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The Writer's Mailbag: Installment 283

Updated on November 18, 2019

Rain on the Way

I’m writing this on Thursday, November 14, and rain is forecast for this evening.

I’m sure some of you are thinking “so what? It always rains in the Seattle/Olympia area,” but you might be surprised. It actually doesn’t rain that much in Olympia. Our yearly rainfall is something like 53 inches of rain; the U.S. average is 38 inches. It would take me about thirty seconds to name twenty cities in the U.S. which receive more rain than we do.

Where we do stand out, though, is in cloudy days. We only have, on average, 136 sunny days per year compared to the 205 national average. Especially in the fall and winter, it seems like it is always cloudy and damp here. It can be a bit gloomy, even for those of us who have lived here most of our lives.

Now having said that, we are currently experiencing the driest fall in sixty-seven years, and we had, just recently, fifteen straight days without rain, unheard of for this area in November.

I have no idea why I shared all of that. I guess I just felt like it, and since this is my series, well, there you go.

Shall we get to the mail?

Welcome to the Mail Room!
Welcome to the Mail Room!

Isbn Numbers

From Lori: “Hi Bill, would you mind another question? Do you purchase your own ISBN numbers or do you get the free one from Amaznon KDP? Can you tell folks what the difference is and what you recommend? Thanks.”

Hi Lori! I always use the free one from Amazon because, well, I’m cheap!

The free one offered by Amazon KDP is a great deal if you plan on distributing solely through Amazon. It can prove to be a problem if you plan on using that ISBN number in independent bookstores, and the reason for that should be obvious: Amazon is a competitor to all independent bookstores. Thus they may not be too eager to use the Amazon ISBN.

You can always go through Bowker and purchase an ISBN which will work anywhere, but last I checked it will cost you $125.

Also, it used to be that the free ISBN was the one used by libraries and schools as in an exclusive contract with Amazon. I’m not sure if that has changed or not.

Your choice, and it all comes down to your distribution preference.

Nasty Criticisms

From Ann: “Have you ever had critical reviews (and I don't mean constructive criticism but the unkind sort)? If so, do you take any notice? Do they make you feel bad? I would think they'd hurt but is it possible to just ignore them? I can't imagine anyone would be horrible to you but there are some nasty people out there.”

Hi Ann! Oh my yes, I’ve received my share of the nasties and yes, they bothered me. I am a writer with a very thin skin, I’m afraid. Like all writers,, I want positive input. I don’t want to be told my writing is terrible. My goodness, who does? I would love it if I could ignore it. If I’m being completely honest with myself, and if I want to grow as a writer, I have to at least stop and consider the criticism. Was it warranted? Was any part of it justified? And maybe I’m not the best person to answer those questions, so perhaps I should have someone else give their opinion on the matter.

It hasn’t happened for awhile now; the last time was maybe five years ago. I remember the person and I remember the article he had issues with. Funny thing is, today we are reasonably good friends on HP. We follow each other and give positive input on each other’s works, so maybe his negative comments long ago were just the product of a bad day.

Anyway, if you are going public with your writing, be prepared. Negative comments by negative people are out there waiting for you, and they may or may not be justified. It’s just part of this wonderful gig called writing.

Far Away Places

From Nancy: “Hey, Bill, I’m writing a novel, and a couple chapters take place in Paris. My problem is I’ve never been to Paris. How do I set a scene, a believable scene, in a city I’ve never actually experienced?”

Nancy, now you know why I write almost exclusively about my hometown. LOL

Actually, the internet has made it much easier to do this than it was “back in the day.” We can now Google “Paris” and thousands of photos pop up for our inspection. We can read articles about specific parts of the city for some background information. Within a half hour we can Google our way to enough information to paint a decent picture of Paris in our prose.

If you are a decent writer, and you are, you have the skills to make the reader believe you have been to Paris. Just trust in those skills. Do your research online and then paint that picture with your pen.

Actually, in my next “Shadows” book, which I’ll write in 2020, I’m taking the gang to London, and I’ve never been to London, so I’ll be taking my own advice when that time arrives.

It all reminds me of that old song by Three Dog Night . . . “well I’ve never been to England, but I kind of like the Beatles . . . “

Faraway places!
Faraway places!

No Experience

From Patti: “I’m graduating from college the spring of 2020. I really have no experience to draw upon as a writer. I’m only twenty. I’ve had a comfortable life. My family is stable. I’ve had two jobs, babysitting and a pizza place. How can I write about different topics when I have no background in anything?”

Patti, I think you are selling yourself short. You have experience in being a human being, in being a daughter, in being a friend, in being a college student, and on and on we go. Twenty years of living is twenty years of experience. You have had emotions for sure. Perhaps you have had heartbreak by now. Perhaps you have suffered loss. For sure you have been happy. Maybe you have danced in the rain or played, like a child, in the snow.

In my opinion, Patti, at twenty years of age, you should concentrate on your writing skills. Write about anything you want to write about. Write about a turnip, or write about a train passing by in the middle of the night. The experiences will multiply with the years, and before long you will have many wondrous things to fuel your writing, but for now learn how to write and develop your own unique voice. That way you’ll be ready when the experiences inspire you.

I’ve been toying with an idea for a new series called “My Town.” You just reminded me of it so thank you, Patti, and best wishes to you.

Book Covers

From Brandon: “I’m terrible at artwork, and Photoshop, and all the other tech gadgets which help people to create book covers. I have a finished book I want to self-publish. Who can I call to make me a cover?”

Well, if you don’t mind spending money, you can always have the folks at Amazon KDP do the cover for you. I think they still do it, but they charge an arm and a leg for the service.

You could go on the HP forums and ask if there is anyone out there in HP Land who would do a cover for you. There is a very nice man by the name of Mike Friedman, a writer on HP, who has done all of my covers. He may or may not take on your request.

Or you can go online and do a Google search for people who do such things. Again, you are going to pay for that service. You might also check with a local college or junior college. College students are always looking to make a little cash. You might find someone there who will work for less.

Good luck!

All but two of these were done by Mike Friedman of HP
All but two of these were done by Mike Friedman of HP


From Lori: “Bill, the biggest problem I've discovered in writing a novel is that revising is much much harder than writing the draft and that I have no idea what I'm doing. There are so many things to look for and deal with. What is your revision process? Is it the same for every book? Do you have a general time frame? Any other details I should know?”

Lori, the first thing you need to understand and internalize is that this is your book and it is meant to be a pleasurable experience. Take a deep breath and allow that to wash over you.

There is no “correct” way to revise a book, other than the way that feels good to you. My way may not work for you, but since you asked about it . . .

I re-read on the first re-vision, out loud, and correct things which just don’t sound right. At that time I also correct misspellings and obvious grammatical errors.

Then I walk away from it for a week or two. Let it marinate in its own juices while you go off and do something fun, relaxing, and totally unrelated to the book. Trust me, while you do this, your muse will be working quietly on your behalf.

After that much-needed break, I come back to the manuscript and read it again, making no edits at all. I want to see how it feels without the stop and go of editing. Once finished, I ask this question: is it what I wanted it to be? If it is, I’m done except for one more spelling and grammar edit. If it isn’t, I will make changes in structure or storyline until it feels right.

Last step for me: turn it over to a friend or beta reader and get their opinion on it.

Timetable? There is none. My editing process usually takes a good month or two. It might be different for you.

I hope that helps!

The Rain, the Park, and Other Things

If any of you know where that subheading comes from, you win my admiration. If you think you know, without Googling it, tell me in the comments.

We have come to the end of our 283rd installment. The rain has begun. It feels refreshing, but I’m quite certain I will be complaining about it within twenty-four hours. I have a love/hate relationship with the rain. So be it!

Have a fantastic week ahead and remember, please, do all things with love.

2019 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”


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