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

Write and publish with love and fury.

Author Blog Challenge 21: My Top 20 Best (Worst?) Advice for Authors

Обкладинка книги "Над прірвою у житі"

Обкладинка книги “Над прірвою у житі” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1. Be weird. Draw outside the lines. Live larger. Be different. If you can’t dare to be a little strange, or stranger, you sound too much like everyone else and there’s quite enough of that. Does your book’s title sound like all the other titles in its genre? Yes? You’re already boring me, mate, and I say that with love. Be three times more daring and ten times more clever.

2. Don’t write what you know. If we all did that, where would science fantasy be? Instead, write what you care about. You’ll get enough research to fill in the holes if you care enough to give your story verisimilitude. It’s always more about relationships, characters and action than it is about the guts of your ship’s stardrive engines, anyway.

3. Lose your thesaurus. You don’t need more words to tell me the story. The right words are the ones that come to you right away. If you use the word “epigonation”, you’re showing off and annoying your reader. A stupid thing to do, especially when you wanted to sound more intelligent. That must have been your aim because, unless you are sending your books back through a time tunnel to the time of Christ, you certainly weren’t trying for clarity in your reader’s mind.

4. Spam me. I don’t mind you telling me about your books one bit. I might be interested and I like to know what my options are. If you hit me over the head too much, of course I’ll ignore or unfollow you, but that doesn’t mean you should be silent. That means be clever and funny and engaging and giving most of the time. Lights are not for hiding under bushels. Light that bushel on fire and throw illumination.

5. Get into fights on the Internet. If you are getting along with everyone all the time, you’ve either got nothing to say or you’ve got no spine. Neither attribute attracts me to what else you might have to say within your book. I’m not advocating douchebaggery or fighting for fighting’s sake. Instead, have the courage to disagree with idiots while pretending to be civil and acting as if you don’t want them dead. We all know the truth.

6. Tell, don’t show. I know, I know. Somebody’s head just exploded and no amount of repainting ever covers up that mess. However, in grown up writing class, we encounter circumstances where telling is sometimes more appropriate. It saves the reader time and skips over stuff the reader doesn’t care about so we can get to the good stuff. Be more Elmore Leonard. Be less mime. Tell when you need to. Show when you need to. There aren’t rules, only guidelines. Learning all the rules before you break them? Sounds like a waste of time on a detour, doesn’t it? Instead, just write what works and stop mucking about.

7. Strangle your strict inner grammarian. If you write for clarity, that will cover most grammar rules, anyway. Some people are still holding on to stuff from eighth grade simply because it’s what they learned in eighth grade. The rest of us are splitting infinitives with wild, naked abandon, ending sentences with prepositions and using the word “hopefully” like a normal human (i.e. technically historically wrong) — and we don’t care. And sentence fragments? Rock! Common parlance trumps grammar. If it didn’t, none of us would communicate the way we do now. Strict grammarians fantasize about a language that isn’t organic and instead is frozen in amber from Dickensian England. They’re nuts. If language could freeze (and therefore die), we’d all still be angry cave people, grunting and pointing like New Yorkers in a Brooklyn deli.

8. Stop rewriting. I’m talking about your first chapter. You’re never going to get your book finished that way. Plunge! Get your atomic turbines to speed, Batman! Write and keep moving forward. Write like I’ll chase you in my Mustang with a twelve-gauge full of rock salt if you don’t finish two chapters tonight. (Because I will.) Rewriting is for later. A first chapter, endlessly written  and rewritten to perfection, does not a book make. Rewriting too soon is a formula for you, drooling on your deathbed, wondering if you should have taken out that comma on page three, and then put it back one more time before all trace of your existence is erased and there’s no book as evidence you ever were, you zero legacy stiff!

9. Stop reading old classics and start watching more movies and reading more comic books. Your english professor thinks Hemingway is the shit because that’s what he was taught in 1980. This is generational data lag. If you insist on classics, read: Crime and Punishment (so dates will think you’re deeper than you are); Hemingway’s short stories (not his novels); Portnoy’s Complaint to instil the value of a sense of humour in literature (a rare thing, that); A Confederacy of Dunces (for douchebag cred with hot Lit. majors at the dean’s cocktail parties and the nerdy chick at the bookstore) and Catcher in the Rye (in case the writing thing doesn’t work out and you turn to the next logical career choice: serial killer.) And nothing at all from Ayn Rand. Nothing! You have nothing to learn from her unless you’re going for what not to write, do, think or be.

Why movies and comic books? Because you need to make your storytelling more visual. (Hint: If most of your “action” takes place in a suburban living room much like your own, think harder. If you’re writing a certain kind of literary fiction that demands domestic ennui and the reader’s patience (yes, the reader — as in one reader — your mom), at least spice it up somehow. Make your main character do their sensitive contemplation by the river (so they can fall in or throw themselves in or get thrown in by a helpful plot enhancer). Or put them in the kitchen, next to the handy knife block so we get a sense that something might actually happen. Events must occur!

10. Stop writing huge, ambitious books. Write shorter books and make it a series so you have hope of making some money.

11. Write for the money. You think love and passion will get you through a whole book? No. There will come a time when you hit a wall, figuratively and literally, with your manuscript. Maybe you won’t want to do one more draft or you won’t have the energy to get up early and write another chapter. Screw that weak, loser talk. If you’re writing with the hope you’ll make some money some day, you get up. You’ll go the extra clichéd mile to yank out the clichés from your manuscript like black, seething tumours. Your kid wants to see Disney before she’s too tall for the rides. Your other kid wants to finally get an iPod for his birthday since he’s the last of his friends to get one. (Ooh, that one hits close to home.) Write for money because you need it. Write for money because, if it’s just a pleasant hobby, what’s at stake when the going gets rough?

12. Pay attention to how much better every other indie author is doing than you. Get angry, envious and jealous of those talentless, lucky hacks. The reasons are similar to #11. Take your ugly motivation wherever you can find it. (Notice I just told instead of showed — #6 — and you didn’t mind.)

13. Put references to popular culture in your books. Traditional publishers always eschewed that in manuscripts.  That’s why you have to infer so much about pop culture from old novels instead of knowing specifically what people paid attention to. The worry was that contemporary references to movies and issues would date the book. I can’t imagine why. What’s modern now will be a period piece in the future. So what? They might sell more books if they paid attention to what served the story and what was most entertaining instead of sticking to rules from from Lit. 101. (See #9) It works for John Locke’s readership.

14. Stop confusing process with product (Part 1). Neo-Luddites who wax poetic about the feel of a paper book are fetishizing the medium of dead trees over the book’s content and are possibly high on glue from all that sniffing. For people who claim they value the written word so much,  they seem overly concerned about the package it’s wrapped in. It’s fine to prefer a paperback to an ebook, but expect to pay more for the privilege and, by Thor’s hammer, stop whining to authors of ebooks about your fetish! When’s the last time you went out of your way to tell a used car salesman you think he’s shifty even though you weren’t buying a car from him anyway? What purpose does complaining serve if you never intend to buy our books? If you don’t want ebooks, then don’t buy them and don’t feel you have to tell me about it. We’re getting creeped out. (Alternative: buy my paperbacks, too.)

15. Stop confusing process with product (Part 2). Last week somebody called someone else a hack because he advocated writing fast. (No, it wasn’t me who was called out, though I have advocated writing faster if you’re up for it.) It’s the writing snob’s equivalent to a George Carlin joke: “Anybody driving slower than you is an idiot and anyone driving faster is a maniac!”

The mistaken subtext here is to think that anyone writing more quantity than you must be suffering in the Quality Assurance Department of the Writer’s Brain. Consider that A. Slow writing is no guarantee of quality, either. B. What counts is the end product, not the speed with which it arrived. (The slow writing advocate in this case admitted she hadn’t actually read any of The Speedy Author’s books, so she was letting her ass talk too much, wasn’t she? C. If someone else can write faster than you and you resent them for it, that might be jealousy talking. (See #12) Or D. Maybe you just aren’t as smart as The Speedy Author, you prejudiced dummy.

16. Wait for inspiration before you write because less competition would be great for me. Oh. For you? Not so much.

17. Offend your family. Disguise them, but use them. If they didn’t want you to use all of that useful childhood trauma, they should have been nicer when they had the chance. That time you got locked in the closet after the unjust beating? That’s rich writerly soil, right there. Rename your brother Larry so he’s Harry in the book. That ought to do it. Larry’s a moron.

18. Start building your author platform long before you need it and don’t whine that it’s hard. Your book is a loudspeaker. Without a platform, your loudspeaker is pointed at empty stands in a cavernous stadium. You don’t want to do this. Why do you think that matters?

19. In fact, hey, that’s another rule! No whining, period! Nothing worth doing is going to be easy. Besides, it’s unattractive. I once stopped watching a blog because a writer felt people weren’t grateful enough for her words. Gratitude is great (see yesterday’s author blog challenge post, below) but demanding unending thanks when you really haven’t done that much in the first place is petty narcissism. Writing professionally is about generous narcissism.

20. Stop reading Writers Digest and Publishers Weekly. There’s nothing in a paper magazine you can’t get in pixels faster and cheaper. WD is a holdover from traditional publishing and that’s why their advice is still weighted toward agents and the New York cadre. Those are lengthy pursuits with questionable ends that eat up your life. It’s procrastination in the guise of relevance and productivity. It’s patriarchal, systemic paralysis by matriarchal, editorial analysis. Chasing slush pile dreams is what my friend, author Al Boudreau, refers to as “dinosaur hunting”. (Brilliant, yes?)

As for all that crap in Publishers Weekly that spouts everything you need to know about traditional publishing? That’s all stuff you never need to know before you have a book written and probably not even then. What possible difference could knowing the industry make when they only ever talk to themselves? They talk too much about trad publishing because that’s where the ads come from. It’s incestuous, out of date and out of touch. If you want to know something about publishing that’s not out of date, read Konrath and Dean Wesley Smith and Passive Guy and Russell Blake and Jeff Bennington or even (for the love of Thor) this blog’s curations for that matter.

BONUS TIP: Instead of listening to the dinosaurs who refuse to see the meteor coming, be a contrarian. Contrarians are more interesting.

Wait.

What do you mean, you agree? What kind of contrarian are you, listening to some twit you don’t even know telling you, “My Top Twenty Best (Worst?) Advice for Authors”? As if I’m preaching the bloody sermon on the Mount! What kind of nonsense is that? Go ahead and write and make your own mistakes and write your own rules.

This blog post was for, as they say, “entertainment purposes only.”

Does anybody really learn anything much from another person’s mistakes?

For anything that really matters, you have to make those life altering mistakes for yourself.

I’m not your dad. I’m another writer, tap dancing for change.

Filed under: publishing, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Stats on literacy & the literary: Books aren’t that important

42% of university graduates never read another book after they graduate.

Whoa! Wh-wh-what now?!

Yes, you read that correctly. When it comes down to it, books aren’t all that important to a staggering number of people. 

I’ve found several scary statistics for this post, but that 42% bugs me most. Those are people who can read, but choose not to.

I used to think that once you made someone a reader, you had them for life. Not so!

Like you, I’m a big fan of books, of course. But this post is about perspective and where we stand in the flood of things to do.

1. Market fragmentation: There’s a lot going on. Literally. I don’t watch TV much anymore. I used to schedule my life around television programming. I could read more books in a week, but I don’t because I also make time to listen to a lot of podcasts. So many websites call my name. Plus, I have a lot to do. With so many demands on my time, a lot gets curated. I use the word curation here as a synonym for “flushed.” I filter out a lot of things I don’t have time to read, watch and listen to. (Also, I’m on Team Coco, so Leno’s banished and cursed.) There are only so many waking hours in a day, and, frankly? I’ve got more free time than most people do.

2. Market skew: You only think you love all books. But you really love a small fraction of books, no matter how much you read. How many readers do you meet who say, “I read everything”? (Sarah Palin who was lying and has officially “authored” more books than she’s read.) My point is, niches are narrow. For instance, I love Chuck Palahniuk’s work and have read all of his books. I wouldn’t have to look very far to find someone who has read Fight Club. But I’d have to travel far to find someone else who has read them all. Chuck’s very successful, but he’ll just never have the market penetration of Hemingway because Hemingway is taught in schools. (In other words, a lot of high school and college kids are forced to read Hemingway. Snuff, a book about a porn shoot,  won’t make it into many curricula.)

As an author, you’re going to meet a lot of readers, but sadly, they won’t be your market because you’re into A, B, and C and they’re into X, Y, Z.

Worse? They’ll sneer at you for it because people don’t make any distinction between what’s to their taste and what’s good.

3. We say we’re a society that values reading and education. But we don’t. Here’s a few illiteracy statistics to blow your brain around: About three in five of America’s prison inmates are illiterate. The cost of illiteracy to business and the US taxpayer is $20 billion per year. More than 20 percent of adults read at or below a fifth-grade level – far below the level needed to earn a living wage. 44 million adults in the U.S. can’t read well enough to read a simple story to a child. Nearly half of America’s adults are poor readers, or “functionally illiterate.” They can’t carry out simple tasks like balancing check books, reading drug labels or writing essays for a job. 21 million Americans can’t read at all. 45 million are marginally illiterate and one-fifth of high school graduates can’t read their diplomas.

4. Number 3? That’s about people who can’t read. But many people just don’t: The average reader spends about 1/6th of the time they spend reading actually rereading words.* One-third of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives. 80 percent of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year. 70 percent of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years. 57 percent of new books are not read to completion. 70 percent of books published do not earn back their advance. 70 percent of the books published do not make a profit. (Source: http://www.JenkinsGroupInc.com)

5. If you’re self-published, a lot of people won’t read your stuff, perhaps because of prejudice fueled by bad experiences with the previous generation of self-publishing. Traditional publishers aren’t generally that much further ahead anymore, either. (See #3 and #4.) Bookstores (remember them?) are reluctant to stock the self-published. They don’t even have space for traditionally published midlist authors anymore, let alone the indie unwashed masses. And newspapers? (They used to be on paper and very profitable. Ask your parents.) Newspapers still don’t review the self-published. We’re also shut out of many literary awards so there’s not much notoriety gained there. That situation will change, but not soon. We may have to wait for a bunch of old school book critics to die.

Great, now your depressed. So what do we do about it? Well, first, think about these stats and honestly evaluate your chances as an author. This post is essentially a test. If you think about your chances (for realsies!) and are still undeterred, congratulations! There is no hope for you. You’re doomed to take your shot at a life in letters. This choice is, for most writers, really no choice at all. Many of us will fail. A few of us would have been great at something else. Some are a great loss to the fields of animal husbandry and the manufacture of novelty chattering teeth toys.

We choose to write books despite the scary stats. Somewhat perversely, we may choose to write books because of those scary stats! If we can write books people want to read, maybe we can save humanity and turn things around. (I think JK Rowling got not a few kids reading who otherwise might not have.)

Kurt Vonnegut wrote in A Man Without a Country:

“If you really want to hurt your parents, and you don’t have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is go into the arts.

I’m not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way to make life more bearable.”

(Kurt was the kind of wise-ass I love.)

 

I’ll leave you with something else positive to think about. I heard Red State director Kevin Smith say this on a podcast recently:

“Surround yourself with Why Not? people.”

Too often you try to do your art and people say why? Forget them and go do your thing. 

I mean…why not? 

*All the stats above the asterisk can be found at readfaster.com.

Filed under: Books, publishing, self-publishing, , , , , , , ,

Writers: The short form is roaring back

Ernest Hemingway's Grave

Image by gharness via Flickr

I met The Fab Rebecca Senese (I think of her as TFRS at all times) at the Writers’ Union symposium. We went to Tims and went through that excited decompression phase. You know the one. It’s where you are packed with new information to mesh and meld with your old data and you talk fast to get it all out and solidify new, useful neuropathways.

She made an observation that really got my attention:

Amid the hubbub, TFRS said that e-books were a sure opportunity for the short form to make a strong comeback. Got a short flight or need a distraction over lunch? Read a short story or two. If you just want to gulp down a tale but don’t have time for a whole book, enjoy a novella after work.

Makes sense to me. I love short fiction. For instance, it’s a mystery to me why people say they love Ernest Hemingway‘s books, but I do like some of his short stories very much.

Short stories have been relegated to the back of the bus (read: unread literary journals.)

Until recently people have been buying books by weight, so publishers laughed at their puniness and demanded big doorstops they could sell. Length is an issue with paper, constrained as it is by the strictures of the printing press and bookstore manager’s expectations.

Novellas are ignored by many professional critics who often don’t take it seriously because they think the short punch packs less heft behind it. As if we all feel that way all the time.

A good short story takes talent to write and in some ways is a different skill set from the novel. (These critics must be those same twits who scoff at Twitter just because they can’t put together one clever coherent thought in less than 140 characters.)

Now with e-books, the answers to those objections are: Who needs publishers for that? What’s a professional critic and what is this “newspaper” thing you’re babbling about? And lit journals? What’s that? Is all this stuff available online?

Click this link to see  Rebecca Senese’s short fiction.

Please do take a look.

Filed under: authors, blogs & blogging, Books, ebooks, self-publishing, short stories, Twitter, Writers, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Ernest Hemingway’s Nobel Speech

Filed under: authors, Books, publishing, Writers, , , ,

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

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