Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Million Dollar Dreams

I ran across a post by John Yeoman over at Write to Done, and it tries to caution people against self publishing by rolling out most of the same stuff I've heard for years.  At the crux of the matter seems to be the notion that the only way to achieve fame and fortune is to go through a traditional publisher, otherwise you'll probably never make much of anything.

First of all, I think Hugh Howey or Joe Konrath might take exception to that.  Both seem to make a pretty good living from indie publishing and have maintained control over their own lives in the process, and they're far from the only examples in the indie publishing world.

However, there's also this theme that seems to run through the piece that if you traditionally publish, you're on your way to that mansion on Rodeo Drive.  This is a great goal to strive for, but I think it's both unrealistic and paints a misleading picture of just how much people make in the traditional publishing world.  First of all, unless your last name is King or Rowling, you're unlikely to get the kind of push needed to draw notice and attract readers.  That's all stuff you have to do yourself.  Too many writers think, "I have a book about to be published, so I'm set for life."  As much as that's the fantasy, it's usually not reality.
(Show me the money!)
Most writers fail to earn out their advances, when they're still getting them(book advances have been diminishing for years).  The average advance for a first time novelist is less than $10,000, and it doesn't go up much after that unless you can show you're a proven seller.  $10,000 sounds like a lot of money, but if that's all you get, are you really going to be able to do this full time?  This unpleasant truth smacks many authors in the face after they figure out that they enjoy not living under a bridge and having a full belly.

The only real difference I see in traditional versus indie publishing now that's on the plus side for writers is the potential for distribution.  We all want to walk into a Barnes & Noble and see our stuff on shelves, but as bookstores dwindle, people are looking to other options to find good books.  And more and more traditional publishers are taking on works that have proven themselves to sell well in the indie world rather than taking on an unknown and unproven author.

It boils down to where you think you can earn a living.  You should always strive to be that exception, that best selling author who can rise when the sun is warm and pen your next masterpiece before your appearance on The View, but you also need to have realistic expectations about where to best make the most money.  Given the control and percentage you make in indie, that's probably the best way for most first time authors.  Those that submit themselves to traditional publishing off the bat, in my opinion, are shackling themselves to a system that will take most of their money and discard them at the first hint of trouble since they know there are 50 more waiting in the wings to take his or her place.

Remember, overnight success usually takes years, and earning a good living takes work.  Reach for the stars, but realize that you still gotta eat, and tailor your career plan accordingly.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

By Any Other Name...

This post by Kristine Kathryn Rusch caught my eye and got me thinking about established writers who use pen names to come out with other books.  Stephen King is perhaps most famous for it when he penned several novels under the name of Richard Bachman.  Michael Crichton, Isaac Asimov, Dean Koontz, and many others have written books under a different name than their own(and, in turn, different than what they've published previously).

I have mixed feelings about this.  This used to be a way for writers to skirt the old publishing model that said that each writer could only publish one book a year or the reader would get tired of them.  Yes, this reasoning is complete horseshit - if I find an author I like, I tend to go out and find everything they've ever written - but it held sway for years, and if writers wanted to do crazy things like not freeze to death in the winter, they had to find other ways to bring out their books.  Nowadays, however, it seems like a bit of ego massaging.
(Just be yourself)
I bring this up because recently JK Rowling, of Harry Potter fame, was outed as having written under a different pseudonym - Robert Galbraith.  Rowling claims she did this as a way to find out if she was really good, or if her Harry Potter success was nothing more than a fluke.  Many (successful) writers have done this, and while I can understand the desire for validation, it strikes me as insecure.  It looks like a kid crying out "please please like me" after they were already the first pick during dodgeball.

First of all, this is something that I usually see only for those already successful.  I'm sure there are a few who use a different name to escape a clunker they put out, but if you have success, why would you try to distance yourself from it?  Shouldn't you embrace your success and be grateful that your notoriety brings in more sales?  Are these writers really saying that they don't know if success went to their heads and corrupted their ability to write well?

They're probably right that adding their name to a book will get more people to buy it than otherwise would, but so what?  Do you feel you didn't truly earn your first success so much that you now have to go back and do it again just to prove it was real?  This reminds me of a dream I had years ago, just after I finished US Army Ranger School.  For the first year or so, my dreams would consist of my having to go back through a part of or all of Ranger School, either because I had to re-certify or I'd fucked up in some way and they were going to take my tab away.  It didn't take me long to figure out what these dreams were about - all my life, I'd seen the guys with Ranger Tabs as the epitome of being a badass, and I always wondered if I could ever measure up.  Even after I graduated, I wasn't sure I deserved to wear something held by so many tremendous people, so my dreams reflected my desire to prove myself, even though I'd already done that by completing the course to begin with.  Pseudonyms from these very famous writers strike me in much the same way.

Many of us are always so sure that we got lucky and that our talent couldn't be what got us to the top that we wonder what we did to deserve our success.  First of all, luck probably did have something to do with it, but that shouldn't matter since luck is so often a part of life.  Second of all, when you get there, be secure enough in yourself that you deserve the accolades.  Many of us are still struggling to get there, and finding out that someone eschews that success just so the child inside them can be liked is irritating.

Rowling said that writing as someone else was liberating because she didn't have the pressure of being "JK Rowling."  I'm sorry, but that's pressure she put on herself.  As writers, we need to write the best story we can for ourselves and not worry about the expectations of others.  It's only our egos that worry about not being good enough, and as long as we're striving to put forth our best effort and always get better, why should we have any pressure from someone that isn't us?

I say enjoy your success and believe you've earned it, regardless of your name.

Thursday, July 25, 2013


For those that have clicked on one of the new buttons at the top and looked through my novel list, you've undoubtedly seen the current schedule of release.  Some have asked how I came up with the schedule I did seeing as how I'll have a stable of eight or nine ready to go by the time I start publishing them.

I wish I could say I have some secret formula that I labored over, but the truth is that although I am trying to have some semblance of a system, it's a lot more random than I might like.  Some of it is obvious - like making sure not to go too long between books in a series so that you don't lose the reader - but most of it is feel and timing.
(Timing is the key)
Timing is easy - finish a book, and if there are no more to release, that one seems the best candidate.  Most of us don't have the cache to hold back what we've just finished, or at least not if we like to do wacky things like eat.  In fact, I'd wager that most writers that have no stash of ready to go works simply write a book and make it their next release.  Easy, with no muss and no fuss.
(A season for everything)
Feel is the hard part, and it's highly subjective.  My enthusiasm for a particular piece can affect it, but that enthusiasm is also affected by what I'm working on at the moment.  When I'm writing or editing a novel, I get caught up in it.  I've never understood writers who write stuff they don't love, so, like most, I think the piece I'm doing at that time is "the best ever."  I can overcome this in hindsight, but in the moment, I always think, "This is going to be the next release - I just have to get it in front of people."

I think this is a function of getting so emotionally invested in the work.  It has also affected release schedules, particularly for Wrongful Death and Schism, since when I'm working on one of those, I want to get it out right then.

I originally wanted Salvation Day to be my first release, but I came to reconsider that decision after I finished Akeldama.  I still consider Salvation Day to be my best work, but I wondered about whether it would be a good idea to shoot my entire wad with that as my first release.  My other stuff is good, but I found the stars with that one, so I'm concerned about whether other stuff would measure up in the eyes of the reader.  And please spare me about "all books should be equally good" - that's complete bullshit, and any writer worth his or her salt knows that there are some books they write that are better than others.

I decided instead to release Akeldama to gather the beginning of an audience, and then make Salvation Day my second release.  Since I love Akeldama as well, I think it's quality enough to garner a buzz while not creating completely unrealistic expectations for readers.  I'll now submit myself to the hordes of critics that will blast me for not releasing my best work.

As to the others, I keep flip flopping back and forth between making Wrongful Death or Schism my third release.  I do this because it's entirely possible that whichever one isn't chosen might have to be my fifth release instead of my fourth.  Canidae, as a sequel to Akeldama, might have to be published fourth if I'm going to maintain interest in the series.  At the same time, I really believe in both Wrongful Death and Schism, so I want them out, but I don't think it's good business sense to release two novels at the same time(it distracts your audience).

I know, I know...I'm whining about something that many writers would kill to be able to whine about - how quickly to release novels already completed.  I'm honest in this blog, and I feel I owe it to readers to let them know (kind of) how my mind works.  No matter what, it'll be an adventure.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Believing In Yourself(aka - Agents and Publishers Don't Know Everything)

I recently read a story about a young woman named Regina Sirois.  Regina was a fledgling author who wrote a story called On Little Wings.  It's a young adult story about a girl whose life gets turned upside down by a family photo she never knew existed.

As any writer does when he or she completes a story, Regina was quite proud of what she'd written, and she sent it to a few literary agents.  The replies she got, when she got them, were full of stuff about how the story was "too intelligent" for the target audience and how there was no way teenagers would ever want to pick it up.  These gatekeepers, the ones who ignored Fifty Shades of Grey until it sold tons of copies without them, as well as Wool until it started flying off the shelves, thought there was no market and they couldn't be bothered with her trifling little story.

Then something funny happened - the market started replying in its own way.

Regina uploaded her book to Amazon, mostly hoping that a few of her friends would be interested in downloading it.  Much to her surprise, 85,000 people took advantage of the free giveaway, and it kept on going after she put a modest price tag on it.  She eventually won Amazon's Breakthrough Novel Award, and it was off to the races.

Regina seems immensely grateful for those that have enjoyed her work.  She's also chosen a path afterwards that I'm sure every author dreams about at some point, but with which I no longer agree - she has signed a book deal with Penguin Group.  Congratulations to Regina on her hard earned success.

The larger lesson here is that agents and publishers don't really know more about what will and won't sell than you or I do.  Sure, they'll throw up a good game about it, but when they're not buying such incredibly bad books like Pregnesia or Modelland, you realize that they're mostly full of shit.  It's only their access to the gate that gives people the illusion that they know more than we do.

However, in the past few years, the indie market has brought forward works that would have never seen the light of day, no matter how good they were.  Yes, we're still subject to some stinkers, but we, as consumers, now have greater choice in filtering those things out.  It's gratifying to see that the doors are open more and more to talent rather than just who you know.  Regina's story is good evidence of that, and I know there are more out there.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Technological Advancement

A while back, I did a post about my challenges in rearranging this website.  I'm a technological neanderthal, so I wondered if I'd ever be able to figure it out.
(I'm technologically primitive...and I'm mad about it)
Well, in case you haven't noticed, I've begun to figure it out!  I've added two new pages to my site, and I invite you to click on either one.  The first is a running synopsis of the novels I've written and am currently writing.  I'll be regularly updating this page as works near completion, and upon their release, they'll link over to the Amazon page where they'll be available.  The second is an "about me" page where I go into more detail on who I am, and even why I've chosen to go by RD Meyer rather than my name, Russ Meyer.  That part alone is worth the read.

That doesn't mean my technological defeats are behind me.  On the "about me" page, I still couldn't get the pictures at the bottom that show what a fun loving guy I am to stand side by side as exactly as I'd wanted.  There's also still more I'd like to do on this site, but I'm going in slowly and cautiously since I have next to no confidence in what I can do on a computer(besides write).  It's going to be a deliberate and painful process to figure it all out, but I know I have to do it if I want this page to reflect a professional writer rather than a hack who has access to Microsoft Word.

Now that I've got the additional pages thing figured out, I have to figure out what additional pages to add.  The first two were no brainers.  I even considered making a page for each of my novels, but then it occurred to me just how crowded that would get as I published book after book, so I decided to just have a page listing all of my novels.  Don't worry - I'll make a second page of works once the first page gets too full.

So, what are your ideas?  Seen anything cool on the sites you like to visit that you think I should add?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

And So It Begins...Again

I've been "off" for most of the past two months.  Some of that has occurred as a result of the exhausting schedule I kept to complete Schism, and some of that has been the result of the events in my life.  Well, no more!
(Revved up and running again!)
Most of you who write will understand this itch, but I've been hankering to start another project.  Therefore, I began my new novel this week.  It's a Sci-fi work initially titled Homecoming.  It tells the story of humanity's return to its homeworld after being driven off thousands of years previously, and it's a return to the science fiction roots I've enjoyed since I was a kid.  Since I consider Salvation Day to be much more of a paranormal thriller - although there are Sci-fi elements thrown in - I haven't been in the realm of Sci-fi in nearly 14 years, and that particular novel will stay in a drawer where it belongs.

I outlined the first couple of chapters last weekend, and I did just over 3,000 words this week.  I have several business trips coming up in the following weeks, and I plan to use these trips as prime writing time since it takes me nearly eight hours to get anywhere productive from where I currently live(Hawaii).  My first trip is next week, and I want to use both the airplane ride and my nights in the motel to get into this thing(goal is 15,000 words, and to be at 18,000 by the end of the month).  Several trips of that size over the next two months have me targeting completion by the end of September(target:  85,000 words).

I'm keeping several lessons in mind, especially the balance between my outline and my writing.  I was tempted to just dive in and get to writing, but knowing me as I do, I knew that was a bad idea and I needed to put together an outline.  I also knew that I couldn't get too far ahead in the outline since ideas and story will change as I write, so I could only outline the first couple of chapters.  I'll have to revisit my outline while I'm on my trip so I stay on a coherent course.

I know some of you might not care - or maybe you do...after all, dozens of you have chosen to read this blog - but I'm excited to be writing a novel again.  This is part of my plan to build an inventory for when I do publish once I return to the mainland in a couple of years(it's too hard to do what I want from this island).  I should have eight or nine ready to go so I can publish something every six months while not worrying about having nothing new to put out.

The story is exciting, and like most of my stuff, it'll focus strongly on one character around whom all of the action will focus.  I hope he's as compelling as some of my previous characters.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Writers and Politics

I did a post a while back where I talked about the need to stay on target with what we're trying to do.  I mention this because events over the last few weeks - from the IRS scandal to the cases in front of the Supreme Court to the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin case - have caused emotions to run high on all sides, and this has leaked onto the pages of several writer blogs I've come across.  Folks, this is a very bad idea.

First, as business people - yes, we're businessmen and women - we risk alienating at least 40% of our potential audience by wading into political battles.  I say that because it seems like, in our highly polarized climate, 40% will always be on either side, with roughly 20% in the middle.  Although it may seem to us that everyone should agree with our position, that's just not the case in a nation as divided as ours.  And with this polarization comes the potential to limit our reach because a large number of people nowadays will buy or boycott something based not on the quality of the product, but whether or not the company expresses the views they want.

Second, when I go to a writing website, I want to see stuff about writing, just as I want to read about sports if I go to a sports website or movies if I go to a movie website.  I go to these places to escape the constant drumbeat of bullshit I already get from the daily news, and it pisses me off to no end when I go to a site hoping to find one thing, only to have the author's self-righteous views thrown in my face.  In fact, I've stopped reading some websites that don't understand this, no matter how wonderful their insight into whatever I was searching for has been.  Websites should run what they advertise, not suddenly decide to become platforms for political views held by the particular writer.

Remember, most of us have no particular expertise in politics, international diplomacy, practicing law, or economics, no matter how well read we think we are.  A site that purports to be about writing and books that decides to throw in a line or two about Sequestration or the complexity of the tax code comes off as lecturing us about how much better than us they are, no matter what view is expressed.  Again, we're talking about issues that nearly half of your audience will automatically disagree with you on, and very strongly at times.  Stephen King or Dean Koontz can do this at times and still generate sales, but the rest of us don't have that kind of cache yet.  If you want to write a political blog, that's fine, but be honest about it.

Don't get me wrong - I'm very passionate about my views, and I talk politics lots of places, most notably on Facebook.  However, I accept that means some people will get so pissed off that they might never speak to me again.  I've literally lost over a dozen friends on Facebook as a result of my loudly expressed political views, and several more aren't as chatty as they used to be.  We can be all high and mighty on our views, but that doesn't mean it's good business sense.  Some of you might say, "Well, I have principles, and they must be expressed."  Good for you, I say, but then don't get upset when someone of equal passion who might otherwise like your work decides not to buy it.  Remember, you're not paid to be a political commentator, but to be a fiction writer.  That doesn't mean being less passionate or sure of what you believe, but it does mean that some discretion in where those views are expressed might be in order if you don't want to lose half your potential audience.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Chugging Along

Although I've taken a bit of a break from writing new stuff, that doesn't mean I've done nothing.  In fact, I just completed the second round of edits on a novel I finished last year - Wrongful Death.  It took ten days for me to get through, and I managed to cut out another 900 words.  That brings it down from an initial 68,000 words to just a hair over 64,000.

I know, I know - that doesn't sound like much, and you're right.  I haven't cut near as much with this book as I did with my first two novels.  I kept looking for extraneous words that failed to add to the content, but there weren't as many as there were in the past.  I'm hoping this means that I've got better at eliminating that kind of stuff during the writing process, unconsciously.

More than that, although I've got one more round of edits to go, where I look at the novel as a reader rather than as an editor, I'm feeling very good about where this one has gone.  I think it creates the same level of emotion as my previous novels despite its target audience being different(this one is more of a young adult novel).  I didn't initially have high expectations for it, but I've come around and could see myself reading this one if I came across it in a bookstore.  Most ghost stories are told from the point of view of the one being haunted, so I thought it'd be a fascinating change of pace to figure out the ghost's motivation, as well as his techniques.  Showing this while still including an element of suspense possessed a degree of difficulty that took some work to figure out, but it was worth the effort.

Does all of this seem braggadocios?  Sure, but who in their right minds puts out a book they don't feel is good work?  I write novels I'd enjoy reading, and this one is no different.  This one flows well, and the first person context allows the reader to get to know and care about the main character.  You get an insight into the mind of the protagonist, and first person limited does this in a way that doesn't make thoughts seem overbearing the way third person omniscient does.
(Right on target)
I won't pick this up again for another few months, and I'm still unsure as to where in the order it'll be released - that's a story for a future post - but I'm pleased.  Now I have to figure out a cover...

Thursday, July 11, 2013

What the DOJ e-Book Lawsuit Is All About

Apple and several traditional publishers just lost a lawsuit in which allegations of price fixing were made.  The article at the link is a lot more sympathetic than I am to the plight of the traditional publisher.

Basically, Apple and five of the six major traditional publishers were trying to force people to buy their e-books for more than $9.99.  If this had been a case of a company - say, Simon & Schuster - deciding that it would only offer its products for a certain price, there'd have been no problem.  Individual companies are supposed to decide their own prices, for that's one of the foundations of a free market economy.  The problem comes when separate individual firms get together and collude to set prices artificially high.  That's what happened in this case, and it's illegal.

What these companies are upset about is the market share that Amazon has acquired.  Amazon sets its prices lower in order to spur sales of its Kindle.  In other words, Amazon is willing to take a small loss on selling e-books so that it can make a larger profit on its electronic platforms.  Again, that's part of what business is all about.

The traditional publishers are freaked out because this means they can't sell their products for as much money.  You know the solution to that?  Make a product that increases consumer demand to the point at which you can justify the higher price.

People are willing to pay for traditionally published books.  They get that it takes printing presses, ink, paper, etc., in order to bring a product to market.  However, they aren't willing to pay as much for something that is just an electronic file and costs next to nothing in terms of production.  Unfortunately, traditional publishing is such a bloated structure, that a lot of their costs don't change - they still have editors, marketing managers, secretaries, and a host of other fixed expenses.  Common sense would say that maybe a restructuring of the business would be in order, but these companies, terrified of where the market is headed, simply refuse to budge.  And since they couldn't pull the market with what they wanted, they decided it'd be easier to break the law.

Consumers should be thrilled with this verdict.  We get lower priced books that are price-rational.  I know that some of the traditional publishing defenders will claim that this limit choices when these firms can't or won't bring as many books to market, but that ignores the sea change that has occurred in the last two or so years.  It is no longer necessary to go through a traditional publisher to find good work, just as it is no longer necessary to buy lots of CDs to find a good song.  The market has changed, and traditional publishers refuse to acknowledge this world any more than is absolutely necessary.

To be sure, this also helps a big company, Amazon.  However, despite what you might think of Amazon's business practices, the fact remains that they've been an industry leader in this area for a long time now.  Their model has not just made things easier for consumers to get, but it has also pushed the boom in indie publishing and opened up things for previously unconsidered writers to get their shot - and that's all they wanted, a shot.  Let's let the market decide what's good work and bad work, what's a fair price and an unfair price.  That's something this lawsuit proves that Apple and traditional publishers have forgotten.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Buildup Versus Payoff

I touched on this subject in the last post, but I think it's important enough that it requires expansion.  Many writers spend all their time trying to build suspense and draw in the reader, but the final product amounts more to a fizzle than an explosion of great work.

I love the TV show Supernatural.  I'm a fanatic about it, and I never miss an episode.  One of the things I love about it is that it always resolves the larger story issues after no more than two seasons.  The original producer of the series, Eric Kripke, said that he wanted to keep the buildups he created to around a season and a half, or else the viewer would get more frustrated about resolution.  He stuck to this time and time again when he hinted about Sam's dark powers, released Lucifer from his cage, and introduced the Word of God tablets.  In each instance, although it took a few episodes, we always got resolution so there was a modicum of closure and we could move on to the next adventure.

Twin Peaks was just the opposite, and that was one of the reasons I gave up on it.  For the record, I felt Lost was the same way.  There was all this buildup, but nothing ever got resolved until the very end.  Viewers would come back each week hoping to see a plotline resolved, only to get more obfuscation from the writers.

Plus, the final payoff to this d...r...a...w...i...n...g



the plot

(The waves have to eventually get to shore)

almost never matched the anticipation.  Johnny Carson famously remarked that the longer you spend telling a joke, the bigger the payoff at the end has to be.  Neither of these shows, in my opinion, matched the end product to what the implied promise of excitement was during their run.

As writers, we have to remember this.  We should, indeed we have to, put an element of mystery into our work.  It draws in the reader and keeps them turning the page.  However, we need to remember that the mystery is in advancement of the story rather than the story itself.  Points must be resolved so the reader can move to the next part of the story, and we have to remember that these suspenseful components are only elements of a larger picture.  If you can't get past them, you risk losing readers when they move onto something that grants the closure a story should.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

It Takes More Than A Good Idea

I've talked a lot about the dearth of ideas coming out of both Hollywood and the writing world.  I maintain that one of the reasons that folks are buying fewer books and going to fewer movies is because they seem to see the same ideas recycled over and over.  I continue to believe that truly original ideas can be blockbusters if they get the chance to be heard.  One of the biggest challenges we face as writers is coming up with that great idea.

Unfortunately, it takes more than a good idea to create a good story, and that's something that too many people forget.  Although most of you know how much I dislike the traditional publishing world and believe that many agents have a great deal of hubris, they do make the occasional point.  The biggest thing they say is that good writing will save a bad idea more than bad writing can be propped up by a good idea.  In other words, if you can't write well, it doesn't matter what wonderful ideas you get, for you still have to get them across to the reader.

I say this because I've read several books recently that sounded great on the back cover, but the writing ranks somewhere below what I put in my 4th grade writing journal when most of my action scenes consisted of yelling, "ZAP!  ZAP!  KABLAM!"  I report, with regret, that many of thee have been indie stories.

I realize that you have to sift through a lot of shit to find a diamond, and I'm also in no way saying that this phenomenon is limited to the indie world.  The traditional publishing world has its share of garbage, but I've been reading more on the indie circuit recently for two reasons - first, I'm not finding a lot of new stuff in the traditional world; second, to be blunt, I'm cheap and indie works are usually less expensive.

That said, I've started several books that had promise.  I read one about a demon that had regret and started praying in Hell, throwing that realm into chaos.  There was another about an invasion of the United States from an alliance of China and several Middle Eastern countries.  A third looked at Bram Stoker's Dracula from a completely different angle, while a fourth took on the popular concept of the Zombie Apocalypse and threw in a new supernatural force as a variable.  All of these sounded great when I looked at the synopsis, but they fell apart when I tried reading them.

First of all, most are full!  of!  dramatic superlatives!  Everything needs emphasis and they try so desperately to keep you on the EDGE OF YOUR SEAT!  I'm sorry, but if you have to try so hard to tell me how I should feel at certain points of the story, I become cynical real fast.  The action should build slowly, with the descriptions giving just enough to let me picture what's happening by myself.  The number of modifiers I've found in these works makes me want to barf, and it distracts from what the author is trying to get across.

Second, some of them want to get the picture across so desperately that they spend a page and a half describing what should take a paragraph to do.  Setting the scene is great...up to a point.  After that, people start skipping over all that mess and wondering when things will get moving again.  This kind of bullshit is why I hated things like Billy Bud, and it's one of the reasons even a great author like Stephen King can be hit or miss(seriously, do I really need him to spend two pages describing a toaster?).

Then there are those who spend all this time in the build up, but the payoff never matches.  Twin Peaks had this problem, where it never resolved anything, and lots of readers will eventually give up in frustration.  Johnny Carson put it right when  he said that the longer the setup, the bigger the payoff has to be.  If you're going to build things for the entire story, you better have one heck of a blockbuster for the reader at the end.

Finally, and this is huge, a writer must be able to string together a few coherent sentences.  If the meanings are haphazard, then the reader will come away from the page wondering, "What the heck did I just read?"  If the writer is lucky, the reader will stick around for the next page, hoping for improvement.  Most, however, will discard the book and move onto something that makes sense.

Please, please, please study the craft.  We can all come up with great ideas, but it means nothing if you can't communicate them in captivating and coherent ways.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Making The Blog Rounds

I have several blogs on the right side of my page, and I picked each of them for their quality.  In fact, there are lots of others I could probably put there and have people enjoy just as much.  I like to read what these talented writers post, and I get a kick out of commenting when I can.  Unfortunately, I haven't been able to be as prolific as I might like.
(What a selection!)
If I had my way, I'd spend the morning perusing the musings of others and soaking in their collective wisdom.  However, my time has been limited for the last little bit, so my ability to read a lot of them, let alone comment, isn't what I want it to be.

I enjoy Hugh Howey's blog for the sheer joy of tracking his progress and hearing about his latest deals since Howey is something of a hero to the indie community.  I love Kevin Hanrahan's blog for the insight it provides into an overlooked aspect of military work.  Sarah Hoyt's website is a fun back and forth of insight and debate.  Christine Rice gives me a look into the newest stars in the indie movement from the interviews she does.  Karen Woodward helps me get news and commentary from around the writing world, providing her own spin on things as they come.  I'd keep going, but I know I'd forget someone, so I hope no one gets their feelings hurt by my not mentioning them by name - I assure you I think you're talented or you wouldn't be on my blogroll.  It's just that this post is more than a laundry list of websites.

Beyond reading, my commenting has really suffered.  Many of these blogs get into great discussions, and I can't keep up with that.  I'll say something on one, and when I come back the next day, I'll find a dozen responses and a debate that has passed me by.  Anything new I wanted to contribute gets lost in the melee of those who have enough time to keep up.

Making the rounds on blogs is about staying up with the writing world and learning things.  These suffer when I can't read as often as I want, and it's frustrating.  I hope that things calm down in the next several months, because I feel my knowledge receding.  I'll keep doing what I can, but it might take a quantum shift for me to get back into it as much as I used to.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

More On Modifiers

As I creatively write on my dusty old keyboard, I'm consistently stuck on just how many wonderful writers overuse modifiers.  They'll laughingly sweep away all cogent suggestions to let the work stand strong on its own and will stubbornly plow ahead with what they envisioned at the end of the road.

Did anyone else vomit reading that paragraph?  It was hard to write, and I felt myself regressing as I composed it.  The problem, of course, was the number of modifiers used.  This seem to be a failing common among many writers, especially those who have little experience with others reading their work.

I remembered this the other day when perusing the work of several friends.  The story ideas themselves are good, but it's hard to get into them all that much since I can't get past the descriptions.  Those descriptions are usually overwrought with STUPENDOUS! AND SUPERLATIVE! ways of telling us what's happening.

To me, this is the mark of one of two things - inexperience or insecurity.  One of the hardest things I've learned is when to let the reader's imagination carry the story.  I can provide a framework, but if I describe every brick in the house, most readers lose interest and move on.  We have to give our readers credit for understanding what we're trying to say without shouting "THIS IS HOW YOU NEED TO UNDERSTAND THIS!!!!!!"

Inexperienced writers simply don't have enough time or critiques under their belt to get this.  That changes over time, but it takes honest people pointing it out to them, hopefully in a gentle way, so that they overcome it.  If we don't let them know, they'll keep on doing it, happy as a clam, and their stuff will continue to treat us like idiots.  An experienced writer knows that you don't have to include the words, "old dusty" when describing a wooden floor from the Middle Ages, nor does the writer have to talk about how the hero "sprinted quickly down the dirt road, deftly pulling the long silver knife from his leather belt."  Experienced writers know this beats the point into the reader's head with a sledgehammer and usually pisses people off.  Instead, as time and critiques provide experience, the words become about how the hero "sprinted down the road while pulling his knife from his belt," as well as how the picture most get from a wooden floor during the Middle Ages is one that's old and dusty.

The insecure writer, on the other hand, is harder to deal with, and Lord knows there are a lot of insecure writers out there.  They don't trust the reader to picture the scene the way the writer intends, so the writer will hand hold them into exactly what is desired.  This treats the reader like a child and shows that the author has no confidence in his or her work.

One of the reasons people read is to use the imagination, and overwrought descriptions rob us of this.  This makes getting into that zombie novel about as much fun as reading the assembly instructions for a home entertainment unit.  So please, edit your stuff and remove the extra modifiers.  Sometimes they're needed, but they can usually be condensed or reworded.  Doing so will make everyone happier.