Adventures in Self-Publishing, Part 5

After publishing my first volume of poetry, I turned to the exacting task of constructing Volume 2 of Research Notes for Women at Play. Just as with Volume 1, I first created a template and then typed my book into that template. (For all my other books, I wrote the book first and then pasted the manuscript into a blank template.)

There was so much formatting involved with all three volumes of Research Notes that I just felt more comfortable doing everything in the template itself, thus decreasing the chance that I would create some inadvertent error if I were to transfer the manuscript to the template.

GregorichRNNotesIIKindleCoverI published Research Notes for Women at Play, Volume 2, in July of 2013. It was my second self-published book of that year, and my seventh self-published book since early 2010.

Not long after publishing Volume 2, I was hit with a desire to write a book on how to write a mystery novel. I’ve been reading mysteries since I was eleven years old, and mysteries account for perhaps 50% of all the books I read. As an avid reader, I find that over the years I’ve developed annoyances at certain things I encounter in some mystery novels — and if I encounter them, I do not continue to read that author’s books.

I’ve published two mystery novels, and while writing my second one, Sound Proof, I created charts and graphs. These allowed me to track the appearance of minor characters, track their motives, and always be aware of where all the characters were within the setting. I drew a diagram of the farm and buildings where the action took place. I made certain that the minor-character villain was present often enough to register on the reader’s consciousness. I tracked all the elements important to developing plot, character, tension, and resolution.

One day (who knows why) I was struck by a desire to explain some of the things a mystery writer should consider in order to write a mystery that doesn’t cheat, doesn’t sound improbable, and doesn’t annoy the reader. So, pulling out all my saved materials for Sound Proof, I wrote a 25-chapter outline for my to-be nonfiction book and then, week by week, wrote the manuscript. And, because most of the books I’ve written are not mysteries, the guide contains a lot of information on writing in general. (Reviews have pointed this out.)

Let me digress a moment to say that one of the truly wonderful things about self-publishing (and there are many) is that it allows writers to publish books that, because they have a small market, are unlikely to be picked up by a traditional publisher. All three volumes of Research Notes serve as an example. Th existence of high-quality self-publishing also allows writers to self-publish books that are unlikely to sell to a traditional publisher because the author isn’t a big enough name. My how-to serves as an example. I felt that traditional publishers might like my manuscript, but wouldn’t take a chance on publishing it. I love that I was able to publish it myself.

COVER-WITH-TEMPLATE

And now back to the process of self-publishing my how-to. With this how-to, which would become my eight self-published book, I ran into a word-processing roadblock. Fitting all the charts and graphs into my 6”x9” template proved impossible: there was something about Apple’s Pages program that didn’t allow a long chart (three pages long, say) to flow from one page to another. Instead, I had to chop the chart into pieces that would fit on each page. And even then, I couldn’t make it work. So, as before, I asked friend Robin Koontz if I could hire her to format the document. Robin agreed, producing a publication-ready template — but even she thought it was difficult to do.

Of all the titles I’ve come up with for my self-published books, this one is my favorite: Guide to Writing the Mystery Novel: Lots of Examples, Plus Dead Bodies. The title promises information, lots of examples, and humor. The book, I think, delivers those things.

Guide to Writing the Mystery Novel: Lots of Examples, Plus Dead Bodies, was published in October of 2014. It soon became my best-selling self-published book. To this day, Guide battles with Jack and Larry for the number one position in my monthly sales.

After I published Guide in 2014, I dove into the work of publishing the final volume of Research Notes to Women at Play. I self-published the first volume in 2010, and the third in October of 2015.

BookCoverNotesCoverIII-FINALIf you’ve been reading these posts on my self-publishing adventures, you may remember that I intended to donate my thousands of pages of research notes to the Baseball Hall of Fame . . . but then I got the brilliant idea of self-publishing a portion of the notes.

So, after the third volume was finally published, I began to organize my notes, so that I could deliver them to the BHOF in a neat order. I began in November, 2015, and I finished in July, 2016. The project was a big one. I delivered the notes in August, 2016. And then I spent the rest of the year catching up on what I had neglected while organizing the notes. So I did no self-publishing in 2016.

In fact, I thought it was unlikely that I’d self-publish anything for two or three years. But such was not the case.

________________

Guide to Writing the Mystery Novel: Lots of Examples, Plus Dead Bodies vies with Jack and Larry for best-selling of Barbara Gregorich’s self-published books.

Adventures in Self-Publishing, Part 2

When I first considered self-publishing, what I was thinking of were manuscripts which, for one reason or another, would have taken years to find a home with a traditional publisher. So I was thinking of books I had already written. Or perhaps had not written yet, but soon would.

I was not, I assure you, thinking of going into my file cabinets, pulling out thousands of pages of research notes, and publishing them. Yet that’s what happened.

The existence of easy self-publishing through CreateSpace is what made me even think about publishing a collection of research notes. As a result of all my research on the history of women who played baseball, I had thousands of pages of information in my file cabinet. My original intention was to get all these notes in good order and then donate them to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

sc004dc527Which I would have done back in 2010 had self-publishing not come into my life. Because one day, as I was eyeing the stuffed file drawers, trying to figure out how and when I would put them in order, a thought crossed my mind. Two thoughts, actually: (1) Might baseball researchers, historians, teachers of the research paper, and others be interested in some of these notes? (2) If so, why couldn’t I self-publish the ones that were public domain (1923 or earlier)?

I was so excited by the possibility of this venture that I immediately sat on the floor in front of my file cabinet and began sorting. It soon became clear that, unless I wanted to publish a 500-page book (I did not), I would have to divide the notes into at least two volumes. Digging deeper into the files, I realized that three volumes allowed for a more logical division of the materials. Okay, then: I would self-publish three volumes of research notes!

Shoving future volumes two and three aside, I collected all the papers that would go into volume one and heaped them on my computer table. The stack was about 18 inches high.

The next day, I looked at CreateSpace book sizes again and decided that I wanted a bigger size than 6×9”, so that I could have wide margins in which people could write, and so that the book might more easily lie open. I chose the 8″x10” format and then created a document that size in my word processing — thankful that I had learned how to create such a format for my first self-published book. (See Adventures, Part 1.) CreateSpace at this time (2010) still did not offer format templates. Because I knew not only how to create a specific page size, but also how to change page margins, I ended up with a template that was 8 inches wide, with a 1-inch inside margin and a 1-inch outside margin. Because many of the newspaper articles were quoted in full and thus indented even more, readers usually saw a 1.25-inch margin.

Left Page V1              Right Page V1

From that time on (February, 2010) until early October, I daily typed notes into my 8×10 template. This was tedious work, not because the notes were uninteresting (some of them were quite lively reports from old newspaper articles), but because I had to create many headers and sub-headers and develop a style for the newspaper reproductions. In short, I was making design decisions as I created the book, entry by entry.

By October of 2010 my book was ready. Robin Koontz designed the cover for me, and in early November of 2010 I self-published Research Notes for Women at Play, Volume 1. Although both Robin and I knew there would be more than one volume of Research Notes, and although both of us knew that the CreateSpace POD process did not allow for printing on the spine of books that were fewer than 175 pages in length — neither of us anticipated something that would turn out to be a problem when I started to work on Volume 2. More about that in a later blog.

 

First Cover, V1

Cover design by Robin Koontz

This time around I was able to conquer the alternating headers problem: my left-hand pages contain the title of the book, my right-hand pages contain the names of the main players in Volume 1. But this time around I decided to put this information in the footers, not in the headers. My reasoning here was that information at the top of the page could interfere with the reader’s concentration.  The fact that I didn’t know how to create different left- and right-hand headers/footers with my first book, but was able to do it with my second, made me giddy with happiness!

If you recall, my goal was to format my second self-published book in three weeks or less. As it turned out, the process for my second book took longer than three weeks. In fact, it took eight months — but that’s because I was creating the manuscript as I went along. With She’s on First, the manuscript had been created years ago: my job was simply to format it. With Volume 1, creation, design, and formatting took place at one and the same time. This is a much slower process than pasting an existent manuscript into a template.

Also, this time around I did not use the New Pentium typeface that I had used in She’s on First. Initially I chose Palatino because I think it’s a beautiful, very readable typeface (with no problems when it comes to italics or Arabic numerals). But somewhere along the line I realized that Palatino is also a rather large typeface. I experimented with changing my document from Palatino to Times New Roman.

The result was mildly astonishing: my 8×10” book was reduced from 123 manuscript pages to 112 manuscript pages. At no cost in legibility. The reduction in page size helped me keep the price of the book at $12. (I would have preferred charging $10, but with the cuts taken by both CreateSpace and Amazon, my income per book would have been too low.)

A few days after publication I created a PDF of the document and self-published Volume 1 as a Kindle ebook. (More about PDFs as ebooks in a later blog.)

My Formatting Accomplishments
•  Created an 8″x10” Template
•  Created Wide Page Margins
•  Inserted Distinct Footers for Left- and Right-Hand Pages
•  Chose a Problem-Free Font
•  Designed the Interior with Consistent Headers and Sub-Headers
•  Decreased Total Page Count by Choosing a Different Font

________________

Research Notes for Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball, Volume 1 not only reports the stories of 19th century female ballplayers, it sets the stage for the dramatic intersections of these stories in Volume 3.

How I Wrote a Book in 92 Days

After She’s on First was published in 1987, I spent more than a year avoiding writing a nonfiction book on women who played baseball. Finally, toward the end of 1988, I decided I would write such a book. It would, I figured, take me a year to do all the research.

Ha!

It took four years of daily research, travel, and interviews before I felt I had enough material to tell the story of 100 years of women playing baseball. In 1992 my agent sold my book proposal to Harcourt — and Harcourt gave me 92 days in which to write the manuscript.

After I wrote the manuscript, I wrote an article about the 92-day experience. “How I Wrote a Book in 92 Days” was published in the 1994 Writer’s Yearbook. I’m reprinting the article below.

sc004dc527
Truth may not be stranger than fiction, but it certainly is faster. I needed two full years to write my first book, a novel about a female baseball player. Writing the novel led to what eventually became my fourth book, the real story of women who played baseball. After I developed a proposal for Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball, my agent submitted it.

On Sunday, July 12, 1992, my agent, Jane Jordan Browne, called from her office to say that a 19-page sample contract had arrived from Harcourt Brace Company via fax, and that while she was negotiating and modifying the contract, I should know that I had only until October 15, 1992, to write the manuscript. According to editor John Radziewicz, this was a “drop-dead” deadline.

Elated at the contract, but stunned by the deadline, I counted the squares on my wall calendar. Exactly ninety-five of them from Monday, July 13 through Thursday, October 15. But three of them were filled with day-long events, leaving me ninety-two days to write a 50,000-word book and collect at least fifty photographs of female baseball players.

No time to panic or complain. That very Sunday I sat down and figured it out, day by day. The 27 chapters listed in my proposal (each chapter containing two, three, or four sidebars) were organized into four sections, each with an introduction. Counting each introduction as a chapter, I had 31 chapters. This gave me a smidgen less than three days to write each chapter and its accompanying sidebars. That night I went to sleep knowing the next morning was critical: I would start off right and keep on schedule.



Monday, July 13 , Day 1 — My schedule calls for me to write from 7:30 A.M. until 2:00 P.M., exercise from 2:00 until 3:30, answer correspondence, return phone calls, and run errands from 3:30 until 6:00, and then write again from 6:00 until … whenever.

At 7:42 A.M. I face the computer and begin Chapter 2. (Chapter 1, the sample chapter of my book proposal, is written, so I’m three days ahead of schedule already!) Chapter 2 is the shortest in the book and I finish it by 7:30 P.M. of Day 1. Hot damn!

Later, I type a long list of possible photos and their probable sources for Sharon Johnson, a friend who works as my research assistant five hours a week.

Monday, July 20 , Day 7— Chapter 4 completed, I place it in a green file folder that I nestle into a bright yellow pocket folder. Four of the yellow pockets sit on a shelf, each representing one section of Women at Play. On the two shelves above the yellow pockets sit eight linear feet of folders stuffed with photocopies of old newspaper articles, letters, diaries, and notes from baseball books — the history of women in baseball, 1872 to the present, and the product of my research so far.

Tuesday, July 28 , Day 15 — After reading comments on Section One from Jane and from my husband, Phil Passen, I rewrite the six chapters and introduction. By 9:15 P.M., I’m printing out the last of the rewritten chapters and am an amazing six days ahead of schedule.

Wednesday, August 12 , Day 30— Late in the evening I finish Chapter 10. The sidebars are fun: I write them first because they serve as a warmup to the chapter.

But Section Two is turning out longer than I thought. Worried about keeping the manuscript to a reasonable size, I consider deleting a chapter from Section Three and another from Section Four. I make no decision.

imagesTuesday, August 18 , Day 36 — At 7:00 A.M. I launch into the introduction for Section Two. Around 11:30, I break for lunch. As I’m eating a slice of pizza, I hear a loud Crack and feel something dreadfully wrong in my mouth.

I have broken my upper left bicuspid (tooth number twelve, I later learn). Some pain, but not much. Returning to the computer, I finish writing the introduction. I work until 2:00, as scheduled. At 2:01 I call the dentist, who tells me to come in at 4:30.

Thursday, August 20 , Day 38 — By the time I rewrite chapters 7-12, write the cover letter, make copies, and mail Section Two, I’m three days ahead of schedule.

Saturday, August 22 — Today doesn’t count: it’s the third of the Chicago White Sox 1992 seminars on women in baseball and I’m one of the speakers. Phil’s birthday is August 24, but we go out to celebrate tonight. It feels wonderful to have a whole day off.

Monday, August 24 , Day 41 — At approximately 9:30 P.M., as we’re lying in bed, we hear a strange sound — thousands of gallons of water rushing down the heating-cooling duct that runs behind my desk and in front of my fax machine.

Water flows down the walls: in the office, the bedroom, the baths, and the foyer. Working frantically, we move machines and boxes off the floor and out of my office. We sling old towels on the sodden carpeting and stomp on them: they turn yellowish-green from the coolant-filled water. A condo maintenance person with a wet vac arrives around 11:30 and begins extracting water. He informs us that a coupling in the air conditioning pipes broke in the unit above us.

At 12:15 we fall into bed, utterly exhausted. Phil moans, “Why did this have to happen on my birthday?” I moan, “Why did this have to happen during my book?”

large-paper-stack1Wednesday, August 26 — This is not a writing day. Sharon and I meet for breakfast and she shows me photos of female ballplayers. We then drive to Rockford, Illinois, where we read 1943-54 microfilmed newspaper articles on the Rockford Peaches of the All-American Girls Baseball League. Exhausted, we drive home.

The carpet cleaners have come and gone, leaving disinfected carpet and three huge blower fans in their wake. Unfortunately, they have also stacked bookcases, chairs, and boxes of computer paper in the kitchen. Phil is out of town. I spend 45 minutes hauling boxes and bookcases out of the kitchen.

It will be a miracle if I finish writing Section Three on time.

Monday, August 31, Day 47 — I now see that two of the final six chapters won’t work. Rewriting my outline, I end up with 25 chapters instead of 27, the two former chapters becoming sidebars. I feel confident that the final outline works. In addition, it makes up for some of my lost time. In the evening I begin to write Chapter 13.

Tuesday, September 8, Day 55— Tackling Chapter 16, I recognize that in order to finish the manuscript on time, I must spend more hours of the day writing. Reluctantly I jettison exercising and cooking dinner.

Civility is the next to go. When telephone solicitors call and ask how I am, I growl, “Call me after October 15” into the phone and hang up.

Wednesday, September 16, Day 63— Chapter 18 is looking good, but lack of exercise is making me tired. I’m sick of home-delivery food. Sharon started medical-technician school full-time yesterday and tells me that she can’t even make phone calls while at school. It appears that I’ll have to finish the remaining photo research by myself.

Despite everything, I wake up eager to write. The good feeling usually vanishes by 4:30 P.M. — then resolve alone keeps me going.

Tuesday, September 29, Day 76— Another long, late day. I begin at 7:45 A.M. and finish at 9:15 P.M. But I complete the rewrite of the third and longest section. I’m now two days behind schedule.

Wednesday, September 30, Day 77— The home stretch. I confront Chapter 22. Every day I spend two hours making calls to procure photos. Instead of filing each piece of paper as it crosses my desk, I toss everything into a huge cardboard box. Come October 16, I’ll regret the mess I’ve created, but right now I’m probably gaining 20 or 30 minutes of writing time a day.

Sunday, October 11, Day 88— The knowledge that this is the last weekend of my ordeal enables me to start writing at 9:00 A.M. and continue all day until 10:30 P.M., wrapping up Chapter 24. Victory is in sight.

Wednesday, October 14, Day 91— Adrenalin kicks in. I write the introduction to Section Four and then rewrite it. In the evening I curl up on the couch with Chapters 22-25 and go through them with a red pen, making changes.

Thursday, October 15, Day 92— I start work at 6:30 A.M. Five hours later, the last rewritten chapter curls out from the printer. I’m euphoric. I call Jane to tell her I finished. I’m on a roll. I call John to tell him I finished and the final section is on its way via Federal Express.

It would be comforting to think that my 92-day writing marathon, replete with minor and major catastrophes, is an abnormality, something that won’t happen again. And frankly, if I stick to writing fiction, it may not. The truth is, however, that the writing of truth is changing.

Thanks to new computer technology allowing for use of the author’s “captured keystrokes” and for design of the book and production of page proofs in a matter of days, and thanks to the competitiveness of the market place on hot topics, more and more nonfiction books will be produced in a shorter time. Under such circumstances, publishers want the author to write the book in less than a year — in three months, even.

I was able to meet my “drop-dead” deadline and live to tell about it, but only because I developed a schedule that put me on track to complete specific chapters by specific dates. Writing to schedule made me write faster and produce more. When really pressed, I was able to write a chapter in two days and, on two occasions, one day. As a result, I was able to complete a book I had spent years researching. Sort of like a utility player who, when called in to play shortstop during a crucial game, comes through because she knows the fundamentals — and applies them.

__________________

In August 2016 Barbara Gregorich donated her thousands of pages of research materials to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. But many of the notes are available in book form, in Research Notes for Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball — Volume 1, Volume 2, and Volume 3.

Cooperstown Bound: Third Time’s a Trip

Last month Phil and I made our third trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. The first two trips were mainly pleasure trips in which we saw and enjoyed baseball history as preserved and presented by the Hall. The third trip was part pleasure, but mostly business — its main purpose was to turn over to the Library of the BHOF all of my thousands of pages of research notes on women in baseball, and also on Jack Graney and his bull terrier Larry, mascot of the Cleveland major league team 1912-17. (You can read about Jack Graney here.)

By donating these research notes to the NBHOF I will be making them accessible to researchers all over the world. Some of them, such as old newspaper clippings, can be found elsewhere by diligent research (though in separate places around the world, not all filed together as they are in my notes). But others, such as my interviews with Joe Dellacqua, Mary Gilroy Hockenberry, Wilma Briggs, Dottie Collins, and dozens of others, are unique: they can’t be found anywhere else except, now, the Library of the NBHOF.

Truth be told, I’m delighted that the NBHOF Library wants these research notes and will make them accessible to all. Donating them allows me to help others. After 28 years, it also relieves me of the responsibility of answering researchers’ questions about women in baseball between 1883 and 1993. Being relieved allows me to go forward with other projects and interests.

I started my research at the beginning of 1988 and finished in July of 1992, the same month I signed a contract with Harcourt Brace to publish Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball. The contract gave me a mere 92 days to write the book, and another three weeks after that to write the credits, captions, and permissions. The book was published in March, 1993.

During my four years of research, I created categories for what I was discovering. I kept my files in order, each sheet of paper within the proper file folder, each folder within the proper pocket, each pocket in the correct chronological order. But when I was confronted with a 92-day deadline in which to write a 50,000 word book that contained 99 photos, order rapidly disintegrated. Each day I worked from 5:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.— writing, rewriting, then rewriting once again. Under these circumstances, I had neither the time, the energy, or the interest to correctly refile all the notes I was frantically pulling out of various files each time I needed to check my facts.

By the time Women at Play was published in 1993, my files were . . . let’s just say they were no longer in order. And the very day the book was reviewed in The New York Times (March 4, 1993), I started receiving more information to supplement what I already knew. And the piles of new information I received were molehills compared to the mountains of questions I received via email, all of them inquiries about particular players, dates, games, etc. Each day for a couple of years I dug deep into my notes in order to answer questions . . . what had been a jumble grew into a sprawling mess.

IMG_3137As I accumulated even more information and more notes, I stored file boxes in the storage locker . . . under the bed . . . in the exercise room . . . and of course in my office.

After the NBHOF Library asked if I would be willing to donate my research notes, and I agreed to do so, I chose a year in which I would turn my files over: Summer, 2016. At that time I didn’t know how many file boxes I would end up with. At least three, I was certain, and maybe seven. That’s why I scheduled my file-collecting work to start in November 2015, so that I would have from seven to nine months to get the files in order.

I finished the first file box toward the end of November. I finished the second toward the end of December. I was on a roll! I would finish by the end of March or April and take the rest of the spring and summer off!

But then life, as usual, intervened. In late December of 2015 I was asked by the Private Eye Writers of America if I was willing to be a judge for the Best First Private Eye Novel Award, to be presented at the Bouchercon in September 2016 — judges’ votes due May 31, 2016. I said yes, thinking that the reading of first private eye novels would not take too much of my time.

IMG_3350Such was not the case. Even though there were only 20-some books to read and evaluate, the fact is that reading and evaluating takes more than twice as long as merely reading. So I didn’t finish the third file box until the end of February, 2016. But as I finished that particular box, I could see light at the end of the tunnel. First, I could see that my remaining research notes would occupy two more file boxes: no more. From the vantage point of February, I thought I could finish the last two boxes by mid-June.

Confession time. As I organized my files for the NBHOF, if I encountered any difficulties, I immediately shoved the difficulties aside, telling myself I would deal with them at the end of the project. Gotta keep things moving forward, you know. Which means that putting Box #4 together was a lot more difficult than putting Boxes 1 and 2 together: many of the things I shoved aside had to be decided upon by the fourth box. So I didn’t finish the fourth file box until mid-June.

Our hotel reservations for Cooperstown were set for late August, and I had already set a date of delivering the files to the Library on August 22. After I finished Box #4, I had nine weeks left in which to start and finish the fifth (final!) box.

Box #5 was the most time-consuming of all, because it contained my interview notes. For most of the interviews I had conducted between 1988 and 1992, I immediately typed the notes after I finished the interviews. While I spoke to the person, I took handwritten notes. When we finished talking, I swiveled my chair from my desk to my computer, opened a new word processing file on my Mac, and typed everything into a document. I would say that I did this for almost 90% of my interviews. But there were a few interviews, conducted late in the game, perhaps while I was writing the manuscript, that I never typed up at all.

IMG_4483Back when I was typing the interview notes, spellcheck did not exist. So any typos I made stayed in the document and  in  its subsequent upgrades to new word processing programs. I didn’t want to present notes full of typos to the NBHOF: so my main job in putting together the interview notes was to run each document through spellcheck. And then to standardize the documents’ margins, pagination, and typefaces, so that they would look like they were part of a set.

Of course I had to type up the handwritten interview notes that had somehow escaped my standard procedure twenty-eight years ago. Box #5 took longer than I thought it would — but I finished it before the end of July, 2016.

And on August 22, 2016, I delivered the five boxes to the BHOF Library.

I don’t know yet what my next book will be.

I do know that whatever it is, I will not accumulate thousands of pages of notes on it!

______________________

Some of Barbara Gregorich’s research notes (those covering the years from 1875 to 1934) can be found in Volumes 1, 2, and 3 of Research Notes for Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball.

Presenting to the Public: The Golden Rule

Like many writers I supplement my income and increase the sale of my books by presenting programs to the public. Usually, but not not always, my programs are related to one or more of my books. Experience has taught me that an audience loves to see photos of what I’m talking about, so ever since Apple introduced Keynote (Powerpoint’s superior cousin), I’ve taken the time to build Keynote presentations.

Today most speakers/presenters take advantage of modern technology and use graphics, movement, and sound to enhance the content of their programs. Yet despite the age we live in, many presenters fail to meet the grade. As one who goes to talks given by others, I find myself more often disappointed than not, and the reason I’m most often disappointed is that the presenter reads his or her talk.

I find this totally boring and incredibly annoying. If you’re an author (or a teacher, historian, musician, scientist, whatnot) and you intend to present to the public, think thrice about reading out loud.

Did the person who hired you ask, “Would you be willing to read a speech to our patrons?” Or: “Can you come to our event and read out loud the notes you’ve typed into your Powerpoint/Keynote program?”

I’ll bet not one Outreach Director or Program Coordinator in history has ever made this request.

So: Don’t. Read. Speeches. to. the. Audience!

I don’t know about you, but I’m a fast reader and a good comprehender of what I read. If you intend to take 60 minutes to read a talk to me, I much prefer you give me a copy of the talk so that I can go sit in a corner, read it in 15 minutes, and then use the other 45 minutes to do something exciting.

At the Bloomingdale Public Library, Illinois, with my favorite roadie, Phil Passen

At the Bloomingdale Public Library, Illinois, with my favorite roadie, Phil Passen

In giving presentations, I feel it’s my obligation to give the kind of talk I myself would love to see and hear. See. And hear. Thus I put together visuals, I add transitions and movement, and I use the logic of events or the logic of story to carry my visuals forward, so that I can simply glance at the screen and see what’s coming next.

I speak directly to the audience. I move around. I make eye contact. I use humor.

Do people actually want this?

You know what the answer is.

I recently gave one of my most popular presentations, When Women Played Baseball: The Story of Margaret, Nellie, and Rose, at the Warren-Newport Public Library in Gurnee, Illinois. Several weeks later, the Adult Programming Specialist kindly shared with me the remarks that patrons made on their evaluation sheets. Here are some of their comments.

• interesting, good presenter, good graphics
• excellent research, brought Nellie, Rose and Margaret to life, fun facts
• very interesting, fun
• informative, told stories, knowledgeable, loved her topic
• speaker was super, kept my attention
• entertaining, informative
• the historical slides and the humor
• very impressive, Barbara’s knowledge and facts; the flow she talks with, not just ‘notes;
• enthusiasm; knowledgeable
• excellent; very knowledgeable in the subject, enthusiastic; great slides
• informed, enthused; engaged with audience; humorous; lively; much expression
• very prepared and great pace
• entertaining; funny
• knows her stuff and enjoys sharing it
• loved her knowledge and enthusiasm; but also her physical presentation; very cute “slides” and use of quotations; excellent
• enthusiastic about her subject

This is a long list. I print it not to brag about my presentation, but to help you, if you intend to speak or present in public. Look over the list and notice what stands out:

Knowledge
Enthusiasm
Humor
Visuals
Pacing
Story

These are what I want to see and hear when I attend somebody’s talk. And so they are what I give to others when I’m the speaker. Give unto others as you would have them give unto you.

If you’re going to present to the public, work on your presentation until it’s rich and full. Until it shimmers like a gem. Until it wows the audience. You will please people, and you will be invited to give more presentations — at which, being a writer, you can sell more of your books.

_______________

Barbara Gregorich enjoys sharing what she knows about writing mysteries in Guide to Writing the Mystery Novel: Lots of Examples, Plus Dead Bodies. And, she gives a related 60-minute presentation titled Thinking Like a Mystery Writer.

Writing My First Novel: Part 2

So after I overcame the grief of killing off a character and once again tackled the writing of She’s on First, I had four chapters to go. And I was still working full time. I finished the four chapters in five months. Voila! A completed manuscript!

Finishing a manuscript is quite an accomplishment, but as any writer who wants to be published knows, that first step, difficult as it is, is often easier than getting published.

I set out to find an agent. Using Literary Market Place, I found the names of reputable agents and wrote short (less than a full page) query letters to three at a time, describing my novel and asking if they would like to see the manuscript. I also wrote to agents who weren’t listed in LMP but who were listed in other sources, specifically in writer’s magazines. This, as it turned out, was a beginner’s mistake.

Few agents responded. One who did respond asked to see my manuscript. He was not listed in Literary Market Place. This was a warning I should have heeded. I was so thrilled that an editor wanted to read my story that I paid no attention to warning  signs. After I mailed him my manuscript, the agent then failed to communicate. When I asked him to return my manuscript, he said he lost it. Never in my life have I been so grateful for backup: I had a carbon copy. Not long after I learned the agent had lost my manuscript, I purchased my first computer, a Macintosh. I re-typed the manuscript on the computer, backed it up on a floppy disk, and once again started out to find a reputable and responsible agent.

A Chicago writers organization sponsored a talk and interview with agent Jane Jordan Browne. I went to hear her and was impressed with what she had to say. So I sent her a query letter, and she asked to see my manuscript.

After Jane read She’s on First, she said she would represent it if I rewrote it, cutting 100 pages out of the total. The manuscript was 406 pages long, which meant I had to cut it to 306 pages. “Cut the deadwood,” she advised.

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It was up to me, of course, to determine what was deadwood. And that in itself was an interesting lesson. I sat down with a red pen and began to cross out sentences and paragraphs that didn’t advance the story. That took several days. Then I  began rewriting. When I finished, my manuscript was 304 pages long. I had managed to cut 102 pages.

I sent the rewritten manuscript back to Jane and she accepted it. But Jane did not have an especially easy time trying to sell She’s on First. Mostly she received rejects saying that the story was enjoyable — but that “the public” did not want to read about a female baseball player.

I, meanwhile, attended the American Bookseller Association’s Conferences each year (the ABA annual event is now called Book Expo) to look at the new crop of fiction, to study publishers, and to meet editors. One year I was thrilled to see that a novel about a woman hockey player was being prominently displayed. This made me feel that a novel about a woman baseball player might be looked at with interest by editors.

sc00160a8fThe novel about the woman hockey player apparently didn’t do well, which caused even more editors to turn down She’s on First. Finally, though, more than two years after Jane had accepted my story, she sold hardcover rights to Contemporary Books, a Chicago nonfiction publisher which was branching out into fiction.

She’s on First was published in hardcover in 1987, and I was super-excited when my first novel came out. I had an autographing at Kroch’s and Brentano’s the very first day, and other autographings in different states the entire year.

The following year She’s on First came out in mass market paperback. Paperjacks, the Canadian publisher which bought paperback rights, made She’s on First their lead novel of the month, and as I was driving across the Midwest and Southwest on an extended trip, I saw my first novel in paperback racks everywhere, including tiny little drugstores in tiny little towns. That was exciting.

One year later, She’s on First was published in Japan.

sc00161e3eIn the US, the hardcover edition sold out within a year. There was no second printing, probably because the mass market paperback was available. After my novel was out of print, my agent made sure the rights reverted to me. She did this by writing to the publisher and having them send a formal reversion-of-rights letter. This was around the year 1990.

After that, She’s on First was out of print for twenty years. During those twenty years, there were three movie options on the book, but none came to fruition. Two publishers expressed interest in reprint rights, but nothing came of that.

During the twenty years that She’s on First was out of print, I wrote many other books. I thought my first novel would remain out of print forever, available only in used bookstores and on eBay. Then came the revolution in the publishing world: digital publishing and Print on Demand, making it possible for any individual to self-publish a book. In 2010, I self-published my very first CreateSpace book, and, fittingly, that book was my first novel, She’s on First.

With self-publishing, the writer is in control. So, as writer, I restored a small scene about a female umpire — this had been cut from the hardcover version in 1986. It gave me great pleasure to restore this scene — to show that there’s more than one way for a woman to be on the baseball field, and to show that those who are discriminated against usually feel solidarity with one another.

The second thing I did once I was in charge of republishing my own novel was to put a different cover on it. By 2010 both previous covers looked dated. So I searched for photos of women playing baseball and found the one I wanted. I paid for one-time use of the photo and asked writer-illustrator friend Robin Koontz to design the cover.

The result is my favorite version of my first novel.

KindleCover-SOFI’m not sure that I expected book reviews with the reprint of She’s on First, but as it turned out, the book was reviewed, as a reprint of course.

Another big surprise to me was that on the 25th anniversary of the publication of She’s on First, Patrick Reardon wrote a review of it on his blog, The Pump Don’t Work. Twenty. Five. Years. I wasn’t paying any attention to this anniversary, but certainly should have been. I’m very grateful that Patrick Reardon was paying attention.

Writing a first novel is a daunting proposition. It’s a long road across uncharted (by you) country. You’ve never driven a vehicle before, you’ve never crossed this land before. Unknowns everywhere.

But both the newness of the experience and the blank landscape of the country can be conquered. If you were driving a journey of 10,000 miles, you would of necessity break it up into individual days. Say your goal is to drive 500 miles a day. That’s a twenty day trip. You take it one day at a time, confronting that day’s obstacles as they come up.

Writing a novel is similar. You have a journey of, say, 300 pages. You can make the trip in 300 days or, if you’re very lucky, 150 days. Even 75 days, though most first novels aren’t written that quickly. With a rough outline before you, you know where to go each day. You sit down at the computer and write.

Sort of like a batter steps up to the plate and hits.

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You can read reviews of She’s on First here.

Writing My First Novel: Part 1

KindleCover-SOFBefore I wrote She’s on First, I had only two college courses on writing: nothing like the richness of fiction writing courses offered today. I had no fiction-writing workshops, either. As I tell students when I teach novel-writing workshops, it’s possible to write a novel without having taken courses in novel-writing.

But I was guided by two factors, the first of which is that by the time I was in my early 30s I had read approximately 3,000 novels of all kinds, from the greatest literature (Virgil, Dickens, Austen, Twain, Faulkner, etc.) to the lowliest pulp (mystery and adventure novels that are better left unnamed). For at least two decades I usually read three novels a week.

If you want to write fiction, then reading fiction is paramount to your training. By the time you’ve read 500 or more novels, you will have absorbed patterns, even though you may not be able to name these patterns. This knowledge will help guide you through the construction of your own novel.

The other factor that guided me through the writing of my first novel was that after I knew I was ready to write a novel, but before I actually started to write it, I walked to the local library and began taking out books on how to write the novel. This was in the early 1980s, and even back then the library had close to 40 books on the single topic of writing a novel. I spent days in the stacks, taking notes. I probably spent three or four months reading and studying the how-to-write-a-novel books.

calendar 2013One of the how-to books I read back then explained how to write a book in 365 days, so that became my goal (though I didn’t make it — more about that later). Today I’m amused at how much “more” is expected of beginning writers: several recent how-to books promise to show you how to write a novel in 30 days!

In addition to reading 40 or so books on how to write a novel, I also read at least that number of baseball books and baseball instruction manuals (how to play each position, where the cutoff man goes on a particular play, and so on). I paid particular attention to how baseball players think and talk: the way they see the world, as evidenced by what they say when they (or ghostwriters) write a book.

Another thing I did was research women in sports. I was interested in a woman playing on what is perceived of as a “men’s team,” but there was no literature relating to this situation. I do remember reading everything I could about Billie Jean King and her match with Bobby Riggs, even though tennis is not a team sport like baseball is. And I also read whatever I could about female sports reporters: what situations they faced in simply trying to do their jobs. What these reporters faced seemed most like what Linda Sunshine (my story’s hero) would face, and I got many of my ideas from reading about the reporters.

One of the pieces of advice many how-to-write-a-novel books give is that you should have both the beginning and the ending firmly in mind before you begin writing. The “middle” (usually 80-90% of the book) is something you can outline before you begin to write, or something you can invent as you go along.

In grade school I learned how to outline using Roman numerals as well as capital- and lower-case letters. But I was not thrilled with the idea of outlining my novel in this manner. This process seemed so t-e-d-i-o-u-s. But I did understand the need for “an outline,” as opposed to “outlining,” and so I created a quick, scrawled outline for She’s on First. Taking three sheets of blank paper, I divided each into thirds horizontally. This gave me nine horizontal sections, and I numbered them 1-9, for the nine chapters.

Then, in the horizontal spaces, I jotted thoughts for each chapter. Basically, these scrawled notes were about the events and conflicts in each chapter, the POV character in each chapter, and the forward movement of the baseball season. I felt comfortable with this non-outline and referred to it often while writing the book.

Because I was working a full-time job while attempting to write my first novel, I had to really discipline myself to work on the manuscript every single day. I hoped that if I could write a page a day, I would have a 365-page book within the space of a year.

On most work days I managed to write half a page to a full page after dinner each night. Then, while driving to work the next morning, I would think about what came next — either a continuation of the scene or summary I had been working on, or something new.

Unfortunately, when I reached the middle of She’s on First I encountered a major block: my plot required one of the characters to die. This upset me so much that I didn’t write anything for five full months — which meant that I did not finish my first novel within a year, as I had planned.

Dead Body

Illustration by Robin Koontz

You may be relieved (or perhaps frightened) to know that since that first experience I’ve become more callous, killing off characters left and right without regret.

During those five months when I was avoiding working on She’s on First, I attended novel-writing workshops. What stands out most vividly for me is that in every workshop I took, there were dozens of writers who had one, two, or three unfinished novels in their files.

I most decidedly did not want to be a writer who had an unfinished novel in her files — I wanted to be a writer who accomplished what she set out to do. And so, after three or four such workshops, I went back to work, armed less with knowledge of how to write a novel than with a burning desire to finish the novel I had started to write.

This experience, coupled with my love of baseball, is probably one of the reasons I autograph so many books with the phrase, “Bring the runner home.”

 

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You can read the first chapter of She’s on First here.