C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

The publishing revolution already happened.

Writing Conference Cataclysm: Ebooks versus the Amish

The room was packed with authors who were traditionally published. When the bookseller was talking, they were clapping. She told them what they wanted to hear. She insulted lovers of ebooks, told them to unplug, told them they needed to “get a life.” Her world is divided between ebooks and “real” books, nostalgia for what was and contempt for what is and will be.

Her emotional appeal worked well on that crowd. No one was paying near as much attention to the other guy on the panel. Formerly of Booknet and now with Kobo, Mark Tamblyn knew the numbers. The reality he knew and could quantify didn’t get any applause there so here are some highlights from his trip on the Reality Train:

1. Ebook lovers do love books, they just love them on ereaders. They do not fetishize the package. They read for love, enjoyment, entertainment and ideas, just like traditional readers claim to do…except:

2. Ebook lovers buy more books. Twice as much as people who love so-called “real” books.

3. Ebook readers are not 20 and 30-somethings. They are typically 45-55.

4. Ebook readers are not easily distracted. They do engage in deep reading and are not flighty cyber-ADD sufferers, after all.

One author asked how many people in the room owned an ereader. Only a handful of us raised our hands and he looked quite pleased with himself for a moment. Then someone pointed out the demographic in the room: the crowd skewed old and were, after all, a bunch of traditionally published authors. (And by the way, a couple of those older authors expressed excitement at fleeing to publish their own books so they can get off the mid-list and get paid 70% instead of 25% from a legacy publisher. I’m sure there will be many more to follow.)

So here’s another break from the illusions of The Matrix: Last year Kobo had a party to celebrate their one-millionth customer. A week later they held a party for their two-millionth customer. The month was December and that, my friends, is one major and measurable difference made by Jesus’s birthday. Clearly Jesus wants you all to buy ereaders.

It’s gauche, but since I predicted the ever-increasing appetite for ereaders last year and since I’m in a foul mood I will point out: I informed you thusly! I so informed you thusly! (Inside joke for Sheldon Cooper fans.)

And by the way, since I’m so damnably cranky: Last week I noticed someone saying the indie revolution was a good thing for creators but wasn’t any good for readers. Hey! I’m indie but I was a reader first and will always be a reader. I read ten books at a time. I’m more voracious for reading material than I am fudge. I’ve got a stack of pbooks by my bed, a huge library we call a house and a whack of ebooks loaded in my ereader. I relish more choice, even the stuff that isn’t particularly close to grammatically pure. So knock off that BS, thanks very much.

And have a day. Make it real.

Filed under: e-reader, ebooks, Rant, self-publishing, Writers, Writing Conferences, , , , , , , , ,

Can Creative Writing Be Taught? (via Life and Art)

What do you think? Were you born with your facility with words? I used to believe in nurture so much more. Then I had kids.

Can Creative Writing Be Taught? Catching up on some reading yesterday, I came across an interesting item published in the Guardian a couple of weeks ago about whether you can teach creative writing. Unsurprisingly, it prompted mixed views. But I found it of interest because over the last few years I have found myself wondering about precisely that question in relat … Read More

via Life and Art

Filed under: publishing

Writers: Why you should read John Dies at the End

Sometimes I see manuscripts where there’s a lot going on. That’s good. The problem is that the protagonist is always around the action, but isn’t initiating any actions. Heroes are self-starters.

It’s okay to have your hero or heroine gobsmacked when zombie terrorists attack the city. However, if things are still happening to the protagonist rather than him or her being proactive, your protagonist will soon annoy the reader.

It happens more often than you’d think. I suspect it’s a plotting problem. If the hero runs around in circles while everyone around him knows more than he does, it’s easier to get him into trouble.

There’s a place for weak-willed characters. They’re called secondary characters. Your protagonist can do the wrong thing or draw stupid conclusions, but notice the words “do” and “draw.” Protagonists are verb-oriented.  Yes, the hero can be fooled. The hero can have room to grow as a person. But he can’t be an idiot who grows into a genius unless his name is Charlie and his pet mouse is named Algernon.

For instance, I’m reading a great book now called John Dies at The End by David Wong. Aside from managing to be a clever mixture of Stephen King and Douglas Adams, I noticed Wong’s protagonist makes decisions that are perfectly reasonable in context. And he acts immediately.

So many books allow villains to do what they made of fun of in The Incredibles: Monologuing. (Example: “I expect you to die, Mr. Bond! But first, let me give you a tour of the complex and explain my evil plan to corner the world’s teddy bear market.”)

When Wong’s hero confronts Big E Evil, he doesn’t let the Big Bad lay out plans for world domination. He  pulls out his pistol and fires immediately, no warning shots. The results may not be what you expect, of course, but his hero isn’t dumb. The effect of this narrative efficiency is so powerful you’ll find yourself asking, “Wait, what was the evil plan? Oh, nevermind. I guess I’ll find out later.”

Don’t worry. You will. But I won’t spoil anything for you. Just go buy John Dies at the End by David Wong. You’ll be glad you did. It’s the best book I’ve read in quite some time.

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Filed under: authors, book reviews, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , ,

Four Traits of Successful Writers (Besides, You Know, Writing Ability)

Guest post by Marjorie McAtee

Skill and talent go a long way towards making a successful writer. But being a writer takes more than just skill and talent – it takes a strong character, as well.

People always ask me, “What qualifications do you need to be a writer?” And I answer, “None, really.” To be fair, if you’re trying to break into a specialized niche, like journalism, a degree in the field is usually necessary. But, if you paid attention in high school, you already know all about grammar, composition and style. With study and practice, anyone can learn to write well. But becoming a success as a writer, creative or otherwise, requires traits and qualities that can’t be learned in school.

1) A Successful Writer Holds Herself Accountable

If you want to be successful – in writing, or in life – you need to play by the rules. Do your own work. Respect the work of others. Treat your clients fairly; do the best job you can, and don’t cut corners. Be honest and upfront; if you don’t have the skills to take on a particular project, or if you need a deadline extension, say so. Remember the Golden Rule; if you have a problem with a client or colleague, respect, tact and courtesy are your greatest assets.

2) A Successful Writer Loves to Write – And I Mean Really, Really Loves to Write

I’m sure few people would disagree that it’s crucial to love what you do. As a former job-hater myself, I can vouch that it’s hard to feel fulfilled when you’re not fulfilled in your work.

I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve heard, “You’re so lucky to be able to do what you love.”

That’s right. I am. I went pro because I love writing more than anything else. It doesn’t even matter what I’m writing about. I’ve been writing professionally for a couple of years and in that time I’ve written on at least a dozen topics. Even the most interesting projects can become mind-numbingly dull when you’ve worked on them for a few hundred hours. Some are just mind-numbingly dull to begin with.

But, two years on I seem to know something about everything (my friends call me “Google.” That’s how bad it is). And I still love the writing. No matter the subject, the mere act of researching, organizing and writing an article or blog post or page of web copy gives me pleasure. It makes me happy. It takes me out of my head and away from my problems. After a long day of writing for my clients, all I want to do is write some more. I always have a story, an essay or a poem in the works.

Some say it takes discipline to be a successful writer and I’m not saying they’re wrong. If you have a day job, it takes discipline to get up early and stay up late to do the writing. If you have a rich spouse or your grandma left you ten million dollars – it still takes discipline. Even if you don’t have any of those things and you rely solely on your writing work for income, it’s all too easy to just go back to sleep or take off early and go out with your friends. No one will to tell you to get to work; you have to tell yourself.

And where does that sense of discipline come from? Not from a need for money, approval or success. It comes from love. If I didn’t love this, I’d quit yesterday.

3) A Successful Writer Never Gives Up

I have plenty of writer friends — some career writers, some doing it for pocket money. Others keep their stories, essays and articles confined to Facebook, personal blogs, or, worst of all, a notebook in a drawer. These are the friends who say, “Gee, I’d really like to be a writer, but I just don’t know.” They want to be a writer the way some people want to travel Europe. They’ll talk about it for the rest of their lives but they’ll probably never do it. Maybe they tried once, didn’t succeed, and gave up.

And I can’t blame them. You hear these stories from famous authors who say they could paper the walls of their home, inside and out, with rejection slips. Those stories are true.

Publishing is a hard industry. It may be the hardest. Great manuscripts go into the trash unread every day because they arrived unsolicited, or the editor didn’t like the first sentence or it was a day that ended in Y. If you’re writing content, most people won’t even pay you minimum wage. Writing is the most under-valued skill in the world.

It’s not enough to want to be a writer in an idle sort of way. You have to want it more than you want anything else. You have to want it more than you want food, or sleep, or friendship, or approval, or vacations or sick days. You may have to give up all of those things to get it. You’ll try and you’ll fail. You’ll try harder and you’ll fail harder. You’ll try harder than that and you’ll fail harder than that. You’ll try even harder still — and guess what? You’ll still fail.

Sit down, cry, wail, moan, complain, tear your hair out for the unjust world. When you’re done, try again.

4) A Successful Writer Believes in Herself – Because No One Else Will

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I wanted to be anything. I wrote my first short story when I was four. I didn’t know the alphabet yet so I made one up. When I tried to show the story to my mother, she said, “Not now, honey, I’m busy.”

Okay, so obviously I wasn’t doing myself any favors by writing in what looked like a prototype of WingDings. Maybe some people have more supportive families or more considerate friends. I’d be lying if I said I’ve had no support at all.

But, for every one person who’s supported and encouraged me, there have been ten who’ve told me I’d fail. My mother insisted I train as a teacher so I’d have “something to fall back on” when the writing thing didn’t work out. When I start to talk about my current creative project, eyes glaze over and the subject changes. When I tell a new acquaintance what I do for a living, the response is often, “Yeah, but what do you really do?” Or  sometimes they just laugh. Even if they pretend to take me seriously at first, eventually they’re bound to ask, “So…do you um, ever, um, sell any of your articles?”

When I complain about not having enough work, I’m told to “get a proper job like the rest of us.” If I brag about having a lot of work, I’m praised like a puppy learning to widdle outside.

Everyone else is “pursuing a goal.” I am “chasing a dream.” Writing is a hobby, not a profession. Few will take your writing goals as seriously as you do. People will laugh and point, and laugh some more, even after you’ve proven yourself time and time again.
Let me tell you a secret about these people: they’re idiots. Ignore them.

They don’t know you like I do.

Marjorie McAtee has been writing since she was old enough to clutch a baby pencil in her chubby little fist and she will be writing till you pry that pencil out of her cold, dead hand. She writes SEO content and copy to make ends meet. Her work appears in print journals including The Blotter and Center: A Journal of Literary Fiction, and online at Amarillo Bay and Flashquake. She blogs about stuff and things at Don’t Call Me Marge. You can follow her on Twitter @marjoriemcatee or find her on Facebook.

Filed under: Guest blog post, Writers, writing tips, , ,

21 Bold Predictions: The changing future of books

Sure, you need to write a good book to make it marketable. But what will be more marketable in the future? What will be different? Here are my sweeping predictions:

1. Non-fiction Shrink: Got a question? Got a problem? Ask.com or Wikipedia or any number of  quick searches will probably answer that question. What do I need you (and your book) for? In the future we still won’t have flying cars. There will also be less call for a lot of non-fiction. Instant, quick answers beat your treatise on bed bug infestations. I just want to know who to call and what to do to get rid of them.

Another instance: After faithfully reading the magazine for years, I don’t buy Writer’s Digest anymore. There is already more information than I can possibly read on writing blogs. For free. Um, like right here, three times a week, for instance.

2. Short form explosion: My horror and sci-fi writing friend Rebecca Senese articulated this for me first and it makes sense. People have less time and shorter attention spans as the web changes their brains away from the usual experience of deep reading. Cyber ADD aside, short stories are also 0.99 each, so people will download a little bouquet of short stories and take a chance on new authors that way.

Also, with ebooks, novellas and short novels are practical again from a manufacturing/pricing perspective. Think of the works of Albert Camus. 50,000 words for a novel was common. Then New York lost confidence in that formula and bigger books became the norm (so much so, in fact, that many authors now scoff at NaNoWriMo‘s 50,000-word winners.) Now, book length is less relevant. Ebooks don’t have page numbers.

3. Merchandise and books shall marry: Your platform and your content should optimally come together in a cult that wants more of your work. Witness all the Fight Club quotes, Youtube videos, tees and, well, actual fight clubs (years after the film phenomenon.) You’ll be spreading the awesome with passive income from whatever secondary sources you can manage. (I already started to plant my seeds here.)

4. Domination by Series: Having more ebooks available improves your marketability. Having more ebooks in a series improves your marketability even more. So, rather than sticking to a one off, consider how you can turn your masterpiece into the foundation for a series of books fans will clamor for. Your advantage as a self-published author is long tail merchandising. Your work shall be available until we embrace the Singularity and join ebooks in the cyberspace holodeck of our disembodied, fully-uploaded immortal minds.

5. Product integration: Slightly different from #3, here I’m talking about books as vehicles for products instead of the other way around.

You are a carpenter who specializes in bathroom renos. Order the book on how to renovate a bathroom in three days. The book pushes the advantage of your special caulking gun, available for immediate drop shipping before sledgehammering the bathtub.

6. First-person non-fiction: More authors who did something stupid and dangerous (tour Iraq for pleasure or go skiing off the approved slopes) will write their own first-person accounts. They’ll self-publish and the covers won’t say “as told to” some ghostwriter. The results will be horrific and ubiquitous.

7. Excellent journalists will find their place in analysis: The freelance market sucks for writers. However, if you’re a journalist with extensive financial expertise a la Too Big To Fail or can write like Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone, you can provide the long tail analysis of WTF happened?

8. To be successful, freelance writers must own smaller niches: If you aren’t a genius like Matt Taibbi, there’s still hope, but you’ll have to think small. Maybe microscopic, like the asbestos beat in the tri-state area.

Generalist writing isn’t dead exactly. In fact, generalists are everywhere, but they are also free.  You may not think of it this way, but really, blogging is instant publishing. If I want a non-expert opinion, that’s the simplest thing in the world to get and the blogger probably isn’t seeing a dime from it. The writers who are making money now are either tech experts  or people who are plowing ahead to make way for the rest of us in the digital publishing revolution.

9. Cross-genre will be accepted: Cross-genre books (a la Scott Sigler, for instance) have long been a problem for publishers. Even if they loved it, if it was sci-fi and horror, they worried which bookshelf it should be placed on to sell. (For those of you who aren’t sure, go look up what a bookstore used to be. That worry used to be much more relevant.) Cross-genre’s stigma is fading. And self-publishers care not at all, though they will have to do a really good job with their promotion and publicity.

10. More humor: In order for a humor book to sell, traditionally it had to be penned by a celebrity or it had to have a Shit My Dad Says-worthy hook (in other words, a novelty book.)

Comedy writer Ken Levine has a long history of sit com hits, from Mash and Cheers to Frasier, among others. Despite his track record, he wasn’t famous in front of the camera so traditional publishing hasn’t given him a chance to screw it up. Who he was wasn’t enough for traditional publishing to invest.

However, Ken has an incredibly popular blog with a following. He could go back to trad publishing and ask them how they like him now. Or he could just publish himself and keep the profits.  He has a platform that heretofore went unrecognized. He’s a guy with a blog today. He could be the new Dave Barry tomorrow.

11. People will get better at platform: Not long ago a clueless agent told a baffled writer,”Go make a viral video.” Yeah, sure. But what makes a video go viral? As time has passed, we have a better idea of what elements make something go viral.

I’m not saying there’s a formula. However, I think we’re at the point where we recognize what won’t go viral. If your book trailer is going to catch fire on Youtube, it will have to be powerful or clever or charming or heartfelt yet funny or at least cute. If you don’t have any of those elements, you’ll know (and if you don’t know, I hope you have good friends who will warn you.) At least the tech has improved so if you’ve got GarageBand, you already have a shot at putting together a better book trailer. And if you screwed it up, you can take comfort in trying again since the costs of trying have come way down.

12. Curation will get worse, then improve: People are already learning to distrust Amazon reviews. Many reviews are by haters with nothing better to do but snark on others’ work. Other reviews are by friends of writers or even by the writers themselves. There are a lot of books coming down the pipe and you are going to need a filter. Goodreads, for instance, seems to be a place for real people to provide feedback on what they love. I’d trust that (or a friend with similar tastes) before depending on Amazon alone for a helpful review.

13. Eventually: Ebooks will boil down to one or two standard formats.

14. Eventually (after #13): Your device will get sophisticated enough to take the download and format your downloaded ebook however you like it, no matter what the Big Six decree. Proprietary defenses (DRM) will be cracked as fast or faster than they are now so prices will fall, many current publishers will be former publishers and if you want money to eat, you’ll have to make up the difference with volume.

15. And #14 won’t happen on an e-reader: I love my e-readers, but they are interim devices, like pagers and electronic planners were. When e-readers go, they’ll probably be replaced by tablets that can do everything. The screens will be expandable so you won’t be peering at books through the keyhole like on a smart phone. Also, we’ll be back to the two-page spread you’re used to with paper books.

Some say ereaders are already on the way out but they’re in a rush. Ereaders will be around for some time to come because lots of people want to read ebooks, but they can’t afford higher-end integrated devices. Ereader prices will fall so market saturation will soak much deeper and faster than previously thought.

16. Media integration: I tried to read an integrated ebook. The experience sucked.  It won’t suck forever. You’ll have that two-page spread, but you’ll be able to bop over to a cut scene of the story’s climactic event. Merch links will be embedded into the text so you can buy the t-shirt your hero is wearing and the villain’s yummy high heels. One click (only it will be a swipe and eventually, a voice command. Later, a grunt. Then, a thought.)

17. The future of reading is hearing: Audio will rise much higher in popularity. You don’t have time to read so you listen in your car, while you work out, while you walk the dog, while you do the dishes and/or have sex. Time management is more important than  money management (though they are often merely equated. that’s a different post for the glorious future.)

Audio will continue to be more expensive until voice tech improves. While we’re still paying actors to read (minimum $150 an hour and usually $300 an hour and up) audio will stay the indie authors last foray. No disrespect to actors. I know some. However, your computer’s voice inflection is improving so when that dramatic reading is up to snuff, this Jetson’s future will kick in. The voice of George Jetson will come from a computer, not a talented voice actor.

18. You’ll care less about grammar: Well, not you. But your kids probably, especially since in school they are already taught spelling (and handwriting) matter less. As an editor, I regret every grammatical and typographical error. But with the deluge of self-published books replete with typos, we’ll relax our standards. Instead of fetishizing a book’s typographic purity, we’ll freak out less when we spot a typo. Instead, high praise will be, “That one didn’t have that many typos.” Practical acceptance will ensue once today’s outrage becomes the new normal. Sure, you pride yourself on being a sharp word nerd, but anyone who can sustain the level of outrage required will be exhausted and have no friends.

On the plus side, a book that is well written and well edited will stick out more.

19. Instant will be prized more: Trad publishing works on long publication deadlines because of budgets and logistics. (Though it’s a factor for the editorial staff, contrary to what you’ve heard, quality is not actually Job One.) If they could pump books out faster than 16 to 18 months per book, they certainly would. That kind of agility would allow them to be more topical, hit trends and, most important, have more stuff for sale. Recently I read an ebook that mentioned the Japanese earthquake. Compare that to how long it took 9/11 to show up in traditionally-published novels out of New York.

There will be little to no delay in the future. An ebook on the ramifications of Bin Laden’s death was up for sale within a week of his death. You might think it was mostly prepared ahead of time, but actually it was a bunch of emails from socio-political experts contacted as soon as Seal Team Six did their job.

20. Romance will continue to dominate, but now it will be recognized: The love of the paranormal romance genre is not a new thing, but romance has never been recognized as the dominant force it really is. Amanda Hocking’s recent success is no accident, especially because she writes in a genre that dominates reader demand.

Look at bestseller lists. You’ll see “important literary works”  by big publishers. Good for them! Those are the sorts of books I like. However, those weekly bestseller lists are often based on booksellers reporting which books are sitting in front of them in the biggest cubes and stacks. Much of the math is suspicious, especially since bestseller lists don’t take into account sales from non-traditional book venues (Walmart, drugstores, the spinner rack at beach resorts or the vast call for romance books among ESL learners. Nope. Not kidding about that. If you’re learning english, simple stories of ribaldry and girl-next-door heroines are one way to do it.)

You won’t see Harlequin romances on bestseller lists. However, I used to work at Harlequin. I’ve seen the numbers. Romance sells huge. Romance sells much bigger than anything on bestseller lists. Why? Because english majors run Big Six editorial departments. They do not run the real world. Yann Martel writes great books. Nora Roberts writes fast, easy reads. Even snobby english majors read trashy, naughty novels for a break from lit that might be fresh and surprising. In the real word, the hare beats the tortoise.

21. Someday soon, everyone will make these changes in spelling: email, ereaders, ebooks. Of all these predictions, this is probably the one which will happen first.

And yes, #18 will probably happen last. As in, over your dead body.

Filed under: Books, DIY, e-reader, ebooks, Editing, publishing, Rant, self-publishing, , , , , , , , , ,

The Writer Rejection Scam

Stephen King signature.

Image via Wikipedia

Sometimes I hear writers take pride in the number of rejections in their file cabinets. The idea is that they compete with writer friends to pile up the rejection slips. The person with the most number of rejections by a certain date…er…”wins.” Riiiight. I don’t know how this myth got started but it’s a popular one.

It’s not that this is a totally useless strategy (and I’ll review the advantages in a moment) but first, let’s burst the rejection scam bubble:

If you are writing fast without second drafts or third or umpteenth drafts in order to pump up your submission rate, you’re losing. More rejection slips? That’s no measure of how close you are to publication. If that were true, the worst writers in the world submitting the most illiterate crap across the planet are all just on the cusp of bestsellerdom.

If you get a lot of rejection slips that don’t actually include personal notes on how the writing didn’t work for the reviewer, you’re losing.

It’s also very hard to get any personal notes on your work, by the way. Many agents and editors don’t believe in detailing the reasons for rejection. There are so many variables to evaluate writing that are idiosyncratic and peculiar to the editor, it doesn’t profit you to hear they rejected you for subjective reasons.

Neither does it profit them to take the time to give you a heads up that you were a near miss. Many editors have so many submissions on their desk that they really don’t want to encourage more people to resubmit. The mailbox will be full tomorrow regardless and your persistence is expected without free coaching and hand holding. (And just because you submitted a manuscript, no editor owes you free manuscript evaluations, feedback or reasons for rejection.)

If you’re clearing an alley of bad guys, use the twelve gauge with the .00 load. With manuscript submission, however, scatter shot is less effective than picking and aiming at your targets.

Submit everywhere without careful thought on how to target your market? Then you’re losing. It’s time you’re losing primarily, though the loss of confidence and self-esteem can’t be glossed over. It takes a lot of ego to put yourself out there, so choose carefully how you put yourself out there. Artists need all the narcissistic hope and unreasonable aspirations of a lottery player.

If you’re submitting everywhere in the slim hope that an agent or editor will take the time to take you under their wing, build you a nest and show you where you went wrong with your flightless novel, you’re losing. When dealing with mass submissions, editors and agents get impatient with bad writing, or even writing that isn’t bad but doesn’t suit them. I’ve seen it personally. Behind closed doors there’s even a lot of laughter at published writers’ work that’s bound for publication. (Oh, yeah, that’s right! I said it! I’ve seen it and endured it!)

If it’s feedback you’re after, alpha readers, beta readers, hired editors, writing and critique groups will get you more feedback than can be fit on a tiny rejection slip. Plus, you’ll be getting much more careful evaluation.

People going through a slush pile aren’t there to help the writer. They are there to evaluate whether your manuscript is a good bet for a business deal that suits their purposes and interests.

Much is made of Stephen King‘s pile of rejection slips. I think too much has been made of the rejection slips impaled on that spike in King’s attic. It’s not that some magic kicks in once you hit a special number of slips. It is, instead, what the rejection slips symbolize: sweat equity and time invested in improving craft. I’m not suggesting you submit fewer manuscripts per se. I’m saying, offer your work wisely.

A higher number of rejection slips is not an achievement to be celebrated any more than failing to complete every race you enter makes you a better runner. It might make you a noble aspirant. Or maybe you’re too bull-headed to train properly and learn. Either possibility has validity.

It was all the writing and reading King did while the slips piled up that mattered

It was the feedback he got from a newspaper editor that mattered

That editor sat down with King and went over a story about a high school basketball game. He showed King how to tighten his writing. A little mark up, some rearranging and red pen work et voilà!: The magic of editing improved the writer’s craft. (If you haven’t read Stephen King’s On Writing yet…well, just go do that and thank me later.) 

What are the advantages of piling up rejection slips? If you need to compete with a friend to get you to write, I don’t see anything wrong with that. Everybody needs some gentle  motivation (or a kick in the bum) sometimes. (Okay, maybe you don’t ever need a writing crutch, but that makes you an inhuman freak, Trollope!)

If you get personal feedback and encouragement from editors and agents, that’s a good sign you’re on the right track. If you just get a note or two though, that doesn’t constitute a trend you should necessarily heed. Editors and agents have their own agendas that may reflect very little on your writing and you’ll never know what’s in their minds.

Don’t rush to produce writing at the expense of quality. As Truman Capote said of Jack Kerouac‘s On the Road, “That’s not writing. That’s typing!”  (Granted, Capote could be a bitch and lots of people like On the Road.)

Still, getting a big pile of rejection slips is not the end game. Writing extensively (and well), reading broadly (and well) and getting righteous feedback will get you where you want to go.

Yes, I know: Rejection is part of the process. But neither should rejection be fetishized and assumed useful. Some lucky few writers are a hit right out of the gate. Are they still bad writers because they haven’t “paid their dues” and “jumped through hoops”?

That thick skin some say you’re supposed to develop through rejection would be used more effectively if you  got a manuscript evaluation or joined a critique group. (And thick skin is another thing that’s overrated and fetishized. Thick skin helps you take writing advice, yes. But when the reviews come in and someone writes something nasty in a comment about your book —your baby!—on Amazon, veteran author or newbie, you’ll be just as pissed.

Now, how do you target your submissions to likely editors and agents? 

Well, that’s a post for another day. Another day that will come soon.

Stay tuned. 

Filed under: Books, manuscript evaluation, publishing, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How to edit without reading

Lettrine A edtion 1570 Venise I quattro libri ...

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You: Edit without reading? How is that even possible? 

Me: You can tell when a story has problems at a glance if the page is too dark.

You: Um. What?

Me: This page. Look at all that unbroken text.

(HOLDS OUT A MANUSCRIPT AT ARM’S LENGTH)

It’s an intimidating, heavy block. Unless you are Proust—wait. Are you Proust?

You: (SURLY) No.

Me: Okay. When there are big unbroken blocks of text, you’re demanding a lot of the reader.

You: So I should assume my reader is too stupid to handle a long paragraph?

Me: Yes.

You: What?!

Me: Attention spans are shorter. Big blocks of text do not skip along. It’s hard to get a sense of making progress when faced with all that text. You need to break it up.

You: Show me.

Me: The first thing is, have you used paragraphs correctly? Maybe the unified sentences are there but you’ve missed opportunities to paragraph appropriately. Think of each paragraph as  one logically unified thought. Look for the flow, either progression or back and forth, to identify where the next paragraph proceeds.

You: Uh-huh. I’m not an idiot, you know.

Me: I’m sure you’re not. I didn’t create you to be an idiot, but a dialogue foil so I could parry back and forth a bit. Break up the didactic drudgery.

You: Wha–wait. What?

Me: (SMOOTHLY) So the next usual suspect is long speeches. Soliloquies usually need to be broken up with action, interaction and conflict from other characters.

You: Or?

Me: Or you get big blocks of text. Readers like white space, but this isn’t just an aesthetic issue. It’s an editorial issue. Shorter paragraphing looks more appealing, true, but when dialogue flies back and forth, shorter paragraphs are an indication of dynamism on the page.

You: And you think you don’t have to actually read the story to know it’s not dynamic enough?

Me: I don’t have to actually read the story to know that unless you get more white space on the page, no one will read it. I’m trying to give your story a chance at daylight. I haven’t read a word, but I’ve seen enough holding it at arm’s length and glancing through a few pages to see the pattern. If you send it to an editor or agent, they will heave a great sigh and turn away quickly. If you try to sell it yourself, it will not sell.

You: Do you actually talk to writers like this when you edit them?

Me: Of course not. This is just a blog post between me and an imaginary writer…you know, for educational purposes.

You: Educa…. About what you…hey! You’re saying I’m not real?

Me: (PULLS A WOODEN STAKE FROM BENEATH A DARK CLOAK)

The problem is real. The editorial trick is real. You, I made up.

(PLUNGES STAKE INTO THE FICTION’S CHEST AND ROOTS AROUND FOR THE HEART IN QUICK, GRISLY CIRCLES)

You: Ouch. Hey, that was…surprisingly painless.

Me: It’s okay. Sh. I wrote your reality this way so it doesn’t hurt anyone.

You: Oh. Thanks.

Me: You’re welcome. You live in the Matrix. It’s a bitch, but I try to make it easy on everybody.

(PULLS OUT THE STAKE AND THE SOUND IS LIKE AIR FARTED OUT OF A PARTY BALLOON)

(THE FICTIONAL AUTHOR WHIZZES AWAY LIKE SAID PARTY BALLOON AND, AT FULL DEFLATION, DISAPPEARS INTO AN UNENDING GREEN SEA UNDER A CLOUDLESS NIGHT SKY AND A BLUE, TROPIC MOON.)

THE WARM BREEZE, SMELLING OF COLITAS AND CARRYING THE SOUNDS OF THE JUNGLE TO THE WEST WHISPERS STERNLY: “Stop now, Chazz! It’s overwritten already!

Me: FADE INTO DARKNESS. THEN GOES SHOPPING.

And that’s how you edit without reading. 

Filed under: Books, Editing, Editors, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , ,

TOP 10: Get your writing motivation back & finish your book

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Sometimes you lose the thread. You burn through the first 40 or 50 pages and then…now what?  Augusten Burroughs doesn’t believe in writer’s block. He says that if you think you have writer’s block, write about the block and you’ll find your way out. Frankly, that hasn’t worked for me. This is what I do to churn the letter butter and make it thick:

1. Reread the last ten pages before you got stuck. There’s probably something there to riff from.

2. Reread the first ten pages and get back to where you were headed to begin with so you can find the trail you lost.

3. If you’ve got an outline, go write an easy scene. If the book is a ball small enough that you can hold it in one hand–and you make it small by using an outline–you can skip forward to a scene you are sure of.

4. When you’re stuck, go back to the characters. What’s the special need and want of the character (often not the same thing in a layered, complex text)? Find the truth of that character. What does the character do next?

5. Search for the emotional truth between and among your characters. Write that.

6. Search the conflict between and among your characters. Maybe you’re stuck because your characters are too agreeable.

7. Change the setting. Too many characters stand around in living rooms talking at each other instead of engaging the world. It’s not a stage play. A novel has as large a canvas as you can imagine. Get your characters up and out in the world where things happen.

8. Think visually. What would the movie of your book look like? What are people doing? Do they have special skills? Draw on your own experience or do a little research to get you through a scene. (Do as little research as possible on the front end, though. I wrote a story in which a character got pulled into a saw at a lumber mill. First I wrote the scene. Then I consulted an expert who said it shouldn’t be a saw but a machine called an edger.)

9. Still stuck? My trick is to get out a book (usually a dictionary) and choose three words at random. Work those words into your next chapter. (Clicking random in Wikipedia works great for this strategy, too.) This will take you places you wouldn’t have found otherwise.

10. Take a break. Change your setting. Trying to tough it out so you produce typing but no worthwhile writing is not working smart. Do something totally different. Go get chased by a bear, move, run, go watch people, have an espresso or nap. Refresh your writing mind by demanding nothing of it. The world will have to wait until you’re back where you need to be.

Filed under: Writers, Writing exercise, writing tips, , , , ,

New mugs for editors at http://www.cafepress.ca/chazzwrites

As I recover from minor surgery, I’m taking it easy today. However, I do have a new product up at the store for editors who want to gently remind writers that it’s not called a liveline. It’s a deadline. Check out the new mugs here.

In fact, check out all the inventory at my store.

Tomorrow, in case you are struggling with a deadline: Top 10 ways to get back your motivation to write. Then, a post on how to edit without reading. Crazy shit, I know! Stay tuned.

Now I’m back to the couch with one more day feeling sorry for myself. I’ll get my groove back tomorrow, Stella.

(I’m okay. Minor injury sustained while defending Gotham from dark forces.)

Filed under: blogs & blogging, Editing, Editors, Shop Happy, writing tips, , , , ,

Controversial blog posts, hate mail & puppies on fire

I write a column for a trade magazine. I get a lot of fan mail (he said modestly). I have a folder stocked with happy reader feedback so if I ever need talking in off the ledge, many kind subscribers’ letters to the editor might stop me from the jump to pavement lasagna. But,  of course, it’s the negative reviews you remember.  

What’s surprising about negative feedback is how surprising it is. Let me explain that obnoxious tautology: I’ve written columns I was certain would stick in somebody’s craw. I’m reasoned, but sometimes provocative and I do poke the odd sacred cow through the skull with a nail gun.

But it’s often the posts

I consider more bland which spark  readers’ ire most!

For instance, I wrote a humorous feature that detailed the uses of therapeutic laughter. The tone was light, though I did stir in an interview with a neurobiologist and instructive tips. Most people didn’t just like it. They loved it. We got a lot of really nice letters. It’s a special thing when people take the time to say good things about you. The spur to action usually skews the other way. Angry people write more letters than happy people do.)

As great as the response to the article was, from that same feature there was one letter from the reader who did not just like it. In fact, she loathed the piece (and me.) She objected to the jokes. It was clear she didn’t get the jokes. There are, perhaps, billions of people who don’t share my sense of humor. Not only can I not change that, I wouldn’t want to appeal to the humorless.

People who get all angsty and vituperative about your writing share a common trait. They act like the one thing you write is the sum and totality of your writing. It kind of amuses me (okay, it amuses me after some time passes) when people get bent out of shape from one thing I wrote. I write lots of stuff. Read it all and get really pissed, or realize that if you don’t care for something, there’s always the next page. There’s always something else to read.

Don’t say something you don’t believe just to be provocative. Satire is fine. Parody’s good. Be fun and playful. Be as funny as you like, but make time to be sincere when you’re making a serious point. Don’t pander.

People sometimes accuse Bill Maher of saying outrageous stuff just to get a reaction. Not true. One survey showed that Maher’s die hard fans only agreed with him 14% of the time! He’s funny, insightful and can be cranky. But he’s not a crank easily dismissed. He’s thinking and doesn’t fall to one side of all issues all of the time.

This is counterintuitive to how many people act as they write their (unread) blog pasts. People often think that only people who agree with them will like them. If you’re funny and interesting and reasoned, thinking people will listen. Your blog’s grasp can go beyond the reach of your mom.

When I read blog posts I dislike, I rarely comment on something with which I disagree unless I know the people involved or think it will make a difference. I won’t be phoning Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck to try to disagree with him on air, for instance. People don’t listen to Rush to get ideas. They listen to confirm their own fears and prejudices. Echo chambers aren’t designed for more than one loud voice. Life’s too short to pursue debates with people who will never change their minds no matter what. (And I won’t change my mind on that.)

“Pearls before swine,” as Jesus said.

(Note to Mr. Beck: Jesus is an important guy in the bible whose words are written in red so they are easy to find. Like you, he talks about economics a lot, too. You appear unaware of the things Jesus said. Take a look.)

Real world example: Today a friend linked to a post so I checked it out. I found it utterly vile. The essay was an extreme so-serious-I-hope-it’s-parody, divisive, lying hit piece that underestimated both liberal and conservative thought. I didn’t comment on the post itself because I’m not giving that hateful essayist the satisfaction. Instead I left a comment on the original Facebook link to let my friend know I thought his link choice was disturbing.

To be fair to him, his intent puzzled me. I’m really not sure if he linked to it as an example of a good thing or a bad thing. Whatever his opinion on that issue, he’s still a great guy and a great friend and I’m not writing him off if he shares those (crazy) views. He no doubt has a lot of other views I agree with and I know he is an admirable, heroic fellow. (And no, I don’t know if he reads this blog or not since he’s not in publishing.)

Mental note:

Don’t provide links to hate-filled sites.  

Debate and dialogue of substance? Okay. 

Stupid shit? No time.

The take away? Don’t let negative feedback throw you. If what you write is so bland it never offends anyone, it often isn’t worth writing. There’s nothing new and interesting about your blog posts if every one of them is the equivalent of a basket of puppies. If you’re going to keep readers, you’re going to have to be compelling, informative or at least engaging. Don’t tell me about the weather. Say something you believe. Make me laugh. Make me spew my coffee over the screen. Set a basket of puppies on fire once in a while.

Case in point: You might expect conservative readers to object to me condescending to Glenn Beck. Perhaps defenders of the mentally unstable will chime in on that score, too. You might expect liberal readers to object to any mention of Rush or Beck since they already get too much attention everywhere. Maybe you think people will get angry about the notion of setting fire to a basket of puppies.

Personally? Since a basket of puppies set afire is an obvious joke in terrible taste, I’m betting someone will object to the reference to a nail gun through a cow’s skull. Vegans are fascists worse than Hitler. (Kidding! Kidding!)

As Bill Maher says, “I kid! I kid because I love!” 

Heh. 

Filed under: blogs & blogging, Intentionally Hilarious, Rant, Rejection, reviews, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , ,

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