Sunday, July 26, 2015

How Much Is Too Much?

As I was walking through a bookstore recently, I got to thinking about what we put in our book blurbs...you know...those fun little summaries on the inside covers that help entice readers to see what more may lurk within.  Just how much do you reveal in that blurb?


On one hand, you need to reveal enough so the reader kind of gets what the story is about.  I saw several novels that had something along the lines of, "A professor at his university's history department, Dr. Green found a mysterious artifact that could challenge everything we know about human history," and I'd walk away asking what the story was about, not because I was intrigued, but because the description was so generic that it didn't tell me anything.  In other words, it was the basic "THIS BOOK IS AWESOME AND MYSTERIOUS SO PLEASE BUY IT" approach.  Rather than invite me to learn more, it dissuaded me from looking any further because I didn't want to get 20 pages in and find I didn't care for the story.


On the other hand, you can't give away the store.  A blurb that says something like, "Arthur Quinn was a geneticist who found an ancient scepter that reacted to family blood lines.  He uses this scepter to rearrange the power structure of his city and rule with an iron fist," essentially tells me the entire story.  Why do I need to read it at that point?  I may as well have looked it up on Google and gotten the Wikipedia version.


So what do you tell?  I look at the blurb as heavy on introduction and light on mystery.  You want a blurb that introduces the reader to the character so that, subconsciously, that reader starts to care about the character.  However, you should only tease the story with enough specifics to have the reader want more.  For example, this is the way I tease Salvation Day:
"Mike Faulkner wants to kill God.  No, he doesn't want to convince less people to believe; he wants to confront the deity Himself and watch Him die.

After he lost his baby girl to a childhood illness, his wife, consumed by grief, committed suicide.  Through a series of seemingly random events, he comes to know that his wife's soul has been sent to Hell.  However, Mike is a theoretical mathematician whose equations show the potential for a new form of energy that can affect the bonds of reality.  In the midst of this discovery, he's approached by a demon from Hell's ruling council with an offer of immortality in exchange for using this new weapon to storm the gates of Heaven and challenge the Almighty.

Salvation Day is a paranormal thriller that takes us from Mike's grief to his temptation to his corruption to his redemption, stopping at every emotional place in between.  It's not for the faint of heart."



In my opinion, this introduces readers to the main character and gives them a "whoa, what the hell?" moment.  Kill God?  Is that even possible?  Who would want to do that?  Then it gives basic reasoning for the decision, a process of grief and anger that most of us could understand.  Finally, it lets the reader know that there is a journey involved that you have to follow in order to see where it leads.


I believe you should put a great deal of effort into your blurb.  If your title and cover are your eye contact with the audience, then the blurb is your greeting.  If you're too strong, you'll put them off.  If you're too soft, they won't care who you are.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Fight Or Flight - Act Two Completed!

As I work to complete my first novel in nearly two years, I've reached a major milestone - Act Two is finished!  Fight Or Flight is the prequel to Homecoming, and it follows the story of the near mythological figure at the center of Homecoming's story, David Morton.

***SPOILER ALERT***

Okay, now that you know I plan to reveal a few things, you've either chosen to keep reading or stop.  If you've stopped, you won't read this line, so I'm not really sure why I'm writing it.  Anyway...

I don't know that I consider this a true spoiler, since those who read Homecoming, which will be out first, will know in advance the general gist of Fight or Flight.  By the end of Act One, David Morton had built up a global resistance network to fight off an alien invasion.  Act Two takes place immediately following, and it tells of just how big a failure that global resistance was.

This was the act I've had in mind since I conceived the book in the first place.  David Morton, after drawing down an enemy counterattack that nearly wiped out what was left of humanity, has concluded that trying to drive the enemy from our world is futile - we're outnumbered about 300-1 by a technologically superior foe - and that escape to another world is our only alternative.  Act Two deals with how he gets from A to B, along with the ethical questions presented by the escape plan.  After all, not everyone can go, so who gets left behind?

This act took off when I got nine straight days to write all day long.  That resulted in an average of over 5,000 words a day.  Given what I already had, that meant that I could complete Act Two pretty quickly.

Sometimes it was quite the grind.  Writing 5,000 words a day presents its own challenges, chief among them being outrunning my outline.  I did that several times, and although I knew where I was going, I hadn't written it out, so I had to keep going back to add key elements.  This can make the text choppy, and I don't recommend it.  However, I got by for now, mostly because I've had the story in my head for over two years now and I know it by heart.

Act Three now awaits.  I'm hoping to have the entire novel complete by Labor Day so that I can take some time off - a week or so - before starting my next novel.  It all makes you think - we have to love what we do since no one would put himself through this if he didn't.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Several POVs

I love Harry Turtledove.  I think he's one of the best writers of our generation.  He can take a disparate set of viewpoints and weave them into a single storyline that ties together at the end.  It's awesome to follow.

The only problem, and a testament to his brilliance, is that so few can do it(myself included).  I like to focus on one character as a device to advance the plot.  When I start adding too many voices, I lose the story in the morass.

Not Turtledove.  The Great War series uses literally a dozen points of view to advance the plot.  They eventually get to the same place, but some of them meander, in my opinion.  I've found myself skimming those I found less interesting and getting to the ones I liked better.  I find this to be both blessing and curse for multiple points of view - it keeps me turning pages to see the next chapter, but some turn me off.

Of course, the opposite can be true for my own books(and those I like) - if someone grows bored of my single point of view, then the entire book loses the hold it had on the reader.  If my main character, or two at the most, can't keep a person's attention, the book as a whole is worthless.

At the same time, I know my limits.  Some of Turtledove's books that do the multiple POV thing have kept me enraptured from start to finish.  However, I can't write like that, not even as a project.  It gets too jumbled in my mind and I can't keep straight who's doing what.

Is there a point to this post?  Nah, more just rambling, but as I re-read one of Turtledove's books recently, it reignited my wonder at how he did it.  Maybe some are just better at multi-tasking.  I'm not one of them - are you?

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Don't Be Stingy

Do you remember that writer who hoarded all of his books and forced people to buy them, taking folks to court who loaned them to friends?  Remember how he then made millions of dollars because everyone flocked to his brilliance?

Yeah, me neither.

When a writer begins building and audience, the most important thing...and I'm just spiffballing here...is for people to read his stuff.  Building a list is nice, but there's simply no way to build a list of thousands if you haven't yet published a single thing.  Further, of those who are on your list - the ones who so enthusiastically told you they couldn't wait to buy your work - count on selling to about half of them.  Everyone is all about it in person, but there are hiccups when it comes time to actually purchase.

So encourage others to share what you wrote with friends.  Give copies away.  Take them to public libraries and offer them to the librarians for nothing.  Do these things in the hopes you catch on with some people.

No, everyone won't like your stuff.  Some will think you're shitty and will vow to never read another one of your novels.  Some won't even get past page ten, declaring your life's work to be juvenile and poorly written.  So what?  Reading tastes are subjective, and not everyone will think you're awesome.  Does everyone you meet in person think you're awesome?

However, what you're going for is to hook one person for every four or five that pick you up.  You want a new fan who can't wait to read your next release.  As a newly published author, these are the ones you need, and you have to encourage as wide a readership as possible for it to take.  No one will break down your door and demand to read your work if they don't know who you are.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Déjà Vu

Ever find yourself repeating your ideas and themes?  Are you stuck in a rut of how to say the same thing a different way?  It can be difficult to always be original, but some things require emphasis.

Okay, at first glance, this looks like the same post I made just two days ago.  Some may wonder, did your website posting algorithm knot up?  Did you simply get early onset dementia and say the same thing?  The answer, of course, is no.  Instead, it simply goes to show that we often wonder if we’re repeated ourselves by saying the same thing in just a slightly different way.
Blogging on a consistent basis is hard.  There are, after all, only so many ways to describe grammar or how to use language without going overboard.  Can you really talk about the period or semicolon in a new and sexy way that you haven’t already covered?  And won’t people get bored if you keep doing this?
You have to search out new ideas in order to be a consistent blogger, and that’s tough.  Work, family, school – they all add up to take time from coming up with new ideas.  What happens, at least to me, is I find myself looking at the last minute for what to write about.  “Oh, shit,” I’ll say.  “Do I have a new topic?  My post is due in an hour!”
This is why writing down new ideas is key when you get them.  They might occur on stroll or during bowling with your kids, but you can’t just think, “Eh…it’ll be there when I need it.”  Get it on paper and check it against what you’ve already written – you’ve got time before your deadline if you do it this way, and your readers won’t find themselves in déjà vu all over again.
Plus, your readers won’t find themselves in déjà vu all over again…

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Say It Again

Ever find yourself repeating your ideas and themes?  Are you stuck in a rut of how to say the same thing a different way?  It can be difficult to always be original, but some things require emphasis.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Proper Expertise

Would you go to an electrician for advice about your leaky toilet?  Would you ask a cop to put out the fire that was engulfing your home?  While these professionals may have some knowledge of these activities through association, they possess neither the experience nor the training to handle these situations.  Therefore, why do you entrust a person who got a degree in English Literature to represent you on a legal contract for getting published?

I've read through a lot of agent bios, and the next one I see that shows a legal or financial background will be the first.  Most of what I've come across are folks with MFAs(Masters in Fine Arts) or people who once wrote for a living and now want to represent for a living(the same way, I guess, that an actor decides he or she wants to direct).  I'm sure such a crowd would make fine editors, but I don't understand why you think they would have the working legal knowledge to negotiate a contract beneficial to you.

The only advantage most literary agents seem to bring is that they have an "in" with traditional publishers, but doesn't that seem more like an advantage for the publisher than it does for you?  After all, they schmooze with the folks who control your paycheck and distribution, and since that publisher is a path to greater financial success for the agent, wouldn't it make sense for the agent to keep the best interests of the publisher in mind rather than the supposed client?

Yes, some will tell me I'm nuts, or bitter, or some other such write-off, but that's simple deflection.  When you are in legal negotiations - and make no mistake, that's what this is - why wouldn't you want a copyright law or intellectual property attorney to represent you at the bargaining table?  Such an attorney isn't chummy with the publisher, so they have no friendly relationship - aka, a way to keep cashing in - on the table.  What's more, they know what the language of a contract means, so they can help sift through some of the more shady parts and get you the best deal?

The narrative today is that you must have an agent to get published, and that agent needs to "know the business."  Bullshit.  That agent may get you an initial in, but their advice becomes about as qualified as mine at that point, if not less so(I have a Masters in Business).  Once in, they go with what they know, which isn't encoded in tomes of law.  This is how authors end up with crappy deals; use a legal neophyte at your own peril.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Bookstore Inspiration

I found my Nirvana again recently.  My days off, as of late, have been few and far between.  Moreover, the respite I often seek during those rare days off lays over a dozen miles from my house through heavy traffic, so it’s not always readily available.  That led me to forget just how comforting and stimulating it can be when I get to it.
What am I talking about?  My all-day visit to a bookstore, of course.
(There was supposed to be a picture here, but it didn't load right.  Pretend something witty lay here)
During a business trip, I recently found myself with an afternoon to kill.  As I drove through town, I came across a Barnes & Noble, and I knew I had to stop in.  It had been so long,  but my psyche suddenly found itself craving an addiction it had almost forgotten about.
As I got there and began browsing, a familiar sensation crept over me again.  I looked through the titles and cover blurbs, and my mind started going into overdrive.  Several books sounded fascinating, but I found myself saying, “What if instead of this background, xxx happens.  That might lead to yyy, which could mean zzz is possible.”  In other words, I started discovering new ideas amidst parts of other ones.
I don’t think I’m unique in using snippets from others to form new thoughts.  My very first novel – the one I abandoned years ago – began as the combination of several ideas I gleaned from already completed works that I then morphed into my own concept.  Basically, I would catch a snippet of something, and my mind would take it in a direction totally separate from what I was reading, but inspired enough to start the juices.  It could be a picture, a phrase, or a concept, but reading so much creativity helped stir my imagination to rev up again.
How many others see something and find their minds spinning off in whole new directions?  Your mind could be primed and it just takes the right kick to spin it off into originality.  What catches my eye and stirs me goes off in a totally different direction from what my mind came up with, but it’s the image or thought that spurs new ideas.  Bookstores in general simply get the creative juices flowing again, like the books therein are rocket fuel for our imaginations.
This is what Amazon lacks.  While I love the convenience of the site, I can’t exactly browse randomly on Amazon the way I can at a brick and mortar bookstore.  Sure, it can remember your preferences and help steer you, but there’s something about walking through and seeing random titles and book covers that makes everything seem possible.
How many of your own stories have spawned from a trip to a bookstore?  I’m sure I could get motivated without them, but it’d take a great deal more effort.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Clear Delineation

I've written in the past that I love characters that are complex.  I enjoy multiple levels of nuance, and I want to see it from both the hero and the villain.  Cartoony, one-dimensional villains quickly get boring and let me know there's no way he'd win, so why do I bother getting invested in the story?

That doesn't mean I don't want a clear villain.

I've seen lots of stories that try to get more morally ambiguous.  The villain is wrestling with severe psychological issues and is motivated by some deep seated goodness that he or she is just expressing wrong.  I understand that no villain, including some of history's worst, ever himself as a villain, but we, the audience, should be able to figure it out without difficulty.  What's more, we shouldn't root for the villain...at all.

JK Rowling did this real well with Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter novels.  If anyone was crying out for sympathy for a troubled childhood, it was Voldemort.  He was abandoned by his mother at birth and raised by an uncaring orphanage.  His father, although still alive, wanted nothing to do with him.  The character creation screamed out for sympathy.  Why then did we still despise the man?  Because Rowling did such a masterful job of showing that he was pure evil, and that his wretched childhood didn't excuse what he did as an adult.  In spite of his strength and obvious talent, no one I know wanted Voldemort to win.

Too many stories have gotten away from this simple narrative.  In our quest for realism and grittiness, we've forgotten that readers want to root for and against someone.  When we muddy the waters too much, we confuse them.  After all, is it really easy to cheer the downfall of anyone we have even the slightest hint of empathy for?

While making things complex, re-look at your villain and see if you've made him too complex.  Do you care about what happens to him?  Would you be upset if he found any satisfaction?  If the answer is yes, you might want to go back and check on how you can tilt the scales against him a bit.  It's the little things that show us that at least our stories keep good and bad in context.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Spreading The Word

How does a writer get the word out about his or her latest work?  At a major publishing house as an established big name, it's not that hard - you can get print ads, radio ads, press releases, etc.  However, most of us aren't named Patterson or Grisham, so we need to figure out other avenues.

The first, and easiest, is word of mouth.  Get people talking about what you wrote.  To do this, you need to get past the initial inclination of making every person who reads your book buy it.  I have a distribution list of people who've signed up to buy my first book, but I've told them not to hold onto it - if they enjoy it, I want them to share it with their friends and lend it out.  Of course I want folks to fork over some money to the RD Meyer account, but that can't get in the way of building a readership.  Some folks are real tight-asses about this, but I think that's counterproductive.  If people don't read you when you're first out, they won't pay later to read more.

The second way, and the second  easiest in today's day and age is a blog tour.  Ask acquaintances you read if you can do a guest post.  Offer reciprocation.  We writers need to stick together and help each other out, so see if you can work out a one for one swap on guest posts since you'll both benefit.  Then time your posts for the launch date of your new book.  By doing this, you'll expand beyond your own audience and into readers you've never tapped.

Finally, there's the traditional book tour.  Unfortunately, most bookstores won't touch you unless you've established yourself in some way, so think outside the box.  Friends and family are usually thrilled that someone they know wrote a book since it's usually associated with fame(even if that fame doesn't yet exist), so ask a buddy to host a book launch party.  Offer to sign books.  Does one of your friends have a weekly or monthly book club?  Most will be excited to have a "real life author" come talk to them.  Also, get with a smaller bookstore or community college bookstore and see if you can set up a table in exchange for a few free books.  If you stink, the most they lose is some floor space for two or three hours.

If you don't find a way, it won't matter if you've written the best book ever - no one will know.  Find a way to let them know.