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Query Status ~ Week 2

It’s been two weeks since I sent out the last of thirty-six queries for my (as yet) unpublished book Troubled Space. The spate of instant knee-jerk rejections now seems to have ended. I got half as many over the last seven days as I did on the first week, now making a total of twelve. The bright spot is that two-thirds of the agents I queried did not instantly reject it. I can only hope that some of them may actually consider representing me. Who knows? Stranger things have happened.

Of course I’m not just waiting around for some unknown agent to acknowledge my existence. I’m also not diving into to writing my next book. I’ve decided instead to take time to produce new editions of my Warden’s World stories. There are a few reasons for this. The first is that they need new covers. I have five novels set in this world, and the covers don’t look much alike. I think they should, and soon they will. They also need a bit of revision. These were the first novels I ever wrote, and I was pretty nervous about publishing them. Before I did, I reviewed as much guidance as I could about the whole process, and I ended up following a lot of bad advice. Basically, I over-edited and ended screwing up the tenses and making the prose choppy. My goal is to correct the corrections I made trying to follow the ‘rules.’

The first book to get a makeover will the An Android Dog’s Tale. It’s a prequel to the others and probably the shortest of the bunch at around 75,000 words. It may also be my best seller. I’m not talking bestseller as in toping anyone’s charts, but it’s either in the top (or possibly the second top) sales spot for my books. It’s currently getting over 100 Kindle downloads per month and a few more in other formats. The revised version is almost done and should be out within the next month. (I considered showing the new cover in this post but decided against it. I have a proof copy of the new paperback sitting on my desk. Take my word for it; it looks damn good.)

So, that’s my writing time accounted for until at least the end of the year. I’ll be revising five books, creating new covers for them, and releasing new digital and trade paperback editions.

Oh, and I’ll also be waiting to hear back from agents.

My Problem with Terry Pratchett

Pratchett1I actually have two problems with Terry Pratchett, but they both have to do with the quality of his writing. It’s too good. Now, I’ve never met the man, but he’s clearly brilliant, and I’m sure he’s charming and kind to small animals and all that, but he’s upset my life in ways I am finding difficult to overcome.

Discovering a new author whose work I enjoy used to excite me. When I was young, I would pick up a book based on the front cover or the blurb on the back and, if I really enjoyed it, I’d voraciously consume all of his or her other books I could find. After Pratchett, that seldom happens because now authors have to meet a higher standard. Their books have to be as good as Pratchett’s.

I know it’s not all Sir Terry’s fault. Publishing, after all, is a business, and the big publishers tend to publish books they think will have wide enough appeal to make them some money. The way they predict what will sell is by what has sold well recently, and they therefor produce a great many books that are much the same. I’ve found few new books from traditional publishers that I found entertaining. They tend to have annoying, angst-filled characters, focus on action over plot, and include far more sex and/or violence than needed for their frequently formulaic stories. Even when I find one I enjoy, one that’s original and well-crafted with truly likeable and even admirable characters, my final assessment is normally something like, ‘That wasn’t bad, but it’s no Pratchett.’

So, when I come to the final page of a book now, rather than going to the library or the internet, or one of the few remaining brick and mortar bookstores near me, I find myself going to my bookshelves and thinking, ‘What Discworld book should I reread now?’ When I do pick up a new book, it is, more often than not, nonfiction, assuming in advance that any work of fiction that may catch my eye is not going to be as good as a Discworld novel. So why bother?

That’s my first problem with Pratchett. He’s limiting my exposure to new novelists.

The last Discworld book I re-re-re…reread was Maskerade. It has four interweaving plot threads. One is about how Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg need to find a new third witch because two witches are invariably an argument without a mediator. The second is the story of Agnes Nitt, a large young woman with ‘a great personality’ and a fabulous voice who leaves the country for the big city to be a singer. The third tells the story of Nanny Ogg’s libido-stimulating cookbook and provides a few satirical insights about the publishing industry. And the fourth is a parody of The Phantom of the Opera as well as a satire about opera in general. The characters are charming. The story is intelligent, witty, and insightful. I find myself instantly engaged, and at the end, I feel a kind a bibliophilic fulfillment that is probably similar to how a gastronome feels after an exquisite gourmet meal.

This normally would not present a problem to the gastronome unless he is also a chef and knows without a doubt that he could never prepare dishes like that no matter how hard he tries or how long he lives. That’s the feeling I get from Pratchett because I also write stories, just not as well. I’m not saying they’re bad. I wouldn’t write them if I thought that. I personally think they are quite good, but I could never create something like Maskerade, and the sad fact is Maskerade is not my favorite Discworld novel.

That’s my second problem with Pratchett. He’s giving me one hell of an inferiority complex.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to write like Pratchett. The best authors have a unique voice, and you can often distinguish one of their books without looking at the cover or title page. But there is an intrinsically satisfying feeling of completeness I get from reading a Pratchett work that I would love to be able to achieve in my own novels. Actually, I’d be almost as happy if other authors could as well because even though I now have hardcover editions of all the Discworld novels (about 40 so far) they are bound to wear out eventually.

Book Review – Brain: The Man Who Wrote the Book That Changed the World by Dermot Davis

BrainDermotDavisTitle:  Brain: The Man Who Wrote the Book That Changed the World
Author:
Dermot Davis
Publisher:
Dermot Davis
First Published:
2013
Genre:
Contemporary Fiction / Humor

Daniel is an author of literary fiction, and his novels are award winners. Readers of classic literature love them, but these readers don’t represent a very large portion of the book-buying market. His agent is less than sympathetic with his plight. She agrees that his books are good, but she doesn’t need good books, she needs books that will sell, and she tells him his next two won’t. She won’t even try to find a publisher for them.

In order not to starve, he has to write something that will sell, but he can’t reduce himself to writing popular genre fiction, and besides, he’s not familiar enough with it to try. When he sees a line at a bookstore for a book signing by the author of a very popular self-help book, he has an inspiration. Satire is respectable, so he commits himself to writing (under a pen name) a satire about the popularity of current self-help books. He makes it so outrageous, even cranks, crazies, desperate seekers, and the extremely credulous will not be able to take it seriously, and it will point out just how silly the whole thing is. His new book gets published (despite the fact that his agent initially wants to reject it), and it surprisingly becomes a bestseller—not as satire, but as a ‘serious’ self-help book. Soon, it has a cult following, and Daniel is both relieved and dismayed.

I found several scenes hilarious, and the satire about the state of traditional publishing and the plight of authors rung all too true. Anyone who has suffered through a few of the more dreadful recent bestsellers will understand.

The story is wonderfully imaginative. The characters are believable. The prose, for the most part, is pretty good, although it could use another round of editing—not for typos but mainly for sentence structure and capitalization.

I recommend this one to all writers, especially those struggling with the choice between writing what they think is good and writing what they think will sell.

Rereading Pratchett — Gaspode

GaspodeThere as some books on my shelves that I reread every few years. Dragging out an old, dusty favorite is like visiting a favorite friend or relative. There is something comfortable, familiar, and relaxing about it. The books we find ourselves especially drawn to tell us something about who and what we are, and they can help us remember that when everyday life is doing its best to turn us into someone else, someone we may not especially like.

Pratchett’s style of writing is different. He violates several ‘rules’ of fiction writing, not least of which is the one against author intrusion into the story. His presence is always clearly evident. The stories are told from the outside looking in, by someone from our world observing one much like it, and he occasionally points out* how odd both places can be. The reader isn’t supposed to believe that the Disc is a real place or that the characters are real people. There is never any doubt that the stories are fiction, but there is also no doubt that the fiction is reflecting something about the real world in often very humorous ways.

Pratchett sums up this idea in the beginning of his novel Moving Pictures. Here is his description of the Discworld, which rests upon the back of Great A’Tuin the star turtle.

“On its back, four giant elephants. On their shoulders, rimmed with water, flittering under its tiny orbiting sunlet, spinning majestically around the mountains at its frozen Hub, lies the Discworld, world and mirror of worlds.
Nearly unreal.

The Discworld is as unreal as it is possible to be while still being just real enough to exist.

He’s letting us know that none what he’s going to relate in the story about to unfold is to be taken seriously in any kind of literal sense. It’s a fairytale, which, like all good fairytales, points out something about the real world and the people who live there.

Yesterday, I finished rereading Moving Pictures. At one level, this story is about the magically inspired development of movies on Discworld. At another, it is about the ability of people to believe unreal things and the dangers of doing so.

I picked this particular book from my list of favorites to reread now because it features Gaspode, a sentient but otherwise unimpressive mongrel, and I was searching for inspiration. I have a somewhat similar character in my books, although my sentient dog, Moe, is an android rather than being magically enhanced, but they share a similar, knee level perspective. Moe makes an appearance in three of my books as a minor character, but he’s more prominent in my current work in progress.

I plan to reread the other stories featuring Gaspode in the coming weeks, not so much for inspiration, but because I enjoy them. If you aren’t familiar with Discworld, you should visit. It’s the most believable unbelievable place you’ll ever read about.

_______________________

*sometimes in footnotes

Why Indie is good for Fiction

BookstoreThe traditional publishing business is, above all else, a business. Like every business, its primary purpose is to make money for its owners and investors. It does this by selling books.

In the past, a large publisher’s most profitable strategy was to publish a relatively small number of different books with wide appeal, those for which they believed there was a large market. The large volume offset the cost of editing, cover design, printing, and promotion. This made perfectly good business sense. There were a few predefined genres, and books that fit the currently popular trends in each of those were what ended up being published and displayed on the limited shelf space in bookstores. This model worked well for the publishing business, but it didn’t provide much variety for readers.

When I was a kid, I read mostly space operas and sword and sorcery epic fantasies. That’s what the stores sold, and for speculative fiction, that was about all they sold because that is all the traditional publishers were publishing, which they did because they sold…

These books were often very much alike. If you tore out the title page, there is a good chance you would not be able to guess who wrote the story. They were as generic as fast food hamburgers and for the same reason—mass appeal, low cost, predictable content, and reasonable quality.

It seems that traditional publishers are still working to this model, and if you really want to read a new post-apocalyptic, dystopian, paranormal, vampire romance with demons, zombies and a teenage wizard, they’ll have one for you.* They’ll probably have dozens, in fact. That kind of stuff sells. They know this because they’ve already sold a bunch much like them. This doesn’t mean any of these books are good, nor does it mean all of them are bad, but it does mean that readers who want something completely different are going to have a hard time finding it.

Fortunately, the constraints of limited shelf space and mass appeal no longer apply, although I don’t think traditional publishers know this. Many authors and readers may not, either. Things are changing, though, and the change is good.

Online retailers do not need to be concerned about shelf space. This allows them to follow a different model. They can offer a wide variety of items to suit different needs and tastes rather than focusing on a relatively small number of currently popular items. Amazon may have been one of the first to adapt this idea to books, and they quickly came to dominate the book market because of it.

Then they went a step further by creating the Kindle, which made them the leader in digital books as well. They further expanded their eBook selection by encouraging writers to bypass traditional publishers and sell their books directly to readers (who had Kindles). I’m sure this wasn’t out of some altruistic concern or even due to some sense of duty to rescue the art of fiction from the doldrums. They are a business after all, and the primary business of business is, as we know, to make money, and I suspect Amazon is making a respectable profit from digital book sales. I have no idea how many eBook titles they now have available, but I imagine it’s a lot. They probably don’t sell many copies of most of these, but a few here and a few there can add a very large pile of nickels and dimes to their bottom line.

I did not realize how truly limited my book selection had been until I received a Kindle as a gift two years ago. In the years BK (Before Kindle), I got books from the library, brick and mortar bookstores, and online, but all of those books were published on paper through the gateway of a traditional publisher. I had no idea what I was missing. In the years AK (After Kindle), I have found many books that were fresh, different, that defied genre and convention, and, because of this, they were great reads. But they didn’t come from traditional publishers, which are still working to the old model of formulaic fiction for mass audiences. Many of the most enjoyable books I read last year came from small, independent publishers or were self-published by the authors.

The rise of indie publishing makes more books available to readers. But quantity is not what makes indie revolutionary. If all it did was increase the number of new vampire romances or zombie apocalypse stories released each year from a hundred to ten thousand, it would hardly be important. The greatest contribution of indie publishing is that it makes many different kinds of stories available to readers.

For a publishing business, the purpose of producing books is to make money. For many (but not all) indie writers, the purpose is simply because they have a need to create and share stories that are not like those coming out of the big publishing houses. Sure, indie writers would love to make piles of money, but few expect to, and I don’t think it’s why most of them write, especially those who are consciously not following the mass-market book trends. What this means for fiction readers is greater variety, more books, lower prices, and a better chance of finding a book that is fresh and wonderfully different.

I used to read about twenty new books a year. Now I read about seventy or eighty. The main reason for the increase is that I can now find more books that appeal to me. And, if this wasn’t enough, ‘indie’ eBooks tend to be much cheaper than their traditionally published counterparts. Many indie books are free. Not all of them are good of course, but not all the books published by traditional publishers are, either.

I have come to view traditional publishers as something akin to fast food chain restaurants. They offer items with wide appeal and consistent quality. I’ve found that some traditional publishers of speculative fiction tend to do this better than others do, but their variety remains limited and the difference between them is like that between Burger King and McDonalds. Indie publishers are more along the lines of local mom and pop diners. Some are good and some are not, but a few offer great things you cannot find anywhere else.

This is a good time for fiction writers. They can write stories they believe in and offer them directly to readers. It is a good time for readers whose tastes do not match those of the crowd. It is still difficult to find great books that match our individual tastes, but, because of the rise of indie publishing, those books are far more likely to be out there. What is now desperately needed is a way to sort through the many thousands of indie books available to find those that we’ll absolutely love. Variety is great, but it can be overwhelming.

 

*This is a slight exaggeration. Most popular books won’t have all of these elements. There is only so much, um, ‘stuff’ that will fit in any one bucket.

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Book Review: Sacré Bleu by Christopher Moore

My Rating: 4 Stars

This is a fun book with lewd artists, loose women, and a lusty muse. It’s about the color blue.

It’s not about just any blue. It’s about a special blue, a mystical blue, a sacred blue, a blue that fell from the sky in a fiery ball almost forty-thousand years ago. It’s about a blue that provides inspiration — for a price. There are other colors mentioned, but the plot is about blue, and I can tell you little else about it without it becoming a spoiler.

The plot is not a terribly complex one. It could have been relayed quite well in a short story rather than a novel, but then we would not have been able to hang out in late Nineteenth Century Paris with some of the most entertainingly eccentric characters you will ever meet, real or fictional. Those between the covers of this book are a bit of both.

Obviously, this is a character-driven story more than a plot- or action-driven story. I don’t mind this. In fact, I prefer it. If I don’t care about the characters, I don’t care about what happens to them. Conversely, if I do care about the characters, then pretty much anything they do that is worthy of mention has a good chance of being interesting or, especially in the case in this book, amusing.

Even for a character-based story, though, this book is outside the norm. It centers on the fictional artist/baker Lucien Lessard, but it begins with Vincent Van Gogh. Through the course of the story, we also meet Renoir, Monet, Pissaro, Manet, Whistler, and others whose personalities are based, with due artistic license, on historical characters. My personal favorite is Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. This libidinous little guy is portrayed with such an uninhibited lust (literally) for life that I find him oddly refreshing. He is lecherous, immodest, and lewd, but his unrepentant surrender to his baser desires makes him seem somehow more honest and human.

The physical book published by Harper Collins is very well done. It includes several full-color images of works by some of the artists mentioned. The art along with the story allows the reader to imagine deeper insights into the artists’ personalities. The fact that these personalities may be largely fictional is completely beside the point. This is not a book of history. It is not a biography. It is a novel. It is fiction. It is a work of art.

A curious photo, a touching story, and how lies can be true

I have been in email contact with a number of people pretty much since email existed. Today, one of them sent me the following picture.


Touching, isn’t it? It is certainly a poignant message about the costs of war. The symbolism is clear. The bicycle represents youth and innocence, the condition of it represents how such things are lost and abandoned because of war, and the tree shows how the natural world continues without regard for such conflicts between men and prompts us to reflect on why we continue to engage in such things.

The trouble is that it’s not real. Not entirely. The photo is real. There really is a bike in that tree. The story is made up, though. According to Snopes, a boy by the name of Don Puz from Vashon-Maury Island in Washington State was playing in the woods with some friends in 1954. He was the only one who brought his bike. When his friends left on foot, he joined them, leaving the bike leaning against a tree. He didn’t much care for the old bike, which had been given to him. He owned at least one other, so he never returned for it. The tree grew around it and it became an internet curiosity half a century later.

That’s not as good of a story, though. The one the email came with is better. So which is truer?

Well, the one about Don and his abandoned bike is more factual, but the fictional story about the boy going off to war in 1914 is also true, in a way. The message is true. The theme is meaningful. War really is as disruptive and wasteful as this fictional account implies.

Whereas I resent being lied to, and I don’t appreciate it when people fabricate or misrepresent evidence to make their point, I do appreciate a good story. I am a fiction writer. Telling lies with true meaning is what I do. The story someone pasted onto that photo is a good piece of fiction. I like it. Had it been presented as fiction, it would have been better. If it carried the disclaimer that you often see in front of books (mine included) that all characters and events in them are fictitious, I would have no problems with it at all. However, I am also an advocate of not confusing fact with fiction, even when the fiction is true. Implying something is a fact when it is not is simply a lie no matter how true the message is. I try my best not to do this. Lying to make a valid point is still lying.

With that said, it is time for full disclosure. Nothing in the books I wrote actually happened. None of the people in them is real. Many of the things I say in my stories, however, are completely true. I’ll leave it to the reader to decide which those are.

My Self-Publishing Adventure – Episode Seven – The Motivating Power of Readers

 I have been feeling pumped recently.

Pumped: synonyms – inspired, encouraged, stimulated, motivated . . .

Sorry. I’ve been doing a lot of editing recently and the reason for that is the subject of this post.

I mentioned previously that I got my first “professional” reviews, and I said how pleased I was with them. Who wouldn’t be? I put out a completely DIY ebook, and its first reviews by people unrelated and unknown to me were four and five stars. But something since has motivated me even more.

I maintain a modest presence on Twitter, with a few hundred followers. I try not to do much book promotion there anymore but I do talk about my writing, what I’m doing, what I’ve discovered, and things like this. I’ll also Tweet about my health, the weather, a random observation, a favorite quote, or whatever comes to mind. I guess I’m an eclectic Tweeter. What I have been focusing on recently, is following and engaging people who seem to share my tastes, fans of Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams especially. Both of these great authors have influenced my writing style because I so greatly enjoy their work. I wanted to write books I would like to read, so it only seemed logical to use them as unwitting mentors.

Recently, some, well, a few people on Twitter have told me they read and really enjoyed my books. These weren’t reviewers. I didn’t ask them to read them and I didn’t send them a free copy. They picked them up on their own, read them, and liked them enough to tell me about it. They are also fans of my favorite writers, and I couldn’t help thinking, I’d done it! These people saw in my books something similar to the ineffable magic penned by two of my favorites. I can’t tell you how much of a rush it was when I got a Tweet from a gentleman who said he was 70% through my first book and laughing his ass off. I ran straight out to the patio and told my wife and her mother who were downing a few (or more) beers after Thanksgiving dinner.

It was also something of a surprise. And a shock.

The books I enjoy most are not mainstream bestsellers, or even mainstream genre fiction. If it’s dark, I probably won’t read it. If it’s littered with dead bodies, guns, or drugs, it’s not something I want to spend my leisure time with. I can watch the news if I want things like that. If zombies, demons, vampires, ghosts, or others who look at people primarily as a good source of protein or some mystical nutritive energy are a central part of the plot, the book is probably not for me either unless the beasties are conveyed satirically or with humor. I don’t find such stories enjoyable, so they aren’t the kind I write. They do seem popular though and mine have little in common with them.

I understand my books are outside the norm. They are science fiction set in a fantasy-like setting. In a way, they are almost anti-fantasies, and they poke a fair (or unfair) amount of fun at the genre. No one reads stuff like that. There is no stuff like that. Gaining much of an audience seemed unlikely.

A few people I hesitate to call fans can change that. Once one person, and it only takes one, says he or she really likes your book (the really is important), your outlook changes. At least mine did. Perhaps I’m too easily encouraged, but if one person is enthused about it, certainly others will be. This is great, but it leads to a new feeling of responsibility. There is a big attitudinal difference between “maybe someone might like it” to “OMG, someone really likes it!” Suddenly, your book can’t be just a fun read, now it has to be great. A DIY cover and a self-edited book with random commas, some less than stellar prose, and a breeding population of mutant typos (what else can explain how more appear after you are sure every one has been found and squashed) may be good enough for a casual reader, but certainly not for someone who really likes your book.

So, this is where I’m at now on my self-publishing adventure. A few people like my book enough to actually promote it for me. They are Tweeting about it to friends. I am humbled because it’s not good enough (yet) for people like this. But I shall make it worthy.

I am currently reediting and revising the manuscript of The Warden Threat, eliminating stubborn typos and tightening the prose. I have engaged a professional technical editor and I have commissioned custom art for the cover. I intend to find at least a copy editor and proofreader early next year to ensure I provide a professional quality product. I also plan to make it available as a Print On Demand paperback so anyone, even those few who still do not have ebook readers, can get a copy if they wish.

If my blog posts come less frequently over the following months, this is why. Once I have completed the revised edition of the Warden Threat, I will go through the same process for The Warden War.

The first draft of my third book, Amy’s Pendant, is complete. I have not yet decided if I will try traditional publishing for this or not. If it appears as if the first two books are gaining a following, I may continue with self-publishing for this one as well. It puts more of the work on the author as well as all the risk and upfront expense. The thought that a traditional publisher could  share some of this is tempting. I never tried traditional publishing for my books so I can’t compare based on any firsthand experience.

I will try to keep you posted on how this all goes. Until then, I hope you enjoy your holidays and I wish you all a very good new year.

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My Self Publishing Adventure

The Stigma of Self Publishing – Et Tu Writers?

  I went to an Orlando Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers group meeting last night. It was our first get together in a few months because our organizer (Sarah Fisk) had to abdicate for job reasons and it took a while to replace her, although she has since moved back to Orlando and rejoined the group.

We held it at the food court of a local mall, an ideal place I thought because it easily accommodated our group without any expectation that we should be quiet or buy anything. Of the seven people at the table that night, one is a traditionally published author (Owl Goingback), one is a self published author (me), and the others are either writing speculative fiction books or have written some and are currently exploring their publication options.

Because we had a new organizer and a few new members, this was more of a chat session than our normal meetings, which focus on review and critique of members’ work. One topic that came up was self publishing. I suppose I was guilty of raising it because when publishing options came up, the implication seemed to be that the preferred option was traditional publishing. I wanted to point out that in the digital age there is another option and that it was my first option rather than a fallback position.

I was surprised that the other members seemed to either not consider this or thought of self publishing as the last, desperate act a writer would take and that books were only self published if they couldn’t meet the exacting standards necessary for traditional publication.

Obviously I don’t believe this to be true but the incredulous stares around the table made it clear just how pervasive this belief is, not just among readers, agents, and publishers, but among writers as well. Unfortunately this is not without cause.

Self publishing has some great advantages. For writers, these include retention of all rights to their work. They control everything from content to distribution. They control the cost of their books and they receive higher royalties as a percentage of sales.

For readers, self publishing means that there are more books in more subgenres than ever before. Books don’t need to fall into mainstream categories or follow whatever may be popular in their genre at the time in order to be published. A publisher’s impression of profitability does not enter into the equation. Self published books, especially ebooks, are almost always much cheaper than traditionally published books as well so readers have greater selection at lower cost. What could be better?

Well, there is the quality issue. The problem with anyone being able to publish is that anyone is able to publish anything. It doesn’t have to be good. It doesn’t even have to be coherent or readable or, in the case of nonfiction, even accurate. Now I won’t say this is an exclusive problem with self publishing because we have all seen traditionally published books that had these same flaws but if a major publisher’s logo was on the cover, a reader could be assured that it had at least gone through some editing process.

With self published books, there is no such guarantee and books can be released before they are ready. Some people, dishonest, scummy, and disreputable people who should be publicly flogged, tarred, feathered, and sent to their rooms without supper, have been known to scam this new openness by plagiarizing the work of others or intentionally throwing out dozens or even hundreds of short, poor quality books. There is currently no way to prevent this and it helps perpetuate the myth that all self published books are bad. I have seen other self published authors claim that readers can still tell quality books from reader reviews on sites such as Amazon. These certainly help and I don’t discount them but reviews and ‘likes’ are not necessarily a guarantee of quality either. Just as anyone can publish a book, anyone can write a review and writers can swap positive reviews and ‘likes’ with other authors as part of their promotion efforts, often with honest intent simply to help their peers.

There are a few disadvantages to self publishing for writers as well. They have to cover all of the up front costs themselves including editing, cover design, and formatting. Self published books are difficult to get into brick and mortar bookstores and the authors have to do all of their own marketing and promotion, which can be extremely difficult without the resources of an agent or traditional publisher to support them. Writers need to be willing to take on these challenges before they decide to self publish but their biggest hurdle may be the continuing stigma hovering over self published books.

I think there may be a fairly simple solution to this although it means readers will need to do a little research themselves. But since they are receiving the benefit of more options and lower costs, I don’t think this is asking too much. Actually my suggestion would apply to any author whose work you have not read before.

Before you decide to buy a book by an author unknown to you, read the sample pages first. If it still looks good, go to the author’s website. All legitimate self published authors should have one. There is probably even a link to it on the author’s page on Amazon or whatever online retailer sells their book. Look at the content. Keep in mind that self published authors may not be expert at web design but if the layout is logical and the content is good, chances are their books will be as well. If the book description looks like the type of book you would enjoy and the author’s website suggests that he or she is a competent writer, there is a good chance you’ve found something that will appeal to you. I know this is more work for readers but I think this inconvenience may be outweighed by the benefits readers receive in price and selection.

As always, if you have thoughts on this subject you would like to share, please leave a comment.

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My Self Publishing Adventure

Will The Discworld End? Should It?

  In December 2007, Terry Pratchett, the much honored and award winning author of the Discworld fantasy series as well as other books, publicly announced that he was suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Many of his fans since then have wondered if Discworld can continue once Sir Terry can no longer write or if it even should.

I came across a discussion on this very subject a couple of days ago on The Morporkian, a Terry Pratchett discussion group on goodreads. The question posed asked how people felt about the Discworld series continuing on without Terry Pratchett. You can see the discussion here if you’d like: A Surrogate Pratchett?

I visit Discworld often and I actually dread not being able to look forward to the next new book but I have sadly concluded that there is only one Terry Pratchett. I have looked long and hard for other writers who can capture a similar tone and mood and I have found none – none at all.
Pratchett is unique and (need I say) my favorite author. I’ve mentioned him several times in my blog as both a writer of wonderful stories and as an inspiration for my own but I’m doubtful anyone I know of can do justice to the series. Pratchett’s ability to create believable and truly likeable characters in an unbelievable world and his ability to create entertaining and humorous stories while providing deep cultural insights is enviable and wonderful.
I won’t say that it is impossible to find someone to carry on. Perhaps there are writers out there who can and if Terry Pratchett names a successor, I will certainly give his or her books a try. Quite honestly, I hope he does. A round world without a Discworld to reflect the truly important bits would be a much sadder place.

A Discworld Update – February-2013

Book Review – Milrose Munce and the Den of Professional Help

Extended Edition [Kindle Edition] by Douglas Anthony Cooper
My Rating: 4 Stars

Milrose Munce and the Den of Professional Help is a charming and humorous tale of a schoolboy who befriends the ghosts inhabiting his school. Milrose, an intelligent if somewhat sarcastic young man, is a great nerdy hero — smart, proudly unathletic and fascinated by new and strange things–the stranger the better. Unfortunately he is less than circumspect in his conversations with his ghostly friends, who remain unseen and unheard by the school staff, and he is sent to receive Professional Help along with one other classmate, Arabella who shares his peculiar affliction. The Professional Help however seems far from either professional or helpful and Milrose and Arabella learn that people who are sent there are never seen again by either the living or the dead.

This is not a serious book nor is it meant to be, as evidenced by the host of wittily named ghosts who wander the corridors. If you’re looking for a scary ghost story, this isn’t it but if you appreciate a quick, light read with lots of smiles, this is well work the 99¢ price for the Kindle version.

Why are good books so hard to find?

   This post is mainly a call for help but I hope it will also provide others ways of looking at fiction that may help them better define the types of books that would appeal to them.

I love to read but even with the exponential expansion of available fiction, I still have a hard time finding new books that really appeal to me. My tastes are apparently somewhat outside the norm.

I was reminded of this recently when I sent out a call for help on Twitter. This is what I said:

I’m looking for a good 99¢ indie ebook novel similar in tone and mood with Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books. Any suggestions?

I sent a few other Tweets in the same vein over the next few hours. Eventually a kindly Tweeter responded with a recommendation for a book by an indie writer that he was offering for free on Smashwords. It was a promotion to gain readers for the other books in the series. Great! Maybe there was a whole series of new books I would like.

I downloaded it. Last night I opened it on my Kindle and began to read.

It opened with a war scene full of action and seemingly mindless violence. This is normally a big turnoff for me but the Tweeter recommended it so I continued to read. Well, I thought, maybe it would get better. The nonstop action continued. I scanned ahead and there seemed to be no end of blood and brutality and nothing that indicated the book would eventually appeal to me and none that it bore any similarity to the wonderful books by Sir Terry Pratchett. I closed it and opened up my copy of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol mainly because I hadn’t yet moved it from my Kindle to my computer hard drive. Today I made an emergency visit to the library.

Now I know there are many people who thrive on nonstop action and I’m sure they would have not been able to put a book like this down. I just don’t happen to be one of them. To explain why not can be the subject of a later post but the short answer is that it ultimately comes down to a matter of taste. I find action by itself dull and uninteresting. I need to know about the characters first and there has to be something I find admirable about them before they are put in peril in order for me to care about their fate. Otherwise they are no different than those they are in conflict with. This is actually the same reason I was never a sports fan. I could never find a good reason to care which team won. The action isn’t enough. The game for the game’s sake isn’t enough. I need a reason to not only prefer one side over the other but also something to admire about the chosen side; something which their opponent either lacks or is opposed to.

I know this is out of the ordinary but that’s my point. With all the new indie authors publishing now you’d think some would be writing books that are not modeled on currently popular mainstream fiction and that there would be some that appeal to whatever niche you might find yourself in. I’m sure there are some out there for mine. Finding them is the problem.

So that is why I am asking for your help. I want to find more books to read and enjoy and I’m hoping some of you might know of some that suite my particular reading preference niche.

The following list should provide some indication of my personal tastes. Breaking out your tastes and preferences in a similar fashion may help you define and find new books you will like.

  • Genre – I prefer Science Fiction although Fantasy is a close second. Mysteries and “literary fiction” can also be good if they share several of the other traits listed here. The target audience can be either adults or young adults. I find that YA books are often the most enjoyable. Within these genres, books that include insightful cultural satire are the most appealing.
  • Mood – The mood is the overall feeling you get from a book. If you feel an emotion when you finish a book, the author has effectively conveyed a mood. I prefer books with positive moods such as, fanciful, happy, hopeful, idealistic, intellectual, joyful, or optimistic. If a book provokes a smile from me in the first twenty pages, that is a big plus. (You can find out more on mood here if you wish: Beyond Genre – Tone And Mood)
  • Tone – The way the mood is expressed by the attitude of the author is the tone. It can also be thought of as part of the author’s style or voice. Tone reflects the author’s attitude toward the story, the characters in it, as well as toward the reader. The books I prefer tend to carry a prevailing tone that is amused, cheerful, humorous, ironic, lighthearted, optimistic, playful, satirical, or witty. (You can find out more on tone at the same link as above.)
  • Theme – I tend to especially like books with an implied message of personal and/or cultural progress and discovery.
  • Characters – There should be something admirable about the protagonist and his, her or its allies. They should be ethically and philosophically superior examples of humanity, even if they don’t happen to be human. This could be because they are unbiased, kindhearted, caring, nurturing, empathetic, or several other positive traits. This is what makes me care about what happens to them and makes me sure that their goals deserve to prevail. It also helps if the main character is intellectually above the norm. Those who are bright, analytical, observant, inquisitive, insightful or skeptical are especially appealing.
  • Fantastic Creatures – If the story is a fantasy and includes such things as vampires, zombies, ghosts, or other supernatural or mythical beings, I prefer a certain amount of humor and satire in how these creatures are portrayed. I can suspend disbelief for the sake of a story and pretend such things can exist but it is more enjoyable if the tone of the book conveys that I’m not expected to.

So now know more about my taste in books than you ever wanted to. Thanks for letting me share. I have one more favor to ask. If you know of books that you think meet my somewhat peculiar taste by authors I have not listed below, please let me know either as a comment here or on Twitter.

These are some of the writers I know of who have written books that met the minimum threshold of my exacting standards.

  • Douglas Adams (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)
  • Piers Anthony (Xanth Series – These are almost too silly but can be fun to read.)
  • Robert Asprin (Myth and Phule Series)
  • Kage Baker (Company Series – a bit too much romance but not bad.)
  • Terry Brooks (Magic Kingdom of Landover Series)
  • Lois McMaster Bujold (Miles Series)
  • Eoin Colfer (Artemis Fowl Series)
  • Peter David (Apropos of Nothing Series)
  • L. Sprague de Camp (The Reluctant King)
  • Gordon R. Dickson (The Dragon Knight Series and others)
  • Jasper Fforde
  • Cornelia Funke (Inkheart)
  • Neil Gaiman
  • Craig Shaw Gardner
  • William Goldman (The Princess Bride – one of my favorites.)
  • Tom Holt (Some of his are good, others I didn’t much care for.)
  • Jim C. Hines (The Goblin Series was especially fun.)
  • Fritz Leiber
  • Gregory Maguire (Wicked was enjoyable. The others, not so much.)
  • Lee Martinez (Usually his books are a hoot.)
  • Jack McDevitt (Alex Benedict Series)
  • Martin Millar (The Good Fairies of New York)
  • K.E. Mills (A bit verbose but not bad.)
  • John Moore
  • Grant Naylor (Red Dwarf)
  • Terry Pratchett (My favorite writer by far. Fortunately a prolific one.)
  • Philip Pullman (His Dark Materials)
  • Robert Rankin
  • Rick Riordan
  • Spider Robinson
  • J. K. Rowling
  • John Scalzi (Fuzzy Nation)
  • Martin Scott (Thraxas)

Thanks and happy reading.

Related Posts:

On Digital Books And The Evolution Of Genre Fiction

Beyond Genre – Novels And Emotional Needs

Beyond Genre – Tone And Mood

Are You a Storyteller?

    Are you a storyteller? Do you think you might be?

I think almost everyone (and I only say “almost” because I can’t be sure there are no exceptions) is a storyteller. Or at least they were once. Humans are born storytellers. It’s how we make sense of the world. Sometimes the stories are even true. Sometimes they’re not but we pretend they are. That can be dangerous but it’s the price we pay for imagination, which I don’t think we could have progressed so far without. Before anyone ever made a flint knife by banging rocks together, built a fire, or painted pictures on a cave wall, they had to imagine them. They had to envision something that had never happened and create a story of it in their mind before they could make it happen.

I’m pretty sure I have always been a storyteller. Some of my earliest memories are of concocting stories that I played out with toy soldiers and spaceships. There were times when my friends and I would be hanging out or walking down the road and we’d make up stories to tell one another. I wish now I had written some of these down but it seems I could never remember them later. Sometimes I couldn’t remember them right after I told them. It was as if the stories were telling themselves through me.

In high school, I recall an assignment they gave us to keep a journal. (For those of you younger than 30, a journal is sort of like a blog except it’s written down on paper.) Most of the kids in school wrote about their daily activities, their friends, their classes, and things like that. Mine was a serial that followed the adventures of Harvey the Dust Speck. It included a lot of social commentary. As juvenile as it was, I’m sure, my instructor said it was one of the best and certainly the most entertaining. I also wrote editorial articles (humorous of course) for the school newspaper. (A newspaper is like a hardcopy website.)

My leisure writing tapered off in college because I had a full class schedule, a fulltime job, and a family. I did still write occasionally. I even sent a short story to a magazine once and got a very nice rejection letter from them.

But as we grow older, as we become adults with jobs and responsibilities, it seems that many of us feel pressured to abandon fictional stories. I know I did. Stories are for kids. As adults we should be reading the “news.” If we do read books, they should be about something that may help us in our careers to make a little more money, or at least they should be about something real like history, or politics, or economics. Fiction is, at best, an idle pastime. It’s certainly not worth putting a lot of time and effort into.

I think this kind of attitude may be a result of the misplaced values of our society. We assign value to things in terms of money, almost exclusively. The value of a thing is what it costs or what it can be sold for. Unless you are a professional writer, and a fairly popular one at that, stories you create have little value in that equation. Why waste your time making up a story when the same time could be spent much more profitably working extra hours at your paying job, or preparing yourself for a higher paying one, or simply chilling after a hard day at work, work you try to force yourself to believe is somehow important but in rare moments of reflection you suspect you only do because it brings in money? It’s the money that matters, right? Or is money just one of those fictions we believe are real?

This is a question we all must answer for ourselves. I personally have come to believe that I made a mistake when I gave up writing fiction. Not because I could have been a bestselling author. I doubt I could even make a modest living from the stories I like to write. They don’t contain vampires or zombies and they have far too little graphic sex or violence to be terribly popular.

The reason it was a mistake is because the stories I wrote were for me. They weren’t for others and they certainly weren’t to make money. At the time, I thought that also meant they weren’t worth the time and the trouble.

I also had a dark spell when I read only nonfiction and I prided myself in how adult I had become. Giving up reading fiction was like giving up your childhood teddy bear. It was something you had to do to prove you were an adult. Fortunately I got over this flirtation with unimaginative adulthood after only a few years and allowed fiction to creep back into my life; first as a guilty pleasure but eventually I came to terms with my repressed needs, stepped out of the closet, and openly admitted my attraction to fiction.

About ten years ago, I started writing fiction again as a hobby. I figured I had the time for it. The truth is I could always have made the time for it. I just didn’t because it didn’t seem like the kind of hobby an adult professional should have. I excused it by telling myself I was working on a novel and that I might someday try to publish it.

As I got back into it, I slowly realized what it was I had given up. Creating fiction is a rewarding, mind stretching, and enjoyable experience. Creating fictional worlds and fictional characters forces you to think about the real world and real people and leads to a deeper understanding of them. Does this have value? You decide.

This isn’t an advice column but I’m going to offer a few personal opinions. This is my blog, I can do what I want.

  • If you are wondering if you are a storyteller, you are.
  • Fiction has value even if it never helps you earn any money.
  • Fiction is not just for kids.
  • You don’t need an excuse to write.
  • Write for yourself. You can edit what you wrote for others if you wish to share but do that later and as an afterthought.
  • Don’t give up your teddy bear. You’ll never have a better friend. If you’re wondering if you should write, find Teddy, if you are fortunate enough to still have him, and ask him. He was probably one of the first fictional characters you ever created and he may have some valuable insights.

My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Four – Managing Expectations

   I have to admit to being a bit disappointed with this adventure in self publishing so far and I’m trying not to be disillusioned about it all. This post isn’t to gripe about that though. My intent here is to share my experiences with other new writers so that they might know what to expect and give them an opportunity to assess how they are doing by comparison with how I have done.

I have always wanted to write fiction. I knew I would be something of a niche author because I am a niche reader. I like books that provide social commentary, philosophical insights, and do so without being heavy or taking themselves too seriously. This is hard to pull off although Sir Terry Pratchett normally can do it and others can occasionally as well. These are the kinds of books I like to read so they are the kind I wanted to write.

I found that Young Adult (YA) books are often better at this than those targeted for adult markets because they tend to be more hopeful, more idealistic, and less focused on sex and violence. If I want to see the darker side of humanity, I can watch the TV news. A few hours of that could convince anyone that humanity is doomed, and quite possibly deservedly so.

I want something different for my leisure reading. Something that will allow me to pretend, at least for a moment, that there is a bright future for humanity. For video entertainment, this is what draws me to both Star Trek and Doctor Who. They both show people being able to overcome prejudice and superstition and they portray people, as a whole and individually, as creatures with value and potential. Apparently this is not a popular perspective so I never expected my books to be bestsellers. I never expected them to appeal to a very large audience. I have to admit that I did expect some feedback on them though, some indication that they are at least being read. So far, except for personal friends and family, there has been none.

From what I have heard anecdotally, my expectations, low as they were, may have been too high. I have found no reliable statistics on this but I’ve seen claims that it is not uncommon for a blog to attract only a few select followers its first year. Mine was established the end of May and here are statistics on how it has fared in terms of the gross number of views since then:

May – 26
June – 42
July – 83
August – 96
September – 226
October (so far) – 172

Clearly readership has grown, and hopefully will continue to do so as I write more of these wonderful posts, but so far this has not equated to book sales. This may also be common. Again, my only means of comparison for this are anecdotal comments from other writers from their blogs but I get the distinct impression that most fiction ebooks by unknown authors don’t see any appreciable sales – ever – but those that do don’t until they’ve been available for a couple years. Mine have been out a couple of months.

I began by making an anthology of my first two books available on Smashwords and created a coupon to allow them to be downloaded free. Most of these went to friends and family who did provide feeback on them, all of it positive. But then, what else would you expect from friends and family? (By the way, thanks, Dad.)

A couple of months ago, I published my first two books separately. I made the first free on Smashwords for a month and then raised the price on both Smashwords and Amazon to 99¢. I priced the sequel at 99¢ as well and the anthology at $1.99. The following shows how this pricing strategy has fared.

 

 

 

The summary for this table is that I’ve given away 174 copies of my books (all on Smashwords) and sold two (both on Amazon). I assume the one sale of The Warden War, the sequel to The Warden Threat was to someone who got a free copy of the first one, liked it, and was willing to spend 99¢ for the next one. This may not be the case but it makes me feel better to think so.

So what does this mean to others like me who may just be starting out on their own self publishing adventures? Just this. Keep your expectations low. You may have written the best book ever. It may have the potential to brighten the lives of millions, bring enlightenment to the masses and usher in a new and hopeful era for humanity. And all of these things may be true even though you don’t see many sales and don’t get any feedback from readers right away. The only opinion that really matters is your own. If you believe in your work, continue. Keep writing.

So, what is my next step? I have heard from others that my low prices, which I hoped would attract readers, may be having the opposite effect. Many people mistakenly associate cost with value. The low cost of my books may imply that they have little value. Personally I believe this to be untrue but to charge what I really think they are worth would mean only millionaires could buy them and they really aren’t the market I was trying to reach, not that I would mind them buying them as well.

One other indie writer told me that pricing a book at 99¢ may cause a person to skim over it thinking it is a novella, rather than an 80,000+ word complete novel or one that is poorly written, unedited, and incoherent. Since none of these things are true, he said I should price them at least at $2.99. I hesitate to do this because I want my books to be available to as many people as possible and some simply can’t afford $2.99 for a single book. In principle though, he may be right so in the next month or so, I am going to increase some of the prices. I will keep the first book in the series, The Warden Threat, at 99¢. I will change the price of the second to $1.99 and price the anthology of both books (which includes a special prelude as well) at $2.99. These new prices will become effective early November. I will post periodic updates on how this goes and whether or not it seems to have an impact on sales.

In the meantime, keep reading, keep writing. If you’d like to share your experiences, please leave a comment. I’d love to hear about them.

Related Posts:

Why I Chose To Self Publish
My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode One

My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Two

My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Three – Building a Platform

My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Five – Gaining a Following
Ten Things For Aspiring Fiction Writers To Consider

Book Review – Snuff by Terry Pratchett

  My Rating: 5 Stars

There are few books that when, after reading the last word, I sigh and think, that was wonderful. Most of these were written by Sir Terry Pratchett. In his latest offering from the Discword, Vimes is on involuntary holiday in the country. But of course Vimes is never truly on holiday. He is a “copper” down to his boots and back up again and he carries the law with him wherever he goes, which can prove inconvenient to those there who may have thought they were above it. Like most of Pratchett’s novels, Snuff deals with some weighty subjects including smuggling, drug abuse, slavery, bigotry, class conflict, and the difference between what is legal and what is right. And also typical of Pratchett’s books, it does so with a lighthearted tone that has the reader smiling with every turn of a page. I find this combination of insight and humor extremely appealing and no one does it better than Pratchett. I highly recommend this book.

Writing a Simple Scene in Five Easy Layers

  One thing you hear often is that different techniques work for different writers. I’m experimenting with a new one for my third novel, a new one for me anyway. I’m trying to write it in layers. I did not originate this idea. I’ve come across variations of it in several writers’ blogs and have adapted it to suit my own style. I look at the approach as kind of like a coloring book; sketch an outline of the picture first, and then color it in. Here is a brief description of how it might work for a simple scene to show you what I mean.

1: State the important thing (or things) that must happen in the scene such as: Amy discovers the door is locked and she can’t open it.

2: Add the actions needed to show how this thing happens rather like stage directions:

Amy walks to the door.
She turns the knob and pulls.
The door remains closed
.
She backs away
.

3: Add the dialog (assuming there is any).

Amy walks to the door.
“It won’t work, you know. I heard it latch behind us,” Ralph said.

She turns the knob and pulls.
“Damn it, door. Open!”

The door remains closed.
“I told you it wouldn’t work.”

4: Add setting details and literary touches.

Amy walked to the door. Her footsteps echoed hollowly in the long abandoned library. Tattered bookmarks and ragged dust jackets, all that remained of the literary treasures once enshrined here, littered the floor.
“It won’t work, you know. I heard it latch behind us,” Ralph commented sadly from the center of the cavernous room.
She turned the old fashioned glass doorknob and pulled.
“Damn it door. Open!”
The heavy oak door stubbornly remained closed.
“I told you it wouldn’t work.”

5: Go back and add the emotional reactions and internal thoughts of the POV character.

Amy walked to the door. Her footsteps echoed hollowly in the long abandoned library. Tattered bookmarks and ragged dust jackets, all that remained of the literary treasures once enshrined here, littered the floor. They held no meaning for her.
“It won’t work, you know. I heard it latch behind us,” Ralph commented sadly from the center of the cavernous room.
She turned the old fashioned doorknob and pulled. Ralph always gave up too easily. He seemed to enjoy playing the victim. Perhaps it was the only role he knew.
“Damn it door. Open!”
The heavy oak door stubbornly remained closed. Amy glared at it, although she knew its mechanism was impervious to such intimidation.
“I told you it wouldn’t work.”

And that’s it. I’m trying this approach several different ways right now. The first was to approach it one short scene at a time. I’m now experimenting with sketching an entire chapter with just the first three steps and then going back to add the other two. So far, it seems to work well for me. I offer it as an alternative for other writers who may still be searching for an approach that will work well for them. As always, I wish you all good luck with your writing. May inspiration be abundant and your muses cooperative.

My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Two – Free or Almost Free

  My self publishing adventure continues. In the last five days, there have been twenty more free downloads of my first book from Smashwords, for a total of 157 since I made it available on 10 September. I find this exciting and I hope some of the people who have downloaded it will read it and write a review.

My plan was to end the free promotion at the end of the month and I have done so. The price for The Warden Threat  is now 99¢. I still have seen no sales from Amazon at this price. I will let you know how this affects the number of downloads on Smashwords. I expect it will dramatically. A free novel by an unknown author is a bargain but at 99¢, not so much. Many books, especially self published books, are available at that price. Free, mine stands out. At 99¢ it does not, even as a full length novel of over 80,000 words.

So why raise the price? My primary reason is not to make money. Few fiction authors actually seem to make money from their books and I don’t expect to be one of them, despite the fact that I would like to be. My primary reason for charging for it is to give it value in the eyes of readers. In our materialistic society, we often equate value with cost — no cost implies no value. As mistaken as I think this equation may be, it exists.

My plan forward is to continue as I have with limited promotion on social media at least through the end of the year and, of course, to continue writing. The third book in the Warden series should be available in 2012.

I’ll post an update periodically to keep you updated on how my adventures in self publishing ebooks are going. I invite you to share your experiences in the comments to this blog. You are also more than welcome to sample my writing either at this blog or on Amazon. If you do, please let me know what you think.

Related Posts:

Why I Chose To Self Publish
My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode One

My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Three – Building a Platform
My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Four – Managing Expectations
My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Five – Gaining a Following

My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode One – Initial Release and Promotion

  As promised, here is a short update on my ongoing self publishing effort.

I published my first novel, The Warden Threat on Amazon and Smashwords on September 10 2011. The process for both was quick, easy, and free. I couldn’t be more pleased with that aspect of it.

My promotion strategy, such as it is, is to price my books as cheaply as possible and announce their availability on social networking sites. This includes only Twitter and Facebook, since these are the only ones I currently use.  I’ve been sending tweets about it a few times a week and I’ve posted a couple links on Facebook. I also put a link to my website on my email signature block so my friends and relatives will be aware of it. I’ve established accounts with Goodreads and MobileRead and I’ve introduced myself in their forums.

So how has it worked so far? Are people buying my books? Well, the short answer is “no.” At least not for money. The one success story is Smashwords, where I made The Warden Threat free until 30 September. In the two and a half weeks it’s been available, there have been 137 downloads. I don’t know if any of those who have downloaded copies have read them though. So far it has gotten no reviews or ratings. On Amazon, where the sale price is $0.99, there have been no sales and no reviews.

My plan forward it to continue what I’ve been doing hoping that some of those who have downloaded the book for free will read it, review it, and tell others what a truly amazing and wonderful story it is. That’s my hope. My expectation is that I’ll continue with what I’ve been doing and maybe get a few sales at $0.99 before the end of the year. I expect downloads on Smashwords to end once the free download offer is over at the end of the month.

That’s my experience so far. If you have self published your stories as ebooks, was your experience similar? Do you have any suggestions?

Related Posts:

My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Two
My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Three – Building a Platform
My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Four – Managing Expectations
My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Five – Gaining a Following
Why I Chose To Self Publish
Self Editing – Advice And Apology

How to Create Covers for Ebooks

Today’s post is about my own experience but hopefully it will be helpful to some of the people out there in cyberspace looking to publish their own ebooks.

One of the most frustrating things I had to do to self publish was to create ‘covers’ for my books. I am a man of limited artistic talent although I did take an art class once when I was younger to meet girls and no, I’m not saying how long ago that was. I got no dates but I did learn how to draw a banana in charcoal. If I ever write a book on bananas this will certainly come in handy but since I haven’t yet, I was at something of a loss with my book cover.

I did what most of us would do at a time like this. I searched the web and found all sorts of sites offering to sell me their software. I tried some free samples. They worked, more or less, but none was especially easy to use and none came with anything I thought was suitable artwork. I write speculative fiction so a stock photo of a pretty girl picking flowers, or sailboats or a landscape of green hills just won’t work.

It was time to go back to the web. I found sites offering to create a unique cover custom designed for my books for a surprisingly wide range of prices, from less than a hundred to over a thousand dollars. But I’m also a fairly cheap, I mean frugal man and this writing habit was already costing me money. I was reluctant to shell out much cash to support it unless it started paying me back. So what is a frugal writer who is only marginally adept at drawing a banana supposed to do?

I did more research. Research is free. I looked at my bookshelf first; the physical one with the paper books. There were some lovely covers there but most were far too complex for me to have any chance of using as a template — with one notable exception; Thud by Terry Pratchett. A copy is posted above. There are a couple of things about this I like but the first thing that attracted me was how simple it was. And since it was by my favorite author, I knew it had to be good. (That’s a Pratchett plug by the way. Remuneration from his publisher will be gladly accepted — preferably before the next mortgage payment is due.)

I also researched the covers of books on Amazon and one thing became clear right away. Covers that look good in a bookstore do not necessarily look good when they are shrunk down and displayed on a computer monitor. Those that did were much like the cover for Thud. They were simple and had bright colors and large letters. But I still couldn’t do the art. Yes, it was just a cartoon drawing but the best I might manage would still probably look like a banana.

I went back to the web. I searched for free stock photos, clipart and cartoons. There are some but none that really grabbed me. But while searching, I hit on something I wasn’t really looking for. Avatars. Those little images people use for Twitter, Facebook, and other social media. Apparently avatars are also used by online gamers and I found a few sites where you can make your own. And best of all, they were free.

So that’s what I did. I went to a few of them. (You can do your own search to find the ones you like best.) Most are pretty limited and you can’t do a lot of tailoring of the images you create. Some were also fairly difficult to use but I managed to make some JPG files that could be used as raw material. The image on the home page of this blog came from one of those.

I took the JPG files and opened them in a program on my computer called Paint. It came with my Microsoft Windows software so I didn’t need to buy anything new. There are also free programs like Gimp that can edit JPG pictures but I used Paint. I won’t say it was easy to tailor the images to what I thought would work for my covers and it wasn’t quick but it was possible. I cropped, touched up, altered, recolored and resized.

So I finally had some JPG art that I thought might work. Now I had to turn them into ebook covers. This is when inspiration hit. I already had a program on my computer that might be able to do this and, best of all, I knew how to use it. I just didn’t know how to use it to make book covers. I had used Microsoft PowerPoint for years to make slides for briefings and reports; not as part of my real job as a writer but as part of my paying job. It took me a while but I think I finally figured it out. It’s really rather simple, especially if you are familiar with PowerPoint.

The first thing you need to do, and the thing that eluded me the longest, is to change the orientation of the slide. On my version of PowerPoint you do this by gong to the “File” tab and selecting “Page Setup” from the dropdown. A window opens up with radio buttons. Change the “Slides” selection from “Landscape” to “Portrait” and this will give you a template ideal for an ebook cover. Delete any text boxes that automatically come up so you have a blank page to work with.

I’m not going to go through how to use PowerPoint. I’m sure Mircosoft has guidance out there on how to do this but I will list what I did. These are in no particular order and you can do them in any sequence you want.

After I finally figured out how to change the orientation of the slide, I selected a background color and pattern. There are a lot of combinations to choose from.

Then I inserted my JPG file images. You can also use the clipart that comes with the program to add things like vines or frames or other doodads. I decided not to after playing with some of them because it detracted from the clean and simple look I wanted that would show up well as a small icon next to the “order now” button.

I positioned the images, set the transparency color (the one you want to be invisible), and brought them forward or back behind others as needed. You just right click the image for this option.

The last thing was the text. Again I wanted it simple; just title and author. I tried a few options for the text but using WordArt provided the best result in my opinion. PowerPoint gives you the same kind of options for WordArt as you have for any other kind of picture you insert.

Once I had a cover I thought looked good, I simply saved it as a JPG file. It is already the correct size for an ebook cover so you don’t have to do anything else unless you want to do some minor tweaks using Paint or a similar program. I had to do this if my transparency color made some things invisible that shouldn’t have been.

That’s it. The covers I came up with are the ones you see on my Warden Novels tab. They have what I was looking for; bright colors, simple design, and large text. If you have a moment, let me know what you think of them. Or if you have a better way of doing this for free please let me know that too.

Self Editing – Advice and Apology

  One of the first bits of advice fledgling authors get is to seek an outside editor before they self publish. It is also a bit of advice many ignore. I know I did. I now know I shouldn’t have.

Here is what I’ve discovered.

Writers know their stories. This is the first reason they cannot be objective editors for them. They are too close. The story the writer reads when editing is the story he or she meant to tell. It may not be the story that was actually written.

Scenes cut from the final version are still known to the writer. If information provided in them is essential for readers to know, the writer may not realize the final draft fails to provide it.

Characters and settings are so well known to the writer, they may fail to describe them sufficiently. This can be a flaw when some aspect known to the writer is important but not mentioned. This can be especially true with character motivations.

Writers know what each line of prose is supposed to convey so when they read it, it does — to them. It may not to others. The wording may be vague or confusing.

The writer wrote each word. He also made each typo. This is the one problem I was most surprised to find in my own work. I’ve edited the writing of others before and was normally quite adept at spotting typos. However I failed to notice about seventy-five such errors in my own first book. Why? Because I knew what each sentence was supposed to say so that is what I saw.

Before showing my first novel to anyone, I went over it many times, confident in my own ability to spot flaws. When I was sure it was ready, I self published. About a month later, someone contacted me to tell me how much they were enjoying the book but pointed out a number of typos. Impossible, I thought. I went over that manuscript dozens of times. There were no typos. I checked again. There were typos.

So I read it on my Kindle and was surprised and embarrassed to find even more. How could these have mysteriously appeared in the Kindle version when the manuscript was flawless? Obviously malicious typo fairies were to blame. What other explanation was possible? They’re probably related to those nasty creatures who steal my socks out of the laundry and hide my daughter’s car keys.

Or maybe not. I’m still not dismissing the typo fairy hypothesis but I’m not going to make life easy for them and you shouldn’t either. So here is my advice.

1: After you’ve completed your manuscript and you’re sure it’s flawless, reformat it as an e-book (Kindle, PDF, or EPUB). Don’t publish it yet.

 2: Ask others to read it and tell you what they think. This may be hard to do if you don’t have a lot of favors to call in but you may be able to guilt friends or relatives into it. Just remember, now you will owe them. This is one of the burdens writers must accept for their art.

3: Don’t look at it again yourself until you hear back from them, or failing that, a month, or two, or three later. Start writing your next book. Catch up on your reading. Paint a picture. Clean your garage. Do whatever you need to do to distance yourself from your book.

 4: Now open the book in the ‘finished’ format. I used a Kindle because I have one but even PDF on your computer should do. Your book should look as much like any other e-book in your library as possible. Don’t reread your double spaced manuscript using your word processing program. Trust me on this. You need to look at your work as objectively as possible and going back to your original manuscript will prevent that.

5: Read your book as if it was the work of someone else. Make notes on any flaws you see but do not try to correct them. Just note them and keep noting them until you’ve read the whole thing.

6: Now take your notes and those of the people kind enough to comment on your book and to whom you now owe your soul, first born child, or favor of their choice, and make corrections. Format the manuscript as an e-book, wait another month and read it again.

 7: If you are wealthy (it’s possible–even for writers) consider hiring a professional editor. If not, wait another month or two and reread your book again. If it still looks good, submit it to agents, traditional publishers, or self publish it, whatever route you have decided to pursue.

Now for the promised apology: To all those who have read the first published version of my book with the uncaught typos, whether you have provided comments back to me or not, I’m sorry for them (they typos, that is). I appreciate the time you have taken to look at my work. I would especially like to thank those who brought errors to my attention. I have learned from your feedback and will endeavor to make my next books even better.

Ten Things for Aspiring Fiction Writers to Consider

  Do you enjoy reading? Do you find yourself immersed in the fictional worlds you read about? Do you find written stories more satisfying than movies or TV because they allow you to understand the characters, their motivations, and their ideas far more deeply? When you read, do you often think you would like to tell your own stories? Is there something you really want to say, ideas you want to share?

If so, you should try writing.

If, on the other hand, you read fiction once in a while and think it looks easy, think you could do something similar and make money, then my advice is don’t write. If these are your motivations, you may publish and you may even make a little money, but chances are you’d be happier and more successful in a different job.

Writing has to be a passion for you but before you begin, here are ten harsh realities you should consider.

1: Writing fiction is hard work. You may have a great idea for a story but transforming this into a novel is far more than just starting on page one and banging out words on a keyboard. When you read, things seem to flow from one event to another smoothly and logically. You may think all you have to do to write your own story is start with an idea of how the story begins and ends, let the logical sequence of events unfold in your imagination and simply write them down. It doesn’t work that way. You will need to consciously develop characters, settings, and timelines and you will need to know more about each than you ever reveal in your story. The characters and settings are your raw materials. Know them well. With them you construct scenes that become components of the story you want to tell. You assemble your novel from scenes the way a builder constructs a house from bricks and lumber. Oh, and it helps to have a blueprint.

2: You first need a plan. Your blueprint is your outline, or your rough synopsis, or whatever you use to help you think out how to get from your first scene to your last. Some people are “pantsers” and essentially create stories by the seat of their pants but even they usually have notes to help them. I am more of a “plotter” and develop outlines for the novel, scene summaries, and other plans to help me make sure I know what I’m going to build before I start. Personally I think this makes for a better story and reduces the amount of rewriting that needs to be done after your first draft is complete. The time spent planning your novel before you start is time well spent.

3: It takes more time than you probably think. You can read a book in a day or a week in your spare time. How much longer can it take to write those words rather than read them? A lot longer–trust me on this. Sometimes the words don’t come; often they must be revised, replaced, or simply deleted. My personal goal for writing a first draft is to complete one chapter (normally 3000-5000 words) a week. This is not terribly ambitious. Some fulltime writers can accomplish much more. Part time writers should expect to be able to do less. At my goal writing pace though, I should be able to complete a full novel with twenty to twenty-five chapters in about thirty weeks. And I write almost every day. And then there is editing and revising. Aspiring writers must be willing to sacrifice a lot of their otherwise free time in order to complete a novel.

4: Don’t forget research. But I’m writing fiction, you say. Why do I need to do research? I’m just making this stuff up. Fiction must be believable and almost all fiction will contain elements that are real. If a scene includes people riding horses or fighting with swords, you need to know something about horses and swords. Certainly some of your readers will and if you make a mistake in describing some detail, they’ll notice and it will ruin the story for them. Fortunately the internet can make the author’s research job easier but it still takes time and effort.

5: You don’t get paid for your work. Unlike a salaried job, in which you are paid for every hour of labor, productive or not, as a fiction novelist your effort yields no money until someone buys the end result. You are likely to work for months or years on a project and never see a penny from it — ever. You hope your novel will sell eventually though, but you must be able to accept that yours will not. A simple fact is that most novels never find a traditional publisher so don’t quit your day job unless you have another source of income.

6: Prepare to be brushed off or ignored. After you’ve completed your brilliant novel, you decide you will allow an agent or publisher the privilege of seeing it. You send queries and you wait. You wait some more. If you submitted on line or through email, a response may come within days, sometimes hours. Other times it will take months and it will be a rejection. Statistically, your chances of acceptance are only about one percent. Don’t think this means you just have to send out a hundred queries. Each submission is a separate event. And the responses you get probably will simply say your work doesn’t meet their current needs, or something equally unhelpful. What those current needs might be and why your masterpiece doesn’t meet them will remain a mystery.

7: You can’t give up. You submit and resubmit your story and you keep getting rejections. Once in a while, you may get a request for a partial first. But ultimately it’s another rejection. You have to be willing to accept whatever advice the rejections offer or, more likely, be willing to accept that the rejections offer no advice at all and keep trying despite your frustration, confusion, and growing sense of hopelessness. I won’t offer any platitudes here and say that eventually you will find the ‘right’ agent or publisher. Odds are you won’t. You have to be willing to accept it and keep trying anyway.

8: Accept that you are not special. But, you might say, these gloomy anecdotes don’t apply to me. I’m brilliant and I can write a best selling novel in a month, which will be accepted by the first agent I query and immediately be sold to a major publisher. Sorry. This does apply to you because only exceptional people write novels and almost all agree it is a lot of work and almost all get rejections. In a world of about seven billion people, you are just another one of the millions of exceptional ones who write. Those who eventually – EVENTUALLY – find a publisher are a minority. Most novels remain unpublished.

9: Be willing to try again. You’ve completed your novel and queried every agent and publisher on your list (which takes even more research) but to no avail. Okay. It’s time to write another novel and go through all the work, sacrifice, and pain again. Chances are, you’ve learned something the first time and your chances may be a bit better with the next one. But you have to accept that the result may be the same as before.

10: Consider alternatives. With the rise of electronic books, self publishing can be a viable alternative for you. You can now publish e-books through Amazon, Smashwords, and other places. Publication is free, but if you want to actually sell copies, you will probably need professionals to edit your book, design the cover, and promote it. These services can cost you hundreds or thousands of dollars, which you can’t expect sales of your e-book to offset. Just having your e-book available on Amazon does not mean you will ever see any sales.

So how important is writing to you? Would you continue to write even if you found it difficult, even if it took up most of your free time, even if it never earned any money, even if it actually cost you money? Can you deal with rejection after rejection and still keep writing? If you can, you’re either crazy or a writer. Welcome to the club.

Plotting and Pantsing

  There are two camps in fiction writing, one is often called “plotters.”  They plot out their novel before they start writing.  They outline it, create character and setting sheets, maybe even maps and diagrams, and know pretty much all of the major turning points of the story before they write their first draft.  The other camp is often called “pantsers.”  They have some idea of what they want the book to be about and just dive in at chapter one, developing the story as they go along by the “seat of their pants.”  Many writers fall somewhere in between.

There is no “right” way to write and most of the advice I’ve seen says to do whatever works for you.  I’ve tried both methods, and for short stories, I’m a pantser but for novels, I am most definitely a plotter.  The way that works best for you has as much to do with personality and background as anything else so if you are thinking about writing and are wondering how to attack it, here is a quick list of things you might want to consider:  plotter or pantser.

I think one of the reasons I’m a plotter is because my first real experience at fictional world building was as a dungeon master for the role playing game Dungeons and Dragons.  The dungeon master must do many of the things a writer must do; create a fictional world, populate it with characters and settings, have an end goal for the players to reach, and create clues they can discover to help them and obstacles they will encounter to hinder them.  Before my first D&D session as a DM, I worked for the better part of a year searching through rule books, and creating detailed maps, character sheets, and descriptions of the places and things the players were likely to encounter.  Because I had all of this done ahead of time, it made it much easier for me to present a coherent and consistent fictional world with which the player characters could interact when we actually played.

I approached my first novel much the same way; researching, developing character sheets, outlining the plot and subplot, doing maps, creating a timeline for key events, and establishing distances between places and calculating the time it would take to travel between them.  The major difference between a role playing game and a novel, I assumed, was that the major characters in a novel are created and controlled (for the most part) by the writer, and in the game the major characters are supplied and controlled by the players.  I quickly learned there are other differences as well but for plotting and outlining, the process for me was very similar.  I could not imagine being able to create a fictional world for a novel without doing all of this prep work up front.

I look at storytelling rather as building an imaginary house, one your readers will reside in for a while and, hopefully, enjoy while they are there.  The writer is both the architect and builder and plotters tend to separate those two functions.  Personally I think having a blueprint for the building or an outline for the story makes for a better final product.  There are master builders who are able to make a great home without a blueprint just as there are writers who can weave a great tale with a tight, coherent plot and no loose ends without an outline.  I just think it’s harder to do so and you risk ending up with something less than what it can and should be unless you do a lot of remodeling after you are “done.”

On Digital Books and the Evolution of Genre Fiction

I was listening to an obscure band, playing music in a relatively obscure musical subgenre last night on my MP3 player when I realized that before the age of digital music, I would never have heard either this band or this type of music.  It was simply too different, too outside the mainstream, and too risky for any music producer to take a chance on.  But the rise of digital music has led to the evolution of many new musical subgenres and I can’t help wondering if something similar might not be happening for fiction.

I think it may.  One bit of advice I saw recently for writers of e-books seemed counterintuitive at first but it reinforces this idea.  The advice? –  Don’t try to appeal to a broad audience.  Focus on your core group, those likely to be strong fans and don’t worry about pissing off those who aren’t, even if that’s the majority of people on the planet.

I’m not entirely sure, but this might not be bad advice.  It happened with music.  It split into a great number of subgenres and I doubt many of them appeal to more than a relatively small group — but those who like them, really like them.

So what does this mean for fiction?  Well, possibly the same kinds of things it meant for music but possibly even more so because almost everyone listens to music of one type or another but fiction readers are already a subset of the population and possibly more discriminating about what they read than most music listeners are about what they listen to.  Fiction readers are more like the audiophile subset of music listeners.

Here are a few possible impacts of the e-book revolution that come to mind.  Most of this is idle speculation, of course, but since the batteries in my crystal ball died, my prognostication abilities are somewhat limited.  Still, these seem to make sense to me.

Specialization – More books that focus on specific themes, tones, and moods within each genre will become available.  What this means for readers, as it did for music listeners, is that there will be works more likely to really appeal to them.  If you like science fiction novels with an introspective protagonist, told in a satirical tone, conveying a hopeful mood, and a humanistic theme, well, there just may eventually be a subgenre for that.

Genre melding – This is already happening.  There are fantasy detective stories, science fiction westerns, horror romances, etc.  Digital books, I think, are likely to fertilize such cross breeding and give rise to new subgenres mainly because it will be less risky to explore such mutations.

More books – More books will be published simply because authors can bypass the traditional gateways (agents and publishers) and publish their work for little or no money.

More variable quality – The downside of letting anyone in means, well, anyone can come in.  A lot of what gets e-published may do so with inadequate editing or review, meaning the reader can’t assume a minimal level of quality.  A lot of what becomes available may be overly verbose, deadly dull, full of errors, or even incomprehensible.

Smaller audiences – Highly specialized subgenres will appeal to fewer people so individual books and authors may have few readers.  The plus side, of course, is that these books and authors will be available to those readers where they were not before.

Larger audiences – No, this isn’t a contraction.  It is quite possible that the total number of people who read may increase as more books that appeal to them become available.  Most e-published books may have few readers but a lot more books will be out there.

Disdain for works with broad appeal – At one time there was a sentiment that if a song was played on the radio, especially AM radio, it could not be good.  It was “popular” or “pop” music, which, almost by definition, no serious music listener would bother with.  You sometimes come across this with books, although not as frequently.  The reason bibliophiles don’t normally disdain best seller lists, I think, is because, as I said before, book readers are already an elite group.  But if authors feel free to explore their art with less concern over popularity, you may see popular books being looked at the same way as pop music once was; it represents the lowest common denominator and appeals to those without cultured taste or much knowledge of the art form.  I personally think this is somewhat elitist because when all is said and done, different people like different things.  Taste in music or literature is a personal matter.  It’s like food in that way.  If you like beer better than champagne, who is to tell you you’re wrong?

Harder to find – With more books available, it may be harder to find things you really want.  First there is the quality issue as stated above.  The reader will have more to choose from, but much of it may be dreadful.  This can make the good stuff hard to find.  But even if you could weed out all of the stinkers, there will still be a lot of choices.  It’s like going to a Chinese restaurant with a huge menu.  It’s hard to decide because so much looks good but you can only pick one thing.  Deciding what you want most is difficult because there are so many options that sound good.  Unlike with the menu though, a lot of the book options, as is true now with music, are not obvious.  It’s like there are a bunch of addendums and footnotes with really fine print on the menu so you may have to search a lot more.  The most popular stuff will still be in big print on the first page, metaphorically speaking, but what you would like most may only found written in Mandarin on the back of the napkin under the soy sauce.  On the plus side, it is available somewhere.

There does not seem to be a lot of consensus on the benefits and drawbacks of e-publishing right now.  There are obvious issues, quality and piracy probably being the most troubling.   But I think, overall, the e-book revolution will certainly be good for readers.  I think it will also good for authors and for agents and publishers but not without some paradigm shifts.  Sometimes more is less but in this more is better.  More books, more published authors, more perspectives, more diversity, and more choices for readers.  Problems exist and I hope they are resolvable, but as both a reader and writer, I see the rise of digital books and e-publishing as a very good thing.

Oh–The band I was listening to was Magion, a progressive rock band in the subgenre of female fronted symphonic metal with Gothic metal influences — not as symphonic as say Epica or Nightwish — but I digress.  What can I say?  I like it.  You won’t hear it on the radio and you can’t dance to it but I like this stuff and yes, I did buy the MP3 album from Amazon and I don’t care that they will never make it on anyone’s top ten lists.

Write, learn, edit – just stick to it

  This time I’d really do it.  No more abortive attempts.  No giving up after one reject of a short story I took all of a month to write and thought was pretty good.  No, this time I was serious.  This time I was ready to be a fiction writer.  After all, I’d read a lot of it.  And I wrote as part of my paying job: correspondence, reports, studies, guidance, briefings, and things like that.  Okay, so it wasn’t fiction, not intentionally anyway, but it was writing.  It still had to present a point clearly and have decent spelling and punctuation.  Yep, I had everything to finally realize my ambition of being a published fiction author.

So when a major news story gave me an idea for a great plot for a novel, I decided now was the time.  I started working in my spare time on the idea and quickly did an outline, a rough synopsis, and timeline.  I wrote character sheets based on those I’d done for role playing games for all of the major and most of the minor characters.  And I started writing, doing a bit here and a bit there whenever I could make time–weekends, vacations, even during lunch breaks on those few occasions I could afford to take one.  After a few years, I had a couple hundred thousand words written of what I felt certain would be an instant breakthrough novel.  All I had to do now was get an agent and let them run with it.  I didn’t really care much about making much money from it.  I just wanted it to be read.

This is when reality hit me in the face in the form of two almost instant rejects from agents.  What was wrong?  I had done my homework.  I got a book from the library on how to submit a manuscript and I followed the standard format and even wrote a kick ass query letter.  The rejects were form letter emails and I wasn’t quite sure what they meant.  One told me simply that the project was not right for them.  The other said it didn’t meet the current needs of their list.  WTF?  I had a great and clearly unique novel and they didn’t even want to see it?  Okay, no problem.  Just a bit of polishing, right?   Maybe I should do a bit of research about the publishing industry first though.  Just to make sure.

I should have done this before I started writing.  Traditional publishing, I soon learned, is a highly competitive business and arguably in decline.  Agents reject over 99% of the submissions they get from new writers.  They know, statistically anyway, that the work of new authors needs more editing and is harder to sell than that of established writers.  Not only do new authors need a great first novel, they need something to make it and themselves stand out from all of the other great first novels.  I didn’t have a clue how to do that.  And the more I read about the industry, the more I suspected my great first novel might not actually be all that great.

But I had told myself that this was the time and I wasn’t about to give up so easily.  So I read even more about writing and publishing.  Some of it seemed contradictory but I learned a lot.  I joined a critique group.  I learned I needed a Twitter account to keep up with what agents and publishers were saying.  Did that.  I needed a website to get my name “out there.”  Did that too.  And I kept writing.

With my new insights, I went back to my original manuscript with a better ability to see what was good and not so good about it.  I reviewed my work as objectively as I could.  I realized I had made some common mistakes and had avoided some others.  All in all, I still had a pretty good first draft in my admittedly biased opinion.  Nothing I can’t fix.   I’ve made time for this, I’ve long wanted to do it, I’ve got things to say, and this time it will happen.

Beyond Genre – Novels and Emotional Needs

 I stated in a previous blog post that I thought tone and mood mattered more to me than genre and provided a far better indicator of whether or not I would like a particular book.  I’m not saying genre doesn’t matter; it just doesn’t matter as much.  In this post, I’m going to try to explore why that might be.  I assume others may also share my ranking of relative importance but since my sample size for this in one, my hypothesis is philosophical rather than scientific so I’ll treat this as a personal voyage.

As a reminder (so you don’t have to read the previous blog), the term mood describes the overall feeling of a literary work in terms of the emotions felt by the reader, and tone describes the way that feeling is expressed by the attitude of the author.

Fiction is an art form.  People feel something when they read it.  As with all art forms, it is this emotion that draws people to the work.  It may have intellectual aspects as well, which can enhance the experience; and increased knowledge about the art form can add to one’s appreciation of it, but it is the emotional impact that makes a person either like a particular piece or dislike it.

First, let me define the term “art form.”  I’m making this one up, not the term, the definition, so there is no compelling reason for you to agree.  It’s just my take on what all good art has in common.  For me, an art form is any stylized representation of some aspect of reality intended to evoke an emotional response from an audience.  That’s what makes a novel art, and a text book not.  Not that you can’t have an emotional response to a text book.  When in school, there were several text books I really came to hate but I seriously doubt the authors intended that.

That feeling the audience gets from art, whether it is a painting or sculpture, a piece of music, a film, or a novel, is ultimately what determines if they like it–not appreciate it–like it.  They like how it makes them feel.  You can appreciate how a painter uses color and texture or how a writer constructs scenes and characters but still not like the end result.  The work, despite all of its technical strengths may not touch you, it may not make you feel anything, or it may evoke feelings you don’t like or want at the time.

Consciously or unconsciously, people approach a work of art with the desire to feel something from it.  If the work meets their emotional need, they like it.  If it does not, they don’t.  But of course different people have different emotional needs at different times so a book they did not like ten years ago, they may find they like now and may not even understand why.  I think it is because their emotional needs have changed during that time.  The novel, after all, is the same.

In some ways, all art is a form of escapism.  This is especially true for novels, as well as movies and fictional television shows.  But the word escapism has negative connotations and is, I think, not entirely accurate.  People turn to fictional stories in books and movies to temporarily take their minds away from the pressures of their individual realities or to vicariously partake in something they may find missing in their real lives, but this isn’t so much to escape from their lives as to balance them emotionally.

To illustrate what I mean, let’s assume a person works every day at a dull job in which he has no real control over what he does or when he does it.  When he comes home, this doesn’t change.  Several things have to be done, whether it’s pick up the kids from school, drop them off at band practice, cook supper, pay the bills, mow the lawn, or fix something that broke the day before.  When he gets that rare moment of free time, how does he fill it?  Well, if he likes having no real control over his life, if he does not like making decisions, he may just turn on the TV news and watch more things he can’t really have much effect on.  His dull and impotent life doesn’t bother him and therefore doesn’t create an emotional need.  But if the necessity to always react to situations rather than control them makes him feel frustrated, a good novel with a protagonist who always takes charge of any situation, may be just what he needs.  It can help him feel things he does not often get to feel in his normal routine.  It can help balance his emotional life.  Whether the novel is an epic adventure, mystery, space opera, or western, doesn’t matter as much as the feeling of excitement and potency the mood of the novel provides.

The thing creating an emotional need does not have to be personal.  For example, someone who has more generalized frustrations about humanity in general, who is bothered by how people always seem to find excuses to harm one another or do really irrational and self destructive things, may turn to fiction to balance growing feelings of pessimism with books with optimistic and hopeful moods.

Escapism?  Maybe.  Therapy?  Perhaps.  Novels can fulfill an emotional need and are probably more effective and certainly less fattening than downing a six-pack.

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