Introducing the One-Book-Only Book Club: January 1 to 31, 2014

What better time to read a novel about a woman who is struggling to get thin than in January?

TWCD_cover_v2Join other readers and the author for a fun, easy, interesting, on-line book discussion from January 1 to 31, 2014 to read and talk about The Whole Clove Diet: A Novel – the story of 29-year-old Rita Sax Turner’s frustrating and funny but ultimately rewarding journey to rid herself of sixty unwanted pounds (or so. Maybe more. Maybe less).

Each week we’ll read 100 pages, and then we’ll talk about them together. There will be set questions and topics posted at the end of each week, but you can ask the author anything about her thoughts on the book, or talk among yourselves – about the book, families, marriages, walking in the park, your own food-related issues, anything. If you have ever used food for something besides sustenance – like to make you thinner, or fatter, or just plain warm and comfy – you’re going to love reading about Rita.

The Whole Clove Diet tells the story of a young woman caught in a frustrating marriage with two step-kids, a nagging mom, a whiny mother-in-law and no clear plan for her future… well, at least none that she wants to think about. Not long ago she was a slim young thing with her whole future ahead of her, but as her options decline, she is getting fatter and fatter (her words) – not from hunger, but from frustration and rage, and feelings of despair and sadness. Her husband thinks that her getting pregnant would be just the thing, but this idea only makes her feel more trapped. She goes on diet after diet, and guess what? They don’t work. It appears that reducing your calorie intake does not take any weight off your problems.

Rita’s redeeming features include her ability to hope (true of anyone who has ever gone on a diet!), her wits, and her sense of humour (black though it may sometimes be). When an injury gives her an excuse to escape the home-front action for a week, she starts to figure it all out – and to figure herself out. The novel is ultimately a feel-good story that will leave you cheering for Rita (and feeling even more hopeful for yourself, and for those around you who are battling with addictions of any kind).

Some of the issues we’ll be talking about:

  • Is overeating an addiction – just as bulimia and anorexia are now thought to be?
  • How does the western world treat people who are overweight differently than it does people of normal weight?
  • Do we invite any of this treatment ourselves, by how we act when we are above our ideal weights?
  • What is self-discipline? Can you acquire it, and if so, where?
  • What is the difference between deciding to make a life change and resolving to make one?
  • Do women and men approach food differently? How much does this have to do with our historic roles?
  • Does one diet work better than another?

We’ll also get down to the nitty gritty:

  • Why exactly is Rita sexually attracted to a doctor who has been verbally abusive to her?
  • What can Rita do about the fact that her husband’s first wife keeps getting more and more attractive in everyone’s memory the longer she is dead?
  • What IS the recipe for Nanaimo bars?

As we read, your feelings of despair and sympathy for Rita will alternate with a sense that you want to sit down and have a talk with her, or maybe just give her a good shake. But she’ll also make you laugh and cheer.

Find out what the author was thinking when she wrote the novel, and what her own experiences with weight issues (and other addictions) have been, in this perfectly timed opportunity to join a book club that is reading only one book, ever.

Whether you’ve already read The Whole Clove Diet or have been intending to read it – or have never even heard of it until this minute – join us. (Check out the reviews by other readers first, on Amazon or GoodReads, if you’re so inclined.) If you have ever wanted to lose (or gain) a pound or two, are planning to make a new year’s resolution (about anything – the same principles apply if you’re on a weight-loss program, cutting back on the booze or cigarettes, or training for a half marathon), or just love reading some good writing, snuggle up with this book – and with us – for a truly satisfying launch to the new year.

Note: The WCD One-Off Book Club will meet on the The Whole Clove Diet blog, but the discussion will be copied to Mary W. Walters’s Author Page on GoodReads. Regular updates will also appear on the Mary W. Walters, Writer Facebook page, and on Twitter (@MaryWWalters). If you are not an on-line-forum kind of person, you can have printouts of the discussions emailed to you on request, and you can submit questions by email each week that will be answered and/or discussed by the group. (mary at marywwalters dot com)

The Whole Clove Diet is available from in both print and e-book versions, and as a Kobo e-book.

Book Promotion Tip of the Week #11: Don’t Give Up

Mary W. Walters Militant Writer(With a special P.S. for fiction writers)

This can be a very discouraging undertaking, this book promotion business.

Most of us didn’t set out to be book publishers, business managers, and self promoters – we set out to be writers. We wanted to communicate with readers, to tell a story, to express our dreams, hopes and nightmares. But however well or poorly we have done in the writing of our books, these days it is only the beginning. Even getting what we’ve written published is only the beginning. It’s the promotion that is the long, long haul and it can wear down the most determined and self-reliant among us, and devastate those of us who are lacking in confidence already.

For some of us, the writing is what sustains us: it is what we are meant to do. It is what gives the rest of our lives meaning. (I am one of those.) But a work of art (or wanna-be art) is only complete when it reaches its audience, as far as I’m concerned. And nowadays whether we are self- or traditionally published, the need to promote ourselves and our work eats up way too much of our writing time (such as it is in the first place, for most of us). And when it doesn’t eat up the time, it eats up our morale.

The Courage to Write

It has long been my conviction (like for 20 years or so) that it is necessary to have a whole lot of self-confidence in order to write a book. It takes gumption to complete any book, and as much courage as vision to complete it with any élan. When our self-confidence is eroded, we run into writer’s blocks, procrastination and all the other impediments that (in addition to our jobs and families and friends) can prevent us from writing well – or indeed from writing at all.

The problem, we are discovering as we put on all these new hats (publisher, publicity person, agent, bookseller), is that it also requires courage to promote a book or to promote oneself, and that our courage is threatened at every turn. Every time we check the sales stats on our books, or peek at the visitor-counters on our websites, our morale is likely to take a hit. Those hits affect not only our desire to keep promoting our books, but also whatever confidence we might have had stored up for writing the next book.

Some people probably decide to give up on promotion, but they are shooting themselves in their heads to spite their faces (or however the expression goes).  (Those who publicly announce that they are “giving up” or that they have been defeated are really only taking a new promotional tack. Check out this bit of self-promotion written under the guise of “being a failure” that recently appeared on the Salon website. Clever marketing.) To stop promoting means to disappear completely off the promo circuit, and the only result of that is  . . .  nothing. You sell even fewer books. And no one really cares but you. (The result is similar – or even worse, if that is possible – when you allow yourself to whine in public.)

Keep on Truckin’

In short, the only options are to a) move forward, and b) to sink without a trace. Which leaves only option a. And the only way to move forward is to “keep on keepin’ on.”

It helps to stay in touch with other writers who are doing the same thing we are, in places like this and other sites where people go to commiserate and encourage and share tips, rather than to promote themselves. (One might argue that I established this blog to promote myself, but I assure you that the strategy is not working. I have noticed no sales resulting from the blog, not even any clicks through to my books despite the 50,000 hits The Militant Writer has received, and therefore I claim innocence – albeit inadvertent – in the blog-as-marketing department.)

Ironically perhaps, I think it helps to be a writer in this strange new digital world of book sales – by disposition, writers are better equipped than most to take on solitary uphill battles where we slip backwards more often than we move forwards, where no one cares but us if we get anywhere, where giving up is really not an option: we do what we must do. It could therefore be argued that those who give up on book promotion are not real writers. :) (I am prepared to hear arguments that contradict this point of view. In fact, one of this blog’s regular readers, Kim Velk aka Woolfoot, is going to write a guest post on that very subject one of these days.)

It also helps to get enough sleep. Sleep knits up the raveled sleeve of evaporating self-confidence as well as care, and everything looks more do-able in the morning.

A Special Note to Fiction Writers

I have followed down link after link of tips on book promotion, as I am sure you have as well, only to find myself reading lists of strategies that relate primarily to non-fiction. Certainly some of the suggestions can be applied to fiction as well, but most non-fiction (with the exception of some creative non-fiction) is easier to promote than is most fiction: there is no doubt of it. Whether it is how-to, biography, history, memoir, even philosophy or psychology or economics, non-fiction always has an obvious hook that is more likely to interest the media – both social and traditional – than is a “made-up story.”

Because of this, perhaps, I was particularly disappointed to have wasted an hour of my life on a webinar entitled  “Create a Marketing Plan to Sell More Books” put on by CreateSpace, of all companies. (For the uninitiated, CreateSpace is the publisher of choice of most of us self-published authors who choose to create a paperback version of our books. You’d think they’d know that most of their customers are small-time authors, primarily of fiction.)

I was going to save you an hour of your life by telling you all the reasons why there is no point in listening to the replay of the webinar if you are a) a fiction writer and/or b) on a small or nonexistent promotional budget. However, another blogger saved ME another hour of MY time by writing a most eloquent explanation of why Brian Jud’s message is irrelevant to most of us. (Hint: Jud has been selling non-fiction, how-to books for decades and has built up a critical mass and a bank account to support the promotional tactics he suggests: most of them are far beyond the resources of most of us and irrelevant to any book with a literary bent. Take this suggestion of his for example: you should hire an accountant and a lawyer before you go to the bank to apply for a loan for the funding of your next book. All I can say to that is Hah!) Thank you, Ellen Larson, aka The Constant Pen and author of the sci-fi mystery In Retrospect, for an excellent summary and critique.

As Ellen does on hers, I have been making an effort, based on my own self-interests, to make the tips I present here on this blog specifically relevant to fiction writers—even if the majority are also relevant to writers of non-fiction – and I will continue to do that. If anyone finds other sites that are specifically directed at promoting novels and short stories, please let us know. Thank you.

Our Fellow Writers: Friends or foes?

by Mary W. Walters

Those individuals to whom, as writers, we feel most kinship are also our competitors: only so many books get published every year. Over the course of our careers, our fellow writers are also likely to become our judges: the reviewers of our books, the evaluators of our funding applications, the assessors of our anthology submissions and the decision-makers in our nominations for awards.

Many writers are fair and highly principled. Some are not—and a few may be accurately described as ethical degenerates. Even the most conscientious writers, finding themselves on adjudication panels where their motives are never likely to be suspect, may occasionally be tempted to seek revenge on those they think have insulted or offended them—or caused damage to the reputations of their friends. And if they have received some kindness or support from one of the candidates under consideration, they may suddenly discover ways in which they can repay those favours by giving their mentors (or students) a word of praise or a tie-breaking vote.

If we want to be judged on the merits of our work alone, maybe we are better off to stay away from other writers—to keep our noses down and focus only on the writing. On the other hand, the writing community wields more power than most of us realize, and by isolating ourselves we can condemn our creative enterprise to permanent obscurity. Avoiding fellow writers can also deprive us of some of the most meaningful relationships of our lives.

So how do we negotiate the narrow paths of literary friendship without stepping on landmines, being run through with swords, or simply falling in the gutter?

In the beginning

Most writers did not grow up with writer friends. In fact, if an unscientific survey of my own childhood and those of most of my writing colleagues is any indication, many of us were fairly solitary—if not downright ostracized. When we started writing, we were likely to be looked upon askance by our friends and relatives—most of whom may in fact still look at us that way.

As adults, the primary characteristic that sets us apart from the majority of the human population is our obsession with our writing. For us this “pastime” is not hobby, but an integral part of our being, and the foundation of our world view. We do not understand how people who are not occupied by this  majestic compulsion for most of their waking hours ever manage to get through any of the mundanities of life. How does anyone survive the seemingly endless years of wrangling with teenagers, or the monotony of shepherding aging parents all over town, without  the plot of a story to work out or the tantalizing fantasy of an impending publication?

Conversely, most of our friends and acquaintances will never understand how we can be so devastated when an agent reads our query and tells us, “No!” – or our jubilation when a literary journal with a readership of 500 offers us $50 for a story.

With most of our friends and family failing to appreciate or even comprehend us, is it any wonder that we are disproportionately elated when we finally do find people like ourselves? Not only do our fellow writers  “get” the emotional upheavals we experience as our hopes for literary fame and fortune are alternately fuelled and dashed by individuals and circumstances over whom and which we have absolutely no control,  they also understand us when we say we are going underground to write and won’t be having lunch with anyone or even emailing until we have recovered from our latest writing fit.

We do go overboard—of course we do. We embrace these people with open arms. We open our hearts to them as well. We both literally and figuratively fall hopelessly in love with them. How can we help it? We are falling in love with ourselves.

The worm turns

But becoming enamoured with other writers is like befriending porcupines. Our tendency to become overly ecstatic when we think we’ve found our soul mates in on-line writing forums, at writers’ conferences or in creative-writing workshops means that we are equally disposed to over-react when those relationships break down. As they too often do.

Such breakdowns often start quite innocently—an argument over the merits of a newly published book leading to the discovery of fundamental differences in earth-shatteringly divisive issues that range from politics to the use of the first person. Before we know it our parentage, sanity and literary tastes are being questioned on public forums, in quiet corners at literary gatherings, and privately via emails – and we are questioning right back. We suddenly discover that among writers (like every other community of humans in existence) there is backstabbing, malice, and downright pigheadedness everywhere we look. Friendships dissolve in bitterness. Relationships break down. Writer A and several of his friends no longer speak to Writer B. Writer C, oblivious, composes a letter to the editor in support of Writer B on an unrelated subject, and inadvertently alienates himself from the entire camp of A.

Writer D discovers that of the three committee members who decided the outcome of her most recent funding application, one was the close friend of her vindictive ex-lover, and another was a writer from the far end of the country whose first novel she reviewed several years ago with something less than enthusiasm. And she wonders if the make-up of that panel had anything to do with the fact that a writer who is clearly her inferior (she knows he is inferior because of things he once said about sound poetry while drunk at a copyright conference in Toronto) received a grant and she did not.

Such personal animosities often pale in comparison to the kind of nastiness that erupts if any among our number has the misfortune to actually be successful. The malicious whispers of friends denouncing alleged mutual friends who’ve just won prizes are barely drowned out by their more public declarations of congratulation. On-line forums start to smoke with accusations about the behind-the-scenes maneuverings of those moving closer to some coveted reward.

Can’t live with ‘em? Can’t live without ‘em, either.

After a few brushes with writers’ politics, any sane person would find it wise to back away from writers in general and writers in particular, and to return to the solitude from whence we came—which we need to write in anyway. We start to see the appeal in the lives of friends and family who are not quite so persecuted as we are by a sense of their own creative genius. We do our best (not always successfully, because we also tend to be attracted to anything that will distract us from our writing, and we also tend also to love altercations involving intelligent people who are good with words. Scrabble will do for some, but for others a really good argument is the only valid entertainment) to swear off writers’ forums, and resign from writers’ organizations.

But this is a foolish tactic, too—and not only because it deprives us of the fellowship we really do need with others of our ilk.

The value of networking

My recent conversations with and about agents (see The Talent Killers and associated fallout) have revealed  to me a very important piece of information that I did not previously have. Here it is:

Agents often find new clients not from queries but through referrals from existing clients.

Tah dah!

Since the hardest part of getting publishers to look at our work is getting an agent to present it to them, any clue as to how to find an agent is somewhat akin to locating the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. And where is that pot of gold? Apparently we need look no farther than across the table during lunches with our writing pals, or down the row to our colleagues at a writers’ conference, or at our fellow forum contributors on Authonomy or AbsoluteWrite. Forget trying to cozy up to the agents and editors who are the speakers at these conferences – the people whose egos we should be stroking if we want to move our careers ahead are none other than our fellow writers!

It is not only agents that writers can help us with. Knowing writers can give us inside leads on new literary journals that are starting up (I just heard of one of those today), part-time jobs that are opening in the industry that might be perfectly suited to our skills, names of editors at literary magazines, apartments that will become available when other writers are away on residencies—the possibilities are endless.

This hitherto less-than-widely-broadcast reality immediately restores the writer’s primacy in the publishing hierarchy. And the implications are inescapable: since there is no merit or advantage to simply asking strangers if they will present our work to their agents, which is more than likely to ensure they never will, the only solution is to be nice to all the other writers we run into ever. Or at least to those who have agents. And to those who might have agents some day.

Making ourselves visible—also known as networking—is increasingly important in this brave new cyber world. The era of the writer isolated in her garret is long over. We need to be shouting our talents from the rooftops rather than hiding them beneath the eaves.

What to do? What to do?

So on the one hand we have the risks involved with knowing writers too intimately (or of their knowing us too intimately, to be more precise) lest a fallout lead to custom-tailored repercussions. On the other hand, there are undeniable advantages to knowing other writers, not only in terms of the information we may gain from them, but from the access they may offer us to agents, publishers, and other writers who have Clout… not to mention the good words they may put in on our behalf on the aforementioned juries, committees and panels.

There is only one solution. In matters relating to other writers, we must go against our own natures and proceed with caution. We must commit to heart the wise words of the frequently disparaged poet Rudyard Kipling, whom T.S. Eliot once described as being “able to write poetry, if only by accident” (see what happens to successful writers?).

Kipling wrote a poem, “If,” that is no longer as well known as it should be. It begins:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise…

And so on. (Simply exchange the word “men” for “writers” throughout, and you’ll be set. It won’t scan so well, but you can’t have everything.)

In affairs of a literary nature, we need to move cautiously. Before throwing ourselves on the necks of other writers willy-nilly, we need to stand back and take a look at them. We need to watch them at work on the forums and on committees, listen to what they have to say about writing and about life, make sure that they are solid and that we can believe in them before we start leaping into unholy alliances of one kind or another—and we need ensure that they are being equally cautious with us.

But when we do find other writers we can really love (as I have been fortunate to do many times since I started writing)–writers  who we do trust, whose writing we do admire, and who respect and like us back, then we need to release ourselves into these relationships with complete abandon.

Some writers are ethical to a fault. They will never throw us under a bus no matter what we say or do. Maybe not all of them will give our books a positive review after we have broken off love affairs with them, but a surprising number of them will.

In my experience, some of the finest, most open-minded, tolerant, loving, loyal, dedicated and supportive people in the world are writers. And finding those ones and making them our friends is worth all the bickering and flames and suspicions of malfeasance that comprise the potential downsides of leaving the safety of our garrets for the open, if narrow, road.