Hook them Up and Reel Them IN
Yep, Sarah has been reading from Kul again.
Unlike the crazy people demanding the return of gatekeepers (Return of the Gatekeepers, this time it’s Stultifying) I’m not going to claim KUL or even self published through Kindle is “a tsunami of crap.”
There are things that make me hit my head against the wall, but they were starting to creep into traditional publishing as well, perhaps for other reasons.
My biggest complaint right now is “This is not the genre it’s filed under” and honestly that was happening in traditional publishing as well. I think, though I can’t promise, the reasons were different. In traditional publishing it was “we’re going to port in “important literary work” under the label of mystery/fantasy and or science fiction, because we know the minute you read it you’ll like it much more than that bad genre stuff.” In indie, at least when I talk to the author, it seems to be more of a naive sort of idea. These are usually actual literary works, so perhaps the authors admired the previous literary works published under cover of genre and THOUGHT they were genre. Or perhaps they simply wrote this thing (many of them are one-book people) and have no clue what it is and reason like this: there is a couple in the book who fall in love. Ahah, Romance. Or, someone is dead and they’re not sure how. Ahah, mystery. Or, The protagonist has prophetic dreams. I’m clearly dealing with fantasy.
This is very annoying, because I’ll be halfway through the book, wondering when the couple in love will become prominent, the crime will be investigated, and/or magic will come in.
Yeah, my fault for not reading the blurb carefully, but SERIOUSLY guys, don’t do that. Genre is a very specific structure/beats/set of expectations (yeah, I can write about it, I think) and if someone buys a book thus labelled, nine times out of ten they EXPECT those beats. For some reason if the book is good enough to make me finish it, it makes me even angrier. And those writers when they chance to write another book, are emphatically off my buy list.
Yes, this is all probably petty, but as a buyer I don’t HAVE to be nice. There are a dozen other books waiting for me, and the growing irritation that you did NOT represent the book accurately and are robbing me of what I expected makes me annoyed with the book and you.
Which brings me to the other reason I reject indie books/get annoyed at the author: bad hooking.
No, I don’t mean you are walking the street in a defective manner, failing to attract customers. Geesh. Though in a way that is EXACTLY what you’re doing.
Yeah, the first level of that hooking is the clothes, and the presentation, or in other words, your cover and blurb.
The problem comes when you’ve dragged me in through your cover and blurb and I find you were not what I expected, or worse, you hold me at bay when I try to get close.
That last is worse because I often can’t even get a chapter in, which means if you’re KUL you will barely get paid.
What do I mean by not letting me in? Imagine something like this (and it’s hard for me to write this, as I trained myself SO HARD not to do this stuff.)
Izvird was prone. He slid off at a rustle, and shouted “hallo, in there.” The slim, dark slave hurried, to find Mdervid standing in her court, glaring at Bridotin. “Hallo,” he said. “What goes on here.” The beautiful queen of the Tiphonar glared. “I can’t find my pritodin.”
If that sounds clear as mud, it is. Now you see this a lot in fanfic, and people love some of this stuff (hey, I used to troll fanfics before indie, and sometimes fanfics for series I’d never watched, since I don’t like TV much) and I had to realize the only reason I didn’t get it was because I was not immersed in the series. In the same way, you see a lot of this in later books in series, which is why so much of this went with force against all, including series by well known and beloved authors, whose early books were no longer in print. I’d try and try to get into it, but by the end of the first chapter I was thoroughly confused and gave up.
It is very important, EVERYWHERE but particularly later in the series, for you to be ware you’re not writing JUST for yourself. The point is NOT to put down the story in your head, so much as to communicate with the potential reader. Writing that way becomes like playing chess against yourself, as you have to turn the board and read as if you didn’t know the story in your head. It might therefore seem a little insane, but it’s essential.
And once you get used to doing this, it becomes second nature, and makes your writing way more accessible. It is particularly important at the beginning to make sure the people know what they’re reading (genre cueing) and can visualize the scene clearly. Later on you can get away with being a little muddled here and there (you shouldn’t be, but we’re all human) but in the beginning you have to firmly hook your reader and make where they are, in whose head they are, what the problem is, and the range of “possible” as clear as you can.
So let’s take that wretched piece of work above, and assume it is fantasy, okay? Just because it’s easier.
The first thing you should do is not have “words without a referent.” All the names for instance, which are in a particular language without any description attached to them might be admirable, but they don’t give a modern reader any idea of whether the character is human, or three legged, or male or female, or… Hell, even descriptions like “dark” or “blond” don’t tell you much if the name doesn’t give male or female indications.
So, first a line to indicate genre:
In the Magical city of Tiphon, in a terrace of the royal palace, Izvird, a boy-slave of the queen lies prone upon a broad marble wall, soaking the last rays of the setting sun, unnoticed by his betters. An unaccustomed rustle of silk brings him fully awake. He slides off the broad shelf, and stands blinking in the sun-daze. Then he looks down over the wall in which he’d been laying, and beneath, and shouts “Hallo, in there?” Since it seemed to him the noise had come from there, he ran down the short steps to the dark, cool space beneath, to find Mdevird, the queen, in her silks and jewels, glaring at the sacred fountain of Britodin. “Hallo,” Izvird said, in an under tone, not daring to speak to the queen, but letting his wonder out in words. “What goes on here?”
Mdevird turned anxiety-blind eyes to him and said, “My scrying bowl is gone. I can’t find my pritodin.”
Not immortal prose, right, and honestly, I normally wouldn’t write anything like this. (I’m not great on heroic fantasy, and my heart isn’t in it.) But at least a reader would know what he/she was reading and be able to visualize it.
Yeah, I was once as guilty of this as anyone putting their stuff on KUL and riving me bonkers, but I’d weaned myself of it long before I sent a novel out. Why? Mostly because my husband would tell me “the story is mostly in your head hon.”
I’d learned the trick of playing chess on both sides by the time I put things up.
Do I always do it wonderfully? Hell, no. Particularly in later books in a series, it is sometimes almost impossible. BUT I can TRY to do it. And if I miss first time, I often catch on edits.
All we can ask is that each of us try. But do try. There is no point having an absolutely beautiful story and one I’d love to read and keeping it away from my mind, as much as possible.
To hook a reader, first you have to bait the hook, and that first morsel has to be tasty enough.
Now go and put on your literary fishnet stockings and high heels, and start hooking the best you can.