Fertile Ground

There is, of course, naturally fertile ground. Volcanic soils are good in this way.

I think you can see the small drawback in that…

It doesn’t stop people, but it does sometimes end in tears, or at least ash. Nothing really is free and without consequences.

Otherwise… most fertility – of the soil at least, and possibly other kinds require a lot of input and a lot of work. Some people are willing to make those inputs and that effort (yes of course that was a double entendre. This is me writing not some modern literary darling). Others get grumpy when it doesn’t come easy.

But really, whether we refer to politics, gardening, or writing – or even selling writing: the same applies – your results will depend on the ground you sow into — and that is something you can control and influence.

If you’re writing a book preparing the ground is actually the hardest and most important stage of the entire thing. If you prepare the ground well (and the ground in this case is the reader’s mind) the story simply seems to evolve naturally out of it – characters did what they did because you had prepared the reader to see that as a natural consequence of the circumstance you (the author) had created in the reader’s mind and the character that you, the author had created. Foolish people say ‘oh that was an easy read’ (implied: the author is too stupid to write a turgid convoluted and un-natural thing that we are assured is award winning literature). It’s a lot harder to do well than to write stodgy work people have to force their way through – rather like a skilled ballerina or gymnast makes something hard look easy and effortless.

It’s always a balancing act between too much and too little.

Too much… an infodump of many pages may explain everything you need to know about an alien Womblebottom landing craft, and how to sabotage it, and may tell you that the heroine’s defining characteristics are her love for reading Alien tech manuals, and her ability to do telepathic welding… But it’s like preparing your 10 by 10 foot garden buy digging in a ton and a half of fish-guts – which are good in very small quantities, but will probably poison the soil for years in that volume. Information needs to be trickled in, and without the reader realizing they’re being set up.

The opposite of course is true too. The reader has no idea how to disable an alien landing craft, or even what the author means by that, so to have heroine just do it, by her amazing power that the reader never knew she had until she used it… that’s barren soil. Rocks.

Characters react in the way they believably, logically would react for reasons that are 1) built in preparing the reader for that behavior. In CHANGELING’S ISLAND I started preparing the reader for the way that Tim would react to circumstances in latter half of the book in the first two pages. 2) plausible for their mindset, body type etc. Characters are not chess-pieces or PC tokens. They’re people. If you want one a classic example of preparing the ground to give yourself later problems: consider the PC prescription in the token checklist. The gay character is always the sanest, kindest, and most reliable character. Now, that’s possible, but it does not stem from being gay. That is like assuming your skin color or religion defines your character… oh wait. The PC checklist makes just that assumption.

This too is a kind of ‘ground preparation’. It was meant to make readers accept the narrative that these superficial things defined humans. That the pampered wealthy third generation upper crust academia black author is as abused and deserving of special support as a black author who grew up in poverty a housing project and survived real abuse.

The problem with such ‘ground preparation’ is that like the infodump, it poisons the ground. The inverse is likely to happen. I was amused by one of the Puppy Kicker Snowflakes whining that the Puppies had followed the same Playbook as the Alt-right to elect President Trump. I’d actually say the only commonality was that in both cases, was that the ground was largely prepared by the other side, successfully alienating people, who were not necessarily foes or even engaged in the subject before. They are now.

As a writer: sowing ground that detests you may well be a way to get others to like you. There are demagogues on both sides. That’s a kind of ground preparation too. The problem arises if – like modern Trad publishing you’re reliant on not being hated by 75% of your audience – but to get published you must be loved by the other 25% – who will only love you offend the 75%…

To return to the subject of preparing your ground: it also goes into marketing you book/s. Trust me on this, if you don’t prepare your ground – you’re stuffed. (which in theory your traditional publisher does, but in practice, actually they only do if the author doesn’t need it – unless of course they’ve vastly overspent on the advance, in which case they will be willing to sell sows’ ears as silk purses, let alone push your book). There are reasons for this – their fixed costs remain the same for Joe Bestseller, as for Jill Neverheardofher – but the end result is traditional publishers spending a million dollars on a promotional effort that will add perhaps 10% to Joe Bestseller’s sales. A hundredth of the cost, would quintuple Jill’s sales (adding more than 10% of Joes)  – but that’s actually hard work (promoting a well-known and widely read author is easy – money for old rope, even if it really isn’t very effective. The opposite is true of promoting an unknown). So let’s assume you want to market your book. Now I am not a master at this, by any means, but I can tell you what doesn’t work.

  • My book comes out tomorrow. I will suddenly send people I never ever spoke to before and don’t know the news. They’ll care (no they won’t). That’s unprepared ground the seed will land on. People who know and like you will care, and may buy. But that preparation started years ago, with finding people of similar interests, and… well, being entertaining. Writing well.
  • I will send the same people endless spam about my book. That’s poisoning the ground.

The truth is you need to prepare that ground, slowly sensitively and without infodumps about your book, with just as much care as you set scenes and build believable characters.

45 Comments

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45 responses to “Fertile Ground

  1. Perhaps if we mailed prospective readers a small share of a ton and a half of fish guts? I can think of several worthy recipients (although they might not classify as prospective readers of my books . . . )

    😉

    • I’d love to see that as an itemized deduction on a tax return

      Fish gust – $10000
      Shipping – $1500

      • Fish gust – what happens when the deserving recipient opens the parcel after the UPS driver leaves it on a sunny porch at 0800 on August 10th, and the homeowner returns at 1730.

        • Holly

          I’ll sign up for that promotion. Silly bulldozer subcontractor spread the good veggie soil all around, leaving the veggie garden with mostly unadulterated natural clay soil after he was done with the new septic. Contractor apologized and offered to bring in compost from the dump’s program, which is NOT herbicide screened. We dealt with accidentally herbicide poisoned soil at a rental once and said no thank you.
          Of course, we have over 3000 sq ft of garden total . . .

          • Uncle Lar

            Natural clay, lots of straw, organic fertilizer (ie animal poop), till well and eventually you have good rich soil. Pretty much what you have to do in Alabama if you want to grow veggies.
            Grew up in western Illinois, Mississippi bottom land, black dirt 20 feet deep then sand. They don’t drill wells there, they drive sand points down to the aquifer. Soil is so rich that in a wet spring you can’t get into the fields two years out of five in time to plant corn so the fallback is soybeans. Just poke a seed into the dirt and stand back.
            We had a small garden maybe 20×30 and grew enough vegetables to fill the root cellar with quart mason jars of the bounty.

            • Yes. We have natural clay here, and putting straw bales in the ground and popping the strings before covering with the original clay and steer manure makes for good soil very quickly.

              And make sure you’re specific in your evaluation of that subcontractor. Dump compost (without herbicide screening) is *not* an acceptable substitute, and that just cost you a lot of money and time.

              • Holly

                The contractor is a gardener. He was appalled. The rest of the bulldozing work was done by a new, different, subcontractor. I’d say the message was adequately conveyed.

                Thirty years of rabbit, chicken, and goat additions lost. Well, we’ve got chickens, though the amount that’s aged is hardly a drop in the bucket. Rabbit was nice because I didn’t have to stack it somewhere to age.

                The worst part of those herbicides, and I can’t remember the class name, is they’re perfectly safe for critters, including humans, to eat, as they aren’t digestible, so they’re preferred for grass hay and wheat. So for your manure source, you want an organic operation these days. Which is why I won’t take Wayne’s advice: I don’t know anyone who feeds their horses organic hay.

                I swear, you could write a conspiracy theory novel on this stuff: it’s almost to where you get all your food commercially or you have to do it all yourself, from seed saving to soil additives . . . back to the pioneers’ technology. (I know better: that would require much too much coordination between far too many people, and greed and short-sightedness are much more practical causes than conspiracy. But it would hang together as a plot device as well as any other conspiracy theory. Anyone want it?)

                • Huh. I’ve never had any problems with the local straw bales, but then, I live in an area where things grow crazy huge anyway, so I might not have noticed.

            • Yeah, over about twenty years and however much droppings 100 chickens per year will drop in that time, my dad turned some ground that was basically nothing but clay into good gardening soil (maybe 1500-2000 sq ft).

              • Ohhh, that’s promising intelligence for my teeny lot which is mostly nasty clay soil over caliche. I only have the legal number of chickens which I can have in suburban SA … but between their copious droppings, and grinding up all the garden waste … I also might have a nice garden, eventually!

                • You could also check with a horse boarding service, and see if they give away any of their manure. A couple of plastic bins the size of large coolers can do wonders for a small garden.

                  When my parents moved here, there were two houses on about an acre each, which were surrounded at the back by two farms which totaled about 100 acres. Dad raised 100 fryers every year, and had some number (unknown to me) of layers. The building he built to house them in is the size of a single-wide mobile home. Of course, it also apparently was used for storage at the same time. 🙂

                  • Back in the mid-70s, my parents bought a new home out on a mesa in San Diego. The developer promised 6 inches of topsoil in the yards. By the time it had been watered and walked on a couple of years it had compacted to about 2 inches, and wasn’t even doing a good job growing grass. So I was drafted to help create new soil. We dug down about 18 inches, hauling lots of adobe clay and round rocks to a place that wanted clean fill for a big hole. Then we went to the stables at NAS Miramar (which were actually on old Camp Elliot land on the other side of the freeway.)

                    At those stables, they shoveled stuff from the stalls out into the center aisle, then ran a skip loader down the aisle scooping everything up. The same skip loader ran around the corral, the outside of the corral, the trail head, and anyplace else wide and flat enough that was likely to have horse poop. They had a big ring-shaped area about 100 feet across, and there was always somewhere between half and three-quarters of a circle of horse poop. They would add on to one end of the ring, and sell off of the other end after it had set in the Southern California sun for a few months. The result was a very dry mixture of dirt, dust, horse poop, hoof shavings, bits of hay, and anything else organic you might find around a stable.

                    We filled in the 18 inches we had dug out of the yard, pausing at about six inches from the surface to add a sprinkler system. We then added enough to go about three inches above the old ground level to allow for settling after we watered. That yard was THIRSTY. After watering it a great deal for three weeks we returned with lots of little buckets of earthworms from a bait shop, dug little holes all over, and added worms.

                    About a year later, while planting a dwarf citrus tree of some sort in the back yard I thought my pickaxe had cut a snake in two. Looking closer, I found an earthworm as fat as my little finger. My parents could grow ANYTHING in that yard. 😀

                    • Whoa. 16 inches of horse manure? When my dad created the flower bed between the back porch and the garage, he filled in about 10-12 inches that way, and the next summer, he had certain types of flowers that grew nearly three times as big as normal. After that, they didn’t grow as big, but that first year, WOW!

                    • Sounds like I need to find a local stable that sells decomposed horse manure.

        • sabrinachase

          I had the misfortune to encounter the Tsar Bomba of fish guts a while back. I was working near the Lake Union canal in Seattle. Lots of ship repair facilities, crab and fish boats, etc. It appears that a ship was seized for nonpayment/back taxes/whatever and impounded at a dock nearby, where it sat for about 2-3 years while the lawyers went to town.

          What had gone unnoticed was the ship, when impounded, had a full cargo of fish. So when the legal wrangling was done and they went to actually do something with the ship…and opened the hatch? The roiling stench traveled over a mile. They eventually had to send the cleanup crew in with self-contained breathing gear because otherwise they would pass out.

          • Some years ago was on a line relocation project. Now, a short time before a chicken truck had wrecked at this location, which had a creek, and by now the smell was incredible. Smell plus humidity after rain the night before was something else. The rain also filled the creek, which meant we couldn’t just step over it. Other guy climbs the fill to the highway and walks across. Me? I spy a foot log and make for it. Trouble was, the foot log didn’t look so sound. But I happened to find another upstream sufficient enough that it had caught debris. Across I went, with the roll of blueprints in hand.

            Except it wasn’t a foot log. It was something small that had merely collected debris that made it look a lot more substantial. Down I went, holding the blueprints over my head with the general idea of tossing them to the bank. Fortunately, it wasn’t over my head so I crossed to the other side with the blueprints high and dry. That couldn’t be said for me. And all that run-off had flowed ever what was left of those chickens.

            Yes, I finished that job. And yes, I scrubbed myself to a fare you well when I got home.

        • Nearly had a ham gust while reading that. Yeah, yeah, I know, don’t eat or drink while reading. I goofed.

        • What an excellent typo. Fish gust needs to be a thing in someone’s book

      • Eh, fish guts wouldn’t cost near that much. The shipping, however, would be horrendous.

        Fun fact: the waste trucks from fish processing plants have to be covered with nets. Otherwise, scavengers like Bald Eagles will get in, get their feathers coated as they gorge themselves, and then be unable to fly out.

        So, yes, as you imagine the recipient of a malodorous package of fish guts retching, add a face-full of talons as the eagles swarm…

  2. And this is done how? My question is meant as a question, not a criticism.

    • For the marketing, start early.

      Get involved with writers groups, start a blog, follow blogs that cater to the same demographic of the audience that you’re trying to reach.
      Comment occasionally and thoughtfully, building up a reputation among the audience as a worthy sort.
      Contact the blog owner offline and ask if you could do a guest post (not related to your book). If this goes over well, then see if you could do another and another …
      With luck, by the time you’re ready to push your own book, you’ve developed enough of a (good) reputation that the blog owner will be happy to give you space to promote your book and the regular followers will recognize you and will be willing to take a chance on your debut novel.

  3. Uncle Lar

    It has been my observation that the left, whether puppy kickers or Trump haters, live in an alternate reality that they create in their own heads and in the leftie echo chamber that they call their safe space. That reality is populated by straw people. Those on the left are always virtuous and brave, speaking truth to power. Those on the right are all misogynist, homophobic, racist, neo-nazis bent on the worst sort of evil deeds. It isn’t really that the left hate us, it’s that they truly hate the straw people in their own heads, but that hate gets directed on us since we’re the only enemy they actually can point to.
    This is the only rationale I can come up with that comes close to explaining the extreme hate and violence spewing these days from the left. That, and the simple fact that to believe what they do you must be batchit crazy.

    • TRX

      > speaking truth to power

      Any more, when I see that phrase the Voices project an image of John Lithgow as Professor Emilio Lizardo ranting at a bowl of goldfish…

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      Power, dude, there’s another explanation. Leftist revolutionary dogma has some magical thinking baked into it.

      So there’s a slight tendency for someone who buys into their policy preferences to also buy into their theories of effective political violence.

  4. Shameless appeal for reviews – sort of.
    No, in THIS case, I am the reviewer, and I have exhausted my queue a bit faster than anticipated. The last time I checked, I had reviewed everything Mad Geniuses and Friends had published (maybe not all the Wine of The Gods). I need moar!
    Anything on Kindle Unlimited, I can get. Anything on Baen, I can get. Vox Day has always provided me with whatever I asked for that Castalia House publishes, but I feel compelled to cite a source for my need ( Something like ‘SugarBelly asked me to review “Manx Beauties.” May I have a copy?’).
    I can’t do horror, and I skip sexually explicit scenes.

  5. Send me your email, and I will send you PDFs of my novels, as available. The novels are Mistress of the Waves (sf with sailing ships), Minutegirls (America’s Guardians vs EU Treachery), The One World (The three musketeers invade the land of the amazons), and This Shining Sea (Meet Eclipse. She’s 12. She flies, reads minds, and is not afraid of necessary violence.) , These are variously available on Smashwords, Kindle, and 3mpub.com, and someday I should make the lists consistent, so much as I can.

    By the way, the N3F publishes a review and lettercol zine, Tightbeam, We would be delighted to have reviews, especially longer ones.. The editor wants a price and location for potential purchasers.

    phillies@4liberty.net