Wednesday, November 14, 2012

To Age -- or Not?

by D.R. Shoultz

I just finished the final draft of my current book, Better Late Than Ever.  It’s a story about Phil Greenfield, a divorced, successful 60-year-old businessman who retires to The Glades, a fictitious planned retirement community in central Florida.  The novel is set three years into the future and describes some of the more bizarre aspects of retirement communities in America – depicting them as pristine, homogeneous, senior citizen playgrounds focused on creating an environment that enables and encourages residents to re-experience their youth.  

Phil finds himself in the middle of a fast-paced, sexual revolution where retirees in their 60’s are reliving the 1960’s with the aid of nips, tucks, and anti-aging medications.  He discovers this zest for youthful exuberance comes at a costly, and sometimes deadly, price.  Once sucked into its ageless pleasures, Phil faces a dilemma on what to do when he uncovers the complete story of The Glades.  

As with my other novels, the inspiration for this book comes from personal experience.  This is not to say my life parallels Phil’s, or that I secretly want to be Phil.  However, being 60, I’ve watched several of my friends plan and execute their retirements. I have also visited many retirement communities in the process of considering my own retirement options.  It is a subject I am close to.

The baby boomer generation in America is different than any that has preceded it.  Much has been written about them (or should I say us?) and how they are shaping the beginning of the 21st century: the economy, the culture, and yes, aging.

I believe what makes them unique and why they view aging differently can be boiled down to a few key points.  First is their numbers. They are reaching 65 at the rate of 10,000 a day.  This will continue to 2030, at which time more than 18% of the U.S. population will be at least 65 years old.  Representing such a large segment of the population, boomers don’t need to react to trends – they can set them.  They don’t need to be what others expect them to be – they can be who and what they want to be.  If there is safety in numbers, the boomers clearly have the numbers.

The second key point is that 65 is much younger today than it has ever been.  Medical advances and healthier lifestyles (e.g. fewer smokers, daily exercise, etc.) have made the baby boomers the most robust and most youthful looking 65-year-olds in history.  Baby boomer life expectancy has risen more than 10 years in their lifetimes alone.  Today’s 65-year-olds can expect to live well into their 80’s, with women past 85.  Those retiring at 60 have the final “trimester” of their life to look forward to.

Another key point making today’s retirees unique has been the fragmentation or dislocation of families.  Prior generations of retirees typically grew old in the community and home where they’d lived for years – close to family and lifelong friends.  They didn’t expect anything different.  That’s what their parents did, that’s what they were going to do.  However, today’s children often relocate in search of an education, jobs, relationships, or just in search of adventure.  The nuclear family with multiple generations living in the same community is becoming more and more rare.  Retirees no longer are “tied to” their homes or “expected to” stay put, opening up a wide range of retirement options and locations.

The final factor making today’s retirees unique is their options.   For those baby boomers who have worked hard, saved responsibly, and maintained a healthy lifestyle, the world is their oyster.  Dozens of fun-in-the-sun places have been built specifically for them. These retirement meccas began popping up late in the 20th century anticipating their arrival, complete with golf courses, tennis courts, spas, shopping centers and restaurants.  The other great thing about these retirement communities is the homogeneity of the residents – everyone is over 55.   Residents get to look and act like other 55+ retirees expect them to act, and not how their 20-something nieces and nephews expect. 

The boomers are unique.  Their numbers are significant, they are healthier and more youthful than prior generations, they aren’t tied to their lifelong homes and communities, and they have options that allow them to retreat to recreational, age-defying enclaves with their baby boomer friends.  So, does all this make communities like The Glades possible?  Potentially, or my novel lacks believability.  But the bigger question is where does this put me and my retiring friends?

For now, my wife and I still live in a middleclass Charlotte neighborhood where she’s worked and lived for many years.  We also have a getaway place in a mountain community dominated by, but not exclusive to, retirees.  We debate about what we’ll do when my wife retires next year, and we are no longer tied to Charlotte.  Our four kids and five grandkids are spread out over 3 states, stretching 2,000 miles from one end to the other, the closest being 500 miles away.

As I get older, I think a lot about my mom and dad and how they experienced aging and retirement.  My father has very little in common with Phil Greenfield.  He’d never move to The Glades, or even consider it.  He’s lived the past 50 years in the Midwest and in the same house with my mother – the house I grew up in.  My two sisters live less than 30 minutes away from my parents. Most of their grandchildren and great grandchildren live nearby, and they visit regularly.  I was the only family member to relocate, but I make it back every holiday – because it is still home.

My father has grown older, naturally.  He never really wanted to re-live his youth in a retirement community, nor does he even know someone who has.  Dad is a good-looking man.  He worked hard and made a good living.  He’s always been active and in good health, but when he was 60, he looked 60.  He’s now 83 and looks 83.  I’m sure he thinks he’s done it the right way.  I think he has, too. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

No Wine Before Its Time

by D.R. Shoultz


I’ve written three books, but have published only one. So where are the other two?
 
I took my time on my first novel, CORRUPT CONNECTION, focusing only on writing. No marketing, no blog updates, no website maintenance, and no book club appearances. I just wrote, taking nearly a year to complete it. As a result, the first draft was pretty solid. It obviously required editing (tons of it), but the characters were developed well, the subplots were interesting and interwoven properly, and the book flowed. Being a first novel, it was clearly far from perfect, but I was proud of the effort and the result.
 
I started writing my second book, UNINVITED VISIONS, when my first book was in editing, and by then, I was working on a marketing plan for my first book. Being a self-published author, I was spending almost as much time on marketing activities as I was on writing my second novel. I continued pushing forward on what I thought was a realistic schedule. I even set daily and weekly goals for the number of pages to be completed. That was a big mistake.
 
While setting targets motivated me to produce more than 80,000 words and over 300 pages in a time I thought was reasonable, I ended up with a product that was inferior to my first novel. I wasn’t pleased with the flow of the book. It was too predictable. It lacked page-turning intrigue. I practically had to start from scratch, revising it chapter by chapter, often getting so frustrated that I put the manuscript aside for days at a time. After spending nearly five months on UNINVITED VISIONS, I completely stopped working on it two months ago, convinced it would never be as good as my debut novel.
 
Some authors think it’s wise to let a book “age” for a time, like a fine red wine. I guess the logic is to give the author a break from the daily doses of an immature wine and somehow hope that when he/she returns to the novel, the prior chemical imbalances would become clear and more easily resolved. I hope it works.
 
As I waited for my second novel to age, I began writing my third novel, BETTER LATE THAN EVER. The plot and subject matter came to me several months earlier, and I was excited to dig in and start writing. I set no goals or deadlines for completion, working on it when I felt like it and stepping away when I didn’t. I also decided to wait until this book took shape before worrying about future marketing activities.
 
What I discovered was that my third novel flowed and developed much like my first. I felt like the characters really existed, that I knew them and could see them experiencing the situations I’d put them in. In less than four months, my first draft was completed. It’s now being edited and I can’t wait to read the final product.
 
It may be obvious, but what I’ve learned is that I can’t force the writing process. Self-imposing deadlines and pages of output doesn’t work – at least not for me. It’s like making wine. You can’t pour grape juice, sugar, and water into a vat and drink it before it’s ready.
 
It also seems, like wine, that not all books unfold at the same rate. Some require more care and aging than others. I’ll eventually get back to my second book. I still like the characters, subject matter, and plot -- it just needs more care and curing. It remains my hope all three books will be published this year, but only when it’s their time.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Spinning Plates

by D.R. Shoultz
              

Do you remember the ‘60s act on the Ed Sullivan Show where a tuxedo-clad performer spun plates on several wobbly, six-foot long sticks positioned across the stage?  He started at one end, placing what looked like an everyday dinner plate on the top of the first stick, spinning it until the momentum kept it atop the pliable pole.  He then proceeded to other bowls and plates on the stage, positioning and spinning them on these flexible sticks, periodically returning to his earlier spinning props to give them a boost, just as it looked like they were about to crash to the stage. After a couple of minutes, frantically running back and forth, the act ended with the entire stage filled with spinning plates and bowls. WHA-LA!
 
Well, if you do remember, it means you’re either collecting Social Security or you're darned close. It also means you’ll appreciate using this act as an analogy to launching a first novel. For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, you can check out the spinning plate act at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zhoos1oY404. 
 
As I’ve mentioned in my prior posts, I self-published my first novel about six weeks ago.  With a decent pension from a prior career, a fair amount saved, and a working spouse, my writing gig is clearly more of an avocation at this point.  Nonetheless, I’m serious about it.  I want to produce quality work, have people read it, and have them like what they read. 
 
What I have discovered is I may have underestimated what it takes to write, edit, publish, market, and distribute my first work, all while I’m attempting to write a second book.  Over the past six weeks, I’ve begun to better appreciate the effort.  Carrying the spinning plate analogy a little further -- and I recognize I run the risk of overdoing this -- what I now have is one finished novel spinning on a stick. I’m trying to spin out my second book, but I need to keep running to the sticks supporting the elements of my wobbling sales and marketing plan.  Fortunately, my wife is an experienced editor, so I do have an extra set of hands tending to that particular spinning plate.  But writing press releases and delivering them to newspapers, setting up and maintaining a website and blog, preparing and entering my work into book reviews, continuing to read and learn about my new avocation, and finishing up my second book, are all plates that on occasion wobble badly in need of renewed spinning.
 
I know I’m not alone.  Author websites and blogs are filled with first-time, self-published authors who lack the support of editors, publishers, and agents. They, too, work their way back and forth across the stage as they spin and re-spin plates.  I’m sure we all would like to someday experience that WHA-LA moment, where we look across the stage to see all our plates, spinning in harmony atop their respective poles.
 
Better yet would be to look across the stage and see our editor, publisher, and agent tending to our wobbling plates – someday maybe, someday.    

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Wants Versus Needs

by D.R. Shoultz

It’s been nearly a month since my novel, Corrupt Connection, was published and advertised for sale on Amazon.com. So far, it’s sold less than 100 copies. After launching my website and blog, having a press release printed in my hometown newspaper, advertising in some of the electronic media outlets (LinkedIn, Craigslist, etc.), and offering to participate in local book signings, I’ve managed to sell less than 100 books. And all this after spending nearly a year writing, editing, re-re-editing, and publishing my first novel. So, how would I rate the experience? I’d give it an A+.

Why so high?  Well, I think it has to do with “wants and needs”.  I clearly can’t speak for everyone, but I know I spent a bulk of my adult life chasing needs.  Sure, I wanted to get married, I wanted to have kids, I wanted to have a home in the suburbs, but from that point on, the needs took over.  I needed to get a job, and not just any job, a well-paying job.  I needed to prepare to send my kids to good schools.  I needed to pay my monthly bills associated with that big house I wanted.  My wife and I needed to prepare for our future.  Every day another need seemed to pop up – braces, vet bills, furnaces failing – always something.

I retired nearly five years ago at 55, after working 31 years for the same company.  Some would argue I retired pre-maturely, too early for today’s volatile economy, but it has been a decision I’ve never regretted or had second thoughts about.  The day I retired I started doing more of what I wanted to do, not what I needed to do.  Am I selfish?  I don’t think so.   I worked long, hard days and weeks for over 30 years to get to this point, and I was, and remain, willing to balance my needs within the framework of my retirement.

Now, I fill my days with what I deem as meaningful activities. I write because I want to write. The 12 months writing and editing my first novel seemed to fly by, with each creative, peaceful morning pushing any stress aside. So, after all the time and effort I’ve put into it, am I disappointed with selling less than 100 books in the first month?  Nope, not one bit.  I don’t need to do this -- I want to.





Thursday, July 12, 2012

Is Anyone Out There?

by D.R. Shoultz

Okay, I launched my website last week and my book title went live on Amazon on July 2. I carefully entered well thought-out keywords into my Internet source description and registered my website with the key search engines. I even tried to learn HTML, albeit unsuccessfully.  I’ve sold 10 books and have only slightly more visits to my website in the first seven days.
 
What I’ve learned is that website preparation alone is not a foolproof marketing plan for selling a new author’s novel. I had been na├»ve enough to think if someone entered DRShoultz Books on the search line of Google, it would at least position my website in a prominent place in the search results. After all, that’s the name of my website. Boy, was I wrong.  What pops up first is the question, “Did you mean Dr. Schultz Books?” Before even looking, Google assumed I had entered the wrong name!Under this question was the top search result which pointed to Dr. Schulze’s herbal dietary formulas. I don’t even know if Dr. Schultz is related to Dr. Schulze, but it doesn’t matter. They both did a better job of getting Google to highlight their sites… even when I entered my name and not theirs.
 
I kept checking my website statistics, hoping this dismal situation would improve and somehow someone would eventually find their way to my site. But over the week, most of the site visits identified in the reports were generated by me in the process of enhancing and correcting my site.
 
So, what is a first-time author to do? I thought about changing my name to Donn Schultz and writing a book on herbal male enhancements, but that would be a cheap trick just to lure traffic to my site. Besides, I don’t even eat salads, let alone use herbal supplements, and I clearly don’t need male enhancements. Well maybe, but I don’t think so. 
 
Not willing to spend big dollars to pay the search engines to put my website in the queue ahead of Drs. Schultz and Schulze, I decided to find other ways to direct readers to my site. As a first step, I started this week delivering press releases to newspaper editors.  I decided to target papers with circulation in cities where I currently live or have recently lived. I utilized a standard press release format and followed the recommendations I had found on several websites. I particularly found this site’s download useful -- Probusinesswriter.  It also helped to work directly with someone who has experience reading and approving press releases -- my wife. 
 
Hopefully I’ll have press releases printed before the end of the month, at least some of them. I’ll monitor the clicks, the website hits, and skyrocketing book orders, and then I’ll move to my next marketing tactic. Stay tuned.







Monday, July 2, 2012

What Made Me Think I Could Write a Novel?

by D.R. Shoultz

The short answer is I didn’t know if I could. I had often thought about trying. I had read many articles about first-time authors, explaining their starts, their stops, and their restarts. It seemed a frustrating process and I wasn’t sure I had the time, patience, or ability to even begin.

One day, I was reading excerpts from books that had been submitted to a peer review web site by first-time novelists... and it hit me. For the most part, the would-be authors were well-educated and well-read, yet most of their submissions will clearly never be best sellers, or even reach distribution much beyond their family and friends. But that was not the point. What interested me was they had done it. They took the time and effort to produce a book and to bare their work for others to read and critique. While they may never be able to pay their bills with the commissions from their book sales, they had written a novel. By definition, they were writers.

Motivated by their efforts, in July of 2011, I decided to give it a try. I read as much as I could on how best to begin, concentrating on the words of wisdom from authors I had read and admired. I also found copious websites, blogs, as well as self-publishing and how-to instructional sites directed at first-time authors. As you might expect, the advice was as varied as the sources. But fortunately, there were common recommendations that provided a solid base for me as I began:

  • Learn from what you read. Reading is the best preparation for writing.
Admittedly, I had never been a voracious reader. Not until I retired a few years ago did I read more than a few books a year. But now, I read more in a month than I previously read in a year. I've found knowing who and what you like to read helps direct your writing style.

  • Write about what you enjoy and know. Your thoughts will flow.
My first novel draws on my 32-year business background. My current work is about growing up in the Midwest in the ‘60s. Both are subjects I am comfortable writing about.

  • Know your target audience and keep them in mind as you write.
It is important to know who would best enjoy or benefit from your book. It keeps you focused on common themes and a consistent writing style. After you have written your book, it will be too late to define your audience.

  • Outline or storyboard your novel.
While some authors say just dig in and start writing, I found I came to a dead end quickly unless I could see the next scene on the horizon. While I continually revised the outline, having a start, middle and end in mind before I began, kept me moving.

Once I began writing, there were several other recommendations that I found beneficial as a first-time author:

  • Describe -- don’t tell.
This is not easy and it’s something I must continually remind myself. It is important for the reader to see the character, the scene, the story in their mind as you describe it. If you tell it, their imaginations are inhibited, and so is their enjoyment. Let the action speak for itself; don’t interpret it for the reader.

  • Develop your characters through their actions and dialogue.
Rather than writing, “Bob was cheap and a casual dresser,” the readers could better form their image of Bob by writing, “After thinking twice, Bob pulled two dollars back from the luncheon tip he’d just placed on the table, stuffing the bills into his well-worn blue jeans.”

  • Read your writing aloud. It helps you create believable dialogue and interesting descriptions.
If it sounds believable, it probably is. If it sounds dull, it probably is.

 Well... it’s a year later, and I have written, re-written, edited, and re-re-re-edited my first novel, CORRUPT CONNECTION. It was self-published on June 27, 2012. I am also well into my second book, UNINVITED VISIONS, with over 50,000 words down on paper... or actually, on my hard drive.

So, where does this put me? It puts me right in the middle of those other first-time authors who motivated me a year ago. I have done it. I’ve written a novel. I may never pay my bills with my book royalties, but I am out there for you to read and critique. Please do.

The initial response has been favorable (but family and friends will lie). I appreciate your feedback... everyone's feedback. I am encouraged and plan for my second novel to be published by the end of this year.