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WIP Wednesday

The beginning of a new Regency romance titled Faebourne:

Duncan Oliver was in every respect an unremarkable gentleman. He was not tall, though also not any shorter than would be deemed respectable. He was not rich, though again not particularly in want. And though he rode well, he was not especially keen on sports or gaming. To summarize, Duncan Oliver was the kind of man easily overlooked by the world. To this he had become accustomed and resigned.

And so the day someone finally did notice him became the day his life changed.

This one is Regency with a touch of magic.

We Need the Media

I’ve heard a lot of chatter about “the media” lately, mostly aimed at the news outlets as they attempt to cover the new presidency. Yes, the news can be biased. But it also acts as a kind of filter, an interpreter for the masses. And we need that.

Imagine you’re deaf. Someone is saying something really important, and you need to know what it is and perhaps also what it means. An interpreter steps forward and begins to sign. Relief! Sometimes the signs they choose are a little off from what’s being said because there is more than one way to sign something—it’s all about context and connotation. Sometimes the interpreter signs something in a way that makes you think, Huh. I would have used this sign instead, but I get what they mean. Better to have an interpreter than no one at all.

“But I can read lips!” you say. Okay, good for you. But how fast can you read them? And can you understand everything that is being said?

I suppose if I wanted to devote the time and energy, I could do a ton of research and slowly learn to interpret everything the president and Congress does for myself. Just like if I wanted to get a degree in theology I could interpret holy texts for myself and disregard the millennia of knowledge of others. But in the process of getting that degree, I would have to take all that knowledge into account anyway. That would actually be part of the learning process. There is no unfiltered, unbiased, raw data. It doesn’t exist.

We don’t all of us have time to hunt down every fact, every historical precedent, etc. That’s what journalists are for. The things the White House and Congress might hope we’ll overlook—the media won’t, and they’ll let us know what’s happening. And yeah, they may “spin” it, but better to know what is happening than not. We can see through spin, but we can’t see through the obfuscating smoke that the government is attempting to cloud things with.

Presented Without Commentary

  1. Irene – a “strong” woman with a shady past who ultimately needs to be rescued by the hero
  2. Mary – a “strong” woman with a shady past who ultimately needs to be rescued by the hero (but isn’t)
  3. Eurus – a “strong” woman with a shady past who ultimately needs to be rescued by the hero
  4. Molly – a weak woman whose attempts to assert herself are unconvincing and unsuccessful, and who pines for the hero and allows him to manipulate her repeatedly
  5. Mrs. Hudson – a strong [older] woman played for comic relief

Save the Bookstores!

Digital Book World is happening now (wish I were there), and one topic up for discussion is whether more people would visit bookstores if the stores also had booze? You know, cuz the café thing has worn thin.

I think bookstores have to do something to get people in. Now that people get their books off Amazon, the bookstores need to offer something else to tempt people, something that will get them off their couches and into the physical stores. Author events seem to draw middling crowds at best, depending on the author(s). In fact, I’ve already been told that if I’m going to do an author event, I should plan to have food and drinks too. Just being an author is no longer enough. Author + Something Else (a class/workshop, a dinner party, whatever) is the way to go.

Or maybe just dump the author entirely and open a bookstore restaurant. I don’t know. That seems to be the way these things are trending. The books take up less and less space as more room is needed for, as the article linked above mentions, dance classes and the like.

Look, I love bookstores. I want them to stay in business. And like we authors, they’re doing what they have to do to stay afloat. Even if it means on a wave of wine.

So tell me: what events or perks should bookstores offer? What would it take to get you out of the house and to the bookstore rather than the convenience of ordering online?

WIP Wednesday

So the biggest complaint about my Sherlock Holmes story “The Mystery of the Last Line” is that it has an ambiguous ending. I wrote the story in 1999 as part of my application to grad school (and yes, I was accepted). At the time, I sort of meant the reader to infer a lot of things. But I guess perhaps, despite my goal, I was not clear enough. So, with that in mind, I’ve started a direct sequel to “Last Line.” Here’s a wee bit of it:

It was some weeks after our return from exile at Holmesweald before I was able to take steps toward learning more about the various situations that conspired to make Sherlock Holmes the man he would become . . .

After suffering the illness that came with withdrawal from his reliance on cocaine, he rebounded to his energetic self, immersing himself in every little case and crisis that came his way. I only dreaded the idea there might yet come a day without anything to occupy him. Would he relapse into his former habit?

I resolved not to allow it, but in so doing firmly believed I would need to get to the core of things if I was to stop it from happening. While at Holmesweald I had learned more than Holmes himself would have liked me to know, and I had no desire to make him uncomfortable—or angry. But my concern for him ran deeper than my fear of his reaction. He might condemn me for sentimentality, but that was a small enough price for securing his health and preserving that extraordinary mind.

It was this determination on my part that drove me to act in the manner I will now set forth. I only ask that you, dear readers, remember that my intentions were all for the best. My behavior, in retrospect, was unconscionable but prompted entirely by care for my friend.

Criticism

It’s in human nature, I think, to want to avoid criticism. We want to please. And in careers where pleasing others is the ultimate goal—where one’s livelihood is based on pleasing the greatest possible number of people—criticism can feel all the harsher and sometimes seemingly fatal.

Writers, for example, want and need readers. So they want to please that potential audience. Sometimes they do, and sometimes the readers make it very clear where the author has fallen down on the job.

The key is to remember you really can’t please everyone. There’s just no way. Unfortunately, those who are displeased are often more vocal than those who are perfectly content with your work. (Of course, if more than a few people are unhappy with whatever you’ve done, you probably need to revisit it.)

But here’s the next important thing when facing criticism: Don’t respond.

It seems there are usually two ways artists of whatever kind are likely to react to criticism. They either (a) argue their side, or (b) try to do what they think the critics want.

I’m here to tell you not to do either of these things.

If you argue against your critics, you come off as arrogant and unlikable. If you are perceived as arrogant and unlikable, you make yourself a greater target for criticism while simultaneously risking your core fan base who might be turned off by your behavior. Be gracious, always. Be willing to admit when the critics might be right (yes, they sometimes are), or if you don’t think they are, thank them anyway for their input, or else remain dignifiedly silent. Then walk away.

The flip side of sparking out against your critics is to try and please them. In a day and age where there are so many ways to be aware of what others think—not just magazines now, but social media—an insecure artist may gather up all the bits and pieces of his or her failure and try to make amends by doing ALL THE THINGS the critics say they should do. In short, they try to write to spec. But in the process they invariably lose the flow and joy that was the origination of their art. They start to worry about doing it “wrong” or whether people will like it. They cease to enjoy the work, and that shows in the final product. The end result is something stilted and unnatural.

Fear of criticism should never be allowed to color the work.

You know how they say “dance like no one is watching.” It’s true for every art. Write like no one will read it, like it’s only for you and your characters. My best moments on stage occurred when I forgot the audience was there and just felt the role. Paint until you’re satisfied with the picture because in the end only your opinion will matter. Yes, it’s true. In the end, you must be satisfied with your work. If others like it, that’s just icing. And gratification seldom if ever comes from catering to the reader or viewer. Oh, you might make more money that way! If money is your only goal, by all means, crank out whatever formulaic thing is hot these days. Otherwise, I advise against it.

I, for one, consider The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller to be my best work. At the very least, it’s the one I put the most love and craft into. I’ve been told by many others, however, that my Sherlock Holmes stories are best. And at least two people have told me, no, Manifesting Destiny is the best thing I’ve ever written. What’s a writer to do? Well, I certainly do take all this into consideration. But my own heart counts for more than the outer clamor. So while I know from a logical point of view I should write more Sherlock Holmes in order to make more money, I find myself flowing with my inspiration and writing . . . Whatever I feel like.

(BTW, I have at least *started* a new Sherlock Holmes story. Just don’t know when I’ll finish it.)

I’m not going to say, “Don’t listen to your critics.” Feedback is important. But you need to learn to weigh it appropriately. And you shouldn’t let it drive your art.

I’ve noticed the chatter on various Facebook groups and message boards—something weird is going on with Amazon’s reporting. Authors have been saying their page reads disappeared. There one day, gone the next. So I, of course, went to look at mine. I generally have a pretty steady stream of page reads. But somehow, from December 31st onward . . . Nada. Not a single read.

Now I’m worried.

Amazon holds all the power here, and we’ve all been aware of it for a long time. If they have a glitch, well, what can I do about it? If they decide I haven’t made any money, how can I prove otherwise? My success is in their hands, and that’s not how it should be. I should be in control of how well I do.

But what are my options?

The problem is that most people shop at Amazon. So that’s where most sales come from (assuming I have any, considering Amazon’s data suggests I have nothing since the start of the year). If I quit selling at Amazon and only sell via other vendors, will I lose my readers?

Then again, if Amazon is already showing me I have no readers, then maybe trying other outlets is the way to go.

Of course, ideally Amazon will fix whatever problem there is. And yes, I do believe it’s a problem on their end. I’ve never in 4+ years of publishing not had any reads at all like this. Things didn’t magically screech to a halt with the turn of the calendar.

So I don’t know. I’m on the verge of launching a new title but now have doubts about using Amazon for it. Quite the dilemma. What would you do? Continue to sell through the big retailer and hope they didn’t screw you over and/or fixed any problems? (What would be their motivation to make things right? We indie authors are a dime a dozen.) Or pull your titles from there and go wider?

Late to the Party

I’m hopelessly late to the party about the piece in HuffPo condemning self-publishing. I almost wonder if it was written just to go viral because Gough knew there would be many biting responses (and possibly also many who agree). Well, FWIW, here’s another one.

Let me start by acknowledging that I’m a hybrid author. I use that term to mean that I’m both self-published and published by, well, publishers. (I think some others use “hybrid” to mean other things, and the truth is the terminology in publishing has become muddied overall and can be problematic, but that’s another blog post entirely.) While I’m pleased that some publishers have seen fit to take on my work, I’ve done better with my self-published material. By “better” I mean I’ve sold more. That’s one of the only concrete metrics we have when it comes to writing since it’s so subjective. We fixate on numbers—sales, units printed/sold, how many reviews/stars—because those are tangible. We take them as an indication of “good” or “not good” via a kind of sliding scale. But in reality, “good” isn’t quantifiable. It’s entirely based on personal preference.

Now let’s just look at some of Gough’s claims:

To get a book published in the traditional way, and for people to actually respect it and want to read it — you have to go through the gatekeepers of agents, publishers, editors, national and international reviewers. These gatekeepers are assessing whether or not your work is any good. Readers expect books to have passed through all the gates, to be vetted by professionals. This system doesn’t always work out perfectly, but it’s the best system we have.

1. This assumes that readers only respect and want to read traditionally published books. That’s clearly not true since some self-published authors sell plenty of books and make plenty of money. (“Plenty” also being subjective.) Someone is buying self-published books.

2. This also assumes that agents, publishers, editors, and reviewers hold the corner on what is “good” or not. As we’ve already discussed, that’s a highly personal matter. Even agents, publishers, editors, and reviewers don’t agree on what’s good. And what about all the self-published books that get rave reviews? Or are we going to begin arguing about which reviewers “count”? Are we going to say that some readers have “no taste”? That’s not possible. Everyone has taste, just not the same taste. And no one’s taste is more valid than any other’s. This is one time when it really is a matter of opinion.*

3. Another assumption: readers expecting books to be vetted before they buy. Well, yes, if I’m buying a book published by [insert Big 5 Publisher here] I have that expectation. If I’m buying a self-published book I certainly hope it’s been edited and all that, but I admit my expectations are not as high. Maybe they should be, but . . . I’m just being honest here.

4. “It’s the best system we have.” Really? It’s a system that is primarily worried about making money, not about promoting “good” art. So, in truth, something half-assed that will sell still makes it through over something really well written that has a smaller audience. Does that mean the well-written book doesn’t deserve to be published? Because that’s the system that’s being touted here.

The article goes on to talk about how a good writer must put in thousands of hours, years of work in order to hone his or her craft. Okay, with this I agree. You should not immediately go self-publish that book after the first draft. You need to get feedback, possibly hire a freelance editor, etc. But in the context of this article, Gough just sounds bitter that she took the time to “do it right” and others are doing it faster and still seeing some success.

Or perhaps, as she mentions being an editor, she’s sour that some self-published authors don’t use editors or an editing service of some kind. I agree that can be a problem. (I also used to be an editor.) But to condemn all self-published work because some isn’t well edited is a terrible generalization.

In fact, the entire article is a generalization. It makes a sweeping assumption that all self-published work is crap that couldn’t hack it in the “real” publishing world. As if there is such thing as “real” and “fake” publishing.

The only similarity between published and self-published books is they each have words on pages inside a cover. The similarities end there. And every single self-published book I’ve tried to read has shown me exactly why the person had to resort to self-publishing. These people haven’t taken the decade, or in many cases even six months, to learn the very basics of writing, such as ‘show, don’t tell,’ or how to create a scene, or that clichés not only kill writing but bludgeon it with a sledgehammer. Sometimes they don’t even know grammar.

Sure, some of these writers haven’t learned the craft and should probably do a bit more work before pushing that “publish” button on Amazon. But to say every single self-published book tells me she either hasn’t tried to read very many or has chosen the worst ones, probably just to prove her point.

She then quotes Brad Thor as saying, “If you’re a good writer and have a great book you should be able to get a publishing contract.” Well, that’s nice, but it’s not realistic. As mentioned previously, publishers are looking for something that sells, which isn’t always something “good.” And as the big publishers merge and shrink and smaller publishers fold under financial stress, there are fewer shots at a publishing contract even for “good writers and great books.”

I understand the general frustration of seeing poorly written work for sale online. But let’s look at this in terms of movies. Is an independently produced film—one funded by the writer and/or director using actors trying to make names for themselves—any less of a film than one produced by a major studio? Sometimes they’re bad, yeah. The quality can be lacking. But sometimes they’re wonderful and unique and couldn’t get a break with the majors because the majors all want blockbuster superhero films. And sometimes the majors make really terrible films, too. So it is with books. There are great little self-published books and dreadful ones. There are splashy traditionally published books with big names on them and atrocious ones where you wonder what they were thinking when they made it. And you can argue that you’ve seen more bad indie movies than bad studio films, and maybe that’s true. But you can’t honestly say there are no good indie movies ever. Nor can you say that of self-published books.

*Excepting grammar. Spelling and grammar are not a matter of taste or opinion.

Swing

The winter break is over and my kids went back to school today. I’d say things are getting back to normal, but they aren’t, really—just before the holidays, my youngest broke his leg. So he has a full-leg cast and is in a wheelchair, has to be carried up and down the stairs and to and from the bathroom (well, he can use his wheelchair in the downstairs bathroom). I’m definitely getting my weightlifting in.

Still, I’ve managed to make progress with my work over the break, partly because we were more housebound than planned. We couldn’t do all the outings we’d originally thought to do, what with one of us in a wheelchair, and then the rain set in and kept us mostly indoors as well. This allowed me to finish rewrites on Brynnde and send ARCs to my brave volunteers. If you’d like to be an advance reader for my books, be sure to sign up for my newsletter there on the sidebar; I offer ARCs when I have new releases.

Now it’s back to The Great Divide (aka Changers 2). Time to get back into the swing . . . I hope you’ve had a productive start to your year as well!