Tag Archives: self publishing

#amwriting: getting lost in translation

The question about using foreign languages in dialogue recently arose again, so it seemed appropriate to revisit a situation from one of last year’s posts.

The quote that started it all was posted in a writers forum: “I have a main character in a fantasy novel who speaks no English. She speaks several other languages, though. Should I put the translations for her dialogue in italics or in parentheses?”

The answer to both options is a resounding no. We write in our native language for people who read in that language.

We can add a slightly foreign flair, but translations should not be necessary at all. We don’t put the reader through that kind of torture, wading through a language they don’t understand, and then giving them the translation in italics. (Or large chunks of whatever in parentheses.)

The writer whose question had begun this was writing a fantasy novel, and there are certain conventions readers expect authors to adhere to in this genre. When writing genre fantasy it’s a generally accepted practice that thoughts are set off with italics, not parentheses (aka Virginia Woolf), and so brackets have no place in the fantasy narrative.

Too many brackets clutter up the narrative just as much as large blocks of italics. In fantasy, the em dash or ellipsis has the function of setting portions of the narrative aside or giving it emphasis.

Italics, parentheses, and foreign dialogue are like cayenne—a little goes a long way. It’s all right to include an occasional foreign word or phrase, as long as it is done in such a way that the reader who most likely does not speak that language is not completely thrown out of the book.

My next thought when I was told about this particular conversation was, does the writer speak the languages she is writing, or is she getting her Russian (or Spanish or German) from Google Translate?

If that is the case, this author has a hot mess on her hands and her readers aren’t likely to finish her book.

Original sentence in English: “It appears as if my dog may have fleas.”

Google translation in French: “Il semble que si mon chien peut avoir des puces.”

Re-run that French phrase through Google translator: “It seems as if my dog can have fleas.”

Note the slight change in the translation—one word has been shifted, “may” becomes “can.” While these words are sometimes interchangeable in English, they don’t always mean the same thing:

  • May sometimes means might or perhaps; or sometimes may gives permission.
  • Can gives permission or enables.

That slight switching out of the word “can” for “may” changes the meaning of the sentence. The first sentence with “may” suggests it is possible the dog has fleas. The second translation to French assumes the word “may” is permission and gives the dog permission to have fleas.

These are two entirely different concepts.

English originally developed from a set of Anglo-Frisian or North Sea Germanic dialects originally spoken by Germanic tribes traditionally known as the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes.  So, modern English is an offshoot of Frisian, as is Dutch. Basically, we speakers of English speak a version of Dutch.

I hear you now: “But I don’t understand Dutch!”

This is because even though we share the same roots, we have widely different syntax.  English is heavily influenced by Latin, thanks to the Roman Conquest of Britain. In linguistics, syntax is the set of rules, principles, and processes that govern the structure of sentences in a given language, specifically word order.

How do you know that the Google translator understands syntax? The answer is: it doesn’t.

Imagine this situation: Your character from Amsterdam has bent a spoke on his bicycle wheel. He speaks Dutch. Filtered through the translator, it goes like this:

English: “Oh no. My bicycle has a bent spoke. How can I fix it?”

1st Dutch translation: “Oh nee. Mijn fiets heeft een gebogen sprak. Hoe kan ik dat op?”

2nd English translation: “Oh no. My bike needs an bent. How can I fix it?”

Note the misplaced words: When we retranslate it back to  English, the second translation makes no sense.

Google Translate is an extremely useful tool, but it is not intended to be used to translate an entire book into a foreign language. You need to hire a translator for that.

So, now we know that texts translated via Google Translate often emerge slightly twisted and make no sense, which is not what we want. If you do use the occasional foreign word or phrase, it’s no big deal as long as it is used appropriately and in a context that will be understandable to readers who don’t speak that language. It lends a certain realism when done with a deft and sparing hand.

Just don’t rely on Google Translate to help you write your Russian spy novel’s love scene.

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#amwriting: publishing overview, Indie vs. Traditional

Who are youThe publishing industry is in a state of growth. According to the annual report of the Association of American Publishers, published July 11, 2016, the  U.S. publishing industry’s annual survey revealed earnings of nearly $28 billion in 2015. The market showed an increased return to print purchases, and a significant growth in audiobook sales while the growth of eBooks sales lagged compared to previous years.

“The area of largest growth for the trade category was Adult Books, which grew by 6.0% from $9.87 billion in 2014 to $10.47 billion in revenue in 2015. For the second consecutive year, Adult non-fiction books, which includes adult coloring books, was the category that sold the most units and provided the most revenue in the trade category. Within the Adult Books category, the fastest growing formats in terms of units sold were downloaded audio (up 45.9%), hardback (up 15.1%) and paperback (up 9.1%).” Ebooks still comprised 17.3% of the market.

In this publishing world, what share of the market is claimed by Indie book sales? In October 2016 Author Earnings reported that overall, Indie sales were down. In my view, this is to be expected, because eBook sales were down, and most Indie sales are in eBook format. It is the availability factor—Indies have trouble getting their work into places like Walmart and Target, which are the big booksellers in America, right behind Amazon.

Author Earnings reported:

Amazon’s 2016 online print book sales are nearly 18% higher than they were in 2015.

When we integrate the area under the two curves, we find that:

Amazon sold over 255 million print books in the US in 2015.

Amazon is on track to sell well over 300 million print books in the US in 2016.

The above totals include at least 13 million annual print sales of non-expanded-distribution CreateSpace POD books by self-published authors, which Amazon does not include in the numbers they report to Nielsen Bookscan.

The implications are numerous:

In 2015, more than 40% of Nielsen Bookscan’s 652 million total reported annual US print sales–and the majority of Nielsen’s Retail & Club sector–were online print sales from Amazon.com, rather than brick-and-mortar bookstore sales.

The fact that Nielsen Bookscan reports only 5% growth in the “Retail & Club” sector, when Amazon’s half of those “Retail & Club” numbers is up 18%, can only mean one thing:

The other half of the Bookscan Retail & Club sector, US physical bookstore sales, must be down by at least 8%.

What do these numbers mean when you are trying to decide whether to self-publish or attempt to go the traditional route? In my opinion, they really mean nothing. Authors, either Indie or traditionally published, rarely earn enough in royalties to support their families. Publishers, large and small, don’t waste budgets promoting work by unknown authors the way they do the few who have risen to the ranks of their guaranteed bestseller lists.

This means you will be doing the work of getting your name out there regardless of whether you choose the traditional route or not. What are the perks of going traditional if you’re an unknown? Why go to the trouble of wooing an agent and trying to court a publisher?

  • The traditional publishing industry offers many valid perks to those who get their foot in the door.
  • Once you are in their flock, you have an editor who works with you personally. Most of the time you can forge a good working relationship with this editor. If you go Indie, you must hire a copy editor, which is not cheap. (And should not be.)
  • While they may not treat a new author the way they do Stephen King, traditional publishers will dedicate a small budget to marketing your work for its launch, and it will be more money than you might be able to pony up as an Indie.
  • Traditional publishers can get your work into markets like Target, Walmart, Costco, airports, and grocery stores. That is a huge thing, assuming your publisher considers your work worthy of such a commitment on their part. Their confidence will have to be earned. You must expect to find your work on the slow track for a while as the publisher tests the water and sees how well your work is received at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
  • Once you are an established author, you will have a wider distribution, make far more sales. With those sales, your work will meet the criteria to be considered for industry honors and awards, which will help sell your books.
  • There is an air of ‘respectability’ that still clings to being able to claim you’re traditionally published.

These are all extremely valid reasons for attempting to go the traditional route.

However, there are equally valid reasons for going Indie:

  1. Your book will be published. If you seek a legacy book contract, you must pass a gauntlet of gatekeepers: literary agents, acquisition editors, editorial committees, and publishing-house CEOs. These people must answer to the international conglomerates that actually own the majority of American publishing companies. This is why you are most likely to be stopped by a rejection letter. It’s not the quality of your work, it’s their perception of what the reading market will purchase and what it means to the accountants, who in turn must answer to their share-holders.
  2. You may not become a bestseller, but you’ll make more money on what you do sell. In most standard book contracts, royalty terms for authors are terrible, and this is especially true for eBook sales. Most eBooks are sold through online retailers like Amazon. If you’re a traditionally published author, and your publisher priced your eBook at $9.99, this is how the Amazon numbers break out (and remember, Amazon is still the Big Fish in the Publishing and Bookselling Pond):
  • Amazon takes 30% of the list price, leaving about $7.00 for the publisher, agent, and you to split.
  • The publisher will keep 75% of that $7.00, or $5.25.
  • The publisher will pay you 25% of that $7.00—just $1.75.
  • You then must pay your agent his 15% commission—or 26 cents.
  • You net just $1.49 on each $9.99 eBook sale. This is assuming your publisher honestly reports your sales and royalties and in my personal experience, some do not.

If you self-publish your eBook at that same price, for each sale of your $9.99 eBook, Amazon takes its 30%, leaving you $7.00. I don’t recommend such a high eBook price, but at  $4.99 or even $2.99, you stand to sell books and make a decent profit.

  1. You’ll get paid quickly. When a publisher accepts your book, he offers you an advance against sales. These are often paid in installments stretched out over long periods and are tied directly to how well or how poorly your book is doing in real market time. Publishers report sales and pay royalties slowly, as royalty statements are usually issued semiannually. Your royalty checks arrive later, so you can’t rely on this income until you have become an established author in their world.

Conversely, most eBook distributors like Kindle Direct Publishing and Barnes and Noble’s Pubit, and print-on-demand services such as Amazon’s CreateSpace, report your sales virtually in real time. Best of all, they pay your royalties monthly, with just a sixty-day lag from the time sales began.

Finally, and from my point of view, most importantly:

  1. Quill_pen smallYou retain all rights to your work. Legacy book contracts are a terrible danger zone for the author. The sheer complexity of negotiating a contract can be confusing and intimidating. You must hire a lawyer specializing in literary contracts, or risk unwittingly signing away secondary and subsidiary rights to your own work forever.

Quote from the Authors Guild post of July 28, 2015

Diamonds may be forever, but book contracts should not be. There’s no good reason why a book should be held hostage by a publisher for the lifetime of the copyright, the life of the author plus seventy years—essentially forever. Yet that’s precisely what happens today. A publisher may go bankrupt or be bought by a conglomerate, the editors who championed the author may go on to other companies, the sales force may fail to establish the title in the marketplace and ignore it thereafter, but no matter how badly the publisher mishandles the book, the author’s agreement with the original publisher is likely to remain in effect for many decades.

As I said before, you must do the work of getting your name out there regardless of whether you choose the traditional route or not. You must still work your day job to feed your family either way. Both paths are valid, and both have positive reasons for choosing that direction, as well as negatives. This is a critical choice for an author to make and is one that deserves deep consideration of all the many pros and cons.


CREDITS & ATTRIBUTIONS:

Annual Report, Marissa Bluestone © Copyright 2016, The Association of American Publishers http://newsroom.publishers.org/us-publishing-industrys-annual-survey-reveals-nearly-28-billion-in-revenue-in-2015, accessed March 5, 2017

A Publishing Contract Should Not Be Forever, The Authors Guild, © 2015 https://www.authorsguild.org/industry-advocacy/a-publishing-contract-should-not-be-forever/, accessed March 5, 2017

Do I Really Need A Literary Attorney, Arielle Ford, © 2011 Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/arielle-ford/do-i-really-need-a-litera_b_927120.html

Image: Quill Pen, PD|by author, BWCNY at English Wikipedia.

Image: Who Are You © Connie J. Jasperson 2011-2017 Life in the Realm of Fantasy

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#amwriting: What Editors Want

My Writing LifeToday we are discussing a particular kind of editor: the submissions editor. When I first began this journey, I didn’t understand how specifically you have to tailor your submissions when it comes to literary magazines, contests, and anthologies. Each publication has a specific market of readers, and their editors look for new works their target market will buy.

In the publishing world, there are several different kinds of editors:  line editors, structural editors, submissions editors, and so on. Each does a specific job within the industry. When you look at the annual salaries, you can see that none of these jobs pay well, so it’s clear that, while they like to eat and pay the mortgage as much as any other person, editors in all areas of publishing work in the industry because they love a good story.

I’m just going to lay it out there for you: it’s not worth a publisher’s time to teach you how to be a writer. You have to learn that on your own.

So, if they aren’t going to edit your work, what does the editor for that publisher do?

According to Lynne Barrett in her article for The Review Review: A magazine editor is a person who enjoys bringing new writing to the world in a publication that will be seen, read, appreciated, and talked about.

Editors for contests and large publishers of books do the same—they find and bring work they enjoyed to the public. If your work has made it into that first part of their process, they may ask you for revisions to enable the book to sell better, but they won’t offer you technical advice.

This is because they shouldn’t have to. You must have the technical skill down before you submit your work to an agent or submissions editor. But if the gatekeeper wants perfect work, how do you get your work inside the gate?

You must do the work of submitting a clean manuscript that is marketable to the readers of the publication you are courting.

I know! If we have to do all the work why bother? For the indie author, magazines, contests, and anthologies are the most logical places for getting their names out to the reading world.

Large publications have wide readerships. The more people who read and enjoy a short piece by you, the more potential readers you have for your novels. These people likely read novels and guess what? If you have done your work as an indie publisher well, your novels are available as both paper and ebooks through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other digital booksellers.

When you have a great story that you believe in, you must find the venue that might be interested in your sort of work. This means you must buy magazines, read them, and write to those standards. For those of us who are not able to buy magazines, you can go to websites like Literary Hub, and read excellent pieces culled from various literary magazines for free.This will give you an idea of what you want to achieve and where you want to submit your work.

Go to the publisher’s website and find out what their submission guidelines are and FOLLOW THEM. (Yes, they apply to EVERYONE, no matter how famous, even you.) If you skip this step, you can wait up to a year to hear that your manuscript has been rejected, and they most likely won’t tell you why.

Formatting your manuscript is crucial. If you are unsure how that works, see my blogpost of July 24, 2015,  How to Format Your Manuscript for Submission.

Lascaux 2015For an excellent article that explains the expectations magazine publishers AND authors have and our symbiotic relationship, I suggest you read What Editors Want; A Must-Read for Writers Submitting to Literary Magazines by Lynne Barrett. This article touches on every aspect of the relationship between authors and submissions editors for ALL sorts of magazines, anthologies, and publishers in general:

  • The Editor’s Job
  • Your Job
  • Submission
  • How to Receive a Rejection
  • How To Respond To A Minimally Encouraging Rejection
  • How To Respond To A Longer, More Personal Rejection
  • Acceptance: Dos and Don’ts
  • How To Greet The Issue Your Work Is In

As I’ve said before, I have enough rejections to wallpaper my house, but I have also had a few short pieces accepted.  Not everyone will love your work–you don’t love everything you read either.

You have to keep trying, keep improving as an author, and keep believing in yourself and in your work. Most importantly, you must never give up.

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#amwriting: thoughts on the industry

IBM_SelectricThe ease with which anyone possessing the ability to access a computer and use the internet can publish their work independently has sparked a revolution in the publishing industry. Unfortunately, revolutions are NOT easy nor are they bloodless and pain-free.

For every book I feel good about recommending, I see on average 6 that are just plain awful. I’m not only talking Indies here–some are books that should never have made it past the gateway editor of a large publishing house, much less an agent.

It’s true that some indie books are so abysmally edited it is apparent the author is the only person who has ever seen the manuscript.

Others are moderately edited but not by a professional, or someone who knows how to write. This is a flaw that can drive away of all but the most determined readers, people who would ignore most typos and slight inconsistencies for a really good tale. For these books, the unbiased eye of the editor could have made a great novel out of a promising tale.

The core of this problem lies in the incredible number of people who are writing but have no concept of what it takes to write a good novel. Once they have rewritten the rough draft to their satisfaction, they believe they are done.

Then, they publish it.

Sadly, this sometimes happens with traditionally published books as well. I see this as evidence that editing and proofreading by the large houses for many successful traditionally published authors is sometimes overlooked in the rush to cash in on a commercial success. These publishers set impossible deadlines and race to launch what they hope will be a follow-up best seller, but because they were rushed, these books sometimes fail to live up to the hype.

The Novel Meme LIRFAnd while this means that they publish crap too, the stink washes off the traditional houses but clings to the Indie industry as a whole.

This brings me to my point: The big 5 traditional publishers pretend everything they publish is sheer magic, while loudly pointing out the faults inherent in self-publishing. And, while it makes me laugh that they decry us as worthless but leap to publish us the minute we show any sign of real success, there are hard truths here we indies who are committed to the craft of writing must face.

First off, I feel strongly that we shouldn’t rush to churn out more than one or two books a year. Romance novels can be a different kind of animal, but unless you are producing pulp fiction, the same applies. (Click here to read an article by romance novelist Merry Farmer on this subject.)

Traditional publishers fail us (as readers) by pushing successful authors to spew several books a year, beating dead horses and creating long-winded series that lose the way after the third book. We Indies have the luxury to take our time to craft a good book, as we don’t have externally imposed deadlines.

Some of the worst books I’ve read were written by traditionally published authors who also wrote books I loved. But their best (in my opinion) books were written in the early days when they weren’t book-producing machines.

Some general things for any author to do when they are first starting out:

  1. Learn the mechanics of how to write in your native language. Grammar and Punctuation are essential, even in modern literature.
  2. Join a writing group and meet other authors, either in your local area or on-line. This will help you with steps 3 and 4. Enter writing contests and participate in the boards and threads. Ignore the trolls; they pop-up everywhere (usually with badly written ego-stroking crap to their publishing credit.)
  3. Develop a thick hide, and find an unbiased eye among your trusted acquaintances to read your work as you are writing it, so you can make changes more effectively and not be overwhelmed at the prospect of rewriting an entire manuscript from scratch.
  4. Lose your ego. Your ego gets in the way of your writing.  Are you writing for yourself or for others to read and enjoy your work?
  5. Find a good, professional editor. There are hidden aspects to every great book, and they are all centered around knowledge of the craft. An external eye is essential to the production of a good book. Check their references, and when you do engage their services, do not take their observations personally. This editor must be someone you can work closely with, who makes suggestions and lets you make the changes on your masterpiece yourself. They must understand it is your work and you have the right to disagree with any suggested changes. If you have this symbiotic relationship, you will turn out a good final product.
  6. Don’t give up your day job. Even authors receiving hefty advances have to struggle to make ends meet. (Read Thu-Huong Ha’s article, A New Book Shows the Financial Cost of Leading a Creative Life.)

EDWAERT_COLLIER_VANITAS_STILL_LIFEIt’s far more affordable now for a dedicated reader to buy enough books to keep themselves happy, but making your way as a reader through the many offerings in our eBookstores is a perilous journey, and you can’t always trust the quality by reading the publisher’s label. You just have to realize that whether a novel is traditionally published or Indie, some books are frogs, and some are princes.

You may have to read a few books you wish you hadn’t on your way to finding the book that sweeps you away. For me, that’s just part of the journey.


Sources and Attributions:

How Many Books Should You Write Per Year, by Merry Farmer, Nov 13, 2013

A New Book Shows the Financial Cost of Leading a Creative Life,  by Thu-Huong Ha, Jan 11, 2017, Flipboard

IBM Selectric, By Oliver Kurmis (Self-photographed) [CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

Still Life, By Evert Collier (1642-1708) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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#amwriting: Thoughts on #NaNoWriMo2016

winners-certificateIt is the final day of NaNoWriMo for 2016. I wrote 96,603 words: ten short stories and fifteen chapters on my next novel set in the world of Neveyah. I had my winners certificate by the 23rd, but I write everyday and update my wordcount. More than sixty of the 265 participants in my region will also get their winner’s certificates, which is a very good year. Some years only thirty participants in our region make it to the finish line. On average, 7 out of ten entrants will fall by the way in any given year, because 50,000 words is a difficult goal to achieve in only 30 days, if you are not completely fired up by your novel.

Those who fall by the way are authors who discover that having an idea that would be a good book and writing that book are two radically different things. They are daunted by the amount of work that is involved.

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is a contest in the sense that if you write 50,000 words and have them validated through the national website you ‘win.’ But it is not a contest in any other way as there are no huge prizes or great amounts of acclaim for those winners, only a PDF winners certificate that you can fill out and print to hang on your wall.

It is simply a month that is solely dedicated to the act of writing a novel.

Now lets face it–a novel that is only 50,000 words long is not a very long novel. That falls more into the line of a long novella and is only half a novel, in my opinion. But a dedicated author can get the basic structure and story-line of a novel down in those thirty days simply by sitting down for an hour or two each day and writing a minimum of 1667 words per day.

That is not too hard. In this age of word processors, most authors can double or triple that.

As always, there is a downside to this free-for-all style of writing. Just because you can sit in front of a computer and spew words does not mean you have the ability to write a novel that others want to read.

Over the next few months many cheap or free eBooks will emerge testifying to this fundamental truth.

The good thing is, over the next few months many people will realize they enjoy the act of writing. They will find that for them this month of madness was not about getting a certain number of words written by a certain date, although that goal was important. For a very few, participating in NaNoWriMo has fired them with the knowledge that they are authors. For them it was about writing and completing a novel they had wanted to write for years, something that had been in the back of their minds for all their lives.

These are the people who will join writing groups and begin the long journey of learning the craft of writing. They may go back to school and get their MFA.

These authors will take the time and make the effort to learn writing conventions (practices). They will attend seminars, they will develop the skills needed to take a story and make it a novel with a proper beginning, a great middle and an incredible end.

They will properly polish and edit their work and run it past critique groups before they publish it.

These are books I will want to read.

It’s not easy. Sometimes what we hear back from our readers and editors is not what we wanted to hear. The smart authors haul themselves to a corner, lick their wounds, and rewrite it so it’s more readable. They will be successful, for a variety of reasons, all of them revolving around dedication and perseverance.

But when we write something that a reader loves–that is a feeling that can’t be described.

Authors must keep their day jobs, because success as an author these days can’t be measured in cash. It can only be measured in what satisfaction you as an author get out of your work. Traditionally published authors see a smaller percentage of their royalties than indies, but if they are among the lucky few, they can sell more books.

2016-placeholder-book-cover-smallThe fact your book has been picked up by a traditional publisher does not guarantee they will put a lot of effort into pushing a first novel by an unknown author. You will have to do all the social media footwork yourself. You may even have to arrange your own book signing events, just as if you were an indie.

Going indie or aiming for a traditional contract—it’s a conundrum many new authors will be considering in the new year.

However, if you don’t write that book, you aren’t an author, and you won’t have to worry about it. The concept of NaNoWriMo will jump-start many discussions about this very issue.

Today marks the end of NaNoWriMo 2016.  For many, it will be a mad scramble between now and midnight to get their 50,000 words and earn that certificate.

Some of us have completed our first draft, and some of us still have a ways to go. But we are all walking a path that is more rewarding than any high-paying job I’ve ever had.

nanowrimo_2016_webbanner_winner_congrats

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#amwriting: bloated conversations are bad for business

SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL AUTHORSBeing an author is a business. It is a retail business, and you must look at it from that point of view, even if your work isn’t selling like hotcakes at the local diner. Big, fat books that are full of bloated exposition and conversations to nowhere are more expensive to publish and are unlikely to sell once the prospective reader has leafed through them.

Once you have a book published, you have a business, whether you are an Indie or traditionally published, and you must think about it from that angle. Wouldn’t you like to see some money from your work? Your best chance of this is at trade shows and book signing events. However,

  • In the real world, authors must pay for each book that is stocked on their table.

“This won’t apply to me,” you say.  “I’m going the traditional route. Once I sell my book to that Big Publisher in the Sky, he will provide me with all the copies of my books that I will ever need when I do signings, at no cost to me.”

Not so, my deluded friend.

A traditional publisher who is really excited about your book might arrange for you to have a table at a convention and will advance you copies of the books for you to sell and sign, but the cost of those books will come out of your earned royalties. You will see no money from your publisher until your book has out-earned all the advances they have paid you. So, just like an Indie, you pay for the books for your table at trade shows, conventions, and at most book-signings. The fact is, many traditionally published authors never out-earn their advances. Retail sales at shows are where they stand the most chance of bringing home money from book sales.

Consider how many copies of each book you can afford to take to the book signing event. You must weigh this cost against what you think the demand will be. Books that cost YOU more than $5.99 each are not a good thing for an Indie, because you must pony-up the cash at the time you order them. If you buy too many and they don’t sell, you have a lot of cash tied up in stock-on-hand that is earning you nothing.

For an indie who writes epic fantasy, it’s most cost-effective to keep your work to between 90,000 and 120,000 words if you intend to print through CreateSpace, which prints my paper books. If you have written a 300,000-word epic fantasy, consider dividing it into three volumes of 100,000 words each. Otherwise, you will be required to charge $17.99 to $20.00 per book just to make a minimal profit through Amazon.

How do we keep this cost down? We get a grip on the fluff that has worked its way into our work, and trust me, I didn’t understand this when I first began writing full time.

In the first draft, we have created a large amount of backstory. This is because we needed it to get a grip on the characters, their world, and the situation in order to write it. This is work the reader does not need to know the minuscule details of. To avoid info dumps and yet deploy the background as it is needed, we write conversations.

We need to exercise restraint. In the second draft, we decide what is crucial to the advancement of the plot and what could be done without. In recent years, I have begun cutting entire chapters that, when I looked at them realistically, were only background. In some cases, it was my favorite work, but when looked at with an independent eye, it didn’t do anything but stall the forward momentum of my book.

So how do we convey a sense of naturalness and avoid the pitfalls of the dreaded info dump and stilted dialogue? First, we must consider how the conversation fits into the arc of the scene.

The Arc of the Conversation

It begins, rises to a peak, and ebbs, an integral part of the scene, propelling the story forward to the launching point for the next scene. A good conversation is about something and builds toward something. J.R.R. Tolkien said, “Dialogue has a premise or premises and moves toward a conclusion of some sort. If nothing comes of it, the dialogue is a waste of the reader’s time.”

First, we must identify what must be conveyed in our conversation.

  1. Who needs to know what?
  2. Why must they know it?
  3. How many paragraphs do you intend to devote to it?

My rule of thumb is, keep the conversations short and intersperse them with scenes of actions that advance the plot. Think like a screenwriter–visualize the conversation as if you are viewing it on a stage. Does the thought of two heads yammering about the weather for half an hour really interest you? No. Show the weather and spend your conversations on the important things. Walls of conversation don’t keep the action moving and will lose readers.

Author James Scott Bell says dialogue has five functions:

  1. To reveal story information
  2. To reveal character
  3. To set the tone
  4. To set the scene
  5. To reveal theme

So now that we know what must be conveyed and why, we arrive in the minefield of the manuscript:

  • Delivering the backstory.

CAUTION INFO DUMP ZONE AHEADDon’t give your characters long paragraphs with lines and lines and lines of uninterrupted dialogue. Those can become info dumps laced with useless fluff and are sometimes seen as a wall of words by the reader.

When the dialogue is trying to tell the reader too much, characters end up saying a lot of unnatural and awkward things. Characters go back and forth explaining precisely what they are feeling or thinking, and it doesn’t seem remotely real.

  • Background information must be deployed on a “need to know” basis. If it is not important at that moment, the reader does not need to know it.
  • The only time exposition works is when both the reader and the character being spoken to do not know the information being artfully dumped.

When reading, even dedicated readers will skip over large, unbroken blocks of words. Elmore Leonard famously said, “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.”

I feel this goes double for dialogue.

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#amwriting:  therapy to get you writing through the block

We’ve all had moments where our creativity failed us. We had an idea, but couldn’t make it real—the words wouldn’t come, or when they did they felt stilted, awful. We felt incredibly alone and isolated in this because we are writers; the words are supposed to fall from our fingers like water down Niagara Falls.

I have learned to write my way through the block. Yes, the work I produce at that moment is awful, and no, I wouldn’t show it to the dog. But the act of writing every day keeps you fit and in the habit of writing. This job requires us to practice, as if it were dancing or ice-skating. And, just like any sport, doing well at it requires discipline. When we stop writing for any reason, we lose our momentum and our purpose.

We lose our passion.

When you have come to a place where you believe you can’t write, save the file, close it, and walk away from that manuscript. Delete nothing. You will come back to this later and will be able to use some or all of it, so file it properly.

Sometimes, the problem is that your mind has seen a shiny thing, a different project that wants to be written. If that is the case, my advice is this: work on the project that is on your mind. Let that creative energy flow, and you will eventually be able to become reconnected with the first project.

writers-block-smallBut what about those times when you need to write, you have to write, but the words won’t come? I think of it like having a sports injury: Dr. Jasperson has diagnosed you with a sprained-brain. (Did she really write that? Insert groans here.)

Seriously, I have some physical therapy for your bruised writing-muscles.

First, we have the fear factor to overcome. You need to be able to prove to yourself that you can write. This is a small exercise, very short, and I got the idea for this while in a seminar on the craft of writing essays offered by the bestselling author of Blackbird, Jennifer Lauck. As I was sitting in her class and embarking on the writing drills for structuring your essay, I had one of those bolt-of-lightning moments, a tangent to nowhere, as it didn’t pertain to essays, but it seemed important so I wrote it down.

What had happened was, Jennifer gave us prompts and asked us to write to them. I have never been good at writing to someone else’s prompts. My ideas don’t flow that way. To make it worse, we were going to have to share them with someone else in the class.

I never share work that hasn’t been revised. it might not seem as perfect to you as believe it is, but it has been revised and is the best I could offer. I felt panicky, terrified I wouldn’t be able to write, and would embarrass myself. My mind was blank.

But then, I saw what Jennifer’s prompt was, and it occurred to me that I could do that.

When I read the prompt and had that “I can do this” moment, I realized that most of the time, writer’s block is a result of not being able to visualize what you want to write about, and if you can’t visualize it, you can’t describe it. Once you have experienced that moment of complete inability, fear of not being able to write magnifies the problem until it paralyzes us.

So, I am offering you the same writing prompt Jennifer Lauck used as the first exercise in her class:

  1. Open a new document. At the top of this document type: Where I Am Today:

This is going to be a literal interpretation and description of your surroundings. Look around you, and see the place where you are. Briefly describe the environment you are sitting in, what you see, and then describe how you feel sitting in that place. Just give it two or three paragraphs.

For me, sitting here at this moment on a Sunday morning and writing this post, it runs like this:

I sit in the small, third bedroom of my home. It’s technically my office, but is, in reality, a cluttered storeroom, known here as the Room of Shame. A glass of water sits beside my elbow, as does my cell phone. My desk holds numerous books on the craft of writing and my computer.  

Two clear plastic bins containing books and paraphernalia organized to take to book signings are stacked beside the door. I prop my feet on a large bookshelf stuffed with books, so full the shelves have bowed. Stacks of cardboard boxes filled with things that were, at one time, deemed important to keep, surround me. Filing cabinets full of legal papers, tax forms, and research also take up space, all stuffed with the debris of our business life.

The desk is not my friend. The sliding keyboard shelf is broken on the left side, hanging at a slight angle. I work with a broken desk, despite the large box which contains my new desk, which leans against the closet behind me. That dusty box has been there for six months or more, unopened.

I could easily clean this space, and set up my desk. It would take no time at all, perhaps a day at most. It’s a mountain I put off climbing.

See? At the end of this exercise, you have written a drabble, a small short story. But, more importantly, you have written the setting for a scene. Those paragraphs are around 216 words and are nothing special. Nor were the words I wrote in the seminar, but I felt good about writing them because I had been given a task that had at first left me feeling helpless and unable to do it: writing to a prompt. However, in that class, because it was a simple, non-threatening thing, I was able to accomplish it, and I felt empowered.

So, now we are going to gently rebuild our damaged writing muscles.

  1. For your next exercise, go somewhere else and take your notebook. Write three more paragraphs detailing what you are looking at, and how you fit into it, and how it makes you feel.

You could do this at the mall, sitting in a coffee shop, or the parking lot at the supermarket.  Or you can do what I am doing: sit on your porch and write a few paragraphs about the space you are in, what you see, and what you sense.

My back porch is quiet, and the day is gray. Rain is falling softly. Just beyond the auto repair shop’s parking lot, and the coffee stand, glimpsed between the conical cypress trees, the sounds of the highway are muted. One of the neighbors has let their dog out without a leash, and the free-range cats are disturbed by it. The scent of sodden vegetation is fresh and speaks of autumn.

The third exercise is more abstract:

  1. Where do you want to be? Visualize it, and describe it the same way as you described the places you could see. For me, that runs like this:

I want to be on a foggy beach, walking along the high-tide mark. I want to hear the gulls and sh-shing of the waves. I want to feel at peace again.

gear-brain-clip-art-smallIf you do these three exercises at the same time every day, describing the environments and your perceptions in a different space each time, even when you have nothing to say that is worth reading, you are writing. With perseverance, you will be writing your other work again. The important thing is to write even if it is only a few paragraphs. This is the physical therapy I recommend for overcoming writer’s block.

Just like an athlete recovering from an injury, you must gradually rebuild your confidence, strengthen your writing muscles, and regain your writing work ethic.  You need to empower your creativity for it to flow.

As I said, this how my mind works. If you are suffering a dry spell, give these exercises try, as you have nothing to lose. I hope that when these exercises are no longer painful, you will be able to write again.

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#amwriting: the hyperlinked Table of Contents

When I read an ebook, I like to be able to easily navigate within the story by using a hyperlinked table of contents. This is also called a “Smart TOC” (Smart Table of Contents) and every one of my ebooks has one. A Smart TOC easy to create when you are formatting your ms for publication. The only difficult thing about creating one is, it’s time consuming. In my experience, it’s best to just sit down and get it all done in one session so you don’t lose track of where you are in the process. Therefore, I pick a time when I know I will have two or three hours cleared to do this because I get distracted easily. I don’t want to be called away from this task in the middle of it.

First make your table of contents. For ebooks you don’t need page numbers. Page numbers are like prisoners—they just weigh you down, and have no meaning as ebooks don’t use page numbers to navigate.

Once you have your final manuscript proofed, you should turn it into two separate manuscripts, one for the ebook, and one for the print book. This post pertains to the ebook manuscript.

If your book is a novel, your print manuscript will most likely not need a TOC as most large publishing houses don’t waste precious pages on such things. Technical manuals and textbooks must include a TOC.  As an indie, every page you can do without when publishing your novel in paper form will keep the final cost down and make your paperback more affordable for your prospective reader. Very few people will pay $18.99 for a book by an unknown author.

ref_TOC_screenshot1

The first thing you want to do is create a bookmark.  First highlight the words  “Table of Contents” and then go to your ‘Insert’ tab.  Click on ‘Bookmark’ in that ribbon. Type in the words ref_TOC

Then click “Add”.  In every ms it is important to name the Table of Contents bookmark exactly that, including the underscore: ref_TOC, because that’s what Smashwords looks for and it is simply a good practice to have a uniform system for naming files.  See the next picture for how it will look:

ref_TOC_screenshot2

Now it’s time to bookmark the first chapter, or the prologue if you have one. This particular book will be called Billy’s Revenge, so the initials BR will be in all my bookmarks in this ms.  Billy’s Revenge doesn’t have chapters but is broken into eighteen parts. Scroll down to your prologue or first chapter and do it exactly the same way as you bookmarked the TOC, but for this ms I will name it BR_prt1. (Billy’s Revenge Part 1)

You will name yours with your manuscript’s initials and the word prologue or chapter 1: MS_chapter_1

See the picture below:

ref_TOC_screenshot3

As long as you have the chapter title highlighted, click “insert Hyperlink” on the ribbon. On the left of the menu, you want to click Link to:  Place in this Document.  That will bring up your bookmarks. Select ‘ref_TOC’  and click OK.  This will turn your heading blue, which is called a ‘hyperlinky’. You will need to test it, so press control and click on the link. This will take you back to the table of contents heading. Once you have used the hyperlinky it will turn purple.

ref_TOC_screenshot5

Now that you are back at the Table of Contents, highlight either Prologue or Chapter 1, which ever you are starting your book with, and click “insert Hyperlink” on the ribbon. Again, on the left of that menu, you want to click Link to: Place in this Document, which will will bring up your bookmarks. Select the bookmark for your first section, either prologue or “MS_chapter_1” and click OK.  That will turn it blue. Press control and click on the link. it will take you back to the heading of your prologue or the first chapter. Once you’ve used a hyperlinky, it will turn purple.

Scroll down your manuscript to the next chapter, and highlight the chapter heading, just as you did the first time. Repeat the steps you did for the first section.

Do this for the entire table of contents, always remembering to link your chapter heading back to “ref_TOC”, and test each link as you go.

As I said earlier, creating your hyperlinked table of contents can be time consuming, and it requires you to pay attention, but it is a simple process and makes your ebook a nicer experience for the reader.

ref_TOC_screenshot6

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#amreading: The Karaoke Novelist

BIF Blog Print ScreenI used to write an indie book review blog, before I got too busy to read as much as the blog required. The blog was called Best in Fantasy, and I still post reviews to it once in awhile, but only when something really rings my bells.

Sometimes I had to attempt to read six novels before I found one worth reviewing. In the process of searching Amazon for those really good fantasy reads, I’ve read a large share of badly written books. There is no  describing the agony of seeing a perfectly good idea for a plot destroyed by an author who was too eager to share their genius and rushed to publish what was clearly an excellent first draft .

You will get no snarky reviews from me—in fact I don’t review books I don’t like. I just move on to the next one in my pile and hope for the best.

Instead, I focus on the really awesome books I have enjoyed, some written by the famous, but most by the NOT so famous. Many of the great books I have enjoyed will never be best sellers because they are just one drop in an ocean of Kindle books.

It’s the wild west of indie publishing right now, and while it’s not necessarily a terrible thing, many untutored authors publish less than stellar works. These books are written and published by people who have no idea how the industry works.

Writing is like any other craft. There is a learning curve. Publishing is a separate craft, but nowadays the two go hand-in-hand.

At some point,  as indies gain the knowledge of what is involved in writing and publishing a good novel, the overall quality will  improve and level out. Those who are in it for the long haul will gain better visibility.

I have some hard-earned advice for new authors, those of you who want to leave the ranks of the Karaoke novelists, screeching their inept renditions of Wind Beneath my Wings. If you’re serious about your work, get your manuscript professionally edited.

Yes, it will cost you money, and you may get feedback you don’t want to hear. But that experience will enable you to put a book out there that you can be proud of, one that will stand up to any put out by the big publishers.

When I was writing a book review blog on a weekly basis, I often spent my week looking through five reasonably priced books only to discover they were

  1. Poorly formatted.
  2. Poorly edited.
  3. Rife with newbie errors such as beginning the book with a big info dump (been there done that).
  4. Thick, lush descriptions of “creamy blue eyes” (pardon, must barf now).
  5. Written by an author with no concept of a story arc.
  6. Boring filler conversations to fluff up the word count.
  7. Threads to nowhere,
  8. A random event that was intended as a cliff-hanger ending, but was obviously stuck there to entice the reader to get the sequel, which hadn’t been written yet and was now on my “No Way in Hell” list.

This also happens regularly with traditionally published books.  TOR can publish a novel that was poorly edited and no one will blink an eye, because they are one of the Big 5 Publishing houses.

Indies have to be better than that. Indies are scrutinized more closely and are held to a much higher standard. Flaws in our work are held up as an example of all that is wrong with the industry.

I used to curse at my Kindle when I read the first pages of books, both indie and traditionally published, that were  travesties. Many had gorgeous covers. I feel strongly the authors would be better served if they spent that money having their manuscript professionally edited.

I cringe when someone blithely tells me their friends edit for them. Most people aren’t best mates with a professional editor, and if you don’t have a degree in creative writing, you probably need a professional eye on your work.

Indies–aren’t you glad I only reviewed the books I liked? I didn’t want to be known for being a bitch, which is what I felt like when I read some of those travesties.

Thus, I say

  1. Go to writing craft seminars and conventions.
  2. Take writing classes at your local community college.
  3. Take online classes in writing.
  4. Buy and read books on the craft of writing.
  5. Write every day, even if it is only a paragraph.
  6. Hire a professional editor and consider following their suggestions.
  7. Have your manuscript proofread professionally before you publish it.

keep clam and proofreadI can’t stress this enough: before you publish that book you wrote during NaNoWriMo, please develop the craft of writing and rewrite that amazing novel.

You can join a writing group in your town and they will help you with these things. With the right group helping you grow, you will develop the skills needed to truly be a published author. And remember, if one group doesn’t really feel like a good fit, keep looking until you find a group you can work with.

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#amwriting: so you want to be a writer

Dial-a-PlotSo, you want to be a writer. You have written several unpublished short works, and they were darned good, if you do say so yourself. Your novel is half finished, and your cousin, Phil, says he’s never read anything like it.

One of the many things I didn’t realize when I first began this crazy journey, is that your family and friends are not editors. Even if they are teachers, it’s likely they won’t notice anything but the most glaring errors in your work, and they will miss a great many of those.

Unless your cousin Phil is an author himself, he won’t mention places where you have repeated yourself ad nauseum, nor will he point out places that are phrased in a convoluted way.

Because these places are both annoying and confusing, Phil has most likely skipped over them, and didn’t mention it because he didn’t want to hurt your feelings. Large plot-holes, inadvertent use of clichés, and intriguing auto-correct mistakes get missed when your eager-to-help friends try to edit your work.

Your friends might know they don’t like what you wrote, but they don’t know why they don’t like it so they plow through it as fast as they can just to get the misery done with. They will spot a few problems, which helps, but isn’t going to make your manuscript readable.

Oh, your friends aren’t going to tell you they don’t like it, but they will think it: “This is awful. What’s up with the dog…is he an arsonist? No…it was apparently the Guinea pig but…no. God, this is the worst drivel I’ve ever read. How do I get out of this? Um…I’ll tell her it was great, I loved it.”

Consider joining an online beginners’ writing group. A lot of useful information can be found through these two free resources:

  • NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) nanowrimo.org They operate year round and have many resources available to help you get started.
  • Critters Workshop critters.org

Critter is an excellent place to get feedback on your work, in a way that doesn’t feel threatening. New authors should definitely consider joining the critters workshop.

a writer's stylePLEASE don’t publish your work without first having it edited professionally, or at the very least, read by an advanced writers group. You have no idea what your manuscript actually looks like. An advanced writing group will tell you the ugly truth, and they won’t be kind about it, but once they are done with you, you will reconsider your decision to not hire an editor.

If you plan to submit it to a large publisher, do hire an editor so that what you submit will be the best you can offer them.

If you are in the beginning stages of your writing career, invest in books on the craft of writing. Many books are available used through Amazon dot com, and many are available as affordable eBooks, also through Amazon. And you don’t need a Kindle, as you can download the free app for your PC, Mac, Android, or Apple device.

Books on the craft that are on my desk and in use today:

  • The Chicago Manual of Style
  • The Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus
  • Rhetorical Grammar by Martha Kolln
  • Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee
  • The Sense of Style by Stephen Pinker
  • The Sound on the Page by Ben Yagoda
  • Outlining Your Novel by K.M. Weiland

Books that help when I am stuck:

  • The Negative Trait Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi
  • The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman

Three websites a beginner should go to if they want instant answers in plain English:

Writing is not just a career for me—it is an obsession. Anything involving books is the proverbial shiny thing for me. All of my inspiration has come from the many excellent writers whose works moved me.

Better You Go Home, Scott DriscollI am also inspired by those authors whose workshops I have been fortunate enough to attend. Consider this high quality online option for learning the craft of writing:

Introduction to Fiction Writing at The Writer’s Workshop, instructor, Scott Driscoll.

This is admittedly not  free, but it is an exceptionally in-depth exploration of the craft. I have attended some seminars offered by Scott at several conferences and have never come away disappointed.

Remember, writing is a career path that requires dedication, and commitment to learning and growth. The money you spend going to workshops and conferences is an investment you make in your career. You not only learn about the craft of writing, but you will also learn the business aspect, and make no mistake: regardless of whether you are traditionally published or indie published, this is a business.

via buzzfeed

via buzzfeed

It’s not always easy, and sometimes it is hard to see progress. But with each completed project you gain strength and confidence. Your work evolves, growing in readability and your voice as an author becomes recognizably yours.

Writers finish their work. Many people will begin walking this path, believing they want to be writers. They like the idea of being a writer, and may claim to be a writer, but when you ask them about their work, they will tell you they don’t have time to write, and their work was only halfway begun when they had to stop.

The fact that you once sat in a Ferrari does not make you a Formula One driver.

I always urge writers to write every day, even if it is only for fifteen minutes. If you are not committed to writing regularly, your novel will never see the light of day.

Write regularly, and finish that book.

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