Thursday, November 25, 2021

Is Seeking Copyright Worth It?

I got a copyright for Akeldama.  I sought no copyrights for anything else I wrote.  I’ve found myself wondering which direction is the best course.

From my understanding, your work is protected he moment you write it.  As long as you can prove it was yours and you first wrote it, it’s not like someone can just copy your stuff and pass it off as theirs simply because you didn’t get something from the copyright office(if I’m wrong, someone please let me know).  So does that make the $75 I paid at the time, and the months it took to get, worth it?

I struggle with this moving forward.  Getting a full-blown copyright was a pain in the ass, but it does provide semblance of peace of mind.  However, is that extra step necessary?  I’d love to hear what you think.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Naming Conventions

In an ideal world, a good story would be all it took to hook an audience.  In such a world, the name or identity of the author would be wholly irrelevant.  Unfortunately, we don’t live in that world, and a recent/revelation/practical joke revealed that in spades.

A Spanish writer that went by the pseudonym of Carmen Mola wrote several aware winning novels about a female detective named Elena Blanco, “peculiar and solitary woman, who loves grappa, karaoke, classic cars and sex in SUVs.”  The author’s name was well known to be a pseudonym, and it had been publicized that the author was a university professor in her late-40s and a mother of three who chose anonymity to protect life outside of writing.  Seemed fine to most folks, since this kind of literature was largely consumed by women looking for a strong protagonist.  However, the Planeta Prize, an award worth over 1 million euros, drew the actual author out, and that’s when the fun began.

Or should I say the authors.

Seems like the author in question was not a middle aged mother, but three scriptwriters who’d previously worked on soap operas and movies.  And oh, did I mention they were men?

Depending on your worldview, this was either an incredibly clever marketing gimmick or an egregiously offensive way to crowd out women authors.  Some chuckled, and others were outraged.

Of course, lost in all of this has been whether the stories were any good.  Apparently they were good enough to win a prize strong enough to draw the writers out of anonymity.  That lone should speak to the strength of the work.  Unfortunately, everything has become political, and now folks have retreated to their respective corners.  It makes one wonder if the extra publicity will draw new readers, or if it will alienate the current audience.

I think this shows a weakness in our perceptions about what makes good writing.  JK Rowling, for example, used a form of this gimmick when she first wrote and marketed the Harry Potter novels using “JK” instead of “Joanne” since there was worry that boys would not buy a novel written by a women.  That’s insane since the Harry Potter novels are among the best written in modern times and appeal across genders and demographics.  The same should apply to the Carmen Mola moniker(Carmen Mola translates to “Carmen’s cool").  If the story is good, then folks should enjoy it; who wrote it shouldn’t matter.  But of course it does because we all have a) our preconceived notions about who can and who cannot write certain genres, and b) when we find out something politically upsetting, we sulk and mope like a child who didn’t get his or her way.  It’s a sad commentary on modern society that one would hope we can all get past.  After all, isn’t enjoyment of the story the point?

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Controversial On Purpose?

Following up to my previous post about social media, I found myself wondering at the benefit/detriment of being controversial on purpose.  I know a few authors who try to be outrageous for the express purpose of generating traffic.  Some truly hold the views they promulgate, some exaggerate for effect, and some say things they don’t believe because they know people will react.

I’ve always been wary of this approach since a pissed-off somebody is unlikely to buy your book.  Growing numbers may produce a new fan or two, but unless you get big, doe that compensate for those who will dedicate themselves to destroying you over their pearl-clutching offense?

Don’t get me wrong – I have some very definitive views(ask anyone who knows me on a personal level).  I just wonder at whether putting them out there creates more good than harm with the general public.  Sales are great, but limiting the audience is rarely a good thing unless you already have so many fans it’s meaningless.

Maybe I’m on the outside of this.  After all, while some of my stuff has sold okay, I haven’t broken out, but I don’t know that I want to be an ass just to see if I can increase my revenue.  At best, some will buy my stuff while others will despise me and never buy my stuff.  At worst…well…I’ve seen people lose their livelihoods for pissing off the wrong person or group, not only decimating their sales, but the rest of their lives as well.  How risk-taking/stupid do you have to be to do this, and how do you walk that tightrope?

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Knowing Your Strengths

Yes, this post will kinda sorta contradict an earlier post, but hopefully the nuance between the two will help you overlook that.  Something many non-writers don’t get, and which many writers can’t push past, is that writers in general usually have strengths in certain genres.  We instinctively understand this when we look at who wrote the book, but in conversation, we seem to think that being a writer translates across all domains.  It doesn’t.

I bring this up because a friend recently asked me to write a non-fiction memoir for a friend of his.  This person lost her husband recently and wanted to share the story of that person’s life.  As I found out more, it sounded intriguing…but it wasn’t something I could pull off.

I write fiction.  In fact, most of what I write is fantastical fiction.  I got asked once to critique a western novel, and I was completely lost since westerns aren’t my thing.  Similarly, while I may enjoy memoirs and documentaries, crafting them isn’t my thing.  I would do a horrible job, so I decided to pass on the project.

All of this comes back to writers knowing their strengths.  I know a comic writer who creates stories based on his life, and they’re awesome.  He then tried to eek his way into science-fiction, and the result was terrible.  Awful.  Among the worst sci-fi I’ve ever read.  He asked me for a critique, and I was as nice as I could be given the nature of what I read, but I tried gently telling him to stick with more real-life situations that you can put a comedic or relatable twist on.

Writers need to know what they’re good at, and what they’re not good at.  Yes, you can always seek out ways to improve, but sometimes it’s just not your thing, much like no matter how much I train, I’ll never be able to disassemble and reassemble an internal combustion engine – my brain simply doesn’t work that way.  So find out the way your brain works and go with it rather than fighting against the tide and looking untalented.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Real Places

I just wanted to re-visit a gripe regarding permissions.  I try to put as many “real life” locations in my work as I can because I feel it adds both an element of reality to the work, and it creates a cool set of easter eggs for readers to check out when they search for this stuff online or in person.  Unfortunately, there are restrictions on places you can use.

If it’s a public place, like a park or interstate, then there’s really no issue.  The issue comes when you try to use a private business or private person’s home.  In Akeldama, there was a large midwestern campus I wanted to use as the site for the introduction of the vampires.  Sooner or later, I had to show the coming conflict, and this was an OK place to dally in.  However, when I contacted this university, they said that vampire violence would paint them in a bad light.

As you finish retching over that bit of stupidity, just know that I had the same reaction.  Still, I removed their name and created Generic-College-Campus several hundred miles from the actual location.  It removed the sense of realness, but it made finishing the writing easier since I didn’t have to get permission.  Of course, lots of place did give me permission, like Philippe TheOriginal(which, to my horror, I misspelled in the novel, and although corrected, I’ve been too embarrassed to send them a new copy…I’ll get over that one day), and it adds an element of fun to the story.  Other places have similarly given permission, so check out what’s “real” in my books and what isn’t.

So reality helps add to the story, but bucking those that don’t like their places included isn’t worth the potential legal headaches it could create.  Balance out what you think adds to your story and what is extraneous.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Building Suspense

How does one build suspense as a writer?  I may as well ask how to spin gold out of straw.  If it was as simple as capturing it in a blog post, everyone would be great.  So I decided instead to share what worked for me, and to do that, I’ll need to go to what I consider my greatest work – Salvation Day.

For those who don’t know, Salvation Day is about a grief-stricken man who wants to kill God(a lot more complex than that, but that’s the essence).  To build a narrative that allows the reader to sympathize with such an awful motivation, I had to build it slowly and put the reader on the edge of his or her seat.  I brought in echoes of the past lamenting how he lost his family.  I integrated supernatural elements with his own paranoid personality.  I made characters that are nominally seen as “evil” into more fleshed out versions that push back against such a simplistic caricature.

I also had to know how to draw readers into wanting to keep reading.  Most folks read from chapter to chapter.  After all, the chapter is where the action is, so who stops reading in the middle of a fight scene or impassioned speech?  Yet the reader also had to be drawn into the next chapter and want to read it as soon as they could, so I set mini-cliffhangers.  The main character was fired, had an awful vision while sleeping, and wakes up to answer his phone.  The gates of Heaven had been breached and the demon army was on the cusp of storming inside.  The main character was given an ultimatum by his allies to decide whether to bend to them or face death.

Basically, it was about creating a compulsion to keep reading, even when the reader was tired and wanted to go to sleep or had to dart off to their kid’s ballet practice.  That compulsion may have to lay dormant for a while, but the urge to continue must be there or it becomes easy to not read.  So answer some questions, but create more.  That makes the reader hungry to know, and that’s what helps create suspense.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Shooting In The Dark

I’ve started sending out interview requests to a variety of authors.  Some of those I’ve sent notes to are just writers whose stuff I’ve read and liked; others are very well known authors who have sales most of us will only dream of.  I’ve gotten a few responses, but not many.  I’m throwing random darts and hoping to occasionally hit the target.  Makes me wonder how such a scattershot approach will work…

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Repeating Blog Topics

Turns out I’ve been repeating a few of my blog topics.  I found that just the other day when I saw I’d basically redone a post about how blogging is different than writing a novel(stream of consciousness vs planning/outlining, etc).  No, I wasn’t trying to be cute – I simply forgot I’d covered it, even though it was only a few months ago.

This is what happens when you blog.  I don’t have photographic recall of what I’ve.  I remember a few things, especially the bigger ones(like my indie publishing advocacy), but I’ve done so many blog posts, that they sometimes run together.  It’s just reality.  Sorry.

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Feeling Stuck

I saw a recent interview where the person being interviewed said, “You’re going to be stuck writing a series or a genre for quite a while.”  In fact, the entire tone of the interview was that you should pick a genre and stick with it.  I’m not sure I agree with that.

Don’t get me wrong – a writer shouldn’t write something he or she sucks at.  I’ve long criticized George Lucas for trying to write romantic dialogue in Attack of the Clones because he just wasn’t up to it.  It felt forced and campy and the kind of thing you’d see in a love note written by a 4th grader.  If the writer can’t pull it off, then he or she should learn a lot before trying to do so(or at least before showing it to the general public).

But I think it’s possible to pull off different genres if you have enough skill.  I’ve written science fiction, paranormal, and political/military thriller.  I think each of my stories work because it’s the story that’s compelling rather than the genre.  Beyond that, I feel that limiting yourself to a genre is confining.  The world’s best don’t do this, and if you want to be the best, you have to find ways to break out(Harry Turtledove’s Great War saga may be an alternate universe, but it reads like military fiction; he also branched out into true science fiction with his WorldWar series).

I think it boils down to knowing your strengths and weaknesses.  Maybe you aren’t yet up to the task, but that doesn’t mean you brush it off forever.  If you want to write Americana or Crime Drama, then figure out how.  Even Stephen King doesn’t only write horror, so find out if you can translate your strengths to other areas.

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Is Social Media Worth It?

Social media can be both a benefit and a detriment.  It allows us to keep up with friends and family, and for authors, it allows us to connect with the audience.  Unfortunately, in today’s polarized world, social media can also be a sewer.  Even leaving aside the room for misinterpretation by folks with their own agendas(given how much body language and tone of voice communicate but are left out of the written word), the wrong word or phrase can lead to excommunication from polite society.

Basically, is social media worth it?  I have an author page on Facebook, but not a lot of people engage on it.  I have a Twitter page, but do folks follow Twitter to get announcements, or do they peruse it to find the latest outrage of the day?  I’ve discovered that when folks agree with you, they tend to say little, but when they’re upset, or they’re looking for a fight, they scream and cry like scalded calves.

My life is busy enough.  I do dabble at some marketing, but my time requirements mean I have to pick and choose my spaces.  I haven’t seen much return from social media engagements(most of my new sales come from folks who got a recommendation from a friend, or who read a previous book and wanted to see what else I had out there).  Is climbing into the sewer worth it if all you do is come out dirty?