There are a lot of reasons writers quit writing, but this is perhaps the deadliest.
A conversation in a local coffee shop the other day sent my mind in a whimsical flurry back to where I was a handful of years ago. The point that nearly broke me as a writer, and it had nothing to do with finishing a first draft.
I was talking to someone about my off-grid cabin, the conversation slipped into my novels and content creation, and he mentioned a friend of his who had thrown in the writing towel fairly recently. The reason that person had quit struck me directly in the feels, because I've been there.
If you've be an advocate of self-publishing from the start, this might not resonate so much, but anyone who has tried to land an agent may know this devil in the details far too well. If you are a budding novelist, please take in the entirety of this article and let it simmer. Come back to it again if needed. This one mistake will most certainly sink any hope of a writing career, and you don't want to make it.
So the Story Goes
Many people think the first draft is the hardest part of writing a novel. The truth is that draft is the first in a series of hurdles that will continue for the rest of your life. This isn't a 100 meter dash, it's a steeple chase...that never ends.
My new friend recounted the story something like this:
A friend of mine wrote a book.
He spent a long time working on it. I don't know how you guys normally do things, but he was trying to get an agent and pitch the book to big companies. He finally ended up tossing in the towel.
Sound familiar? Let me quote you another little passage:
After pitching it to over 100 agents, ... I cut the sequel short, and had a lapse of "writer's block" for three years. Strike that, I let myself fail, for three years.
~McConnell - Finish the Damn Book!I had gone through exactly what this guy's friend had, and it took a pretty fired-up poker to get my butt back in the writing chair. I don't know if this young writer will experience the same, but I plan to meet with him someday and educate him more about the process.
The Little Dragon of Writing
Among a lot of other advice, one thing I was told over and over again in the early days of novel writing was that the first book is just that. The same root that causes this "writer's block" nonsense in the drafting phase (The seed of doubt, or the dragon's egg) spawns something far darker and scarier in the editing phase. Looking back on your own words after writing 100,000 is pretty daunting. But even that is nothing but the hatching of a baby dragon that will learn to breath fire as you enter the querying phase.
When you start to query, if you're smart, you'll have your query letter torn apart by other writers. They will question the merit of your story as an agent would. They'll drill you about the stakes, the plot, and how dull you make the whole thing sound. They'll stab at your ability with hopes that the book isn't as boring as your query letter
But all of this is good. You hammer down the query and perhaps revise a few things in your manuscript. You probably put in another round of editing just for good effect, and you're ready to face the dragon that is rejection.
My first novel was rejected over 100 times, mostly on the strength of the query letter alone. Without sending a response, these people told me that my story sucked without ever reading it.
This has happened before, and it'll happen again, maybe to you! I can think of one blog follower that's reading this right now with her eyes sharpened to my every word. For you, I'll drop a little hint here: Be ready for rejection. Expect it. Welcome it. Write the next book.
The cloud of darkness during the submission process can be daunting. Ask me how many of my stories have been tossed out by almost every literary mag that exists before I got a tiny spot in an upstart mag for the second year in a row. Not exactly a Nobel Prize, but it's a little feather in my cap.
By the time you've worn yourself out sending matched queries to agent after agent, been torn apart by your peers, and look upon your shiny new script with scorn, a little piece inside of you will die. An alchemist would call this step putrefication or calcination. A phoenix can only rise from dead ashes.
Rebirth, New Life, New Stories
So the dragon gave you a good roasting. So what?
Even before I got back into writing again, I encountered a ton of good advice to supplement the bad. It wasn't enough, but I'll share some of it with you now, just so we're on the same page.
It would be wrong not to paraphrase my favorite Steven Pressfield story here. After his first movie hit the theaters, the reviews came in, and it sucked. He even drove out of town to see how it was playing in other theaters. Same result.
He asked the guy at the ticket booth, "How's King Kong Lives?" (did I get that title right? Doesn't matter) The register jockey gave him a big thumbs down and replied, "Miss it, man. It sucks."
After talking with his mentor, he was given the option. Take a few knocks and keep writing, or quit. Thanks from all of us, Steven, that you kept writing.
We all get crushed. We get hard knocks. Our egos get beat down and withered. Those hi-toned authors at the last con may dress themselves with a confident facade, but trust me, they have plenty of skeletons and monsters in their closet too.
One friend of mine landed a deal with a publisher, through an agent, and his book went out of print a year later. Writing is the kind of job where you face rejection and harsh words all the time. The more successful you are, the more people there are in the world that hate your work. It goes with the territory.
The silver lining in all of this is that you aren't standing on the sidelines, or shouting from the nose-bleeds. You're down there in the mud, bleeding your heart into something you love. So screw the haters. You have two choices. You can keep writing. Or you can quit.
Greatness courts failure.
~Tin CupActually, I encourage you to look up that scene on YouTube. There's a lot of wisdom in very few lines... here you go:
How to Carry On
Keep writing. It's that simple. If you have to shelf the first novel, or second, or tenth, then who cares? Some of us put our work on WattPad. Some self-publish. Some start their own media companies, or do freelance work for a while. Some of the best shit that I've ever written doesn't have my name on it, and I made less than minimum wage writing it. But it's out there in the world, helping people live their lives while helping others build their businesses. The goal of every story is to last, to be told and heard, to be repeated, and to live on.
Some stories stay small and local, others go big time. It's not a mark against you. It's just what the market is shopping for that day. Don't be let down by rejection slips, failed queries, and all of this other nonsense. Start writing another story. If you played the agent game and got burned, then welcome to the fucking club! You're doing what you're supposed to be doing. You didn't fall for a predatory publisher, and you finished a freaking novel. Give yourself a pat on the back, and start on the next story.
I don't recommend framing your first story as a trilogy, even if it has the potential, for that reason. You're first story is akin to your first painting, your first gig as a musician, your first marathon, or your first day at a new job.
Yes, writing a novel takes a while. Editing takes longer, and marketing is a frickin' nightmare. Embrace it. Keep telling stories, keep honing your writing, and get on the path that YOU are meant to be on. Don't worry so much about the cookie-cutter professional publishing thing. You can always submit new books to new agents, and perhaps one day you will land one, but keep telling stories. If you stuck it out through one novel, you can write another one, and the next one might be better than the first.
Keep learning. Keep growing. Drive your own plot.
I had a family member to give me the kick in the ass I needed to write the Incorporated series, which led me to the original publisher for Viral Spark. Don't count on having that. If you need to be kicked in the pants, I'm here, and I have a heavy pair of boots. Shoot me an email. But it's far better for you to realize that getting kicked in the teeth is part of the game. So what? Move on. You have other stories to tell, and if you don't, the world will never see them, and they'll die. ... or quit. But understand now that quitting will be your own choice. You can't unread this article, and now you know that this is something that ALL of us go through at some point. Slaying these little dragons is part of the job.
Martin McConnell, author of Finish the Damn Book!, holds a Physics degree from SIUE, and when he isn't writing speculative fiction, he's motivating other authors, stargazing, reading, or playing Kerbal Space Program. He avidly encourages everyone he meets to seize control of their dreams by driving their own plot. You can find him on twitter @spottedgeckgo or at his website writefarmlive.com.
You’ve written your first book or your tenth book, the amount doesn't matter—how do you get your book in the hands of readers? Book signings? Pitch to local bookstores? Libraries? Social media? Advertising on social media or on Amazon?
If you’re counting on social media, you could be banned in an instant. Recently, you may have heard on the news several prominent users with millions of followers were banned from Facebook and Instagram. If you were to be banned from social media would you still have a way to communicate with your readers? You can’t count on social media, but you can count on your email list that you’ve built by sending out blog posts (a.k.a., newsletter, articles, updates).
What’s the first thing you see when you go onto a website? It’s that annoying “Sign-up for our email/newsletter/list” – it pops up or swooshes in from the side or it takes over the screen. Sure they want you to receive their content, but more importantly, they want to know where they can reach you.
I’m signed up to receive emails from some big-name authors. Yes, even the big names want your email address so they can still reach you if something goes awry with any or all other marketing channels. The email list is golden.
How do you get an email list? Blogging from your website or a blogging platform (many how to videos on YouTube, look for recent videos as services change). Email services are typically free until you reach a certain number of subscribers. I began blogging before I published my first novel, everything I’d read said blogging was a must. It’s a conundrum for authors—with nothing published what would you blog about and why would anyone sign up to receive something from you? You have to start with friends and family.
Blog about what inspires you. Something drew you to write in your genre; think hard, what inspires you? Is there a specific era or event? Maybe there’s a location? Paris, France has been the inspiration for many romance novels.
Let’s say you write historical romance inspired by Paris. You could blog about Paris and drill it down to specifics. What was happening in Paris during the time period you write about? Was there a street you fell in love with when you vacationed there? In my case, I write in the mystery/thriller genre. Because I worked in public education, school crime inspired me. I blog about my school crime research. Blogging about research is fun and most authors have a plethora of research.
How about zombie apocalypse genre? You may have pondered what if people in Chicago, Illinois, were infected with a virus that turned half the population into zombies? Actually, that may have been Bird Box. Okay, let’s use Bird Box as an example of what to blog about. You could write about the city setting which inspired the city in the story, and the same for the grocery store, the bird’s behavior, the river, the cabin, the bird sanctuary, etc.
A word of caution—when you do blog, keep it relevant to your books. If you write war stories, blogging about your passion for cooking will not help you get your war stories to your target audience.
Here’s where I’m guessing you feel like this is too much. There’s a bonus I didn’t know when I started blogging—your writing will improve because it doesn’t matter if you’re writing novels, articles, or blog posts, it all helps to improve your writing.
Lastly, run your blog posts through a grammar and spelling check the same as you would for your full novel (or have Word Refining proofread them for you). I use Grammarly for blog posts and love it, here’s a link to the free version (I’m not an affiliate – I just love it). Grammarly
So to blog or not to blog--YES! Blog and be consistent and cohesive. If you say, you’ll send out your blog post every Saturday, stick to it. Steven King sends out an email about every six months or when he has news.
Email me if you need help deciding on what you should blog about or how to blog in general. We can figure it out together—authors helping authors—with no strings attached. Robin@RobinLyons.com
About Robin Lyons, Author
Robin Lyons writes mystery/thriller stories based on disturbing reality.
The concept for her School Marshal series came about after a beloved school principal and friend in her hometown was gunned down in his office by an employee. The loss felt by the school district and community was tremendous. The tragedy changed Robin's view of life in a small town.
Check out the Research Blog where she shares information from researched cases, true crimes occurring at or connected to schools.
Twenty-nine years working as a school employee and six years as an elected school board member provided plenty of inspiration for her stories. www.robinlyons.com/
#blogpost #blogging #blogcontent
No matter what kind of author you are, querying agents can be a pretty arduous process — especially if you’ve never done it before! You’ve probably heard different bits of advice here and there, so you may not be sure what the correct protocol is. After all, a query letter is supposed to perfectly encompass your book in such a way that agents will be squabbling to take it on — a tall order for what should only be a single page of persuasion.
That’s why I want to help you get this process exactly right. Here are five tips and tricks for querying agents that will start you down a path to success.
1. Keep your synopsis short and snappy
When trying to fit a lengthy book into a page-long query letter, it’s hard to know what to include vs. leave out. You might be tempted to dive deep into your book: covering not just the main characters, but the secondary characters, subplots, and underlying themes you feel are important.
But your query synopsis is not the place to do this! When querying, it’s crucial to keep the summary of your book as short and snappy as possible. Otherwise, agents may not even read it — or if they do, they probably won’t remember it. And nothing’s a one-way ticket to an agent’s “reject” pile like an unmemorable synopsis.
When crafting your own, remember that there are three parts to a great query synopsis: the hook, the key plot points (read: not all of them), and the wrap-up, all of which should take up about a page. You likely already have some idea of what a hook is: it’s the most exciting or original aspect of a work, the thing that makes it stand out from the crowd. For example, if you were Alice Sebold writing a synopsis for The Lovely Bones, your hook would be, “Narrated from beyond the grave, this book tells the story of Susie Salmon, who’s killed by her neighbor but can still see him — and all her friends and family — from heaven.”
Following this would be the key plot points, which should be 3-5 sentences at most. You’d round it off with some kind of resolution, which I’ll talk about next. And bonus tip: if you can convey your writing voice in your synopsis, that’s even better. Just make sure you’re not doing so at the cost of brevity (which is the soul of wit, after all).
2. Include the ending
One of the most common misconceptions about querying is that you shouldn’t include the ending of your book, because you want to “always leave them wanting more,” as P.T. Barnum supposedly said. But, just like that quote being misattributed, the sentiment isn’t exactly sound when it comes to querying.
The truth is, most agents don’t care about story endings being “spoiled” for them — in fact, it’s encouraged, especially if you have a great ending. After all, agents who don’t have the time or patience to read through a long-ish synopsis certainly don’t have the time to read your entire manuscript just to find out your ending and decide to represent you. So even if you have the best twist ending in the world, don’t use it to bait agents without telling them what it is: just reveal it outright in your synopsis.
3. Use effective comp titles
On top of your hook and ending, another great way to sell agents on your book is to use comp titles. What are comp titles, you ask? Well, you’ve probably already used them: if you’ve ever described a book, film, or other piece of media as “[Thing A] meets [Thing B],” then you’re a regular comp title connoisseur!
As you can surmise from this, comp titles compare something relatively unknown (or unknown to the party being addressed) to things that are well-known or successful in their field. So if you’ve written a magical adventure novel that takes place on a desert island, you might pitch it to agents as “Earthsea meets Robinson Crusoe.”
However, there are two critical things to avoid when using comp titles to describe your book. The first is choosing comp titles that are super-famous and popular today — it would set expectations way too high. For example, you wouldn’t want to compare your book to Harry Potter and Divergent.
The second is that you usually don’t want to compare your book to two other titles that are very similar — e.g. “Robinson Crusoe meets Swiss Family Robinson” — because it doesn’t provide a particularly notable take. You’re basically just saying, “My book is part of this genre, same as these other two books,” which the agent should be able to figure out by themselves anyway.
Remember that your comp titles should make your book seem unique, yet identifiable within the literary canon. Moreover, if you use comp titles really effectively, your agent might even pitch your book that way to publishers — and your publisher could use those same comp titles to attract readers down the line! So think carefully about your comp titles, because they may end up going a long way.
4. Query selectively
If you’ve ever written a book (and if you’re reading this article right now, I’m guessing you've at least gotten started), you know that the finished product takes some serious blood, sweat, and tears. In fact, it’s like a child to you at that point — and you wouldn’t let just anyone take care of your child, would you?
By that logic, you shouldn’t let just anyone handle your book. You want someone who will actually care about it, and who has experience with your genre or subject matter— just as you would want someone with previous childcare experience to look after your child. (At least, I hope you would.)
So when you’re deciding how many agents to query, and what conditions they should meet, keep quality over quantity in mind. If you really do your research into each agent’s mission statement, the books they typically represent, their greatest past successes, and their current demand, you should be able to find a small but superlative pool of agents to contact. Personalizing your query letter accordingly would be your next step.
Trust me, this will lead to much better results than sending out a mass query to every agent’s email you can find! If you put the work into your research, you’ll get someone who’s actually invested in your work, and you’ll be that much closer to getting a publishing deal.
5. Follow up
Finally, if you don’t hear back from an agent who seems like they’d be a great fit for you and your book, follow up with them! Of course, sometimes agents take a long time to sift through their emails, and their not getting back to you might simply just be a product of that. But if it’s been a couple weeks and you haven’t heard anything, you’re well within your rights to send a brief follow-up email. That follow-up could be the difference between an agent you settle for and an agent who’s your professional soulmate.
If querying doesn’t go well, or you’re getting frustrated with how long the traditional publishing process takes, don’t fret: you have more options on the table, like self-publishing (which Clayton also details in this post). Or you can go back and revise your book for another round of queries — especially if some agents offer you feedback to that end. Basically, don’t give up on your dream of publishing your book: no matter what path you ultimately take, there’s always some way to make it work.
Desiree Villena is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors and publishers with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers. In her spare time, Desiree enjoys reading contemporary fiction and writing short stories. She's very passionate about independent publishing and hopes to help as many aspiring authors as possible reach their dreams! If you have any comments or questions for her, please leave them below, or you can reach her via email.
This post is a basic overview, and is aimed at helping those who are writing, or who have written a book, and would like to see it published.
While this post focuses on self-publishing with Amazon, I’m going to briefly cover the three most common avenues to publishing.
Traditional publishing- For an unknown author this method requires the most effort and often yields the least results. Querying agents to represent you to traditional publishers is not only time consuming, but it can be demoralizing as well—prepare for rejection. I finally gave up on finding a better than thou publishing agent when I learned that the odds of an unpublished author landing one, is roughly 1 in 6,000. I was given that number by a professional in the publishing industry.
The Vanity Press- A vanity press is a publisher that, if you pay them, they will publish your book. We’ve all seen the TV commercials: ‘Have you written a book and want it published? Call us, we’ll publish your book and get it in bookstores everywhere.’ Once it’s published, they will also market your book, and you will receive zero royalties from the books they sell. Leaving the author with a slim market margin to sell and receive their own royalties. If you want to make any kind of money from publishing and selling your book, this is not the way to go.
Self-publishing- This option will likely leave you less frustrated, less demoralized, and more optimistic. It did for me. Self-publishing puts the author in complete control of their book, from formatting, to cover design, to marketing and making money from their work.
The outline below will lead you down the pathway to self-publishing your book. Take one step at a time, focus on the task at hand, and you can have your book published and available for purchase sooner than you might think. It's very possible to go from blank page to published book in less than 90 days.
1. Write the Book. While this may seem like a no-brainer, it actually isn’t. In reality, if you want to have a successful book launch, one where you sell copies as soon as it goes into print, then marketing your book is the official first step. I’ve heard it said that if one plans on publishing a book, they should begin marketing three years, or more, in advance. This gives the author time to build a fan base and for people to become familiar with them and their work. When the book comes available, there will be a multitude of people anticipating its release, leading to immediate book sales. This post, however, is about getting your book published, and in order to do that, you must first write your book.
If you need help, or ideas for writing, do a search, there are countless articles on this topic. You may also consider something like the #WritersCommunity on twitter, it is a great place to find writing advice, encouragement, and support from other writers. And it’s free!
2. Proofread. Once your book is written, you’ll undoubtedly want to read through it for mistakes, but be not deceived. A once through will not suffice. It’s common to write something, and since we’ve written it, we think we know what it says, making it very easy to read over the same mistakes time and time again. I have read some of my books a dozen times after the initial draft, only to have someone else read them and find mistakes.
It's been said that you don’t have to write a good story in order to sell your book, your book just has to be well written. This means very few (if any) typographical and grammatical errors. Freckle a book with typos, misused words or forms of words, punctuation errors and other common writing mistakes, and we have a book that no one will likely ever finish reading.
Having a professional set of eyes to proofread your book before publication, is the best thing you can do for your writing. You spent all the time and effort writing the book, make sure it’s the best it can be, hire a professional proofreader, it’s money well spent—it’s an investment!
My last book was proofread by Mark Schultz at wordrefiner.com. I also plan on hiring him to proofread my future books. He provides a professional service, he has an eye for errors, and his rates are completely reasonable.
3. Cover Design. While your book is in the hands of a proofreader, you’ll want to get to work on the cover.
Note: if you plan on marketing your book before it’s published, or even written, mocking up a cover for a visual representation is one of the first things you should do. Even if it’s subject to change. You will need something for people to see and become familiar with.
By the time your manuscript is complete, you have undoubtedly thought about what you want the cover to look like. There are a couple options when it comes to cover design. You can hire someone to do it, or, you can design the cover yourself. The online tools available today, make the second option a realistic prospect, check out DIY Book Covers.
It’s also very easy to make a professional book cover using a graphic design program and a free book cover template from amazon. Don’t want to purchase an expensive program? Here’s a link to a great program that many Indie Authors use to design their covers, it’s FREE to download and use, get it here GIMP! It’s the perfect alternative to Adobe PhotoShop, and as I mentioned, it’s free. There are endless YouTube videos on how to create a cover using Gimp, everything from retrieving and uploading a cover template, to program functions, and putting it all together.
If you are looking for a professional cover designer, I recommend checking out Ellie Douglas. Her cover designs are outstanding, they’re high quality and they stand out. She has a knack for creating great covers.
However, if you’re like many Indie Authors, the thought of designing your own cover is an exciting prospect. The easiest way to do this is to sign up on Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). You’ll first need an Amazon account to sign up and access the cover creator tools. I have not used their cover creator tools, I simply download a template (from KDP) and load it into my design program. In order to create a cover, you’ll need a page count of your book, which you now have since your manuscript is complete.
DIY Book Covers, or the KDP cover creator tools may be the way to go if you want to design your own cover, but have no experience with a graphic design program.
You will want high quality images for your cover, this will likely require using one of the image download services to ensure that you don’t infringe on the copyright of a picture. I personally buy my images from Shutterstock. I found them to have the best purchasing options for my needs.
If you have a good camera, taking your own pictures for your book cover is another option.
If you’re looking for a professional, custom-designed image, I recommend checking out Desha001 at fiverr.com. He is the best illustrator I have found, bar none. His illustrations are high def. between 300 and 600 dpi and his rates are totally reasonable.
4. Purchase an ISBN. Note: eBooks do not require an ISBN. If you plan on making your book available exclusively on Kindle, you do not need an ISBN.
Amazon will also assign your paperback a FREE ISBN if you wish. However, that ISBN is only good for Amazon. If you want to sell your book elsewhere, you will have to purchase an ISBN.
For this, you will need to open an account at Bowker.com, this is the place where you can purchase ISBN’s, bar codes, and start your copyright application. Bowker can also assist in book marketing. Sign up for their newsletter and you’ll receive all sorts of great information on self-publishing, launching a book, and successful marketing tips. Bowker is where a lot of the magic in self-publishing takes place.
Note: It’s not necessary to purchase a Bar Code from Bowker. Amazon will place one on the back cover of your book for free. When you order author copies of your book, the Bar Code will be there.
5. Copyright Application. While you’re on Bowker, it’s a good time to purchase a copyright package for your book. They charge $79 for the initial fee, the US Copyright Division charges another $55 for filing. This is the best deal I have found for a copyright service and here’s a hint, if you place the copyright into the shopping cart and sign out, Bowker will send you an email within a day, containing a coupon for $10 off your copyright. That’s a good time to sign back in and purchase it.
It takes a few steps, but broken down, it is relatively easy to submit your work for a copyright. It’s also a crucial part in publishing your book. You want the protection of a legal copyright.
6. Upload on KDP. You’re now ready to publish your book. If you already signed up on KDP to access Amazon’s cover creator tools, or download a cover template, all you have to do is sign into your Amazon bookshelf. If you haven’t yet done so, you’ll need to sign up on KDP at this time, it does require an Amazon account.
On your Amazon bookshelf, you’ll be able to upload your manuscript, book cover, write a description, set a price, monitor sales and more. They even provide you with marketing tools and a barrage of information, covering most anything you will want to know.
Closing. This post was written to help aspiring authors (who would like to self-publish on Amazon) place things in order and gain perspective. This has been a broad-brush overview of the steps to self-publishing. I will cover each of these steps more in depth as I go through them with my latest book.
Thank you for reading, and happy writing!
Will a few misspelled words, missed or extra commas, or run-on sentences really affect your image as a writer and your book reviews? Are readers really that picky or even that knowledgeable on proper grammar?
The answer is a resounding—Yes! Readers are in fact that picky, and way more of them than you realize are that knowledgeable on proper grammar. Readers can be highly critical, especially of books written by new authors. Why do you think it’s so difficult to get a publishing contract with traditional publishers?
As an editor and grammar nerd, I see mistakes all the time on websites, social media, and published books. It’s very unfortunate, because these mistakes can ruin an author’s or website’s credibility. Think about it. Would you put your trust in a medical or news website if the content was riddled with misspelled words and grammar mistakes? Likely not.
Likewise, book readers do not want to be overwhelmed by a huge flux of books filled with mistakes because the author either didn’t proofread before publishing or put too much faith in their own ability to find their mistakes.
If authors could separate themselves enough from their own work to do a truly proficient job of proofreading, then the big name publishers would save money by having the authors do it themselves instead of paying high salaries to highly educated and experienced proofreaders and editors. The truth is, authors are too emotionally and mentally attached to their own work to look at it objectively the way an unfamiliar reader can and will.
Indie and self-published authors, it's very important to remember that mistakes found in your books will reflect in your reviews. These reviews can make a huge difference in your career. But it's also imperative to keep in mind that those reviews do not just affect you. They affect every self-published/indie author!
The publishing world has seen an astronomical boom in self-publishing over the last decade. With so many writers doing their own publishing, it is beginning to reshape the quality level of books for readers.
I almost always read reviews before I purchase a new book. I recently read a few reviews left on Amazon for some self-published authors that were overall not good. One of them was asking Amazon to please put a stop to letting all of the "wannabe writers" from publishing just anything.
Have you stopped to think what if Amazon, or other book marketers, decided to listen to these requests and took more seriously the negative reviews? What if enough readers got fed up with the high amounts of poor quality books available and all-together stopped purchasing books produced by self-published/indie authors? The effects of that would be devastating to thousands of authors.
In a world as advanced as ours, anything could happen. It can't be stressed enough— proofread, edit, and repeat with a different set of eyes before you publish. Don't write "The End" then hit publish. That's a fast track to a bad review that reflects on all self-published/indie authors worldwide.
How your book looks and reads for the general public expresses how you, the writer, look to your readers and potential readers. Do you want them to see you as a serious, professional writer or a no-talent amateur? Do you want them to see all self-published/indie authors as a serious breed of writers or a class of low-quality amateurs?
When enough self-published/indie authors decide to skip the editor/ proofreader or don't take enough time to make a serious effort themselves on it, and when they don't take the time to properly learn their craft and genre in order to write well-crafted story lines, then the world of readers gets the impression that self-published/indie authors are not real, professional writers. That's not the impression we want our readers to have.
Do yourself and the world of self-published/indie authors a favor and hire an editor and proofreader. It’s worth the expense. If you can't afford it, then find a fellow writer that might like to swap manuscripts for editing and proofreading—but sample their editing work first to make sure they know what they're doing.
I am still accepting submissions for editing, proofreading, cover designing, and self-publishing assistance. I believe every author should have a clean, polished, professional quality book regardless of their budget. That's why I do everything I can to make sure that the author can afford my services. My prices are competitive with industry standard rates. I have an author assistance program that consists of a payment plan and discounts on select services if necessary.
You can read about my business and check out all of my services on my website www.tsarinapress.com. If you have a book that’s getting bad reviews for grammar mistakes and typos but were positive you published a clean book, your readers are most likely right. I’ll be happy to take a look at the book for you to assess it and let you know what I find. Use the contact page on my website or message me through Facebook to set up an appraisal.
Editor and Book & Cover Designer
You need to strengthen your voice.
This obnoxious sentence makes writers want to poke their own eyes out with an unsharpened pencil. An unassuming, simple sounding criticism, the words frustrate us, and for good reason. The obvious response, “okay, how do I fix that?” is invariably met with a shrug and an ambiguous, useless retort.
“It’s a matter of experience,” they tell us. Or “you just have to write until your voice emerges.” My personal favorite is “I can’t define it, but I know it when I read it.”
Yeah. Super helpful. Thanks so much.
As writers, we’re eager sponges, with a desperate urge to hone our skills. We rarely approve of our best efforts, and when we encounter criticism, we take it seriously. But what hope do we have when the people who point out the problem can’t even define it, let alone tell us how to fix it?
I’ve read plenty of blog posts, articles, and books on voice. Most fill the pages with endless contrasting examples of ‘good voice’ and ‘bad voice’. “See?” they proclaim. “Do it like this. Not like this.”
I’ll take it on faith that I’m dense, but this approach did nothing for me. The burning desire to improve remained, and seeing examples of ‘good voice’ was akin to showing a starving squirrel an oak tree surrounded by an electric fence.
What I needed was for someone to connect the dots, and no one could pull it off.
That’s when I decided to stop looking for other people to solve my problems, and do it myself.
To start, I had to set aside my frustration and admit that the vague advice I’d read on the subject of voice wasn’t without clues. The most important of these was “good voice is confident.” I started with that.
Unfortunately, the solemn wisdom didn’t extend much further than that. When offering advice on how to achieve this magical confidence, the ensuing suggestion was “you have to believe what your character is saying. It’s like method acting.”
Yeah. Writer here. Not an actor.
Nevertheless, I thought about it for a while and decided that maybe there was more there than what I saw at first glance. I turned to my favorite device: identifying a suitable model to compare it against. I asked myself “Who is confident?”
Well, leaders for starters. So why not look into leadership techniques, and see where that goes?
We’ve all read that the primary quality of intuitive leaders is a decisive, unshakeable belief in what they’re saying. Much like the advice offered above, the leader believes what they say.
With that as my starting point, I dove headfirst into the challenge, and happily, it took very little time to discover quite a few pearls of wisdom at the bottom of the uncertain sea called the Internet.
Luckily, there have been quite a few studies regarding the speaking style of leaders. Numerous articles pointed out that if one parses a leader’s words, a number of specific, quantifiable tactics emerge.
Don’t Equivocate. It’s okay to be judgmental
It’s shocking how often writers convince themselves that their protagonist is “only human”, and that it’s perfectly reasonable that they would experience moments of uncertainty. The problem is that readers don’t want this in their heroes. We all know that.
But do we, as writers, remain true to that premise? Look at your narrative. How often do you fill your writing with equivocations like:
must have, sort of, that kind of, a little, probably, he guessed, sometimes, she believed, she thought, perhaps, as far as he was concerned, most, a lot, might, can, could be, she assumed, reminded him of, tends to?
It’s all too easy to thoughtlessly sprinkle phrases like these into the narrative, introducing doubt and uncertainty through the eyes of the POV character. You need to jettison the caveats.
Imagine your character is a scientist researching a cure for cancer. Her peers are hot on the trail of a new form of gene therapy, but our erstwhile heroine is convinced they are chasing a red herring. In the narrative, you might write:
She didn’t think they had it right.
It’s a simple, direct sentence, and it reflects her genuine uncertainty, so what’s wrong with it? Well, everything if our readers want confidence. Heroic protagonists are manifestly sure of themselves, and the sentence above is far from decisive. Stronger would be:
They knew nothing, and people would die while they wasted their time.
The difference is stark. The narrator is confident, maybe even judgmental and arrogant. The bold statement, presented as fact, may prove right or wrong, but the narrator took a stand, and that’s what readers want. They want the hero who surges defiantly into the face of adversity and dissent.
The list of equivocation phrases above isn’t exhaustive, but if viewed through the lens of under-confidence, a clear pattern emerges, and armed thus, examples take on actual meaning.
Most reasonable people understood that what she was doing – walking outside during a hurricane – was dangerous.
We watched her sauntering up the street into the teeth of the storm, wondering how long it would take for a falling branch to crush her skull.
The little boat bobbed on the waves, reminding him of a child’s toy.
The little boat bobbed on the waves, a bathtub toy in a dangerous ocean.
In these examples, the narrator shifts from making reasonable assumptions to stating bold, judgmental truths. From equivocation to decisiveness. From the caveat-laden language of reasonable people to the unshakeable declarations of a person with convictions. The changes are relatively subtle, but nonetheless important.
Comparing them, the former are the phrasings of uncertain followers, while the latter are the confident judgments of leaders.
Don’t Babble or Justify
Leaders are also succinct. They understand that excess words take longer to process and invite critics to pick at the details, and these things undermine the faith that followers have in them.
If you think about it, long explanations or justifications sound as if the speaker is unsure of themselves, and trying to talk themselves into something. Followers always want to believe that leaders know what they’re doing. That’s why people follow them.
Leaders speak in short, punchy, memorable chunks. They state simple truths and reach quick conclusions.
Writers often embed constant justifications into the narrative. They justify this by claiming that it is necessary in order for the reader to understand the character’s motivations.
Give your readers a little credit.
As an example of both babble and justification in one paragraph, consider:
Harvey’s finger hovered over the ‘buy’ button. There was a lot riding on this. Fifty thousand was only half of the total he’d embezzled from the company’s retirement account, but if Optronics split at the opening bell, he could slide the profits in through operating cash budget. No one needed to know. In less than a day, he could erase his crime. There would be no need to explain that the insurance hadn’t covered Lorraine’s medical bills. No need to explain his responsibilities as a husband and father. The risk had been worth it, and he’d do it again if he had to. But none of that mattered now. The worst was over, and all he had to do was take this one last risk.
I know a lot of writers who’d go much farther than that, endlessly rehashing information that had doubtless been provided in previous scenes, dragging out Harvey’s agonized decision. They wouldn’t be able to resist the temptation to sum it all up, like a lawyer’s closing statement.
But this kind of information dump is nearly always unnecessary. Even as an opening paragraph, when none of this is known to the reader, the pre-action babble serves no other purpose than to drag out the decisive moment. I’d much rather see:
Harvey stabbed the flashing green ‘buy’ button on his laptop’s touch screen, then wiped his hands on his pants and closed the lid. Accounts receivable was fifty thousand dollars lighter now, but if Optronics split tomorrow, he could replace the stolen funds without anyone noticing. And if it didn’t, well, no matter. Either way, Lorraine was out of danger now, recovering in St. Theresa’s Intensive Care Unit. If that cost him a few years in jail, he could live with it.
In the first example (125 words), there’s no action at all, but there’s a lot of navel-gazing babble. Harvey agonizes over the decision that he had no choice but to make, and the narrator pointlessly justifies it with back-story before pulling the trigger.
In the second example (81 words), the trigger is pulled in the first sentence. Harvey takes immediate, decisive action, and then concisely and matter-of-factly, the narration fills in the gaps.
Yes, sometimes a chain of logic is called for, but unless it’s absolutely necessary, kill the justifications. Your character should be certain. They should state plain, uncomplicated truths. The reader will keep up.
And frankly, we often enjoy those epiphany moments, when the hero’s actions strike us with one of those “Oh wow, that’s why she did that” moments. Don’t ruin your reader’s opportunity for discovery. Don’t undermine their faith in your protagonist. Give the readers a clear, decisive, simple image. Simple truths are viewed as self-evident, more believable by default.
Avoid Delayed Decisions
Much like indecision in word choice, there exists a kind of indecisiveness of action. Often, this takes the form of adverbs.
Hovering outside his hotel room, she reached tentatively for the doorknob.
Examples like this are tricky. Writers can come up with countless reasons why the POV character hesitates before opening any metaphorical door. And to be clear, many of these reasons are valid.
But as is often the case, too much of anything is a bad thing. You don’t want your characters constantly hesitating. Constantly agonizing over every tiny decision. When it’s necessary for dramatic tension, let them pause. But be vigilant. If you find your character doing this more than once every few chapters, you’re creating the same kind of uncertainty that poisons the narrative.
Heroes throw caution to the wind. They casually surge forward, ever ready to meet challenges head on. Don’t casually allow them to hesitate. Ever. When a character pauses before leaping into conflict, it should be a defining moment, nothing less.
Ignoring the flutter in her stomach, she willed a smirk onto her lips and swept into the room.
The woman in the first example is a timid school girl, afraid to commit to a decision. That’s a victim waiting to happen. Fine if it’s a secondary character, but only compelling in a protagonist in unusual circumstances.
The second example shows a decisive woman who won’t let nervousness get between her and whatever she’s after. That’s a heroine, and she forces readers to turn the page.
Understand that there’s a difference between the character and how the writer frames them. In both cases, the woman is nervous before entering the room. But the first example renders a character in uncertain, ambiguous language. The second shows much more clearly her state of mind. Voice isn’t the strength of character. It’s the strength of the description.
Root Out Verbs of Being
This is standard advice for writing and it’s also a component of voice. Verbs of being (is, are, was, were, be, been, being) are verbs that perform little function except to state the existence of a thing.
There’s nothing remotely interesting about simple existence. It conveys no nuance, no texture.
Consider a sentence like:
She was in the middle of the street, ignoring the rush hour traffic
A simple verb change and accompanying affect introduces much more interesting texture, and with it, a stronger voice.
She danced in the middle of the street, oblivious to the angry shouts and honking horns.
She planted herself in the middle of the street, shaking a fist at the rush hour traffic.
I won’t belabor this one, as there are countless good books and articles on passive voice, but I point it out because it’s clearly an impediment to strong voice.
Use Imagery, Metaphors, and Similes
Again, this is standard advice, but again I include it because it is also a component of voice.
Readers like to imagine. Everyone does. And nothing assists imagination more than a good metaphor. Metaphors and similes are a kind of shorthand. They not only provide a visualization for action, making it easier to understand, they also perform a more important function. They bring associations with them.
The point of a metaphor or simile is to use a small number of words to add a large amount of information.
Let’s say we compare an inquisitive person to a ferret.
Twitching his nose like an oversized ferret, he pounced into the room, rooting through the pile of clothes on the floor.
If you’ve ever owned a ferret, you know all about their insatiable, relentless curiosity. When a ferret sets its mind to locating and stealing a shiny object, almost nothing can stand in its way. By providing this association to the reader, we need only four extra words to add all of the instinctive, relentless attitude of nature’s most tenacious rodent into the character’s personality.
This type of imagery makes characters more recognizable. More memorable. And it is ineffably tied to voice.
Writers inevitably get much too wrapped up around the notion of plausibility and reality. In their zeal to represent realism, they forget that readers don’t actually want realism. They don’t. Readers want things that are larger than life. They want to live vicariously through characters that are driven and decisive. Readers want to know what it feels like to confidently stride into conflict, self-assured and prepared to brave the unknown.
As a writer, your language can either add to that goal or undermine it. When you undermine it, that’s what critics mean by a weak voice. Your writing doesn’t match the heroism of your character.
When you render a confident character with weak words, (or even when you render an under confident character with weak words), the result simply feels wrong. There are no grammatical errors. The language may be lyrical and poetic, but voice is more than that. It is the confident, almost heroic way that the writer decisively paints the character.
So in the end, the writer does need to be confident, just as the advice said. Paint your characters with a decisive brush, boldly stating what they are. Don’t hedge. Don’t equivocate. Don’t apologize.
Shamelessly tell us who they are.
Susan Crandall and the Path Home
Dysfunctional families, though they might be enticing and dramatic subjects for countless books and movies out there, bring much more woe than most authors account for or can convey. As a matter of fact, it seems it's become the common trait given to characters writers want to give a tragic background to, a small addition to a mass of elements, ultimately to be cheaply glossed over.
However, there is always the other side of the coin, and today Susan Crandall stands on it with her novel titled The Myth of Perpetual Summer. Where most stories would pay little mind to the family dynamics or create portrayals seeking only to shock the reader, this one approaches the subject with all the honesty and dignity it deserves.
The story opens up in 1972 as we are introduced to Tallulah James, living on her own in San Francisco, having escaped the tragedy which is her family nine years ago. However, she gets word her brother Walden has just been arrested for murder in New Orleans... the brother she once left behind. She doesn't know much, but she is certain she must come back home and try to save him, even if it means getting back in the touch with the family she left so long ago. From there on out the story branches between the past and the present, following Tallulah's upbringing and her current fight to save her brother as well as perhaps salvage what little remains of her family.
A Nonexistent Childhood
On some level it feels as if this book is made from two shorter novels blended together into one. While they do correlate with each other on various levels, for the most part it feels as if you're reading through two independent tales with their own unique characteristics. While I believe many authors would be incapable of adopting this sort of model and making the story feel realistic and organic, Susan Crandall succeeds at it much better than most. The jumps between the timelines as you switch from one chapter to the next never feel too rushed or abrupt, always having some sort of connection for you to hold on to and get into the zone of the incoming pages. Additionally, both stories, despite being quite different, end up complementing each other with their varying qualities.
The storyline dedicated to exploring Tallulah's childhood is particularly fascinating, depicting in great detail the inner workings of a family falling apart at the seams. We walk with her through her childhood largely marked by the absence of her parents and the duty of raising her two siblings which inadvertently fell on her shoulders. We bear witness to the destructive maelstrom of her parents' relationship, how it wreaks havoc on the entire family. Amidst it all, there is the strong and stern grandmother, the dedicated keeper of family secrets. Crandall ensures we feel the full psychological burden of this setting on Tallulah every step of the way, constantly reminded about how every single second of her existence devolved into struggle. The path taken by the family in its unravelling feels very logical, deliberate and realistic... almost to the point where I have the impression it might be based on something concrete, and for that I applaud the author.
Old Demons Never Rest
The expositions into the past provide many interesting plot points and explanations in regards to the characters, but the present day is where, in my opinion, the more exciting and hopeful parts of the book lie. The whole story surrounding Walden and the murder he is accused of makes for a compelling mystery as we always feel there is something amiss, preventing us from seeing the complete picture. As you might imagine, there are more than a few twists and turns to contend with, and while I would characterize some of them as being relatively tame, on the whole I felt satisfied with where the story took me. After all, this isn't an outright thriller and thus it would be unfair to judge it as one.
At the same time it is equally fascinating to see Tallulah reunite with the family she abandoned long ago and watch as she tentatively tries to mend some connections here and there. There are definitely some moments of shining hope to be found in these parts which heavily contrast with the rest of the book, and I believe they are quite necessary in making the story work as a whole. Naturally, with Crandall going for realism above all else, not every story leads to a happy ending, nor do any miracles appear out of thin air to save the day... and I take very kindly to this philosophy. The reminder of the cruelty which real life might bring always looms in the air, to the point where we ourselves are tempted to glance at our own demons waiting to be confronted.
The Final Verdict
In the end, The Myth of Perpetual Summer by Susan Crandall is a powerful novel about family, tragedy, loss, love, hope and redemption, with an entertaining story to boot driven by sympathetic characters. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys family dramas with tragic overtones.
David ben Efraim (https://bookwormex.com)
It might surprise some of my readers to discover that my end-game for a writing career has nothing to do with writing the next great American novel, or even hitting number one on the bestseller list. I'd like those things. I love it when a new reader finds one of my books and enjoys it, but I have much bigger plans in mind, and I've begun the process of executing that plan.
Opening the Doors to a new kind of Publishing House
Gecko Print was never meant to be only a self-publishing imprint. In fact, I dreamed up what I wanted the company to be years ago, and I've been sitting on the website URL for quite a while, just to ensure that nobody else could snatch it up. I wanted to offer something new. Fewer writers, at least at first, but more books. More than a contract. I wanted serious writers, those obsessed with living off their words, to have the options that weren't granted to myself and so many others.
After two years of freelancing, mostly writing copy, I realized one morning that I could cut right through the red tape and get my products directly on the marketplace. Since I already have the publishing company established (including a business license in Missouri), all I needed to do was pivot.
The plan for the company all along has been a writer-centric vision. The big 6, and many, many other publishing houses have gone the one-off route. They take on a book, after it's passed through several rounds of vetting by agents and acquisitions, and they place a bet. The book will either be a success or a flop. That success or failure is based on only one thing, whether the book "earns out." This means it needs to sell enough copies in a limited amount of time to pay for the author advance, advertising, store placement, and of course the usual costs of running a business.
If the book fails, then it's the book's fault. Nevermind that the author wasn't helped in cultivating an audience. Nevermind that very little is usually done to help the debut author flash in the spotlight, even for a moment. Simply the same old "roll out some red carpet and launch the book" attitude which has dominated this market for well over seventy years. Books are becoming Hollywood productions. They either go blockbuster hit, or they're duds. The hits pay for the duds, and the market has modeled itself around that philosophy. The big sellers need to cover the costs of the risky projects.
As an author, this means that the odds are always stacked against you. Having your book flop is also like getting a black eye, especially if you took a large advance against sales.
Pioneering a New Way
There are some normal start-up fundraising things that need to be gotten out of the way with any business. With Gecko Print Publishing, I want that whole process to convert directly to author benefit down the road. In short, I'm drumming up my little writing mill again, but this time I'll be the one in charge of the final products and projects, writing copy for small businesses and even indie authors looking to grow their audiences. While this may not seem beneficial to authors, here's the benefit:
I don't know about every author, but I was desperate to make a living off my words only for a while, and for 2 years I struggled to find content clients that would keep me afloat and pay me a fair salary. For GPP authors, they will ALWAYS have a place to make some extra cash, writing fun and engaging short works about their various areas of expertise. Most authors tend to have a bunch of hobbies.
It will also work the other way round. If I start hiring some content creators for full-time work, and they write a novel, we'll work closely with them to cultivate their story to the point of publish-ability, and at the very worst, we'll give them pointers for their next book. The only vetting process will be the strength of the story, everything else can be fixed, and audiences can be grown.
Another back-channel strategy involves the people who purchase our marketing projects. Since these are businesses that thrive on selling content and copy, any connections made in this arena will have the benefit of large platforms that aren't accessible to other publishers.
The GPP Family Experience
We don't see readers as targets to be sold to, or wallets with no soul attached. We see them as champions for our books, and they deserve something in return.
We don't see other authors as competition, and we know there are plenty of indies out there producing good work that needs a chance to shine also. They're probably writing stuff that our readers are interested in as well.
After finding a little glitch in the way Amazon does business for freebie promotions, GPP is currently constructing an algorithm that will find the best books from indies and smaller houses. The big houses can't afford to do freebie promos, but the little guys can, and the books that make it to the top are almost always of high quality.
This will level the playing field, excluding those unwilling to sacrifice a few unit sales to build an audience for their work, and at the same time, books can only appear on most of these lists for a maximum of four weeks out of the year, which means carousel content for readers looking for new authors and new books. The readers win, and as our influence grows, we'll be helping those indies who hit our lists by directing voracious readers their way. No charge. In fact, the basic idea behind the list is for it to be as incorruptible as possible. Writers will never be able to "buy" their way onto our hit list. We may or may not provide an advertising slot or two later down the road, but these will be labeled appropriately.
The free book list is in its first iteration, and live on the GPP website right now. This is only the minimum viable product, using Amazon's API to generate free books after you click on the page. Carousel content, good books, and of course everything on the list is FREE on Kindle, at least when you see it.
Join the List
There are numerous places around the website to sign up for our email list, in which we'll be sending out some of the best books in each category every Sunday, but also posting updates about cool stuff that we're doing to change the industry, and of course once we open our doors to a few freelancers or authors to submit work for review. The email doubles as a weekly reminder that we're still here, with up to 50 free books sitting on our page at any given time, just in case you want to read something on Sunday and aren't sure where to look, or don't want to drop a lot of cash.
I'm building this mostly on my own, though I do have a few good editors and cover designers in mind once we are up and rolling. Till then, I'll keep my nose to the grindstone, and see what kind of flour comes out of the mill.
In the meantime, enjoy all the free books :)
Martin McConnell, author of Finish the Damn Book!, holds a Physics degree from SIUE, and when he isn't writing speculative fiction, he's motivating other authors, stargazing, reading, or playing Kerbal Space Program. He avidly encourages everyone he meets to seize control of their dreams by driving their own plot. You can find him on twitter @spottedgeckgo, or at his website writefarmlive.com.
My approach to writing has always been to start at the most strategic level and work my way down to the details. For me, it's easier to focus on the words if I've already solidified the main concepts that direct those words. That's why things like audience expectations, story structure, and outlines are so well suited for me. They free up my writing brain to focus more on craft. With that in mind, I'd like to bring a pretty cool concept to your attention: The Soul Triptych.
This is a somewhat obscure technique that I stumbled across a few years, and I was so enamored with it that I used it during the writing of Gnosis. Put simply, a soul triptych is a model that facilitates the intelligent crafting of a trio of main characters in a way that is surprisingly organic and also appeals to some fundamental human traits.
For some of you, a triptych might be a familiar concept in the world of art. It refers to one of those three-in-one fold-out panel paintings. An example of one is Hans Memling's Triptych of the Resurrection, shown here. Depending on the artist, the triptych often depicts three different facets of the same subject matter.
In a similar way, we can think of a trio of main characters as three facets of a complete human personality, with each character representing one of the three basic drives.
The three most commonly used facets are: Body, Mind, and Spirit. You can define each of these in a variety of ways, but for the most part, your definitions will be similar to:
The Body – This character is usually, but not always, physically strong. They are driven by passions and desires. They are earthlike, grounded in physicality. They are typically very practical and concerned with reality, rather than abstractions. They don't often dive too deeply into mysteries, and tend to react spontaneously. Their passions run strong, and they are often deeply loyal and unconditional.
The Mind – This is the brain of the trio. They are the one who devises the plans most often. Detail oriented and intellectual, they strive for logic. They are driven by clear, rational thinking, and the inevitability that this creates. They can be abstract, often skeptical, and sometimes cold and aloof.
The Spirit – The Spirit is driven by compassion when making decisions. They are all about feeling. They can be inflexible. Having once made up their minds, they can be driven by desire to see things through to the end. They are the spiritual leader of the trio (which doesn't necessarily translate to the actual leader).
Now, before you go all crazy and suggest that this creates fractional, two-dimensional characters, relax. That's not the intent. The purpose is to allow each character to focus on a different aspect, not to be constrained by it. Characters should have depth and the ability to deviate from their role from time to time. The soul triptych role simply points at their dominant traits.
Looked at in this light, the soul triptych is a story representation of the three powers of humanity. And because you have three characters each representing a different one, then together they make a complete unit. This provides an interconnectedness. An intrinsic need for each other. The triptych is often a very tight, indissoluble team.
Whether intentionally or not, we see this model in successful fiction, television, and movies. A LOT. Here are a few examples:
Body Mind Soul Book/Movie
Ron Hermione Harry Harry Potter
Han Leia Luke Star Wars
Buttercup Blossom Bubbles Powerpuff Girls
Kirk Spock McCoy Star Trek
Gale Katniss Peeta Hunger Games
Montoya Wesley Buttercup The Princess Bride
Samwise Gandalf Frodo The Lord of the Rings
Dmitri Ivan Alyosha The Brothers Karamazov
Porthos Athos Aramis The Three Musketeers
Take a moment and consider any of the above trios. Let's consider Ron, Hermione, and Harry from the Harry Potter series. Go back and review the definitions of Body, Mind, and Soul above. It's abundantly clear which role each character serves. These are not shallow, two-dimensional characters. They each have lots of things going on and they each maintain a level of individuality and uniqueness. They are a very tight, loyal group, and they need each other. In any given book in the series, each one is vital to some element of the overall quest. Together, they form a complete unit, with all of the necessary traits to overcome adversity.
And knowing what their intended role is makes it easier as a writer to devise challenges that are suited to one character over the others, thus rendering all of them useful and necessary to the story.
As readers, when we are presented with a triptych, we identify with the experience of the characters being portrayed. The triptych represents universal human characteristics that we are all familiar with. We need wit, determination, and strength to exist day-to-day. By magnifying these qualities and embodying them in individuals, writers then provide these qualities with the necessary exaggeration to make them heroic.
It's possible that there is an even deeper connection between humans and the triptych. Plato spoke of the concept millennia ago. We might even see it reflected in Christianity, in the form of the Holy Spirit, God, and Jesus. One could provide a chicken-and-the-egg argument about the ultimate source of the concept, but regardless of one's belief's, it has been around for a very long time. Long enough to have become ingrained in our basic expectations of humanity.
And that's why it works so well.
There are variants on the concept as well. We've all heard the phrase body and soul as a reference to a complete human. This pair can also be used as a soul diptych, with similar results. (Oh, and notice in the above list that any one of the three can be the actual leader of the group. In Harry Potter, the Soul leads. In Star Trek, the body leads. In Hunger Games, the mind leads. There is no requirement that any particular facet must be dominant. And that's good, because it allows the writer to retain maximum flexibility during the character creation process.)
The Body and Soul definitions from above can still apply, but the dynamic between them changes. The triptych often creates a tight, harmonious trio, where the three forces have an almost democratic means of resolving internal conflict. With a diptych, conflict is more common, since there is no third party to turn to in the event of disputes.
Diptych duos are often tense. Although allies in some sense, they are constantly at odds, working against each other while pursuing some overarching goal. Their relationship can be more accurately described as a rivalry. They can be protagonist/antagonist, but when they are on the same side, there is a lot of friction. It is a classic collision between reason and emotion. Harnessed correctly, it can make a powerful duo, but success is often balanced on a razor's edge.
With that in mind, let's look at some well-known Soul Diptych examples.
Body/Heart Mind/Reason Book/Movie
Mr. Hyde Dr. Jekyll Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Tyler Durden The Narrator Fight Club
Mulder Scully X-Files
The Hound Arya Stark Game of Thrones
Patrick Spongebob Spongebob Squarepants
Dr. Watson Sherlock Holmes The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Victor Dr. Frankenstein Frankenstein's Monster
Again, consider how this kind of duo interacts. The body is grounded, simple & clear, often physical and strong. They are experience seekers. The Mind is more skeptical and analytical. Often smarter and more cynical. The duo is sometimes a forced alliance, and sometimes antagonist/protagonist, but either way, the relationship is built for conflict. With no third party to mediate, these two are oil and water. They still usually need each other, though, so like it or not, they have to find ways to tolerate each other, even when their personal goals are at odds. The diptych has the makings of great tension.
Alternatively, you could just as easily define your own necessary facets of the human condition and create roles for your characters to fill. The point is that it is a tool, and it opens up avenues of thought that you might not otherwise have considered. And because the model involves, or should involve, fundamental aspects of the human condition, then it can produce consistent characters that will resonate with your readers in a natural way.
As I said in the beginning, it isn't necessary to use models like these. They're a tool that may help you think and create. They can channel your thinking. Maybe they'll get you off to a good start and then you jettison them, or maybe you'll follow them rigidly to the end. Either way, they make your writing fun to think about, and that's worth something all by itself.
Let’s take a moment to look at a surprisingly underutilized element of fiction writing: the active environment.
Have you ever found yourself watching a movie and one of those moments occurs when the camera enters a new scene for the first time? The camera pans slowly around the room, and the audience is presented with a collection of objects. No narrative takes place. There are no characters. Very little is in motion. Yet we find ourselves learning fascinating things about the character that inhabits the environment.
Most of us just absorb it and enjoy the moment that this inevitably short bit of camera work creates, but as a writer, you should pay close attention. Very close attention. There’s a fabulously powerful technique that’s taking place here. The environment is telling you a story.
In my class on game design, this is one of the lessons that I try to instill on my students. I give them an assignment that has proven quite popular (and instructive) over the years. I provide them with an occupation and a couple of adjectives, and then instruct them to design a space that that character might inhabit. But to really hammer the point home, I provide a number of caveats:
At first, the students look confidently at this assignment and are raring to go, but very quickly they discover that it’s actually much harder than it seems.
We’ll get into the nuts and bolts of how to think about it momentarily, but for now, I’ll give you one of the better results. The student was asked to come up with an environment for an Arrogant, Newly Divorced, Bitter, Neurosurgeon. Here’s what he gave me:
The corner office is mostly barren save for a few choice pieces of furniture. A large mahogany desk paired with a leather office chair sits towards the back of the room. Next to the desk is an anatomical model of a brain on a stand. On the white walls behind the desk hangs a large picture of a man in his late forties receiving a plaque from Michael J. Fox. This same plaque, with engravings from the Michael J. Fox Foundation, is found hanging next to the picture, as well as a large diploma from Harvard University. Two simple chairs face the desk with a box of tissues close by and a picture of the same man next to Christopher Reeves in a wheelchair. On the floor is another picture surrounded by broken glass. It is a picture of the same man in a tuxedo embracing a woman in a white wedding gown. A half empty bottle of whiskey sits next to an empty whiskey glass, and at the bottom of this whiskey glass is a solid gold ring. Stabbed through the table is a scalpel, pinning another picture down. Three people in cap and gown are shown in the picture. Two of them are from the wedding photo, and the third individual has the scalpel plunged through his face. A computer monitor on the desk shows an unsent, half written email titled “YOU FREAKING JUDAS” with the name Derek marked as the recipient. Next to the keyboard, a contact book lies open showing the address of a Derek. Beneath, a mostly empty desk drawer is pulled all the way out. Inside, only an empty pack of cigarettes and three loose bullets can be seen.
I can’t express how fascinating I found this scene. Notice how the objects give clues to the occupant's job and state of mind, without every TELLING us. The collection of objects presents us with a very clear story. Obviously a doctor, the occupant of the room fell in love with his college sweetheart. His best friend was the best man at his wedding. There was an affair between the best friend and the wife. The doctor found out about it. He’s angry, and contemplating violence.
There’s almost no text (except for the email) in the scene. No leading adjectives. No narrative. And yet a story with a crystal clear beginning, middle, and end has been provided. It could be better written, but that was never the point. The scene is intrinsically evocative.
Let’s take a look at another example. In this one, the student was given: A bored, social climbing wannabe, secretary. Here’s what she turned in.
A desk sits close to the entryway of the room. The desk is “L” shaped and has a small counter connected to the top of it. Several thick padded chairs sit against the wall with an end table holding Business Magazine sitting in neat stack divides the chairs. The lights are all turned off including the desk lamp and overhead ceiling lights. Nothing sits on the counter of the desk other than a small metal plaque that reads “Stephanie Walker.” The desk itself holds a landline phone as well as a computer. A calendar reminder popup regarding a networking event hosted by Riverbed Technologies covers over google map directions to a local beauty salon. Several personal photos sit upon the desk including one of three young college girls in bikinis on the beach making triangles with their fingers. Another photo depicts two girls, one slightly older than the other, windsurfing with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background. Bright red lipstick labeled “Seductive Enchantress” lies cap-less on the desk. An iPhone 7 sits on the computer keyboard lighting up every few seconds. One drawer is slightly open and inside is a pile of rubber bands and what looks to be the start of a rubber band ball. The desk chair is tipped over and a red thong lies on the ground just under the desk. A bookshelf behind the desk has several books tipped on their side and a stapler sits on the ground with the staples spewed out on the ground. To the far side of the room is a glass wall and a door leading inside. A metal plaque on the door reads “Executive Manager Eric C. Sharpe”. The blinds on the other side of the glass wall are shut.
Although it doesn’t quite contain the breadth of the first example, these objects nonetheless give the audience an evocative scene. We know who this secretary is, we get insight into her motivations. We know where she is right now. The reader hasn’t been ‘spoon fed’ information. This is one of the things you’re always being admonished about when you hear the classic “show, don’t tell” advice. In scenes like this, the reader is drawing their own conclusions based on the objects you choose to put in front of them. And it’s that sense of inference and discovery that makes environments so powerful.
In the next example, the student drew an environment for an aggressive, paranoid, garbage collector. Here was the result:
A bright yellow safety vest lies bunched up on the floor. Shoe scuff marks mar the edge of an old dented coffee table. On the second-hand coffee table is a pair of thick brown work gloves set atop a National Enquirer with the image of a stereotypical alien shaking the hand of President Donald Trump. The caption reads “Trump Appoints Martian Ambassador.” An old style TV with antenna sits pushed against one wall of the living space. Foil is wrapped around each antenna of the TV and only static plays. The blinds over the window are closed and drawn even though the windows are also covered in foil. An end table holds a ceramic lamp that flickers on and off. The lamp looks as if it was pieced back together with glue and lacks a lamp shade. Next to the lamp is a page-a-day calendar with Tuesday January 20th showing. The couch has a faded floral pattern that is reminiscent of 70’s wallpaper. A light dusting of white powder and small pieces of plaster speckle the couch. The directly behind the couch has a fist size hole. On the floor lies a map of what looks to be a suburban area with different colored lines drawn from one central location to different areas of the map. The key on the map shows that each color corresponds to a different day of the week. The Tuesday line is highlighted.
Again, we have an interesting character portrait comprised of nothing but static objects. Now, we are left to speculate about what is soon to take place. Clearly, we have an unstable, obsessive compulsive, blue collar worker. He or she is violent, and seems prone to conspiracy theories. The Enquirer article leads us to believe that perhaps this maniac is considering an assassination attempt. We don’t have all of the information to form a solid conclusion, but sometimes the ominous implied threat is even more interesting.
Finally, a student rendered an environment for a Washed Up, Bitter, Retired Cop.
There’s a room solely lit by a dim, bare lightbulb, hanging by a chain. An empty shoulder-holster hangs from the rack, along with a ratty leather jacket. The room is primarily occupied by a large square table. Several cups of unfinished coffee and Styrofoam carryout boxes are clustered in one corner of the table. All are in various states of moldy decay. A collection of newspapers are scattered about the table. Each features a front-page photograph. Some are of an elderly policeman handing a badge to an elderly man in a suit in front of a tall brick building with stone pillars. Others are of the same two men shaking hands and smiling. In each photograph, members of the crowd are applauding. The elderly policeman’s face has been circled in red marker in every photo. On one wall of the room, several framed photographs hang. One photo features a mid 30’s version of the elderly policeman and young blonde officer. Both men are standing, arm in arm and smiling, behind a large pile of cocaine parcels. Another photo is a group photo of 15 extremely young looking policemen and women, two of whom are the arm-in-arm men from before. Everyone is smiling and holding a framed piece of paper. Next to the photo is a framed diploma from a police academy. A box of ammunition sits on the center of the table, with several loose bullets scattered around it. A worn police badge sits atop a neatly folded piece of paper.
Here we see the police officer’s life on display. We see him graduating from the academy, making high profile busts, getting awards, and retiring. We see a happy, fulfilled life. Yet the badge atop the note, the empty holster, and the bullets add a dark twist. Somewhere around here, we’re bound to find the body. Clearly, this officer’s life has ceased to have meaning since retirement.
In all of these examples, the student had to grapple with a challenge. They had to tell a story in a static way. And what they all learned was that you can’t do this without a bit of up-front planning.
To do something like this correctly, you have to have the story in your head first. You have to understand the character’s past, present, and future plans. It’s usually a simple story, like with the newly divorced neurosurgeon, but it’s evocative: people who are contemplating suicide or violence; people who have having an affair; someone who is obsessed. These are strong stories and emotions that a reader can identify with.
Once you know what your character’s simple story is, then you have to walk a mile in that character's shoes. Imagine the trail of breadcrumbs they would leave as they go about their daily lives. Much of this trail would be innocuous, and you would leave it out of the collection of objects, but some of it would be much more meaningful. Those are the things you have to zero in on. Don’t just settle for things that give a static glimpse of personality. Tell a story that spans time. Show us who this person is, where they came from, what they’ve experienced, and what they’re thinking/doing now.
Then once you’ve jotted down your collection of objects, let someone else read it. See if the objects tell the story you were imagining. It will take a bit of practice, but when you can learn to let the objects tell the story, it makes a wonderful tool to add to your writer’s toolbox.
About a decade ago when I first started writing fiction, my early work suffered from a staggering number of problems. If I represented each mistake as a single domino, I bet I could have filled a gymnasium with them, like one of those mesmerizing world record domino-toppling videos. Correcting my errors involved several years of herculean effort, but I’m happy to report that these days, I might only be able to fill my living room with dominoes.
In this post, I’d like to discuss the domino that I didn’t even realize existed until two or three years ago. I think in many ways, it turned out to be the master domino. The root cause of many of my flaws. The one that ruled them all.
I had been following a standard methodology that simply didn’t fit me. I was writing linearly.
Linear writing is such a standard that a lot of people don’t even recognize the term. They aren’t aware that it has an opposite: NON linear writing. They don’t know that it could be an answer, at least for some of them.
To understand it, let’s start by defining linear writing. It’s very simple. Linear writing is when you write each of the chapters in your first draft in the same order the reader will read them. It seems like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? I mean, after all, how can you possibly write chapter 47 before you write 46? Don’t you need to know what happened in chapter 46 first, so that you know where to pick up the action?
No. In fact, you don’t.
Non linear writing uses exactly that approach. It is a system where you write chapters in an order that is essentially random. Whatever scene you feel inspired to write about when you get up in the morning, you write.
Yes, yes. I know. That way lies madness.
Nah. Pour yourself a scotch and stop flipping the bird to me through your computer screen. You only need one thing to restore sanity to that madness. You need an outline.
Think about it. If you have a thumbnail sketch of each chapter in advance, then you already know the big events that are going to happen leading into the chapter. You already have an idea where the chapter has to end in order to flow into the following chapter. You already know the characters who will appear, what their motivations and emotions are, and what aspects of character arc you have to fulfil. You have everything you need to write any chapter at any time.
An outline is simply a matter of sketching out each scene with a few paragraphs of pertinent information.
There are lots of great books on the subject of outline creation. You can check out KM Weiland’s Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success for one good example. Books like this will give you lots of good ideas of the kinds of information a good outline requires. When done properly, an outline allows an author to focus on the writing craft, rather than getting bogged down in the strategic elements of plot and character development while they write.
Ironically, even the process of outlining can be an example of non linear writing. When I started my outline for Gnosis, I followed James Scott Bell’s advice in Write Your Novel From The Middle. I started with the pivotal mid-point scene first, then outlined the inciting incident, then the climax, worked my way through the major structural scenes, and finally filled in all the remaining gaps. All in outline form.
Then I started writing. In the past, I could write chapter 1, maybe 2, 3, and 4. But eventually, I’d hit a wall. For whatever reason, a chapter would stare at me and laugh. Nothing would come to mind. I’d struggle for days. Sometimes weeks. I’d delete attempt after attempt, each one causing me far too much stress.
Now, I look back on those days and laugh. Armed with my mighty outline, I wake up and ask myself “What do you feel like writing today, Rick? A chase scene? An epiphany scene? Dialogue?” I peruse my list of unwritten chapters, and let them speak to me. Inevitably, one will jump out and shriek in glee “Pick me! Pick me!”
And off I go.
In the back of my mind, I still know which chapters I dread. But with plenty of fun things to write first, the hard ones have time to bake in my brain. Sometimes a stray thought for a dread chapter will occur to me as I’m writing a fun one, and I jot it down in my notes while I forge ahead with the easier chapters. Over time, I get enough notes that the hard chapter seems much less intimidating. When I finally get around to it, it’s almost never a dread chapter any more.
And this was the essential ingredient I’d been missing all along. The linear approach killed all of my motivation. It caused a civil war in my state of mind.
When you dread writing something, it’s almost a guarantee that it will take ten times as long, and in the end it will still suck. Then you lose momentum. Things go downhill fast. You resolve yourself to dealing with the dread chapter in revisions. You put it off, or sometimes you just chuck the entire manuscript onto the slush pile and start something new. I know. I’ve done that.
But using a non linear writing approach, I dialed back the difficulty level of the dread chapters, AND I kept up my all important forward momentum. I stopped tossing perfectly good work onto the back burner. Writing became fun again. And that made a world of difference.
But before you write the whole process off as just a self-induced motivational mind hack, note that there are some other tangible benefits to non-linear writing.
At this stage, I should acknowledge a personal preference. I don’t feel totally bound by my outline. I treat it like a general road map, not the Bible. If, during the course of writing a chapter, I feel like a character’s personality dictates a zig when the outline called for a zag, I let the character zig. After I finish the chapter, I return to my outline, update it, and make the necessary changes to any subsequent (or previous) chapters that might be impacted. It’s not a lot of work. That’s the point of an outline. It’s low investment. You can write with no style and terrible grammar, and it doesn’t matter. Just change the necessary facts and move on.
That’s usually the big complaint about using outlines, by the way. Writers say they feel constrained, bound, by the outline. But if you do, you’re rather missing the point. It’s not there to shackle you. It’s there to liberate you. It’s MUCH easier to modify a collection of thoughts and ideas than to go back and rewrite whole chapters when you have to change a character or plot moment. THAT is shackling yourself. When you’ve invested a lot of time into writing an entire chapter, even in draft form, you’re giving it momentum. You’re increasing the resistance to change it. Outlines free you up from that.
Look, non linear writing isn’t for everyone. It requires a bit of a paradigm shift in your thinking, especially when you first try it. And it seems pretty scary, like you’re tightrope walking between skyscrapers without a safety harness.
But from my perspective, once I got the hang of it, the methodology offered so many benefits that I could never go back. It’s like travelling forward in time to read the ending of your novel, and then coming back to the present, armed with the exact road map of how to write it. Non-linear writing is my own personal DeLorean, complete with flux capacitor.
I’m never trading it in.
I’m sitting here, working on a story idea that erupted from literally nowhere. A dream I had about virtual reality, and then mutated over morning coffee, Monster energy drinks, and a long shift at the day-job. When I sat down to write that afternoon, there was only one thing on my mind: I need to get this story out.
You might call me a busy person. I’m working 40 hours per week again at a day-job that literally pays enough to have a roof over my head, food, and the ability to keep writing in comfort while I figure out the next phase of my property development.
By setting things up this way, I have purposefully relegated myself to a life of poverty and humble conditions, where I can focus solely on my work when I’m not “at work.”
Even so, it isn’t always so easy to maintain focus. I know that I want to write, but in my own aggressive pursuit of creating works, I’ve buried myself in projects. The NaNo thing is slowly gaining some momentum for the year, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have a ton more to do on it. Stone’s Shadow is out of the gate and on the final assembly line, effectively done but still requiring another critical proofread. I have another book that I was hoping to have out by the end of the year, but it sits as a work in progress. On top of all this, I’m also trying to deliver 500,000 verified words this year, and submit a new short story and flash fiction piece every single month.
The work is cut out for me, but the cookies are a bit too plentiful, and I fear I won’t be able to finish them all. My story kitchen has become an understaffed factory trying to fill an order of a million units.
You would think, with so much to do, that I could sit and spawn thousands of words without hardly any thought devoted. But things are never this simple.
When I work, I work on one project at a time. Generally. Day’s like today require breaks for me, so I’ll “break” from one writing project to work on another. Right now, that means taking my first break on the new story to write this blog post.
There are two modes of thought on how to increase your output and efficiency, and I’ll explain some of the pros and cons of each.
One Thing at a Time, With Intensity
This is how I normally write. I work on a draft for as many days as it takes until the draft is done. I’ll work on an editing pass until it’s done. I’ll work on a cover concept until I’ve taken it as far as it will go.
My timing for this is simple. One pass through the manuscript. Whether I’m hunting typos, tidying words, doing a full rewrite, or even drafting a new story, I devote myself to working on it, every single day, until I reach the end of the last page. I can work on other stuff too, but a block of my writing time every day is dedicated to that one task, and it’s the most important task in my hierarchy of work.
I learned to write this way, not because a bunch of other writers recommend it, but because I learned enough about myself to know, as I once told my brother, “If I don’t finish a project in sixty days, it’ll never get done.” Turning down the intensity is not an option, because if I leave something alone for too long, it tends to not get done.
This applies to my hobbies, my writing, my various crafting endeavors, even my video games. If I loose focus of the primary goal, then I fail. I shut it off and stop coming back. It takes sixty days for something I’m excited about initially to become dull as lead and stuffed in a dark corner of my closet space.
So, when I work, it’s important to clear everything else off the plate. I sit down and do the work, and only the new work, for as long as I can bear, until it’s time for a smoke break. Even with these little interruptions, I tend to get a lot done, because while I’m on break, I’m also thinking about the next element in the story or project. I return to the laptop refreshed, and I keep going.
In the oilfield, it was known by a few directional drillers that I had this odd habit of solving problems, and according to them, it always worked. Running high tech signal processing connected to multiple wellsite sensors and data streams isn’t easy, and something always seems to go on the fritz. That environment is a breeding ground for gremlins.
When I was stumped on a problem-or if I was woke up in the night to fix something the night-hand couldn’t figure out-I would back away from the keyboard. I would grab my smokes, my lighter, and my beverage, and proceed outside of the cabin. I’d stand in a secluded spot where I couldn’t even see the rig, and light up.
When I returned to my work five minutes later, I always had a new idea that might solve the problem.
What I’m trying to say is this, even with intense focus, energy can only be expended for so long. So don’t take this little section to mean work and only work without breaks or any interruptions of any kind. Meditative breaks can be beneficial. But the focus of your work should be on one thing and one thing only, like getting words flowing toward the end of a draft.
The Multi-Tasking Approach
This is the dark side of any creative endeavor. If you are working with multiple projects, and especially social media or advertising work, you’re going to mess yourself up more by trying to “multi-task” than you will if you completed each task one at a time.
However. This methodology does have a case where it can work. Today is one of those days when my focus is a little scattered, but at the same time I can dig into a smaller project, and throw everything I have at it for a short bit of time. This is upping my total word count, and I may end up completing several timely projects by the end of the night.
But, I started with my story. 800 words in, I hit a stopping point. One of those breaks where I need to let my brain sift through the present story a bit so that I can gain some ideas for the next milestone. What did I do? I swapped over to write this blog post, which I’ve also been thinking about for a few days.
In other words, my “breaks” today are becoming their own little projects. I don’t have to feel bad about ignoring my story for a bit, because the noodle needs to chew on it for a while. In the meantime, I can get more words (which is always good for practice), I can let my brain play with some concepts to diversify my creative thought process, and I can get some blog posts written.
Best strategy ever. Except when it isn’t. This multi-tasking approach has a deadly component that you need to watch out for. Don’t multi-task into projects that require no deep thinking at all. Make all of the deviations to mini projects that require some cognitive thought, not answering emails or updating social media. Those tasks typically entail dumping data you already have to add to discussions or further threads.
The querying process is much different from the creative. I would say, stick to ONLY creative projects when trying this approach.
Creative vs Querying
There are basically two modes that my productive mind defaults to, creative and querying. You might find that your mind works much the same way. Both of these modes are productive, and I “make” things while doing both. But there’s a difference.
My creative process is strictly that. Unencumbered, unhinged, and producing ideas like I’m drunk. I’m throwing shit at my proverbial wall and seeing what sticks. While most of my projects require that ideas make sense, it’s not in a way that draws on information I already have, which is filed away. Instead, it produces out of synthesis, that which I want to create. I can hammer out the details later if needed, but for the moment, I create and to hell with the consequences.
Querying mode is different. Where creation is strictly proactive, querying is reactive. I’m answering questions online, quite literally. I’m responding to on-going discussions. I’m checking for updates on this or that. I’m processing hard data that exists already instead of letting things flow. There are many varieties of this, but almost all of them can be seen in how I use my social media time. Querying is moving data and facts around. I’m storing facts that I pick up from others, and I’m digging facts out of my own brain to dump on them.
Creative tasks are things like drafting, sketching, making time-lines, or meditating about the story as if it were a movie. The creative mind needs no data or hard facts other than what is immediately in front of it.
Querying tasks are things like social conversation, answering an email, doing probing research into a specific topic, or organizing your planner. It’s things like checking on book sales.
If you’re moving information, you’re querying, even if you are simply answering a phone call from a friend. These drag on your creative processes.
This isn’t to say, mind you, that querying processes are useless, or even less useful than creative ones. Only that they distract from creativity. If you’re trying to accomplish creative things, stick to creative things even in your breaks. Don’t break from a novel draft to answer an email. Do your creative work, and then sit down to do your querying work after you have finished.
That, or take the easy route, and simply concentrate on one project at a time, and don’t do anything else at all until you’re exhausted on it, or your time limit is exceeded. You might find that you need to set some kind of alarm, as getting deeply involved with a creative work will suck the time away without reminding you that your coffee has gone cold.
This article was drafted in my creative mode, and uploaded later when I put aside creative things for the night to focus on querying tasks, along with answering my email and checking in on social media for the night.
Martin McConnell, author of Finish the Damn Book!, holds a Physics degree from SIUE, and when he isn't writing speculative fiction, he's motivating other authors, stargazing, reading, or playing Kerbal Space Program. He avidly encourages everyone he meets to seize control of their dreams by driving their own plot. You can find him on twitter @spottedgeckgo, or at his website writefarmlive.com.
First time novelists think that getting to the end of the first draft is the "work." It isn't, but most won't realize this until after they finish penning their first novel.
As a preface, if you are working on your first book, do not take this post as a deterrent. Finish the damn book, and use this as preparation for what lies ahead. I take no issue with outlining a new idea, or converting it into a text of 60,000+ words. This is the fun and creative part of the writing process, so you had better enjoy it.
Often, I tell writers to focus on the next book immediately after finishing draft one. Start coming up with a story. But out of all the advice on the internet, including my own, the topic of coming back to a first draft after a short rest never seems to be discussed. Believe me, I'm criticizing myself right now for not giving this its proper due before, as well as most others who blog about the writing process.
The reason it gets glossed over, I think, is because the sting of it is a one-time event. Most of us have written over a dozen long-works, or none at all. So few are at the cusp at any given time, and as a result, this post will likely not be shared, and it will disappear into the ether of the grand internet slush pile. It is a useless blog post in a certain respect, but I write it on the off chance that it may one day help one single writer overcome this obstacle.
The Prospect of Writing off a Loss
I've seen not a single study done on this, and I invite you to comment below with your own insights. How many budding authors quit after writing the first draft of their book to completion. I don't have a number, so don't let me lie to you, but I suspect that thousands, if not more, fall into this category. I write off these losses to the grueling hunt for representation, or the mountain of drudgery that we collectively call editing. The prospect of self-publishing is still tarnished by hostile attitudes, no matter how common it appears to be.
But there's something else. A potentially deadly monster lingering around the very beginning of the post-edit process, and perhaps one of the causes of the onslaught of negative thought that accompanies purification of your work.
This monster isn't writer's block. It's inadequacy. And it's just as damning and critical as its cousin from the drafting process.
It takes an act of sheer courage to begin the writing process. You give up time from your life to devote to a singular project that will continue to consume you for months or years. Relationships become strained, and each of us must find the self-motivation to move forward every day despite what else is happening in the world around us. We need to get up every day, and devote at least a portion of it to our dream of putting our own words out into the world.
We can do this, because of faith. We believe in the drafting process that we have something meaningful to contribute to the world of literature. We fall in love with our story, our characters, and the fantastical world we've created. We push on, focusing on the best parts of the story. We struggle against all odds to finish (most budding writers won't finish a novel). Then we reach the finish line, "The End." Celebration is in order, but it comes to a crashing halt with the following hangover.
When we return to our words, they aren't the same. They're terrible. Sometimes the first paragraph of re-reading our work can be enough to cripple our efforts. The first snowball rolling down a mountain teetering on catastrophic valley-town smothering avalanche.
This is the seed of all future inadequacy. Instead of focusing on the awesome parts of the story and making them better, as we should be doing, we're crippled by self doubt and the fear that perhaps our story, our idea, or our grasp of the written word simple aren't enough. Instead of seeing how our work is different and wonderful, we look out into a sea of authors doing it better.
When this happened to me the first time, i thought for sure one of my buddies on the rig had deliberately sabotaged my work. The words were that alien to me. This doubt leads to months of constantly comparing our words to other works where the author seems to be doing exponentially better than we ever could.
For TSOV (now scrapped), it even carried over into the query process. I watched other authors re-write parts of my letter in ways that shocked and amazed me. Their words were great, and mine appeared so sophomoric that I swore the average third-grader could have done a better job than I. Those thoughts and attitudes sank my original series, and pushed me away from writing for three years. I'm writing this post, because I don't want to see that happen to you.
Your book might not be good enough. Go ahead and let that idea find a place in your mind now, and save yourself years of potential torture. I heard these words first from another author, and didn't want to believe it. Looking back now, what should have been a mild hiccup turned into a deserted wasteland of unwritten pages because instead of embracing the idea, I wore myself out trying to fix something that would never become anything.
Now that the idea is planted however, the next step is to NOT give up. When you finish writing a novel, it changes you. Your words haven't changed, you have. 80,000 words is a lot of writing experience, and if you don't improve as a result of the process, then you probably did something wrong. It's NORMAL to feel like your first draft was crap. That's because you were a different writer when you started on it. The skill you gain by "doing" changes your style, it accents your ability to pass a thought, and it can either drive better works and fix your current work, or it can overcome you.
Try this exercise. Read the first few pages. Then skip all the way to the end of the document and read the last few pages. This is a great way to see the change in your words over time. If you spent six months writing a draft, (or even three weeks), you'll see a pronounced difference. You're a better writer now. THAT, is the reason you can see faults in what you thought was awesome before.
The first thing that you will likely notice is the sentence length. New authors like to string words together into strands of enigmatic goo, and through the course of cranking out thousands of lines shift toward shorter frameworks. The pattern will actually oscillate as you continue to find your own voice, and after a while, you'll stop thinking about it.
I highly, highly, highly recommend, especially for a first novel, to set the red pen aside, and read through the entire text at least once without changing anything. You can keep notes in a separate document or notebook if you like, but focus on story details, not grammar. You might make a page or two of recurring problems to keep an eye out for, but focus on the story itself. Read through, start to finish, and don't touch a damn word.
My next suggestion is going to seem like a ton of work, and this is going to take a huge leap of faith on your part. It is something that MOST authors will benefit from. Now, if you spent a great deal of time on the first draft making sentences pretty, then you might be better off with another editing routine, BUT, if your words were really that amazing, you most likely would not still be reading this post.
Rewrite the whole damn thing. Every word. The whole story. You can use your current work and notes as a guide, or start again from a revised outline. But rewrite everything. A second draft is exactly that.
We're spoiled in the current era of automatic typesetting and digital storage that we sometimes forget earlier writers had to hammer out the whole text again on a typewriter as a natural part of the editing process. IE, #amwriting and #amediting were the same thing. Writers were notorious for drafting and redrafting a dozen, two dozen, or even fifty times.
And you know what? It works. It's actually easier than trying to rearrange everything to tighten up the script. I've made a habit of doing this with almost every long work now, precisely because it is so effective. A novel isn't a pamphlet or flier. It's not five or six pages of story. It's a lot of shit to keep track of, and the administrative tasks of fact-checking and item tracking can make even the sharpest of accountants bug-eyed and atrophied. I rewrite drafts now because it's easier, not harder, than the alternative. It's like hitting the reset button, and it has the added benefit of improving your skill at every phase of the writing process at once. In fact, you may improve so much that you come back to your second draft and go through this whole process again.
It happens, it's normal, and it stings. Looking at your first long work with a critical eye can break your heart, but it doesn't have to be a permanent wound. Take solace in the fact that most, if not all of us, have gone through it at least once. Things will get better as you continue to write more books, and there are actionable steps you can take to break up the process into manageable chunks instead of trying to fix everything on the first pass.
Plan on a lot of editing passes. Like I say in Finish the Damn Book! Write fast, edit slow. The path to publication is long and tedious. Put on your boots, choose a road, and keep walking, you'll get there eventually. Good luck.
Originally published at writefarmlive.com on July 5th, 2018.
Martin McConnell, author of Finish the Damn Book!, holds a Physics degree from SIUE, and when he isn't writing speculative fiction, he's motivating other authors, stargazing, reading, or playing Kerbal Space Program. He avidly encourages everyone he meets to seize control of their dreams by driving their own plot. You can find him on twitter @spottedgeckgo, or at his website writefarmlive.com.
A Deadly Journey with Jack Hunt
Zombie epidemic books these days are a dime a dozen, to the point where it's likely civilizations from the distant future will assume we had to deal with this problem on a daily basis. A little while ago the novelty of the genre wore off rather quickly, which in turn pushed many authors to try and come up with new twists to keep it fresh.
Today we have zombie apocalypse books of all kinds, littered on the entire spectrum between action, horror, comedy and even romance. While many of them are seeking to simply cash in on a craze with a lazy idea, there are authors like Jack Hunt who truly strive to move a blockaded genre forward, as he did in his first book of a series titled The Wild Ones. In it, we followed a group of teenagers as they were faced with a zombie outbreak while, rather conveniently, being in the middle of zombie survival camp.
In the second book, very aptly-titled The Wild Ones: Book 2 we are once again reunited with our heroes as they managed to tame the threats of the Adirondack mountains, somehow surviving against all odds. Now they simply need to figure out where to go and what to do with humanity more or less laying in ruins around them. It doesn't take long for the opportunity of a lifetime to present itself: there is a doctor who might very well have the cure to the monstrous pandemic. Unfortunately, the group must travel through the heart of the country to protect humanity's last hope, something much easier said than done with human threats thrown into the mix now. Cruel gangs now roam the lawless streets, revelling in their new world order... even with the epidemic cured, is there any hope left for humanity at all?
A High-Octane Affair
In the previous book, Jack Hunt managed to masterfully combine meaningful character development with a plot which kept on ploughing forward regardless of what was happening. In my opinion, the pace of the second book is even faster, putting character development in a bit more of a secondary role than before. We follow the events of the story through Scott's eyes, so in that sense we do become even better acquainted with him than before and witness the changes he's still undergoing on a spiritual level. The characters surrounding him aren't paid as much attention, and while generally I would say it's a bad thing, in this case it felt logical considering how much attention was dedicated to our first-person narrator. The author makes it very clear we are reading Scott's story at this point, and in my opinion he is an interesting and complex enough character to carry a story, at least this particular one.
With less character development to get in the way of the book's events, Jack Hunt certainly made good use of the extra page space to weave a plot moving almost too quickly for us to process it. From one page to the next something is happening, someone is in danger, and some threat looms either close or far in the distance. There is nary a moment of respite or safety, with a certain atmosphere of restlessness permeating from start to finish. There is a constant urgency to the characters' goals, which in turn prevents the book from ever feeling stale or boring. Even the few passages which draw on cliches we've grown tired of in the zombie genre don't feel like a burden, but rather like a familiar stop we pass on the bus every day.
The Chaos of a Ruined Society
One of the common difficulties authors tend to run into when writing a book is presenting their own social and/or personal commentary in a very ham-fisted way. All too often authors come across as if they're beating you over the head with their ideas, putting a solid stop to the story to try and shove their beliefs down your throat. This might not even be done on purpose, because frankly it takes a fair amount of skill to do what Jack Hunt does and simply weave all his thoughts and meditations seamlessly into the text. The old dogma of showing rather than telling applies here more-so than in other cases; instead of directly explaining his concepts, Jack Hunt creates a world where we can see them in action and judge for ourselves.
As you might imagine, a lawless society can make for a rather interesting canvas to explore the inner workings of society with and without order, the makings of personal identity, the hedonistic cravings we suppress, what shapes our morals and values, and so on and so forth.
Hunt really makes the most of this canvas, constantly thrusting his characters into situations where they witness manifestations of this new world order, pushing us, the readers, to reflect on the presented concepts on our own. Honestly, even if you aren't a fan of philosophical and spiritual debates, simply observing the fallen civilization as depicted by the author is fascinating itself, even if somewhat exaggerated at times.
The Final Verdict
With all being said and done, The Wild Ones: Book 2 is very much a worthy successor to the first novel, adroitly building on what was already established to deliver a fast-paced and action-packed story with some interesting character development and social commentary. If you enjoyed the first book, I believe it's safe to say you'll definitely like this one.
David ben Efraim (https://bookwormex.com)
The average indie book sells 250 copies. In it’s lifetime! Trade publishing isn’t much better at 3000.
While I couldn’t find what I would consider a reliable source for the above numbers, this is what is propagating all around the internet. And I believe them. It’s hard to sell books. I also see reports that if we discount the outliers (J.K. Rowling and the Bible), the average book sells around 2000 copies overall, for its lifetime.
While there is no guaranteed way to get your first 1000 fans, this article will attempt to showcase the importance of finding fans over unit sales.
A note about “sales”
Sales means something different to different people and different markets. For instance, a traditional publisher might print 10,000 copies on the first run, and report this number to the author. More likely, they’ll report the number of books they have placed in bookstores.
When a bookstore “buys” a book, they get it at a discount, usually 45-55% off the cover price, and are able to return them within six months if they aren’t selling, or the store thinks that they won’t sell. So for the example above, the publisher might report that they “sold” 8,666 copies, when these “sales” were actually bookstore placements.
Next up, actual physical copies sold directly to readers through the stores. This number is tracked on Bookscan, but not all sales are tracked. Most major chains report sales, and these numbers are used by the NYT and other media outlets as raw input for their weekly bestseller lists. Publishers rarely report these sales, and part of the reason is that they cannot track them. They can track the Bookscan list and the orders placed by bookstores, but as I said, this doesn’t account for every unit sale.
The Actual Sales numbers.
The numbers vary, and most sources can’t even tell you which numbers they are looking at. They rarely get them from the publisher. But there is one truism about book sales that penetrates every report on average book sales. That is the conclusion: not enough.
For the sake of argument, I’m going to stick with the number I quoted above for indie sales: 250. Indie authors sell in various ways. Local authors who are willing to hustle can easily reach this number in direct distribution to a local audience, but gain very little momentum across the rest of the world. Clever marketing people can secure enough online sales of ebooks to make the quota. But the sad truth is this:
I don’t know who came up with that number, or how they got it, but I assume its a mean average, based on my limited experience and communications with other authors. I imagine that if we looked at the median, if we were able to look at the median, the number would be much more dire. My guess would be around 50. I know authors aren’t always good at math, so for the sake of clarity, mean is the total number of sales divided by the total number of books in any given sample. Median is sorting the books in a line beside each other, and picking the one in the middle to see how many it sold. Again, this is for indie authors.
Now that I have your attention
Do I have your attention? Okay, then read carefully, because this paragraph is important. I’ll put it in one of those quote block things to emphasize the point:
"For an independent author, your lifetime sales for any book are directly dependent on the size of your platform, i.e. your fans and readership."
This might seem like a curse at first glance. You might be wondering why the hell you bothered to become an author. But this statement comes as a blessing in disguise. It means that as your readership grows, so will your book sales.
This is also true for trade published authors. Yes, they get the cool shelf space and a little media push, but publishers are doing less and less to push debut authors, which means at a certain level, it’s still on the author (specifically their platform) to make the book sell. They are further constrained by deadlines. In most cases, if you don’t earn out 12 months after release, your book goes out of print. (I have a friend this happened to, and it took years for him to get his rights back and self-publish his books)
Ever wonder why books are sorted by author name at the library? Because established authors are selling new books on their own reputation, not on clever marketing, or even that wonderful front table at Barnes and Noble. That table is for people who already have an audience walking in the door, who wish to say, “Hi, nice to see you again. I released another book. You should check it out.” Success with debut novels is much less, even on the new releases table.
But how do I build an audience?
You get off your ass, and get your book in as many hands as possible, by any means possible. Most often I get this question from authors hustling for every local sale they can get. “Most of my readers prefer buying the signed copy straight from me,” they say. That’s awesome, but by settling into that state of mind, you are automatically limiting your readership to those you can meet in person. And you’re spending your weekends sitting at a table instead of making use of your most available writing time to crank out more books. Your readership will grow, and indeed this is how a lone author attacked the process for years. Orwell is one example. Selling books out of the trunk of your car becomes your ONLY source of sales, even if the book is available everywhere online.
There’s a billion ways to build an audience, but these days, EVERYTHING is online. Like it or hate it, that’s where the waiting bookworms are. I can’t tell you what will or won’t work for your books. Every individual book, regardless of author/genre/etc has its own audience. Just because Joe liked your first book, doesn’t mean he won’t hate your next.
Historically, authors stuck to one genre, and it worked well to ensure that readers who already liked the author would continue to buy similar books. I’m probably wrong, but I don’t stick to that. I write across genre, perhaps intentionally, because my “ideal reader,” the target audience I wish to grab isn’t as influenced by genre as they are by my future forecasts, grit, and ideas to speculate on. My ideal reader wants to finish a book, and then think about the deeper context for the next three days. That’s who I write for. A niche audience. The biggest moment of my writing career to this point was when I found him.
One reader I’ve been communicating with (who I’ve never met before) reads books for the same reason that I write them, and now I think about him every time I sit down at the keyboard.
ONE reader. Your ideal target audience. Friends and fams are great, but finding that one true rabid fan who will assault his friends and family with your work is an irreplaceable asset.
Going from 1 to 1000
This is a long discussion. I gave one tactic in my prior example when I hit 61 on the Kindle Bestseller List for free ebooks. According the the updated history of that book, Amazon now claims it hit 58, but I didn’t get any screen-shots of that…so…
The point here, is regardless the audience you have now. Imagine there were 1000 people out there who bought everything you put out, forever. Each time you released a book, you immediately sold 1000 copies. Compare that idea to what you are doing now. Building a platform is more important than unit sales at a given marketplace or signing. It’s ALWAYS been more important, for EVERY product.
Here are some general ideas. These shouldn’t be seen as a to-do list, but rather a spark of ideas. You bring the tinder. Start with any one of them, and then figure out the best way to reach your ideal reader, and do whatever you can to ensure they read the book.
You might wonder what that weed is in the picture at the top of this post, or what it’s doing there. The plant is called mullein, or often “witch’s torch,” “devil’s torch,” “poor man’s flannel,” or any of fifty other common names. It grows like a lot of weeds, forming a basal rosette of leaves it’s first year after germination. The next year, it sends up that spike of flowers, quite aggressively. It builds a platform first, and then launches like crazy. One plant can spread as many as half a million seeds.
When I think about marketing, I think about that plant. It’s cozy, warm, comforting, and incredibly helpful. Smoke from the leaves has been said by some to alleviate lung conditions, and the flowers can help with ear aches. When mixed with other herbs in, say, a tea, it is said to enhance any medicinal effects, giving a boost to your soothing chamomile. (some people are allergic to the fuzzy stuff on the leaves, so I’m not recommending any of this directly)
The point here, the big picture, is that one plant, one book, or anything else can go viral, just like a tweet. Books take longer, as the virus has a long incubation period (they take a while to read). But a good book will spread, and it’s that spreading that we should be trying to facilitate, not one-off sales that must be repeated over and over. It’s not one plant in a garden that we should seek to be, but a noxious weed that keeps coming back, year after year after year.
Selling one/two/ten books per day, every day, all year, isn’t a marketing trick. No marketing platform exists that could sustain sales over time indefinitely, and operate at a profit. But, when your average rate of sharing (i.e. so and so recommended this, it’s awesome, you should read it too) is high enough to overcome diminishing returns from a marketing push, new readers will be seeing your book every day. Eventually it will find your target reader, and they’ll shoot you an email (or tweet, or message, or whatever). THESE are the fans you want, and the ones you should focus on.
You won’t find a thousand all at once, but gain them one at a time, and they’ll continue to support your work as long as you continue to put out books at the same level of awesome. And you will, because if there is one consistency I’ve noticed among authors, it’s that they get better at writing and storytelling with each book.
It isn’t going to happen overnight. Most creators work their ass off continually for 10-20 years before becoming an “overnight success,” if they get that far. When you find that wonderful reader who loves your book, welcome them with open arms. They are the best person you could ever hope to meet, and bonus: if they love your writing that much, it means you have something in common already. You have a common ground to forge a lasting friendship.
For the few “true fans” I have, I would do anything for them. We chat back and forth via email, and it isn’t always about books, or even anything literary at all. These are the people that see my vision and simply “get it.” Friendship comes easily.
So, to recap, here are the steps.
Write awesome book (and package it well – cover/blurb/etc)
Tell your existing audience and release book.
Make a push to get as many copies out over a short window as possible, even if it means giving the electronic version away for free. On trick is what I did in the post I mentioned earlier.
If it spreads (you will see residual sales start to trickle in on their own without additional advertising), then your book has some degree of awesomeness, and it is hunting for true fans so you don’t have to.
When your fans reach out to you, don’t be afraid to make friends. You’ll actually find it incredibly easy. Your book already broke the ice. A great book is the ultimate wing-man.
Hope you enjoyed the post. I think the scope on this one was a bit bigger than I prepared for, but if you gained some nuggets of wisdom, and the post was helpful, then I’ll call it a success. Lots to think about here, so feel free to ask questions in a comment or email, or just let me know what you think.
Originally published at writefarmlive.com on June 21, 2018.
Written by Alyse N. Steves
Almost two years ago, I published my first novel, Child of Humanity. The overwhelming sea of emotions I felt as I saw my eBook listed on Amazon was among one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. After four years, I had done something that, sometimes, felt utterly impossible to accomplish. I received congratulations from friends and family, who applauded me for my hard work and perseverance. One of the most frequent comments I received was their amazement that I was a published author at such a young age.
“Self-published,” I would correct.
With those words, you could see the excitement dull in their eyes.
“Oh,” they’d say, “It’s still cool.”
I would try not to let them see me deflate, suddenly feeling as if my major accomplishment – my lifelong dream-- was inadequate. Perhaps the worst comment I ever heard was:
“I tried a self-published novel once. It was the worst thing I’ve ever read. I’ll never read another self-published book again.”
It’s no secret that some self-published books are just plain bad. Unfortunately, it would appear that disgruntled readers, tired of more misses than hits in the world of indie books, have decided to write off the entire collection of independently published works as subpar.
For this reason, I’ve found myself asking what the responsibilities of a self-publishing writer are. Do we have responsibilities to uphold to our readers as well as to the self-publishing community as a whole? Should we be policing our community, requiring a higher standard for those who want to independently publish?
We can’t pretend that we don’t know what that one well-meaning friend was talking about. We’ve all been there. We see a promising self-published novel advertised on Twitter or Facebook, and the link takes us to a five-star book on Amazon that has nothing but glowing reviews. The readers gush about it. They can’t get enough about it. Excited, you purchase the book, only to find a myriad of typos and grammatical errors on the first page alone. It doesn’t get better beyond that. Too many self-published books suffer from non-existent plots and lackluster character development. Too often, the book is left unfinished, or you get to the last page feeling ripped off.
This leads me to my first question: are self-publishing writers obligated to produce a high-quality book for their readers? Should it be an expectation that we all have polished, edited stories for sale? Many people can’t afford an editor. I understand that. When I was trying to get Child of Humanity published, my Kickstarter barely had any support, and to get the job done, I ended up taking out a small loan. It was my dream, so I was willing to make the financial sacrifice, but should every aspiring writer out there be obligated to do the same? Of course, there’s the workaround—the betas. We all know of at least one person who would be willing to be a beta reader. Still, that doesn’t mean that your one friend who happens to really like reading is going to be able to suggest ways to strengthen your characters and knows the difference between an en dash and an em dash. Our friends can only do so much.
So then, should the burden fall on the writing community? With our experience, should we offer ourselves as betas? Should we serve as editors to the needy? Support our fellow writers’ fundraising campaigns?
Or is this one of those sad facts of life that we just can’t work around? It goes without saying that some people see book writing as nothing more than a way to make money. Once, to my utter horror, I heard a fellow writer at a group meeting utter the dreaded words:
“I decided to write that one novel, even though I wasn’t feeling it. It didn’t require much thinking and was an easy five bucks.”
I was drawn to self-publishing because I have full control. It was a way for me to make my dream come true. There is no one to tell me what can be included in my book and what needs to be cut. The cover and title are my own ideas. I love the artistic freedom of self-publishing, so do I just accept that, intermixed with those of us who have a passion for story-telling, there are the businessmen who see the craft as nothing more than a way to get a few bucks off people? Even when it produces bad stories that hurt our reputation? Should we just accept that, intermixed with those of us who pour our heart and soul into our work, there are those who just want it done for the sake of saying they did it?
Of course, there is the other option. Since publishing my own story, I have begun seeking out other self-published novels to add to my reading list. It is my goal to support the self-publishing community by reading and reviewing as many self-published books as I can. I have read some amazing books, which I will post the reviews of on this blog soon, but I have also read books that were clearly hastily released before they were ready. So, question number two: do self-publishing writers have an obligation to be critical of other writers’ books?
Too often, I’ve found myself in a situation where I’ve felt like the self-published story I’m reading is only half baked. In a rush of excitement to get their masterpiece out into the world, the author has released something that, honestly, is no good. But my goodness, they are so proud of it and excited about its potential! Do I have it in me to give them the critical star rating? Do I want it to be me who crushes their excitement—maybe even their dream? Typically, I feel an obligation to the readers and do just that, feeling my stomach twist as I submit the review on Amazon and sit on the couch afterward, feeling as if I had kicked a puppy.
That brings up another issue: so many of us are desperate for reviews that don’t come from our mothers and best friends. We need good, honest reviews from people who don’t know us, and we need a lot of them. Our story, which we worked so hard on, is being overlooked by potential readers because it simply doesn’t have the numbers. To remedy this situation, I will sometimes offer to exchange reviews with another self-published author. The agreement is always that I will give an honest review of your book if you will give an honest review of mine.
But … sometimes, their book falls into the half-baked category. Sometimes, I’m left turning the last page, realizing I will have to give a critical review.
And I wonder … will they return the favor? If I give someone less than five stars, will they retaliate by giving me the same rating or worse? I admit that this has happened. It was not a pleasant experience, and it really turned me off from reviewing any more indie books.
So, what’s the answer? Is this just what the self-published book world is: a mixture of some of the most creative, well-written books available intermixed with half-assed scams or dreams that just don’t make the cut? Are we obligated to be our own community’s police and patrol the eBooks on Amazon for the sake of the good ones? In my opinion, we can’t control what gets published and we shouldn’t. We should all be free to publish whatever we want, and we should have our creative voices be heard without fear of censorship.
However, I think we should feel obligated to read other indie books and leave honest reviews, even if we may face retaliation on our own books. If we want the good ones to stand out, and if we want to change the tone of how indie books are viewed by readers, we owe it to ourselves to take on this extra responsibility.
I’d love to hear your opinions on this. If you have any suggestions or comments on what you think the obligations of a self-publishing writer are, I’d love for you to send me your response at AlyseSteves@gmail.com, message me at my Twitter account (@AlyseSteves), or post a comment on this blog. Maybe, together, we can figure out the answer.
Another Jack Hunt Apocalypse
The end of the world is a topic which fascinates some people more than others, and I believe we can safely say Jack Hunt is part of this interesting book. Previously he has tackled the topic of an electronic apocalypse in his EMP Survival series, exploring in great depth the personal and societal effects such an event would have on humanity. In his standalone novel The Wild Ones, Hunt has decided to take a slightly more lighthearted approach to the topic of Armageddon by turning his attention to a timeless classic: zombies. It is certainly true we've witnessed a veritable array of such novels hitting the shelves in recent years, but in my opinion a few of them are worth a read for the fresh perspective they provide on an old subject... and this happens to be one of them.
In any case, to give you a brief idea of what's going on, the story takes us to the Adirondacks, a chain of mountains near New York. A group of teenagers are attending a novelty of today's world, a summer zombie survival camp meant to teach them everything they would ever need should the most imaginary of apocalypses come to pass. I'm certain you already know where this is going: against all odds, an actual zombie outbreak happens in the mountains as an outbreak infects people and causes them to behave in a violent and uncontrollable manner. Being stranded more or less in the middle of nowhere and with mindless killing machines bearing down on them from all directions, the small group of inexperienced teens must band together, putting their knowledge of zombie hunting to the ultimate test. These two weeks were meant to be some of the most memorable and enjoyable times of their lives... now they'll be lucky to make a step without dying.
At first glance, I will admit this appears to be nothing more than yet another zombie novel to read and forget, to catalogue with the rest of the generic pile. However, the deeper you get into this book the more you realize it has much more to offer. To begin with, the various character tropes we've become sick and tired of in these zombie novels don't really find their ways here. Instead, we are presented with a realistic group of teenagers, all with developing and believable identities mired in flaws but with clear potential. Hunt made a great effort in making these kids behave in a true-to-life manner, one which will no doubt remind you of yourself or your friends at that age. As you get further acquainted with them, they begin to feel like real and valuable people rather than mere fodder for some zombie action.
Of great interest to me was the author's decision to make this book, in part at least, a character study about group dynamics. There are numerous scenes putting psychological principles to the test where we witness how different characters behave and react in this ragtag group of misfits. We get to explore their human side so to speak, and while Hunt's writings do stem from his imagination, he makes a compelling case as to how young people would react to this situation. Even if you won't buy into his study, it will at the very least force you to think a bit as to how you would react to these circumstances. In any case, a break from zombie-slaying action we've seen in a million other works is always a welcome change of pace.
Wild Times Ahead
With that being said, this is a novel about teenagers ironically stuck in a zombie survival camp, meaning there is plenty of action to go around, coupled with some black humour strewn about here and there. There are plenty of enthralling fighting scenes and I'm glad to see they are up to Hunt's standards, being as vivid and memorable as the ones in his previous works.
The plot itself has more twists and turns than you would expect from such a simple premise, seemingly revelling in veering through unlikely territories. While at first you feel quite confident with your ability to predict the characters' fates, as you close in on the ending that feeling becomes gradually weaker, giving rise to uncertainty. The author manages the herculean task of making us care about these teenagers, a feat which in my specific case is infinitely easier said than done.
While it can certainly be said the path walked by these kids has a few less than realistic moments, on the whole their capabilities remain grounded and in the realms of the realistic. The author has an exceptional talent for keeping his characters believable even through the tougher situations where they must go above and beyond what's expected of them.
What's more, we clearly see the characters being molded by their experiences, bearing the marks of pain and suffering from the inhumanity they are forced the endure and from the consequences of irremediable decisions they must make. Without spoiling too much of the ending, I am quite confident it has all the makings necessary to turn into an actual series.
The Final Verdict
The Wild Ones by Jack Hunt is welcome breath of fresh air in the zombie apocalypse genre, taking a somewhat different approach to the topic. While the characters are teenagers I would still say this is very much a book for adults, filled with thought-provoking character study, a realism which at times feels dreadful, and welcome doses of black humour for comic relief. If this is a genre you enjoy then I can confidently recommend this book; there aren't many new experiences left to have in the undead Armageddon, and this is one of them.
David ben Efraim (Bookwormex.com)
Find this book at:
Timothy Hallinan and his Ethical Thief
Thievery is the kind of crime that commonly teeters on the brink between despicable and romantic, often depending on the target of the crime and the means. Many are the people who have fantasized about noble and moral thieves, with Robin Hood most likely representing the epitome of the archetype. There is something quite alluring about the well-meaning rogue, being capable of extraordinary feats most of us only dream of and having the correct moral guidelines to go along with them... ultimately making them harmless or even beneficial to the innocent. While in real life one would be extremely hard-pressed to find people of such a nature, it hasn't stopped Timothy Hallinan from creating our beloved ethical master thief Junior Bender, whose story he recently continued in King Maybe.
Without getting too encumbered by the plot, it begins with Bender bungling the heist of a rare stamp from a professional assassin. In turn, this sets off a ridiculous and complicated chain of events that only causes things to escalate further up the crime ladder, into blackmail and perhaps even murder. And thus, Junior Bender finds himself caught in the middle of some macabre revenge plot, which wouldn't be all that terrible if it wasn't for the extremely inconvenient timing. As it happens, he is currently trying his damnedest to penetrate the fortress of a studio mogul, the titular “King Maybe” himself, a completely rotten and despicable man who nevertheless happens to be the most powerful figure in Hollywood. With assassins on his trail after the rare stolen stamp fiasco, Junior sees the clock ticking down and the noose around his neck squeezing ever tighter.
Before we go further, I'd just like to assure you that you don't need to read the novels in any kind of order as each one in the series stands on its own. While you might miss out on some development, you'll never be confused as Hallinan always takes first-time readers into account. With that out of the way, let us continue.
The Importance of People
One of the most important aspects when it comes to writing a successful story are the characters. After all, if the people you follow and meet along the way don't retain your attention, or worse, turn out to be unlikable and give you no one to root for, then the story will end up failing no matter how skillfully it's written. This is why I'm quite glad that Hallinan is unbelievably talented when it comes to character creation. While technically there are plenty of secondary characters with minor roles to fulfil, it never feels as such because Hallinan devotes time to each and every one of them, ensuring they're developed into fully-fledged people with plenty of dimensions about them. It doesn't necessarily take overbearing descriptions to get the job done either: he gives us just enough information to make us realize there is much more to learn about any given person, as if they have their own history and life going on.
Junior Bender himself makes not only for a fascinating but also a hilarious protagonist whose lines of thinking are generally quite easy to follow. Though he is certainly about as far from flawless as you can get, he's a very likeable buffoon (at times anyways) and never fails to bring a smile, and sometimes even a laugh with his dry and witty humour. For those of us who have read the previous novels, we also get to see his growth as a character and human being, learning from his past mistakes and developing a new perspective towards the people in his life. If things continue at this pace, these books will start to feel like an actual biographical series.
No Seriousness Allowed
While the subject matter we're dealing with can get rather sombre at times, that doesn't prevent the author from going all out on the humour, a common thread that unites virtually all of Hallinan's works. The novel never takes itself too seriously or dramatically, to the point where it sometimes feels as if it's aware that it's actually a book. If dry, calm and witty humour is the kind you like, then I guarantee you will at least be wearing a smile throughout the read. All the funny moments seem to come very naturally and it never feels as if the laughter is being forced down upon us.
With that being said, that doesn't mean Hallinan doesn't take serious care in crafting the plot and mystery surrounding it. The story threads are indeed woven with intricate attention to detail and take us on some rather unexpected rides which, nevertheless, never feel out of place. On the contrary, even the plot twists that take us by surprise feel very logical and natural, but only in hindsight... and that I believe is perhaps one of the, if not the most important quality in writing a compelling mystery. Even under the guise of humour, the story ultimately has tremendous maturity and quality to it.
The Final Verdict
To draw the curtains on this review, it seems that even at this later stage in his career, Hallinan is still improving from one novel to the next. I'd venture to say that so far, this was the best-written Junior Bender mystery, offering a barrel of laughs and thrills which I believe will be enjoyed by anyone who wields a sense of humour and enjoys “master thief” type stories.
A Civilized Witch Hunt with Tony Riches
Laughable in modern times, the idea of witchcraft was once taken very seriously and for an uncomfortably-long period women were accused of it left and right and subjected to executions or imprisonment. In the case of some women, the accusations were born out of their interests towards subjects that wouldn't be considered befitting a woman, especially if they were of a scientific nature. While that might sound like a cartoonish exaggeration of an age ruled by fear and ignorance, it was the very real story of Lady Eleanor Cobham, Duchess of Gloucester. She once had hopes of becoming the next Queen of England, but as Tony Riches tells it in historical fiction book The Secret Diary of Eleanor Cobham , fate had other plans in store.
Before even discussing the story itself, I just want to point out that the author isn't one to substitute imagination for facts. He always strives for his novels to remain as accurate and well-researched as possible, so all the verifiable facts in history in regards to the duchess are taken into account and written around. Anyhow, Lady Eleanor's and her husband's downfall came when her family's enemies conspired against them, accusing the former of witchcraft due to her interest in astrology. She is found guilty and sentenced to be imprisoned for life by Henry VI. Over a hundred years after her death, some carpenters working on the Beaumaris Castle discover a box containing the duchess' diary, written in a secret code none could decipher... except for our narrator, who four centuries later has finally found the key to unlocking the mysteries within.
The Shrouded Eleanor
One of the main issues people who are interested in this case have faced is the lack of actual information about Eleanor and the kind of life that she led. The big events of her fate are known to us, but not much more... and for an author like Tony Riches, it's simply an invitation to let his creative ambitions fly a bit more than they usually do. After all, if we only know very little with certainty, I see no reason to fill in the blanks with our imagination, especially since this story is largely centred on her time spent as a captive, about which we don't know all that much.
I believe that the author succeeded quite well in bringing to her to life and molding her personality into something realistic, though not necessarily likeable... and that's a point I'm sort of on the fence about. While I do understand the appeal of making a character that isn't sympathetic and feels real, it was perhaps a bit of a mistake to make her the protagonist as well. After all, the story is about her life and it might have been a better idea a bit less irritating and dangerous to her entourage. Additionally, there are instances where it becomes a bit obvious that the author isn't completely in his element writing a woman character when touching on subjects such as childbirth. With that being said, there are plenty of historical characters surrounding her and the enough information about them to keep us distracted and entertained through to the end.
A Deliberate and Ambitious Plot
The plot of the book moves along at a relatively slow pace, and even at a bit less than three hundred pages it still takes its time to try and describe the times as best as possible. While he seldom gets the chance to really get down into the fine details, Riches gives a relatively complete overview of life in those times and the rules the governed it. With a lot of topics to touch on ranging from famous battles to political power struggles, it sometimes feels like a few of them are underdeveloped with a couple of things left unsaid. In other words, I think this novel could have benefited from being longer so as to give the author a better shot at immersing us into his universe.
The whole twist of her diary being found and deciphered five hundred years later adds a bit of an interesting angle on the story, especially since it creates an interesting contrast between what actually happened to her and the distorted truth people in the modern age believe. There are jumps back and forth in time which get a bit confusing in some instances, but it's not too distracting as we can quickly infer whether we're in the deep past or present times.
The Final Verdict
Taking all the good and bad into account, I think it's safe to say that despite not being perfect, The Secret Diary of Eleanor Cobham remains a captivating read that touches on the criminally-overlooked life on an important woman on whom our information is unfortunately limited. It tells her story in an interesting enough way and attempts to justify her actions well enough that I would recommend it to those who have a fascination with the duchess.
Aimée Marie Bejarano Indie Author of multi-genre novels such as: “The Gateway Series” “The Angelica Series” and “Possessions of the Human Kind” Saga Chapter One. www.amazon.com/author/aimeebejarano
Owner of Dead Man Walking Publications- website coming soon!
Recently I began really praying what I can bring to the table with the blog. I began thinking of my journey as a writer, beginning at age 16. Well, then I zoomed to the present. There are many things I can indeed help bring to the table in regards to what I did wrong. Publishing isn’t easy, the same goes for writing. I’m sure Mark can tell you it’s certainly a lot of work to proofread because you are trying to polish up every author’s novel. Hours of hard work goes into every word read, and every word circled in red. Then the difficult task of: reading over all of the editor’s notes, proofreader’s, and or the beta reader’s notes- Mark feel free to fix any typos I may have as well lol.
So, this publishing thing is difficult work! Some of us don’t have the luxury of hiring an editor from the start, and that is precisely what I’d like to delve into.
I’m sick with several diseases and on an extremely fixed income. At the time I wanted to publish, I had no author friends, neither family or friends who could spare the time to proofread for me at all. I reached out to Createspace. It was a small loan which killed the pocketbook. I completely turned to them for everything minus editing, it was far too much and I simply didn’t have it. Once they took over, I was disheartened when they couldn’t seem to find a cover fitting to my needs and the vision I had. Especially, the Biblical times. Then, it would cost around $200 more for access to additional photos which they can use. But the problem still rested, that no matter how often I spoke to them on the phone, their pictures were just not up to the vision I saw for my first book, “Angelica.”- Now re-titled, “Angelica, You Have Chosen Well”- Part One of the Angelica Series. I finally settled on an extremely dark cover with a candle lit. Not throwing someone under the bus, but it seemed I had someone working on my novel who barely began illustration. The front cover was in quotation marks. Embarrassing. And because I was so new to everything, did I know? Not at all. It took others asking me why it was there to even consider.
It released without so much as a bang for anything including the hard work put into it. My family did buy a copy here or there but as for gathering a readership, it was a far cry to have any. The front cover was disappointing. I figured this is what all indie authors must go through when first starting out.
So, I worked on my next book. This time, I bumped into someone who was willing to help. Unfortunately, this person is a menace to the publishing world, and I saw evidence posted in dozens of places to this person’s insanity. So guess what happened to me? I was suddenly dragged into it. I was even being called names on Twitter for my involvement with this person. I had no idea who they were, I was a newbie. But afterwards realized this person was dragging my Twitter handle into all of their insane rants. I finally blocked them. I took everything they worked on and learned how to redo it on my own. I even received a one star review for the book simply because I worked with this person. They made it clear they did not read the book and hated this other person and pretty much me- Amazon refused to remove it even if they mentioned they didn’t read it. Then later, this person decided to give it a chance and amended the review, but still bashed me pretty well. It must have bothered them because shortly after, I received a message on Facebook apologizing for throwing me under the bus. I have completely forgiven this person but it wasn’t enough to remove anything about that review lol. And all the while, a lot of self-righteous authors were telling me they were going to help me and send me a list of all my mistakes- yep it does happen. D.M’s still hit me up from time to time thinking their editing is better than what I hired. It happens all the time in the publishing world- I even take peeks at best-selling book reviews or indie author book reviews and it’s almost the same case. Authors criticizing or critiquing the other author’s editors. When will it end? Problem is it lowers who you are as a writer, as an author to what you shouldn’t be. Most were trying to take away and strip me of my original writing style. It puts some sort of distaste as if something is wrong with you and your writing, so then the question sits, “Why write at all?” Promises from author’s to aid, and it became where I was growing irritated by it. Of course, I know we can learn new things and God knows I love to, but for this to occur with things such as, “I liked the book BUT I’m going to send you papers of all the mistakes you’ve done.” “I like the book a lot BUT you shouldn’t write it in the present tense but in the first person. Like from the main character’s point of view.” “I like the story but the editing stinks.”- of course this was nitpicking my most recent review lol. ETC. And quite frankly, I don’t like being beholden to anyone. Promises come and go. People giving insights on how they think I should write the book was all I needed to say, “Enough. I’m doing it as the Lord tells me to write it, and not because others declare it or push me around. And I will redo it better than before including a new cover and an editor.” The Lord knew all I needed was Him in all of this mess. Did I change the POV as directed? No way!
I had had enough. The only good thing coming from what’s happened is I slowly began connecting with genuine, kind author’s and I listened and read all I could and learned new programs to help me along this journey. Most of it I learned alone. The only One beside me was the Lord.
I didn’t have all my ducks in a row years ago, but was learning how to format on my own for paperbacks etc., found my own illustrator, and finally recently at the beginning of this year, all my novels were redone with brand new covers, in 2nd Editions, and edited!
The mistakes I made seem to haunt me still since there are copies of my books floating around that I know are not professionally edited, and thus the reviews that occasionally trickle in reflect that. Presently, I have issued a disclaimer to the readers that since March or April of 2017, my books are redone and edited and the reader can now update to a new version.
Am I sorry that I didn’t wait? You know, I’m sorry to the Lord for my hastiness, however I’m not sorry things turned out the way they have. I’m fully dependent on the Lord and He has used me to be able to push through each novel where I can format and do all myself, including book trailers. The only thing I need help with is editing and illustration. But, for something good coming out of it is definitely the price I’ve paid for it. I believe even now, that there are readers out there for all of my books who will love them and stick with me as I publish. I know I’ll get another chance for these books to make it to someone’s kindle or into someone’s hands. I believe and have faith I’ll get that chance again. Mistakes are made but it isn’t a life sentence, which is why I love this meme! I saw it on Twitter and had to share it. Whoever came up with the phrase, thank you because it is so true!
Another great thing is I’ve started my own self-publishing house in 2015 which Lord willing next year, I plan on having other authors underneath. I know God has some great things in store for me and for all of us if we simply ask and believe He can. It has been worth all of the: stress, tears, doubts, discouragements, bad reviews, name calling (Cyber bullying), belittling, and anything else that I’ve gone through. If this is what I’ve had to do to get on my feet, then I would go through it again to understand all that I should for what the Lord has called me to do.
Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Matthew 7:7-8 KJV.
What are some things He has called you to do? Just because something is hindered or bad things happen, doesn’t necessarily mean He is not in it. Get on it! Time is short and we should be about our Father’s business. Maybe you are a writer, author, poet, illustrator, digital specialist, or artist who loves the Lord. Don’t let those things fall by the wayside. I often hear many indie authors say, “You know my first book was a train wreck.” Or “My first book was horrible it didn’t do very well.” Or “I hate my covers.” Or “I’m a much better writer now than I was then.” I can relate with all of it. Funny thing is, currently a ton of indie author’s I know are publishing 2nd Editions with new covers as well! The great thing about indie authors who publish is you control everything about your book! In five years, you can release a 3rd Edition for all you want! See? Not alone! Sure there are a lot of people doing what we do every day. But if He has called us, then no one can do it like us!
Stan I.S. Law Visions of Mankind's Future
Pretty much every one of us has some kind of vision for what awaits mankind in the future, for the sort of evolution that we'll be subjected to, generally based on the course we've taken in recent years. Some people are quite hopeful and optimistic about our prospects, believing that we'll eventually make the necessary strides in medicine, energy generation, and wealth distribution to create a sort of utopia, at least for most of the planet. On the other hand, there are others who see us as driving ourselves into the end times, slaughtering each other with as much zeal as we cut down forests and drill for oil, with an eventual mass extinction being inevitable. And then, we have thinkers like Stan I.S. Law who have a different way of looking at things, and it shows in his book Gift of Gamman where he presents us with a unique vision of what awaits us.
To keep this long story short, we are taken to a future where humanity is assailed by a rather strange enemy: a plague of placidity. Indeed, there's something making its way around the planet, turning people into lethargic and complacent vegetables who eventually just drift off into an eternal sleep. Slowly but surely, the human race is dying and there seems to be very little hope for its survival. As such, a 243-year-old astronaut, Adam, is sent on a one-way mission into deep space in an attempt to find some sort of salvation for humanity. Suddenly, he realizes that he is capable of manipulating energy in order to move through time and space. Upon returning to Earth, he becomes exposed to an extremely-advanced alien race, and so begins his grandiose awakening.
A Mish-Mash of the Elements
Those of you who are familiar with the author know that he doesn't like for his books to be easily-classified, with his stories diverging into many different genres at the same time, as did The Avatar Syndrome for instance. While Gift of Gamman might officially be classified as a science-fiction story, it's a whole lot more than that in my eyes. The backdrop is indeed futuristic, but there are many additional elements mixed into the plot stemming from the realms of romance, drama, adventure, science, mystery, spirituality, philosophy and even metaphysics. While there are a few action scenes sparsely peppered throughout the book, the brunt of the focus is placed on the characters and the many trials they must go through, most of them internal.
Speaking of the characters, I was pleasantly surprised with how wide and varied of a cast this book has. While I expected Stan I.S. Law to solely focus on the few main characters in as much detail as possible, he found a way of bringing to life a whole crew of secondary actors with a lot of depth. Not only are they all easily recognizable and unique in their appearances and voices, but their interactions with each other are always a pleasure to behold thanks to the author's acute understanding of how dialogue works. In my opinion it is one of the hardest things to do right in a story, with the slightest mistakes making an entire exchange feel unnatural... and Stan I.S. Law makes none of them.
For Thinkers and Adventurers Alike
In many cases, when authors try to write a story that is both profound and entertaining, they end up under-delivering in both categories; the story turns out short and predictable, while the meditations are little more than common sense apparent to everyone. I am certainly quite glad to Gift of Gamman managed to avoid this troublesome fate, being a strong contender on both fronts. While the plot could stand to move a bit faster in a couple of places, overall I'd say it flows very smoothly and easily, never leaving you bored as there is always something grand at stake or a mysterious phenomenon that needs to be understood. The characters are very easy to follow and in time we begin to care about them as much as the protagonist himself. There are enough twists, turns and complications in the story to keep you on your toes, and I can safely say that the moments where you're able to predict what's coming next are far and few in-between, barely existing at all.
At the same time as he progresses his story, the author finds a way to weave in his numerous philosophical introspections touching on a surprising number of topics from the domains of love, enlightenment and evolution, just to name a few. Like with every other one of his books, the author aims to make us think as much as possible so that we might one day draw our own conclusions about all those things that keep us awake at night. He never sounds preachy, nor does he force his views upon us; rather, he simply explores ideas and shares whatever observations he can come up with.
The Final Verdict
With all being said and done, Gift of Gamman is a well-written book that delivers on all fronts, just like the rest of Stan I.S. Law's novels. It entertains, makes you think, connects you with characters and is simply an enjoyable ride that you can take over and over again while finding something different to ponder on every time. It's a book I highly recommend if you enjoy philosophical science-fiction stories that place an emphasis on character development, introspection and spirituality.
Article written by David ben Efraim (Bookwormex.com)
You can buy this book at:
Recently, at my writer’s group, a fellow writer who is beginning her chosen art form told me that she was advised to not write above an eighth-grade level. I remember several seconds of stunned silence between us before I asked, “Who told you that?” Based on her troubled countenance, I don’t doubt that the horror of this suggestion came through in my tone. I’ve also been told that my facial expressions convey exactly what I’m thinking, so I hope I didn’t overwhelm the poor woman with my response. I wanted her to run screaming, just not from me. If I didn’t scare her off, I’ll make sure I soften my reactions when discussing such matters in the future.
Still, I am shocked that this type of bad advice is floating around writer’s groups. The last time I checked, there were still twelve grades a student in America needed to complete. Somebody please tell me if the progression of education stopped at grade eight. That would mean my child, currently a senior, has read nothing beyond an eighth-grade level for the past four years. That’s insane. Then again, I recall the small heart attack I experienced when I saw Stephenie Meyer’s The Host on the high school reading list. Which piece of classic literature found itself guillotined at the inclusion of that piece of tripe?
I have suspected for a long time that the art form of writing was under attack. My fellow writer’s comment confirmed this. So when did the dumbing down of American literature begin? I don’t know if I can actually pinpoint the precise moment it occurred, but I can tell you the moment I became aware of it. (And shame on me for not being more vigilant if it took place sooner.)
Dumbing down is the deliberate oversimplification of intellectual content within education, literature, cinema, news, video games, and culture in order to relate to those unable to assimilate more sophisticated information.
I remember the day I saw a t-shirt printed with the statement “underachiever and proud of it.” I had another moment, not quite as intense as that with my fellow writer, but one in which I was completely baffled. I could not fathom a person or society comprised of people who willingly settled for mediocrity in anything and a world in which one did the bare minimum to get by. There is no hope of success when one functions under such a principle.
And yet, this is exactly where we, as a society, have fallen twenty-five years later. It’s as if those who bullied the smart kids for hanging out at the library weren’t content to just harass their fellow students. They wouldn’t stop until the smart kids not only condoned but encouraged this stagnation of the intellect. If you don’t get on board—don’t hold yourself back from seeking knowledge or temper your drive and ambitions—you’ll be labeled a snob in the least and intolerant at the worst.
So again I ask: why this attack on art? Because art is dangerous. Art tells the truth. Artists are freethinkers who challenge the status quo. It was a novelist and playwright who said, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” A gold star to anyone who can tell me who said this. Here’s where the problem of proud underachiever comes in. The generation in which this concept became acceptable doesn’t care enough to find out who said the above-mentioned quote or what the quote even means. They are too lazy to want this information for themselves and are disdainful toward anyone who does. If it isn’t required of them in school, and based on the poor quality of curriculum in American schools I doubt that it is, they won’t reach out and grasp the knowledge.
That’s pathetic when you consider that we live in an era where knowledge is readily accessible. No more searching through the card catalog or plowing through large volumes of encyclopedias. You don’t even have to go to the library. Just ask Alexa, Cortana, or Google what you need to know from the comfort of your couch. Be sure to wait until the commercial or you’ll miss the best part of your favorite recorded TV show.
What troubles me about his indolent attitude is that it’s creeping backward and contaminating older generations. Hopefully it won’t pollute the writing of those already established and feeling pressured to churn out more or older writers just beginning to pursue their passion. As for me, I am personally committed to fighting this process of dumbing down by writing the best literature I can and by seeking to improve myself in every way. I am not afraid to compete, to go for the gold. After all, why run the race if I don’t intend to win?
I’ll most likely be among the first to die if America ever succumbs to an oppressive regime because we all know how much tyrants fear artists. But If I can leave behind a written work that the next generation, possibly the survivors, smuggle from home to home and hold up as an example of what they should strive for, then my art—my writing—will not have been in vain.
The Christopher Moore Perspective on King Lear
Shakespeare is an artist who managed to create works which transcended the centuries and remained current to this day and age. Stories like Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet and King Lear have seen countless adaptations and re-imaginings over the years spread through virtually every entertainment medium you can imagine. These works have been explored and expanded upon by many great minds, one of whom is Christopher Moore, author of the Pine Cove trilogy. In his book Fool we are treated to a reworked version of King Lear as viewed through the eyes of Pocket, the jester who captured the attention and imagination of many.
For those unfamiliar with the original tale, to sum it up in a sentence, it chronicles the gradual descent into madness of the eponymous king as he makes one terrible decision after the next, plunging his kingdom into peril. Now, if you're a Shakespeare purist and expect a deep and faithful take on the story that preserves its integrity, I suppose I'll have to disappoint you a bit. Moore takes many liberties with the plot, even adding in elements from other Shakespeare plays and juggling around the timeline of events. What he presents here is his own personal expansion on the play, a more modernized version where the jester and his fool of an apprentice take the centre stage.
From Tragedy to Debauchery
The original play is best-classified as a tragedy with dark humour elements, and Fool does away with the former in favour of greatly focusing on the latter. Watching the titular fool and his apprentice (named Drool after his constant habit) bumble their way through seemingly unconnected events and inadvertently set the the perfect stage for the king's undoing is nothing short of a riot. It seems at times that this story was an exercise for Moore to see how far he could push the characters into the world of debauchery. If you have heightened sensibilities towards the unseemly, then I wager that this story will be somewhat difficult to read. In other words, if social slights, impoliteness, obscenities and profanities are off-putting or shocking to you, then you'll probably find yourself longing for Shakespeare's original play... all those elements are part of the main course here.
Chaos and madness seem to reign supreme as the story advances much faster than you'd expect, with plenty of wall-to-wall action to keep you on the edge of your seat. There are enough fights, fornication, word plays, double entendres, misunderstandings, jokes, pranks, and imbecility to fill a bible on revelry and self-indulgence. As a matter of fact, I'd say that the pace is so quick that you'll have to take moments and slow down a bit to make sure none of the humour ends up soaring above your head. The writing is very concise and it feels like there is something funny or entertaining to be found in nearly every single exchange or description. It just shows that Moore had a ton of fun while writing this, mixing and matching the old Shakespeare with contemporary elements.
Above the Status of Parody
Strictly speaking, Fool is probably best-classified as a parody of King Lear , but frankly that isn't something which sits right with me. At nearly 400 pages in length, this novel certainly proves itself unique enough to stand on its own rather than being majorly defined by another work. As a matter of fact, I'd say it's more accurate to describe it as a big mash of Moore's creativity and Shakespearean components planted on the skeleton of the mad king's story.
With that being said, Christopher Moore was never an author people strictly red for entertainment value. There is always some food for thought to be found in his stories, and there's plenty to gorge on here as seemingly every page is filled with some criticism towards the overly polite and politically-correct nature of some societies, especially in the Western world. You may have to find the courage to stop yourself from laughing to analyze the meditations hidden amongst the farces, but the reward is there when you do. Also, I'd just like to mention that at the end of the book Moore appended some notes as to which events he changed around and how his timeline compares to that of the original play, so there are elements overtly inserted for the benefit of our analytical inclinations.
From my personal experience, I find that these types of chaotic novels that attempt to defy classification are best enjoyed with no expectations. The reader has to adopt the mindset of a sponge, simply sit back, absorb everything that's being thrown at them and just enjoy the ride. It's not exactly perfect and I'm sure everyone will find at least a couple of off-putting jokes that simply miss the spot, but that's beyond the point. It's almost like riding a roller-coaster: while it's happening you don't think about it but simply revel in it, leaving the reflection for the moments after the ride ends.
The Final Verdict
With everything being said and done, Fool is a very unique piece of work which I believe can appeal to quite a vast audience. As long as you don't mind discourtesy, depravity and debauchery you'll find plenty to keep you laughing and interested in the unusually consequential adventures of a two buffoons who bring more doom than anyone thought them capable of. If you're looking for a literary experience that is equal parts rowdy, comical and attention-catching, then I highly recommend you give Moore's novel a shot.
Hi guys! Thank you for having me back! So in my first blog, I spoke about the nuts and bolts of writing. For this installment, I’d like to take a look at some of the next steps. So, your story is written! Congratulations! Now what? So that’s what I want to talk about today: What to do after you have your first draft, the decision to publish traditionally or to self-publish, and the pitfalls that new authors need to watch out for.
So step one: Edit. After you’ve written your first draft, it’s going to be tempting to go back to page one and edit immediately. I would tell you to wait a bit. For me, I set my manuscripts aside for 2-4 weeks. This allows me to come back to the story with fresh eyes. What happens when you try to edit immediately, is you’re too close to the story to actually see your mistakes. Imagine walking in a forest for 2 months. After a while, everything is just trees. You stop seeing the small nuances of anything. Your story is no different. You’ve been staring at it for a long time. So step away and come back with fresh eyes. Then make the corrections you need to.
Now you’re book is ready! You’ve written it! You’ve edited it! Let’s publish! …Hold on there Tiger! I know. You’re excited to show the world your beautiful story, but it’s not ready for the bright lights just yet. So here I’m going to talk about self-publishing and traditional publishing. I’ll address traditional publishing first as it’s what most new authors aspire to. So when I was first querying, I had a bad case of wrong thinking, and I don’t want you guys to make this same mistake. My wrong thinking was this: If an agent likes my story, they are going to have it edited anyway. So I don’t need to have it perfect before a potential agent sees it. Oh how naïve I was.
Here is what is wrong with this thinking: Imagine your story as a resume. Because that’s what it is to an agent. You’re applying for a job, and a potentially high paying one at that. Would you send in your resume filled with typos? I imagine not. So my input here is: it isn’t a bad investment of time or money to have an editor look at your MS before you submit. Get it back. Make corrections. Have it proofread again after those corrections. Make final corrections. Now, you’re ready to submit a query that isn’t going to be disqualified on a technicality. Seriously, if you misspell prologue, the agent is never going to even read the first word of your story. And look at it this way: IF, heaven forbid, you don’t find an agent, your book is edited and you have a self-publishable MS ready to go. Do you need to have it edited before you submit? No. You can submit a query written in crayon if you want to. But I promise you, editing is not going to hurt your chances of getting a request for a full manuscript.
A brief aside before we go back to talking about queries: If you do decide to self-publish, editing is only one part of the equation. First, let me encourage you, if you want to be traditionally published, don’t give up. Stephen King, John Grisham, and J.K. Rowling all have something in common: They were ALL widely rejected by agents. They persevered until they finally got a yes. You only need ONE yes. Ten-thousand no’s and one yes, is still a yes. If you want to be traditionally published, don’t give up! If however you have decided to self-publish (and there are good some reasons to do this) you will need to have a cover made and have your book formatted. My advice to you is, don’t skimp on the money here. This is your baby. It deserves the best. Pay the money to have a professional cover made and to have it professionally formatted. You will have a book you can be proud of. I know it’s tempting to maybe make your own cover and save some money, but I implore you to resist this temptation. You wouldn’t ask a race car driver to be your mechanic. You wouldn’t ask a horse jockey to be your veterinarian. In that same guise, an author shouldn’t be a cover maker. You don’t know what’s trending. You don’t understand what makes a reader pass up one book and pick up another. You don’t understand how colors and combinations can create a certain mood and feel for a story before the reader ever opens the book. Another thing to consider is many promotional companies won’t allow you to promote through them without a professional cover. Bookbub can make an author’s career in a single day. Want to promote through them? You need a professional cover. Do some research. Find a cover maker you like. Get a cover that will make your baby shine!
Ok, so back to traditional publishing and the seemingly daunting task of querying: Research potential agents before you query them. Agents are looking for very specific things, so before you query, go onto Publisher’s Marketplace, and find out which agents are looking for the type of story you write. Frequently, the potential agent will tell you exactly how to query them. These are not polite suggestions. Follow their instructions exactly. And if you don’t know the difference between a blurb and a summary, go online and look it up. Failing to follow instructions can get you disqualified immediately. Another thing to mention here is, know what type of story you have. Is your manuscript a MG or a YA novel? Failing to submit it correctly can get you disqualified. So if you don’t know the difference between a MG and a YA, look it up. This will help you target agents who are looking for what you have.
Not all agents are created equal. If you find an agent who is accepting queries for your type of book, look and see who they represent. Then go on Amazon and check those books sales. This will tell you a lot about the agent. Believe it or not, there are a lot of unscrupulous people who prey on authors. Let me give you an example: Hi! My name is Rob and I’m a literary agent. I can get your book tons of exposure! For only $1000.00, I will guarantee you thousands of views on your book as well as a full fb and twitter campaign! This is a scam meant to make ME money. I get $1000.00. You get, essentially nothing. I share your book on my twitter page a bunch of times and on fb. But does that actually lead to sales or get your book published by any of the big publishers? Nope! I (in this scenario) would be a scammer. And believe me, there are TONS of them out there. Many go by the name of a “vanity press.” Avoid these completely. If an “agent,” ever asks for money from you, run far and fast. Real agents make their money off of sales, and will never ask a dime from the author. There used to be a site called, Predators and Editors that would tell authors who these people are. It’s since been shut down. There is however a blog called, Writer Beware that has taken up the torch. Do your research before you query. Choose the agents you really really really want to work with. It can make the difference between you flipping burgers, or writing for a living.
Ok, finally; learn how to query before you write your query. There are quite a few resources on query writing, most of which can be found by a quick internet search. My personal favorite is literary agent Kristin Nelson from Nelson Literary. On her site she shares a ton of information on how to write a quality query, and also includes query letters from books she chose to represent, and why she liked them. Again, think of your query as a resume. There are very real do’s and don’ts. So learn them up front. Then take what you’ve learned and write a quality query. Then edit it. Then take your query to beta readers and get feedback. Then rewrite it. Just like your MS, it needs to be shiny. This is true of your summary as well as anything else the potential agent asks for. Shiny.
I think this is a good place to stop for the day. It’s enough to get you started and help you avoid some of the pitfalls. I know I said it before, but I’m going to say it again: Don’t give up! If you forget everything else I wrote here, please remember that. Don’t give up. If you want to be traditionally published, keep at it. If you’re being widely rejected, you can always make changes. You can rewrite your query or your summary, or even the novel. But keep trying. You only need ONE yes. Until next time, metaphors be with you!
Please check out my new release, The Bookshop and the Junglest, available now through Amazon!
These are posts made by friends of Wordrefiner. I am grateful to share these with my guests.
"I'm very pleased with all your efforts. Twitter promotion and proofreading were beyond what I expected with a book review. Your suggestions throughout the process of refining both books helped me immensely. I look forward to working with you again." A.E.H Veenman “Dial QR for Murder” and “Prepped for the Kill”