Category Archives: CEDAR SANDERSON

Cedar Sanderson.

Covering the Myths

I’ve written about this many times here at Mad Genius Club, but it’s a topic that gets asked about over and over. And it’s an important topic. The book cover is the first thing your readers see, and no matter how often they might insist that they don’t judge a book by it’s cover, they are judging silently in their heads.

Your cover sends subliminal messages, even when it’s the size of a postage stamp, and little things like font choice, age of model (hat tip to Dorothy Grant for pointing this out to me recently), and contrasting areas on the cover art can make a huge difference.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had an author say… No, let me back up a little. Let’s talk about myths and mistakes.

Myth #1: The scene on the cover should be pulled straight from the pages of the book.

No, the cover should contain the distilled essence of the book in one powerful wallop. You know that cliché about a picture being worth a thousand words? yep, that one’s truth. Furthermore, if you choose one climactic, thrilling scene, you risk spoilering a whole story right there before they even start reading. I have to admit to having fallen for that one recently while working with a client. Both of us were very excited about the mental image his final scene provoked… but it would have meant the book was revealed on the cover. So that had to be set aside.

Myth #2: The cover art should be like no one has ever seen before.

Again, no. Just like most stories contain comforting tropes that allow authors to take shortcuts and pack a story into a hundred thousand words or so, avoiding explaining every last little assumption (unless it matters to the plot, you really don’t need to explain the innermost workings of your fundyminion drive and hyperquespace). Just like you can use some handwavium in the writing, you can use it on the cover, too. Genre covers change fashions like hemlines, and you’ll want to keep up with whether miniskirts are in this year, or ankle-length hoops instead. That being said, there’s a fine balance between following the herd, and finding a way to stand out (and standing out in a good way, not pink flamingo in a zebra herd, but pink zebra in the herd kind of way). If, say, you’re writing a romance the trope is heaving bosoms (male or female. Don’t ask me why male bosoms are a thing on book covers, because they are all shaved and oiled and frankly I prefer my men built like teddy bears in the chest hair department but you’ll never see that on a cover because evidently I’m weird or something). If you’re writing science fiction, it’s space ships or mechanized men in roboto suits.

Myth #3: The more detail the better! Gorgeous art you have to stare at until you’ve seen all the amazing points is the best!

No, no, no… so much nope. While this may have been true on print books (and I will admit to having picked up a few books just to stare at the art, but see above about hairy chests) it is certainly not true for the modern book marketplace, which is about 90% ebook. Ebook covers are usually viewed in thumbnail, maybe on a PC at about a tenth of the size they would be in print. On a phone? less than a postage stamp size. Now, when I’m building a cover, I format it to the size it would be on a trade paperback (6×9″, 300 dpi), but that’s file and image quality, not the size it’s going to be judged at. Ebook covers are all about contrast and one (usually one, there can be exceptions, but I’d say never more than three) focal element. Also, you need room for your title and author name, which brings me to my final myth…

Myth #4: I should be humble and make my name discreet on the cover.

Honey, this is no time to hide your light under a bushel. At BARE (bear… heh) minimum, you should be able to read your name when you’re looking at the cover shrunk down to a thumbnail. When I was first starting out fumbling my way through making covers, I took Dean Wesley Smith’s workshop on cover design, and that’s one of the major points he makes (I highly recommend that workshop if he’s teaching it, BTW). Make the author’s name bigger. Bigger than that. Put the name up in lights – you might not be a celebrity yet, but the readers don’t know that. Make it loud and proud and legible.

Mistake #1: Font Choice

I have seen so many bad fonts on covers. heck, I’ve *used* bad fonts on covers, although admittedly with Pixie Noir I was at least doing it on purpose modelling after the old pulp noir covers. Rule of thumb is to never use a font for a title that you would use in the book for the body of text. Fonts can subtly signal so much, take the time to look for one that says what you want it to say. And if you’re not a font geek, use the categories at dafont.com or 1001 Fonts to help you sort. But then, look at the title in thumbnail. Is it still readable? Is it readable quickly? Ask a friend (or two or three) to look at it. Can they read it? Ornate fonts can look terrific – if they are ten feet tall on a billboard. They shouldn’t be on a book cover. Readers are not going to sit there and puzzle it out. Now, you do have the benefit of a book description right next to the cover most times – but not always. Design the cover to be able to stand on it’s own two feet.

Mistake #2: Too much text

You do need more than just your title and author name. Not a lot more, though. The bare minimum would be (located near title) a series identifier: e.g. Book One of the Souldark Saga. Located near the author name, if you have other work, would be ‘author of Firstbook’

Where I have seen covers run off the deep end and into trouble is with subtitles, book blurbs (clue: they don’t go on the front cover on ANY book version), and pull quotes. Pull quote, singular, is about all I want to see on a cover that is well-laid out and here’s were we break the thumbnail rule: it should NOT be readable in thumbnail. What you’re looking for is the overall appearance of a modern print novel cover, and most (but not all) have pull quotes which are too small to read in thumbnail, but you can see there is text there. And if you have a print edition, it will be readable there. Really, this is a part you can skip, a lot of people do these days. I like it. I don’t use them on shorter works than a novel, though. It’s too much, and that’s not a story that will be appearing in print, unless it’s an anthology and then you do want a pull quote, probably from the foreword you talked someone into writing for you. Now that we’ve wandered far into the weeds, let’s find our way out again…

Mistake #3: Not being a Professional 

Ok, this one isn’t necessarily a mistake. It’s more a life choice when it comes to presenting your writing. If you want to be merely an amateur with your writing, go right ahead and use that painting your five year-old made for you on the cover. But if you want to create a powerful marketing tool that evokes an emotional reaction from a potential reader, draws them in to read the blurb (and then to read the whole book) then you need to have a professional looking cover. You can do it yourself, you can buy one, you can commission one – costs range from free, to a couple of hundred dollars, to thousands. No matter which path you choose, consider your return on investment, and realize that a properly packaged product sells far better than one which is presented shoddily wrapped. Consumer products brand design is wrongly predicated on the notion that shoppers make rational, informed decisions. In truth, most are purely instinctive and reactive. Eye-tracking studies show that consumers read on average only seven words in an entire shopping trip, buying instinctively by color, shape and familiarity of location. Best sellers succeed by appealing to the reptilian brain, which decides before logic has a chance.

I’d get into branding, but I think that this post is already long enough. So, I’ll check in on the comments, and I’m happy to critique those who are brave enough to present their cover concepts here and want help with them. Commentors, remember, be gentle! This may be their first time…

 

 

 

 

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Filed under CEDAR SANDERSON, cover design

Whoops!

Sorry, everyone, I completely lost a day.

That’s what happens when you time travel. Er, spend time travelling. I didn’t travel in time, really. *backs away slowly, shifty-eyed*

Actually, it’s quite simple. I spent a week travelling, and since I’ve been home, I’ve been working and sleeping and that’s about it. Today, when I should have had this post up bright and early, I was more focused on doing Mom-and-Wife things than authorial things. Which is, really, normal. As  a writer, we can spend rather a lot of time with our heads firmly stuck in the clouds, the better to see our imaginary worlds with. However, real life must intrude from time to time. With practice, you can learn how to switch back and forth fairly seamlessly and rapidly. I’m still working on that practice, to be honest.

It helps to keep a list. I make lists for a lot of things in life – earlier today it was a rough budget plan for the rest of the year, as my husband and I discussed what’s coming that we know of (the emergency fund is for the other things) and how we can plan ahead rather than be blindsided. In real life, this is very practical and usually works. In a story, as an author, blindsiding a character is fun and what leads to all the best plot points.

Like falling in love at first sight. My daughter gets rather indignant about the concept – if you don’t mind spoilers, I did an interview with her about Wonder Woman, which she loved, but the romantic subplot bothered her a lot. I think she’s right, somewhat. I also think she’s not yet seventeen and will learn in time that sometimes the most incompatible couples actually work very well. Which is why romantic tales about star-crossed lovers (don’t even get her started on Romeo and Juliet!) have been around since people started making stories up. I’ve done it, myself, both directly and indirectly. At some point my MC in the work-in-progress is going to have to explain how she came to be mostly Athabaskan with a bit of Inuit. I told my Mom that, and she gave me a look, and said ‘you do know those tribes are enemies?’ Yes, I did know, and that’s why I wrote the sc3ene with the MC being a bit touchy about her ancestors.

It doesn’t just happen in books. My First Reader and I would be incompatible on paper. We have a large gap in our ages, I’m a free spirit, he’s much more grounded. I’m always wearing rose-colored glasses, he adds a drop of acid to my sweet… it works. It’s better together than when we’re apart. I take things from real life, and put them in books, sometimes, and one of those things will likely be his reaction to my return home after this trip. “No more travelling without me!” Yes, dear. I didn’t like it, either. And that works very well whether I’m writing a SF novel of space travel with one left on the planet, or a fantasy tale of a quest undertaken while the other stays home in the village prosaically tending the farm. People are people, no matter what setting you build around them.

While I was on the plane(s) I was reading, working my way through an Introduction to Bioarcheology, Dead Men Do Tell Tales (case files from a forensic anthropologist) and 1177 BC: the year Civilization Collapsed. The connecting thread through all of them, other than history, is the people. Even if you’re reading their stories through bones and artifacts, you can still connect and relate to them. The long-dead Hatshepsut who became a king in order to rule. The bones of the men who threw spears, and the women who ground at pestles. The bones warped by disease and trauma… there are stories of love, loss, warfare, and family, here. I’m not consciously mining history for stories and plots. But I do pick up bits and pieces that I can weave into tales later. Sometimes after I’ve forgotten where they came from.

And in the middle of all of this is my son joggling my elbow and wanting to know if I will buy him a kit to build a robot. Which reminds me that where we came from is very far from where we’re going – I can search online and find robot kits for as little as 20$ on Amazon – solar powered, to boot!

 

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Filed under CEDAR SANDERSON, WRITING: ART

Take two aspirin…

It’s been an eventful week, and I found myself lying here this morning thinking. I’m far from home, out of schedule (this post was supposed to be written yesterday) and have a headache. It’s all worth it, though. My eldest graduated from highschool last night. She’s a fiercely independent soul, and will go far in her studies at college.

But that’s not what I wanted to write about. Toni Weisskopf shared a photo on Facebook of a computer module absolutely infested with an ant nest, seething with eggs, and her comment was that she’d like to see more stories like that in science fiction. It’s an excellent point. I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve read ( and written) where the tech performs flawlessly. Which does happen. There are also stories where it doesn’t, but how many can you think of where the characters have to deal with an infestation? How would we prevent that, control it, and what kind of adaptations will we see?

I’d run across an article recently about bacteria which will break down plastics that were formerly thought invulnerable. Then there was another one speculating about why less plastic (by an order of magnitude) is found in the ocean than projected, and the discovery of novel bacteria on that plastic. The concern was focused on reducing pollution, but what happens when bacteria evolve to eat stuff we want to stay intact and functional? The stories about nanotech making gray goo aren’t that far off from what bacteria are already capable of – only fortunately they are not so fast to act.

We can’t escape our invisible (to the naked eye) friends. Microbes cover every inch of us, and our surroundings. We can only culture a tiny fraction of them in the lab, we’re still working on understanding the ecology of our own “inner gardens,” but we are already harnessing the power of their replicative properties for good… With the advances in molecular genetics we can use bacteria to copy/paste stuff we want, like drug ingredients and human proteins. With enough time and development to move beyond ‘we can do that’ to ‘and cheaply!’ the future looks very interesting indeed.

So those two aspirin I want might someday be extracted from bacterial sludge. Trust me on this, if you think that’s gross you don’t want to contemplate where some modern drugs originate. Not all of them are turned out from sterile molecular synthesis. Heparin (an anticoagulant) involves tons and tons of pig guts every batch made. Think about this in terms of going to space. If we don’t come up with highly efficient methods of synthesis, there are going to be problems.

It’s fascinating to extrapolate from current science, to bleeding edge, and beyond. As a science fiction author, it’s an exercise in developing my stories into something approaching hard science. As a baby scientist, it gives me food for thought about my career (and my daughter, who plans to study molecular genetics) path in the coming years.

Will we ever harness the power of Leeuwenhoek’s animalacules? We already have, now we just need to make that more efficient. Will they slip their leashes and turn on us? Well, yes. They already have, many times. The history of pathogens and disease goes back before the dawn of history. We can read it on the bones left behind, long before men scribbled on pages or chipped runes into stone and pressed them into clay. Speaking of which, I found a neat book on KU, for the readers like me who appreciate an in-depth look at science and history – Old Bones: a brief introduction to bioarchaeology. 

 

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Filed under CEDAR SANDERSON, SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY

Incens(or)ed

There was an amusing bit of fallout after my post last week. You would think that calling for recommendations of books for a pair of young ladies would hardly be controversial, yes? I mean, I don’t know about you, but there are few things I like more than a chance to talk about books I have known and loved since I was a girl. I was just comparing notes last night on social media with a friend about how nice it is to go wayback into memories and read authors like Grace Livingston Hill, LM Montgomery, Georgette Heyer, and others for sweetness and happiness in what seems to be an ever-more bitter world.

But I digress a little. I had occasion, after an angry accusation was made, to look up what the word censorship meant. I thought I knew what it meant, after all, but I wanted to be sure, because what it was being used about wasn’t what I’d have defined as censorship…

Censorship is the suppression of speech, public communication, or other information that may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, politically incorrect or inconvenient as determined by governments, media outlets, authorities or other groups or institutions.

So why was I being accused of being a censor by an incensed reader? because I and others were including warnings about books containing graphic and potentially inappropriate content, in a discussion about books for preteen children. So parents who want to know what is in their children’s books are guilty, according to this person, of censorship. It’s not the first time I’ve been accused of censoring content for my children’s sakes. When I wrote about the prevalence of what can only be called victim worship, or torture porn, in YA books, I was blasted for my stance against the graphic portrayal of abuse. I responded to that with science, laying out the fact that children need tools to cope, yes, but glorifying pain (and suicide, as in the recent Netflix hit 13 Reasons) is not a good thing for those who are trying to crawl out of the abyss. So why do I take this unpopular stance?

Perhaps because as a culture we now embrace pop stars who writhe all but naked on the stage, books that advocate ephebephilia and incest, but reject values, morals, and chivalry? I am not a perfect person, but I do believe that there should be personal responsibility in this world, a duty to protect the children, and the honor to stand up to bullies in any form or age.

I’m a mother who now has three teens and one almost-teen under her roof. Do I say ‘you can’t read that!’ and yank a book out of their bewildered hands? (and how do you confuse hands… oh, never mind) Am I truly a censor, using this blog as my ‘group or other institution’ to suppress information?

Not.

Actually, I think I can successfully argue that rather than censoring those books, I am doing the opposite. I am adding information to them, not blacking the ‘bad bits’ out. It’s no different than the rating systems we use for films and video games. Something meant for mature consumption is possibly acceptable for some who are younger, but that’s something their parents need to make a decision on. Not I, and certainly not the incen(sor)ed reader who was indignant that we were talking smack about books she read as a young girl and didn’t see any harm at all in.

I’ll tell a little story on my girls, here. When my Otaku Princess (who now adores anime and anything DC Comics-related) was a small girl-child with silky copper penny hair, she was absolutely terrified of a G-rated cartoon. It gave her nightmares every time her siblings watched it (we owned it on VHS, to date it) and she would run crying from the room when the gnomes appeared in this made-for-TV animation of Ozma of Oz. On the other hand, my Jr. Mad Scientist was taken to see Batman: The Dark Knight when she was only six years old by a doting great-grandfather who undoubtedly thought he was taking the tiny nut-brown girl to an Adam West show, all Bop! Bam! Biff! and he never even looked to see it was rated R. She didn’t bat an eye at that level of gore and horror.

Every kid is different. But only you, the parents, know which kid is yours and what they are ready for. When you look at a book like Robin McKinley’s Deerskin, you want to know that it has graphic accounts of child abuse, incest, and miscarriage in it. You, the parent, can then determine if that’s a book to be read now, or one that should perhaps wait a few years until the developing mind that is in your care is prepared to grasp that not all bad things end in bad times, they can come out to survival and triumph. Personally, that book shook me to the core and I can’t re-read it. On the other hand, her other earlier stories (I’ve never been able to read her after Deerskin) were brilliant, and I have bought copies to give to my girls. Some censor, I.

Some times a book isn’t right for an age level. I had a book rejected from being added to a school library due to content concerns. I didn’t think once that I was being censored, or cry out “I’m being banned!” to all the media. There is a scene in my YA book The God’s Wolfling that portrays the heroes as they are captured by drug dealers when they stumble into someplace they shouldn’t have been. The elementary school in question explained that they couldn’t have any books in their library that portrayed ‘drug culture’ in any way. As I’d never intended that pair of books for juvenile (under 12 years) readers, I shrugged and went on with life. Have I, an author, been censored? Yes. Did it harm me? No. Would that scene (spoiler: the teen heroes make it out intact and the drug idiots pay dearly) have harmed some young impressionable mind? Well, probably not. But that’s not my call to make. The school has a responsibility to parents, and parents are the ones tasked with raising their children. Not, thank goodness, angry people on the internet.

I don’t think there are many children reading this blog. To be honest, I’d be surprised if that number was greater than one. There are rather a large number of parents and grandparents who read and write here. With all of those, I suspect that a primary goal is for us to raise readers. Not to restrict them, but to guide them and feed them good, tasty books, until they can be weaned and off to a diet of meaty books full of stories that will satisfy them, mystify them, and make them think more until their brains stretch out a size or three. And the best way to accomplish that is to talk about books which are beloved and find ones the children will read all up until they cry out for ‘more! more’! and that’s when you know you can come here, asking for ideas when you’re out, and we’ll tell you about the books we loved. Which includes a word of warning about things you might want to know so you aren’t up in the middle of the night with a case of reading indigestion and a crying child.

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Filed under CEDAR SANDERSON, point of veiw

Good Books for Young Readers

I had a question posed over on my blog yesterday, and I thought that I’d ask for help here (and on social media) in answering it. Here’s the question:

Thanks mainly to Sarah’s blog introducing me to writers like you, I’m on top of SF for my g’daughters, ages 11 and 12, but are you aware of other kinds of fiction that would be age appropriate? Or even any idea where I might start looking? So far almost everything I’ve found appears to be written by and for The Young Radical Feminists Guild, if yaknowhatImean, and the books I read in the 50s and 60s have been “edited” or are just hard/impossible to find in their original form.

*Any* suggestion would be gratefully appreciated. I’ve run out of ideas! The younger g’daughter does not like SF or even fantasy, and we wanted to do a little family book club this summer.

I have compiled a fairly nice curated list of books for young men, but I’ve neglected books for young Ladies in training. With some help, I think we can come up with great reads for them, ones that will inspire them to grow up into loving women who respect men just as they themselves earn respect. Far too many of the current crop of girls books infantilize boys, if not portraying them in more negative lights.

Actually, reading some of the ‘books for boys’ is a great place to start, I know I read a lot of those as a girl. But sometimes a princess wants a story about cats, horses, and that ‘castle ambiance.’

Please put your suggestions in the comments below!

The First Reader and I were talking about this, and he pointed out that as much as we all love the Heinlein juveniles, they don’t work well for most young people these days. The children find it hard to connect with the concept that not everyone has a phone in their pocket and a computer to boot. He’s right – I have coaxed and cajoled mine, and they have turned up their noses at “Have Spacesuit, Will Travel”, “Star Beast” and others. On the other hand, my son did start reading Mackey Chandler’s Family Law, and was enjoying it (he stalled out because of the length, but that’s a maturity issue, not the book which wasn’t written for children).

So what I’m looking for are good books that were written more recently than the 50s and 60s. Or perhaps ones that have a timeless setting that kid readers can identify with. Nobody expects an elf to have a cellphone, my First Reader points out. I respond with, wouldn’t that be a fun story to write?

I know from personal experience that young adult books don’t sell terribly well as a small-name Indie author. I also know that my daughters (currently aged 16 and 15) love angst and teenager stuff, so I hold my nose and buy it for them. I just can’t bring myself to write it for them… however. Younger kids – the 10 and 12 yo of the question above – want and need the more hopeful, happy, inspiring tales of courage, love (and not in a romantic sense), and adventure. Pam Uphoff’s Barton Street Gym is a good example of a Indie YA that gives all that – but of course it’s also SF with an artificial intelligence that manifests as a T-Rex. Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome is a glimpse into another world, one that offered even young children responsibility, freedom, and wholesome adventure with adults rarely present.

If I ever have time, I’ll write more for kids. Even if the books don’t sell well, it’s important to have good books that focus more on story than pushing formative-stage minds into molds the social issues of the day dictate. That way lies indoctrination and madness.

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Filed under CEDAR SANDERSON, reading

Vainglorious

 

Vain-glo-ri-ous

Adjective; literary

excessively proud of oneself or one’s achievements; overly vain.

“this vainglorious boast of personal infallibility”

Synonyms: assured, biggety (or biggity) [Southern & Midland], bigheaded, complacent, consequential, egoistic (also egoistical), egotistic (or egotistical), important, overweening, pompous, prideful, proud, self-conceited, self-important, self-opinionated, self-satisfied, smug, stuck-up, swellheaded, vain, conceited

The most difficult part of this business, for most of us, is promoting ourselves and our books. It’s also the most important, if we want to be read and paidfor our work. This applies to both the traditionally published, and the independent. The book is published, but how are readers to know about it?

There are many paths to a reader. The best is the same in any business, because it is also the strongest. I did it myself, yesterday. I tried to use my First Reader’s 30+ year old Kirby vacuum, and to my great frustration, it left as much on the carpet as had been there to begin with. I hopped on Amazon, looking at the top rated vacuums, reading reviews, and still hadn’t made up my mind. It wasn’t until I made a wisecrack on facebook about vacuums being pushed as Father’s Day gifts, and perceptive friends started recommending vacuums that they had used and loved, that I made up my mind about the purchase. Word of mouth is king, when it comes to marketing and promotion.

Word of mouth can come in many ways. It can come from the mouths of happy consumers. In this case, readers who review, or just rave about their latest read to anyone who will listen, whether in person or on social media are ideal. Those are the readers who sell books. They aren’t trying. They just really enjoyed that book, it stuck out in their mind, so when someone asks for the latest space opera, they say, Oh! You just have to read…

There’s also the word of those who are being helpful. Whether it’s readers who know that if they share their favorite author’s promo post, it helps that author out and therefore they write more books to be read later, or readers who are big fans and see themselves as unofficial street team-members assisting an author. Sometimes it can be fellow authors helping one another out – like the Indie Author sales we host here at MGC. This can be really beneficial when an author with a large fanbase shares the work of a new author. The down side of this can be two-fold: one, the “Name” author is likely to then be hit up with exuberant newbs (see the title of the post) asking him to do the same for them. And secondly, the reputation of the Name can actually be harmed by recommending sub-par works. I’ve gotten very cautious about the work I share and promote (in my Eat This While You Read That posts, for instance. I’ll be rebooting that series in about a week, by the by) because I want to keep the trust of my readers. It might be someone who is young and just doesn’t realize they NEED editing. Or it could be work that’s just not like mine, and my fans would shy away from. I have to use some judicious thought in who I promote, and what I say when I promote them.

Finally, the last mouth that can be talking is… the author themselves. This can be effective, or harmful. Look, we all need to talk about our work. Get excited about it. That’s a great and wonderful thing, because the onlookers will pick up on your enthusiasm for your work, and they will react positively to it. If, on the other hand, you project ‘just another book for another buck’ and you’re not talking about what’s in the book, just how many copies you’re hoping to sell… well, no one likes to be sold a bill of goods.

Excitement is one thing. But keep in mind that no-one wants to see constant self-promotion. If you nominate your own work in every thread where someone is asking for book recommendations, there might be a problem. If you are posting links to your work in every group, forum, and you aren’t paying any attention to the rules about self-promotion… not only are you going to get a bad name as ‘that guy’ and get banned from groups as fast as you join them, you’re going to give other indie authors a bad name, too.

Not that it matters to you. If you’re the vainglorious one, nothing at all matters to you except making a quick buck. You’re not interested in spending any money on your books: need a cover? Grab a quick image online. Doesn’t matter who created it, it’s yours now. Need an editor? Ignore the pros and readers who plead with you to find at least a copy-editor, and publish it anyhow, because rent is due and you don’t care about return readers. Banned from groups for over-promotion? Tell everyone how unfair it is, and then join ten more groups to use for free promotion. Buying ads? Ain’t nobody got cash for that, man! Promoting yourself in another author’s fan group? Well, heck, my book is sorta like that guy’s book…

You all know someone like that. The one that makes you cringe, and wonder if you are overdoing it with your own book. The one that when you admit you’re an Indie Author, people wonder if you’re driving around with a trunk full of copies, flogging them at flea markets or begging people to take a copy just so your garage might eventually empty out.

It is possible to self-promote without being That Guy. Making an ass of yourself only happens if you ignore the feedback from others. Ideally? You’ll grow a group of readers who will turn into fans and they’ll be the ones bringing up your book when a call is put out for a good read. Also, there are paid promotional opportunities to pitch your book, in email lists and ads that are targeted. Dorothy Grant put together a great list of these, and there are more out there if you look.

But first, stop and think. Where did you find the last books you read? Who told you about them? Why did you decide to pick them up?

It’s a tough balance, between blowing our own horns and picking up a damn vuvuzuela. Pay attention to rules, don’t choose to be That Guy, and do share your own links from time to time on your own wall/page/tweet-whatever. I found out today that I have cousins – admittedly, not close ones, but still – that had no idea I was an author. Which amused me highly since I was being approached to write some free content. Um. Thanks?

Remember, guys. Exposure will kill you. And being the one running around flashing your junk will get you attention, all right. It just might not be the attention you think it is!

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Filed under CEDAR SANDERSON, MARKETING, PROMOTION

Self-Insertion

Every time I see this phrase, I feel like it’s a little dirty.

“Oh, go self-insert!” 

Yeah. Sometimes my brain is a 14 yo boy (although admittedly my 15 and 16 yo girls would make a sailor blush at times. Dinner conversations are frequently… interesting.) Anyway, I was talking about writing, not sex. Although….

Robert Heinlein famously said about writing to do it in private and wash your hands afterward, a clear parallel to a much more intimate act. If we follow that line of thought through, we come up with writing being a pleasurable act for the author (we’ll leave the other side of the equation out of it for a moment) which seems reasonable, because why else would we inflict this kind of effort and angst on ourselves? So yes, in a sense we the writers are, ah, F*&ing ourselves. It’s all a mindf*&k, though.

But does that make the main characters of our books a self-insertion? The more common, less literary term would be Mary Sue (or Marty Stu), which is outlined by TVTropes (here be dragons, or at least TymeEaters).

The prototypical Mary Sue is an original female character in a fanfic who obviously serves as an idealized version of the author mainly for the purpose of Wish Fulfillment. She’s exotically beautiful, often having an unusual hair or eye color, and has a similarly cool and exotic name. She’s exceptionally talented in an implausibly wide variety of areas, and may possess skills that are rare or nonexistent in the canon setting. She also lacks any realistic, or at least story-relevant, character flaws — either that or her “flaws” are obviously meant to be endearing.

She has an unusual and dramatic Back Story. The canon protagonists are all overwhelmed with admiration for her beauty, wit, courage and other virtues, and are quick to adopt her as one of their True Companions, even characters who are usually antisocial and untrusting; if any character doesn’t love her, that character gets an extremely unsympathetic portrayal. She has some sort of especially close relationship to the author’s favorite canon character — their love interest, illegitimate child, never-before-mentioned sister, etc. Other than that, the canon characters are quickly reduced to awestruck cheerleaders, watching from the sidelines as Mary Sue outstrips them in their areas of expertise and solves problems that have stymied them for the entire series.

The problem is that while somewhat obviously this is a deeply flawed, highly cliched character, it’s not always the case when a critic snubs a book for containing a self-insertion. A Mary Sue lacks a growth arc, first of all. She (or he, in the case of the Marty Stu) springs onto the scene perfect, and being practically perfect in every way, has no desire nor need to change and grow into the role the author has set them into.

Chuck Gannon has been criticized for his main character, Caine Riordan, being too skilled, and obviously a wish-fulfillment character. I can see why – Caine, in the books, is a very competent person. But I’ve also met and talked with Chuck and I know that he is a brilliant man, behind a humble approach. And I know that he has friends who can do everything Caine can, and more, so for him to write this character came naturally. Where it stretches readers beyond belief is actually in the fact being stranger than fiction department.

Our own Peter Grant caught flak for his Steve Maxwell character being a ‘golden boy’ who could make no wrong moves. Peter thoughtfully considered the criticisms, and added flaws to Steve, but thankfully he didn’t break his hero in the process. It took me a while to put a finger on what I liked about Steve, but it finally clicked in a recent conversation about favorite superheroes, and why so many of us like that other Steve, Captain America.

Captain America (I unequivocally reject the Hydra version) is a nice guy. He’s a superhero, yes, but he’s also a guy you feel like you could sit and have a cup of coffee with, telling stories, and that he’d get up to go rescue a kitten, and it wouldn’t come across as too-good-to-be-true, he’s just that nice a guy.

Coming back to the pleasuring oneself aspect of authorship, yes, simply writing a character we could insert ourselves into ,and escape the humdrum world into a more perfect place would be a masturbatory experience. However, I’d like to think that ideally, writing is more akin to a shared pleasure experience. We’re not creating a book we’ll be taking to bed, after all. No, we dress it up, straighten the seam on it’s stockings, and watch it sashay out the door… and waltz into the arms of a reader. That is the goal of writers who are publishing. A two-way street of mutual enjoyment.

I’ll not take this too much further… just know that if I can write something that makes my readers happy, it makes me happy. So yes, I am inserting some of myself into my work. And writing a heroic main character who wins through the obstacles placed into his path, growing and developing into a better person as he does so? My fans like that kind of thing. So do I. I don’t like dark, brooding characters for whom nothing ever goes right, and the universe is out to get them. I’m sure there are readers out there who do. Hopefully they can find the writer for them, because I’m not the one.

Writing is perhaps the ultimate mindf%$k. Was it good for you? Because it was good for me…

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Filed under CEDAR SANDERSON, characterization, WRITING: ART