Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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How to Talk Publicly About Writing

by James R. Preston

Once upon a time as a barely-eighteen-year-old freshman I walked into the Long Beach State bookstore and saw this little old man sitting at a table behind stacks of books, looking lost and alone. I stopped in my tracks. A writer? Yes! And I could just go up and talk to him! It was wonderful. That writer never knew how much talking to him meant to an eighteen-year-old kid who only knew he wanted to write.

That’s why you need to not only talk about your work, but to do it well. Hopefully this essay can help. Perhaps you will be standing in front of other writers, offering support. This essay can help you find a way to do that.

When I first started selling science fiction short stories, I was a kid, in grad school, and, uh, somewhat full of myself. I did not want to talk about the stories. I said — and if you think this is embarrassing, just wait — The stories are what’s important. They will stand or fall on their own.” Guess what? The stories ARE what’s important and now more than ever you have to help them as much as you can.

Since writing is your main job, talking about writing is a separate skill that may require some work, but it’s worth the effort. These rules are a good start.

We live in a world of fiction over-choice.

During the time it takes you to read this essay, mysteries, thrillers, and romances will be released; you have to compete to get noticed and talking to groups large and small will help. And it can be fun. It gets you out from behind the keyboard. And there’s one more reason that might surprise you. I’ll save that one for later.

I have three suggestions that will make it easier and illustrate my points with some true-life adventures about standing up in front of groups and trying to sound reasonably coherent. And I have tips about what you should not talk about, too.

Where writers get their gigs and their edge

Let’s start by listing where you can do this talking.

Book clubs.

There are thousands of them; the members are avid readers by definition and not only do they buy books and read books they also talk about books to people outside the club. And they don’t have to be local -- you can “appear” via Zoom these days.

A techie I worked with knew I was a writer and said his wife’s book club wanted me to talk to them. 

The very first question they asked was “If Mac’s wife had lived, would he and Kandi gotten together anyway?”

I almost blurted, “They’re made up! They have no existence beyond what you see on the page.” But I stopped and thought. It dawned on me that these ladies treated my characters as if they were real. It was an eye-opening moment, and that’s another benefit of interacting with your audience: you learn. You learn about how readers see your work.

Writing conventions, like left coast crime.

You might be surprised at how organizers sometimes struggle to fill panel discussions. Register for the event well in advance, then send the organizers an email describing your book and saying if they have a spot on a panel you’d love to participate.

Professional organizations.

Writing is an important skill, one that needs work. In this case you may not talk about your book very much, but putting together a coherent report is something many non-writers struggle with. You can help, and your name will be out there.

Social organizations.

Clubs of all kinds are always looking for programs. You have writing tips to offer, in part because you are studying this blog.

So, how do you get that all-important first gig? Through your friends. I know a woman, a retired teacher, who is a member of a national women’s honor society. They are always looking for speakers. Be shameless! Just say, “I’m available if you need a program.” It may not work all the time, but it will get you started. Remember —- the characters in your story deserve it.

So now you have your talking gig. What’s next?

Standing up in front of groups and trying to sound reasonably coherent

Rule one 

Practice — or not. If it’s a stand-up speech, yes, absolutely rehearse. On the other hand, if you are asked to host a table at an event, all you need to do is plan out some conversation starters, questions you can ask, like “Have you enjoyed the event so far?” Do I need to say that you should avoid, “So, have you read my new book?”

Rule two

Assess and modify. Watch your audience! If half of them are looking down at their cell phones, you need to speed it up. This relates back to Rule One. You need to have an idea of what you can cut. I was once asked to talk about grammar, a subject near and dear to my heart, and at the break the man who had invited me said quietly “You’re losing them.” I found it hard to believe, but not everybody is as interested in commas and semicolons as I am.

Rule three

Know your audience, know your time limit, and if at all possible know your venue. If the organizers want five minutes, make sure that’s how long you talk. No longer! Use the stopwatch on your phone to time your rehearsals.

“Venue” includes the actual place you will stand. Is there a podium? Microphone? Here’s a horror story from my past. At Cal State Long Beach I was in student government— Associated Students Chief Justice — and at the end of my Senior year I was to hand out awards to the other Justices.

I stepped up to the podium and could not be seen. Ok, I’m short. Fortunately, my speech teacher had trained me to think on my feet. l just stepped around the stupid thing and said, “Due to technical difficulties the use of the podium will be discontinued.” The audience erupted in laughter. The Dean, who followed me, said she was laughing so hard she forgot to give me my award. I got it as we were all leaving.

Not a rule, exactly, but beware of overconfidence. It can and will bite you. Years ago the Huntington Beach Sanitation Department — right, they process what you flush — asked two of us to come and talk about electronic document creation. Well, the lady and I had years of experience and we’d done this gig before, so we got our overheads ready, met a couple of times to decide who would do what, and in we went.

Everything went wrong. I set the overheads down in front of a fan and they flew everywhere; the audience had no interest in what we were telling them, and that was before the sewage smell crept in. I’m not making this up. We were so sure we had it wired that we neglected finding out about the audience and their needs, and we didn’t rehearse. So we paid. It’s still painful to talk about. 

What NOT to talk about - one opinion

Now, in my opinion what not to talk about. Ideas. If you are thinking about a terrific love story between a vampire cheerleader and a shape-shifting alien prince, keep it under wraps at least until you have a draft. If you tell people about it before you write it, two things can, and probably will, happen. First, you can lose your edge, your enthusiasm, because after all, you have told the story. Second, the way you have described it will be locked in, settled, when in truth the tale will grow and change, evolve during the writing process. Either way the story can be damaged or even killed. 

Final thoughts

So that’s it. By the way, that writer behind the books was Erskine Caldwell of Tobacco Road fame and the book was his novel Jenny by Nature. I still have the signed copy.

Now I’m the little old man behind the stacks of books, but I’m not lost and alone. I have you, gentle readers of WITS. Thanks for listening once again.

And now it’s your turn. Do you have presentation stories you are willing to share? Suggestions? C’mon, we’re all in this together.

Until next time, this is James, signing off.

About James

James R. Preston is the author of the multiple-award-winning Surf City Mysteries. He is currently at work on the sixth, called Remains To Be Seen. His most recent works are Crashpad and Buzzkill, two historical novellas set in the 1960’s at Cal State Long Beach. Kirkus Reviews called Buzzkill “A historical thriller enriched by characters who sparkle and refuse to be forgotten.” His books are collected as part of the California Detective Fiction collection at the University of California Berkeley. 

Find out more about James at his website.

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Should I use Google to translate my novel?

by Annette Spratte

Of course! If you would like to collect a lot of bad reviews, you should definitely do that.

Seriously, though. The quality of machine-made translations has improved considerably over the past years, which is why many authors get the idea they could save money on the expensive services of a professional translator.

What does a translator do where the machine fails utterly?

The Style

A machine does not have any feel for lingual beauty, building up tension or any other skill writers have a right to be proud of. While this doesn’t matter when setting up a contract, it matters a lot in fiction. A sentence structure which is perfectly fine in English might sound like the work of a third grader in German. The translator needs to do a lot of switching around of words to make sentences and paragraphs sound smooth in the new language. The machine only processes what it gets, minutely and hopefully accurately. Speaking of which…


Are you aware of how many words have double meanings? The machine doesn’t always know which one to use. Let me give you an example that had me snorting with laughter:

She finished her delivery tour sooner than expected.

Are you thinking of groceries? Good. My machine did not. It warbled something about babies arriving pre-term. Possibly in a truck. Now imagine this was your novel. You do NOT want that sort of thing to happen.
Being bilingual, I have used the DeepL translation service to translate my own books to save typing time. It is a horrendous amount of editing work to iron out all the inaccuracies and make the translation flow. I’m still wondering if it isn’t faster for me to translate from scratch after all. I would never use a machine to translate for a client.


Many proverbs have been around long enough to have made their way into the translation engines, such as ‘the last straw broke the camel’s back’. In Germany, we say ‘it was the last drop that made the barrel overflow’. Others, however, will be translated literally and thus not make much sense to the reader in the other language. My favorite one in the latter category is ‘the room was so small you couldn’t swing a cat by the tail.’ Of course a German reader would get the message, but they would be severely irritated as such a behavior is unheard of in Germany. A translator should know that. A machine couldn’t care less.


Translations require research. Things exist in one country, but not in another or they are known in a completely different context. Let’s take military ranks for example. Gosh, the research I have invested to find the correct equivalents! Sergeant, in German, can mean any of these colorful terms: Feldwebel, Unteroffizier, or Wachtmeister. Two of them are army terms, one police. If the story is not set in Germany, I will take the easy way out and leave the English term. This is a wide-spread practice. But if the story is set in Germany, I will have to decide which word to use.

And now imagine all of this with a historical novel. Or science fiction. A machine would most definitely mess up. Did you know, that Tolkien spoke German and made sure that the word “Elves” was translated into “Elben”, thus creating a new word in German, rather than using the literal translation “Elfen”? I can only guess that he was aware the word “Elfen” would create the wrong image in the German reader’s mind.

Form of Address

While it shouldn’t pose any problems in translations from German to English, the form of address is a huge challenge from English to German. Germans have two forms of address – a familiar one (du) and a formal one (sie). The same goes for most European languages. They come with completely different grammatical rules. The translator not only needs to know which is which, they also need to know in which context to apply which. Are the people talking to each other friends? Then they use ‘du’. Are they strangers? Then they use ‘sie’. Are they colleagues on a first name basis? They will probably use ‘du’, but I have also come across mixed forms, i.e. colleagues addressing each other by their first names and yet using the formal ‘sie’. Or addressing each other by their last names, yet using ‘du’.
Translation engines top even that and switch the form of address several times within one paragraph. They can’t make any sense of it at all.


A good translator is worth their cost, and you won’t do yourself a favor by saving money in this area. Most readers aren’t interested which language the book was originally written in. All they want is a great reading experience. A good translator will take care that the text won’t sound translated, but will follow the natural flow of language. To verify that, you should get a trial translation from the person you wish to hire and have a native speaker vet it for you.

Since every translator has their own style, it would be wise for authors to hire the same translator for all books of a series. Please note that translations take time. I estimate two to three months for an 80 k novel.

By now, there are a number of translators like me who will work with Indie authors at affordable prices. A few of them can be found on the IndiesGoGerman website, where you will find lots of valuable information about entering the German book market.

Do you have experience with writing in a language that is not your own? Have you used a translating service or app?

* * * * * *

About Annette

Annette Spratte is an award-winning bilingual author and translator living in Germany. With nine books traditionally published in German so far, she has translated and self-published her most successful historical novels The Silent Maid and The Potbaker’s Niece into English (more to come). Her trademarks are life-like characters and a vivid writing style that glues readers to the pages.

Her translation schedule is tight, so if you wish to make use of her skills, you need to plan well ahead.

Learn more about Annette on her website http://annettespratte.org

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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Two Success Factors No One Wants To Talk About

by Jaime Buckley

New writers often have questions. We want to understand the path to walk so we can find success.

Thing is, ‘success’ has various definitions, depending upon who you ask. You and I are motivated by different things, and this complicates conversations between writers.

YouTube and Facebook ads offer ‘secrets’ to success in nearly every aspect of the writing and publishing industry. Each ad pulls at newcomers, offering solutions to implied problems at a seemingly reasonable price, guaranteed or your money back.

Many would-be authors give up their future before they get a running start.

It’s sad.

I’ve personally watched people fall by the wayside due to the wrong information. People crippled by a fear of failure they probably didn’t have until the ad took hold! People who, in my honest opinion, probably have more talent for storytelling than I do — and I’ve made a living writing and drawing for decades.

But there’s good news here, and I’d like to share it with you. Hard won wisdom that’s kept me going in my own career, despite the odds, the crashes, and the setbacks. Two success factors the writing community doesn’t seem to talk about. 

Luck and time.

Do You Believe In Luck?

My personal belief is that God determines the results in my life, but it’s up to me to do the work first. The more things I do right, the more He accelerates and multiplies the results. It’s the way I live, and it works for me.

When I talk with others, I call it luck, good fortune, or chance.

Whatever title you’d like to attach to the event, I define this as something that happens that you cannot directly control. You can influence it, by being in the right place at the right time, doing the right things for the right reasons...but you cannot make the results happen.

It’s the unknown factor.

The easiest example I can think of is the internet. Web guru’s and marketing companies often make claims that they can ‘guarantee’ results — like getting a first page ranking on Google.

Well, yes and no.

Considerations for ranking

  • What is the definition being used, and what are the parameters?
  • Even if you can get keywords to the front page of Google, how long will it last? An hour? A day?
  • Will it be a local listing?
  • What size demographics will actually see this top Google ranking?
  • Will the marketing company charge you for satisfying the technical definition, or truly satisfy you the client with actual, profitable results?

Results are manipulated. Rankings can be fudged. Reviews can be bought, forged, traded, and challenged. If someone has a bigger wallet, they will buy the position ahead of you. Yet none of this worries me. You know why?

Because I’m starting to believe you can’t measure your influence using the internet.

Stop laughing at me.

Seriously, it’s rude.

Oh, you can measure a portion of your influence, sure. You can also track internet sales. Yet the true measure and effect of your progress cannot be fully seen through Google Analytics or any other software. Let me show you why I think this.

Just Consider

You write a book. Everything is done as best you know how. It’s listed with Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Draft2Digital, Smashwords, an armload of other platforms, Ingram Spark for hardback, and on your own website. Each service, including your own site, has some form of analysis/tracking program to show sales. You can track sales, visits, pinpoint countries, cities, even IP addresses around the globe. You have everything covered.

Or do you?

What happens when a reader talks about your book around the dinner table with friends? When the topic gets shared with people at work? Phone conversations with family out of state, maybe even out of the country. A chain of interactions you never saw and likely never will.

It was personal. Real. It was something you could not control, and I’m bringing this up because that’s how I’ve made a living since 2004. Over 90% of my success has come exclusively through word of mouth.

When Hard Work Looks Like Luck

There is a tipping point when we reach a certain stage in our progress. It’s when a connector — someone who knows and has influence with others — enjoys, supports and recommends your work, often causing a ripple effect. The influence of one turns the heads of the many.

The ‘luck’ part is that we never know when or where that tipping point will happen. It might happen in the first week...it might not happen for years...or at all. You may never have a landslide of readers, but perhaps a steady trickle that builds.

I’ve literally had a burst of sales, more than 9000 copies in a 72-hour period, which happened again months later, never to happen again. I didn’t know why, and I didn’t do a thing. It wasn’t a launch, it wasn’t a promo. There was no data to track, follow, or study.

There was a time I walked into a library in another city and found my books on display. I was flabbergasted, excited…and confused. When I asked the librarian, she said the books were requested by the mayor.

Yeah, I’ll let that one sink in, ‘cause I didn’t get it either.

I met an Indie Author so happy to finally be making $1,000 to $1,500 a month with his books. He explained that the income had grown every 90 days or so. After cheering for him (which I love to do), I asked how many books he’d published?

“I’ve written 40 stories so far.”

He’d been at this for years. Many told him it wouldn’t work, but he didn’t listen. Now he had a steady, monthly income that continues to grow to this day.

As Time Goes By

People, specifically Americans, tend to want everything yesterday. Patience falls by the wayside and many forget the journey, focusing instead on the destination. Many miss hidden opportunities along the way…a wealth of growth offered to those looking for it.

Life rarely turns out the way we think it will, and that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. You simply have to accept the reality that there are no shortcuts in this venture. Yes, there are stories you will find online, talking about riches and overnight success — but if you dig deeper — you’ll likely reveal years of labor to get there.

Yes, I said years.

This is one aspect many marketers try to hide.

To sell the books and programs, there must be ease, shortcuts, and again let’s not forget the famous ‘secrets’ promise. All backed by a ‘guarantee’ to wipe away any hesitation or fear of spending money, or worse, money you don’t have.

What gets me, is what’s wrong with working hard on a worthwhile project until you succeed?

Oh, that’s right...nothing at all. 

This is a good time to think deeply on how important being a writer is to you.

  • How committed are you?
  • What price are you willing to pay?
  • What sacrifices are you willing to make to achieve your goals?

Admit the hard truth…

It isn’t about if you can do this, but will you do this.

Only you know the answer.

Amanda Hocking became one of the first self-published Indie Author millionaires in America. She got rich in less than 12 months after publishing to Kindle. Yet most don’t recall the painful nine years previous to that point. The hard work and determination she exuded until the tipping point.

It was like…luck.


Overnight Success?

Amanda wrote 17 novels and had every book rejected by traditional publishers. She did all her own editing. She did all her own formatting for Smashwords and Kindle, as well as marketing on Twitter, Facebook, and her own blog.

I understand her pain and frustration, trying to get everything ‘just right.’ Having people pick out flaws in her work, no matter how much editing she did. Amanda dealt with technical issues, answered countless emails, and created her own book covers. No wonder she got burned out! 

Despite all the hardships, she sold more than a million copies of her books, finally catching the attention of the New York publishing houses. A bidding war started between them to get her contract. In the end, Amanda saw her dream realized.

Unlike many of her fans, I applauded when she signed that traditional contract. That was what she wanted…the freedom to write and entertain people for a living. The money and fame were secondary. The publishing house offered a professional staff to do all the frustrating work for her.

The point here, my friend, is that it took over nine years for Amanda to become an ‘overnight’ success. Time was something she accepted and was patient about. She focused on doing what she loved, committed for the long haul, not the short sprint.

Look For Anchors

In 2009 I sat down with a famous author to discuss my first book, a meeting arranged by a mutual friend. I was nervous. He had told my wife and I the day before that it took an average of seven years to get published. He then added that it took another seven to get onto the NYTimes Bestseller list.

All I could see was fourteen years of struggle ahead of me.

He’d taken my script, agreed to skim it over that night, his intent to provide some advice. Instead, he’d read it in its entirety, then asked us the following day to take us to lunch. For what seemed like an eternity, he just sat across from me…staring.

Then he said something I never expected.

“You could send his out, right now, without changing a thing and you’ll get picked up. You’ll find a publisher and make a living.” He paused. “But with a little work to get your skill level up, I think this is New York Times Bestselling material.”

Kathi cried.

I think I might have also.

Manly tears, of course.

Encouraging comments from a veteran in the industry was a historical marker in my journey. An anchor that helped me shun the unsolicited opinions of those who didn’t care for my future. An anchor that caused me to look at myself, my circumstances, and then chart a course I was determined to follow.

I’ve published many works since then and made a living doing what I love. If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment.

I’d just do it better.

The Takeaway

So, my advice to you, now and forever, is to keep going, no matter what. Things will happen, and that’s okay. Just bob, weave, take a breath, adjust your course when you need to, get back up, laugh it off, or ignore them all and prove them wrong.

Because the longer you walk, the closer you’ll get.

Don’t be afraid of hard work and consistency. You just might achieve what you shoot for…and if you make a habit of paying attention, a whole lot more.

* * * * * *

About Jaime

Jaime Buckley

Jaime Buckley is a freelance illustrator and best-selling author. More importantly, he’s a loving husband and father of 13 children, and ‘Papa’ to 23 grandchildren. Since 1986 he’s worked for famous authors and TV personalities, and illustrated for hundreds of new authors across the genre spectrum. If you can think of a creative project or marketing strategy, Jaime's likely done it… but always finds his greatest success by being himself. WantedHero.com is his dream and passion, which he builds exclusively on WorldAnvil.com.

Check out Jaime's current books:

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