Yesterday, Chuck Wendig wrote a post called Ten Things I’d Like To Say To Young Writers (the man likes his lists) and I think it’s good, solid advice. Me, I’d like to add two more things. Here goes:
Really study text that works.
Have a favorite short story? Retype it. A favorite novel? Type out that first chapter. There really is no substitute for retyping a whole mess of text–just reading it, even aloud, doesn’t bring the same focus. Then read it through with a yellow legal pad next to you and, every five pages, jot a line describing what happened.
How quickly does the book get to dialog? To the main characters? How quickly does the book describe what the main character is searching for, if it does at all? How much space on the page is given to description of people or places? How soon does the conflict start? Depending on the genre and the style of book, the answers can be quite different.
Best of all is to choose a successful book that is very like the one you hope to write. Study it. Try to get a feel for it, because:
Understanding how a piece of writing makes readers feel is the real prize
The universe is full of writers who crap on a keyboard and call it gold. Those people do not understand the way readers respond to their text; they know what’s in their head, they’re sure that’s what they put on the page, what’s wrong with readers/editors/agents/the world that they can’t see the awesome?
But, in fact, it can be very difficult to judge your own writing the way a reader will. We might hope the scene we just finished will be scary, or funny, or sad, but until we show it to complete strangers we’ll never really be sure.
What move people never say is that the ability to accurately understand the effect your own words will have on the reader is the first (and most difficult) step to becoming successful. So try to get a feel for your own books the way you do when you read the ones written by other people. Revisit stories you wrote the year before. Invite readers to tell you how they reacted to the story (but never what they think you should do.) Understanding those feelings are the way to mastery.
You guys know about Kindleworlds, right? It’s a system that Amazon set up some months ago to let people write, publish, and sell fanfiction based on established properties like The Vampire Diaries, Pretty Little Liars, GI Joe (not the movies) or “The World of Kurt Vonnegut” (and so on). All you have to do is follow the content guidelines and not suck. Complicated, right?
Well, today I discovered that there’s a Kindleworld license for Veronica Mars, but only for the years covered by the TV series. The content guidelines make it clear that anything taking place after the end of season three is verboten.
Yet again, I wish I could be prolific. It would be tremendous fun to tear off a quick VM whodunnit, preferably hammering at the class warfare aspects and digging into the private lives of some of the supporting characters. (Like Cliff! “These are my people, V.” I love that dude.)
Alas, I do not have the time for it. Even as a novella or something, it would take too much time.
Posting an audiobook segment to YouTube is a great idea. Give it a listen.
I took my son downtown to see a movie and we missed the start. So, to kill some time, we wandered into the Barnes & Noble to browse around and pick up some books. This is what we came back with:
EX-HEROES was for my kid; I’ve been pretty upfront about my distaste for zombies in all forms. The others were for me. You know what I didn’t realize until later that night when I took them out of the bag? They were all books by dudes.
It’s just too easy to stay in a comfort zone. It’s easy to stick with habits that we don’t even recognize as habits. I don’t talk about it much, but some time ago I decided that I was going to be more mindful about my book purchases; it’s super-easy to just buy books by all men. It’s pretty much the path of least resistance. Oops.
So I’m going to pull Dark Places off the shelf next. And I’m not doing it because it’s the right thing to do (although it is) or that it’s what other people think I should do (they don’t actually care). I’m doing it because carelessly limiting myself will weaken me when I need to make my writing stronger.
If you’re someone who only reads one type of writer, you should try new things, too.
In Spring 2013, I was invited to take part in the Walk The Fire 2 shared-world anthology and I thought writers write and they sell stuff i should say yes and make money. After confirming that this anthology would have more gender parity in the table of contents, I accepted. The Kickstarter made goal, I wrote the story, boom.
Except there was a problem. The editor explained that the story broke the guidelines. It took me a while to figure out why, but the speculative element in the setting was that people would step into a special sort of fire here and emerge from another fire elsewhere. Essentially, teleportation.
However, somehow I got it into my head that this was like a wormhole through spacetime, and that not only could they travel through space, they could travel through time, too.
Oops. I apologized, obviously, and offered to write a new story. The editor thought it might be best for me to hold off for the third antho, but I’d helped pitch the Kickstarter and I didn’t want readers to back a book I wouldn’t be in.
So I sat down and wrote an honest-to-god science fiction story (if you don’t count the teleporting fire thing) set in the far future. Last night I got a note from the editor saying they wanted to accept it without asking for changes.
That feels good. After spending two years on this stinking trilogy–not to mention KEY/EGG, which has languished on my hard drive since the dawn of time–it’s nice to have a short-term goal and payoff.
Via fastcodesign, the folks at MIT have tried to create a book with a crude virtual reality component: a programmable book and vest that supposedly makes the reader feel what the protagonist feels.
Follow the link if you’re curious how it’s supposed to work. There’s an embedded video, too, which I didn’t watch.
Personally, I would be embarrassed for any writer that used this technology. Text will already made the reader feel what the protagonist feels, if you do it right. That’s the point of books (well, one of the points) and having a vest that constricts, warms or cools to simulate emotions is just a distraction from the work a writer’s words are meant to do.
Yep, shocking but true. I spent decades of my life reading and writing, studying texts and story, and sweating over revisions of my own work only to hoodwink readers. You got me!
Or maybe I think that Amazon reviews are not especially important. Maybe I think an unknown number of the reviews are completely fake/done as a personal favor. Maybe a substantial number are written because the reader has some weird axe to grind that has little to do with the book at hand. Certainly many of the reviews are written by readers eager to share their honest opinions without much evidence that those honest opinions actually have an impact.
I’ve been trying to come up with a metaphor for this, but nothing seems right. Not every reviewer is being paid, so you can’t call it a whorehouse. Not every reviewer is friend or family to the author, so you can’t call it a theatrical review of a grade school play. Not every reviewer is a twitchy reactionary lunatic, so you can’t call it a recruitment session for the Libertarian Party (I kid, I kid).
I suppose I could ask if anyone reading this can think up an appropriate metaphor, but seriously, fuck you guys.
Yeah, I’m aware of the website http://www.authorearnings.com/, which supposedly contains the results of a big data-crunching project instigated by Hugh Howey. Apparently, a coder/analyst/whatever approached Howey with the idea of taking self-reported sales to Amazon sales rankings and using them to analyze Amazon’s bestsellers list to see which types of books (self/other/small press) do best for authors.
I say “supposedly” above because as I write this, high traffic has crashed the site. [Update: I accessed it a few minutes ago.] The only place to find the data at the moment is on Joe K*nr*th’s blog, and he’s added long exchanges with a straw man figure “Legacy John”.
Which… ugh. So. Much Smug.
As a so-called hybrid author who has self-published before and will self-publish again this year (thank you, Kickstarter backers) I’m interested in this analysis. Unfortunately, Howey and K*nr*th are not exactly the most trustworthy of sources. If confirmation bias were a medical condition, both men would have to be kept alive by a machine in some ICU somewhere. Anyway, the numbers are interesting but I’m reserving judgement on them until someone with more time and expertise picks them apart.
For folks who don’t know who Harriet Klausner is, a brief introduction. Here’s the full text of her review of my debut novel, CHILD OF FIRE:
In Hammer Bay, Washington, the ecomony is booming due to the toy factory; however, residents even those who work at the prime employer fail to realzie that some of their offspring can use magic.
Twenty Palace Society field agent Annalise Powliss hunts and kills rogue magic practitioners. Convicted felon Ray Lilly is her chauffeur, but they share a not so kind past as he betrayed her so he knows she plans to kill him at the most opportune time. The Society learns of the goings-on in Hammer Bay and led by take no prisoners Annalise plan to destroy the factory and kill anyone of any age who uses magic. However, the execution fails and Annalise is hurt; Ray must finish the assignment against a much more powerful sorcerer who sacrifices humans especially children to gain incredible amounts of power.
The key to this small town fantasy is the use of magic as collateral damage is not only acceptable it is preferable if needed to complete a mission. That premise ties the rogue and the Society together as innocent bystanders die in high numerical waves, which in turn brings a sense of realism to the exciting story line. The dysfunctional relationship between the driver and his boss enhances the tension of an exhilarating High Noon paranormal thriller.
All spelling infelicities in the original; this is just a cut and paste.
As Klausner’s reviews go, this one is better than average. Yes, it appears to have been written as quickly as possible with little regard for spelling or how it reads. Yes, some details are wrong; Ray isn’t anyone’s chauffeur, although he is driving the beater van at the start of the book. However, most of the plot details are correct, which isn’t always a given in Ms. Klausner’s reviews. However, she did give my book her lowest review: only 4 stars. For her, that’s practically a slam.
So, yeah. Her reviews are not insightful and some this year she will post her 30,000th on Amazon.com. That’s, er, a lot. I’ve heard that some times she posts as many as six reviews a day; how many books could you speed read in a day?
But whatever, right? No harm done… unless you’re the sort of person who’s Bothered By Things. See this 2012 “investigation” into Klausner’s reviews, which discovered that she received free ARCs from publishers, gives them positive reviews, then hands them off to her son to sell for COLD HARD CASH.
Nevermind that The Strand bookstore is floor to rafters with resold ARCs from other book reviewers. Nevermind that there’s no difference in what Klausner does and what other reviewers do besides scale. Apparently, she’s a woman reviewing badly for nefarious purposes and a group of people have begun to follow her around and badmouth her reviews. That link takes you to Sharon Lee’s new book Carousel Sun; how pleased would you be to discover that, on the week your book comes out, Internet Melodrama is breaking out on the book’s Amazon page that has nothing to do with the author. (Buy her book, folks, to help soothe that pain.)
[Edited to add: There are, as of this writing, 46 comments under Klausner's review, many justifying the decision to follow Klausner from page to page to taunt and mock her including one comparing her to Timothy McVeigh(!). Ugh.]
You might think I would be upset about what Harriet does–write universally positive reviews so she can continue to churn out incomprehensible reviews on books she’s barely skimmed for a few thin bucks, but once again you’d be wrong. My take is this: It’s a hard hard world. If she can make a few bucks (nobody is getting rich selling ARCs on fucking half.com) for herself and her family, and if publishers want to keep sending review copies to her, let them. As sins go, this isn’t half so terrible as the moving flame war hitting the Amazon pages of author after author.
Klausner-stalkers, find something useful to do. Advocate. Make something. In fact, Instead of reviewing Klausner’s work (fish -> barrel) write your own, and make them good. If your lives are so comfortable that a minor transgression like this annoys you so much, give thanks to whatever deity you worship and go volunteer at a food bank.
Because this thing where you follow a woman from page to page to insult her? That’s just sad.
You know how it is: you write things, you put them out into the world. Sometimes people like them, sometimes not. Worst of all, sometimes people just don’t seem to care.
But let’s imagine you’re a book reviewer who is becoming frustrated by the fact that you aren’t becoming as prominent as you used to be: What’s the next step? How do you give yourself the boost to prominence you’re hoping for?
If you answered: “Write better, more insightful book reviews and dare to be honestly controversial in a way that gets people talking,” you clearly need to be more entitled. Try this instead:
I operate on a Quid Pro Quo system. I will continue to promote authors that do the same for me. Not only that, but the more times promoted, the more buzz you will see. Tweet to your followers, post on Facebook, etc.
See, getting a review is a service provided to the author. If you mark her Amazon reviews as “helpful”, sign up for her newsletter, like her Facebook page, circle her on G+ and… oh christ time to start skimming this ridiculous list.
Anyway, “Bookiemonster” is frustrated that authors just aren’t meeting HER needs.
What I would (gently) suggest in response is that reviews are for the benefit of readers, not writers. Sure, it’s publicity, and yeah, it sells a few copies, but not many. Not many at all. I can see my own sales, and I know what the bump from a review looks like (spoiler: not large). Reviews are not for writers. In fact, a great many writers never ever look at their reviews. Not ever.
If you doubt that reviews are for readers, not writers, consider reviews in other fields: are film reviews just unpaid publicity? Nope, they exist to drive filmgoers to a newspaper (or whatever) so they can decide what to watch. Same for theater. What about critiques of art galleries? Nope. they’re an attempt to say something worthwhile about art, and to engage the aficionado on the subject.
It’s the same for books. Reviews are there to share an enthusiasm for the written word with other enthusiasts; in fact, a decent reviewer should excite readers with their expertise. This is about an exchange of ideas, not moving product.
You write reviews because you think there’s something worth saying to other readers. Maybe you think a book is wonderful. Maybe you think it’s toxic sludge. Maybe you think it’s emblematic of the sort of toxic sludge we see all too much of lately. Maybe it’s part of a movement that no one other than you has noticed. Maybe it reflects a certain kind of cultural change. Maybe you could talk about those things.
Or you could just write stuff like this:
The novel is witty, intense and keeps your interest from start to finish. It reads fast, I mean super fast and not that the book is short, it just reads that well. Nothing stumbled me. And that rarely happens. While some Zombie snobs may not like this book, I certainly did.
I also felt that prior to Mary becoming a prisoner in a walking dead corpse, her conflict with Azrael the Angel of Death was vague and undefined. More details on how Mary discovers Azrael’s scheme to take over the spirit realm would justify him sentencing her to an undead dungeon as well as her rage toward him.
Dead Boys was a welcome departure from what I find myself usually reading. Would I have picked it up had it not been submitted? Probably not. Why? Because short stories aren’t my normal thing. Simply because I enjoy investing the time to get to know the characters and follow a story through it’s arc. Penkas succeeded by giving me the appetizer, but I still wanted the main course. Thankfully, his concepts were intriguing and thought provoking enough to make the read satisfying.
You say your book review site is not as prominent as you’d like? Inexplicable.
I’m a writer. I put non-fiction on the blog and fiction in my books, and when they don’t sell or languish in obscurity, it’s not because someone didn’t hold up their end of the quid fucking pro quo. It’s because the thing I wrote didn’t earn it.
The same goes for reviewers. Your words will bring you the attention you deserve. If you feel you deserve better, do better. Be more thoughtful and original. Write with care and style (advice I could certainly bear to take myself). If some of your reviewers can’t manage that, let them go and put less (but better) content on your site.
But don’t come around with some quid pro quo, because ugh.
making books: mac hate mac love publishing Twenty Palaces words
by Harry Connolly
Like a lot of authors, I uploaded my self-published ebook to Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords a long time ago. The benefit of Smashwords is not the direct sales they make (which are pitiful) but that they distribute to many other book vendors who, generally speaking, sell only marginally better than Smashwords itself: Kobo, Flipkart(?), Sony, Oyster(?)… actually, you can tell that I haven’t visited my Smashwords Dashboard in a while because some of these I haven’t even heard of before. Yeah, they pay quarterly instead of monthly, and yeah, their “meatgrinder” requirements are tedious and annoying, but once the hoops are properly jumped through, they do what they’re supposed to do.
They also upload to Apple’s iBooks.
However, I recently pulled my books from iBooks distribution and created an iTunes Connect account. You have to be vetted by Apple and of course you can’t sell your book by simply uploading a file and filling in some data. Apple makes you download a special program to enter all the metadata, select the proper files, then upload in one go.
Why go to all this trouble? For this:
This year, we might be forced to buy two iMacs (low end ones, but still) to replace my rapidly-aging current equipment and I’m hoping we’ll qualify for the 20% discount for both.
Anyway, we obviously haven’t ditched Smashwords completely. It turns out that Flipkart is an ebook seller in India, which is nice since I refuse to let Amazon take a 65% commission or force my book into their Select program to sell there. Oyster turns out to be a subscription-based book service like Netflix or Spotify: users pay $X a month and read as many listed books as they like. I get my money if they read 10% of my book. (So hey, Oyster-users, why not slowly page through my ebook while you’re watching TV or something. My bank account will be grateful.) I’m pleased to be distributed to both services plus Kobo, plus Sony, plus whatever.
But I do my work on Apple computers and the savings I will get this Giftmas was worth a little extra fussing with the distribution of my books.