Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Doubting Success

Most of us have had those moments of doubt, usually when we're mired in our latest work and wonder if anyone will want to look at it.  It feels off, and our phone isn't lighting up with offers for sales and TV interviews.  Maybe it's a grey day outside and our fridge is bare.  We have yet to sell anything, or our last work was a total bust, so we start to doubt whether or not we'll ever make it.

Truth be told, as harsh as it is, most of us are unlikely to achieve great success.  Tons of writers are so obscure that they'll never amount to much.  However, if you go in expecting that outcome, you can be sure that's the outcome you'll get.

It requires a certain amount of both naiveté and arrogance to truly believe you'll be the one who makes it, but it's essential to chugging along on those rainy days when your friends are out watching movies and you're at your desk writing.  If you believe it's for nothing, your work will reflect that.

Believing in your success also hinges on the amount of work outside of writing you're willing to do.  Did you set up a marketing plan?  What's your strategy to get into publications for review?  Did you buy ISBNs?  Are you willing to sit alone in a bookstore for hours while no one comes by your table?  These things are dreary, but they make potential success so much more believable, for the true work of getting your stuff out there is in that.  Remember, writing is easy, but selling is boring...yet essential.

So go ahead and occasionally indulge in that fantasy of what it'll be like when you're the main speaker at your local writing conference.  Or better yet, what it'll be like when you're on Good Morning America.  Don't let it consume you, but it's okay to flirt with such things now and again.  After all, they can provide motivation as well, and the work that comes from that can lead to the success you seek.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Shilling For Editing Services - Legit Or Con?

As I move forward towards actually publishing my first novel, one of the things I have to do is get a copyeditor for my work.  The problem is how to find one that's decent at a decent price.  I have a gmail account for all my writer stuff, and that's the account associated with several writing websites.  Inevitably, I get spam from some of them touting one thing or another, and one of those other things is editing services.

Like I've said before, I'm not interested in a content editor.  I have beta-readers for that, and I don't need some pretentious editor who would rather be a writer but couldn't make it to get snotty about what I wrote.  That doesn't mean that my work is completely clean, though.  If you want to be a professional, you need to have a copyeditor to polish the work from a grammatical and correctness point of view.

But how much of what I get in my inbox is legit?  It's real easy for someone to declare themselves to be a copyeditor and then tell people what their rates are.  I know more than a few who see copyediting as an easy side gig that can bring in some extra cash while they work on their "real" job.  I don't want my stuff looked at by someone in passing - I want someone who will dedicate themselves to what I wrote.

For me, I don't want to be anyone's guinea pig.  Therefore, as unfair as this sounds, I won't be submitting my work to a new copyeditor.  Sorry.  Go find other clients who are willing to take that risk.  I want someone established.

When I see a copyediting service in my inbox, the first thing I do is search for them on Google.  If I can't find them, they're out.  Once I find someone, I see a few things - how professional is their website, what are their rates, and, most importantly, what outside reviews I can find.

I trust reviews to a point, understanding that some people pad reviews with friends, relatives, or simply other aliases.  That's why word of mouth is the best review.  That's very hard to come by if you're not connected, but if someone I trust gives a thumbs up, I'm more inclined to accept the judgement.

Okay, that's a lot of blathering to say that it takes a combination of a lot of things to determine if a copyeditor is worth a hoot.  Email solicitation alone won't do it.  And if you're new, then I'm sorry, but you're just not for me.  Copyediting services can be expensive, and I want to make sure I get value for the amount of money I'll probably be spending.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Release Date!

I've entered the home stretch of publishing my first novel, Akeldama.  I'm finalizing some of the legal issues with regards to product permissions(and changing some of those things I have no permission for), and I'll soon go into the business side of creating an S-Corp for the publishing side.  That's right - I'm getting all of the boring business stuff ready to go beginning on January 1st.

With that said, I'm proud to announce I have a release date!  Akeldama will be available on May 19, 2017.  That's the day it will be out in ebook format and be available to the general public.  Those on my email distribution list already know this since I sent it out about two weeks ago.  Further, those on my email list prior to May 18th will be eligible for a discount of approximately 25%(the plan is for the hardcover to be available for $12.95, and those who get the discount can get it for $9.95...but the cost could change if production costs turn out to be more than I anticipated).

Putting a date on the calendar makes things much more real to me.  I've got the finish line in sight, and no matter what else happens, I know the target to expose myself to the world(in books...get your minds out of the gutter).  There's still lots of work to do, but this is so exciting.  I can't wait.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Hardcover Or Ebook Exclusive?

On the heels of my last post talking about KDP Select and whether or not to use that platform, thus knocking myself out of the ability to use other platforms like Smashwords, I'm looking at something else - should I publish hardcover books too or go exclusively with ebooks?

Ebooks are all the rage,   That's where most indie published writers make their bones.  Readers unfamiliar with you are more likely to risk a $3.99 ebook they can delete from their e-reader than to buy a physical book that both costs more and takes up space.  I know I'm very selective nowadays as to which books I buy from the bookstore since my space is rapidly dwindling.

If this was purely a business decision for a newbie author, it'd be simple.  I could remove all the emotion from it and go exclusively with ebooks.  However, emotion plays a part, whether we want it to or not.  Besides, as writers, we're emotional creatures.  All my life I've wanted to hold a book I wrote in my hands.  No, not the printed out pages, but a physical book with a cover and a blurb and pages I can turn, in addition to something with my name I can put on a shelf.  Some writers may have moved past that particular ego boost, but I haven't.

Does this mean my ego is wasting both my time and my money?  Maybe...but do I care?  I understand that unless/until I earn a great degree of success as an established author, most of what I sell will come from ebooks.  That doesn't mean I want to go to my e-reader every time I want to look at what I've produced.  Further, some of those on my distro list have said point blank that they want a physical book.  They may not be many, but how many does there have to be before my ego can justify it?

In the end, this is my career.  I chose to publish independently specifically to have the freedom to make decisions like this, and I'm 99% positive it will include physical books.  Doing so will grant me three pleasures - 1) holding my book in my hands: 2) providing those who've asked with a hardcopy of my work; and 3) to stick it in the face of all those who said what I was doing was a fool's errand.  Yes, that's petty, but I don't care.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

KDP Select - Yes Or No?

As I'm beginning to look towards the actual release of my first book, I have a number of things to consider, one of which is the platform.  I will have a few hardcover/paperback books, but I'm sure most of my sales will come through ebooks.  Although there are a number of platforms out there, the one most seem to be in love with is Kindle Direct Publishing Select.  The real question to ask regarding this particular platform is whether the benefits outweigh the limitations.

Amazon accounts for roughly 70% of the ebook market.  Since most of my ebook sales are likely to come through that platform, it only makes sense to use it as much as possible.  However, there's something of a tiered system to publishing through Kindle.  You can publish the regular way and be buried near the bottom, hoping against hope that enough people already know about you that they'll find your work and pump up its exposure; or you can use the KDP Select program and take advantage of better algorithms to gain greater exposure and use more favorable marketing techniques - like the free download option(5 days every 90 days) and be part of the Kindle Lending Library.

Unfortunately, like with most things, there's always a catch, and with KDP Select it's exclusivity.  That's right - by using KDP Select you agree to use them exclusively and forego other ebook platforms like Nook, CreateSpace, and Smashwords.  In other words, you make a business decision about whether or not the features of KDP Select are worth not using these other avenues.  I gotta admit that that's a tough decision.

Obviously you want to get your product out to as many people as possible, but the real question is which one of those ways will get you there.  Common sense would seem to suggest that you want to spread to as many platforms as possible in order to reach the widest audience.  However, given that Amazon accounts for nearly three-quarters of the sales of ebooks, there's a balance since KDP Select can gain you greater exposure on Amazon.  If you bury yourself on Amazon and no one knows who you are or that you have a book out, does it really do you any good to get out onto other platforms?

I haven't yet made a decision, although I'm leaning towards KDP Select.  As a new author, the advantages of exposure seem greater than wider dissemination.  It appears that moving to additional platforms and having my work not as easily found on Amazon is something I can afford to do once I've sold more books and more people would be inclined to seek me out.  Does anybody else have any thoughts on this dilemma?

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Reality Specifics And Permission

I feel the need to return to a topic I've talked about before - the need to be careful in the "reality" you write about.  I think most good writers make their worlds as specific as possible.  Specificity gets people to relate to the work.  Most people have been to McDonalds or had a Coke on a hot day, so the inclusion of such products in books draws them into the world a little more since they can relate.  Unfortunately, lots of us lose sight of the fact that we should tread carefully when getting product specific.

You can use product names in your work, provided you don't cross the line.  Those lines include trademark tarnishment or defamation.  In other words, if your use of the product can be interpreted to be used in some negative way, you might have an issue on your hands.  There's no issue, for example, in your character drinking a Coke since that's what you do with Coke and you're not trying to sell the product.  On the other hand, if you made a comment about Coke dissolving your fingers like acid, then you might have a problem since Coke clearly doesn't do that, even if you think it's a cool storyline device.

If a product is going to play more than a passing role, the safe thing to do is to obtain that company's permission.  For example, in Akeldama, my main character uses a Glock 17.  He does this because I own one and am familiar with it(yes, I'm every bit as lazy as anyone else...using the Glock 17, aside from it being a fine pistol, also made it easy for me since I had to do less research).  However, since it's more than a passing reference, I contacted and got specific permission from Glock to use their product in my book.

And remember - some entities will not give you that permission.  A vampire attack occurs early in Akeldama on the campus of a major college in the Midwest.  When I contacted the school in question, they explicitly told me I did not have their permission, so I changed the setting to a generic school in the panhandle of Texas since it was the action that was important rather than the location.  Had I included the school anyway, I could've faced legal trouble for doing so.

The safest bet is to simply make up names for products, but this lessens the realism we sometimes want.  Strike a balance if you can and include some realism.  Just be careful when you do.  Yes, unless your work really takes off, you're likely not going to encounter any difficulties, but what if you hit the jackpot and your work becomes a bestseller?  Wouldn't you rather snatch up adoring press interviews instead of worrying about legal bills?

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Being Mad Doesn't Make You Real

Allow me to take a second to step away from addressing writing in books to discuss writing in blogs.  Yes, I know I've done that before, but those have been about this blog.  Now I'm going to talk about other people's blogs.  No blog in particular, just a disturbing trend I've seen.

I get the urge to go on an angry rant.  We all get mad.  However, lots of people in the comments sections of these blogs read an angry post and automatically make some absurd assumption like, "Oh my God!  That's so insightful!  I love how you keep it real!"  Am I the only person on the planet who thinks you don't have to be mad to be real?  Are people being dishonest or less real when they don't go on an invective-laden tirade?

Some bloggers seem to revel in this approach.  Hey, they think, if I can convey how mad I am, then people will give me props for being 'real.'  I guess that's where some of my aversion to this comes in - folks are looking for affirmation when they do it, which makes it fake, not real.

Being mad and then telling everyone about it doesn't give you any greater insight into the world.  The reaction people give is an emotional one, not a substantive one.  I can go on and on about how much I love my wife or enjoy what I do, but no one comments that I'm "keeping it real" when I do these totally normal things.  Is an emotion any less real just because it isn't an angry one?

If you want to rant about something, and Lord knows I've done that, that's great, but it's no more real than anything else you post unless you decided to lie when you said those other things.  It's a release for whatever was pissing you off, nothing more.  I take insult when people say my mad voice is real, because it implies that I'm not as real other times.

Stop blogging looking for affirmation because you can post something angry.  Hey, I'm just keeping it real.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Getting What I Pay For

This post is more of a rant/something for those I choose to employ.  As anyone with more than an ounce of sense and more than a day of writing can tell you, you should always have a professional copyeditor look over your novel before publishing it.  The end product will be so much better, and you'll avoid the sloppiness that marks a lot of indie work.

That said, when I employ a copyeditor, I'm asking for that person's skills in making sure my work is coherent from a structure and grammar/spelling point of view.  That's what I paid for.  I'm not looking for editorial suggestions - I have beta-readers for that, and I don't like it when someone decides to give me an opinion I didn't ask for.

I'm co-writing a political piece - yes, I know, I know...stay out of politics, but this isn't being published under my real name(we're using a pseudonym) - and we submitted it to a copyeditor.  This copyeditor did a great job helping to improve our work in the ways we requested, but she added commentary in a few places.  I was livid!

Maybe I'm overreacting, but I didn't ask for editorial comment.  Had I wanted a content edit, I'd have paid for a content edit, I'd have been expecting it, and I might've chosen the editor differently.  When this person did what she did, I felt like she was overstepping her bounds.  Did she not know what we were looking for?  Or was she so pushed by what we wrote that she felt she just had to say something?  I get that we live in a polarized culture, but I was floored that she interjected her opinion in an area I didn't ask for.  Shouldn't a professional be able to put feelings aside and concentrate on the task at hand?  Yes, vent to others in your inner circle if you must, but keep the content of what you're supposed to be doing in mind.

Like I said, she did a great job on structure, re-wording, and awkwardness in the piece; I just felt taken aback by the decision to insert commentary where my partner and I never asked for it.  Am I wrong here?  How would you react?

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Narrative Pauses Or Breathless Action?

I've been struggling recently with a writing concept.  We obviously want to grab our readers' attention and keep the story moving so they don't get bored, but can we take it too far?  Can we ramp up the action so high that we leave our readers gasping for breath?

I was reading a novel by one of my new favorite authors, Tad Williams, and I started to wonder about the pace of his books.  After reading Happy Hour In Hell and realizing that I'd read the second book of a trilogy first, I went back to start reading The Dirty Streets Of Heaven.  Some of the action in Williams' books is intense, but I noticed something about the overall tenor - just as I started to think that there was so much action going on that it would overwhelm me, Williams would dial it back and introduce a pause of sorts.  I don't mean that the story didn't keep advancing, but the action slowed considerably for a few pages.  Then, inevitably, it would pick back up.

I've read a few books where the writer never allowed for a break, like The Da Vinci Code, and I felt kind of like I was being pushed and pulled by the author.  By the end of the journey, I no longer cared about the intricacies of the plot - I just wanted it over.  That's obviously not great for keeping an audience.

I know you're now screaming at me that Dan Brown sold about 80 million of those damn things, but that doesn't mean I care for it, just like it doesn't mean that Brown didn't somehow capture lightning in a bottle.  However, I don't think it works well for those trying to keep an audience.  I want readers to feel satisfied at the end of their read, not worn out.  If they associate being worn out with my books and my name, then I may not be able to sell them another one.  That's fine if your first go sold 80 million copies, but not so much for most of us.

Find a good place in your book to create a pause.  Maybe after the murder scene, the lead detective goes to look over the evidence at a bar where he can throw back a drink.  Or maybe after a gun fight, the lead character can look through a collection of maps to try and figure out the villain's next move.  Whatever it is, it still has to advance the story; it just doesn't have to keep sprinting.  People like to feel energized, but not out of breath.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Rooting For Redemption

A few weeks back, I wrote yet another post wondering why people are so attracted to villains.  I went through the usual litany of things - apparent confidence, not seeing insecurities, power, etc.  However, as I was re-reading one of my favorite novels, something else occurred to me - the quest for redemption.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that as we see each villain, there's a piece of us, tiny though it may be, that wants the villain to find his soul at the end and be the good guy after all.  Yes, the other qualities still play in, but we also want the person to eventually take our side.  All the great villains that have truly attracted others - Darth Vader, Snape, Dracula, Lucifer - all have a small spark within them that shows the slightest possibility of redemption.  I think our hope is that they'll join us back in the light, while bringing their confidence and power with them.  I started to realize this when I thought of other villains that have all the same evil qualities but draw fewer fans - the Emperor, Jake Featherston, Khan Noonian Singh, the Amplitur.

So what causes this?  I think it's because people want to see someone fail, struggle, and then eventually find the right way.  We cheer when people seek to correct their evil ways, and that's usually regardless of how evil.  Is this some innate human longing to forgive?  Perhaps.

In my own work, the redemptive character is usually a major plot device, and they're the ones my beta-readers have most related to.  They find what they've done to be repulsive, but they enjoy seeing them oversome what they did because such actions were usually a corrupted form of love.

Or maybe I'm overplaying this.  Redemption sounds great in books, but does it translate to real life?  I doubt it.  So is it real, or is it only something we can enjoy from afar?

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Who Is The Blog For?

As I was writing out a recent post, I started wondering exactly who this blog was for.  Is it for people looking to get into writing?  Is it for a specific audience looking to read my work?  Or is it just for me?  Truth is, I'm not sure.

Now don't get all huffy that I didn't immediately say that you were number one in my life.  Although I appreciate everyone who reads this blog, I've never made any secret that my family is number one in my life.  As to the blog itself, while I'm gratified to be approaching 70,000 page views, this blog has been going for over four and a half years, so I don't think that qualifies as a huge audience.  What's more, I haven't had the time I used to have to promote this blog on other forums, and it's not like folks know enough about me to google me.

However, this blog can't just be for me.  Sure, I use it as a release and a way to try out new ideas(some of which are truly horrible), but if it was just for me, I could write anything I wanted, including gibberish, and not care if anyone saw it, but I want people to read it.  I've promoted my work on it, both my novels(speaking of which, I really need to update the novels sections of this website) and my short stories that have won awards.  Still, I don't solicit too much from folks, and I'm not overly disappointed if a post falls flat.

AHA! I hear you thinking.  This is where he equivocates again!  Well...kind of.  I could go the mealy-mouthed route and say it's a bit of both, but I haven't really reached that conclusion yet, and saying that would be a cop out.  I need to keep thinking about it and figure out who this site is more geared towards - you or me.

Why do I need to come to a decision?  Because it'll make me a better writer.  Once I know the audience, I can better tailor the blog to the right people.

Or I can keep wandering back and forth and never pick a hole.  Wouldn't that be fun?

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Book Confiscation

I came upon an article recently that made me scratch my head.  Back in July, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, police decided it'd be a nifty use of public resources to confiscate books from street vendors shilling for used books(usually donated by someone else).  It seems that these street vendors were selling them without a license, and either local businesses or nosy busybodies decided that this menace to public safety could no longer be tolerated.

I understand the need for licensing of some types of selling.  A restaurant should be inspected so that the government can ensure it is sanitary, and cab drivers should at least have a driver's license.  However, these are done in the interests of public safety.  What's the public safety part of people selling books from tables on the sidewalk?

Many of these street vendors, like Kirk Davidson and Philippe Walstrom, have been doing this for more than 20 years, and it seems this isn't the first time government officials decided that the practice had to be curtailed.  City Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal said it was necessary to remove the sellers and their wares because they often leave the books out overnight.  Just who is this hurting?  If the books get stolen, doesn't that hurt the seller?  What is the government interest in removing these books and those who sell them?

Perhaps I'm swerving off topic and into something more political, but since this concerns something most of us are passionate about - books - I think I'm still within the boundaries.  When did city regulations outstrip basic things like the First Amendment?  Imagine the uproar if someone had left out Occupy Wall Street Signs or NRA paraphernalia - the cries of censorship would've been deafening.  Yet for some reason folks aren't equating the books and their sales with the First Amendment, despite keeping such things in the public domain being one of the primary reasons for its inclusion in the Bill of Rights.  Further, the Fifth Amendment says that no one shall have private property removed without both due compensation and the legitimate government interest of imminent domain.  But these books were just taken.

It seems likely little more than harassment to me.  Davidson asserts he has 187 summons over his books in 30 years, all of them later dismissed.  It sounds like an awful lot of work and resource use by the police over something that will have no impact on the safety of the public.  I'm sure we can look forward to the news conference from Mayor de Blasio tell us how all of the crime in New York has been solved since police have nothing better to do than try a battle of wills against the nefarious book sellers.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Another Month Upon Us

When it's time for me to post something new, I usually do about a month's worth of posts ahead of time.  Sure, I make allowances for breaking events, like the death of Richard Matheson or the release of someone's book, but since my schedule is predictable on purpose, I like to try to stay ahead.  That makes it so that if I'm off my game, it won't result in a missed entry.  However, that can sometimes catch up to me.

Ever since I returned to the United States from a year of working overseas, life has been a whirlwind.  Lots of things have kept me away from this blog, mostly the desire to spend time with my family.  Still, I wasn't worried about it.  After all, I'd planned well enough in advance to have posts ready to go through the end of July.  Surely, I thought to myself, life would slow down enough for there to be plenty of time to get back into the groove.

That was when I lost all track of time.  I looked up recently and realized that August was almost upon us.  Ideas for posts have come, but it's been more of a trickle than a steady rain of them, so although I jotted down topics, I didn't really pay attention to the calendar until today.  That was when I got that sinking feeling about the date.

Anyway, things should be on better track now.  Over the next couple of days, I'll do the 13 posts due in August and hopefully be back on track until September...when I'm sure I'll get to Labor Day and realize I've lost track of time again.  This post may seem a bit out of the blue to most of the audience since I haven't skipped a day, but to me, it feels like coming back home all over again.  Here's hoping I don't lose track again.