Skip to content

Archive for

Out of the Strong

There are reasonable grounds to suspect I keep a vast anti-computer in my head, which devours diverse inputs and then reconstitutes them them all as unified garbage. There are reasonable grounds in in coffee-pots too.

Still, in a bizarre way that’s what I do. Occasionally out of the vastly disparate gunk I pour into my head, an interesting if not very plausible idea or story can emerge. This week’s pour in included an article about a Ghost writer’s agent, a rant from Chuck Wendig – one of darlings (at least I think he is. He’s published and associated with the other darlings of Literary left sf/fantasy) on finally making a revolutionary breakthrough and discovering what those nasty reactionaries like Jim Baen said oh, fifteen years ago, that DRM isn’t clever, and whole lot of other stunning new discoveries, which many (perhaps not in not in those circles) (me too, and often on this site) have talked about for about the last ten years. It’s a great breakthrough (and I’m only being marginally sarcastic.). It would nice, honest, and indeed admirable if he gave credit where it was due, but fair chance he didn’t know about the opinions of the ‘wrong’ people. I’ve always been a one for reading what everyone thinks, and trying to extract the meat out of that – a product of growing up in South Africa, where 4 different radio stations could report the same incident and not one of them get it all right, on a couple of occasions when I’d actually been there (I once, completely accidentally, broke up a protest, by unwittingly driving into the thought-to-be-inaccessible and safe back end of it with my two dogs – a bull terrier and a Old English Sheepdog. I was coming back from early morning fish sampling, and had got there long before the protestors. This created a panic and people ran away, and the police – who hadn’t got there yet, got congratulated by one set of media, castigated by another for their brutal use of savage dogs (which, um, did bark a lot from my truck – which they did when they knew it was beach time, and dad had finished working. No one was bitten.) But I do realize that blinkers come with a lot mindsets, and some folk, like Ms. Atwood, don’t want to read too widely in case they discover their delusion that sf is squids in space is actually a load of fetid dingoes kidneys, and thereby ruin a perfectly good sneer. Anyway, the important thing is that it’s being said even by traditional publishing’s loyalists and darlings.

Then there was this piece in the NYT on the need for likeable characters. And then there was KJA’s post on e-books, a rant in the Guardian about the pornification of the high street The best line of that was that author’s ‘feminist muscle wastage’ which did make me laugh a lot, and finally my older son’s comment that he was busy re-reading all the old Alan Dean Foster books on his kindle, and how easy it was, and how much more he was reading, now he could get books he enjoyed, and was recommending to his friends… The Icerigger trilogy at the moment, which I can highly recommend myself.

Which all went into the anti-computer, jumbled about, took bits most of them hardly noticed they said and came out as quite a positive indication of the future, particularly for independent e-books. Our Ghost-writing agent, who sounds like the master of carpe diem, brought up several things, Firstly the African-American literature – when to quote “in the days when everybody was falling over themselves to be PC—but none of the books came close to earning out their advances, because the money that was paid out was so off the charts. When that market disappeared—and it did -” says that, much as I’d suspected, the poor ‘under-included’ actually have had a lot of money and effort thrown at that section of the audience for a fair amount of time. And it didn’t work. The audience they had weren’t that interested, and the audience they thought to get obviously didn’t add up to a very large hill of beans either. Which brings me around to Chuck Wendig’s “SFF right now is going through a lot of growing pains in terms of straining its white dude diapers and trying to figure out how to accommodate, well, Those Who Aren’t Heteronormative White Dudes. This is a good thing. We’re starting to see that there exists a whole audience who maybe isn’t being talked to — this is good for society but also makes financial sense, too, because untapped audience is an audience who isn’t yet spending money with you.”

Wendig is in part right – an untapped audience is an audience that isn’t yet spending money with you, and is important… but I think the previous quote may indicate that what he is wrong about is what that untapped audience is. And there is no point in losing a large audience to possibly catch a tiny one. And no, the large audience won’t just put up with being minor characters or villains so you can get new diapers. Sounds like publishers tried the PC line quite some time ago, when there was a lot more money sloshing around in the system. It could even be why there is much less now. Of course those who do feel the envelope deserves pushing that way, well, you should lead by example. If you’re a white male who feels strongly feminist, well, then plainly benefiting by selling books is just morally wrong. Give your next publishing contract to a deserving woman (Or if you feel the Earth is overpopulated you kill yourself first- and so on. It’s amazing how popular it is to get others to make sacrifices to make things right. But not you, personally.). If you’re convinced that’s where the market is undeservedly under-served – self-publish if publishers won’t, and hire help from those you feel are unrepresented. Put your money where your mouth is, not my money for your cause.

Tying in to this I found the Gaurdianista’s antiporn rave amusing. Yes, we want to normalize all sorts of sex… except male hetero, which is porn… Look at the pictures. If there is anything your three year old can’t see on the beach, or which isn’t aimed at advertizing to women, I must have missed it. Of course the men with bull-whips and cattle prods all forcing women into bikinis and evening dresses and even skimpy underwear are never shown. I will say all those poor victims must really be terrified of their persecutors, they do such a convincing job of looking happy at the beach and really imitate enjoying male attention well. It’s so hard to force them to spend on fashionable clothes when they’d rather buy overalls or burkas. I’m not big on the sex sells everything, obligatory bonk every 5 pages, but seems a fair number of people still choose to read that. I don’t think their neo-Victorianism is going to sit too well with with the vast majority these dull ‘heteronormative’ folk of both sexes, but please, let’s encourage the flabby feminist muscle to lead by example. Their covers shouldn’t show women in these skimpy outfits and implausible poses. As the majority of buyers are female, I’m sure they’ll outsell these evul things, and handsomely prove their point.

Of course Wendig is right, publishers ought to lead the way in hiring people at all strata from a variety of social norms – by common sense a representative hiring of that carefully researched English reading market (and the same any other language you publish in). Only, I have a feeling, that (like my feminist friend who felt this way about University funding in the UK… until she found out poor white boys are least likely to go to college. Then they had to be sacrificed to correct historical injustice, even if they hadn’t committed the injustice.) those Hetronormative White Dudes and Dudesess (in Bikinis) from flyover country who go to church and vote Republican weren’t quite what he meant. But I could be doing him an injustice.

My feeling is our Ghost-writer agent is a remarkable bellwether, and the fact that even Ghost-writing rates have fallen dramatically, the traditional industry can continue to take the PC course… if they want to commit suicide. And that too is good thing, either way. Wendig is quite correct (and we’ve been saying this for years out of mind) that keeping data secret and in fact not doing what Amazon does… is just stupid. Kill-yourself-slowly-painfully-and-messily-in-a-way-that-everyone-hates-you-forever stupid. Your mantra, not should be, but HAS to be ‘If Amazon does it, we will do it as well (at least) or BETTER (mostly). If Amazon lets you look up data, we’ll send you day by-day sales figures, with analysis and areas and angles we think we can work on. If Amazon pays 70% for sales off their website, we will pay you 71% for sales off ours. If they pay by the month, so will we. If they pay an associate referral of x%, we will pay x+1%. And we’ll do stuff that Amazon can’t -like build a brand and store that will guarantee eyeballs on your book, with a shoo-in of a certain number of sales. Baen are trying. Like the DRM story, give the others 10-15 years (if they survive that long) and suddenly they’ll have this blinding revolutionary vision (wot never got thought of before).

And our Ghost-writer agent is pointing to the other area that leaves me hopeful. She’s seeing the growth of e-books, and the support services for doing it well. She has a history of guessing it right. And when I add this into KJA post about his backlist and my son’s comments about how much more he’s reading, and how easy he’s finding it to get the books he loved… Now, Pads has, as many of those ‘heteronormative white dudes’ from South Africa are, grown up a little faster and harder than most folk from more protected environments. He’s, in maturity, closer to your 35 year old-settling down, and stop pretending I’m a spoiled 15 year-old who the world owes a living, than his 10 years younger than that age (when not a lot of reading is really being done by your average Western male… and female). He’s educated, married, holding down a tough science R&D job… and finding a lot to enjoy reading… in the strong work of yesteryear. He’s where most of the able, book-wanting, and with the income and ability- to-buy cohort of the next 20 years will be, just a few years ahead. And the good news is: 1) He’s finding books – those backlists on e-books make up for the drekk-show in book shops that he didn’t enjoy much 2)Peer-to-peer is working 3)That will feed into more books– partly by those authors, and partly by new ones.

So,yes. I feel hopeful. Out of that strong will come the sweet.
Hard work ahead, but I believe there is a future for books – all sorts – from the ones for Latvian lesbian vegan Yogis in diapers to books with great stories for ‘Heteronomative White Dudes’ – in proportion to what readers are buying, not what is command-economy dictated, and that will work far better (with, um, probably a lot more books for Heteronormative White Dudes. With bikini clad women in weird poses on the cover, probably, if that is what sells). But what the two NYT posters missed is that the ones that succeed won’t be books with likeable characters… They’ll be be books where readers CARE what happens to those characters. Some we won’t like, but we will care.

Open floor

Good morning, everyone. Sarah asked me to put up an open floor today. She’s feeling much better but the workshop is exhausting and she still has to get ready for it this morning. So, she won’t be posting a new chapter but promises to try to double up next week.

So, here’s your chance to talk about what you’re seeing in the industry, to ask your questions and even to suggest some topics for us to discuss.

The floor is now yours.

Introductions and Philosophy

(This morning we welcome a new member to the MGC family. Cedar Sanderson is a woman of many talents and she has almost as many voices talking in her head, demanding their stories be written as we do — well, maybe not as many as Sarah. Cedar will be doing Saturday posts for us. The review posts will continue once a month as well. So help us welcome Cedar and give her a warm MGC welcome.)

Hi, my name is Cedar, and I’m not sure how I ended up here… Actually, it involved Sarah and Amanda getting me alone, and with this look of glee on Amanda’s face, asking me to become the latest Mad Genius. Of course I said yes! It only dawned on me that evening that I had not asked when they wanted me to start, or what I’m supposed to say, or… ah, the details in life will get you.

I spent yesterday in the Bedford Library Writer’s Workshop with Sarah and Amanda teaching, which is an amazing experience. They pace while talking, and switch off sentences like racers with a baton. They don’t pace on the same track, but in a long figure eight like an infinity sign. And while they do that, they are pouring out the collected years of learning about writing, and even more, the business of writing.

Because writing is a business. I started writing back a few years, shortly after the birth of my first daughter, and she is fourteen now, so it has been longer than I thought. I fell in with good company, and would up part of an online writing group mentored by Sarah Hoyt and Dave Freer. At the time, I had read and loved Dave’s work, but had no idea what Sarah had written. Over the years I would correct that, but I also picked up a lot about the publishing industry listening to them, and others in Baen’s Bar. As a result, and due to life, I stopped writing much, and decided I would never try to be published.

Back in 2009, I learned one of the great writing lessons the hard way. Stress suppresses creativity. I discovered this by entering a time in life where I wasn’t as stressed and unhappy any longer, and it was like taking the lid off. I couldn’t help writing. I started writing for my children, because they were now old enough to read, and over the course of a couple of years of false starts, created Vulcan’s Kittens, a YA novel (and a bunch of short stories, but more about those later).

Now I come back to the writing is a business statement, which you thought I lost way back up there, didn’t you? For twelve years I ran a small entertainment business. I still run a spin-off of that business, which is now a micro-business. During those years, I taught myself, or took classes, how to run a business, do sales and negotiations, and marketing. As a result, when I finally decided to publish, I was already looking at writing as a business, and was rather surprised to find out how many authors do not consider themselves businessmen. I’m not unfamiliar with the concept, my other industry is full of artists who struggle with how to handle business. When I started blogging about a year ago now, I knew I would be talking about not only writing, independent publishing, but just plain and simple business.

I did decide to independently publish Vulcan’s Kittens, and my second novel Pixie Noir (which is definitely NOT a young adult title) will be released in December. My short stories are already coming to life online, with Naked Reader Press, Stonycroft Publishing, and Something Wicked. For me, the short stories are not an income source, but a fundamental business tool. I am using them as loss leaders, setting them out into the cold world as a way of getting my brand recognition started. Each of us as writers need to remember that what we are selling isn’t an individual book, series, or story. We are selling ourselves. Our name, or names if you use a penname, are our brands. The more often a reader sees that name, the more likely they are to remember it. This can be both good and bad, something I will likely discuss in a longer post, as this one is getting rather long (and the other Mad geniuses just told me I’d do fine when I asked about length).

Sarah said yesterday in the workshop that there are two possible tracks to becoming an author. One is for the affirmation, and the other is for the money. Looking at it from the business side, you could say that when an author chooses the path to affirmation, likely in the publishing industry today there will be some money, but not a lot. Also, largely, that writer will not have to deal with being a businessman. Maybe an easier road, but not, in my opinion, as satisfying a one. I took the money path, because I have a very long term goal with my writing. Sure, I want the affirmation, I love hearing people tell me they have read my work and enjoy it. But my writing is my retirement plan.

I’ve been self employed for so long, and even though I’m now in school for a career, it is highly unlikely I will ever be able to tap into the American dream (growing ever more hazy) of retiring from working and having a stream of income to count on. Unless I take care of that myself. So in thirty years, when I have some thirty to forty novels and who knows how many short stories, I will have an income. Independently publishing allows me to assure that my books will not fall out of print and as an early e-reader, I well understand the value of making DRM-free ebooks readily available.

Does this make me a hack? You betcha, and red-headed hacks unite! Now that I have met the other ones, we can form an evil writing consortium and muahaha!

Not really. My personal honor dictates that I write the best possible product for my readers, and I hope I’m succeeding there. It also means I am never going to be one of those people who says “buy my book” over and over in all the social interwebs. For one thing, that doesn’t work, except to disrupt your potential relationship with readers, and for another, I like my readers, and hate spam as much as the rest of them (unless it’s fried crispy with a little fresh pineapple).

Oh, but I will say, this one time, that I do have a blog elsewhere, and there are links to my books on it. There’s even free fiction there from time to time, as I learned at the knee of the master, Jim Baen, “the first one’s free…”


Don’t forget to check out Cedar’s Amazon page. Or check out these titles or any of her others:

51KPk8y9y7L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-64,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_Vulcan’s Kittens

12-year-old Linnea Vulkane is looking forward to a long, lazy summer on Grandpa Heph’s farm, watching newborn kittens grow up and helping out with chores. That all goes out the window the night Mars, god of war, demands her grandfather abandon her and return to Olympus for the brewing war.

Now Old Vulcan is racing around the world and across higher planes with Sehkmet to gather allies, leaving Linn and an old immortal friend to protect the farm and the very special litter. But even the best wards won’t last forever, and when the farm goes up in flames, she is on the run with a daypack, a strange horse, a sword, and an armful of kittens. Linn needs to grow up fast and master her powers, before the war finds the unlikely refugees…

voya514w8kmQbyL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-64,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_Voyageur’s Cap

Duty brought Lia to the backwater planet. Honor bound her to fulfill the promise she made to Daz before his death to see his daughter, Serene, safely away and enrolled at the Academy. Neither expected their trip to be interrupted by distress signals, abandoned ships and space pirates.

Back of the Envelope

Hi, everyone. You guys had quite a bit of fun tracking down the lost methane. We should do an open floor more often:)

Quite a few years ago I worked for a geotechnical consulting firm. I’m a chemical engineer, and my work for these guys was all in the environmental area. Most of the engineers who worked there were of the geotechnical kind. At one point a graduate geotechnical engineer started at the firm. To say this young guy was brash would be an understatement. The first thing he did was walk into the offices of both the Principals, experienced and very serious men who walked around with an invisible neon sign saying “GOD” above them, and give them both a small white envelope. He then asked them to write everything they knew on the back!

 Condensing all the things you’ve learnt over a career can seem well-nigh impossible, but it’s an interesting exercise to thing about the most valuable insights.

 As writers we gradually extend our skills and accumulate bits and pieces of knowledge. Anything of worth seems to come pretty hard indeed. The question I was asking myself was – what is the single best thing I have learned? It’s a hard question to answer, and probably impossible because everything in writing seems to be interrelated. The knowledge and realisations that will enhance one person’s writing will not work for another. Some people do some things instinctively and everyone has unique ways of working – and blind spots.

 For me, the first insight was understanding the importance of plot. My first novel draft ever was written off the cuff with just the smell of a story. That was fun, but it quickly derailed into a mess that was going nowhere. After that I spent more than four months writing out (by hand) a sketch for every single scene, right down to key pieces of dialogue. This enabled me to play with subplots and get a sense for overall arcs. I don’t go to that level of detail anymore, but I do plan the whole story by chapter and scene.

 After that, the biggest penny drop was at a short workshop on story writing. The presenter outlined a simple framework of three interrelated elements: CHARACTER, SETTING, CONFLICT. That really enhanced my writing, particularly short story writing. I think this was when I realised that Setting has to be integral to the story – so integral that integral that to the story that if you took it away, you would have a different story – or would not be able to tell the story. The character also has to be unique to that story, formed by that setting, primed for that conflict.

So what would you put on the back of your envelope?

Rules of Writing From a Literary Genius (not)

Blame Patrick Richardson for this. Yes, really. First he sent me to this article then he started quoting from the author’s wiki page where his “philosophy” resides. And, well… oh dear.

So, herewith we have Jonathan Franzen, he who has more awards than books (or, for that matter, published works) and who uses his dahlingness to be “relevant” and “daring” and other such nonsense, on ten serious (this is how you tell it’s important) rules for writers:

  1. The reader is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator.
    This is Franzen’s first rule – by implication the most important of them all. And he gets it wrong. No, the reader is not a friend. Or an adversary or a spectator. The reader is a reader. More than that, the reader is a customer – but that gets into the issues uncovered by rule 2.
  2. Fiction that isn’t an author’s personal adventure into the frightening or the unknown isn’t worth writing for anything but money.
    Note our dear dahling’s less than subtle distaste for the folding stuff. Listen well: there is nothing more noble than writing for money. When you write for money you write to bring pleasure to a large number of people who – by definition – are not you. Moreover you write to bring them sufficient pleasure that they will part with money representing (for an indie ebook purchase) about an hour’s work for someone on minimum wage. The implied contract here is truly awesome – I, the author, will do my best to compensate you for an hour or more of your life’s work by entertaining and pleasing you for several hours.Frankly, my personal adventure into the frightening or unknown doesn’t cut it. What I find frightening – or don’t know – is someone else’s “meh”. Or their WTF?
  3. Never use the word “then” as a conjunction – we have “and” for this purpose. Substituting “then” is the lazy or tone-deaf writer’s non-solution to the problem of too many “ands” on the page.
    And then Franzen’s head exploded. Both of them. Which caused a lot of damage to his left hand because he’s such a wanker he just has to have the other head in his hand all time.Folks, rules about wording, voice, first/second (dear $DEITY$ please no)/third person and so forth are loose guidelines to be broken if the need for it is there. Know what the rules of grammar are, and then break them when it will improve your writing.
  4. Write in the third person unless a really distinctive first-person voice offers itself irresistibly.
    Good grief. I have visions of first-person voices walking the grimy streets of second-rate grammarians offering themselves to desperate writers, complete with thigh-high vinyl boots and short-short-short skirts. For a fee, of course. Literary blow jobs don’t come cheap these days.
  5. When information becomes free and universally accessible, voluminous research for a novel is devalued along with it.
    More wankage. What Franzen means by this is that when anyone can check your facts, they will and they’ll catch you if you’re lying. Just look at the accuracy count of all the “voluminous” research done by most of the dahlings. Usually it takes less than 60 seconds with a half-assed Google query to debunk their research efforts. Using the full ass is only recommended for thorough fisking efforts because of the distraction value of the actual facts.
  6. The most purely autobiographical fiction requires pure invention. Nobody ever wrote a more autobiographical story than “The Metamorphosis”.
    He’s referring to Kafka here, and I don’t know about you, but the I find the implications of what he’s saying here more than a little disgusting. On the obvious front, a man transforming into a bug or cockroach (depending on translation) isn’t exactly what I’d call autobiographical. On a somewhat deeper level, what you see here is someone who actually thinks most people are no better than roaches scurrying through their pathetic little lives, and oh! He is just so far above them because he’s a Literary Genius you see.
  7. You see more sitting still than chasing after.
    Chasing after what? You might see more when you’re sitting, but you sure as hell experience more when you’re chasing – or running, come to that. Observing is good, but if you don’t have some idea about experience, if all you do is sit and watch, you’re going to end up either dissecting navel lint, or with your head so far up your fundamental orifice you’re looking out your own mouth.
  8. It’s doubtful that anyone with an Internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.
    Gosh. Apparently the Internet and good writing can’t coexist. One goes kablooey when the other one is present. Of course, this is the Word Of Wisdom from someone who thinks three pages a day is writing too fast (and of course thinks that if you write it fast it can’t possibly be any good. You’ve got to slave over it and polish every last word until it shines, damn it. This I suppose is why he has more awards than published works).
  9. Interesting verbs are seldom very interesting.
    Well, duh, Mr Literary Genius Wanker, of course they aren’t. What’s interesting is the action they actually describe and how well the writer manages to capture that action so that readers can see it happening as they read.Honestly, the number of times this fellow gets the pointy end of the pineapple and thinks he’s got it right… At best he’s half right. Words are words. Strings of letters on paper or a screen. It’s the way they interact with each other and the reader’s mind that makes them interesting and memorable.

    Unless they’re really bizarre words, anyway, and those are more fun in dictionaries of weird words.

  10. You have to love before you can be relentless.
    Say what? There is no way those two items are related. This reads to me like he was trying for profundity and hit the fundamental orifice instead.

So there you have it. I’ve just sucked away fifteen minutes of your life fisking this drivel. What’s worse is I sucked away a good hour of mine in the process.

Can you teach writing?

The question of whether writing is something that can even be taught has been kicking around writing/reading circles for ages.  I suspect the same happens in music and art circles, though I wouldn’t know it, because well…

It’s like my writing Science Fiction/Fantasy, Mystery and Romance.  I might like all the genres equally but sf/f is where I “live” – i.e. where most of my friends are, and where I attend all the conferences.  I do have friends who are primarily mystery and romance, and to the extent they fetch-and-carry I might know some of their scandals and arguments, but not the minor stuff because my friends are at best midlisters, which means I only get the really big stuff that propagates from the middle down.

In the same way I do art – though I found out recently that I need to go back to classes/practice, because I’m losing my hand, which is very frustrating.  It’s part of my objective to get back to art in the next year, because that’s how I rest – but I don’t live there.  I’m at best and when in practice “talented beginner” not “Person making living from this” and the professionals don’t admit me to their circles.

But I suspect the questions are the same: is art/writing something you’re born with, or something you can teach?

As both a writer and a teacher of writing, and (still) a student of writing, all I can tell you is that I’ve come to doubt talent and inspiration as motor forces of excellence, or, indeed, of creation.

As for the question of whether you can teach writing? No, but you can learn it.

Over the weekend we found ourselves talking to a  friend who is also a young writer.  She was complaining of how slow she writes, and how she doesn’t have confidence in her voice.  We told her I was the same way before I took the Oregon Coast Professional Writers Workshop.  And I came back able to write a short story in an afternoon.

She told me to distill it and give to her now – which is cute, and half joking, I’m sure.

Of course, I can’t do that.

Part of it is that learning is art is very individual.  I can’t know what’s stopping you producing professional work.  You might not know it yourself.  You might be reading your stuff and not seeing the flaw.   And I, through my different experience might read your piece and see flaws that aren’t there.

You see, what makes reading fun is that each writer has a unique and idiosyncratic approach to story elements from beats to construction of plot, to character development.

No?  Imagine Pride and Prejudice as written by Heinlein or Ray Bradbury or, if you’re so inclined, Jorge Luis Borges.  You see what I mean?

But the problem is that when a writer is looking at a piece of writing as “can this be improved” he brings his own experience to the fore.  Imagine Jane Austen attending a writers’ workshop where she gets critique from Heinlein, Bradbury and Jorge Luis Borges.  Now, imagine she takes it seriously – you see the mess?

This is why editing is such a difficult job, because you have to preserve the writers’ voice while improving the story.

Can it be done?  Oh, sure.  But I wouldn’t entrust it to a beginning writer.  You need to be fairly confident of your own abilities and have seen enough of what is out there and have found a “voice” of your own to step back and go “this isn’t right but no, it won’t be solved my way.”

For this, often, non-writers are better than writers – if they’re voracious readers – if for no other reason than that they don’t impose their own angle on story on you.

The same works when it comes to teaching a writer.  At this point I’ve done it enough that I can look at your story and tell you what is wrong MOST of the time.  At least some of the classical mistakes like “you edited this to death” are obvious.

Others… particularly if they’re close to mistakes I myself make, but not quite, I might misdiagnose.

The point here is that I can’t simply tell you “this is wrong, fix it”.  What I can do is make you practice enough, point out the minor and obvious flaws, and make you practice some more.

So, two weeks of pressure-cooker writing where you live/breathe/eat writing will improve your work, no matter where you are.  The teacher might not be teaching, but you will be learning.

And what about the weekend workshops like what I’m teaching Fri-Sat- Sun?

Well, it’s part information “this is how you build a story” and part info on the field/business, so it’s not going to give you that amount of practice you need to bring barriers down.  But it will help.  I can (and hope I do) give the students the foundation on which to build.

After that they’ll need to do that which the rest of you at home can – and should—do.  1- set deadlines and respect them 2- force yourself to write fast (this makes you not have time to seize up) 3- don’t rewrite.  If you’re not competent enough to write, trust me rewriting is harder.  Instead, just do typo and obvious mistakes, and let the rest fall where it may.

Most importantly, write, write, write.  The year I spent writing a short story a week was the one in which I made the most progress.

Writing can’t be taught, really, but you can teach it to yourself.

A few thoughts and, maybe, a brief snippet

I want to start by thanking everyone for their understanding about the open floor I had to put up last week. I try not to do so very often but last Tuesday was one of those days when everything converged to keep me not only away from the computer but out of the house. I’ve still been kept away from the house a great deal of late and off-line, but things are getting better. Which is probably a good thing since my work laptop has something odd happening with it where it no longer likes Yahoo and there are a number of sites — including mail sites and file sharing sites — that it seems to be blocking. So, once I finish here, I’m tearing into the firewall and other programs that are supposed to be protecting me and see if HAL has taken over.

Some of you were kind enough to leave suggestions for topics last week. Some of them, like the suggestion to discuss copyright and fanfic, will take more thought and research than I’ve had time to give to it yet. So, give me a couple of weeks — to get some deadlines dealt with — and I’ll do a post on copyright, fanfic and filing off the serial numbers.

Several of you wanted to talk about how to deal with the current dry spell so many writers seem to be experiencing right now. Not so much a dry spell on the writing front but on the sales front. That seems to be a topic a lot of folks are talking about. I wish I had a response that we could all implement, but I don’t. I’ll admit that over the last few years, I’ve seen a trend in my own sales where sales seem to slow a bit in July, drop through the floor in August and then slowly start picking up in September. Whether that means anything or not, I don’t know. It could be as simple as people are on vacation or are getting ready for their kids to return to school. But sales do seem to be cyclical and they do pick up.

I just haven’t found any quick fix for the decline. I’ve tried blog tours. It’s a lot of work for what didn’t always give a return that made it worth the time. I’ve had a trailer made and it had no impact on sales. I’ve tried putting titles up on all sales fronts and only on Amazon’s KDP program. I’ve changed the pricing — up and down — and changed the tags. Facebook and Twitter and snippets, oh my.

What I’ve learned is that different tactics work for different genres. The blog tour worked to an extent for one of the novels written under the pen name. It worked, not so much because it increased sales a great deal but because it got reviews up on Amazon. The reviews weren’t always glowing but they were always honest and the good reviews outweighed the bad ones. Those reviews do help because potential readers will look at the number of reviews and the average rating when considering whether or not to try a book by a new author.

However, for the urban fantasy stuff, the blog tour didn’t work as well. Does that mean such a tactic won’t work for others? No. It just means that, for me at least, I will have to think twice before putting in the time and effort to do an other blog tour for more of the Nocturnal Lives books. I’ll do a few guest posts — hint, if you need someone to fill in on your blog one day, give me a shout. I’ll be glad to as long as I can link to my Amazon page — but a blog tour of a week or two where I’m on different blogs every day is a no go now. I’d rather be writing my next book.

As for the rest of it — especially Facebook and Twitter — social media is a way to keep your name and the titles of your work in people’s minds. But it is a balancing act. You don’t want to do so much promotion that your Facebook page or Twitter feed is nothing but one long ad for your latest novel or short story. (Hint: I’m seeing more and more people posting on their walls that if they get a friend request on Facebook from someone and, when they go to check out that person’s FB page it is dominated by self-promotion, they will refuse the friend request.) So, before you start spamming your page and feed with info about your latest release, stop and think. Are you going overboard? Look at your last three to five entries. If they have to deal with your work and have all happened in the last couple of hours, you are going overboard. Step away from the keyboard and breathe. Post something different.

There’s another pitfall to social media sites like Facebook that a lot of authors fall into. That’s the creation of a page for your latest novel or series or whatever. Every day I’m getting invitations to “like” some author’s new page. That’s annoying enough because it does take time to figure out if it is a page I want to be involved with — and this is something you need to think about. When you “like” a page, it shows up on your wall. Your “friends” can see your likes. So do you really want to like that latest invitation? For example, how will your Christian publisher react if they check and see you’ve liked a number of pages for books that are about demonology or the like? — Even if I am interested, do I have time to follow them?

Worse are when authors or fans create group pages and add you without asking. I’ve finally reached the point where if people do that and I don’t know them well, I will not only delete the group but will unfriend the person responsible for adding me.

Social media is just that — social. For the average indie author who is struggling to make a name for himself, it isn’t a major sales tool. It is a tool to be used, carefully and sparingly. You have to walk that thin line between promotion and becoming a pest. So think about what you like, and don’t like, to see and apply that to your use of Facebook and Twitter and then see if it yields any results. Just remember, those results may be long term and may not show up right away. That’s especially true if you are distributing your books through Smashwords (where sales may not be reported for up to six months for outlets in their premium catalog) and not putting them directly up on sites like Amazon, Kobo or BN.

So, what can you do to help pump your sales? One of the best is to check your product description on Amazon or the other sales pages. Do you give the potential buyer enough information to hook them without giving them too much? Is it well-written? How about formatted? If your description has more than one paragraph, make sure there’s space between the paragraphs so it is not only visually pleasing but also an indication that your book is properly formatted. Have you checked to make sure there are no misspelled words? You’d be surprised how many descriptions I’ve seen with spelling errors, even for books released by the major publishers. That description is the first impression your writing is going to make on a reader. So make it the best you can.

Then comes the tags you use for your book. Each site has a different number of tags you can use, so you have to be careful not to just cut and paste from site to site because you may wind up losing that one tag you really want there.

So what tags should you use?

First of all, understand that your tags are different from the categories you select for your books or short stories to be listed in. The tags are basically the meta tags or descriptive words that help readers find your books when doing a general search on Amazon or another store site. They are keywords treaders might input into the search engine for the sales site. If you write a romantic suspense novel set in Dallas around a wedding that has a murder and blackmail in it, the tags I’d use are romance, suspense, Dallas, wedding, murder, blackmail. That’s six and, iirc, Amazon lets you tag up to seven words. So I’d figure out something else, maybe the profession of my main character, to use. Anything that I think someone might use as a search term.

Tags you don’t want to use are your name, title of the book or series title. Why? Because they are already associated with your work if you filled out the information page properly.

So, here’s a challenge for each of you. Take your current wip and put a sample of the product page description and your tag words in the comments below. I’ll be back later, after I clean house, to see what you’ve done.

Now, for the brief snippet from Nocturnal Interlude:

“Don’t you dare die on me now!”