Category Archives: WRITING

Telling truths through story

I don’t have much for you this week. Other than remembering something one of my editors (who became a friend) said to me very early on in my fiction career. He said (and these are not the exact words, just a summary) “Fiction writers are making up lies as they go along — but these are lies which tell the truth.”

That’s always stuck with me. Especially as we progress toward the end of this century’s second decade. Who now dares to tell the truth? Especially in story form? Your average fledgling author, upon setting sail for publication, is promptly surrounded by a host of rhetorical U-boats — all demanding that the fledgling author conform to a blizzard of “correct” artistic and political expectations. Lest (s)he find herself on the “wrong side” of any number of editors, agents, other authors, etc. At which point said fledgling’s career will be sunk.

So, what remains? What’s the point?

Some people write for money. Others write for awards. Or prestige. Or to influence society. Or a combination of the same.

When I look at the stuff I’ve written over the past 8 years, I realize that I was — unconsciously — forever trying to speak the truth. About how ordinary, decent folk react to extraordinary, difficult circumstances. About how the universe is not just some happy accident of physics. About the timeless dance of romance, between men and women. About the noble dignity of a straightforward life, lived according to straightforward values. Even when the roof is caving in, or the bottom is dropping out.

Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl said, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

To choose one’s own way . . .

Ours is the era of, “It’s not my fault!” and “This was done to me!” and “It’s somebody else’s job to make my life better!”

But all of the quality literature on self-improvement, tends to reflect Frankl’s premise. That we alone, as individual human beings, still retain an underlying level of oneness and dignity. Which no earthly power is capable of stripping from us. So long as we do not forget who we are.

My protagonists tend to remember who they are, in the clutch. When it really counts. Not without bumps and bruises, mind you. Nobody goes through this life unscathed. Pain, or damage, don’t end the world. Each of us is fated to get it, in one way or another. That’s the state of existence. We can allow it to destroy us, or we can find within ourselves Frankl’s hidden, practically invincible freedom.

That’s probably the truth I want to tell. Because the world seems crazy, and it’s filled with people who react crazily.

Except, none of us has to fall off the cliff. We can look that crazy in the eye and say, “No thanks.” Re-button our collars, cinch up our ties, and get back to the business of building and preserving civilization.

What truths do you find yourselves unconsciously (or consciously) speaking through story?

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Filed under BRAD R. TORGERSEN, WRITING: ART

Amazon’s at it again

Before I go any further, my heart and my prayers go out to the victims (and their friends and family) of the tragic bombing at the Ariana Grande concern in Manchester last night.

Now, to get to the post. Of course, that means I have to have a post. Hmmm, what’s lurking in my head? I hear rattling up there but that might just be my brain waiting for the coffee to kick in.

There are actually a couple of things I’d like to discuss today. The first is a new feature from Amazon that has some authors and traditional publishers in a tizzy. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if there aren’t more than a few suits in the vaunted towers of NYC publishing that are having to change their pants. Why? Because Amazon has taken a swipe at the NYT Best Sellers List and similar lists and started what it calls “Amazon Charts“.

Why has this new list caused such an uproar? Because it shakes things up, mainly (I presume) because it will be easier for indies and small presses to be listed. There’s something else that probably upsets them as well. Not only does the list show the most sold books (Top 20 right now) but it also shows the most read books. These lists include Audible downloads and downloads/reads through the different Amazon subscription services. So, those titles enrolled in the KU program can and will be recognized if they hit high enough.

Gasp!

Now, let’s face it, this really isn’t much different form what Amazon has been doing with its various best sellers lists. But now they have the Top 20 books and the look and feel of it is so similar to the Best Sellers lists of the NYT and others that they don’t like it. People might actually pay attention and see that the books Amazon is listing aren’t what they are listing.

There’s another reason they might be panicking as well. These lists are promulgated by actual numbers — numbers of purchases, numbers of downloads, number of page reads. That’s not quite the same as the various best seller lists that rely on the handwavium that is Bookscan, the Neilsen rankings of books. In other words, Amazon is removing the blindfold from authors when it comes to their sales slowly but surely and that scares most of traditional publishing witless.

Of course, that’s not the only thing publishers are upset about. Amazon has instituted new rules about their “buy” button. These rules allow 3rd party vendors, if they meet certain requirements, to win the “buy” button. In the past, when it came to books, the buy button automatically meant a purchase from the publisher. Oh, you could look at what other sellers were offering by clicking the right link on the page — something most readers I know do, especially for a book that’s been out for awhile. But now, that’s not automatically the case. You see, one of the criteria for winning the buy button is price.

Gasp!

That means it is possible for a reseller to be the “preferred” seller using a lower price than the publisher offers. Oh, it’s not that simple. There are other requirements as well. But just the possibility of it happening has publishers and some authors up in arms. I even get it. No one wants to see a revenue stream drying up. But publishers have to understand that readers have been looking at price for a long time.

One of the arguments I’ve seen against allowing this is that those resellers aren’t paying royalties on the sales. According to one thread in social media, the authors involved were trying to convince the naysayers that all these resellers are selling returns and books that should have been pulped because there was something wrong with them. Nope. Sure, some of the books were books they received as advanced copies or should have been trashed but the vast majority of them were purchased legally and are now being resold. That means the royalties have been paid and, as long as our laws are what they are, royalties are paid on only the first sale.

Instead of raising hell about allowing someone to undercut the publishers and win the buy button, these authors ought to be asking the hard questions of their agents and their publishers. Why are they pricing books so high people are looking for alternative sources? Yes, print books have a certain cost threshold they have to meet just to make money. But when you see retailers, both in brick and mortar stores and online, discounting books by 25% or so on a regular basis, you know the markup is huge. Believe me, these retailers wouldn’t be discounting new releases that much unless it was. After all, the retailers have to make money as well.

What else?

I’m sure there’s more but the coffee hasn’t kicked in yet. Besides, Amazon always gives us enough fodder to think about not only how it will impact traditional publishing but our own nook in indie publishing as well. What do you guys think? Is Amazon wrong to allow third-party vendors the access to the buy button? And what about the Amazon Charts?

Oh yeah, don’t forget I’ve a new short story out.  😉

Battle Wounds is the third short story set in the Honor and Duty universe. The stories all take place before the events of the first book, Vengeance from Ashes. The short stories came about because some of you wanted to know what happened to make Ashlyn Shaw into the women we meet in Vengeance. They’ve been fun to write and there is at least one more planned.

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Filed under AMANDA, WRITING

Managing Viewer Expectations with social media

No, not reader expectations in books. Y’all are authors, and there are better authors than me to talk about that. Let’s talk about your online presence. How much social media do you have to have?

Well, actually, you don’t.

There, I said it. It’s heretical in the age of Everything Always Online!, but it’s true. There are some authors who have an almost entirely offline presence. There are some who barely check in on one or two forums, and their websites were last updated in 1998, and still they sell. This doesn’t mean they don’t market; it means any marketing they do may be in person, or by selling short stories to magazines and anthologies, or by placing ads in trade magazines with their target market. One lady has almost no online presence for her cookbook, but when she shows up at a gun show with a gingham checked tablecloth and plates of lemon bars as free samples, recipe is on page such-and-such, she sells gangbusters.

Anyway, your online footprint. First, the most extreme case: don’t be That Gal On Twitter, the one who hadn’t published yet but was sure Larry Correia was a total loser, because she had way more twitter followers than him. *migraine salute* Yes, they exist. And folks like that are a useful lesson that having a million followers doesn’t pay the bills.

Second: the writer who has a website for the planned sweeping book series, a presence on twitter, facebook, google +, you name it, he’s there. He’s poured 500,000 words into facebook arguments in the last month alone! But nobody’s buying the one book he has out, despite spending 12-15 hours a day building up his online presence! What marketing trick is he missing? *full frontal facepalm* Write the next book. Seriously, get off mytwitface, and write the next book.

Here’s where viewer expectations start to come into play. You see, if you’re active all over mytwitface, and suddenly you disappear off to go write the next book, two things are going to happen to the people who follow you, and you get to decide which is worse: most people won’t even notice you’re gone, and some people will constantly try to drag you back because they miss your content.

If you could steel yourself to taking a full week off mytwitface, without some Dramatic Announcement that you’re going offline, you’d find when you got back that the majority of folks never even noticed. Social media platforms are designed to make the user feel like they’re drinking from a firehose of content, and they don’t notice when something’s missing.

Personally, I’ve varied facebook from daily to once a month, and people don’t notice when I’m gone; they only notice when I post and they see it. So no, you really, really don’t have to be on them as much as you think you do.

As for the people who try to drag you back? That tells you a lot about what kind of content you’re known for. “We miss pictures of the lambs and how the dogs are doing!” vs. “Hey! This guy is wrong on the internet! Let’s you and him fight!” Neither one of these is bad, just different – but they are different, and let you know a lot about how you’re known. Think about what sort of time, emotions, and energy you want to put into that.

On your online persona: Alice Cooper has, when mentoring young musicians, been extremely firm about the need to seperate your stage persona and your private life and sense of self. If you don’t, you’ll burn out and crash hard. Turns out it’s true with social media personas, too, when you start performing for the public.

I have an acquaintance who’s known for being Angry On The Internet. She’s constantly called to come pour vitriol on trolls, knuckleheads, Someone Is Wrong On The Internet, whatever. I’ve seen her on a slow day when there’s no one to be furious at… and she literally was reaching out to people, trying to find something, anything to be vitriolic at, and getting desperate, because her online persona was her true self, and she couldn’t cope without being furious. Now, that works for her, but I sat and wondered what the long term mental, emotional, and physical damage has to be of living All Drama, All The Time. (Other than teenagers, and even those bouncing balls of out-of-control hormones manage a lot of chill and happy moments.)

So think about what you’re known for, and what toll that takes, and if that’s what you want. If you don’t… change it! You’re not dead, you can too change.

Third online footprint: the daily blogger. Blogs work at optimum for crowd draw if they have new daily content 2-3 times a day, to keep people coming back. This is, however, not feasible for most people. (Even Mad Genius Club is only a daily blog, and that’s with all our contributors writing!)

Generating enough means finding or creating content, and that can take hours of a day itself, to the point that the blog rapidly becomes a chore instead of a joy. Several ways to make it much easier are to build a buffer, mine your archives, acquire contributors, have cross-blog conversations, and grow commenters.

If your viewers expect new content daily (or multiple times a day), it’s just not human to expect that you’ll never have disruptions to your schedule – so generate your content ahead of time, and schedule it to appear on a regular basis. (I am, for instance, writing this early last week, and scheduling it so it’ll post while I’m busy dealing with a funeral.)

If you have sufficient archives built up, feel free to mine them for material: audience turnover & new audience growth ensures that something three years old will be brand new to the viewers who just started coming regularly in the last 6 months. (Whether you label this as old material or not is up to you: I’ve seen it done both ways, but haven’t yet talked a daily blogger into running an A/B test to see which generates more traffic. I suspect it’s when it’s not mentioned as being a rerun.)

Other contributors, often called guests posts, take some of the content-generation burden off your shoulders. Even aggregators like The Passive Voice has people with keys to the blog to manage comments and contribute posts while the blog host is on vacation. The main drawbacks of guest posting are that your fans come for your material, so traffic goes down proportionally with the number of guest posts run, and getting / filtering guest posting offers appropriate to your blog. On the bright and shiny, hey, free material your viewers will like, and driving eyeballs to nifty people who ought to get more exposure and sales. Can be awesome!

This, by the way, is where “blog tours” come in. Originally conceived as guest posts across several high-traffic targeted audience blogs, they can work… as dashing out a bunch of posts and then posting them in sequence to low-traffic blogs that are nothing but guest posts, they’re hard work and heartbreak.

Cross-blog conversations are one of the great things about writing blogs online: it’s a chance to take somebody else’s blog post, and explore it in depth on your own, then engage in an extended conversation with them. I’ve seen a bunch of first responder blogs do a round-robin where they came up with a 911 call scenario, and then each person wrote about the fictional incident as it passed through their part of the first responder world – police dispatch, police, EMS, ER Doc, hospital nurse – from both a technical “Here’s how it goes down” and a emotional impact on the responders, and on the community, level. Don’t be afraid to engage in the social part of social media, and link to others for more than just an excerpt. More than one daily blogger maintains a sidebar of folks they find awesome and interesting – and if life happens, they can post “No free ice cream today – go check out the folks on the sidebar.”

Finally, growing commenters: a few minor notes.

first, the shorter and smaller your comment box and comment space, the shorter the comments your audience will tend to leave. The bigger the comment box / comment space, the longer people tend to be. The longer the blog post or comment area, the more in-depth discussions tend to get, and the lower-drama they get. Twitter’s 120 characters is optimized for bumper-sticker philosophy, and the road rage levels of stupid drama that engenders. Facebook’s promotion of “shorter is better” by putting more than 120 characters below the fold, and increasing font size on shorter updates, again promotes drama at the expense of clarity – by design.

Second, the way to get comments is to ask questions, and to respond yourself in comments. Even then, its’ very hard. And the questions can’t be obvious comment-bait; that doesn’t work when a masseuse is going “If you like the new tattoo, like or favourite this video!”, it doesn’t work on the blog equivalent, either.

Third: moderation in all things. Whether you plan to have a comment section where only sycophants are allowed (I don’t recommend it; it’s generally unhealthy and vicious), or one where anyone can join in, you will need moderation. Because trolls exist – they range from a psychopathic stalker with a fixation on short Asian chicks and some of the worst writing known to man, to paid positions whose job is to show up anytime a product, service, company, or political position is mentioned, and either promote it or denigrate any opposition to it. Neither of these are interested in conversation or growing your web presence, and should be removed from the comment stream. On the other hand, even the best spam filters often catch innocent commenters, and need to be regularly checked.

And yes, this takes time and mental energy. Factor that in to your social media plan.

And when all else fails, manage your viewer expectations with the Big Dramatic Announcement that you’re cutting back, and here’s the new schedule. Make it a manageable schedule for you, and then stick to it! Webcomics still thrive on a M-W-F release schedule (Girl Genius), and some even on a Tue-Thu release. (However, you must stick to the schedule. Nothing kills site traffic faster than inconsistency with updates despite a posted schedule – and kills the discipline and motivation to continue updating!

Accept that you’re going to have a steep traffic hit when you implement, because you will – but again, while eyeballs are important, having books to sell to those eyeballs is far more important than eyeballs alone.

Peter recently did this on his blog, Bayou Renaissance Man – he took his lowest-traffic day, Sunday, and announced it would be a one-post day, focused on music. While it did drive traffic off a cliff on Sunday, it didn’t affect the rest of the week – and he has one day a week now where he can be offline, recuperating and working entirely on other projects.

He’s also, as I type, working on other posts and queuing them up, and there’ll have been a notice that due to death in family, posting will be light and inconsistent. This way, even if we are completely swamped with real life and not near, or paying no attention to, online – the viewers will be informed, happy, and come back when there’s more content.

So bottom line? You don’t need nearly as much social media as you think, but if you’re doing a blog, you need consistency and consistently good content to keep people coming back. However, you don’t always need fresh, original content created by you. And no matter what, the most important part is writing the next book.

Speaking of the Next book, Tom Rogneby just released Lady of Eyre! Swinging between high fantasy and everyday adventures related in a high fantasy tone (The derby of the pine chargers! Yeah, anybody who’s been a boy scout or a boy scout parent knows where that one’s going…), it pretty awesome. Fair disclaimer: I wrote the blurb. I wrote the blurb because I like the story! I did not write the story – it’s better than if I had done it!
https://www.amazon.com/Lady-Eyre-Minivandians-Tale-Book-ebook/dp/B071HWPNYK/

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Filed under FYNBOSSPRESS, MARKETING, Uncategorized, WRITING: LIFE

The Absolute Basics

 

I was surprised by the number of people last month who were having trouble with the first step of writing—writing the whole story.

So you’re getting the Kindergarten level talk, in the hopes that you can spot where the problem lies.

So . . . at its simplest, what is a story, after all?

A story requires:
• One or more characters
• A problem that matters to them
• How they solve the problem
• What they are like after having solved the problem

That’s it.

Oh sure, depending on the length and complexity of the work there will be several attempts and failures, before they grit their teeth and give it their all. But let’s start with the absolute basics. Take out that story you’re having problems with, and let’s have a look.

Who’s the Main Character? Not necessarily the only POV character or even the only Protagonist POV character. But who is doing the heavy lifting in your story? Don’t lose track of that.

What is the problem? Why does it matter to the MC? It doesn’t? Well there’s a point you need to address. Sometimes the first problem is the tip of an iceberg, but make it matter TO THE GUY WHO IS GOING TO RISK ALL FOR IT! Do you just need to show the character’s motivation, or are you using the wrong character as your Main Guy Gal Person Sapient Being?

How is the MC going to solve the problem? Does he need to acquire knowledge, skills, equipment, clues? Does he need advice? Does he need helpers? Does he need to study the problem and understand it better before he can solve it? All these things are interesting adventures and the meat of the story. If you’re writing a Mystery, your detective has to go around asking questions, interviewing people, getting beaten up, following red herrings . . . A Fantasy? Must find magical items, companions, steeds, sword fighting lessons, whatever.

Make your character do some work! You can put in a whole lot of world building while getting your hero ready to go. Get some try/fail sequences in there. Nothing like failure to make the MC realizes he needs [fill in the blank].

Think of several ways a sensible person (or hysterical, if that’s what the MC is) would try to deal with the problem. Then have him try one and fail. Get more stuff/training, try the next way, and fail. And the next.

Don’t make winning easy. Make him or her have a desperate dark moment, an emotional crisis, followed by renewed determination to win/solve/escape or whatever. Maybe a whole new strategy is needed?

And then go out there and do it.

And then, after the Big Win, show the character more mature, better skilled, filthy rich, more confident . . . or just going back home. A story has to have an ending. It has to have a conclusion.

That ending is an important part of the writing process.

Figure out what it is going to be. This will give you something to aim at, while you write.

You may decide later that it’s unrealistic, and change it.

No problem.

But if you don’t have a clue, not even “Frodo drops the ring in the ocean, then goes home and lives happily ever after” you are going to have trouble aiming your story. When you decide, “Wait, the ocean won’t work . . . umm . . . oooo! Let’s melt it in a volcano! And it has to be *the* volcano deep in enemy territory!” you’ve at least already got him on the road and collecting companions, weapons, experiences, and magic dodads. You’ve described the world, the people, established the personalities of his companions . . . you just have to get off the river and hike for the volcano.

Then you have your MC after the Big Win. Or if he made the ultimate sacrifice, you show your other characters getting with life, and the big hole left that the character used to fill. But show the reader that he died for a purpose, and achieved it.

And that’s it.

Main Character. Problem. Solution. Aftermath.

If you are missing any of those, you’re mucking about with the trained and honed expectations of a reader’s lifetime of stories.

Now, here is an old post with some story type and basic plot information: Back the the Basics
Which may also help clarify your problems.

But the number one problem with never finishing writing a book, is starting editing before it is completely written. Rereading may be necessary if a manuscript has been tucked away for very long between writing sessions. But in most cases, reading the last paragraph or two is sufficient to get your mind back into the story.

And the second reason many manuscripts are never finished? Not enough time to work on it. Do you need to find more time, or just pull the plug on the greatest time sink on the Earth? Yes, the Internet.

Master it, use it.

If you have trouble leaving it, try writing away from access. Bargain with yourself. “Five hundred words every morning before _any_ internet at all.” or “I can only have a soda/coffee/tea/beer if I’m sitting at the computer, writing.” “News and weather with the first cup of coffee. Then it’s time to go to work.”

Whatever works.

Get out that “never could finish it” manuscript. Analyze it. Main Character. Problem. Solution. Aftermath.

You can do this. I know you can.

And the Promo:

If you’ve never read anything of mine, try this one, the first taste is only $0.99

Or my most recent book:

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Filed under BY THE MAD GENII, PAM UPHOFF, Uncategorized, WRITING: CRAFT

Of pricing and release dates

I don’t know a single indie author who doesn’t wish there was a handbook out there that was constantly kept up-to-date with information about formatting, blurbs, promotion, when to release your books and pricing. The best we can do is watch trends and be ready to adapt not only when necessary but as quickly as possible. It also means making hard decisions sometimes as well as taking the long view. That is especially true when it comes to pricing.

Last night, I finished setting Battle Wounds up on Amazon so it would be live this morning. For those of you not familiar with it, BW is a short story set in the Honor and Duty universe. I started writing the short stories a little more than a year ago when there was a glitch, to put it nicely, in the upload process of Honor from Ashes. Somehow, the wrong text file was attached to the product page and, well, let’s just say the next week was an exercise in frustration to get it corrected. The short stories were my way of thanking my fans for hanging with me as things got straightened out.

When I made the decision to write a series of short stories in the universe, I had several things I needed to consider. The first, of course, was where in the timeline they would fall. Since the books in the series follow very closely on one another, I couldn’t see an easy way to slip short stories in. Besides, I had folks who wanted to know how Ashlyn Shaw became the character first introduced in Vengeance from Ashes. So, that’s where I decided to begin — at the beginning.  With three shorts stories now out, I am closing in on the events that directly led to the events that kick off the series.

Anyway. . . .

Last night I uploaded the files and checked to make sure they converted properly — and, yes, were the correct file with the correct cover — and then continued on through the publication process. Part of that is choosing when to release the story. If you ask a dozen indie authors, you’ll probably get a dozen answers about when they think the best times are to time your releases. I’ve tried any number of different times and days. I’ve studied what other indies and small presses, as well as trad publishers, do. It seems there is a growing trend to release new titles on the first and third Tuesday of the month.

I’ll admit to pondering and wavering on deciding to follow this trend. After all, if I followed it, I would be one of who knew how many authors releasing a new title at the same time. But, let’s face it, that’s something we have to deal with no matter what day we choose to release our titles on. That’s the downside. The upside on releasing on either the first or third Tuesday is that there are a large number of readers who check for new titles on those days because they have learned to expect new releases then.

Hmmm.

So, guess what. I chose to try a third Tuesday release. It’s going to be interesting to see if there is more traction for this release than for the other short stories.

The next thing I had to determine was pricing for Battle Wounds. There’s been a lot of discussion since Amazon first opened up to indies on how much we should price our work for. If you ask indies, you’ll get a wide range of answers. Some look at pricing and take the long view on it all. Others look at the amount of money they earn per sale. Both sides have pros and cons. The problem with both, however, is that we are looking at it from the viewpoint of the author. Instead, we need to look at it from the point of view of the reader. After all, they are the ones making the decision to buy the short story or title.

And, like it or not, as indies, we operate in a world where our readers understand, on the whole, that we don’t have the overhead trad published titles have. Therefore, they aren’t going to pay as much for our work as they will for Nora Roberts or Stephen King or David Weber.

So how do we figure out the best price for our work?

The first thing we do is listen to our readers and to readers of our genre in general. We can do that by checking blogs and other social media platforms. We can also do it by checking the best sellers lists on Amazon. Look not only at what indie titles are on it but at their prices as well. Compare the price of the work and its length to what you are about to publish. Then there is the beta pricing tool you can use once you are setting up the title on Amazon.

There is something else we have to take into account when we are setting prices. Sarah, Dave and Brad can get away with charging more for short stories than I can. Why? Because they have a following of readers who have known them not as just indie authors but as trad published authors as well. They’ve earned their bones in the eyes of those readers. They have more published than I do as well. So, because they have the reputation and the experience, they can charge more for their work. Readers even expect them to.

But for me, even though I have 16 novels, 2 (?) novellas and a handful of short stories published, all but one of the shorts have been indie. I can charge more now than I used to — and I should — for novels, not so much for short stories. There are two reasons for that. First, and most obvious, I’m not a “name” that people are willing to pay additional money to read. Second, I look at short stories as loss leaders, which they are. They are promos in many ways to keep people interested in my work until the next novel comes out.

But there is something else. I know what I’m willing to pay. I can’t think of a single indie-only author I will pay more than $0.99 for a short story (for the purposes of pricing, I’m including anything under 20k words). I’ll pay $1.99 for work between 20k and 50k words or so. After that, I’ll pay $2.99 up to $4.99. There are a few indies I’ll pay $5.99 for a long novel but those are very few and far between. So I keep that in mind as I start thinking about pricing.

I also realize there are many, many, many readers who feel the same way I do about how much they are willing to pay for a title. Yes, readers to look at the price and, if they think you are pricing a work too low, they wonder if you aren’t convinced your work is any good. However, for a short story, you can quickly price readers out. So it comes down to deciding if you would rather sell more copies at a lower price and royalty or fewer copies at a higher royalty. For me, because I don’t look at my short stories as a major income generator in the short term, I price them on the low end, where most other short stories are priced. What I’ve discovered by doing so is I tend to sell more over time, more than making up for the difference in royalties.

But the decision is yours. Just remember, you need to look at more than how much are you going to make per sale. You need to take into account what the going rate for stories in your genre with a similar length. If you price yourself out of the market, you are not only cutting your own royalty throat, so to speak, but you are denying your readers the opportunity to read your work.

Shrug.

I really wish there was an easy to use manual that told me the best way to promote my work, the best price point, the best day for release, etc. Instead, I get to watch my hair turn even whiter as I try to figure it out for myself when all I really want to do is write.

Oh, go buy Battle Wounds. My kitties need kibble. 😉

52 Comments

Filed under AMANDA, WRITING: PUBLISHING

D.I.Y.

Saturday at the Torgersen house usually means do-it-yourself home fix-up. I spent all day yesterday running brand new 12-2 through the studs on the south wall of my garage. As well as hammering up new switch, light, and gang boxes. Like any other room in my (perpetually being renovated) home, the garage offers me the opportunity to put an outlet (or two, or three, or twelve) anywhere I damned well please. If the original 1962 contractor put in far too few outlets, using the (for our time) inferior ungrounded “silver sh*t” wire, I am (in 2017) putting in an overabundance of outlets, using coil after coil of 12-2, and enjoying myself capitally. Because I know once the wall is finished, I will never in my life ever think the thought, “Gosh dammit, I wish there was a place to plug in here!”

When I finish re-wiring a room, there is a place to pug in, everywhere. 🙂

It occurred to me — as I snaked my way through the attic, running new line to the breaker box — that fiction publishing is, now, perhaps more of a do-it-yourself business than it’s ever been. We are all expected to do our own promotion (whether we’re trad, or indie, or hybrid) not to mention bringing our own platforms to the effort. On the indie side, we have to provide the editing, the proofing, the formatting, the cover art, and rustle up our own blurbage. We operate our own public storefronts. Create our own ancillary media. This is no longer an industry where you can simply write a good story, and that’s enough. Ours is now an industry which requires an author to develop half a dozen different professional skill sets. Including accounting, tax prep, and so forth. Do you know how to do a Form 8829, with your Schedule C? If you don’t, you probably should learn how. Same goes for tracking your paper inventory. And carving out a percentage of your take (from the conventions) so that you can file the money.

And no, I am not saying it’s any fun for me either. The only thing I enjoy doing (beyond writing) is building covers — because I’ve got graphic design chops, and years of experience going all the way back to high school commercial art classes. The rest? Especially taxes and self-promo? It’s work.

But if you expected this racket to be easy, you wouldn’t be reading Mad Genius Club. Right?

Good business is where you build it.

A friend recently asked me why I still keep my hand in with short fiction — despite having a ready road, where novels are concerned. I told him that I get asked for stories on a fairly frequent basis, almost always for anthologies, and I work really hard to not say no. Because I never know if or when those stories might turn out to be lucrative. Just recently I netted a very handsome payday (second in as many months) for a story I put into an indie anthology which offered zero up front. Yet that story is now worth $0.15 per word, and climbing. Just as all my other short fiction continues to increase its net value, in the form of the collections I do through WordFire Press. Everything earns. And while not every story can be a four-figure whopper (like my last novella for Analog magazine) they comprise a nice hunk of my annual five-figure cash flow. Not to mention the fact they keep my “brand” current in the marketplace, during the long Mt. Everest effort of novel(s). Keeping my brand current is a big part of promotion.

But it definitely takes work. There is no royal road to becoming (or staying) known as a quality short fic man.

A different friend recently explained to me the concept of WIBBOW: Would I Be Better Off Writing? I’d never seen this acronym before, but I liked the question it posed. Because we each have to find the sweet spot between creating fresh prose, and devoting time and effort to things which are part of the writing business model, without actually being writing. WIBBOW is probably something a lot of people enamored of workshops and seminars could ask themselves, simply because I’ve noticed (over the years) that a great many individuals adore the energy and atmosphere of a writers’ event, but never seem to get down to the actual writing part — which is the single most crucial element of creating and keeping a career. (In fact, SFWA is filled to overflowing with people who write very, very little, but who will devote untold hours to the social politics of the thing.)

I don’t belong to any critique groups anymore. Have not belonged to any, for a long, long time. I’m not sure I was any good at them, both in terms of what I offered, and also in terms of what I received.

I am also no longer part of any “closed door” writing forums, clubs, message boards, etc. For the same reason.

Is that bad?

Still another friend posted this interesting article. Are we — authors — too wrapped up in the concept of community? What happens when community becomes expected? Compulsory? Lord knows the SF/F sphere prides itself on having a long, long history of community. To a fault, one could almost say. But is the best work being done by the people who devote the most time to demonstrating fidelity to the flock? Or is the answer really out there in the lonely wilderness, where you can make the things you want to make, and not have to care if you’re being sufficiently community-minded?

I have told several people that I think the purpose of a good writing group, is to strengthen your wings to the point where you can fly solo.

I still think that.

Which is why, when people carry on about how essential their writing groups are to their creative process, I kind of draw a blank. Not that I doubt them. Heavens no. It’s just that my experience hasn’t been like that. In fact, I think I’ve been trending in the opposite direction for some while now, and may keep trending that way. I like my friends, and I like being able to talk shop. But I also think there is far, far more in the world, than writing. I happen to like that world. It’s where all the most valuable experiences — which have made me who I am, as a person — came from. And I also think it’s the place which has the most profound effect on the types and kinds of stories I create. Because those stories are not manufactured solely for the “inside” audience. They are stories which — I hope — can speak to the common person. Who may or may not be a SF/F fan. And may or may not be an avid reader. But who will respond to a compellingly-told yarn just the same.

Which takes me back to pondering the fact that publishing has become such a singles game.

On days like today, I feel like maybe that’s a good thing? Sometimes there is no greater pride and satisfaction, than in doing something for yourself, on your own terms, and doing it well.

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Filed under BRAD R. TORGERSEN, WRITING: LIFE, WRITING: PUBLISHING

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