Vocation or Avocation: Which Kind of Writer Are You?

How do you distinguish between a serious writer who pursues his craft as a vocation, versus the more casual writer for whom writing is an avocation? It’s not easy, but it is important.

Let me first say that I encourage anyone who enjoys writing as a diversion. It’s a wonderful creative outlet. Let me also say that I will never buy your work no matter how good it is because I’m not paying for something that isn’t your best effort. If you want me to take your work seriously, here’s what you’ll have to do:

  • Have your work professionally edited. This is expensive if you’re self-publishing. It’s also necessary. There’s a lot of sloppy writing out there already. Don’t add to it.
  • Try to find a traditional publisher. It lends credibility to your work and ensures that you won’t go broke paying for printing, editing, proofreading, and cover art.
  • Give me a glimpse of your writing style, whether it be via a blog, newsletter, or even social media posts. I want to see if you can construct a sentence.
  • Be careful. I’m not a grammar Nazi, but if I see “your” used as a contraction for “you are,” we’re done.
  • Develop a general understanding of punctuation and style. Get the Chicago Manual of Style, or just check out the back section of a dictionary.
  • Don’t ignore punctuation, but don’t obsess over it. If you can’t decide between a period, dash, semi-colon, or ellipsis, flip a coin. I’ll never know the difference.
  • Build your brand. Show me your bio, do a press release for your books, promote your work on social media, like, follow, and share. Post and comment about issues that matter to you, but don’t spend all day on Facebook or Twitter. I like writers that write.
  • Go easy on the free books. I’m not impressed by writers that do mass giveaways. It diminishes their brand, establishes an expectation for future giveaways, and puts downward price pressure on books in general. That’s not fair to other authors. This is just my opinion. Others may feel differently.

Whatever you do, keep writing. In the final analysis it doesn’t matter whether you pursue writing as a vocation or avocation. You’re establishing a written record, footprints in the sand for future generations. People will know you were here. That matters.



Delivering the Sizzle

I have read some great stories that I was unable to finish because the characters never came alive. I have read some great stories that I was unable to finish because the characters and the narrative were strangled in endless, introspective, self-congratulatory prose. Apparently, the author wanted me to gaze in awe at the pretty writing rather than finish the damn book.

The best story in the world won’t survive a cast of one dimensional stick figure characters. If a writer wants to turn his characters into real people he needs to deliver the sizzle. I’m talking about writing with emotional intensity. I want characters that leap off the page and grab me by the throat. If they can’t reach my throat they should kick me in the nuts.

Real people are flawed. I want characters that are real. When my inner voice is shouting for the good guy to rip off Dr. Evil’s head and parade it around on a pike, I want to see him do it, or at least set the guy’s testicles on fire. I want to hear some four letter words come out of the pretty girl’s mouth. I want the ridiculed homely girl to dump a bucket of goat’s blood on the homecoming queen.

All right, I’m exaggerating, but you get my point. A good writer listens to his own emotions, he inhabits his characters and then brings them to life, warts and all. Good guys aren’t always good. Bad guys are sometimes a victim of circumstances. Nuance is good, but don’t overdo it. If a character needs to be hit in the face with a hammer, hit him in the fucking face with the hammer.

A writer can’t deliver sizzle by playing it safe. Nobody wants to read plain vanilla. Some people will love the sizzle. That’s good. Some will hate it. That’s almost as good because it means the writer elicited a strong, visceral response from the reader.

I would rather have a reader hate my work than be bored by it. Nothing’s worse than that.



Thinking of Mickey Mantle

I’ve always loved baseball. As a child, I thought Mickey Mantle was the greatest player to ever put on a uniform. I wanted to be like Mickey. I wanted to be a professional ballplayer.

When I got older I began to realize that Mantle was a deeply flawed human being. It made me think less of him as a person, but not as an athlete. Becoming a professional baseball player may have been a fantasy, but I didn’t know it at the time. I played at every level from Little League to college and had enough success to maintain the fantasy of playing professional ball.

Long story short, I didn’t make it. A couple of my college teammates did. Am I jealous? No. Those guys were a level up from me, and that still wasn’t enough for them to progress through the minors to a major league club. I wouldn’t have lasted a full season in rookie ball.

Here’s my point: a fantasy, particularly one that has at least a tiny chance of coming true, can be a powerful motivator. I’m not talking about goals. Those are more realistic and achievable. They’re important, but no more important than the big prize, the dream, the fantasy. That’s what makes my pulse race and sends chills up my spine.

My current writing goal is to finish Stone Ponies and find a publisher for it. My fantasy is to be nominated for an Edgar, sign with a Big Five publisher, become a best-selling author, and sell the movie rights to my books. The goal will almost certainly be achieved. The fantasy almost certainly will not. That doesn’t matter; both are important.

The writing is going well. Stone Ponies should be finished sometime next month. In the meantime, it’s the post-season in major league baseball. Maybe I’ll see the next Mickey Mantle. Probably not…nobody’s as good as Mickey Mantle.



Odds and Ends

  • I’m keeping a close eye on Hurricane Irma. Diane and I are in Conway, South Carolina, about fifteen miles northwest of the Myrtle Beach oceanfront. We’re outside the cone, at least for now, but still expecting rain and the possibility of tropical force gusts. We’ll have to decide soon whether to stay or go.
  • Many thanks to the readers that continue to purchase my latest John Howard novel, Tears at Sunrise. I hope you enjoy the read. I honestly think it’s my best work.
  • Stone Ponies, the sequel to Tears at Sunrise, is coming along well. I just passed the 32K word count mark, and expect to complete the work later this year. Stay tuned!
  • Pieces of January, the fourth novel in the Salem Matthews series, is being published by Torrid Books. I’ll let everyone know when I have a release date.

Thanks for your continued support. Stay safe.



Work in Progress

Let me start by saying how gratified I am by the success of my latest John Howard novel, Tears at Sunrise.

I had planned to start another Salem Matthews novel, but changed my mind after seeing the response to Tears at Sunrise. I am now 18,000 words into Stone Ponies, and am pleased with the story. I should have it done later this year. Rolling!

I also expect to make a major announcement in the near future regarding the next Salem Matthews novel. Stay tuned!


Reader Reactions to Tears at Sunrise

“Incredibly compelling story! Couldn’t put it down!”


“Once again Ronald you have made me join the Howard family. Your writing is so well described I felt I have been there with them the whole journey with every page turn. My emotions from hurt, anger to happiness I have loved the story from the beginning to the surprise at the end. Well done for another great story.”



Liar! Liar!

I hate vanity presses. I really do. They prey on their victims, bleed them dry,  and then toss them aside. Are there exceptions? I’m sure there must be a few, but not enough to invalidate my point or change my view of the execrable creatures operating these businesses.

The only thing I detest more is a vanity press masquerading as a traditional publisher. They can be hard to spot, especially when they hit all the right notes about not charging authors for editing, proofreading, cover art, printing, and marketing assistance. You have to read closely to discover the red flags. Here are some that I’ve found:

  • They require the author to buy a minimum number of copies of their book, maybe as few as 10 or as many as 50. If you do that, you’re paying to publish.
  • They hold back earned royalties until their publishing expenses are covered. They might as well drop the charade and charge you upfront.
  • They charge a reading or submission fee. Run the other way! They just want your money.
  • They will include language in the contract that says they can drop you after a specific period of time, say six months, if you haven’t sold a certain number of books. When you’re 20 books short of the goal at the 5 1/2 month mark, guess what you’re going to do.
  • They will try to cross-sell you special services like a personal publicist or marketing consultant. These so-called services are worthless. If it’s a small publisher, they lack connections and will just do the same things you’re already doing on your blog, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and so on. If it’s a Big Five publisher, congratulations! You can stop reading now.

Submitting to publishers is a time consuming and emotional process. More than once I’ve received a contract offer, only to discover the publisher was a well-disguised vanity press. That’s an awful feeling, but I’m learning to spot the flags. I wish Preditors and Editors was still around. Thank God for Absolute Write.


Reader Reactions to Silent Waltz

“I really liked this book. It had murder, mystery, humor, loving relationships, and more. The storyline definitely caught my interest and held it throughout the book. The characters were easy to relate to and the scenery sounded beautiful. I would recommend this book to anyone, as it was very entertaining.”

” Ronald Paxton’s smartly written takes us into the hidden underbelly of Shenandoah County and its residents. Flawed, quirky, and often with secrets to keep, the characters spring to life as the story unfolds. And how it unfolds!”

“…well written and pleasing to read…”

“…The clouds are building in Shenandoah County, but Salem Matthews loves a good storm!”

“Just when you think the bucolic resort community in Shenandoah County has settled into normalcy, author Ronald Paxton’s new novel, Silent Waltz, picks up where his Soul Man leaves off…with a new set of scheming and murderous villains.”


Praise for Haven

Looking for some fast-paced mystery and suspense to spice up your summer reading list? Haven, the second book in the John Howard series, should fit the bill. Nothing but 5 star reviews on Amazon for this sequel to Winter Songs. Here’s what some readers are saying:

“…another inside the park homerun for a great writer.”

“…The author’s ability ( and talent ) to describe the scenery, smells, lighting, and everything else about the Shenandoah Valley is remarkable.”

“…I loved the imagination and vocabulary in this book.”