Thursday, September 29, 2016

Clichés To Avoid

Clichés are sometimes unavoidable, but that doesn’t make them less annoying.  Usually, clichés are the hallmark of a lazy writers, something used to appeal to a reader without making him or her think.  I thought I’d review the clichés that need to be avoided, if at all possible.

- Prison stories that involve male-on-male rape.  Yes, this plays to nearly every guy’s primal fears, but it has been done to death.

- Clean cut bad guys.  It seems that the only people you can make villains nowadays are bankers dressed in three piece suits.  Anytime I pick up a mystery or crime story now, it’s pretty easy to find who the bad guy is going to end  up being – I just look for the neatly dressed guy who has been successful while everyone else around him is poor.  Stop it.

- The rogue hero with a heart of gold.  This is almost standard in every cop drama or war novel,  We like to see guys with a rough exterior that we can peel away into a teddy bear.  I guess this goes to our notion of how we can change things for the better.  For a twist, make the rough guy really be a rough guy.

- Brilliant doctors/scientists who have an amazing epiphany at the last possible second.  Look, I get the need to build drama, but I can’t tell you how many times it’s that last second insight that solves everything.  Aside from being a lazy catchall, it makes me wonder why this supposedly brilliant person couldn’t think of it earlier.

- The hurt athlete.  It seems that every story involving a great athlete has that person get hurt in order to “find themselves,” as if tragedy is required for greatness(or maybe that we just hate jocks).  Perhaps an athlete should sometimes just be an athlete.

- The government conspiracy is behind everything.  Good God I get tired of this one.  It seems we’re so afraid of offending anyone that we resort to the eeeeevvvvvviiiiillllllll government(almost ALWAYS being the American government), as the catalyst for every villainous thing out there.  The complete lack of creativity involved in this makes me want to drill a hole in the side of my head so I can get the idiocy out.

These are just a few, but if you’ve seen it over and over and over and over again in either print or on your favorite TV show, find a different way.  Sometimes it can’t be avoided in order to stay true to the story, but most of the time it makes you look like a hack.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Muse At Rest

She lay on the bed, her gown strewn lazily over her chest.  Her breath rose rhythmically as her nostrils took in the warm summer air.

She’d been asleep for a while now.  Sure, I’d go stir her every so often in order to avoid the near-catastrophe I encountered a year and a half ago when my apathy nearly killed her, but I mostly let her rest.

My Muse hasn’t been too active as of late, and that has been by design.  The projects she worked with me on now need their own time to rise, and her constantly whispering into my ear would be distracting.  That was a distraction I simply couldn’t afford at the moment.

Still, every once in a while, I just liked to sit here and watch her.  Part of it was to make sure she was still with me; I nearly lost her once, and even that memory brought on chills.  The other part of me was to just appreciate her beauty.  My Muse was there for me in the darkest of times, nudging me towards certain paths in ways even I was unaware of.

Of course, I couldn’t let her sleep too long.  She might slip into a coma if I did, and that’d be as bad as her disappearance last year.  No, she needed to stay just active enough that she’d be there when I needed her.  Even rousing her from time to time wouldn’t brush off all of the cobwebs when I really needed her, but it would make the process much easier.

So I watched as she snoozed, a soft smile still on her lips.  This wondrous masterpiece served as an outlet for me, so I let her rest…for now.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

What's Behind My Agent Antipathy?

I have a well-documented dislike of literary agents, especially as they exist in current form.  Some have asked what I have against them.  Is it that I was once turned down and am now bitter?  Is it that I don’t like that you have to have an agent to get picked up by a major publisher?

Let me first start out with an admission of full transparency.  In my early days, before I knew anything about the publishing business, I had the same visions every newbie author has, to get signed by an agent and hit it big with a major publisher.  I even submitted query letters to a few agents regarding Akeldama.  Several ignored my inquiry, and I got a standard form letter rejection from a few others.  A couple were even gracious enough to give me a personal rejection.  However, nobody took me up on my submission.

At this point, I know many of you will stop reading and write me off as an embittered hack who just didn’t like people telling me I wasn’t good enough.  That’s okay.  If you’re in that crowd, you wouldn’t hear anything else I had to say anyway.

As time progressed, and I did more research regarding publishing, the less I liked the traditional process.  Thirty years ago, there were dozens of presses to get published at; now there are five.  I also started learning things I didn’t care for, like how I found no agent with a background in contract law(most had literary degrees).  Although understanding good literature is great and necessary to sell novels to publishers, appreciation for that is so subjective.  However, contract law is not, and aren’t I looking for someone who knows that so I can get the best deal I can?  How does an MFA qualify someone to know the language behind torts, payments schedules, opt-out clauses, and various other aspects of a legal contract?  Wouldn’t the ideal agent have a background in intellectual property law, with either a minor in or an appreciation of good writing?

Then there’s the inbreeding of it.  In order to stay relevant, agents have to stay cozy with publishers.  That’s great…except I don’t want my agent to represent publishers – I want them to represent me.  This system makes it far too likely that the agent will have the publisher’s best interests at heart instead of mine so they can stay in the group and have continued employment.  It’s hard to get the few publishers that remain to listen to you if you have a reputation as a hardass.

There are other things too, but that’s the basic framework.  Sure, no one likes to get rejected, and it’s entirely possible there’s some personal animus directed to the group as a whole, but I don’t think so.  Were it not for indie publishing, I’d have to swallow my pride and become part of the system, if possible.  However, the changes in the current market make agents relatively meaningless.  I’m sure they work great for some folks, but I’m sure an enema works great for some folks too, and I don’t want one of those either.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Don't Forget To Read

We all get caught up in our lives.  There are bills to be paid, kids to go to sports, decks to be fixed, etc.  This can leave us all hardly any time for our true passion of writing.  Therefore, when we get a free minute, our tendency as writers is to sit at the keyboard and start cranking away on our work.  But have we forgotten something?  Have we forgotten that to write, we need to read?

“Wait!”  you shout.  “How am I supposed to read when I have dinner on the stove, baths to give, grass to mow, and drinks to drink with co-workers?”  Yep, life can be hectic, but if we don’t read well, our writing will suffer.

Good reading is a cornerstone of good writing.  You can observe techniques and tricks for writing that other authors use, and you can either figure out they don’t work or that they might be useful to you.  Further, you maintain a sense of literary awareness by reading good stories written by successful authors.  I liken it to playing chess or basketball – you may still remember the fundamentals, but the absence of actually participating will dull your skills and reduce your muscle memory.

Don’t forget that you can learn as much from poor writers as you can from good ones.  No, I don’t stay with a novel that makes me want to claw my eyes out, but it reminds me stuff not to include in my writing:  don’t overdo the very bad poorly horrible adjectives and adverbs that announce in BREATHLESS! and over-the-top ways the action; don’t have character conversations that sound like two teenage girls on Facebook; description is fine, but make sure it sets the stage rather than is the stage; stop with all the damn clichés(if I read another crime drama that starts with the main character squinting into the sun after a drunken night, I think they can write their next novel about me because my rage will become murderous).

Reading is essential to good writing.  Just as an NFL quarterback can’t be great on the field without studying tape, writers can’t be great in writing without reading.  Besides which, it’s a fun break away from the tedium of life, and it helps remind us why we got into this aggravating fantasy to begin with.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Different Authors, Same Universe

In some of the more popular fictional universes – Star Trek, Star Wars, Warhammer, etc – it’s not uncommon for multiple authors to publish stories with the same setting.  It gives us lots more stories about our favorite characters than we could get otherwise, so fans will flock to them, but is this necessarily a good thing?

The difference in the quality of writers is the most glaring weakness in this.  Let’s take the Star Wars universe, for example – following Return of the Jedi, there was little left in that realm.  Most of what had been published was done prior to the last movie, and the spark seemed dead.  Then, in 1991, Timothy Zahn revitalized the franchise with Heir to the Empire.  It was an instant classic, drawing fans back in with a zeal similar to the original movie.  It led to a whole host of new stories and new writers writing them.

Unfortunately, at least from my point of view, Zahn was far and away the best author out there for this type of work.  I found others that followed to be dry and uninspiring, mostly relying on boring old clichés and worn settings that they couldn’t breathe life into.  I often wondered whether the Star Wars universe would’ve been better had those other writers come in first and let Zahn be a later spark, or would it all have died before ever getting off the ground.

The second issue I have with multiple writers in the universe is consistency of story.  I have a hard enough time keeping my own story straight – keeping it straight over several writers and several books may be all but impossible.  And believe me, fans will find those inconsistencies.  I’ve read a few books that play fast and loose with the canon, and it’s frustrating.

Third…are we really so out of ideas that we have to borrow from another?  Maybe I’m being an old codger here, but I find writing so much in an already established universe to be lazy, especially when taken from one so prominent.  My ten year old daughter could write a story in the Harry Potter universe; do we really need folks not named Rowling to do that?  Where has the creative spark for creating your own world gone?

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Monetary Expenses

Part of the process in this whole indie publishing thing is getting started, and as with any venture, it can be expensive.  But just how expensive?  And how much into debt do you need to go in order to put out a decent product.

To start with, any fool with a computer and access to the internet can upload his or her work and call it an indie novel.  If success was that easy, there’d be a lot more Hugh Howey’s out there and fewer (insert anonymous writer’s name here).  The challenge here is to appear professional, and whether we like it or not, that’s something that matters in this business.

There are obvious expenses, like getting a good cover.  Don’t – repeat, DO NOT – simply put your title on a solid background, upload it, and think you’ve done anything other than shoot yourself in the foot.  Covers draw us in, and you need a good one, especially when you’re an unknown.  These can run around $500 for something decent, but this isn’t an expense you should skimp on.

ISBNs are next.  If you want to be taken seriously, and someday get into bookstores, you need your work to be available through an ordering catalogue, and you have to have an ISBN for that.  The number you get depends on how many versions you offer.  No, not versions where the hero is an albino in one and a lion in another, but rather your hardcover, paperback, foreign edition, ebook edition, etc.  Each of these requires an ISBN, so consider just how many formats you really want to be involved in.  Good thing is that ISBNs aren’t prohibitively expensive – about $50 a piece, and some bundles are available that reduce that cost in bulk.

Then we start getting into really expensive stuff.  Editing comes in many forms, and none of those forms is cheap.  Content editing is far and away the most expensive, and it will run you several thousand dollars for a competent job.  I use beta-readers for this since I think editors are usually no better than the intended audience for this.  That said, copyediting isn’t cheap either, as I found out recently on another project.  A good copyedit will cost over $1000 for anyone of competence, so the question necessarily becomes how much you need it.  I think professional copyediting is a must, especially for first time writers, but this one is difficult due to expense.

All of this comes down to expense versus profit.  How much do you think your project will reap?  If you’re not going to recoup your original investment, why do it?  Are you just looking to establish a fledgling base?  I set aside a little each month and have a nice little nest egg for publication, but it’ll cover maybe two books.  If my work doesn’t start to take off after that, further expense will be hard to justify, which will, in turn, harm the next product.  Threading this needle is much more difficult than writing the book, which while rewarding, isn’t exactly easy.

I never said this would be easy…just expensive…

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Book Clubs

I’ve never belonged to a book club.  However, a few of my friends are part of one, and that got me thinking about using that channel as a marketing technique.

As a brand new author, few of us will have the street cred of a JK Rowling or a Stephen King.  The reputation of a new writer, and thus the potential for new/increasing sales, is based in large part on word of mouth – someone will read a book by a person they’ve never heard of and then pass along to a friend how much he or she liked the novel.  But how do you do that?  How do you get your work into someone else’s hands and know they’ll read it?

If you have a friend in a book club, that is an approach.  I approached one of my friends and asked her if she would be willing to have her group read Akeldama and critique it.  No, not as beta-readers, but after publication as an actual novel.  If I can get a fan or two from that group, perhaps my base will spread.

As indie writers, I think we need to be creative in how we market our work.  I can’t afford a full page ad in the New York Times, and no bookstore is going to give me a large display at the front of the store.  Therefore, we need to figure out how to generate buzz.  Book clubs are designed for those who like to read.  They’re usually such passionate readers that they’ll talk about what impacted them in the literary world, and they may be able to turn on others outside of their club.

So seek out alternative avenues.  You never know where your wave of success could begin.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Novel Perceptions

As I’ve said before, everyone thinks he or she is capable of writing the next Great American Novel, but few actually follow through.  It’s that follow through that produces a remarkable effect when you let people in on your world.

Through work, I recently became associated with a new group of talented individuals who are up and coming in the company.  Part of getting to know each other included telling things about ourselves that we felt others would find interesting.  After the standard trope about family and background, I divulged two facts – 1) that I’m personally ungooglable(that’s why I go with RD Meyer rather than Russ Meyer – go ahead and look that name up, but don’t do it from a work computer), and 2) that I’ve written nearly ten books and will publish the first next May.

All heads in the room immediately turned.  Some wanted to know what I would do with all the money I was bound to make, not realizing that most writers don’t reach the level of James Patterson.  To others, this somehow made me instantly smart in their world.  And yet more became very intimidated when we started exchanging position papers on stuff.

There seems to be an air of instant intellectual credibility one gains whenever acknowledging that you’ve written a novel.  Never mind that none of them have ever read a single thing I’ve written – it could’ve been a re-creation of Pregnesia – the fact that I’d taken the time to write a full length novel made them think I was a literary genius…or at least more well versed than any of them.

I think some writers revel in this perception, but it gave me more a sense of responsibility than anything.  I felt I needed to make sure my work justified that admiration.  It’s not that I haven’t worked hard, but any fool with a computer can crap out words on a page.  When people think you need to be a great writer to complete a novel, you have some duty to not let them down.

Yes, it made me feel good.  I felt smarter, and I held my head high for a few days.  Still, somewhere deep in my gut, I wondered if I was worth that perception.  After all, it’s not like I’m yet published, and I’m certainly not yet successful in the world of published authors.  I guess I just need to be sure that my credibility doesn’t crash the moment someone reads my first book.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Email Confusion

I sent out a newsletter recently – something I need to do much more often – and was gratified to get a few responses.  However, what I found most frustrating was the pings I got back indicating that the email on my list wasn’t correct.

This frustration was a mixture of annoyance with the person who gave me an incorrect email address, and annoyance with myself for copying down wrong email addresses.  Yes, some people were jerks who either intentionally gave me a wrong email address so they wouldn’t hurt my feelings by turning me down when solicited(a coward’s act, and I only counted three), but most of my frustration was with myself – I’d copied down the address incorrectly(maybe it was .net when I wrote down .com, or I left an “e” out of the person’s name).  It indicated sloppiness on my part, and few things drive me crazier than when I make a simple error.

I eventually got it all sorted out and corrected my list, also sending out the email to those who I know didn’t get it the first time(I had to do this a few times since my pings came in not all at once, but rather spread out over the course of two days), but it just bothered me.  This is the business side of things, and I’d rather spend my time writing.

I suppose this is a warning, for lack of a better term, for everyone to check your lists as you’re writing them because you won’t be able to remember afterwards.  It also saves you from going back to the person via Facebook or something, hat in hand, and re-soliciting them.  Don’t gloss over the nuts and bolts of what you need to get people to buy the book you’ve pitched to them – it wastes time you can better spend elsewhere.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Back In The Saddle Again!

Okay, I have some news.  This may not seem like a big deal to you guys, but it’s a big deal to me, and this is my blog, so I’m going to share it with you.

As I’ve mentioned before, I was out of the country for a good portion of the past year.  Although my environment wasn’t totally austere, there were still things I didn’t have access to, and Kindle updates was one of them.  Well, back in late February, Kindle sent me an email saying that a major update was on the way via the wireless, and I’d have to have it in order to buy and install new ebooks in my device.

Big problem.  I couldn’t get wireless.

Since I wasn’t downloading any Kindle books anyway, it wasn’t a big deal…at the time.  However, I knew I’d be returning to the United States at some point, and I enjoy ebooks since they don’t clutter up my house – I save buying hardcover books for the ones that really pique my interest – so I would have to get the update.  Unfortunately, they would no longer send it out via wireless after the end of March.

When I returned to America near the end of June, my Kindle sat on my table, staring up at me with a blank expression.  Supposedly there was a way to get the update off of the Amazon website, but I’m a technological Neanderthal, so figuring it out was like asking a German Shepard to do calculus.  I hemmed and hawed for a while, even going so far as to download the new update to my computer once…where I promptly forgot which folder it went into.

Still, after much head scratching and hours of feeling more than stupid, I finally hooked my device up to my computer, downloaded the update again, and transferred it to where it needed to go.  I tested it out and found I’d been successful!  One Year After by William Fortschen was out, and that was the one I really wanted.  It’s now awaiting a reading.

So, what was the point of that tale of woe?  No point – I simply wanted to express my glee at having my beloved Kindle operational again, as well as to thump my chest that I figured out one technological mystery.  Now if only I could figure out how to change my ringtone to what I want…