Thursday, August 30, 2012


I've talked about how to write, what you need to do to market yourself, and how you should develop a plan in your approach to your writing career.  However, there is one more tricky part all writers either need to master or get others to master for them if they're to pay their bills through this crazy writing stuff.

You've got to get people to buy your work.

There are a lot of people out there who seem to think that flat out asking people to buy your work is unseemly.  I've spoken to more than one person who thought that "the work should speak for itself."  That's all fine and dandy if your name is King or Brown, but if nobody knows who you are, you've got to do something to convince others to buy your stories.

There is no right way to do this, but there are a number of wrong ways to:

1.  Spam is bad.
We've all gotten those annoying emails in our inboxes.  "ENLARGE YOUR PACKAGE!"  "AARP WANTS YOU TO BUY INSURANCE!"  "DON'T MISS THE BOAT ON THIS DEBT CONSOLIDATION OPPORTUNITY!"  Yada, yada, yada...

These are untargeted emails that go out to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people in the vain hope that 1% of the people will respond.  I instantly delete these, unopened.  Not only do I have no interest in these, but I don't know what I did to give the spammer the impression I was ever interested in something like what they're pushing.

If you open up your email address book and send a blanket email to everyone on the list hawking your book, you're sure to do one thing - you'll piss off a lot of people.  If you're lucky, they'll just delete the email.  However, I've seen people lose friendships over such blatant annoyances.

2.  Using people.
Networking is something we all need to do at some point.  It helps to make connections with people who are in our field.  We might be able to help each other at some point.  Unfortunately, a large number of people grab these connections and promptly turn around and ask for favors.  You know...from people they didn't know only days before.

I can't recall the number of times I've heard a story like this -
New author:  "Great website.  You have such talent!"
Established author:  "Thanks.  I appreciate you stopping by."
New author:  "Hey, now that we're friends, can you talk about my new book on your site?"

This kind of naked grab for attention is classless.  It's one thing if you've established a relationship, helped each other out, and the other person has offered to help you out.  It's quite another to cozy up to someone for the sole purpose of them helping your career.  The first one helps establish a symbiotic relationship; the second one is a parasite.

3.  Your book is your only topic.
I love my work.  I pour my heart and soul into what I'm writing, and when I'm not writing, I think about it.  Still, I recognize that not everyone is as enthusiastic about my writing as I am.

There are some writers out there who talk only about their latest story and why you should buy it.  I call this the Used Car Salesman approach - you follow people around and won't let them go until they've committed to your work.  This is another way to lose friends in a hurry.  Good friends will be happy you've completed a novel, but they don't want it shoved in their face 24/7.

So, what can you do?  Well, I've introduced a personalized style myself.  Yes, I approach people I know and ask them if they'd be interested in my book.  I ask once, and I tailor the email to that person so they'll know this wasn't spam sent to a billion others.  I'll outline what the story is about and tell them that if they're interested, I'd love to add their email to my list.  At that point, I back off - the next move is on them.

Some folks have come back and said, "Glad you're writing a book, but it doesn't sound like it's for me."  Others have ignored my pitch.  All of that is fine.  If there is no response, or if the response is a "no," I leave it at that.  There's no hounding of people, no trailing them like a lost puppy.  I understand that they're adults, and they've made their choice clear.  And since I value their friendship more than their money, I don't press and risk that friendship.

If someone expresses interest, the only thing I say after they have my work is that I'd be honored if they shared it with their friends.  Word of mouth is one of the strongest selling points with books, so a recommendation from a friend is more likely than not to get me to read something, but that's got to be the reader's choice.

It's easy in the early stages of a writing career to alienate people, and the desire to get off the ground is the greatest temptation for writers in this regard.  All I ask is that you take a step back and think on how you'd like to be approached on something, then let that guide you.  Otherwise you risk your career before it even gets started.

Speaking of solicitation, since you're on this website, I'll assume you might have at least marginal interest in reading something new.  If so, and you'd be interested in buying a copy of Akeldama down the road(once it's published), please let me know either through emailing me or in the comments.  And if not, I still hope you enjoy the rest of my rambling.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Special Notice - Christine Rice Blog Tour

In a special additional post, I wanted everyone to know that one of the writers on my blogroll - Christine Rice - has started her blog tour for her new book, Freelance Writing Guide: What to Expect in Your First Year as a Freelance Writer.  Please check out the blogs below to follow the progress, and she'll be featured on here on my post for 14 September.


I know a lot of people who stumble over their own words.  They'll stutter, repeat themselves, and dance around a point until you just want to grab them by the shoulders and scream, "STOP TALKING!"  And while this happens more frequently when speaking, it also happens a great deal, and far more than it should, when writing.

Good writing is about taking a coherent stream of words and transferring it to a page.  What I've discovered is that those who have no real stream of thought and like to jump randomly from point to point are usually horrible writers.

In conversation, this is almost understandable.  Most of us are in such a hurry to get our points out there that we rarely stop to think about the pattern created.  Worse, in an attempt to make sure our point is made, we'll say the same thing over and over, often in the exact same way.  This is frustrating for those of us who are too polite to mention what a moron the person talking sounds like and can lead to charges of our either being elitist or introverted when we intentionally don't seek out others for discussions.  Trust me - most of us aren't doing this because we're shy, but rather because we don't want to have to navigate the chaotic waters of conversation with someone who couldn't read the directions off a shampoo bottle.

However, when writing, there should be less excuse for this.  Think about it - we can't write as fast as we can talk, so we should be able to recognize when we trip.  This includes misspellings, atrocious grammar, and using the same word or phrase over and over and over and over again within a single paragraph.

Someone who takes the time to write something down should take the time to organize his or her thoughts, and then that person should give at least a minimal one time over the world edit to their piece.  Not doing this is similar to going out on a date wearing a shirt with a mustard stain - it says you really don't give a shit about the person you're engaging with.

Nothing will make me put down a book or article faster than poor writing.  Several years back, I taught at a university in California, and my students had to turn in a few papers each term.  Most were decent works, but I'd occasionally run across one that read as if a 4th grader had done it.  Spelling and grammar mistakes were an automatic letter grade reduction.  Why?  Because I would find myself looking more for what other mistakes lurked in the body of the paper rather than focusing on the ideas behind the writing.  The papers I had my students turn in were meant to see if they understood the concepts behind what we were discussing in class, not to see if they'd mastered the basics of the English language(being juniors in college, they were already supposed to have a working knowledge of it).

When I read, I should be able to understand what I'm reading in a single sitting.  It should allow me to grasp the concepts underneath, or at least understand them enough to know they're above my head.  When I have to go back and re-read something because the mistakes caused me to have to translate what was being said, all the joy goes away.

How can you tell if your writing is stumbling over itself?  The easiest way is to read it out loud.  We all have a natural rhythm when we speak, and if the words don't match the tone, we'll notice.  Even better is to have someone else read it out loud to you.  They don't have the bias in favor of your work that you do and will stumble more easily, allowing you to pick up on when your work hits a bump.

Yes, this all sounds very elitist, but bad writing is a reflection of all of us, especially in the indie publishing movement.  Such mistakes give the snobs who already look down on us more ammunition to say how crappy indie publishing is, so it's not just your work that is disregarded.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Dying Embers

Months ago, I wrote a post in which I talked about the transition the book industry is undergoing.  I wrote this without a lot of research, only what I saw going on in the world around me.  Through a great deal of looking around since then, my awareness of books in transition has only been heightened, and I've become aware of something I believe to be undeniable:

Traditional publishing is dying.

Some folks who visit this blog will shake their heads and call me another disgruntled writer who is joining the ranks of those who are trying to bring down an industry that has been at the cornerstone of our intellectual society for nearly 600 years.  I can only ask that you trust that isn't the case.  I sent out barely a dozen queries nearly a year ago and haven't sent any since.  This is not burned out bitterness, simply a realization of fact.

It may take years to decades for the industry as we know it to fade completely, but the more I read about the trends, as well as the industry's reaction to those trends, the more I'm convinced that we're witnessing an industry that is in the throes of death.

More than a century ago, the horse and buggy industry went away because it forgot what its mission was.  It wasn't to sell people horses and buggies, even though that's what they thought - it was to provide for the public's transportation needs.  When some newfangled contraption called an automobile came along, rather than embrace it and adapt, they poo-poo'd it as a fad that would never last.  Sound familiar?

Let me be clear in this - I don't believe that novels or stories sold to the public are going anywhere, only that the people who get them to us are shifting.  The coming of both ebooks and low cost print on demand have changed the game.  Those who wanted to self publish were looked down upon as not good enough, and it was exceedingly expensive to accomplish well.  However, that's no longer the case.

In the print world alone, places like Lightning Source and CreateSpace have changed the dynamic.  It is now cheap enough to print a high quality book without going into hock or having to max out 12 credit cards the way William Paul Young did.  Thanks to the Internet and demand, graphic artists have sprung up and can create a great cover design on par with what you get from a traditional publisher for as little as $500, which once uploaded to your favorite POD company, can churn out a product that matches what you get at any bookstore.

But it's the ebook that has really revolutionized the way things are done.  They've made reaching a far wider audience easier for a cheaper price and have removed the constraints once faced by those who wanted to get to an audience.

Publishers seem to think their job is to sell hardbound print books and have forgotten that their real job is to get the stories of good writers in front of audiences for a reasonable price.  Instead of putting their considerable resources into truly cornering the digital market from the outset, traditional publishers have instead reacted the way the horse and buggy industry did - by digging in.  Ebooks are seen as a major threat against print books, so instead of lowering prices to attract buyers for new ebooks, publishers have instead tried to make ebook prices on par with their print books.  This is not some clumsy attempt to recoup investment cost, but rather a clumsy attempt to price ebooks out of the market so that folks have to continue to by print books.

When publishers had a headlock on authors, that might have worked.  However, stellar writers like JA Konrath, Sarah Hoyt, and Terry Goodkind have figured out that they already have an audience, and if they can reach that audience without forking over 80% or more of their money to a publisher who does little more than take control from the author in a market that is rapidly diminishing(print), why not strike out on your own?  These pioneers have helped remove the stigma of self publishing and led a lot more who might have otherwise given up once rejected to wade into the deep end.

Again, instead of figuring out that good writers no longer need them, traditional publishers have dug in even more.  They're putting out more restrictive contracts and payment plans, effectively trying to shackle their writers to them.  However, writers are getting fed up and leaving the traditional world once practices like those at Harlequin are uncovered.  Yes, there are more people currently lined up than leaving, but that'll soon change.  Further, as the good ones leave, publishers are forced to go with those next in line, and the quality benigs to drop off, similar to a football team who has put half its team on injured reserve.

By failing to recognize a changing market, traditional publishers have hurt only themselves.  Barring an EMP that shuts down the digital marketplace, these trends aren't going away.  You might not believe this, but it is with a twinge of sorrow that I write this post.  To me, publishers and writers should be working in concert to create the best story for their audience, but it isn't going that way.  Yes, there are great individuals at some of the publishing houses, but they are running into more and more bureaucracy and either losing sight of the end result or are having it taken from them.

With the loss of Borders, and the continuing decline of brick and mortar bookstores, publishers will have to find a different way to get their products into the hands of readers, and with so much choice out there, the average reader isn't going to tolerate being treated poorly as they have in the past.  Something too expensive or too much trouble will be set aside with the knowledge that they can go elsewhere and find what they're looking for.

I think it's still possibly for traditional publishers to turn things around, but I don't think the mindset exists for them to make it happen.  They simply don't understand how the world has changed, or they refuse to accept that they're no longer in control of it.  It's like a flame that sees an approaching rain storm and shouts at the clouds to respect it.  In the end, all that'll be left is smoke.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Witty Repartee

"How do you create dialogue for your novel?" Russ asked.

The Muse sat silent for a couple of minutes.  Finally, she said, "I think the key to good verbal interplay comes from sounding natural.  It also needs to help the story move instead of just being a placeholder."

"What do you mean by natural?"

"You have to be able to see real people, or at least the characters in your story, actually having a conversation like the one you're putting on paper.  A lot of authors like to write beautifully scripted dialogue, but what they put down looks more like it belongs in a work of William Shakespeare rather than real life."

"I know what you mean," Russ replied.  "I've seen a lot of folks try and put in a bunch of flowery words that no one really uses.  There aren't lots of people in everyday life that walk around talking about being 'smitten' with their girlfriend or 'inspired to partake of the celebration.'  That kind of stuff sounds uptight."

"Yes, it does," the Muse said.  "When writing dialogue, it helps to say it out loud.  Better yet, a writer should bounce that dialogue off of a friend or spouse.  The author and his or her partner should see what it sounds like if they have a conversation from the text.  It makes it much easier to see where the words stumble."

"Interesting," Russ murmured.  "Besides the natural flow of conversation, can you use any other tricks to bring words to life?"

"A few," the Muse said.  "However, these should be used sparingly.  When you write something for a character to say, the most common way to note that is to attribute the word 'said' to them."

"But sometimes a simple 'said' doesn't convey the way a person meant it," Russ pointed out.

"That's true," the Muse admitted.  "But just like the conversation should flow naturally, so should the modifiers.  Words like stammered and exclaimed have their place, but they have to enhance the tone.  Very few people are always animated.  They talk and listen, but they only get hyped up when it's important.  Otherwise people might think they can't control their emotions."

Russ nodded and pursed his lips.  "What did you mean earlier when you said it should keep the story going?"

"That extraneous dialogue bogs down the reader."  The Muse sighed and found a seat.  She rubbed the back of her neck and then looked back up at Russ.  "Sure, in everyday life, people will talk about all kinds of stuff, but in a novel, you need to conserve space where you can.  If what the characters are saying doesn't advance the story, you should cut it."

"This is hard," Russ said.

"No shit," replied the Muse.

After another few seconds of silence, Russ asked, "Do you always have to attribute what is said to a specific person?  Doesn't that get messy?"

"Not always," the Muse said.  "They key is to structure the conversation so that the reader knows who's speaking.  When there are only two people in the room, you can leave out a lot of attribution, although it helps to put it in every once in a while so the reader doesn't forget who's saying what.

"But in a conversation where there are more than two people, you have to either go back to attribution much more frequently, or you have to make it clear from the dialogue and tone who the speaker is.  I'd rather err on the side of too much attribution rather than too little, because otherwise the reader might be confused and have to go back through the text to remember who said what."

"How much action should you intersperse with the dialogue?" Russ asked.

"As much as is needed," the Muse said.  "Sometimes dialogue is used to break up action into more manageable pieces.  At other times, you can have a chapter of nothing but dialogue."

"Who's best at it?"

The Muse thought for a minute.  "JK Rowling does a pretty good job.  I also like how Stephen King pulls it off.  But for my taste, no one does it better than Harry Turtledove - the dialogue in his books punctuates what's going on around the characters, and I've never been lost when following one of his stories.  When you think you can hear the conversation rather than just reading it, that's when you know you've hit the mark."

"I've known a lot of writers who haven't hit the mark," Russ said.

"More often than not, that's the case.  Too many have stilted dialogue.  More try too hard by putting in modifiers like 'babbled' or 'yelled' when it's not necessary.  Even those who are good at it can miss the target by not structuring it the right way."

"Like how?"

"Maybe this is just a personal preference, but I prefer for the character to act as opposed to be acted on.  A writer should use 'so and so said' rather than 'said so and so' most of the time.  I only use the second technique if I want to indicate passivity.  Otherwise, I want people to understand that the character is strong enough to own the words.  You can do that without the reader even realizing it by properly placing the conversation modifier."

"I hadn't thought about that before," Russ said.  He now stood and walked over to the door in his mind.  "Okay, you stay here.  I've got to write another 5,000 words tomorrow, and I don't want you wandering off."

The Muse didn't move.  Instead, she favored him with a small smile.  "You can try and keep me here if you like, but I have ways of escaping.  Treat me poorly, and I'll leave you when you need me most."

"We'll see," Russ shrugged.  With that, he walked out and locked the door behind him.  The real question was whether she was really at his beck and call, or could she still slip away?  He'd find out the next time he fired up his laptop.
(Don't just sit there stonefaced - say something!)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Opportunity Costs

Kristine Kathryn Rusch has quickly become one of my favorite bloggers, and her posts on contracts are both informative and entertaining.  She brings up a lot of good points that newbie writers looking to break into the traditional publishing world need to consider.  It also got me thinking - what would it take to get me into the traditionally published world?

I've made no secret of my movement towards the world of indie publishing.  It used to be that the advantages of going indie were so small that no one who wanted to earn a living dared dream of going indie.  There was a stigma associated with it, and some who've failed to keep up with the times continue to look down their noses at it.

However, in recent years, that stigma has gone way down, and a lot of writers are figuring out that they can earn a much better living by working for themselves rather than forking over their control to a publishing company where they may or may not do well.  The biggest tradeoff is that the writer is now much more involved on the business side of the equation, as opposed to turning over most of those decisions to a publishing house.

Some writers are still like that.  "I went into writing to write, not to be a bookseller," they say.  And those that want to continue to think that way, my glass is raised to you.  For someone like me, though, that simply turns over far too much control that I'm not willing to concede.  At the same time, I can't say I'd absolutely never go into traditional publishing(and I'm sure these posts are doing a bunch to help me gain the admiration of publishers everywhere).  So what would it take to drag me from the indie path and into the traditional realm?

Quite simply - gobs of money.

Look at that claptrap mommy porn phenomenon known as Fifty Shades of Grey.  That began as fan fiction, and then as an indie book.  However, it was soon picked up by Random House and has sold nearly 30 million copies.  The publisher noticed that it was gaining steam, so it decided to offer the author a boatload of money to bring in its imprint, and the rest is history.

If something similar happened with regard to Akeldama or Salvation Day, or any other work I produced, I'd be hard pressed to turn down seven figures just to stay indie for that novel.  Does that make me a potential sell out?  Possibly, but we can't forget that writing is a business as well as an art form.  Most writers I know would throw their own mother off a cliff for that kind of advance(not me,'re safe mom!).

It's important to remember, however, the tradeoffs one makes when jumping at the cash, as well as the need to identify a few red lines on what you shouldn't compromise on.  First, you give up control...a lot of it.  You lose final say on the cover, the distribution plan, and even the content when an editor tells you to go make and make changes.  With that kind of money floating around, these edits aren't suggestions.

Second, you lose control over timing.  In indie publishing, you get to decide when a book is available.  When you agree to a traditional contract, they decide when your work gets out to customers.  It usually takes a book a year or so to get through all the wickets and onto shelves.  If the writer is lucky, the digital version will come out at the same time, but it'll be priced way too high since traditional publishers are afraid that ebooks are going to push print out of the mainstream market if they're too cheaply available.

That brings up money.  Your royalty rate, if you're lucky, is 15%.  Let's be fair - that sucks.  You have to sell tens of thousands of copies to make a middle class living from that, and a few million to live large like Rowling or King.  However, if you've been given an enormous advance up front, this becomes less important.

But you'll also have to sign a contract, and this is where a lot of newbie writers, and not a few established ones, lose their damn minds.  Many are so eager to "get signed" that they fail to understand what they're signing.  I know some who think that if they fail to sign a contract or if they demand better terms for themselves, they'll lose the publisher and never get another chance.  They remind me of the girl in high school who sleeps with the captain of the football team because she's afraid of being dumped.  What writers don't realize is that they'll be just as walked on with a publisher as that high school girl if they don't demand better treatment and be willing to go elsewhere to get it.

Here are a few things that you have to carefully consider, and a few that should make you run screaming in the other direction:
1.  Multi-book deals.  Sounds great, doesn't it?  You're being offered the security of selling more work.  There are some pitfalls that the publisher fails to mention.  One is that you aren't free to take a better offer if it comes along.  The second is that it puts you on the publisher's schedule, eliminating the freedom you became a writer to enjoy.  And third, you can get cheated, and cheated badly.


Through a royalty trick called bundling.  Writers don't get paid beyond their advance until their work sells more than the advance.  Suppose you got a $5000 advance for each book in a three book series.  Your first book sells $8000 in copies, your second earns $6000 in copies, and your third is behind the pack and sells only $500 in copies.  Guess how much you make in royalties?  That's right - zero.  You don't earn royalties on the $3000 and $1000 from the first two books because the publishers bundled them together and the royalties count against all three advances, not each book separately.  In other words, insist each book be treated individually and not as a bundle.

2.  Rights of exclusivity.  This harkens back to the first point.  It sounds great up front - a publisher wants to build a relationship and exclusively publish your work.  Unfortunately, exclusivity doesn't mean they have to buy it, or that if they buy it that they have to publish and promote it.  Nope, it just means that you can sell to no one but that publisher.  It's called a non-compete clause, and a large number of publishers are trying to require them.  Should you sign something like this, congratulations - you've just bound your entire career to one publisher.  You are not allowed to sell to anyone else without the publisher's express permission.

If a publisher tries to strong arm you into this, sprint in the other direction and don't look back, no matter how much money they're offering you.

3.  Option clauses.  These can benefit the writer, but only if they're properly drafted.  In theory, they offer a bit of security by saying the publisher gets first crack at your next novel, and you can always go somewhere else if they pass on it.  However, a poorly written option clause gives the publisher an indeterminate amount of time to decide.  It also goes back to giving the publisher the right to your work with no guarantees about promotion or distribution.  If you're going to sign an option clause, make sure it very clearly spells out the timeline and conditions of the option, or else you're hosed.

4.  Digital Rights Management.  This is a sneaky new thing that publishers like Hachette have begun to sneak in.  Long ago, DRM was thought to help with anti-pirating in the digital market.  However, it has just turned into another non-compete clause.  It tries to extend its terms into territories and platforms that aren't a party to the agreement you signed, putting the burden on you and limiting your market.  Beyond that, it's a heavy handed and arrogant attempt to shut others from horning in on its market.

These are but a few things you trade off when you go into the traditional world.  No matter how much money you get offered, you need to have a few red lines that you won't budge on because you know what they'll do to your career.  You can't be pressured into signing something because a publisher might decide you're not worth the effort - you have to decide the publisher isn't worth the effort.  Yes, that means you have to be willing to walk away, and that can be hard to a newbie starting out.

Know what your price is for the control you'll cede in going the traditional route, but don't cry about terms you willingly signed.  If you sign a bad contract that hamstrings your future, the blame is on no one but you.

Sunday, August 19, 2012


Patience is one of the hardest things to truly employ as a writer.  We have so much we want to tell that we feel we'll just burst if we don't get it all out right away.  Unfortunately, this leads to a lot of very bad stories out there that are either incoherent or just plain lacking in "oomph."

When I'm telling a story, I want everyone to enjoy hearing it just as much as I enjoyed dreaming it up.  In my zeal to press this in on them, I'll leave out crucial elements and will take for granted certain things that I know(since I'm the one who invented the story) but which the reader won't yet get.

This is one of the places an outline helps out.  Besides helping me figure out where a story is going, using it correctly helps me apply the brakes in the right spots.  Assuming it's detailed enough, there'll be spots in it that'll virtually shout, "DON'T FORGET TO SAY SOMETHING ABOUT THIS!"

A good outline also makes you take a breath if you consult it the way you should.  I get caught up in my story from time to time, yet just having the outline in front of me makes me look at it and take a deep breath.  It reminds me of the points I wanted to make, and if there's something I skip over, the outline at least lets me make that a deliberate process.

Another thing that helps out with writing patience is reminding myself that the novel doesn't have to be complete in a single day.  There aren't a lot of novels I've read in a single day(only two come to mind), so why would my novel be written in that time?  Creating a daily word count works in two ways - it gives you a goal to work towards so that you maintain steady progress, but it also acts as a natural speed limit if you let it.  Yes, I've previously said I don't like to stop if I'm on a roll, but sticking to your word limit can help you create patience even if you don't ordinarily have it.  By stopping when you say you will, it prevents you from randomly spewing out things that you haven't taken the time to let properly bake.

Again, balance is key here.  That fight scene you just wrote - should you gloss over its brutality, or is a blow by blow analysis something that will let the audience empathize with the main character?  When you envision a scene, you may know what it looks like, but does the reader know that the sun setting over the Kopet Dag mountains washes over the main character's face in a way that shows his age, and is that important?

Bottom line is that a writer must temper his or her enthusiasm for the story if the reader is to appreciate it as well as the author.  If you don't remove yourself from the situation and allow for a deep breath from time to time, you may finish your book more quickly, but what should be an 80,000 word mystery will turn into a 40,000 word disaster because no one will be able to envision the story the way you have.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Writing For Effect

As shown in previous posts, I really believe the best authors create an emotional attachment between the reader and the story.  However, how can that best be done?  Sure, wording is important, but there are other ways to create emotion in your readers.  The first way is the one that seems to be most prevalent.

You can create a one sentence impact.

Lots of novels use the device above.  They'll tell a detailed story through a couple of paragraphs, and then they'll use the lone sentence for effect.  To me, this is the literary equivalent of old time movies going, "Da da dum!"  It interrupts the flow and practically screams at the reader, "THIS IS IMPORTANT FOR DRAMATIC EFFECT!  PAY ATTENTION!"

The only problem with this device is that it can be overused, and it usually is.  Doing the dramatic sentence is great when used sparingly, but it loses effect when it's done every other page.

It gets annoying.

It becomes cliché.

People stop paying attention.

Readers eventually put the book down.

Okay, I understand that I have all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, but you get my point.  This is a neat trick, but if the writer is always expecting the audience to hold their breath, people are going to start passing out from lack of oxygen.

There are lots of other techniques, most not used so often.  In The Shining, Stephen King liked to break up his thoughts by failing to end sentences with punctuation and sometimes starting the next paragraph with a lower case letter

(sometimes he would do the entire paragraph in parenthesis.  For me it helped break up the story without breaking the mood.  It even allowed me to feel like I was in on a bit of salacious info that he was sharing only between us.  I haven't seen a lot of writers do this, and it makes for a creepy effect when done properly)

I tried a couple of different techniques when I wrote Salvation Day.  The first was that I occasionally used different fonts to indicate varying emotions I wanted to stand out.  I didn't do it often, but a couple of times I would use Goudy Stout or Papyrus to help convey mood.

Another thing I did was I intentionally changed the tense during one transition between chapters when I was trying to convey the desperation of a specific scene.  The main character had just seen what his wife was enduring in the bowels of Hell and broke free from the demonic masters providing him a tour.  Of course, he did this without considering the consequences of being lost in Hell and only wanted to escape.  Changing to present tense for a page to bring out the panic of his mind was the best way I knew how to do this.

In Akeldama, the main character gets captured by some of his enemies and spends an untold amount of time in a room by himself.  There's nothing there but a red light, and he's tied to a chair.  Figuring out how to let everyone in on the sensation of the



of time

was difficult.  I felt the key was to break it up so the reader had to take in the words a small bite at a time.  I couldn't do this for a whole page because it would've lost effect and annoyed the reader, but I think if done in small doses, it can help bring out the mood you're looking to create.

Here's where I give my contradictory advice that can be so maddening at times - these types of techniques can be useful, but only if done in small doses.  The writer that peppers(!) his or her story with too many things out of the ordinary risks coming across less creative  and more. like. an. effete. snob.

Words are important, but they're not the only tool in your arsenal to effectively create the mood you're looking for.  Writers should try to explore various ways to tap into the emotions of our readers.  Trust me - if you fail, especially in a way he or she feels is dumb, the reader will let you know.
(Words alone are sometimes insufficient to describe the scene)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Grains of Salt

Having a good group of people to provide you with a meaningful critique is essential to your success as a writer.  Such people help you step back from your work and understand how it's seen through the eyes of others.  They can spot holes you missed, find unresolved plot lines, and tell you which characters they cared about(good or bad) versus whether or not the folks on the page bored them.

It's hard to be subjective about your own stuff.  Let's face it - we've poured our heart and soul into a story and sometimes get crushed when not everyone proclaims their undying allegiance to it or they make remarks about what could make it better.  There are even times that our blind allegiance to our work won't let us see the obvious flaws others point out.
(I'm telling you - it's NOT dark outside!)
This is why it's important to be able to take advice.  Since we can be blinded by our own brilliance, a good beta-reader holds up our work, points out the flaws, and let's us improve on our work.  However, there's one thing to remember during this process:

You're the one telling the story.

Not everyone's advice will be good.  Some people would rather read something different, so they'll couch their advice in the story they'd prefer to read instead of than the one you produced.  This can be helpful if it gives you ideas for a future tale, but it does nothing for you if there are specific points of feedback you wanted.

If more than one person makes the same comment - something along the lines of, "The protagonist was inconsistent in dealing with the villain." - that's information you can use.  However, you'll often get conflicting comments.  One person may say, "I thought it got really slow in the middle," while another might say, "Are you kidding?  The transition gave me room to breathe and prepped me for the next chase scene."  These are bits of advice that cancel each other out, so you have to go with your gut feel on which one, if either, to take.

I've talked before about how a lot of people believe themselves to be aspiring writers, and offering advice to your work is their way of writing a book without having to go through the messy process of actually having to, you know, write one.  Hopefully you realize who these people are before you give them your work, which will allow you to understand the context of their comments, but you don't always know.  Still, once they start to pipe up, you should be able to tell who is being constructive and who thinks they could have written it better themselves(even if they didn't).
(A lot of people are just blowing smoke)
As the author, you need to remember that you don't have to take every piece of advice you're given.  If, after you evaluate the validity of the criticism, you decide to either modify in a different way or to not modify at all, you should have no trouble telling people that.  A good friend or beta-reader will understand that and be okay.  Some hoity-toity asshole will carry on about how you're a hack and that you'll never make it because you wrote them off.

This is a fine line to walk, and it takes skill to be able to step back enough and know which advice is helpful and which is crap.  But in the end, it's your story - you know where it's going and what you want to accomplish with it, so it's your ultimate responsibility to create.  Some of what you get will be good, but some will be full of cracks.  You don't have to please everyone who reads your work, so figure out how to not just ask for advice, but how to evaluate it.  In the end, that'll make you a better writer, as well as better able to incorporate those tips that are good to put in or modify.

Again, never forget that it's your story and your responsibility.  Always take that into account when considering advice.
(Sometimes advice has cracks...know what to look for)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Quality Argument

Anyone out there like to read Moby Dick?  Or War and Peace?  How about Lord of the Flies?  I must confess that although I've read each of them, I'd rather jab a sharp needle into my eye than do it again.  However, we're told over and over that these are "literary classics" that should be held up as some of the greatest pieces of writing out there.

COUGH *bullshit* COUGH

Quality is subjective, and half the time I think that folks latch onto what others claim are quality pieces of work just to demonstrate their bona fides with the hoity-toity group that makes up a lot of reading groups.

Quality, to me, is a story that I enjoy.  I want to go back to it over and over because I want to re-experience the magic and emotions I felt when I first read it.  I want to skim back through to see what hidden gems I missed the first time.  Did I catch all of the clues?  Was that minor detail mentioned in chapter 3 really a throwaway, or did I miss something that would've let me in on a later part of the plot?

Some artsy-fartsy types like to look down their noses at what the masses like to read.  "It's too low brow," they'll proclaim, as if a true artist has to have a boring plot and enough minutiae to choke a horse in order to be considered "quality."  These people put down World War Z or Ender's Game in favor of The Red Badge of Courage and are barely able to contain their derision for what we peasants have the audacity to enjoy.

However, I wonder how much of this pumping up of other books is genuine, and how much is designed just to make them look better and more classy than the rest of us.  Such things remind me of an episode of Friends where Chandler and Joey are playing a trivia game against Monica and Rachel over who knows more about the other pair.  During the "lightning round," Ross asks Chandler and Joey to name what Rachel claims is her favorite movie, to which Chandler responds, "Dangerous Liaisons."  Then Ross asks what Rachel's actual favorite movie is, to which Joey sneers, "Weekend at Bernie's."

I thought this was a perfect illustration of the disconnect that we see between what people want others to think they like versus what they really enjoy.  We seem so status conscious in our culture that most of us are unable to enjoy those things looked down on by the "elite" in society, even going so far as to refer to them as "guilty pleasures."  Sorry, but I refuse to allow any of my pleasures to be "guilty."  I think it's dishonest and presents a false mask to the world.

I like the book The Guns of the South.  I think it's well written, fast paced, and has characters you care about.  To me, it's quality literature.  However, when I mentioned this to a professor friend of mine, you'd have thought I stabbed him in the gut.  It was too pedestrian for him, and certainly not up to the standard set by people like Isaac Asimov or Frank Herbert.  Frankly, although I recognize the trailblazing path set by those gentlemen, I think both of their works are boring beyond belief and not good examples of quality, and I said so.  The look on his face was priceless.
(Even Rachel can't believe I don't care for Asimov)
Given what we've seen pass for quality literature in bookstores recently, I don't think those in the industry have any more idea about what constitutes quality than the rest of us.  "But those are published books!" some people will protest.  That may be true, but it doesn't make it something the masses will want to read.  And given the state of book sales, as well as the rise in indie publishing, I think that traditional publishers don't have a clue about what is a quality piece of work.  For every Harry Potter novel out there, there are probably 20 books like Pregnesia.  When things like this make it past publishers and editors and somehow end up on shelves, that doesn't speak well to the tastes of those in the know.

We have to understand quality if we are to produce it ourselves.  Don't let yourself get sucked in by the supposed stature of a book - judge for yourself what's good and what isn't.  You might be surprised by what you find.

Thursday, August 9, 2012


When a lot of us think about becoming famous as writers, what do we see in front of us?  Yes, we'll try to play off some humble diatribe about making an impact in the world or reaching a large number of readers, and I'm sure that those contain a grain of truth.  However, one thing not far from our minds is money.

So, how do we come about the money we want to swim in?  Through selling our work.  And in order to sell it, we have to price it right.  This can be a difficult task, especially for someone new to the scene.

I have griped about the price of books while buying them, but if it's one I really, really want, by an author I really, really like, my tolerance for the level of cash pain involved goes up.  I'm willing to pay upwards of $30 per book for the latest Harry Turtledove novel, but my threshold isn't as high for Gordon Dickson.  That's not to say I don't enjoy Dickson's work, but I'm not as willing to shell out the bucks.

When we think to what we should charge for our work, we need to keep several factors in mind:

1.  When we first start out, we're not in very high demand.
Stephen King can get away with charging $26.95 for a hardback or over $15 for an e-copy of 11/22/63, but the rest of us can't.  Until we build an audience that is loyal and has proven that they'll not only buy our books, but that they anticipate their release, we have to stay reasonable.  That means creating a narrow profit margin that will be much smaller per copy in the beginning than it will be later on.

2.  Don't sell yourself or your quality short.
This seems to go against number one, and it can be one of the most maddening pieces of contradictory advice I've yet given.  However, there really is logic behind it.

I know a number of writers who, for whatever reason, don't think they're worth people giving up a lot of money to read.  Trust me - if you don't think you're worth it, no one else will.

As a corollary to this, most folks will actually avoid things they think are priced too low.  For example, if you go into a jewelery store and see a Rolex watch on sale for $99, what is your first thought?  If you're anything like me, you thought something was wrong with the watch.  Rolexes are supposed to be priced higher, because they're quality, and if it's too low, it won't matter whether you know it works or not because you'll assume it's defective.

When Kindle first came along and the indie publishing trend started gathering momentum, 99 cent e-books were all the rage.  Readers loved to get them because they could try out a new author for less than a buck, and if the writer wasn't very good, the reader didn't lose much.  However, that thinking is quickly becoming a relic of a time gone by.  Books under $2.99 are increasingly being seen as being of lesser quality.  That might be harsh, but as incredible as it sounds, readers are walking away from some great stories because the price is too low.  Therefore, you have to balance your knowledge that you're not Timothy Zahn with the understanding that people rarely buy $5 lobster at a restaurant.

3.  You have to pay for your own overhead.
Coming up with a reasonable profit margin can be tricky.  Too many look at the price they get once they go to POD places like Lightning Source or CreateSpace and think that's all they have to consider.  Most have forgotten about their cover, the cost of traveling to and from events, the cost of their website, the copy editor's fee, and so on.  These are all expenses, and they don't get magically absorbed just because you're now on Amazon.

4.  You need to eat.
What's your goal as a writer?  If it's just to get a few copies into the hands of your readers so you can see your name in print, then don't worry about the price.  However, if you want to make a living doing this, you need a decent profit margin.  You've got to be able to make enough to cover quirky things like shelter and the car payment.  Sure, you could charge a pittance and sell a lot, but you're margin would be so low that you'd need to crack the NY Times Bestseller List to stay out from under bridges.  Conversely, you can't try for a margin so high that you only need sell a couple of copies because no one will buy one.

Something along the lines of $5 to $6 per book in hardcopy, or in the neighborhood of $2 per ebook(due to the higher current potential for distribution), seems reasonable to me.  You don't have to be incredibly proficient, but you're not pawning off a $3 hooker either.

It's the mundane things like this that keep a lot of authors starving, but they're necessary components of being a writer these days, especially in an indie environment.  Just because they're not sexy doesn't mean they're not just as vital as plot development, so spend as much time on the price as you would on the resolution to your tale.  In the end, it'll mean you make a better living and can go on doing what you enjoy doing - writing stories for your readers.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Emotional Overtones

I've written before about trying to draw your readers in emotionally.  However, you should also allow the reverse to be true - you have to allow your emotions to draw you, as the writer, into the story.

I'd written things before - a science fiction novel, several short stories, several stop and go stories about a dystopian future - but it wasn't until I wrote Salvation Day that I truly felt the work.  I used my experiences of what I'd gone through with the premature birth of my daughter to bring out the feel of the book.  Judging by the reaction I got from a few beta readers, I think I hit the mark.

We are better writers when we can bring the raw emotion of what we've felt into a story and then craft that maelstrom into something understandable.  It brings passion and let's the author let loose with things he or she might not even know they were capable of writing.

I've never been attacked by vampires or been the victim of a hit and run accident, but that doesn't mean I can't bring past emotions into the work.  We've all felt despair or anxiety at some point in our lives.  I've been stressed or worn down, and when that gets to me too bad, I do what I can to turn it into a positive by writing down what I'm feeling.  No, I don't mean some gloppy journal written by a 15 year old girl, but rather snippets in short sentences that captures the way I'm feeling.

When I wrote the Hell scene in Salvation Day, I went back to the darkest days of when I thought Rachel might not make it through her ordeal.  I looked back at what the days felt like and discovered I'd used words like "helpless and afraid" and "living from day to day" to describe what was going on.  When I saw these words again, they drew me back into the memories, memories I could now use as a focal point for the dark place the female character in the novel was going.

It's not all depressing - any strong emotion will do in helping you put your best foot forward.  I used returning from a long overseas trip and the joy I felt at the reunion with my wife to write the culminating scenes from Salvation Day and Akeldama.  So long as the emotion is strong and you have enough to go back and remember it well, you can use it to make your writing better.

Readers notice this too.  Think back to your favorite books, and they're usually the ones where you were caught up in the gripping emotions the author relayed.  At the same time, how many of you have read something flat and unemotional?  I know I have.  It's easy to tell when a writer's heart just isn't into the work, and that usually results in the reader putting it down and moving onto something more real.

Take the Harry Potter books.  The dementors in those books were among the most frightening and well written creatures out there.  You know how JK Rowling came up with them?  She drew upon her experiences from when her mother died, and the pit of despair she fell into.  That helped her create the creatures that not only suck the happiness from an area, but those same creatures also bring fog, drizzly rain, and insanity to whatever they touch.  The reader can truly feel the impact of the dementors, and it makes them a more believable and frightening part of the book.

I've written a lot about The Shining, but Stephen King did this with that books as well.  King admitted that as a young father, he was often horrifed by feelings of real anger towards his children.  He felt like bouncing them off the walls at times when they wouldn't go to bed or just wouldn't shut up, and in an era of Ozzie and Harriet, he didn't know how to take it.  He has since come to understand that a lot of parents have had genuine feelings of antagony towards their children, and that it's natural(so long as you don't act on it).  However, in his brilliance, King used these strong emotions to create Jack Torrence and his leap off the deep end of the Overlook Hotel to make The Shining that much more real and terrifying.

Don't hide your feelings - embrace them.  Write them down and remember what they really felt like.  Then, when you need them, call them out to help you create a better story, one that grips both you and your readers.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Nerds Rule The World

I have a confession to make - I am not cool.

This will come as absolutely no surprise to the folks who have known me for most of my life.  Hell, that will come as absolutely no surprise to the folks who have met me for more than a day.  I'm a complete dork, a nerd, an unhip cat who used to tape Babylon 5 and can talk for hours about the vagaries of either vampires or time travel.

But here's the thing - I'm fine with that.

Since I was never a member of the "cool kids club," I never had to worry about being in style or saying the wrong thing.  I was free to say whatever held my interest and be passionate about it.  When you're "cool,' you have to concern yourself with whether your love of Middle Earth will make the rest of your group turn and run screaming in the opposite direction, but it's liberating to not be held by such constraints.

Nowadays, it seems like the "cool" thing to be a nerd.  Most of those who try and pretend were never really nerds.  It's just now that being a geek is the "new cool," so a lot of people have tried to fall in line by either fawning over The Big Bang Theory or proclaiming what an awesome guy Mark Zuckerberg has always been(they mostly got this from watching The Social Network).  I remember the days when it was heretical for anyone who considered themselves cool to be within 100 miles of Comic-Con in San Diego.  However, it's suddenly become the in thing to do.  Not me - I've always been around the dorky crap.
(yes...that's me...holding a stormtrooper rifle...a Jawa nearby...)
One more benefit to being a nerd - we rule the world.

Look at Bill Gates, Dick Cheney, Leon Panetta, Warren Buffett, or any other number of opinion makers and leaders of industry.  All of them are total dorks.  While their buddies were off doing keg stands and scoring with cheerleaders(or football team), they were out plotting how to take over the world.  And in the end, they succeeded.

This applies to writers as well.  When I see Stephen King, Harry Turtledove, Stephanie Meyer, or Neil Gaiman, I don't see party animals concerned with hanging in the right crowd.  Instead, I see thoughtful, imaginative nerds who took that dorkiness and put it on paper for the rest of the world to enjoy.  It takes a certain level of geek to envision Ender Wiggin's fight against the Buggers or to map out the battlefields Colonel Andrew Keane fought on to repel the Tugars.

I would venture to say that most successful writers are nerds.  People of all stripes like to read cool stories, but most don't want to write them, even if they were capable(which most are not).  We nerds retreat into the wellspring of our imaginations and have the balls to talk about what comes out.
(What it takes to write a great story...)
The freedom given to a nerd to talk about stuff most folks find crazy is what produces those great stories the rest of the world enjoys while sitting on a beach or taking a plane ride across the country.  A nerd can be free from the handcuffs of cool to come up with that which enthralls the masses.  We might not always be successful in coming up with the best tale, but we're happy to sort through the garbage in order to find a single gem.  My bet is that most people are grateful that we do so, even if they choose not to partake in the trip to Geeksville themselves.

So unleash your inner nerd.  When you stop worrying about trying to fit in and are willing to be passionate about something everyone else rolls their eyes at, you will be amazed at what you are capable of producing.

And you cool should stop pretending you understand nerds - you're not fooling anyone.  Just enjoy the madness.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Hitting a Milestone

On May 26th of this year, I began the marketing campaign for Akeldama.  Although it'll still be a while before it hits the stands, I started building an email list for those who might be interested in buying a copy.  Well, today I passed my first real milestone on this list by hitting 100 names(101, actually).

This means that my list is now active.  I will send out the first mass email to those on the list this weekend.  All it'll be is an update on where the book stands in the process, as well as another brief synopsis of the plot.  When the email goes out, everyone on it will be bcc'd since, if I was one of those folks, I would find it very annoying to look at 100 names on a list knowing that a bunch of people I don't know had my personal email address.  These updates will get sent every six months until publication.

I'm doing what I can to build a base of customers that I hope find my work enjoyable enough to stick around and purchase further books as I publish them.  My goal prior to publication is to get 1000 names on this list, so that means a lot of work ahead of me.  Yes, some of the folks that will receive the email updates have been loyal readers of this blog and have contacted me about buying a copy, but most have been people I've approached directly.  I've previously discussed my insanity, and the opportunity to draw people into my world has only increased my passion to talk about my work.
(RD Meyer - passing craziness on to future generations)
And I fully intend to keep up this approach until I start going at this writing business full time(or at least more full time than my current job allows).  It's slow going if you look at it from the perspective of the individual attention required to gain each new reader, but I can afford to do it this way since publication is a ways off.  If I was to try and publish tomorrow, or even sometime later this year, I'd have to be much more aggressive.

However, this whole marketing thing is akin to cold fusion - it'll take a while to gain critical mass, but the process should eventually become self-sustaining if done right.  I never want to take a single reader for granted...and that includes when you guys help me sell 100,000 copies a year.  ;-)

There's still plenty of time to join the list.  I haven't worked out the full details on pricing yet, but those who pre-order through me will receive some kind of discount on the end product(I'm currently thinking somewhere around 25-ish% off, but full details remain to be determined).  If you're interested in buying Akeldama and helping to jump start my writing venture when it really begins, please let me know either through comments or an email.

I know that this post has been a little dry, but I'm very excited about reaching the number of folks I have already.  I promise to return to more irreverent tones in the next post.  :-P