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

Write and publish with love and fury.

Write! Like a Boss!

One of the movies we love here in the secret bunker is The Incredibles. I love a good Bond movie and The Incredibles is superheroes in a Bond movie. It’s a lot of fun, though, for me, the most effecting scene is where the missiles close on the plane with kids on board. Having kids makes you cry easily and I’ve cried during that scene several times over.

Kind of a Spoiler

In the original plot for The Incredibles, the plot called for the plane to be piloted by an ordinary human — a sweet old man and friend of Elastigirl — who gets killed in the explosion. That was revised when they decided it was too dark a turn for a kids’ movie.

The best scene

For my wife, She Who Must Be Obeyed, the scene she always brings up first is the attack on the city.

Samuel L. Jackson, primed to defend innocents and come out of retirement, really sells it when he sees the devastation and shouts, “Honey! Where is my super suit?!” 

His wife’s reply: “Oh, no you don’t! I have been planning this dinner with the Robinsons for weeks!”

Honey! Where is my super suit?!” 

The juxtaposition of the mundane with a superhero’s clothing needs is funny, but it doesn’t stand out as much for me. She Who Must Be Obeyed is not wrong. (That can never happen.) However, it underlines that we can’t predict how our writing will be received. We must write for ourselves and hope others of like mind will find us (or we must find them). When I wrote for magazines, I was often surprised which bit of a column provoked outrage and what spurred letters of admiration. People won’t necessarily unpack your book the way you thought you sent it.

And then… 

Yesterday I read one-star reviews of a few of Shakespeare’s plays. One star. Really? I know it’s a subjective universe, but The Freakin’ Bard only gets one star? 

Write more. Worry less.

You could concern yourself with the trend of reviews. Report the abusive reviews. Consider correcting fallacies in reviews (like author Elle Lothlorien). Refuse to read your reviews (like author JA Konrath).

Reviewers are not your boss. You are your boss. Being boss is one of your best reasons to write. Don’t give it up. Write! Like a boss!

Stop worrying so much and just write your next best thing. The next best thing could be your best book ever (which someone will load down with a one-star review). Just write. Not everyone will love your book or they’ll love different parts of your book for different reasons. Those who dislike your work aren’t your readers of the future, so they don’t matter. They don’t pay you for your books so they literally don’t figure into the accounting. 

There really is no accounting for taste.

~ Robert Chazz Chute writes like a boss. Check out his books at AllThatChazz.com (where he also podcasts like a boss.) He interviews like a boss at CoolPeoplePodcast.com. He loses weight like a boss at DecisionToChange.com. He vines like a boss and writes about Vine here. He prepares an apocalypse like a ghoulish boss full of verisimilitude and magic realism at ThisPlagueOfDays.com.

Filed under: Rejection, reviews, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , ,

Review: The highs and lows of a book promotion campaign. What works?

Suspense, parables, inspiration, surprise.

Last week I wrote about my campaign to drag Self-help for Stoners into the world’s consciousness. If you’re new to the blog, long story short: I wrote a book of suspenseful fiction with a self-help twist dedicated to director Kevin Smith. When I had the honour of handing the book to my DIY hero at a comedy event simulcast to theatres across the US and Canada, I felt I had to take advantage of this unique opportunity. I tried an experiment with a press release distribution service called PR Web. For more on that review of the troubles I had getting the press release accepted for wide distribution, check out the original post here. 

Soon after the press release went into wide distribution, I got a small increase in traffic, but not, it seemed, in the way I’d hoped. 

The Dangerous Kind

Murder might solve your problems. Two brothers go hunting. Only one will see home again.

A fellow on Google+ was complimentary to me (I have balls!) but thought the money ($240) was wasted. He wasn’t being unkind…at least I don’t think he meant to be. He just thought there were better uses of my time and newer, more innovative ways to spread the word about my book’s existence. I’m always interested in learning more and I’m particularly interested when people have ideas about what to do instead of what not to do. (More on that in another post after I conduct more field research.)

Imagine my chagrin when I read a post by Dead Wesley Smith who decreed that spending money on book promotion is a waste of time and money until you have 50 books for sale. That’s right. Fifty! I double-checked to make sure it wasn’t the cloying cloud of depression and stress headaches obscuring my vision misleading me. Kurt Vonnegut only wrote fourteen novels in his lifetime. If Dean Wesley Smith is right, is there any place for book promotion for most of us? Maybe I struck the iron too early, but given the scope of the simulcast, my press release appeared to be a now-or-never opportunity.

My speed of production isn’t near as quick as Dean Wesley Smith, but how many of us can write (good) books that fast? Maybe I should write faster, but even at once every three months, I wouldn’t be gambling a promotional penny to let the world know I exist until 2024. Will I even live long enough to ever have to bother with book promotion at that rate? Hm. That would be a great solution except for  the part about me being dead. I do agree with Dean on one point thoroughly and I’ve said it many times myself: your best book promotion idea is to get to work on the next book and I’m certainly doing that. I’ll be coming out with three books this year (so that’s one every four months, though I confess that two and half are already written and I’m mostly in the revision stage.) I’m not as skilled as Dean Wesley Smith because I’m not up to the pace he’s setting. I honestly wouldn’t have confidence in the end product if I pushed that fast. No worries or apologies on that score. We’re all just doing the best we can. (For more on what indie production actually costs, check out Dean Wesley Smith’s post here.)

But what you’re wondering is, what did the PR Web press release actually do and could that work for your book? It’s too early to tell, so once again, my results are

Don't argue over parking spots with strangers. Or else.

preliminary. The cycle of Google analytics is 28 days long, and what follows is just the first week of results. (However, isn’t it already old news now that the event is over a week stale?) I can tell you that PR Web’s marketing guy sounded very pleased. He phoned me yesterday morning to say that I’d worked the SEO right (five links maximum was how it worked out with my word count) and he said the response to the press release was “great.”

“How do I quantify ‘great’?” I asked. I’m sure I whacked him with a heavy note of skepticism but he seemed no less bouncy at my glorious prospects. He told me how to get the analytics for the press release. Apparently, the number of people who read the release, liked the headline and read to the end of the article was impressive, perhaps even unusual. Nice, though I wish I liked the press release more. (For more on that, once again, refer to the original post.)

8,027 media deliveries boiled down to 49 “interactions” (where a link was clicked or a pdf was downloaded) and eight “pickups”. The report contains a sample of Web sites that picked up or syndicated my story. It’s apparently not the full list, but media outlets included: Hollywood Industry, Mac DVD Pro, Digital Journal, San Francisco Chronicle, Corporate Media News, Yahoo! News, and Consumer Electronics Net.

But these aren’t the numbers you really want to know. Has this press release helped sales? Sadly, not much so far that is measurable. I saw a bit of a bounce up on my Amazon sales, but that settled quickly. And the truth is, since I’m doing several other things, I could easily attribute that blip to the success of other marketing tactics. But before I draw conclusions in this review, see if you can follow the roller coaster of author thrust and bureaucratic parry that has brought me to my sad current state.

Here are the highs and lows and forays

of my marketing campaign for Self-help for Stoners:

High: I sent out several press releases about meeting Kevin Smith to CBC shows and to my local paper. These forays cost me nothing.

Low: CBC didn’t call back. The local columnist who showed enthusiasm seems to have lost my number. Or he’s sick and not at work. Gee, I hope he’s sick.

What if God gives you what you want? What if you win an argument against God?

High: Kevin Smith has a cult and for a shining moment I was in front of them. I paid $200 for a one-minute ad to run on Smith’s Smodcast network the day he got back on the mic. I figured since he hadn’t been on the mic for such a long time, the first day he got back on the show would have high ratings and many downloads. And maybe they’d remember said shining moment from the broadcast of the Live from Behind Show in Toronto.

Low: The ad didn’t run on schedule. There was a communication breakdown. Despite my best efforts at keeping in touch with the ad guy at Smod, it didn’t happen. It’s supposed to run today (February 14th on Smodcast Internet Radio. I’m sacrificing a goat to Thor, hoping it happens this time. Don’t worry about the goat. He’s suicidal.)

High: I did two podcasts about my Kevin Smith experience, before and after. They’ve been well-received by those who have heard them. “One and a quarter hours of narrative gold,” said one, Thor bless him. Bliss. (See all the podcasts here.)

Low: Though they may catch on in the long term, not many people have actually heard them! I screwed up the metadata so, on Stitcher, the first words that show up in the tiny window that give the podcast summary are not Chazz Meets Kevin Smith and Jay Mewes. Instead it reads: Show notes and podcast details… That won’t get anybody new to check out my filthy jokes and stream of consciousness trips in order to find me utterly delightful and worthy of their love and bucks.

Twisty and twisted. Click the pic for more.

High: I thought KDP Select might be my salvation to really get things going. Amazon told me all I’d have to do was tell Bookbaby to withdraw from all other platforms to meet the exclusivity caveat. Any other action might risk duplication on Amazon’s site.

Low: BookBaby disagrees. I got a nice email (eventually—BookBaby seems awfully slow to respond to me of late) saying that they would have to withdraw the books from all channels, it would be permanent, and I’d have to enter my books into KDP Select myself. With no confidence in how long that might take, I don’t want to risk not having any books for sale anywhere, especially with all the promotion work I’ve done. I replied to BookBaby that rather than risk a screw up and no availability of my books for an indeterminate amount of time, I’d keep my books where they were through BookBaby and just get the new books straight into KDP Select without them next time. That’s a loss all around, I’d say, but I’m the one who will feel it most.

There are a lot of tragic starts and stops to this tale, aren’t there?

The word “thwarted” is pushing into the centre of my brain like the capricious thumb of an angry god.

High: I tried to organize a Buy X Get Y promotion for my book on Amazon.

Low: Amazon Advantage said they couldn’t do it because fulfilment for my paperback is through CreateSpace, which is POD and they’d need stock on hand. After a light scolding, they told me to go to CreateSpace for a similar promotion program.

Asia_Unbound

Are we ever free from our secrets? Find out here.

Lower: CreateSpace said they’d call back. Then they sent me an email instead saying they have no idea what Amazon is talking about. (Note that CreateSpace is owned by Amazon, too, but never the twain shall meet, I guess, even if the plan would have made a buttload of money.) Once again, Chazz hurts moms. So much so, he begins to write about himself in the third person. With loathing,

Lowest: As I write this, I’m feeling a bit emotional and teary. The sum of the message so far is: Nobody knows me, I don’t matter and as good as the book is, it still doesn’t matter if I can’t convince anyone to try it out. And a fresh pile of bills arrived yesterday. There isn’t an author on earth who hasn’t felt this way, yet the lash feels equally new for every person every time.

Clawing and climbing out of the mire: So there are a few things I am doing which I’m more positive about. Writing and revising the new stuff is going well. (Three new novels this year! Whoo, and also hoo!) The Writing World will run an interview with me in early March. My friend Eden Baylee will also run a saucy little interview with me soon. I’ve sent out a couple more copies for book reviewers and will continue to seek out reviewers for all my books. The Self-help for Stoners podcast continues weekly and I had a clip broadcast on Succotash, a popular comedy clip show. I think I’ll have an excerpt from Self-help appear on the next The Word Count Podcast, in support of #IndiesUnite4Joshua (fun and a great cause.) I’m also getting quite a few nice mentions on other podcasts, like Logical Weightloss and The School of Podcasting.

But wait, Chazz! How do you account for that blip where sales came up a bit? It could be my promise on my podcast to gain converts individually by tying each new reader up and torturing them with sexual delights to gain converts. It could be that some new people I met lately have checked out my books or some found me through the Kevin Smith event when I was on

Get Vengeance and get surprised.

camera. Maybe the press release had some effect, but I tend to doubt it, at least until more evidence arrives through Google analytics.

So what have we learned about promoting our books? So far? We need more data.

I’d say I’ve learned this much:

1. Triberr has helped me get more new traffic to my blogs than anything else. I can see that clearly in my stats and my Twitter feed.

2. I have to find more innovative ways to get the word out. I’m working on that. (More later.)

3. I have to get more reviews. I have had excellent feedback on much of my work, but even when people are enthused, it doesn’t necessarily translate to reviews. I am soliciting reviews as my writing schedule allows.

4. I have to remember how much I believe in my books, because in the beginning, no matter who you are and no matter your experience, you’re just another schmo until you’re discovered. After you’ve made it, you’re a genius. Until then? Schmo. The writing awards and all the experience don’t matter. Yet.

Most important?

Did I mention I have more books coming out?

That will be what counts more than anything.

I have to provide a larger target for my readership to find me. 

My people are out there. I will find them. They will find me.

UPDATE: In keeping with the theme of getting thwarted, the Smashwords website is down at the moment, so the links from the short story covers are directed back to the author site until Smashwords is back up. The links in the The Dangerous Kind, Self-help for Stoners and Sex, Death & Mind Control (for fun & profit) covers work fine. You can still get everything I write across most digital book platforms, of course, (i.e. search Kobo and there they are) but as long as Smashwords is down, you can’t grab the short stories directly from that site. I will update as soon as the Smashwords server is back up. It’s all very…consistent with today’s theme, isn’t it?

LATEST UPDATE: SMASHWORDS IS NOW BACK ONLINE AND THE SHORT STORY COVERS NOW LINK BACK TO THAT SITE. Find out more about these short stories here.

~ Robert Chazz Chute is the author of Sex, Death & Mind Control (for fun and profit), the novella The Dangerous Kind, Self-help for Stoners and several suspenseful short stories with gut-punch endings, available at Smashwords. He’s in suspense, figuratively and literally and his comedy podcast, Self-help for Stoners, airs each Friday on Stitcher and iTunes. Visit the author site, AllThatChazz.com,  for updates on Chazz’s fiction and to download the podcast.

page10image5960
page10image6232
page10image6504

Filed under: Publicity & Promotion, publishing, Rejection, reviews, web reviews, What about Chazz?, What about you?, Writers, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Book Marketing: What I didn’t know about resistance to ebooks

I’ve been thinking about how to promote my books quite a bit. There was a lot I wasn’t sure about as I embarked on getting the word out. In the beginning, I didn’t know for sure if I even wanted hard copies of my book. I do want a printed book for Self-help for Stoners now (for various promotional experiments to be announced.) I didn’t know how hard it would be to ask friends to help spread the word. I didn’t know how difficult it would be to get friends to take the time to read and review the books and listen to my podcast. Even the people who care about me don’t necessarily care about my tales of suspense, comedy and magic realism.

I underestimated how loyal people are to the media they are used to. For instance, I know several people who want to support my work, but for one it has to be print only (I’m sure he’s not alone) and for another, she’ll have nothing to do with Amazon. She’s waiting for the Kobo version (so she’ll be waiting a long time unless she orders the print version straight from me.) I was getting a little down about that, but then Andrew, another kind fellow, said that though he’d prefer paper, failing that, he’d be ordering the ebooks anyway. Change happens, but not on my schedule.

And then there is traditional publishing’s inertia. It’s slowing, like a big ship that’s lost power but still has momentum in the Zeitgeist Sea. This afternoon I listened to the annual book recommendation show on CBC’s Cross Country Checkup. Dozens of callers recommended which books to buy for Christmas. Not a single ebook was in the mix. The CBC demographic either skews toward a generation that hasn’t bought its Kindles or iPads yet, or the resistance to the ebook revolution is so entrenched that we won’t see the CBC recommendations change until a cataclysmic shift, like Chapters closing its brick and mortar outlets. (For reasons I’ve already covered on this blog, that’s in the works, but it’s a process and won’t happen overnight. The change is as easy to predict as the contraction of HMV and the fall of Blockbuster, however.)

Another prejudice for us to overcome is the giggle factor. “Self-published?” (I covered that subject a week ago so I’ll not delve further into that.) But I face another giggle factor: my title is Self-help for Stoners, Stuff to Read When You’re High. An acquaintance saw my business card and said, “Stoner? You?” I replied that I had indulged. I also told him that many of my stories of suspense have elements of violence and murder. “The research for that…” I grinned, “well, let’s just say you’re worrying about the wrong thing, pal.”

I added that you didn’t have to be a stoner to enjoy my stories (though my standard joke is that anyone who is high is automatically a better audience…for anything.) Still, no sale there. He walked away worrying about my immortal soul and questioning what he thought he knew about me. (Answer: I’m complex. Like Batman. Okay?!)

In part, I chose Self-help for Stoners for cold and calculated strategic marketing reasons. It wasn’t just that it fit the book. Many titles might have fit the book. However, I had a short fiction collection (a difficult sell) that was a weird hybrid. I knew going in this would be a self-help book in the form of fiction. The fact that the book was inspired by two celebrity stoners to whom I dedicated the book also played a major role in my choice. For that collection I reached back to a non-MFA approved format: Amid the short stories and brain tickles, it’s kind of preachy. On purpose, it’s fiction that packs a point as well as a gut punch. Kind of like Vonnegut, it’s plot driven and yet there are forays into stories that invite the reader to introspection. It’s preachy in the same way The War of Art* is preachy: consciously and on purpose and without apology.

To the surprise of some, the book has nuance in that I do not advocate throughout for marijuana use for everyone. It’s not for everyone, but free speech and free thought and control over one’s own consciousness are things I do advocate throughout the book. This is a book that will have to find its audience or its audience will find it. However, I don’t regret the title. Collections of short fiction, and the weird hybrid this is, are a tough sell no matter how wonderful I think short stories are. They’re so tough, in fact, that I’m done with short fiction for a long time. The next books will all be novels. However, since stoners are a reading, identifiable market, I tailored many of the stories from Self-help for their enjoyment. (Yes, stoners are readers and are often an intellectual bunch. Don’t believe the hyped stereotype of a bunch of dumbasses blitzed on a beach. That’s alcohol.) My people will find me, either through my friends, my networks, social media or through my podcast of the same name. For any book to be successful, ultimately it will have to found through good reviews, excited readers and Google.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

1. Choose your title carefully. In the long term, targeting an identifiable niche will help me. In the short term, it’s uphill slogging.

2. Get a good cover. We’re told we’re not supposed to judge books by their covers, but of course we do. I did my cover for a novelette (The Dangerous Kind). I liked the cover well enough because it was for a 10,000 word story I’d sell as a loss leader for 99 cents. In retrospect, I’d ask Kit Foster, my graphic designer, to do that cover now. I recognize the elements that go into a great cover but I can’t create one. I have no idea how Kit does his magic. I just know that I get a lot of compliments about how good the covers are for Self-help for Stoners and Sex, Death & Mind Control.

3. Have a strategy. I named the book strategically, but perhaps more important, I named the podcast strategically, too: It has the same name. In the long run, I’ll probably find more people through the Self-help for Stoners podcast (delivered free and weekly through iTunes) than any other strategy I plan to use (except one.)

4. Don’t be a jerk, but don’t be too shy, either. Keep asking for help spreading the word. Just be sure you give lots of positive content beside the occasional request for reviews, shares and assistance. It’s not begging when you’re giving more than you’re receiving. It’s quid pro quo, the basis of all civilization.

5. You noticed the end of point three and you wondered, “What’s that about?” What’s the ‘except one?’ The best strategy is to keep on writing the next book and the next and the next. Revise and edit the hell out of them. After about book five, you have a better shot at getting noticed.

It’s a process. It doesn’t tend to happen quickly until a critical mass of forays— failing, learning and winning— are traveled through. I’m on my journey and these are exciting times at Ex Parte Press. Last week, I finally got the print formatting done for Self-help for Stoners by calling in the cavalry (thanks to Jeff Bennington). This weekend my graphic designer (the inimitable Kit of KitFosterDesign.com) and I finalized the cover for the paper book. Kit even put a new logo together for me (pictured above right). Some things are coming together, but a lot more is not. It’s a learning experience. Some day I’ll look back and say these scary times were the most exciting.

 

*And by Thor and all that’s holy, if you’re a writer and you haven’t read The War of Art yet, do!

Filed under: Books, ebooks, Publicity & Promotion, Rejection, What about Chazz?, What about you?, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , ,

In writing dialogue, what sounds real?

This week, as I listened to some NPR folks talk about writing on a podcast called Culturetopia, I found myself getting agitated. They were coming down hard on Diablo Cody for her dialogue in Juno. The

Diablo Cody, writer of the film Juno

Image via Wikipedia

complaints were variations on a theme: teens don’t talk like that. They grudgingly admitted that some of the dialogue was funny, but added it was the actors’ charm that sold dialogue that wasn’t “real.” (Whatever this reality thing is…but that’s another post in which I discuss quantum physics, multiple earths and Twinkies.)

How charming do these critics imagine actors can be if they’re mute? Do they really believe the charm oozes off the screen just because actors walk onscreen? (In my experience, that only happens in porn where dialogue is tertiary. Primary? Looks. Secondary? Action (and, equally, the presence of umbrellas open indoors…but that’s my fetish.) In so-called real life and on film, actors have to speak the lines in the script (and possibly throw in some improv) to sell a performance. JK Simmons is a great actor. But if he played the dad in Juno as a mime bereft of Cody’s dialogue, I would have to kill him. (As is my mission with all mimes.) What I’m saying is, Juno as a silent movie wouldn’t work nearly so well for me.

There are so many lines from that comedy I loved:

“It’s a pilates machine.” 

“Great! What’s it make?”

And the teenage mother played by the wonderful Ellen Page tossing off the reaction of her peers to her advancing pregnancy:

“They call me the cautionary whale.”

Cody’s critics were even cheering her “failure” with her second movie, Jennifer’s Body, to teach her humility (presumably so she can write another, more banal movie that’s not so threatening to their self-image and worldview.)

There are three answers to this line of attack on Diablo Cody:

1. It was a comedy. Lighten the fuck up.

2. “Teens don’t talk that way”: Really? All teens? Everywhere? Ever? Every teen and every adult must conform to one sound, one point of view, one CLICHE?! Ellen Pages’ character was a smart, glib kid who spoke in one-liners. Sometimes I speak in one-liners and the only writer working for me is me. Maybe the critics don’t know any smart people who are funny at the same time. They need to meet more comics because that’s what some of them can sound like on and offstage. Maybe after giving up her baby to Jennifer Garner, Juno went off to work the Comedy Store. Or she took up particle physics. Funny and smart at the same time is possible, at least in the form of Juno.

3. Critics: Don’t be so damn churlish. I’m thinking of two words. The second word is “you.” The first word is not “thank.”

Filed under: publishing, Rant, Rejection, reviews, scriptwriting, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , ,

How to tell when criticism is unreasonable

"Do not feed the Trolls" sign. Photo...

Image via Wikipedia

Recently I read a blog post that angered me and broke my heart a little. When we dare to express ourselves, there’s always going to be someone who disagrees, doesn’t like it and thinks you’re stupid. Some people aren’t shy about letting you know how they feel and are pretty blunt about it. Constructive criticism is helpful criticism, administered gently. Awhile back I got a nice note about an edit that needed to be done on my other blog. The guy pointed out the problem and couldn’t have been sweeter about it. As a result, I went out of my way to help him in turn. Then there are those other people.

How to tell when criticism is unreasonable:

1. They focus on you instead of the issue. People who start out by insulting you aren’t helping. They want to feel good about themselves by putting you down. Call them a name in turn: Troll!

2. They go on at length and overstate your grammatical sins. That’s someone who has too much time on their hands. (See #1)

3. They talk about their work and its relative superiority. Some people actually take this tac to ask for business. They want to sell their editing or consulting service and their approach is a frontal assault on why you suck.Don’t encourage bad behavior by rewarding it.

4. They treat finding fault as a moral victory. If they wanted to be helpful, they’d just point out the problem and move on.

5. They’re wrong. An english teacher once tried to convince me that the you effect the affect instead of the other way around. She wasn’t going to be convinced otherwise, either. After all, she was a teacher, not a learner.

6. If this is someone you know, instead if an acquaintance or an anonymous internet troll, have you noticed that person is hypercritical about everything? Consider the source.

7. They quibble over stylistic stuff that could go either way. When I worked at Harlequin, we often got letters from readers applying for jobs. A common tactic was to criticize books for perceived failings in proofing. The approach never worked for two reasons: It was insulting to the staff and the complainer/job applicant was annoyed with all the British spelling in lines that were meant for British markets. (See #5)

8. They tell you publicly what they could have told you privately. Instead of setting out to embarrass you publicly on Facebook, they could have just sent you a kind private message to let you know you screwed up. That tells you where they’re coming from. They’re out to show off how clever they are at your expense. Not a friend.

Writers produce. A lot.

(And yes, I know that’s a sentence fragment. Actually, I’m quite fond of sentence fragments, so there.)

We write so much that, inevitably, problems will emerge.

Typos and missing words and miscellaneous issues will appear. We’re writers, but also human, I’m afraid. Follow anyone around all day with a tape recorder and eventually, they’ll say something dumb. Stuff gets missed and mixed up in speech and in writing. Recently, President Obama got the number of states in the union wrong. Does anybody really believe Obama doesn’t know there are fifty states in the United States?*

Well…some people would believe that. That’s someone else you should ignore.

*There are 50, right? Gee, I hope I got that right! Otherwise, I’ll deserve hot pokers under my eyelids and a solid whipping and I’ll never, ever write anything again and I’ll be ever-so-grateful to the person who saved me from myself and my horrible, horrible mistakes! I’m not worthy! I am worm sweat and trolls are all oh-so-very-smart! How do these demigods bear breathing the same air as the rest of us mere mortals?

Okay. That might have been a bit over-the-top, unreasonable criticism in the form of unnecessary sarcasm.

Filed under: DIY, getting it done, grammar, publishing, Rejection, reviews, Writers, writing tips,

Is your fiction “just made up”?

Recently I heard an author complain about a poet because she hadn’t done any research. The poetry was about prostitutes, their struggles and how they reacted to being raped. No interviews! No research! Worse, the poet had made the (hyper)critical error of not actually being a raped prostitute herself. The poet simply made up a story for her poem based on her own imagination. No, I haven’t read the poems, but I don’t think I need to know the details of particular human tragedy to extrapolate the feelings of violation that must entail. I’ve read a lot of fiction that was clearly “just made up”, but the writers I love still strike a common chord of humanity that spur me to cry, get angry and get engaged.

The writer was disgusted with the poet because she “just made up” her fictive poetry.

“Beyond the pale!” she said.

I’m skeptical of proponents of research, especially if it falls into the category of “exhaustive.” It’s not that knowing your stuff is a bad thing. It’s that knowing your stuff can often lead to recording instead of creation. (Sometimes military thrillers beat you over the head with the research so hard, you’d think the serial numbers on the missile casing is more important than the nuclear warhead exploding over Miami.) For me, the authenticity of the enjoyment of the writing — the feelings stirred — trump the details of the particular brand of cigarette available in certain cities at certain times. Which is a fancy way of saying I don’t give a shit as long as the story is plausible within its own world. For instance, do all prostitutes read Proust? It’s probably not required reading, but you could easily convince me one prostitute reads Proust if you can write a convincing context.

Is it necessarily better fiction because it springs directly from the real world? Kevin Bacon went back to high school for a day before filming Footloose, for instance. Do you think that was crucial to performing what was already in the script? And if the writer of the script hadn’t grown up in a repressed town that outlawed dancing, would Footloose be any less awesome? (I refer here, of course, to the original Footloose. There’s a remake, but I decree it shall not be discussed and anyone associated with that abomination can go shoot themselves in the face…I digress.)

There is a dangerous trend in fiction that many writers think is required. It goes like this: If you’re going to have anything to write about, you have to go have a lot of experiences, many of them bad. That’s the dry, sterilized version. In practice, it’s more like this: You can’t write about rehab unless you’re an alcoholic or a junkie first. Terrible life choices make for great writing, assuming you don’t kill yourself in stage one of the writing process in which you’re actively pursuing bar brawls each night. Unless you’ve experienced what you’re writing about, it’s not authentic enough.

And I call bullshit. It’s fiction. Make it up but make it seem real enough that I can suspend my disbelief. We all have human experiences and we can imagine pain and transfer it to the page. You’re experience doesn’t have to be exactly what you’re writing about. Otherwise, you’re not even writing fiction. That’s memoir.

About fictive memoir (since this case inevitably springs to mind): Some people bought into the overhyped nonsense around A Million Little Pieces because James Frey fictionalized some of his “memoir” of addiction (after first shopping it around as a novel.) Nobody gives David Sedaris a hard time for doing the same thing to very humorous effect. Also, a lot of people also said that A Million Little Pieces helped them kick their addictions, even though some of it wasn’t real. Placebos often work on people, even when they know it’s a placebo, so what’s the harm in a book that’s 80% correct to the facts of one junkie’s life and 100% true to the feelings of thousands?

I have censored myself when my fiction didn’t pass my personal standard for believability. I admit I have recently dumped two short stories involving military personnel because, though I grew up around the military, I’ve never been in the military. I just wasn’t confident enough that I had the details quite right. I was writing about people, but I didn’t think the environment they swam in was there to deftly suspend disbelief. However, I have written stories from the perspective of old Asian men, a little girl, an autistic boy, adult women and a gay dinosaur.

For the record, I have never been a gay dinosaur

(not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

A few years ago a group within PEN Canada insisted no one could write about the minority female experience except minority female authors. I think that idea kind of fizzled because of the unrealistic limits (and ghettoization) such a policy could lead to. First, it was censorship, which most writers are against and (Thank Zeus!) there wasn’t a way to enforce the decree, anyway. Second, its logical conclusion was that black women could never write about white men. We would all have to conform to our stereotypes and human beings are way more variable than our stereotypes. After a short hullabaloo, the idea lost traction. Shakespeare, after all, was not Italian and never saw Verona.

We’re often told “write what you know.” That would leave a lot of sci-fi and fantasy out of our lives. Instead, I suggest you write what you care about. Write what you can make me believe. If someone doesn’t think you did a good job of recreating their real experience, they can go ahead and write their memoir so the heroine smokes the authentic brand of cigarette (good for Writer 1, but I’m fairly certain I still won’t give a shit.)

Fiction is a work of the imagination.

It’s our job as writers to make it believable.

It’s our job as readers to get into the spirit of the art instead of looking for things to bitch about.

Filed under: authors, censors, censorship, movies, Poetry, publishing, Rant, Rejection, writing tips, , , , , , , , ,

Your No Apologies Tour: What’s your Twitter ratio?

Follow me on Twitter logo

Image via Wikipedia

Many people on Twitter make a big deal about unfollowing anyone who tries to sell them something.

That’s screwed up.

I wish I could remember where I saw it so I could give the glory to the Google+ person who came up with this powerful observation:

“I’m amazed at the number of people who don’t understand what spam is,” she said. “The definition seems to have expanded to include anything you don’t want to read.”

Some people have a problem with being asked for something (even when there’s no obligation to read, to buy or even to acknowledge the attempt to sell a product or service.) It’s not enough for some people to simply refuse to read the commercial link. They get self-righteous and announce they are unfollowing anyone who dares try to sell them something.

That attitude casts aspersions on my intent. The first salesperson who trained me told me two things I’ll never forget: He said “ZZ Top is right. Girls do go crazy for a sharp-dressed man,” and “I’m not here to sell anyone anything. I’m here to help them buy.”

Okay, let’s grant that I’m a pig if all I do is pester you to buy, buy, buy! Agreed. But what’s the corollary? What’s your responsibility? I propose that you’re an ungracious snot if you can’t tolerate anyone who gives you the opportunity to check out something you might like (or even love.) 

If you say you value reading but get pissed if an author tries to get you to look at their book, that’s unfair. Not interested? Just don’t read it. Why get angry that someone tried to share their work with you? No one’s polluting your timeline. Just choose what you pay attention to without the drama. I don’t care for Carrot Top’s comedy. That doesn’t mean I have to hate his guts and declare a fatwa. I just change the channel (quickly!)

Does that mean Twitter should only be commercials? No, that wouldn’t be effective. Eventually you’ll tire everyone out. Some misguided fools use trickery or even make the mistake of trying to extort attention through Twitter and alienate people who could have helped them (see Eden Baylee’s weird experience below.) But if we can find a reasonable Twitter ratio of fun/information/helping others/even shameless self-promotion, there will be no need to apologize. Unless you’re royalty or a lottery winner, everybody serves somebody and we’re all selling something.

If you’re such a delicate doily that you can’t handle the mention of a blog post, a book or a service, just unfollow…just about everybody. Use Twitter as quick email among your friends and leave it at that (or don’t use it at all.) Don’t feel you have to announce you’re going, just go. The rest of us will take part in the world and try to feed ourselves off the proceeds of our labors.

What’s your Twitter Ratio?

How often do you tweet your blog link before you let it go? How much of your feed is commercials versus fun and informational? How often are you tweeting about other people’s work to help them meet their dreams? We give  and we get. If you resent it when someone asks for your attention, maybe your expectations are screwy. 

Maybe those people you despise aren’t pigs. Maybe you’re just dealing with reality poorly.

Filed under: Rant, Rejection, self-publishing, Social Media, Twitter, , , , ,

TOP 10: People (who are not fans)

Old marketing decreed:

Get everybody! Your sales quota must include all sentient species with a credit card in the known universe!

New world marketing responds:

Nope. Establish a base of just a bunch.

But the bunch has to be rabid and slavering for your next masterpiece, book, song, film, poem, service, comic, or sex toy.

In short, you need fans (as in fanatics.)

For self-publishers, everybody in your fan base starts out as a reader, but they won’t all join you on your journey and buy in to your revolution. A lot of people can’t even be bothered to cross the street to spit on you. Something I learned a long time ago was that I am not everyone’s cup of pee. (Note to non-fans: that’s a joke and a point, not a typo.) I learned that to build successful businesses or loving followings, I had to focus on the people who appreciate me and ignore the rest. Oddly, everyone knows the 80-20 Rule, but how many apply it to their lives?

Critics will sap you of time and energy if you pay them too much attention. A fellow writer got one bad review recently. All his reviews were overwhelmingly positive except for that one. That burned like a cigarette in the eye. That’s the key to understanding the dark side of Internet marketing. Yes, you can spread the word faster about a good thing. However, negative reviews can get a lot of attention, too, mostly from the author who serves as the critic’s target. In fact, several authors have observed a bandwagon effect among some reviewers and book bloggers. One bad review can lead to more bad reviews. Ironically, as Reena Jacobs observed recently, it may be worse not to be reviewed at all than to receive negative reviews. If readers love or hate your book, at least you’ve spurred a reaction. If you ignite no fire at all, that may be a bad sign.

Here’s what to keep in mind when you read something negative about your work:

1. People (who are not fans) are nastier on the net than they would ever dare in person. They aren’t talking to you as a person with feelings and aspirations. They’re having a conversation in their heads with the idiot they imagine you are. Cyberspace allows distance, anonymity and depersonalization. Your nice neighbour, that little old lady who gets your mail for you while you’re on vacation and bakes cookies at Christmas? If her favorite author kills off a regular series character, the old dear’s mind can curdle into that of a serial killer when she writes an Amazon review.

2. People (who are not fans) mistake your work for you and judge you along with the work. If one of your books, blog posts, comics etc.,… is not as good as the others (and inevitably that will be so) critics will make assumptions about you and your mental state. Don’t you mistake all of your work for you though. They’ll make it personal, but don’t fall for that trap. Unfortunately, because we wrap up the author’s persona with his or her book to sell it, we foster an absurd inseparability in people’s minds. For instance, when Deepak Chopra was on the road selling a natural health book and had the temerity to drink coffee (OH-MY-STARS-AND-GARTERS!) a reader tried to shame him for it. That little old lady was pissed.

3. People (who are not fans) are more likely to write something negative than positive. Look at all those letters to the editor in the newspaper. Not so many saying, “Good job!” are there? Now think of the five best books you’ve ever read. Go to Amazon. See those negative reviews of the books that changed your life? Are you starting to see the weight you should give negative reviews yet? This is a subjective business. Repeat that until it sinks in. (I’m still repeating it, too.)

4. People (who are not fans) say things for their own reasons that don’t necessarily have anything to do with you. Maybe they made a bad day and want to export it. Maybe junior high was tough and the Internet is where they get even with strangers. Review the beginning of the movie Wanted. Remember the “I’d feel sorry for you if you weren’t such a bitch, Janet” speech? Repeat as necessary. (If you’ve ever worked in a cubicle farm, that scene alone will make you leap off the couch and spill your Cheetos all over the floor.)

5. Maybe you gave the person (who is not a fan) a negative review and it’s payback time. Yes, this happens. Maybe you friended them on Facebook, but you weren’t fast enough about getting that friend confirmation done and they took offence. Who knows? Everyone take everything personally because we are all the stars of our own movies. This has nothing to do with your work, but your work gives an opportunity for nasty people to say something shitty. Some authors don’t read reviews at all because, they argue, “If I believe the good ones, I’d have to believe the bad ones, too.” These are very mature people I can’t relate to. I don’t personally know anyone with that much self-control. I envy their sagacity.

6. Negative reviews are easier to write than positive reviews. Snark is easy. Snark is even funny sometimes, but mean’s no good. And if you’re going to be at all mean, you better be twice as smart as you are mean. For instance, I enjoy listening to Slate’s Culture Gabfest podcast….but sometimes I wonder, “Do these people ever like anything?” People (who are not fans) enjoy being clever at your expense. That does not necessarily equal constructive criticism. Maybe it’s just bitchy. Or stupid or wrong. Or all three. In this part of the equation, it’s not about you or your work. It’s that some people’s only creative outlet is criticism. Some fleas think they are driving the dog.

7. People (who are not fans) hope you’ll fail so they can feel better about their failures…or that they failed to try at all. Doing nothing at all is a great way to avoid criticism. Except for that pesky self-loathing and the long darkness before dawn when the demons come to torture your dreams and stifle your soul’s breath. (Yes, I’m saying that being a loser is like sleep apnea and all the implied dangers of heart disease but without the medical attention and sympathy from friends and family.)

8. People (who are not fans) don’t have enough going on in their lives, but they’ve got lots of time to focus on you. Otherwise, why the hyperbole about how bad your book is? I love books, but it’s just a book review, not the Nuremberg trial. The way some reviewers go on, you’d think trying and failing to entertain or educate or pass the time was a hanging offence. Another friend got a bad review recently. The ebook she gave out was free. The level of criticism did not match the critic’s financial and emotional investment. This author was wise enough to ignore the naysayer because she knew the guy wasn’t in her fan base and never would be. So what? There are plenty of readers out there to be converted to your peculiar brand of evil jocularity.

9. People (who are not fans) may be right. Maybe you do suck. But you can’t think that and succeed. You can only try to do better. Forgive yourself. You are a work in progress. “Books are never finished,” Oscar Wilde said. “they are merely abandoned.” Only listen to the people you trust. There are too many variables in the skulls of strangers who are not your fans. Write to please yourself first and don’t listen to input from writers too much. To write is to do your thing. That’s one reason so many people keep writing despite insufficient recompense, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and their parents’ bitter disappointment. (On the other hand, if every review is negative except the one from Mom, rethink.)

10. People (who are not fans) can be fickle. Tim Ferris, author of The 4 Hour Body, observed that a fan base has two extremes. At the top are the people who will follow you down the mouth of a cannon. At the bottom are haters who want to fire you out of said cannon. Ferris feels that the people at the extremes can switch places. Do something too different and some former fanatics will resist the new direction and even become haters. Be unexpectedly nice to your enemies and a few may come around to decide you are a worthy human being after all.

Or you could say “Screw ’em!”,

focus on the people who do get you

and move along briskly.

If you read all the way to here and hated the post, why did you read this far? It was too long a post for that nonsense. I will never understand that about haters. Don’t they have shit to do?

If you loved this post and it came at just the right time and you couldn’t have done without it…thank you. I love you for a selfish and stupid reason: You love something I wrote.

Filed under: publishing, Rant, Rejection, reviews, self-publishing, web reviews, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Trampled Author’s Curse upon nasty reviewers

It’s time to say “yes” to something. Maybe even “YES!” 

Art is about saying yes. Making it, consuming it, enjoying it. Enjoying anything means saying yes to it. Whatever your art, it is a hopeful thing. Art affirms possibility. It may not be for everyone, but it is for someone.

This morning I read an article extolling the virtues of five self-published books. There were some nice comments and some lukewarm comments. What shocked me were the truly vile comments. I’m not kidding. Numerous commenters, no doubt bolstered by the anonymity of the Internet, went after the chosen indie books with a vehemence I’d expect for child molesters. Full of bile and blanket condemnations, quite a few whined about how bad the typos were or how only traditionally published authors were worth their time. (I can think of numerous traditionally published authors I’d never read, though I can think of none I’d condemn so harshly. That would make me the bad guy and a drama king.)

They weren’t just saying “No” or “No thanks.” They weren’t even saying “We’ll see.” They were knocking down the attempt. How dare theses people write their books and offer it on the market for 99 cents! One perversely claimed that these authors should pay the reader for their books. Considering anyone can read a hefty sample of any ebook before they buy it, the answer to that is a two-word answer. “And those two words are not “Thank you.”

People of No. They don’t interest me. They’re not passionate about literature. Passion yields sweeter fruit than this. That’s not conviction I’m smelling. Maybe those commenters are simply haters who enjoy trying to make others feel bad so they can feel good. Maybe they need therapy. Maybe they need a hug.

I love books. I don’t love all books. But I don’t hate the authors of the books I don’t like. That’s not a flaw in books. That’s a flaw in reviewers who take their comments too far. I just wanted to get this post up and out there before I have my ebooks available. I want the record to show I put this up before anyone tore into me. When I see such rudeness, I won’t be replying. I’ll just be sending a link to this post. And a mental hug for the sad perpetrator.

They’ll never make art of value because art is a creative juice, not poison.

They’ll never bring joy to others or allow it in themselves.

And that is The Trampled Author’s Curse upon our transgressors.

Filed under: authors, DIY, ebooks, Rant, Rejection, reviews, Writers, , , , , , , , ,

Don’t listen to writers too much

The phrase that pays.

Image by pirateyjoe via Flickr

When I first graduated from massage school, I visited new massage therapists all the time. Too often, I didn’t enjoy the experience much. I was too evaluative of each therapist to just lay back and receive the treatment in the spirit in which it was given. I wasn’t concentrating on the feeling of the massage, but on the mechanics. It took me some time to get past that mindset.

You see the same thing with editors sometimes, too. A bad editor jumps straight to corrections too fast without reading for story first. Typos are the last thing you correct in the story construction process. You need to look at the big blocks in the structure first to see how it holds together. Developmental editing always happens before detailed copy editing.

You shouldn’t listen too much to other writers for similar reasons. They see your work through a prism that doesn’t necessarily match ordinary reader expectations.

Writers are great people, but they usually aren’t your market. We sometimes forget that there are a lot of people in the world who have no literary ambitions. They don’t want to write a book. They just want to read a good story.

Writers are readers, but they aren’t typical readers. Writers look at your work differently. Writers are not  the average reader.

Among writers, there is a higher percentage of people who will pick apart your mechanics. Any grammatical variation from what they expected (and there are variations) will provoke more irritation than may be warranted. They will be the readers who skip from irritation at your typos to outrage, indignation and threats to take away your writer’s license and livelihood. Some will want to burn down your house.

Writer friends and editors can help you develop your work, improve and self-publish. But because of the way we are wired, we might not enjoy your work as much as typical readers will.

BONUS: 

I’m networked with a lot of great writers who help me a lot. I like them, appreciate them and thank them.

However, you’ll run into some writers who are so competitive, they do not wish you well.

Either through jealousy or the misconception that your success takes something away from them, they want you to fail.

Watch out for the hypercritical, the rabid grammarians, the perfectionists, the haters and snipers. They mistake their subjective taste for law all the time.

By the way, I wish you every success.

Filed under: publishing, Rant, Rejection, writing tips, , , , , , ,

Winner of Writer's Digest's 2014 Honorable Mention in Self-published Ebook Awards in Genre

The first 81 lessons to get your Buffy on

More lessons to help you survive Armageddon

All the dark fantasy fun of the first three books in the Ghosts & Demons Series for one low price.

"You will laugh your ass off!" ~ Maxwell Cynn, author of Cybergrrl

You never know what's real.

Available now!

Fast-paced terror, new threats, more twists.

An autistic boy versus our world in free fall

Suspense to melt your face and play with your brain.

Action like a Guy Ritchie film. Funny like Woody Allen when he was funny.

Jesus: Sexier and even more addicted to love.

Write to live

For my author site and the Chazz network, click the blood spatter below.

See my books, blogs, links and podcasts.

I interview the people you need to get to know.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 10,691 other followers

%d bloggers like this: