NaNoWriMo: Day 18 (120,003)

NaNoWriMo2016I have had a Eureka! moment.

It was not, unfortunately, a good eureka moments, but it was still valuable.

I’m a good writer. I’m not remotely humble about it. I mean, I have the moments of self-doubt and imposter syndrome, but I also read a lot. My writing is better than a lot of stuff out there and, in spite of the fact that I often use other stories as a jump-start to my writing, it’s more original. (As I said, I’m not very humble about it.)

I’m a very good editor. I can even, given enough time, find the issues in my own work (although I prefer to have someone else do it). When it comes to straight line edits, my books are cleaner than a lot of professionally published works.

I do okay in cover creation. Yeah, I’d like to let someone else do the covers, but that costs money I don’t have, thanks to some debts with the Figments Mafia Mob Bosses. So I do my own. One day I’ll fix that, should my readers ever start actually buying my books.

What I don’t do well, though, is marketing. Guess what a successful self-publishing author needs to be successful? Good marketing.

I watched Big Eyes on Netflix a few nights ago. Amy Adams (who secretly has a crush on me she doesn’t know about) plays an artist who marries another artist. She starts signing her works with his last name. Spoiler Alert: he’s a fantastic marketer and steals her work to sell as his own, making her famous by proxy.

I was pathetically excited when The Wicked Witch of Whatever came out that three people wanted a signed copy. Three. Think for just a moment how absolutely sad that is… and then I’ll throw in that two of the people had characters in the book, so they had a vested interest (and had been beta readers to boot).

Yeah. I suck at marketing.

So I’ve made a decision: no more trying to be a successful indie author. I don’t have the skill set for it. Instead, I’m going to write my books, put them up for as cheap as possible (maybe put some of them up for free) and stop spending money on ISBN numbers, shipping, conventions, and other things.

No one is reading my stuff anyway, so why waste money on it?

Instead, I’ll write because I love writing (and I’m craptastically good at it) and I’ll just leave it out there. Honestly, I’m in such a funk that I really don’t think people deserve my books, but that’s okay. I’ll put them out there anyway.

My big Eureka! moment was really a Suck It! moment.

And that’s just what I’m going to do.

(Oh, and as for NaNo, I wrote 20k on Wednesday, then promptly crashed and burned on Thursday. 2 words all day and I’m going to delete those. No more big days. Not worth it.)

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: 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.