscar Wilde
flagrant outfitting employed by Oscar Wilde in the 1890′s.  He’d been doing okay for about ten years, but he really took off as an author when he became known for his biting wit, flamboyant dress and glittering conversation.  I’m not saying the secret is in becoming something you are not, but rather in developing the strength in who and what you are.  Anyone who has heard Tony Hillerman speak without falling asleep has an eyelid up on me.  But Tony sells his work as authentic and original stories from the secretive Navajo Nation.  Tony is not a Navajo; he’s a bilikana, a white-eyes.  How the hell did he ever pull that one off? Worth mulling, isn’t it.  Or, accept the absolute and utter believability in Robert Waller’s great The Bridges of Madison County, where the secret actually is in the sauce, that is, the storyteller’s believability is woven into the story.
You know, selling yourself may end up to be only be a few lines, but it could take you lots longer to craft those words right than it would to write a hot and sexy four hundred page thriller.  Might not happen at all for you.  Some great authors never recognize their own drama, never find the words to convince readers to give them a shot…until somebody figures it out after they are dead and gone.  The tragic life stories of Herman Melville and Ross Lockridge, Jr. come to mind.   Don’t let that happen to you.  Recognize the disciplines of creative writing and marketing writing are as different as oil & water–and then collect as many bottles and barrels of each for yourself as you can.

John Klawitter is a Hollywood writer, producer and director who writes fiction and non-fiction books.  He often adapts his novels to screenplays that he then peddles around town.   (So far, a few fat options, but no brass ring.) His novels are based on his years surviving as a creative person in the ad biz and in show biz.  It is an interesting life.
He has worked as the Creative Director of Disney Studios in Burbank, and as an independent creative resource for Warner Bros, Universal Studios, Paramount and the Disney Channel, as well as for many indy production companies including Hanna Barbera, Franke Films, Pink Planet Productions, Eyeline Films and Zoiyu Productions.  His films and television specials have appeared on NBC, the BBC, and the Disney Channel, and he has written many memorable song lyrics, advertising jingles and television show openings, including “Disney’s Wonderful World”, “Now & Then”, and “The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Show”.

The Castelane blog will feature guest authors, artists and publishers, writing about marketing, publishing and the joys and angsts of the writing life. If you’d like to contribute to either the Castelane blog or the Knowledge Base, please contact us at
We’d also love to hear your experiences about your favorite books or interesting teachers. Feel free to post them here.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Every Writer Should…

by Guest Columnist, Susan Stephenson

What are the prerequisites for being a writer? Does a writer need a thick skin? An understanding and forgiving spouse? A sense of humour? Should a writer have the uncontrollable desire to go to work in
purple fluffy slippers? Is it necessary for a writer to be passionate about her prose?

If you had to compile a checklist about what writers should do, what would the main points be? How would you finish the sentence “Every writer should…”?

When we’re first learning the ropes for being a writer, we learn to write about whatever fascinates us, whatever we feel passionate about. While doing this, we must consider the elements of plot, theme, characterization, motivation, setting, form, genre, point of view, and more. We learn to show, not tell. We learn few writers ever make it out of the slush-pile and writing is hard work.

Later, we learn the importance of planning and revision. Still later, if we seek publication, we discover marketing, self-promotion, how to write an effective query letter and how to cope with rejection. Further down the track, or so I’m told, writers must grapple with problems like how to invest their earnings and what to spend them on. I wish…

While all that’s going on, most experts agree every writer should write. Every writer should read. They should do both every day. They should make sure they get out into the real world on a regular basis, or risk becoming out-of-touch with their target audience. Writers should hone their senses and increase their powers of observation, the better to accurately pull a reader into the story, be it fiction or non-fiction.

It is my belief writers should build a magical place where we can read our dreams. I believe a writer’s craft is to use her bag of tricks to construct an alternate reality for the reader - a place for escape and entertainment, furnished with words and images, decorated with imagination.

It pays to be a wordsmith. Read. Go to bed with your dictionary. Increase your word power. Collect words and phrases that make your heart sing. Learn to really look, feel, touch, smell, taste and record those observations as accurately and powerfully as you possibly can. And if you’re writing for children, spend time with them, find out what they want.

Because so much text about writing for children is by adults, I decided to discover what children want of writers. I surveyed a group of Elementary school children, asking them what a writer should do. Overwhelmingly, they indicated the importance of having a good story to tell. Other responses generally supported writing with action and lots of humour. Several students indicated a writer should “get straight into the story” or “not have a long introduction.” Similarly, there were calls for a writer to have a “proper ending” and “an end that leaves you something to think about.”

Can you spot the gender differences in these responses? “Writers should tell about boys being scared of things like mice and plastic spiders.” “Writers should make sure they have lots of crooks, evil villains and robbers.” “Writers should have guns, lots of guns.” “Writers should tell you about bullies being scared or doing ballet.” “Writers should write about different worlds with evil overlords and mutated humans.”

Both boys and girls agreed that writers needed to include “lots of problems and drama” and to write “believably”. There were calls for “pictures, even in a novel”, providing a spur to writers contemplating creation of a graphic novel. Many children wisely touched on the need for writers to tap into an element of “magic”. But my favourite piece of wisdom came from a ten-year-old boy. He told me, “Every writer should make you wonder what will happen next.” His words are now a bumper sticker on my computer.

It seems to me kids have strong opinions of what they want from writers. They recognize and appreciate writers who don’t waste words, who keep them guessing, who give them opportunities to share the fictive dream. Structure is important to children, as is humour and all those devices that make a story seem real. But what is the single most important quality a writer should have? For kids, it’s the ability to tell a darn good story.

Fortunately, what children actually do want from writers meshes with what the writing gurus tell us. So, assemble your guns, plastic spiders, mutated humans and ballet-bullies and start writing. And when the writing process is over, when you’ve revised and polished and deleted and killed your darlings, remember to submit to publishers!

Susan Stephenson is a writer, teacher and book reviewer who lives about as far east as you can go on Australia without falling off. Apart from pretending to be a chicken at The Book Chook blog, Susan writes stories for children and offers resources for teachers and parents at her website,

Monster Maddie
Written by Susan Stephenson, Illustrated by K.C. Snider

To make the kids at her new school take notice, Maddie becomes a monster, with fangs and claws and wild, wild hair. They turn their backs. When she realizes her mistake, a kitten shows her the way to making friends successfully.

The Castelane blog will feature guest authors, artists and publishers, writing about marketing, publishing and the joys and angsts of the writing life. If you’d like to contribute to either the Castelane blog or the Knowledge Base, please contact us at

I’d also love to hear your experiences about your favorite books or interesting teachers. Feel free to post them here.

Monday, November 11, 2013

For the New Author

As a published author, I often get approached by closet writers at dinner parties or other events. I call them closet writers because they’ve written a book (or have an idea for one) but have no idea what to do with it. They may be shy about this skeleton in their closet or they may be eager to let it out. Either way, my first advice to new writers has little to do with actual writing. It has more to do with navigating the rushing waters of the publishing industry. This summer alone I was asked for advice from three would-be authors. I thought it was time to sketch an outline of what new authors should know before they send their first manuscript out into the world. 

Join a critique group

Showing your work to family and friends can be daunting or exciting, but either way, loved ones will rarely give you the unbiased, detailed critique that you need to move your craft forward. This is the job of a critique group. Many such groups exist online (I’ve listed a few of my favorites below) or you can often find one at your local library or writers' group. Some groups are large and you may never get to know all the members personally. The advantage of these groups is that you may get many critiques from people with varying backgrounds. The down side is that you may get critiques from people who don’t read or enjoy your genre. These critiques may or may not have much value to you.

Smaller critique groups are more personable. Over time, you will develop a solid working
relationship with the others in your group. They will be able to recognize your strengths and weaknesses and offer good advice in this light. The down side to a smaller group is that they may become used to your writing style and be less valuable as a ‘focus group.’

Join a writers’ group

What’s the difference between a writers’ group and a critique group? It’s like the difference between eating just your carbs instead of a well balanced meal. While many writers’ groups incorporate critiquing services, their scope is much broader. Writers’ groups are generally organized by geography or genre. Local groups are wonderful for meeting other authors in your area, and offer monthly meetings with keynote speakers and workshops. Genre groups, such as Romance Writers of America (RWA) or the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), are generally nationwide with local chapters. Either way, these groups offer great opportunities for networking with writers, editors, agents and other professionals in the field. Some of these groups also offer legal advice.

Go to conventions

The writer’s life can be that of a hermit. We shut ourselves in a room with only a coffee pot for company. The internet has opened up many opportunities for writers, but nothing can take the place of face-to-face introductions. There are writing conventions all over the country for different genres. They offer workshops on writing craft and marketing as well as keynote speakers in the field. Often top agents and editors offer one-on-one critiques. But
the real benefit of these conventions is the after-hours networking opportunities. Here you will meet published authors, agents and editors in a relaxed setting. Not the best place to pitch your latest book (unless invited) but the perfect opportunity for making contacts in the industry—contacts that may help you next time you send in a query. Editors can see you're not crazy, you're presentable and professional. When your name comes into the slush pile, they have a face to put with the name, and it's a sane face.
Find conventions through your local writing group or regional chapters of national groups.

Research trends. Read submission guidelines.

At one time, I spent more time reading submission guidelines than I did novels. Apart from pinpointing likely publishers, this allowed me to get an overview of current market trends. For adults, I mostly write paranormal fiction. I was shocked to read that editors didn’t want vampire fiction. This was around the time of the Twilight phenomenon and editors were inundated with bad vampire stories. Sometimes, you can write against these trends. I made
myself a vow to write vampire stories for editors who said “No vampire stories!” By working with the popularity of a genre and knowing that editors wanted something unique, I was able to publish three vampire stories (Black Bet’s Home for Toothless Vampires, The Raft, and Megan’s Baby).
A simple online search for publishers will bring up guidelines. Services like or are also a good way to get started. They charge a small fee, but list publishers guidelines and contact information for easy access.
Another way to research trends is simply to browse current titles either online or in a bookstore. The problem with this method is that the books currently on shelves may not be what editors are looking for. The publishing industry moves fast and the ability to predict the next great trend is akin to choosing the winning horse at the Kentucky Derby.

Start with small press magazines

While many editors and agents don’t require you to have a publishing history to look at your manuscript, it definitely helps. Also, the best way to polish your craft is: write, write, write. I read stories I wrote ten years ago, stories that I thought were great, and realize that in those ten years I have learned much about the craft of writing. I have my critique group to thank for much of that growth.
Small press magazines give you a chance to get your feet wet. The thrill of having your first story published is incomparable. You can build your writing track record and hone your skills at the same time. Lists like are an easy way to view hundreds of magazine guidelines in one place.

Immerse yourself in the publishing industry.

This last tip encompasses all the others. First time authors often don’t realize that the writing part of an author’s life is only half of the job. The rest is networking and submitting manuscripts. After publication you will also need to market your book. Sometimes this business side can feel overwhelming. There are days that I wish I could just write but instead, I have to send queries or create a marketing plan. Knowing the quirks of the publishing industry can make these jobs easier. And the time to learn these quirks is now, before your first book is published.

Romance Writers of America
Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America
Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators

Online critique groups

✍ Kim McDougall

The Castelane blog will feature guest authors, artists and publishers, writing about marketing, publishing and the joys and angsts of the writing life. If you’d like to contribute to either the Castelane blog or the Knowledge Base, please contact us at
I’d also love to hear your experiences about your favorite books or interesting teachers. Feel free to post them here.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Taking Care of Business

by Guest Columnist, John Foxjohn
Copyright © 2013 John Foxjohn

Originally Published by 1st Turning Point, 2009

I fully admit that if I see someone doing something and it works, and I think it will work for me, as long as no one has copyrighted it, I’ll use it.
John Foxjohn

I am an author, but I also like to consider writing as my business and I treat it as a business. One day, while driving down the road, one of these business trucks passed me, and they had a great little advertisement message written on the side.
When that happened, I knew what I had to do. These people were promoting wherever they went and parked-I had to do the same.
I started out with two 12×12 magnets on the back of my mini-van. However, someone stole them. Before they did, I’d gotten some great feedback on those magnets. People saw them and liked them.
Besides having the ability for someone to steal them off the vehicle, a car would need to be close behind me to see them. I liked the effect they were getting, but realized that it would get too expensive if people kept stealing them. I wasn’t about to trash the idea. I just needed to do it better, and then a friend suggested I go talk to someone in a print shop.
Here’s a picture of what I came up with.
Now, everywhere I drive and park, I am promoting and branding my name. This is on both sides and I can tell you, they are extremely easy to read, and people do. I get e-mails from readers who have seen them all the time. Not only do I get e-mails, I get book orders all the time.
Both of these cost me a total of 30 tax-deducting dollars. That’s right. You tell me where you can get this kind of exposure for $30.00. Besides that, I even sold a book to the people at the print shop.
I want to tell you a story about my van and the signs. My wife, son, and I were headed home from the Texas Book Festival in Austin. I drove with my wife in the front seat, son in the back. As I talked to my wife, I didn’t pay attention to the vehicles around me.

My son yelled, “Look, Dad,” and pointed to the right lane. We glanced over and a truck pulling a small trailer came up beside us with several males in it. One held up a handmade sign that said, “Color of Murder.”
This may not mean anything to you, but it is the title of my novel that scheduled to come out. No one knew this title but my family, publisher, and the people who read my web site.
You talk about getting me excited. I got home and checked my e-mail and I had one from the guy in the truck. They were a band on the way back from Austin, too. They looked up my web site on their phone.
Since that time, every member of the band has purchased all my novels. But they didn’t stop there. They sent me a friend’s request on MySpace. I am listed on their page as one of the people who has most influenced them.
They also put the covers of my books on their MySpace page, and I am listed as their favorite author.
They even wrote a song called Color of Murder on the open highway.
Everyone who goes to their site sees this. They are helping me promote and brand my name.
One last story about the effectiveness of these signs-after I put them on, I had a book signing in Dallas at a book festival. I loaded my stuff up and headed out. I stopped In Jacksonville to gas up and get coffee.
When I went in to get the coffee, the woman who worked there could see my van. She asked me about my books. I told her, and she asked if I had any on me.
As it happened, I had a van full of them because I was on my way to a signing. I told her I did, and she asked to see them. Of course, I am not about to tell her no. I paid, and went and got them. She decided to purchase two of them. While she was getting her money, the customer behind me asked to see them.
To make a long story short, I sold seventeen at the store on my way to a signing.
This is not the only times that things like this have happened. I have sold books in places some may consider strange-the drive-through of Kentucky Fried Chicken, for instance.
But I am able to do this for three reasons, and the first has to be the signs that let’s everyone know who I am.
Of course, the other two reasons is I am not shy at all, and I always keep books in all of my vehicles for this very reason.
Prior planning prevents poor performance.

John Foxjohn, the author of the best-selling true crime, Killer Nurse, epitomizes the phrase "been there--done that." Born and raised in the rural East Texas town of Nacogdoches, he quit high school
and joined the Army at seventeen: Viet Nam veteran, Army Airborne Ranger, policeman and homicide detective, retired teacher and coach, now he is a multi-published author.
John Foxjohn
Growing up, Foxjohn developed a love of reading that will never end. In fact, he refers to himself as a "readalcoholic." He began with the classics and still lists Huckleberry Finn as one of his all time favorites. Later, he discovered Louis L'Amour and besides owning every book he wrote, Foxjohn says he's read every one of them at least five times.
However, when he was twelve, Foxjohn read a book about Crazy Horse, and decided right then he would also write one about the famous Lakota leader. After many "yondering" years as L'Amour called them, he spent ten years researching his historical fiction, Journey of the Spirit, now titled The People's Warrior.
Maybe because of his eclectic reading habits John has not limited himself to publishing in one genre. In fact, he has published mysteries, romantic suspenses, historical fiction, legal thrillers, and nonfiction Killer Nurse.
When he's not writing, teaching writing classes, or speaking to different writing groups and conferences, Foxjohn loves to spend time square dancing, working in his rose garden, or in his garage doing woodwork. However, his passion outside of family and writing is without a doubt, anything to do with the Dallas Cowboys.

Killer Nurse by John Foxjohn

She was hired to nurse them back to health...instead, she took their lives.
For months, the DaVita Dialysis Center in Lufkin, Texas had been baffled by the rising number of deaths and injuries occurring in their clinic. In April alone, they’d rushed thirty-four patients to the hospital. But no one expected such a horrific cause to be behind it all.
Kimberly Clark Saenz was a well-liked licensed vocational nurse at the center. The East Texas nurse was a mother of two, and known for her smiles and the stories she told to help patients pass the time. But on April 28, 2008, witnesses came forward to say that instead of lifesaving medication, they’d seen Saenz adding toxic bleach to IV ports. Turns out, it wasn’t the first time. Once caught, the shocking story of Saenz’s murderous practices began to unravel…

The Castelane blog will feature guest authors, artists and publishers, writing about marketing, publishing and the joys and angsts of the writing life. If you’d like to contribute to either the Castelane blog or the Knowledge Base, please contact us at

I’d also love to hear your experiences about your favorite books or interesting teachers. Feel free to post them here.