Tag Archives: Chuck Wendig

Is it time to stop e-publishing?

Today looked a lot like Tuesday. There are school trips to volunteer for, evening meals to be planned before Karate, the washing has to go on…Tuesday stuff.

Just because it looks professionally printed, doesn't mean it makes sense...

Just because it looks professionally printed, doesn’t mean it makes sense…

But then I got to the computer and a friend had posted a link to Chuck Wendig’s latest post. Here it is:

http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2014/02/03/slushy-glut-slog-why-the-self-publishing-shit-volcano-is-a-problem/

Apologies for the profanity – it’s his, not mine, and it’s just the way he is, bless him.

I like Chuck’s posts, and I like his books. He writes in a way that sounds like a snarl, like the words come pouring out at speed, but I’ll bet he revises and works really hard on every sentence. In fact, since my e-copy of one of his books was published with some editing notes left in, I KNOW he does that.

Anyway, I like to read his books and his blog, and I usually find myself in agreement with what he says. In the case of e-publishing, what he tends to say is “There’s no problem with it, but since there are no Publishing House Editors, or agents involved, YOU have to be the guardian of the quality of your work.” There’s literally nothing stopping you typing a stream of consciousness novel and uploading it with a crayon drawing for a book cover.

In his latest article, Chuck argues that the very freedom that e-publishing has brought has clogged the virtual bookshelves. Finding decent books amongst the dross has become harder and harder, and many people are taking price points, or even the self-publishing aspect itself, a indicators of quality. You can see the logic – “I downloaded five $0.99 books, and all of them were terrible. I won’t bother with books that are sold so cheaply.” Or “Every self-pubbed book I’ve read has been riddled with mistakes. I’ll stick with traditional publishers from now on.”

The very first e-book I bought was “Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister”, by Gregory Maguire. It was for my Hewlett Packard iPaq, and it had some beautiful illustrations, as well as the text. That was a book that had recently come out through a traditional publisher. I later bought “The Hunger Games” and “Save the Cat!”. These books looked, on my e-reader/phone, just like they did in the stores.

Then I bought a book that was self published. The author had set up a small press, but was writing their own books as well as advising and publishing others. (No gender indication or clues here.) The book wasn’t good. The cover was pretty enough, looking more professional than amateur, but the story was unlikely. Within the first two chapters I was openly scornful of what I was being asked to accept, and I had already found upwards of ten spelling or grammatical mistakes. Although I had downloaded the book on a free offer, it was going on to charge around $7 per copy, and this was only the latest in  a series of books by this author. This book had been written by someone with experience, edited and proofread, and yet it was still a very bad book.

Perhaps the problem is identifying the difference between a bad book and books we don’t like. “On the Road” is held up as a classic novel. My Father-in-Law has two copies. I read it years ago and despised it. I found the characters unlikeable, their journey pointless and the whole book depressing. Does that make it a bad book? I don’t think so. I won’t read it again, but I know that other people reading it have found it to be marvelous and inspiring and so on. No one reads it and says “I hated all the spelling mistakes, and the main character’s name changes spelling three times through the book.” As a novel, it’s done properly, despite the author writing the whole thing on one continuous roll of paper. It’s been properly edited and proofread and packaged. It’s a good book, and I just don’t like it.

Compare that with other books I’ve read, where the story might have appealed, if it weren’t for the constant errors and formatting disasters that drag me out of the story and make me grind my teeth. It’s a bad book.

All these are things I thought of while reading Chuck’s blog today, and it made me think about the eight or nine e-books I have on Amazon. I’m giving one away currently, and it’s not setting the world aflame. The last few days I’ve been wondering if there was any way to get more people to download it, to review it, to tell their friends about it. And now, I’m considering removing it, along with all the others.

I like the books I’ve written. The collections of short stories were fun to produce, and writing longer things was a novel experience (heh heh heh!) But as I mentioned before, it’s been two years since I began putting my work up on Amazon, and in that two years, though some books have sold, I’ve not earned anything from them. And in addition to not earning, I’m adding to the heap of books people have to wade through to find what IS worth reading.

I wonder if it’s time to admit to myself that writing prose is only ever going to be a hobby, and if that’s the case, is it something I need to share with the world? My plays have a publisher and moderate success – they have a purpose, in that they are sold and performed all around the world, every month. I get an income from those sales, and people out there get plays to act in. But these e-books go out into the world and I worry that they don’t sell, even though I’ve told myself there’s nothing riding on those sales, that I’m just publishing for the fun of it. Well, that doesn’t feel like a worthwhile reason any more.

All this has more weight right now because I have few commitments this week – no library shifts until Saturday, just the one school trip to volunteer for today, and the laundry already more than half-done. I have the Romance Challenge novel standing at 7,500 words, and four days of writing might see most of a first draft completed. That would leave a week of half-days to finish and revise and publish before my self-imposed deadline of Feb 14th.

And then? Do I watch the stats for another e-book, telling myself it doesn’t matter if it sells, but wishing it would? Wouldn’t my time this week and next be better spent working on sketches and pays for TLC and planning Tiniest Weasel’s birthday, and something for Mrs Dim for Valentine’s Day?

It’s not that I’m thinking about stopping being a writer. That’s something I’ve thought about before and rejected, because I couldn’t stop being a writer. But maybe I can do without the extra worry of publishing e-books. If I’m finding my head full of short stories, I can write them down, but there’s no need to take them further, and if I do, there are always competitions out there, if you look hard enough.

Answers in the comments please – vote “Give it up!” or “Stick it out!” . Remember, the e-books were never meant to turn me into the next JK Rowling or Hugh Howey, so it shouldn’t be about financial success.

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The Books of November

I’m posting this a couple of days early, since I seem to have burnt out on books this month – the latest one is sat on my bedside table and I have no inclination to pick it up. It’ll go back to the library unread.

Part of the reason for that is that I’ve read a lot of good books this month and a lot that I didn’t enjoy at all. Well, maybe not a lot of those, but enough to leave a bad taste in my mouth.

Mrs Dim often pokes fun at me for not challenging myself more with my reading, but I’ve never seen it as something that was supposed to be a chore: Reading is entertainment, and one of the oldest entertainments at that. “Tell me a story!”. This month I’ve read stories that were well-told, certainly crafted, but were unsatisfactory, or even not worth the telling. That doesn’t mean they’re bad, of course. Some of them won awards, for Heaven’s sake! I’m sure they’re wonderful examples of the Great American Novel, or a superb tranche of the zeitgeist that permeates the literary underbelly of the modern pluralistic society. I just didn’t think they were much fun to read.

One of the issues that gets raised when people say that reviews and word of mouth are the ways to sell books these days, to tell which books are good, is the fact that every review is subjective. Some people are reviewing because they loved the book, because it touched something within them. That may not be true for the next person who reads the books. Some people review because they want to show other people how erudite and knowledgeable they are. Some people review because it’s a good way to get your name all over Amazon.

Just lately, I’ve found I’ve been leaving reviews on books I’ve read more to let the authors know I enjoyed their book, than to recommend them to others. Certainly the presence of a positive review is likely to help sales, but it’s mostly because I’ve experience the frisson of delight when a good review of my book is posted. Writers are a terribly insecure bunch of people, perpetually plagued by self-doubt. Having someone write positive things about your work on the internet is brilliantly reassuring.

Star Wars: Crucible – Troy Denning

I said last month I was going to have more fun reading this month. To start off the right way, I snagged the latest Star Wars offering as it crossed my desk at the library. With our heroes starting to show their age, this book feels a lot like a last hurrah for the original trio. After a chase across the galaxy and numerous fights, plus some deeply spiritual shenannigans at the end, there’s a speech that essentially says “Hey you kids, we’re going to take a back seat from now on, why don’t you guys go off and do the adventuring?” Since each book in the series features a timeline from the original movies and includes all the boooks along the way, you can calculate how old these characters are. If I was still flying a spaceship when I reached Han’s age in this book, I’d be well satisfied.

The 100 Year-Old man who climbed out of the window – Jonas Jonasson

There are some books with intriguing titles where the book doesn’t match the advertising. This one does. The story is brilliant, starting with the man in an Old Folks’ Home climbing out of his ground-floor window to avoid the dreadful 100th birthday party the place has organised for him. He encounters a young man at the bus stop who wants someone to mind a suitcase while he uses the toilet (which is too small to admit man and case) so the old man minds the case, but takes it with him when his bus arrives. The case is full of money.

That’s just the beginning of the fun, and that’s just the current day storyline. As the book continues, we learn about the old man’s past, and it’s as exciting and adventure filled as his modern day life dodging gangsters in pursuit of their money and police and elephants… Great fun.

Star Wars: Force Heretic 3 Reunion – Sean Williams and Shane Dix

I started reading this trilogy a while back and felt I ought to see it through to the end. The story is one of the building blocks of the end of the war with the Yuzhong Vong, as Executor Nom Anor builds a new power base against Shimra, and Luke and friends find the sentient planet Zonama Sekot. Best of all, Tahiri Veila manages to consolidate her divided mind, combining her Vong self and her human half into one personality. Which is nice.

WARP The Reluctant Assassin – Eoin Colfer

Eoin Colfer seems to be on something good. Having rounded off the Artemis Fowl series in fine style (finishing the last book with the opening lines from the first…) he churned out two adult adventures with blood, gore and mayhem in them, and now has introduced a new partnership who travel the timelines to foil villains. It’s a complex YA tale, with multiple betrayals and about turns, but features a cameo from the Battering Rams, originally mentioned in “Airman“. It’s got a great lead in teen FBI agent Chevron Savano and her new partner, Victorian thief and the Reluctant Assassin of the title, Riley.

No One noticed the cat – Anne McCaffrey

I’d never heard of this little book, despite being a fan of Anne MacCaffrey for twenty years. It’s a short tale about a Prince having to take the reins of his domain after the death of his wise and kindly Regent. The Prince is assisted by the cat his Regent left behind, a creature that doesn’t speak, or write messages, but nonetheless inspires the Prince to be better than he thinks he is, and to remember the lessons he was taught. It’s gentle but engaging.

Star Wars: Jedi Academy – Jeffrey Brown

Jeffrey Brown became famous for his “Vader and Son” books, but this wonderfully illustrated story is more than just a send-up. It tells the story of Roan, who desperately wants to go to the Starfighter Pilot Academy like his Dad and older brother, but he is rejected. Lucky for him, he’s invited to the Jedi Academy instead, but it’s not what he wants, he’s older than the other kids there, and he’s not sure he’s got what it takes to be a Jedi.

This is, in fact, a story about going to a new school, and it’s done with charm, humour and compassion. And excellent drawings.

Shift – Hugh Howey

I wrote recently about how much I had enjoyed listening to “Wool“, the first in the Silo Trilogy by Hugh Howey. Although that first volume comes to an end at an appropriate point, the story is far from over, and I had no doubt that I would get hold of the next in the series. “Shift” fills in some of the back story of the Silo, as well as moving on the current plot in a significant way. It answers a lot of questions about what Juliet finds in Silo 17 and the voices Bernard speaks to on the radio in the Server Room. Mrs Dim is currently working her way through the first book, and though she finds it compelling, the grim atmosphere is not helping to lighten her daily commute. I may have erred in recommending it to her…

Zoe’s Tale – John Scalzi

I had heard that this book simply mirrored the events of “The Last Colony” by showing them from Zoe’s point of view (Zoe is a character in the other book, but she isn’t the narrator, as she is in this one). While I did find several events familiar, it was interesting to follow the course of the story from another angle, and Zoe’s adventure does depart significantly from the other characters’ at one point. Also, her first love being killed (Ooops! Spoilers, sorry!) has more impact in this book than in the other, as here we view it first hand, just like we watched their affection grow into love.

It still didn’t bring the overall story to the point talked about in “The Human Division”, which I found a little confusing. If any hardcore Scalzi fans out there who can tell me what I’m missing (When does John bring a Conclave fleet into Earth orbit? Which book?) it would be appreciated.

Dust – Hugh Howey

The trilogy continues and rounds off with Dust, but it’s not any happier or easier going than the other books. I remember reading these three books as you might remember swimming under water. There’s pressure and the terrible need to hold your breath and finally the relief as you break the surface. The last book is a flat out race to the finish and I was glad it ended satisfactorily. I’m not going to say more than that. It’s worth reading, just not pretty.

Gone Tomorrow – Lee Child

I wanted to give Jack Reacher another shot, since I found the last book gripping but alarming. He’s not much better in this one – a good detective, grim soldier and one man killing machine. In this book he ends up wading through gore to murder two people responsible for…well, other murders. So that’s all right then….

Many Bloody Return – Charlaine Harris et Al

A nice collection of short Urban Fantasy stories, all linked by a birthday theme. As ever, some worked better than others, and some struggled to qualify on the birthday theme or story theme. Some, I suspect, were simply adverts for longer series. I’m still not inspired to dive back into Urban Fantasy, though I did make an exception, as you’ll see in my next choice….

Bad Blood – Chuck Wendig

Bad Blood is the sequel to “Double Dead“, the first Chuck Wendig book I ever bought. Mixing up zombies and vampires still feels novel to me, and the fact that the vampire in the book is responsible for the zombie outbreak (or rather, some irresponsible humans who took his blood and experimented with it…) is even better. In this book our anti-hero is continuing his quest to find a lab with a cure, but instead encounters another vampire and some human children survivors. It’s a lot of blood, howling and fighting, but it’s Chuck Wendig, so it’s done with style.

The Sisters Brothers – Patrick deWitt

This is an award-winning novel. Many, many people liked it. I was not one of them. It’s like the film “Dead Man” without the crowd pleasing comedy. It’s a funeral without the laughs. It’s less enjoyable than stabbing yourself in the leg with a fork.

Well, maybe that’s not fair. Like I said, all reviews are subjective, but I was annoyed by this book. It shows the life of a gunfighter who’s basically been browbeaten into the job by his older brother. They’re on a job that will turn out to be their last. I think I was annoyed by the passive nature of the narrator, his inability to act in any portion of the book, and , ultimately, the downbeat nature of the whole thing. I hope you enjoy it more than I did.

The Prisoner of Heaven – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Mrs Dim and I have been to Barcelona. It’s lovely, and well worth visiting. This book is set there, but ranges in time from the late fifties to the late thirties, and references politics in Spain during that time, something I’m not familiar with. However, the adventures are gripping, tense and ULTIMATELY REDEEMING. Did you hear that, deWitt? ULTIMATELY REDEEMING! I liked it.

Nothing O ‘Clock – Neil Gaiman

Can’t go wrong with Neil Gaiman writing Doctor Who. I read this the same week I went to see the 50th anniversary show. Seemed appropriate that this one featured Amy when the Ponds naturally couldn’t appear in the 50th (Because they’re time-locked back in 1940’s Manhattan, duh….)

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend – Matthew Dicks

I was interested to see this book, having read “Imaginary Menot so long ago. This book, too, is written from the point of view of an imaginary friend, but this one is partner to a boy who is “on the spectrum”. Max has lots of difficulty with school, because of the noise, the physical contact and other things, but nothing prepares his friend Budo for the day when Max goes missing from school. Budo thinks he knows what happened to Max, but he can’t tell anyone, because no one but Max can hear him.

It’s a great story, carefully told, and turns out to be about more than just a kidnapping. It talks about life and death and sacrifice, as well as growing up and what that means. It was quite a book.

Finally, the other book I’ve been reading and editing isEddie and the Kingdom“. There’s no link to that yet, because it isn’t going to be published for another week or so. If you’d like a sneak peek, you can find the first draft of the first couple of chapters inTroubled Souls“, still on sale for the bargain price of $1.99. If you’ve already readTroubled Souls“, why not put up your own review on Amazon.com? If you do, ask me for an advance copy ofEddie and the Kingdomfor FREE!

August reads: Summer distractions

It’s funny to think that two thirds of the year has gone by since I began recording my reading habits. I may have mentioned before, this is something I’ve done from time to time to see if I re-read as often as I think I do, but working at the library has skewed the results a little – I now see and have access to books every day, whereas before I was dropping into the library once or twice a week.

This month included some of the hottest weather we’ve had since coming to Canada, and also a trip to Osoyoos, where there was a good deal of sitting around on beaches and reading. It was supposed to be sitting around on beaches and writing, but it was sunny and relaxing and…..

Anyway, what books did I read this month?

The Blue BlazesChuck Wendig

This year Chuck Wendig has been producing books like some magicians produce doves or those weird sponge balls. By which I mean prolifically, and without pause or seeming effort. This is one I got my hands on, and it’s….Well, look: Chuck doesn’t write the same thing twice. His “Double Dead” vampire/zombies book is not like his “Blackbirds” paranormal/psychic horror, or his gritty realism “Shotgun Gravy”, and I suspect that none of those will be like his Dystopian Sci-fi piece “Under the Empyrean Sky”. The Blue Blazes is one of those “Hidden in your city is another side of life” books, but done in a unique Chuck Wendig style. Hell is a real place, unexpectedly encountered by city workers digging water tunnels, and, to some extent, now policed by a secret cabal of those workers. Except our protagonist is no longer part of that, but working for some bad guys. I’m explaining badly, because the best thing to do with this book is take it on faith, jump right in and keep reading, because everything is explained, everything becomes clear and the ride to get to that point is SOOOOOOO worth it.

The Affair – Lee Child

I loved the outrage of Reacher fans over the casting of Tom Hanks…excuse me, Tom CRUISE as their hero, but I hadn’t actually encountered the books before. This one slid across the library desk, and I saw it was about early Reacher adventures, though it’s number 16 in the series. I enjoyed it, but found the actual murder of several characters hard to take. Reacher is in Military Intelligence, from what I can gather, but does that give him carte blanche to execute individuals, rather than gather evidence and bring them to trial? Not sure I’ll be trying more of these…

The Android’s Dream – John Scalzi

It’s no secret I’m a big Scalzi fan, and I was delighted to find this book. It’s a little hard-going at times, since the plot isn’t straightforward, but it’s another story of Earth finding its place in the universe amongst bigger and badder races. There’s some bizarre genetic twists in the story too, and a couple of truly unexpected moments, but the resolution is typically Scalzi and very satisfying.

Screwed – Eoin Colfer

After reading (and mostly enjoying) “Plugged” last month, I was delighted to find the sequel is already available. This novel follows the continued adventures of Daniel McEvoy, now owner of his club, but still butting heads with the local mob. Worse still, the hold he had over the mob boss has just died of natural causes (well, lightning…) and now to stay alive he has to do just one little job and everything is fine. Yeah, right. As before there’s a pile of bodies and a lot of wrecked cars and knuckles before the end of the book. It’s bloody stuff, but worth the read.

Chicks Kick Butt – Rachel Caine and Kerry L Hughes

My reading list wouldn’t be complete without at least one short story collection. These were all stories with strong female protagonists, but also all belonged in the Urban Fantasy genre. As a result, many of the opening lines had me rolling my eyes, as I think I’m pretty much done with shapeshifters, half-angels, demon hunters etc etc. Until the next really good story comes along, of course. But if you like Urban Fantasy, there’s plenty to enjoy in this collection. And plenty of butt gets kicked.

The Gravity Pilot – MM Buckner

For a Sci-Fi fan, I don’t do a lot of “hard” sci fi. This book was hard going at times, but it was interesting and very different, as well as being futuristic without being too far removed from the world we live in. A kid who loves skydiving pulls off a particularly impressive dive, filming it all the way. The video hits the net and goes viral and he’s picked up by a firm that makes the equipment he uses. They are going to pay him to jump, his dream come true. But there’s a more sinister side to the parent company, and they’re using the new trend for skydiving vids to feed a more insidious tech habit. The boy has to become more than just a skydiver to rescue the girl he loves from a horrible fate.

Fighting to Survive – Rihannon Frater

The second in the series “As the World Dies”, the first of which was part of last month’s reading (The First Days). The group inside the Fort are trying to take control of the big hotel, to give themselves living space, but it’s still infested with zombies. Clearing out the hotel will cost them lives, but give them a chance to start living, not just surviving. Which leads on to….

Siege – Rihannon Frater

…The third book! The discovery of another major group of survivors should be a good thing, but the leaders of the other group are flat-out insane, talking about turning the womenfolk into breeders and trying to tell Texans that Big Government is the only solution to the Zombie Apocalypse. Might as well try and take their guns away. Be prepared for more death and undead moaning, as the Good Guys in the Fort have to defend themselves against the largest Zombie Horde ever, as well as rescue old friends and new from the doomed Shopping Mall group.

The Fault in our stars – John Green

In case you don’t know, or in case your library doesn’t do this, at BPL we have the “Speed Reads”. These are new, popular books that cannot be reserved, can only be taken out for one week and cannot be renewed. There’s a dollar a day fine for being overdue. This means that some books (Like “The Cuckoo’s Calling”, which has 157 holds on 25 copies – at 28 days per person…) can be found on the shelf, read and returned before the hold on the regular copy would ever reach the top of the list.

I mention this because that’s where I found this book. I might never have considered it otherwise. It’s a strange book to recommend, because it’s the story of a girl with cancer, who meets a boy who had cancer in a cancer support group. They fall in love and travel to meet an author the girl has idolised for years. That sounds lovely, but this book will not just tug on your heartstrings, it attaches your heartstrings to a moving truck, then invites a family of gorillas to play on your heartstrings like a jungle gym. I was a complete mess by the end of it, but very glad I read it.

The Redemption of Althalus – David and Leigh Eddings

I’m skipping the picture, because The Redemption of Althalus got its own mini-review in the previous post. If you loved “The Belgariad” and read all of “The Mallorean”, then “Belgarath” and “Polgara” and STILL didn’t feel like you’d had enough, try this book. It’s in the same style, has a central character who could be Belgarath and covers much of the same ground.

Only Superhuman – Christopher L Bennett

I saw this book go by twice at work before I got hold of it. Yes, I judge a book by its cover, that’s what they’re FOR. This one does exactly what it says on the tin, regaling the reader with the adventures (and origin story) of a superhuman flame-haired temptress who does everything with passion and strength. Everything.

There’s a lot of political stuff, and lots of space-habitat physics, which are all nicely explained in the appendices at the end, which I didn’t notice until I had finished reading the story. To be fair, I understood enough to follow the track of events and know who to cheer for, and I was satisfied with the way the story played out. I wish I’d paid more attention to the tiny dateline at the start of each chapter, though, because the first time we plunged into history to explore the central character’s backstory, I was completely non-plussed. Maybe I’m just stupid.*

So, that’s my reading for August. As ever, I’ve skipped over the audio books I’m enjoying, though one of those was JK Rowling’s…excuse me, ROBERT GALBRAITH’S “The Cuckoo’s Calling”. It’s an excellent detective story, and worth checking out whatever your opinion of the author, the story behind the release or whatever. Next month the kids are back to school, I have more library shifts and I have to finish writing my own novella. It’s nearly done now, which means it’s nearly time to do the editing and design the cover etc etc.  I’ll also be on the lookout for beta-readers, so any volunteers, either email me or leave contact details in the comments below.

As usual, I’ve stolen all the illustrations for this piece from Amazon, but on the other hand, I’ve also supplied links for all the books mentioned, so it’s all free publicity for them. I’m nice that way. If you’d rather I used YOUR pictures for something, leave your contact details in the comments below.

*This is a popular theory in my house.

Meeting your heroes

One of my literary heroes that I HAVE met - Terry Pratchett, at a book signing in Winchester, 2006

One of my literary heroes that I HAVE met – Terry Pratchett, at a book signing in Winchester, 2006

When I first began to really read, I devoured the books of two authors in particular – Douglas Adams and Harry Harrison. I loved their books, read them until the paperbacks fell to pieces and could’ve won trivia contests on obscure plot points.

I didn’t know a thing about the authors themselves. Much later, I got to read articles about, and interviews with, Douglas Adams. I have a copy of “The Salmon of Doubt”, a book put together after his tragically early death, with interviews, articles and unfinished stories. That fills out a little more of the man that I didn’t know.

But this is the 21st Century. This week, I have had the works of John Scalzi almost exclusively playing on my audio books playlist – he’s releasing his new book “The Human Division” chapter by chapter, and I’m buying the audio versions through Audible.com. I stumbled across his blog/website “Whatever” when googling something else, and as a result of becoming a reader of his posts, I bought one of his books. Then several more. This is proof that blogging can lead to book sales. But as well as learning I liked his work, I learned a lot about Mr Scalzi too (though, having not met him, it seems rude to call him “John”). I know the names of his immediate family and have seen pictures of them (that he released in specific circumstances, not because I’ve broken into his house with a flashlight and a stocking mask…) I know about his lawn-mowing habits and ukulele playing desires. I’ve even seen him fall on his ass while singing the theme tune to one of his novels.

The point of all this is that authors have now really got the option of stepping out of the shadow of their books. One of the things I have always loved about Stephen King’s short story collections is his habit of explaining a little something of them either before or afterwards. He talks about the genesis of the idea, or how the story was changed, or where a character came from. Now he has a website, there’s the chance that a direct query might be answered in person, that those things you might otherwise have wondered about til your dying day could be sorted out in an email.

Much as I liked the image of a Salinger-like hermit, locked away from the world, dropping pearls of books to adoring but distant readers, this idea of accessible authors is much more exciting. I’m sure they’re occasionally ticked off with the number of wannabes who press them for the secret of their success, or where they get their ideas from, but they also get the positive feedback, the letters and emails that say how much their work is admired. Today, anyone can write a book and get it published. You can have your own work available for sale through Amazon, the most popular method of book purchasing in the modern world. This being the case, publishing your work isn’t the prize it once was. What’s more important to a lot of writers (and I know this is true of myself) is hearing that other people have been affected by the stories, that they have been touched by the tale in the same way the author was. That they’re glad it was written down and sent out into the world.

Writers write because they have to, because the stories demand to be told. But we publish because we want to share those stories.*

So take advantage of this amazing new world we live in. Reach out and meet the authors you admire. And not in a “Here’s my underwear, please sign it and send me some of yours” kind of way. Read their blogs, add your review of their books to Amazon and Goodreads and other review sites. Link to their blogs from yours so other people can find them too.

I know, from what other people have said, that meeting Douglas Adams could be a joyous thing, and I’m sorry I never had the chance. But I have had reply tweets and emails from Neil Gaiman, from James Moran, and John Scalzi, and Chuck Wendig. People whose words have moved me, have changed the way I see the world. People who, ten years ago, would have been as distant to me as the stars they write about.

Which authors have you contacted and heard back from? Which blogs do you recommend? Which author (living or dead) would you most like to converse with? Bearing in mind the dead ones won’t be much for conversation…..

 

 

* receiving a large sum of money in return is often looked upon as a bonus, however.

Follow the PenMonkey – The Truth of Chuck Wendig

Actually, I’m already having second thoughts about that title. Still, here we go…

Screenshot of Chuck's blog. Reproduced without permission, and I fully expect to be eaten by wild dogs as a result. And not in a good way.

Screenshot of Chuck’s blog. Reproduced without permission, and I fully expect to be eaten by wild dogs as a result. And not in a good way.

Chuck Wendig is wise. He dispenses a good deal of wisdom on the subject of writing in his blog, but the latest post I read really summed up the grim truth of writing:

You have to DO IT!

I am lazy. I’ve tried about a dozen different musical instruments, searching for the one that I can play without effort. I had a go at lots of different sports to see if I had an aptitude for any of them without lots of practice. In my life, the two disciplines I have stuck with are juggling and writing, and they have remained because…well…

Juggling WAS actually that mystical thing that just clicked. I could do it straight away, or at least with enough ease that I was willing to put in the work to get even better. I’ve taught juggling for long enough to know that it is this way for some people. My earliest juggling partner, Dougie, could watch a trick being done a few times, then just give it a go and it would usually work out. He was a natural, better than me. My good friend Mike didn’t have the same flow, but he had way more determination and would work at a trick until it worked. Months, if necessary. If I’d had to put in that effort, I would have walked away.

Writing hasn’t been easy, but I wanted to be a writer, and with the birth of Eldest Weasel I was given the opportunity to try it. Early success in the sale of a story and an article gave me encouragement, and I had the support of Mrs Dim, something for which I can never be grateful enough.

So even though the actual writing wasn’t easy, the ideas have never stopped coming, and I have never lost the desire to be a writer. But by nature, I’m what writers call a “pantser”, following where the story leads and hoping it’ll get where it’s going in a reasonable word count. It can be an exhilarating journey, but you have to be prepared for the occasional trip down a blind alley, or running out of steam in the wilderness. In my virtual desk drawer I have more than one great idea that’s still awaiting the arrival of roadside assistance to de-coke the engine and refill the tank.

So Chuck is right – the deepest truth, the unavoidable fact is that YOU MUST WRITE. There’s no easy way, no method to skip the work and get the prize, you have to write. To coin another metaphor, you have to go down to the coalface and hack out your story. No argument from me.

But here’s something I’ve learned, (and maybe Chuck would agree): While you’re hacking away, sometimes it’s good to step back and look at THE WAY you’re working. Are you using the right end of your pickaxe? Are you swinging with a steady rhythm? Could you maybe use a power drill? And lots of other mining-type questions. I’ve been a pantser for years, and it’s worked pretty well, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only way I can write. Maybe trying a new method will reduce the number of unfinished pieces, and make better use of my time at the coalface, as it were.

2000 cover

To this end I picked up “2000 – 10000” by Rachel Aaron, a book that promised to improve your daily word count. That wasn’t exactly my aim, since I’m mostly writing plays, but increased efficiency is a good goal. The book is short, and available for the Kindle, so I downloaded it and read it in one evening. It makes a lot of sense.

Rachel’s main point – the one that resonated most with me – is that working out the story is most of the heavy lifting. And pantsers like me do that work while we’re writing. We’re not just hacking out our coal, we’re trying to work out where the best seam is, indicate it to other miners, ensure everyone is wearing the correct safety equipment and make lunches for the miners WHILE STILL MINING! (This was a lousy metaphor. I should have used ships instead.) She said that by taking five minutes at the start of her writing time to outline what she was aiming to write, the bones of the scenes, she could write with more confidence and better direction. She had to edit less, because she knew the whole scene was worthwhile, and she knew how it was going to play out.

For someone whose stories have often gone off the rails as the characters grab the plot and run away with it, or slump in the corner and refuse to play, this was a revelation. Not just a vague outline that says “And then they work out their argument and get married” at the end, but an actual breakdown of the whole thing! Brilliant!

To test the theory, I have given February over to an old favourite project of mine. I wrote the general outline, then broke that down into acts and scenes. I’ve taken each of those scenes and written a more detailed outline. In a couple of days I’ll have detailed outlines for every scene and have a plan – a detailed plan – for the whole play. No one gets to go astray, because I know where they have to be next. If I get stuck on one scene, I can go on to the next and work on that, confident that it’s part of the plan. I have high hopes.

On the wall is the plot overview, beneath it are the two scene breakdowns, then the individual sheets are for each scene.

On the wall is the plot overview, beneath it are the two scene breakdowns, then the individual sheets are for each scene.

This is a good method, but the real secret of the book is “Look at the way you work”. You don’t have to adopt Rachel’s method, or use Robert McKee’s graphs, or Blake Snyder’s beat system, but you should try something new from time to time, see if the way you’re working is the best way for you. There’s no magic bullet that will make writing (whether books, poems, plays or condolence letters) easy, but you can make things easier on yourself.

And when you’ve got a good method, you’ll just have to DO IT!

10 reasons why being a writer ROCKS!

Forget the Hemingway image of the writer, bearded, drunk and slumped over a typewriter filled with cigarette butts. Being a writer need not equate to misery, alcohol abuse and blinding headaches. Being a writer ROCKS, and here’s why:

  1. You can do it all the time. Don’t tell me that the happiest Chartered Accountant or Quantity Surveyor can do their job when they’re not at work. That accountant needs his spreadsheets and accounts, and that Quantity Surveyor needs…er…quantities of stuff to survey. But writers are writing ALL THE TIME. We walk around and our characters tell their stories in our heads. Walking the dog, we are striding the worlds we create. The part of the job that is done at the keyboard is only the culmination of the process. How cool is that?
  2. Your job, your rules. Yes, there are guidelines about plot, and character development, and first person viewpoints and on and on. But the truth is, those rules only apply until they don’t. You can use them to tell your story, but if they aren’t getting the job done, you can cast them aside and try something different. That doesn’t go so well, for example, in a Pharmacy…”Ah, Mrs Williams? Still getting those headaches? Try this, I just sort of bunged a load of stuff together in a pot….”
  3. Reading. You don’t HAVE to love reading to be a writer, but let’s face it, you probably do. To write, you have to love words, and reading is a ready source. But look, it’s not like you have to fill your mental fuel tank with a fresh supply of words in order to create your own sparkling prose…Really, you don’t. But reading stretches your imagination, reading good books gives you hints and tips subconsciously that you will use later. It’s not plagiarism, it’s style.
  4. It’s the best time to do it. Thanks to the wonder of the internet, being a writer is not the solitary depressing experience it once was. There are hundreds of online communities out there. Through social networks like G+ you can meet and talk with other writers of all levels. You may not get face time with JK Rowling or Tom Clancy, but with patience, manners and sensible commenting, you can get in touch with published authors (like John Scalzi, or Chuck Wendig).
  5. The gates are open. Now, this may be a good thing or a bad thing, but the fact is, right now you can be published only minutes after finishing your draft. The new ebook publishing programs mean that you don’t need an agent or a lucky meeting to guarantee your book is published, but beware: Just because you can publish instantly doesn’t mean you should. Check your draft, get it read, give it a break and read it again yourself. Get a good artist to design your cover. Unless you’re just in it for the cachet of dropping “I published my book the other day” into conversations…..
  6. You are part of an immense heritage. Storytelling may not be the Oldest Profession, but it goes back millennia. Watch how young children crave stories, how adults rush to buy the latest recommendations. Stories speak to all of us, fill a need that everyone feels from time to time. YOU can fill that need, and be one with Plato, Homer (not the cartoon, get a grip) Shakespeare, Faulkner, Dickens. And yes, Tom Clancy, ok.
  7.  (Via Jenn Thorson, after an appeal for help) “I love how transporting it can be when the writing is going well and everything around me disappears; the story and I are alone as the scene unfolds. It’s what Stephen King, I believe, has called “falling through the page.” It feels like the perfect balance of work and amusement, and time loses meaning. It’s a great feeling to be that at-one with creativity.”
  8. (Via Amy Knepper) “Writing rocks because I can play with my imaginary friends, and kill them if they make me angry.”
  9. (Via Laurie Laliberte) “Chicks dig writers
  10. The big one. Because everyone, at some time in their life, wants to be a writer. Everyone dreams of holding a book in their hands and saying “This is mine, these words are mine. I wrote this.” People may dream of it for the success that comes to writers like JK Rowling, or the fame that clings to Salinger despite comparatively little output, or just to see something they made in a shop window. But everyone has dreamed of being a writer, and if you write, then you ARE a writer. And that rocks.

What’s on your e-reader?

It's soooooo pretty. My precious.....

Everyone knows that the revolution has begun. E-readers have broken through and they’re here to stay. Every day I see promos on G+ and Facebook, telling me to download a free e-book. It’s a new idea in the publishing world, giving away the whole product free for a limited time in the hopes of generating future sales. But does it work?

I got my Kindle Fire for Christmas, and despite some initial hiccups, I love it. Wouldn’t be parted from it. It came with nothing loaded except the user manual, and that was NOT going to hold my attention for long.

I had already installed the Kindle app on my PC and phone, so I had a couple of books to transfer. One was a Social Media Marketing  guide, which hasn’t been worth the paper it wasn’t printed on.* The other was Blake Snyder’s  “Save the Cat!” about which I have raved elsewhere.

“Save the Cat!” is great, but it’s not something I want to curl up with at night. I wanted to read “The Hunger Games” to see what all the fuss was about, and my wife wanted to read it too. I bought a paperback and downloaded the e-book. The fun part was reading on my kindle and then continuing to read the book on my phone on breaks at work, or waiting for the weasels after school. The kindle and the kindle app make notes of how far you’ve read, so if all works out well, you should be reading seamlessly no matter the platform.

The first free e-book was a big disappointment. It was from a reputable source, but the writing was cliched and hackneyed, it has spelling and grammatical errors and the storyline was slow, unbelievable and unengaging. I still have not reached the end of the book, and will probably delete it.

I bought “Ender’s Game” having picked up one of the sequels from the library. The library couldn’t get hold of the original for a while, and the ebook was cheap. Plus it wouldn’t be taking up any space on my bookshelves, so I clicked the button. I was delighted to hear they’re making a movie, because that should being the book back to the forefront of the public consciousness for a while. I highly recommend it, and the shadow series that go with it. I didn’t get on with the direct sequels, “Xenocide” and “Children of the Mind” because of their more philosophical nature, but “Ender’s Game”, “Ender’s Shadow”, “Shadow of the Giant” and the other shadow novels were excellent.

So, up to this point, the only free promotion had been a negative experience. I was downloading e-boook versions of books I may have found elsewhere, or bought in physical form at a later date. The same was true of my purchase of the excellent “Old Man’s War” by John Scalzi, but there is something worth noting here. I had not read a review of “Old Man’s War”, nor seen a promotion, or word-of-mouth recommendation. I knew about it only through reading Scalzi’s blog, which I found through an arcane search-engine string. Once I found it, I became a regular visitor, and added Scalzi to my circles on G+ (which, naturally, lead me back to his blog more frequently.) I really, really enjoyed “Old Man’s War”, which directly lead to my purchase of the sequel , “Ghost Brigades“. Here’s the internet phenomenon in action – a personal connection to the author via his blog has prompted book sales.

The same is true of Chuck Wendig. He’s been flagged up to me by various encounters in comments sections, and I found him on G+ too. I follow his blog, and took a fly on his book “Double Dead“. It’s grim but good (Vampire and zombie apocalypse…what are you expecting here?) and as a bonus, he gave away copies of his novella “Shotgun Gravy”. I enjoyed that one so much that I’ll be buying the three follow-up stories. A free giveaway that has prompted sales. Ok, so maybe that’s just the intention to buy, but I did also buy his book “500 ways to be a better writer” in order to capitalise on his offer of a free copy of “”250 things you should know about writing.” Wendig now has a healthy chunk of my Kindle real estate.

Two successes, one failure. The last free ebook deal I went for was another disappointment. I didn’t read up about it, just clicked the link and knew within two pages that this was not a novel for me. It might have been well-written and excellently plotted, but…Well, imagine you think rabbits are stupid and pointless (ie, you have a good grasp on reality. Rabbits are a waste of grass….). Now someone hands you “Watership Down” and says “Hey, here’s a book about rabbits…” Are you going to be interested? Not very likely. So it was with this book. Not about rabbits, true, but not interesting to me.

I’m going to be more cautious about free downloads from here on. What matters is the book, not the price, and building a link with the author helps me know in advance how likely it is their book will be a good fit. I’ll be downloading “Redshirts” from Mr Scalzi, as well as the next adventure of Atlanta Burns from Mr Wendig. What are YOU e-reading?

*My policy here is to praise and name the e-books that have impressed me, but not to name specifically the authors or books that were a disappointment. Sometimes these things are so subjective, it’s not fair to damn someone on one opinion.