Sunday, December 31, 2017

2018 Goals

I was originally going to call this post my "2018 New Year's Resolutions," but I backed off because I remembered that I don't believe in New Year's resolutions.  My feelings are that if you try to change just because the calendar flips a day, then none of those changes will stick.  A true life change should be reflected in your lifestyle because you want to change, not because you think you are socially obligated to do so.  Therefore, instead of resolutions, I'm penning several goals I have for 2018.

1.  Publish another novel.  I plan to bring out Wrongful Death sometime in the late Spring/early Summer.  The novel is complete, although I want to go through it one final time to make sure I've caught all the tiny mistakes.  I'm also going to need to use an editor again since I missed a few in Akeldama and had to fix them.  That said, I only plan to put out one novel this year.  I was going to put out two a year for a while, but this is going to be a hectic year for me, so I think one is all I can manage at this point.  I will put out another in early 2019, but the stress of trying to shoehorn two in a year, coupled with some major life changes that I'll be going through in the coming year, will simply be too much.

2.  Get back to writing.  I haven't been very good at writing this past year.  I don't mean that my style has suffered(although that's entirely possible), but rather that I simply haven't written much at all.  I used to do around 1000 words a day when I was focused on writing novels, and it has definitely lapsed.  I have two novels I need to get to work on, the next chapter for the Akeldama series, and a follow up to Salvation Day.  I know where I want them headed, and I've even played out various bits in my mind while driving, but I haven't gotten around to sitting my ass in a chair and actually writing them.  Perhaps I can start with 500 words a day, with a 2000-2500 a week goal, and see if I can catch the writing bug again.

3.  Market more.  My novels have done okay, but I haven't devoted the time to marketing them as I would like.  I did a book signing in Charlotte last Summer, but now that I'm back in Kansas, I haven't reached out to bookstores the way I'd planned.  I also need to reach out to more bloggers and try to gain exposure.  If I ever want this to become more than a hobby, I have to get more people to see my work.

4.  Attend a writing conference.  I've always wanted to go to one of these writing conferences, but since Kansas is mostly a barren wasteland, I haven't had the chance.  I'm going to figure out how to get to one of these events in 2018, even if that means out-of-state travel.  I would like to network and attend workshops, but mostly I just want to see what they're like.  I have to find a way this year.  Time to start looking.

5.  Enter Salvation Day and/or Akeldama in a major contest.  Several readers have told me my books are decent, and my own ego likes to think I have a smidge of talent, so I want to enter one of these "whole book" contests and see if I can gain validation beyond my small circle.  It'll cost some bucks, but I think I can write it off as a business expense.  It might also gain me some exposure and get my work out to more people.  The trick is going to be finding the right one.

These are my goals for the year.  What are yours?

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Pass On What You Have Learned

A few weeks ago, someone approached me with a few questions about publishing.  This person had written a book but had no idea how to get it out to the public or what to do to present it.  I gave a few tips I'd learned(get at least an editor who isn't you, hire a good cover artist, go to Bowker and get an ISBN, etc).  The person was grateful, and I went about my daily life.

Someone else told me that this was nice of me and they wish more writers would do things like this.  It got me wondering - are people really holding this kind of knowledge to themselves?

I suppose some are.  My few(brief) inquiries have shown me as much.  It's as if a few writers are so afraid that the person they give advice to will rob them of market share that they hoard the information like it's the KFC Secret Recipe.  This level of paranoia isn't helpful to anyone, least of all the person holding onto the advice.

Some of this goes back to the (bad) idea that books and writers are fungible(that is, able to be replaced by a like product).  It's absolutely absurd.  First of all, your book idea is YOUR book idea, not the person to whom you gave advice.  Despite the delusional fantasies of some of us, no one is looking to steal your book idea or manuscript.  Most folks have no idea if it'll sell well, so why waste the time until after the book has proven a success?  You need to be successful before people will care enough to try and steal your stuff, and by then, you'll have enough resources to fend that off.

Second, we need more indie writers, so getting more people into the field expands it and reaches new people for all of us.  McDonald's was a great idea that was first.  It had a nice little share of the market, but that's nothing compared to what it now claims, and a great deal of that is due to the proliferation of not just McDonald's, but of other fast food restaurants that made McDonald's innovate along the way and made fast food socially acceptable(indeed, a part of daily life).  If Burger King, Wendy's, and Taco Bell hadn't come along, I'm sure McDonald's would've been just fine, but it wouldn't be the behemoth it is today.  We need the same thing in indie publishing.  We need a larger cohort so that it will become a more socially acceptable alternative to traditional publishing.  That way we all have more success.

Third, networking is never a bad thing.  By helping out a beginner, that beginner may come back to be a great connection when he or she makes it big.  Having them remember you for your kind advice can pay off big down the road.

Finally, think about the troubles you had when you started writing and publishing.  I'm sure no one figured it all out on their own.  Be that mentor that you once had(or were seeking).  Wouldn't you have liked to have known who to get to do your cover art?  Wouldn't it have been nice to know that you need a formatter for both print books and ebooks?  Imagine the trouble you could've saved if you'd known which outlets to approach for publicity.  It all comes back around - make sure it comes back in a good way.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Merry Christmas!

No post today.  I just wanted to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas.  I'll be back to "regular" posts later this week, but I felt the tips on writing to wait until after opening gifts.  :-)

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Drama Beyond Death

Stephen King famously said, "Kill your darlings."  What he meant by that was that sometimes you have to shake things up in a story that has gone flat, and one of the best ways to shake things up is to kill a main character or five.  King's biggest example is in The Stand, where he wiped out almost everyone who was part of the Boulder Free Zone Committee.  King felt that his story had no direction, and he needed a way to move it forward, so he had Harold Lauter use a bomb to blow up several main characters.

This is a great technique, and it's absolutely useful at times, but it has grown so prevalent that I wonder if writers know how to do anything to add drama beyond killing off folks.  I don't have an issue with folks dying in books if such dying advances the plot, but I'm running more and more across those who seem to be doing it just for the sake of shock.  Here's a handy tip - the more you do something for shock, the less that shock will register on each succeeding occasion.

There are ways beyond death to add drama and shake up a plot.  A character finding out that a past event was all a lie and that he or she has been fighting on the wrong side shakes up a plot.  A terrifying assault, be it through mob violence, rape, or the beating of a child, can shake things up.  Folks can go off to new cultures or have to confront aspects of their past.  All of these things create drama and tension without the need for death.

I'm not saying to keep every character alive during your story.  Keeping people on the edge of their seats by wondering if their favorite characters will all make it through can be useful, but it should serve a purpose in your story.  Most readers will accept a death that makes sense and moves the plot forward, but they will also be pissed off if you kill a character just for the sake of "shock."  Readers get attached to these characters, and randomly killing them makes them mad, especially if it means nothing.  Yes, random death happens in real life, but most of us read in order to escape the real world.  Throwing too much "real world" into your novel will get you discarded.  That's why I rail so much about keeping politics out of writing - people have no choice but to encounter that in everyday life, so books and other entertainment are where we go to get away from that mess.

Introducing random death was creative when first done, but like any overused plot device, it has run its course.  If you want to be seen as creative and innovative by your audience, you have to figure out ways to drive a story that don't involve randomly killing folks.  Remember, it's not creative to do what everyone else is doing.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Book Review: The Autobiography Of Jean Luc Picard

Last week I did a review of the book Thrawn.  This week it's The Autobiography Of Jean Luc Picard.  Just to say up front...I absolutely enjoyed this book.

Let's preface everything by noting that I am a sci-fi nerd.  Some folks appear to have disdain for either Star Wars or Star Trek, depending on their tribal loyalty, but I love both universes.  They are separate and have their own merits, so I've never gotten why people feel they have to only like one or the other.

Jean Luc Picard is, in my opinion, the best Star Trek captain out there, and his "autobiography" - actually written by David Goodman...because it should be obvious that fictional characters can't write books - is a fun look deeper inside the man.  It talks more in depth about Picard's childhood, his days at Starfleet, and his time commanding the USS Stargazer(including his court-martial for its destruction).  There is a little self-doubt in the pages, but not much, and certainly not more than we saw on screen.  Picard seems to have natural human emotions, and although he wonders about his own maturity and the impact of his decisions, he doesn't come across as weak.  He is an ideal for most of us to strive to without being so perfect that none of us could ever get there.

The only shortcoming in the book is that every story therein was at least mentioned during the Star Trek:  The Next Generation series.  Yes, it went deeper into the stuff talked about on the show, but I would've liked a few more nuggets that weren't talked about.  The novel brings up how Picard won the Academy Marathon on Dalula Two, how his brother Robert hated him for daring to leave their village in France, and how he took control of the Stargazer's bridge when its captain was killed.  Great stuff, but all at least talked about, however briefly, during the series.  If one pays attention, as I tend to do with TV shows I really like, one can find every part of this book in the series.  Some people may find that fun, and I found it fun for the most part, but I wish there'd been stuff not on the show so I could've learned more.

All in all, if you like the show, you'll like this book.  I give it four out of five stars(I rarely give five stars to anything).

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Voracious Readers

Larry Froncek of Various Readers Only contacted me and asked if I would allow his reader subscription list to have my first two novels for free.  I know it sounds a little against the grain to give away books for free when you're trying to build a business, but that's exactly why I did it.  I'm not yet well known, and I need exposure, so I agreed to let his site audience have Akeldama for free to read.  The hope is that a lot of them both enjoy it and write a review for the novel.

When starting out, exposure is the staff of life, and it's as important as paid sales, because it will hopefully lead to more people checking out my work.  It may have no effect, but if nothing comes of it, I'm not any worse off for trying.

So here's to Larry and his audience!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Book Review - Thrawn

Like most geeks, I'm a Star Wars fanatic.  Back in 1991, a host of new books set in the Star Wars Universe came out.  The first set was by Timothy Zahn, and he remains, in my opinion, the only author who can write Star Wars worth a shit.  In Heir To The Empire, he introduced us to Grand Admiral Thrawn, the new villain.  Thrawn was different than any we've ever encountered - he was a military genius who studied his opponents' art in order to find psychological blind spots he could target.  Yes, he was brutal and calculating, but he was also brilliant, insightful, and knew how to get the most from his Soldiers.  Many military folks have said that Thrawn would've been the ideal commander to serve under.

As with any popular character, the audience has demanded more and more glimpses of him, and Zahn has obliged with books like Outbound Flight, Specter Of The Past, and a few more that touch at Thrawn around the edges.  However, his latest work, Thrawn, is a much deeper dive into the character and his rise to power in the Galactic Empire than any previously attempted.  I grabbed the book with glee and tore into the story, finishing the novel in roughly a week.

And I must say...I was a little disappointed.

No, not with Zahn's writing style.  Zahn still has a terrific grasp of storytelling and can bring the reader into the tale.  My disappointment came with the treatment of the main character himself.

Grand Admiral Thrawn, or Mitth'raw'nuruodo as he is known in his own language, was great in previous works for several reasons, not the least of which was the touch of mystery Zahn gave him.  He was one of the few characters that we never heard from in his own point of view, so we had to guess at what he was thinking.  Further, he was a villain.  He may have been brilliant and a great commander, but he served the Emperor and the Empire.  He wiped species out of existence and nearly took down the New Republic(formerly known as the Rebel Alliance) with barely any of what the old Empire had at its disposal.  He was a grand threat that conquered in order to rule.

Thrawn, however, changes this a great deal.  Starting with Vector Prime, a large extra-galactic war took place, introducing a race of aliens from beyond the galaxy and being an existential threat to every race.  The Thrawn Books, starting with Outbound Flight, play off of this, as if Thrawn's race, the Chiss, saw the coming invasion, and Thrawn was sent to prepare the galaxy.  Even the evil Emperor's motivations were changed from a pure power play to preparing for this awesome threat.  Thrawn was recast from villain into a hero trying to save his people, and, by extension, the entire galaxy.  So even if a bit ruthless, his intentions become far more pure.

And that, to me, ruins the character.

I want characters to stay true to who they are.  Thrawn can be a much more complex, and thus much more compelling, character by remaining a villain.  Had Zahn shown his rise through more self-serving means, it would've been a more fun book.  None of that would've diminished who Thrawn was.  In fact, it would've reinforced that good guys and bad guys aren't always as simple as they appear.  But by making him a noble soul trying to save everyone from the extra-galactic threat, he became a hero, rendering most of the initial works on him to irrelevance.

The insights into his character and motivations are also a bit disappointing.  He's not terribly complicated, doing little but having more common sense and an ability to extrapolate beyond first order effects of a decision.  I can think of any number of leaders in both the military and civilian sectors that have that quality.  In short, it made him less special.

I give this novel three stars(out of five).  Worth a read because Zahn can still tell a great story, but not worth it if you don't want your perception of the character to change.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Don't Be Desperate

I'm trying to get better at posting twice a week.  I think the key is to do my posts at the same time and just schedule them, because every time I say I will get to the second post later, I never do.  Anyway, that's just an aside since this post isn't about that...

I think that traditional publishing is dying.  I've made no secret of this.  In order to survive, it will need to be radically changed.  Unfortunately, there are too many writers out there whose desperation keeps it just barely above water.

So many folks are desperate to be published, so they'll do anything to see themselves on the shelf at Barnes & Noble.  That means accepting any terms a publisher will give them.  They'll do re-writes that completely change the story, accept titles thrust upon them that have no bearing to the work, sign away rights that the publisher shouldn't have, and basically whore themselves out just to get that "chance" to be traditionally published.

I want to say that writers should show more backbone, but it's going to take a deluge to fix this because there are too many folks right now that will be happy to take your place if you bow out.  And since publishers don't seem to have any more of an idea on what makes a good book than the average reader, they'll publish the next person to come along rather than have any need to chase you and your good work.

We need to be willing to go the indie route or tell publishers altogether to take a hike if we want this to change.  Much like in dating, publishers can smell desperation, and it makes them drool at how much they can take advantage of the poor soul who just wants to have his or her book published.  It's bad for writers and it's bad for readers.  The only entity it's good for is publishers who can keep the line of willing peons moving.

We need more who are willing to not be peons.  Desperate folks make for willing peons, and that gives all the power to traditional publishers.  Don't be a peon.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Page Critiques...By Agents?

Being signed up for several writing websites, I often get semi-spam emails from them(I guess they're not actually spam since I did sign up for updates, no matter how trivial).  Many of them are invitations to writers' conferences, while others give "tips" on how to write better or appeal to an audience.  I look at some and disregard others, as I'm sure we all do.  However, the ones that make me chortle the most are the ones about how I can submit a few pages of my work to an OMG ACTUAL LITERARY AGENT and get their valued advice.

My disdain for literary agents is no secret.  I put most ion the same category I do the folks who are writing books telling you they can make you rich - if they really knew the secret, shouldn't they be following their own advice rather than telling others how to do it?  Most agents I've come across are little more than famous-author-wannabes who had little to no success as writers, so they decided to join the cool-kids club by sucking up to publishers.

Agents pass off the solicitation for ten page critiques by implying they know all about what makes a great book because they have inside knowledge of what publishers are looking for.  Of course a few folks showed this to be a bunch of hokum, most notably the guy who resubmitted an award winning book to see how agents and publishers would react, only to be rejected more than three dozen times(including by the publishing house that put out the original).

If I want a real critique, I want it from a publisher, not an agent.  Further, I'd like it from several different publishers(or at least several different people at the same house).  After all, aren't these the folks who decide what gets published?  Agents don't do that - they try to get publishers to accept a book, but they don't publish themselves.  So why would I care about their opinion?

Getting published by a traditional publisher is hit or miss to begin with.  Therefore, why introduce a middleman who may or may not have any additional insight beyond knowing what he or she likes to read?  These are the same people who told Dr. Seuss that his stuff was too different from most of what's out there for juveniles, so they couldn't accept his work.

If you're looking for page critiques, you have two other routes that make much more sense.  The first, in keeping with the theme here, is to try and find someone who actually works for a publishing house and is willing to look at your stuff.  At least at that point you're dealing with someone who has made decisions regarding real publishing, not just the hope of publishing.  The second is to get them critiqued by your target demographic and see if your audience thinks you have any talent.  Either way, don't go to an agent who doesn't get to make the decision on what gets published, but rather just may get to pass your book along, where it may or may not be seen, much less accepted.