X Marks the Spat

Chess Board - TwitterI managed, with my usual aplomb, to find myself in the middle of a discussion that turned into a mild argument– on Twitter. It takes extreme talent to argue on Twitter and I don’t advise it. Better to admit my inadequacies and move on: I need far more than 140 characters to really get my teeth in a topic.

However, the point isn’t the dispute, but the subject of dispute. We were discussing gatekeepers and whether or not indie writers should have them (or writers in general). I’m going to set forth my reasoning here (in far more than 140 characters or even 140 words), but I would love to hear from you as well. Comment here. Knock me up on Twitter (although I do expect help raising the baby). Send me an email if you’re feeling a bit shy. I’ll put all my contact info at the bottom.

Do I think that big publishing houses have too much control over what we read and they tend to be directed more by the almighty dollar than the best in reading material? Yes. Not all of them, all of the time, but a significant enough amount to not ignore it.

Do I still think that published writing needs a gatekeeper? Yes, unless it’s free.  Why?

  • Because we– you and I– spend money on books. Sometimes it’s just the $0.99 e-book. Sometimes it’s the splurgy $19.99 hardback. But our money goes into books. When you’re not Real in the first place and coming by real money can be a bit of a trick, this is a serious thing. I care about where my money goes.
  • Because we spend our time on reading books and most of us have far less time than money. If you have more money than time, please send some to me directly and I’ll solve that issue.
  • Because we invest a bit of our souls in the books we read (or at least I do… one Horcrux per book and I can never die. Voldemort and JK Rowling should be quite jealous).
  • Because the more bad books that are out there, the less expectation there is for anything good. People stop reading. I like people reading.

I know. You’re sitting there thinking “he’s not the boss of me” and very likely taking all your toys and going home. This is, of course, your right. But hear me out: I’m not saying you shouldn’t write. I want every last person on this planet to experience writing. In fact, I want to take writing to alien planets. I even think every person has a right to publish what they write. It is, after all, their sanity. If they want to throw it away to briefly declare “I am Writer”, I can’t judge. My sanity took the bullet train to Elsewhere a long time ago.

However, I don’t feel everyone should be charging for their books. Hey! Stop throwing things. You’ll only damage your screen and I am not buying you a new one. Hear me out.

  • Do you think the Girl Scout with a First Aid and CPR certification should charge you if you are kind enough to let her practice on you?
  • Do you think your child/ niece/ nephew/ random kid who gives you hand-drawn art should be charging you for the free décor?
  • Do you think the singers in a karaoke bar should get tips for singing in public?

Most of you will have answered “no”. Any children, Girl Scouts, or aspiring karaoke singers may have said “yes”. The reason is simple: all of these are amateurs who are practicing their craft. They aren’t masters or even journeymen. They haven’t reached the point where they’ve earned the right to sell their craft.

Once, this was an easily understood concept. A child with promising talent would become an apprentice. Apprentices practiced, all day long, and received instruction, but no pay. Then the apprentice became a journeyman at the approval of a master. The journeyman might sell a few things, but always at a discount because it was widely accepted that the quality wouldn’t be as good. Only a master could promote someone to a master. It meant that the buyer had the right to expect a certain level of quality in the work that followed.

We’ve done away with the apprentice system (unless you’re Donald Trump– if you are, please ask Russia to bring it back for the rest of us). We no longer have any way to tell who is the master and who is the rank amateur without investing our precious time, money, and energy in that person. As I’ve said, I don’t have endless amounts of time, money, and energy to invest. Because of that, I’m very wary of many indie authors, even though I read more indie works than anything else. Reviews are often useless, since finishing a book means five stars. This means I am far less likely to take a chance just after a bad choice.

Read the blurb and/ or free sample. You can figure it out from there.

Sometimes I can. Sometimes a book starts out good and dies, midway, like it tried to storm a beach and forgot sunblock. (There was a logical analogy in there somewhere.) Sometimes you simply can’t tell without reading the book that, although it flows beautifully, there’s no plot to it and the characters are cardboard cutouts.

Follow trusted reviewers.

Then I have to figure out who to trust, which is another investment of my time.

Do you see the issue? It’s not that I want someone saying, “No! Your book can’t be published because it’s not the current zombie/ post-apoc/ romantic triangle/ superhero trend and we can’t be sure we’ll sell it”. It’s that I want someone saying, “Not yet. Maybe go back and practice as an apprentice a little longer. Get some journeyman time. Make some corrections.” Then I’ll happily buy, read, and review the book.

But someone has to say “not yet”… and, as of yet, I don’t know who that should be. How about you?

Comments?
EMAIL: zanzibar7schwarznegger@gmail.com
FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/Zanzibar7Schwarznegger/
TWITTER: @zanzibar7writer
BLOG: zanzibar7.com

 

Feature Friday: Writing the First Chapter

Chess Board - TwitterThere are some who find the last chapter to be the most difficult. There are a few who struggle through the middle. For most, however, the first chapter is the hardest to get out there. There’s good reason for this. The first chapter is what draws, drags, or defers. Either it is so clever that the reader must read; it is acceptable enough that the reader chooses to read; or it is so bad that the reader refuses to read.

But no pressure. Really.

See, the nice things about first chapters (and first lines) is that you have the most time to get them right. You have the entire time you’re writing the book through the editing process through just before publication. That’s a lot of time. (Longer for some, say, whose last name is Martin, than some others.)

“I don’t edit while I’m writing.”  Very smart of you. Really. Just try this with me for one work, though. Edit that first chapter.

Here’s why: if your first chapter does what it should (set up the story), then you have an easier task ahead of you. Instead of dragging the story uphill to get to the first plot point, your first chapter has already set it on the right path.

I’ve discovered I cannot write well until I’m happy with the first chapter. Oh, I can write. I go on putting words to paper anyway. But each time I open that document, I edit the first chapter until something clicks. For some works, this happens before I get out of the second chapter. For others, it may not happen until I’m frantically trying to fix things for publication. But it always happens because it’s important.

What does a first chapter need?

  • The protagonist
  • The antagonist
  • Possibly one or more support characters
  • The setting for the “normal” world (the world in that millisecond before the story starts)
  • The reason why the reader should care about any of this

If, by the end of your first chapter, the reader doesn’t at least know a little bit about your main character, where he is, why they should care about her, etc., you’ve failed.

Yes, I know there are books that manage to get away with breaking the rules. You can break the rules, too, if you know them well enough to do it well. Otherwise, stick to the guidelines. They exist because they work, oddly enough.

So, your homework (and mine) is to go back to your first chapter. Read it first. Just read it. Does it grab you? Does it repulse you? Then go back with whatever form of red pen you use and mark it up. Do you have a lot of unnecessary exposition? Bye-bye! Does your main character go nameless and descriptionless for most of the chapter? Fix it. Do you, being honest, not really care about this chapter? Maybe you need to toss it entirely and start with the second chapter.

Whatever you decide to do, go do your homework. Tear apart the first chapter. Let me know how it works out.

Want More? Try This Blog Post
Learn four possible ways to hook your reader in the opening. Try all four!
http://danmalakin.com/writing-great-story-opening-4-quick-tips-hook-reader/

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Reasons I Self-Publish

Chess Board - TwitterThere are hundreds (okay, dozens) of great reasons to self-publish. After some debate (meaning I went to the bathroom, then came back and made this list), here are my top ten:

  1. No rejection letters. True, it’s a form of rejection when a reader doesn’t buy your book, but you don’t get a politely-worded form letter when it happens. My ego can remain tenuously intact.
  2. Freedom! I can write what I want and not worry about #1. I do try to keep my writing relevant to the market (ie, deciding to try for a second Bobian book this year because my public actually asked for it), but otherwise I have a lot of creative freedom.
  3. Lifelong learning. I like to learn. I waste– er, gainfully employ hours on end learning new things that I might never need to know. For example, while the popular vision of zombies can only happen through a type of witchcraft or magic, there are parasites, spores, and other agents that might allow a type of zombie infestation. You wanted to know that, I know. You’re welcome.
  4. I get to keep all the moneys. While 100% of a piddling is a pittance, 30% of a piddling is pathetic.
  5. It’s all on me. I can’t pass the blame off on my agent, my editor, my publisher, or my marketer. Whatever happens with my books, I have to suck it up and take ownership. (Yes, I do consider that a good reason to self-publish.)
  6. I get to learn how to do it all. I am a reasonably good cover artist. Not the first time around; my first cover never, ever turns out like something that couldn’t be improved on. But sometime toward the end of a book, I get that spark and it seems to turn out. If I were traditionally published, I’d never get to touch the cover. Sometimes I wouldn’t even get to have a say in it.
  7. I run a small business. I’m a business Figment at heart. Since my pre-adulating days, I’ve always had a side gig going. Writing is just another small business. I like being an entrepreneur.
  8. I get to network with other indie writers. I like indie writers. They’re a different breed.
  9. I can flip genres at will. Admittedly, I’ve stuck mostly in the fantasy/ humor range so far, but there’s a SF book, a romantic comedy, something non-fiction, and a mystery in the works. Unless you’re a big name, traditional writers don’t get to do that.
  10. I have a stubborn streak and have always been labelled “independent”.

So, why do you publish independently (or want to)? Why did you choose traditional? Do you prefer to read one or the other?

Motivation Monday: WHY Write a Book?

Chess Board - TwitterIf you’ve been following along, we’ve worked on how to write, what to write about, and done an outline. (You did do your homework, right?) Before we go any further, though, you really  have to understand why you’re writing a book.

There is no wrong reason for writing a book. None. But if you don’t know why you’re writing, you may go about it the wrong way. (Yes, there is a wrong way for you, just like there is a wrong way for me.)

I’m writing a book to get down the stories my dad/mom/next-door-neighbor told me.
If you’re not planning to publish (or you’re only planning to publish to adoring family and friends, then the format won’t matter as much. Good grammar may be optional. You can create your own cover and learn design or get one online for $5 (Fiverr.com). This is a labor of love, not a polished product. Enjoy the ride, but don’t stress over it.

I’m writing a book because I love to write. I might publish, someday.
Go as slowly as you want. You’re doing this for the story. This is where pantsers excel, just letting the story move them. If you eventually decide to publish, you can go back and edit the words into shape. For you, it’s about enjoying the commune with your muse.

I’m writing a book for traditional publication.
Read up. Find out what the markets are and what the formula is for your genre. Don’t stress over the cover, but pay for a good editor. You might get lucky and find an editor/agent who appreciates someone thinks outside of the box, but most of them won’t. Take the time to find out who wants what, too.

I’m writing a book for self-publication.
Learn how to write, first. Either study cover design or pay for a good one. Read up on the business side of being a writer, because being an indie means you are a small business. You can write how you want and what you want, but you’ll sell better if you at least find your niche audience (know who you are writing for) before you get too attached to your story about alien llamas from Venus who love curling. Get an editor– a good one. If you’re planning on publishing more than one book, save up for a block of ISBN numbers; you’ll save money in the long run. Either learn how to format well or get someone else to do it.

I’m not trying to scare you off from self-publishing, by the way. I just want more people to realize that self-publishing is not for the faint-hearted. It’s for the person who knows what he wants to write, is willing to work hard to get it off the ground, and isn’t afraid to market herself.

So, let’s start with the basics before you write a word on the page: why are you writing your book? Remember, there’s no wrong answer unless you lie to yourself. Looking forward to some great responses.

How to Write a Book: Outlining

Chess Board - TwitterI am aware that I just lost a lot of pantsers. I’m going to ask you to come back and give me an opportunity to woo you. I’ll even hold your hand if you want, but I’m running at the first sign of a restraining order. Stick with me through this post. Let’s see what we can do about this outlining idea.

There’s a reason we learn to outline in school: it’s a very useful skill to have, even if you’re not a writer. If you are a writer, it can be invaluable.

But, Zan, I hate outlining.

Here’s a thought: if you hate it, maybe you’re not doing it right.

But I’m a pantser. I like to just let the story flow.

There are people who can do this. If you’ve already finished books and published, ignore me. If, however, you either can’t finish a book or you get stuck in forever edits, let me try to help you. It might not work. The fun thing about anything artistic is that there is no real right way or wrong way; there’s only the way that works for you.

So, how do you outline a novel?

Start with the basics. Every book (except some really trippy random stuff) has a similar form to it. You have the opening, the first inciting moment, the second inciting moment, the faux climax, the oops moment, the third inciting moment, and the finale. (Yes, some of these are my own very technical terms.)

I didn’t outline for Veneri Verbum, but I did have these major plot points figured out. I’ll use that as an example. If you haven’t read it, you can still get an idea of what I mean.

If you are new to outlining, you hate outlining, or you’re a pantser and really against having the book set in stone (which it isn’t, but that’s a different post), just get down these key points:

  1. The opening. Get the who, the where, and the how at the very least. For me, it was Christopher, at his computer, trying to write a novel in one month.
  2. The first big moment. It’s not set in stone. If you really feel like writing it down limits you, write down several possible first big moments. You’ll end up with more of a flow chart than an outline… and that’s okay. For VV, it was Christopher realizing he’s not in Kansas (or at his computer) any longer.
  3. The second big moment. This will be the one that propels the story. In Christopher’s case, it was realizing that he had to get home or he would destroy the known universe.
  4. The faux climax. This is when your reader briefly thinks that big moment #2 is being resolved. In my story, it was getting everyone– almost– on the train.
  5. The big oops. Okay, the story isn’t resolved. Almost everyone got on the train.
  6. The third big moment. This is the one that has everyone sitting on the edge of their seats, holding their breath, waiting to see what happens. I think I sort of skipped through this one without touching down. Veneri Verbum is weaker for it.
  7. The finale or true climax. This is when everything comes together in a neat little package. That final chapter wraps it all up with a bow if you do it right. When Christopher… wait. That would be a major spoiler. Nope, not revealing that one. Sorry!

So, there you have it. Seven steps. Seven little bitty tiny steps. You can do that, right? (Note: if you’re using the flowchart method, then you’ll branch off at each inciting point, so you might have more than seven steps. “Might” in this case means “will”.)

There’s your homework. Go do your outline. No, no whining. I already told you this is not a safe zone. I will have to mock the whiners and that takes away from my writing time. Shame on you. Just do the thing. You’ll thank me later.

Probably.

How to Write a Book: Getting Ready

Chess Board - TwitterHow do you write a book? There are as many answers to that as there are books, really, but I’m going to attempt over the course of however long it takes to walk you through the process of writing and publishing an independent book. Your mileage may vary and please do try this at home.

NOTE: I believe everyone should write. I’m a huge fan of everyone writing. I do not believe everyone should publish a book, any more than I believe everyone should dance Swan Lake. The advice I’m giving here is for writers who want to publish, although parts can be used by anyone.

So what is the very first step to writing a book? Writing, right? Wrong. It’s not even outlining (if you’re a planner) or getting an idea.

The very first step to writing a book is learning how to write.

This idea may make this my most unpopular blog post.

“I’ve been through thirteen years of schooling, plus four years of college where they continued making me take English classes.” (Side note: if anyone had to make you take English classes, why do you want to put yourself through the hell of publishing a book, which is like a Masters Class in English??)

  • Going to school and taking generalized English classes will generally teach you just that: general English. Even if you took creative writing classes (bonus points to you), you may not be fully equipped, but we’ll get to that. The basic English taught at most school is just enough to get you through life. Trust me, we’ve read your business letters. It’s a close thing in many situations.

“I took every writing class offered at school. I wrote in a journal; I blog daily; writing is my LIFE.”

  • Hurrah for you… and you now have the first piece in place for being ready to write a book. You’ve learned to write regularly. That’s one piece.

“I took literature classes where I had to critique other novels and write papers on them.”

  • Now you’re getting somewhere. I’ve never understood how indie writers feel qualified to critique their own work when they’ve never had any practice in critiquing in the first place. There are plenty of writers who get away with this; I’m just suggesting it’s not the best choice.

“I read books.”

  • Writers should read books the same way they should write: regularly, if not daily. If you are not devouring books, both in the genre you want to write in and outside of it, on an almost-daily basis, you do not have the framework for writing one.

“I write real good.”

  • Take a grammar class. In fact, take more than one. A traditionally-published writer can possibly get away with never taking a grammar class. An indie writer needs to know how to properly put a sentence together and when you can break the rules (or not). Please don’t tell me that’s what your editor is for. How will you know your editor is any good if you don’t understand the basics of grammar? I’m not saying become an editor. Just understand how grammar works. Really, writers should take a grammar refresher once a year.

Alright, you’ve done all this. Now go take a writing class. If you don’t have money (starving writers, unite!), get a book. Take a class online (try Coursera or EdX). Make sure the class teaches structure (again, it’s better to know the rules before you try to break them) and, if possible, teaches the restrictions of your genre. It’s a lot different writing an epic fantasy than it is writing a hard-boiled detective novel.

Come back when you’ve taken the class (and only take the class if you’ve done all the other steps).

“But such-and-such famous writer never said they did this. In fact, they said they didn’t.”

There’s an exception to every rule. There are also people who win the lottery. Unless you feel your odds are up there with the lottery winners, I’d stop trying to be the exception and go about doing things the way that works. But that’s just me. I don’t want responsibility for feeding you or teaching you the facts of life, so you can take or leave this information. I’m just passing it along.

Where are you at? Need some advice for how to get to the next step? I love to hear from you. Except you, spammers. I like putting you in the time-out box.