Monday, August 29, 2011


There was a very interesting broadcast of 20/20 last night focused on people lying about themselves in chat rooms.  And it made me stop and think.  Don't we all lie to one degree or another?  I'm pretty sure we do.

For example, I'm probably lying to myself that my books will sell.  And yet I continue to write and work of them.  I often wonder why?  And the answer is because I know my first novel is a good one.  So what if is does not sell, I am satisfied with it.  Additionally, I've not been promoting it much so it is possible that the book will sell with the right promotion.

We will wear masks too to hide from others what we don't want them to see.  These masks are lies.  They do not tell the whole truth of who we are or what we think or what we can do.  I don't think people will ever be ready to show themselves full and raw to others.

But the real issue around lying in many cases is perception because what many people believe as true is based on what they experience.  If you see someone shoot someone guess, you assume that the person doing the shooting may have killed the other people.  You are no idea if the shooting was staged for your benefit or maybe there are blanks in the gun.

The 20/20 program wasn't about these kinds of lies.  It was about posing as someone you are not.  So a middle-aged man becomes a 20-year old marine.  A middle-aged woman becomes a 19-year old model.  These lies are not open to interpretation since it is hard to dispute the fact of age or occupation.

This sort of lying -- to escape the dreary reality of life -- has gone on well before the internet.  Con artists have always posed as someone they are not.  Shades of Professor Harold Hill.  It is just earlier to pose as someone else and often it is earlier to debunk the fraud too.  It's just we get caught up in the online experience and assume everything we read out there is true.  It isn't.  We need to remember that.

A good bit of skepticism goes a long way.

Friday, August 26, 2011

It All Depends on Where You Start

I was talking to another writer the other day about some instructions she was writing, trying to offer useful comments.  She was pointing out the three paths and three sets of instructions she had to write to explain how to get started with the product she writes about.

I pointed out common information should go in one place to save on the writing.  And she quipped back, it depends on where you start.  By this she meant, it depends on how someone might use her product.

I thought she was saying it depends where you start writing and that's certainly is true for instructions and creative writing.  I was remembered of an exercise I did back in a high school English class.  The assignment was write instructions for making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

I did this.  It seemed simple enough.  You put the peanut butter on one slice of bread and jelly on the other.

Then the teacher had someone follow the instructions.  Putting peanut butter on a slice of bread meant taking the jar of peanut butter and placing it on the bread, rather than what was meant: take a knife.  Open a jar of peanut butter.  Take a slice of bread and place it in front of you. Scoop some peanut butter onto the knife.  Spread it on the slice of bread in front of you.

And so on.

Point taken.  This is true in story writing too.  My novel, Aure, the Topaz, has had at four different opening as I worked out where to start.  First it was Evan riding into town.  That was too soon.  Then it was with the major characters arriving into town, showing what had brought them into town.  That was misleading.  Evan is the main character; I needed to start with him.  Then it was Evan just before coming to town.  That was too far.  So I settled on Evan getting permission to visit his hometown for a very specific reason.

So watch how you start and try to determine if it is clear and to the point.  Does it set up the story properly?  Does it introduce the main character?  Does it engage the reader?

If you answer no to these questions, go back and revise.  You're story will be better for it.

Monday, August 22, 2011


I've always like using my imagination and get lost in some fancy that I would dream up.  This is one reason I write fantasy novels in the first place.

But the flip side of that are nightmares.  I don't generally remember my dreams but one thing I've found is as I do more writing, my imagination is more active and I remember my dreams more.

Often this is fine.  The dreams I remember are bizarre and could not possibly happen because in many case physical laws are suspended.  My imagination apparently never heard of Newton or Einstein.

But when the dream turns dark and taps my fears the following morning is not pleasant.  I keep remembering and reliving the dreams, haunting by feeling that are irrational.

Today is one such morning.  Perhaps I should just take a few notes and fill these dreams away as story ideas.  Or perhaps, I'm trying to tell myself something.

I'm not sure I believe that all dreams mean something.  Some do and I've had a few like that.  But these latest ones are so unsettling and so bizarre that I think the real world is invading my dreams and turning them upside down.

Perhaps I'm working on too many things at once.  That's possible and it wouldn't be the first time.  But simplifying one's life is hard.  We all can't go walking into the wilderness and living in a log cabin for awhile, mostly because there is much less wilderness than there used to be and most of would be lost without our cell phones, tablets, and wireless internet.

Perhaps I need to turn off the technology for a while and see how I do.  Of course, that could be a bigger nightmare than the ones in my dreams.  We'll see.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Second Time Around

I'm closing in on completing my second novel.  I didn't think I'd get here what with all the interruptions and delays.  But I'm revising the last third of it now so it should be complete in about six weeks, eight weeks at the outside unless I stop working on it entirely.

This time around I've tried to learn from my mistakes in the first book.  So the plot is more complex.  The characters are more developed.  The book is longer.  Seeds are planted for the third book.  All kinds of goodies are in this novel and yet I face many of the same issues I did in the first novel.

For one, there is no one who I can give the book to for their reaction.  I have to hope everything works as I intend (and I'm sure that's not true).  To address this issue, I've been looking for reading groups.  Goodreads comes to mind but I've had little luck there.  I think I'll try Scribd and see what happens.

Notice, I'm not looking for writing groups because I want to put the novel in front of readers for their reaction.  I don't need writing snobs telling me the book isn't any good because the writing stinks.  Personally, I've had my fill of writing snobs.

Someone on Facebook pointed me to Meetup which has all kinds of meetings but nothing of these meetings seem to fit my needs.

I surprised it is so hard to find someone who is willingly to read the story and give my feedback.  I must be looking in the wrong places.  Well, I'll figure it out eventually.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Writers Waltz

One of the first things I have learned in my prose creative writing class is this:  check your ego at the door.  The instructor wanted to make sure all the students could take constructive criticism.  His point was simple: the written work is a thing by itself.  It is not the writer.  Criticism of the work is not criticism of the person who wrote it.  That is true even if the book is not very good.  It just means the writer fails to execute or satisfy the reader.  God knows politicians fail to satisfy constantly and they still get elected and re-elected.  But I digress.

I say all this because it is important to remember for both writers (who might receive a bad comment) and readers who may be tempted to blame the writer for such a lousy story.  I think in such circumstances, it is important to remember a few things:
  • Just because one or even several readers don't like a story does not mean the story is bad.  Such things are subjective; they are entitled to their opinion.
  • Just because you read a story you didn't like does not mean the writer should be damned to Hell.  Writers are people and people are fallible.  Maybe the story is bad or maybe the story is just not for you.  Maybe you missed the subtle foreshadowing or the intent of the writer.  
  • Reading a story is like a waltz; the writer leads and the reader follows.  Make sure you (writer and reader) stay in step.  If you don't the music goes sour and no one is happy.
It is also good to remember where both sides are coming from:

The writer is a hard-working person trying to write the best story possible.  Often what can happen is that the writer works on a story so hard and so long that he or she identifies with it.  The story is personified and an extension of the writer.  When that happens, the writer needs to step back and take a break, maybe a long one, until his or her perspective is restored.

The reader, whether causal or avid, wants a good story and to be entertained.  He or her may be looking to escape from the world for an hour or more or may want to meet the characters in the story.  If they have never written anything long or if they dislike writing completely, it is easy for them to marvel the talents of any one who can string words together and weave a story.  The problem here is that this is where the reader can lose sight of the fact that the story and the writer are not the same.  When that happens it is important to remind the audience of this fact and move on.

But above all the writer and the reader need each other.  The writer without an audience might as well talk to himself.  And the reader with a writer has nothing to read.  So respect the partnership of the reader and writer and above all keeping dancing.

1-2-3... 1-2-3...

Friday, August 12, 2011

Pricing Books

With my revised novel in place and ready to go, I decided to review its price.  On the print side of the house, the price is pretty much setting for me.  Lulu, the print on demand service I'm using, tells me the cost of the book to print it and lets me mark it up from there.  Other print on demand services I've looked at do the same thing.

But on the electronic side of the house, I can go as low as zero because it costs very little for Smashwords to convert my book in all the formats they support since the process is automated and used by thousands of other writers.

And since I only have flexibility on price for the e-book, I've been considering dropping the price because it does not seem to be selling at $4.99.  As an informal test, I asked the question on Facebook if the price of the book matters.  And some people confirmed they are reading free e-books, partially to see what is out there and partially because they are free.  Others confirmed they purchase fewer books these days because money is tight.  I have no idea as to the percentage of folks who fall into each category but it does bear considering, especially for the self-published writer who can set his or her own price.

And it also confirms my experience.  I've got a lot of free downloads for the e-book on Smashwords but only 10% of those result in sales.  Part of that is undoubtedly because I'm an unknown writer, or they didn't like the book, perhaps.  But I think the majority of downloads are from people who want to see what is out there and have no interest or desire to pay for anything.

This has been happening in software for years.  The whole shareware/freeware business.  Once upon a time, I would try shareware or freeware and if the program is good I would pay for it.  These days I only look at freeware because the cost to upgrade commercial software runs in the hundreds or thousands of dollars depending on what upgrades are available in a given year.  The end result is I only upgrade one program at a time and then wait a month of more until my budget permits me to make another purchase.

If other people are doing the same thing with books, this explains a lot.  They are saving their money for the next book from well-known writers and in the meantime, read the free stuff because they are avid readers.

In such an environment, I don't see how can new writers can compete.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Why Do Something Once When You Can do it Twice?

When I think back on how my fantasy series, the Aglaril Cycle, got to its current state, I just shake my head.  It seems to be I've been caught in a time loop, constantly rewriting the same parts over and over again.

I wrote the original draft of the entire series, as one book, about five years ago.  It came to about 1000 pages and I said to myself no one will print a book that big.  I revised it once, trimming it to about 750 pages.

But still no one wanted it.

I decided to split the book into two parts.  The first part came out at about 300 pages and I uploaded it to for sale.  And it went nowhere so I never finished the second part.  Of course, I didn't advertise much and that's my mistake.  I don't think I understood the whole premise of self-publishing.  Self-publishing also, self-marketing, and self-distribution.  It is like have a small business where you sweat the small stuff.  But I digress.

After a year in Lulu, I took the first part and divided it into two books again.  The first book, Aure, the Topaz is in Smashwords and Lulu ... and by extension Amazon, Barnes and Nobles, Kobo, Apple, Sony, and a few other places.  This version I have sold and the second book, Vorn, the Onyx, is due out by the end of the year, ending the dreaded time loop.  With book 3, I'll be exploring new ground because of all the changes in the first two novels.

This has been a long road and I've learned a lot about writing, myself, and the whole publishing end of the business.  The moral to my tale is: plan ahead.  I did some planning, but not enough.  And I was not prepared for the whole marketing effort that is required.  This time out, I've got a few ideas on how to get an audience; I'm sure it is going to be as slow (or slow) as building an audience for this blog.

And even with all I've learned I'm sure there is still more to learn.  Things about the business of a small press or the market that I don't know or fully appreciate it.

That may come in time or it may not.  We'll see.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Seize the Day

When my first novel was published late last year, my nephew promised to read it.  We was very excited to do so and expected to get to it as part of an assignment for school.  Apparently he was expecting his teacher to assign an independent reading assignment.

That never happened.  So I suggested he get on it now, as summer is the perfect time to read, especially since he has little to do with school out.

I immediately realized I'm not one to talk.  I waited two months to hear been from my publisher about my revised novel in the hopes she would take it only to find out all the slots for 2012 are taken.  So I now have to wait another year to hear back from her.

I never should have waited.  I should have seized the moment and re-published immediately.  The good news is all the production work is complete I just need to see a few proof copies and I'll be back in business.

In the meantime, the second novel is about half way done and I am looking for test readers so if you are interested please let me know.  I'm planning to have this book completed by the end of the year.

So let's all learn from this experience: seize your opportunities when they arise.  And keep writing.