Tag Archives: publishing

An allegory (not about the election)

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Once upon a time, in a small village, there was a shop that sold pots. There were pots of all kinds, in different sizes and shapes. Some were squat and earthy, some were tall and elegant, some were useful, some were purely art pieces.

Each had only one handle.

One day, a new potter came into the shop. She was holding a pot with two handles. The proprietor looked over his glasses at her.

“Two handles?” he said, not quite sneering. “How…Unusual.”

The woman swallowed, but stood tall.

“This is how I make pots. With two handles.”

The man smiled in a patronly fashion.

“And that’s very admirable, but as you can see, all the pots in this shop have ONE handle. I simply can’t sell a two handled pot. No one would buy it.”

The woman frowned.

“Excuse me, but how do you know that?”

The man waved once more at the stock in his window.

“Because I’ve been selling pots for over thirty years, young woman, and I have never yet sold a two-handled pot. It can’t be done.”

The woman arched an eyebrow at him.

“Have you ever HAD a two-handled pot to sell?”

The man had no answer to this, and in his moment of confusion, the woman carefully placed her pot in his hands. Both hands instinctively closed around the handles, holding the pot firm. It felt right in his grip, comfortable, safe and secure. There was no arguing that it wasn’t different from every pot he’d held before. He liked the pot, but his pride prevented him from saying aloud how he felt. He cleared his throat.

“Well, look, I can see you’ve worked hard on this. I think we should be charitable and give a chance to new…odd, things. I’ll put it in the window, for now. We’ll give you a week, how about that?”

But less than a week had passed before the woman heard from the shop owner. Her pot had sold, and word had got round, and could she bring him more pots, more two-handled pots please. As many as ten? By tomorrow?

Along with the modest flow of people buying the new pots (new to the shop, but perhaps an old design, to be sure) came an angry potter. He was, he explained, there to represent the views of several potters who had concerns.

“These new pots of yours, ” he said, “They’re not right. Not proper.”

The shopkeeper frowned at that.

“I don’t see how that’s the case. They are pots. Whether artistic or practical, they do what needs to be done.”

The potter shuffled his feet, as if physically adjusting his mental stance.

“Look,” he said (and the strain of keeping a level tone was nonetheless evident in his voice) “I can see there’s a bit of a fad for this new style. Well, fine. If you want two handles on pots, I can supply pots with two handles.”

“Why?” asked a softer voice.

Both men turned to see the woman who had made the two handled pots. She had clearly heard the exchange.

“I beg your pardon?” grated the potter.

“Why would you suddenly start making two handled pots? I make them that way because that’s how I was taught to make them. It’s the way my family have always made pots.”

“I’ve never seen them before.” asserted the potter, as if that were a closing statement.

“Little wonder about that, since they’ve never had space in the shop before.” replied the woman.

“Well, now they are taking up space. Space that other potters have earned. Potters that have more experience, that have sold pots for longer than you…”

“Not hard to do, since I haven’t sold any pots before this week.” admitted the woman.

“Exactly!”

“But then again, that doesn’t make them better. It certainly doesn’t make them better at making two handled pots.”

The potter stared at her, then glanced at the shopkeeper who shrugged, unwilling to intervene. The woman continued in a level and understanding tone.

“You see, I know you are a good potter. I see your pots right there in the window and they are beautifully made. Some are useful, and some are too lovely to use. You are clearly a master potter.”

He stammered a vague thank you, trying to see why she should compliment him.

“And yet… All your pots have one handle. They only need one handle. That’s how they were made, how you have always made your pots. You COULD make pots with two handles, and they would be good pots, but you know what? You’d be making them because people are buying two handled pots. Not because you want to MAKE two handled pots. And before you could sell them, you would have to go away and learn about the design, probably from someone like me, who has spent her life making pots like these.”

The potter opened his mouth and the woman held up one finger. Not imperiously, not commandingly, just to indicate a moment’s pause was needed.

“You should make the pots you have always made. They will still be beautiful or useful. People will still buy them and love them. And yes, you may sell fewer pots because the shop shares the space with different pots. But you’ll be making the pots that you make best. The pots you understand. The pots you dream of. And so will I.”

So, this is the internet, where you have to point out when you’re writing a satire. This is not a satire, it’s an allegory, and it’s not about the American election, even though it seems like EVERYTHING is about the American election right now. This is about a discussion in the publishing industry that rose and fell recently. It’s how I feel about that argument.

New sketches available (at last!)

Frog Man's mild-mannered alter-ego, the millionaire playfrog....

Frog Man’s mild-mannered alter-ego, the millionaire playfrog….

The Amazing Adventures of Frog Man and Amphibian Boy

The Non-Emergency Call

Minimum Security Holiday

For all my talk earlier this year about knuckling down and producing more stuff, I feel like I’ve been running behind. April was the month for editing “Eddie and the Kingdom 2”, and while I’ve done the proofreading part, I haven’t managed the re-writing, or finding a cover artist. Should be publishing it, actually am not…yet.

But this week I got a welcome series of emails from Stuart at Lazy Bee Scripts saying that three of my most recent sketches have been published, giving me the necessary kick up the ambition to get on and complete my latest one act play idea this month.

Yes, I may be building a stormtrooper helmet too….

It will look better when it's finished, obviously...

It will look better when it’s finished, obviously…

…but I’ll be knuckling down to work on “Under the Hood” any day now.

Ooh! Something shiny!

Spotlight on: Brooke Johnson, Author

TheBrassGiant

I’ve blogged before about Brooke Johnson and her books, but she’s recently reworked the book I reviewed for real-world publication as “The Brass Giant” and so I thought I’d ask her some impertinent questions.

1: When did you start writing? 

I started writing seriously (with the goal to be published) when I was about fourteen. I started a fantasy novel that was a horrible conglomeration of Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Lord of the Rings, that thankfully died after its eighth or ninth iteration when I decided to write something else five years later.

2: What was your path to publication? 
In a word: weird.
When I sat down to write the book that would eventually become The Brass Giant, I made the decision to self-publish  because 1) I really didn’t want to go the query route and face the months of rejection on that path; 2) I felt that steampunk was “in” and I didn’t want to waste time with traditional publishing when it would be at least a couple of years before the book saw print; and 3) I just really felt like it was the right decision at the time. So that’s what I did.

A year later, Harper Voyager put out an open call for submissions. Figuring it wouldn’t hurt to enter, I submitted the book and promptly forgot about it. Fast-forward another year and a half, I got an email from a Harper Voyager editor saying they wanted to publish my book. After much flabbergasted squeeing, I decided that I’d done what I could with self-publishing and signed a contract with the publisher. In the months since, I have been prone to varying degrees of stress and madness, and will soon have a traditionally published book to show for it.

3: Who was your biggest influence when you were starting out?

It was always a mixture of things when I first started writing, elements from my favorite books, movies, and video games, all cobbled together into one story. Stylistically, probably J.K. Rowling. I still primarily write third-person point of view and I will always write dialogue tags with “said” before the name of the person speaking.

4: What is your favourite piece of writing advice? 

I’ve gotten a lot of bad writing advice over the years, and very little good advice, so this is a tough one… probably “Write the story you want to read.” It’s the one dictum I’ve actually been able to stick to throughout the years.

5: If you could send one Tweet back in time to your past self, what would it say? And would you listen? 

Oh gosh… Um… “Stop wasting time on the internet and get to work. You won’t have the luxury of spare time in a few years.” Would I listen? Probably not.

6: What’s the logline for your latest book? 

When Petra Wade meets Guild engineer Emmerich Goss, she finally has a chance to prove her worth as an engineer building a top-secret, Guild-sanctioned automaton, but as their project nears completion, Petra discovers a sinister conspiracy within the Guild … and their automaton is only the beginning.

7: Do you take part in a writing circle, either online or in real life?

I did when I was in college, but I never liked it–I’m not much of a group person. I also had a critique partner once, but it fizzled out when life happened. These days, I write all by myself and rarely read other writers’ work before publication, though I do often share scenes or snippets with a few close friends to get initial feedback.

8: Finally, what word do you always type incorrectly? 

Jeopardize. Receive. Mischievous. Judgement. Privilege.

So, what about the book?

The Brass Giant: A Chroniker City Story

Sometimes, even the most unlikely person can change the world

Seventeen-year-old Petra Wade, self-taught clockwork engineer, wants nothing more than to become a certified member of the Guild, an impossible dream for a lowly shop girl. Still, she refuses to give up, tinkering with any machine she can get her hands on, in between working and babysitting her foster siblings.

When Emmerich Goss—handsome, privileged, and newly recruited into the Guild—needs help designing a new clockwork system for a top-secret automaton, it seems Petra has finally found the opportunity she’s been waiting for. But if her involvement on the project is discovered, Emmerich will be marked for treason, and a far more dire fate would await Petra.

Working together in secret, they build the clockwork giant, but as the deadline for its completion nears, Petra discovers a sinister conspiracy from within the Guild council … and their automaton is just the beginning.

Releases May 5, 2015

Preorder now ($1.99)

Amazon US: http://amzn.com/B00M719Z06

Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00M719Z06

Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-brass-giant-brooke-johnson/1121123553?ean=9780062387165

Kobo: https://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/the-brass-giant

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-brass-giant/id904017054?mt=11

HarperCollins: http://www.harpercollins.com/9780062387165/the-brass-giant

About Brooke:

Brooke Johnson is a stay-at-home mom and tea-loving writer. As the jack-of-all-trades bard of the family, she journeys through life with her husband, daughter, and dog. She currently resides in Northwest Arkansas but hopes to one day live somewhere more mountainous.

Website:

 http://brooke-johnson.com

 Social Media:

 Twitter: https://twitter.com/brookenomicon

Google+: https://plus.google.com/+BrookeJohnson

Tumblr: http://brookenomicon.tumblr.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/brookejohnson.writer

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5320239.Brooke_Johnson

It’s quiet because….

…For the first year ever, I’m actually DOING NaNoWriMo. It’s scary and busy and means I have to actually concentrate and commit and lots of other words that begin with “c”.

This won't be the cover  or the title, but I needed something to upload to the NaNo website so it looked better...

This won’t be the cover or the title, but I needed something to upload to the NaNo website so it looked better…

I’ve decided to write a sequel to “Eddie and the Kingdom” for several reasons.

1: Someone asked me. Just one person, but you know, there’s such a thing as customer service and responding to your readership.

2: I had a bit of an idea for the story.

3: The first book was only 50,000 words or so, which is the NaNo target.

4: “Eddie and the Kingdom” was the first novella I ever wrote, and I wanted to see if I could do it faster and maybe even better. Eddie took a year or more. This first draft should be done inside a month (currently at 20,000 words after six writing sessions).

5: Everyone else and his Mum has a series. This way, I get to write book three next year and call it an “Eddie novel” or “A novel of the Kingdom”. Or “Marvel: The Guardians of the Galaxy Strike Back!” if I want to get sued into penury.

So that’s why I’m taking the time to write this post and explain why I haven’t got time to write any posts.

How are YOU getting on with YOUR novel? Post an excerpt or link below!

Got it Covered?

Book by its coverIt’s an unfair saying : “Don’t judge a book by its cover”. It comes from an age when books didn’t have the beautiful and carefully considered jacket illustrations they have today. A book might have a plain red board cover, and if it were a particularly loved book, that cover might be creased, and stained and look more than a little unattractive. But it was that way because it was a GOOD book, because it had been read so much that the cover was in disrepair. It wasn’t right to judge that book by the state of the cover.

We’ve taken the aphorism and applied it to people – just because someone is handsome, it doesn’t mean they’re nice. Like all aphorisms, it has a counter: we’ll cheerfully tell friends going for interviews that “first impressions are important”, as if the interview panel will never have heard of judging a book by its cover.

But when it comes to publishing, the cover is much more important than it used to be. Now the proliferation of books means that more than ever an author needs a great cover to catch the eye of the reader. If you’re an e-publisher, you have only a thumbnail photo to draw the purchaser in to read the blurb and commit to a sale.

One of my better home-made cover illustrations

One of my better home-made cover illustrations

The chief temptation with e-publishing is to do EVERYTHING yourself. The writing, of course, you HAVE to do. The editing and proofreading…Well, to be honest, you SHOULD send that out. You can easily miss the same error in multiple readings because you know what it should say, and you can miss the plot holes because you’re the one who thought up the story so you already know who did it and why…. By the time you’re done with all that, the temptation to just pull up a photo and slap the title and your name onto it so you can publish is almost overwhelming.

The terrific cover designed by Eduardo Ramirez

Here’s the terrific cover designed by Eduardo Ramirez

Visit Eduardo’s website at www.eduardosartspace.com/

But it’s a lot harder than it looks. If you trawl the “free” section of Amazon’s Kindle store, you’ll be able to spot a large percentage of the books where the authors have produced their own covers. The funny thing is, it’s hard to say how you can tell, what it is that makes them look amateurish compared to the professionally-produced covers.

For my next book “Eddie and the Kingdom”, I had a definite idea of the cover. There’s a scene where one character is running up a street. Behind her, the whole street is filled, side to side, with a horde of zombies. I wanted the street and the horde to be in black and white, and the running woman in colour. Except I didn’t have a handy cast of extras in zombie make up, nor the ability to shut the streets of Vancouver. None of the women I knew wanted to run barefoot towards a camera either (because it’s December, that’s why….)

I tried stitching together the picture I wanted from numerous sources, but couldn’t do it well enough with photos I was allowed to use – It’s important that you hold the copyright to the pictures, or buy a license for them. Then I got in touch with Eric Hubbel through Google+ and engaged his services as a cover designer. He talked through what I wanted and agreed the cover as I imagined it would be tricky to pull off. He asked me if I had any other ideas. That’s when I remembered that what I had originally wanted was a view through a wire fence of a sign saying “Welcome to the Kingdom”…Perhaps with a zombie’s hand reaching towards the fence! This idea had been the first cover option, but I had abandoned it because I couldn’t do it. Eric returned the first version that evening and it was perfect:

Available at the Kindle Store from Monday!

Available at the Kindle Store from Monday!

Using a professional’s services is hard for the average e-publisher, because most are doing things on a tight budget. It’s not, despite what you read in the media, a great way to make money, so spending a couple of hundred dollars on proofreading, editing and getting a cover could be all your returns for the first year or more. But the higher-quality your book is in ALL aspects – content, format, grammar, spelling, plot and cover – the better your chances of making a sale and then repeat sales.

“Eddie and the Kingdom” is available through   

Amazon.com , Amazon.ca and Amazon.co.uk

If you’d like a chance to read a sample of the story, the first two chapters can be found at the end of  “Troubled Souls”, my short story collection, also available at Amazon.com , Amazon.ca and Amazon.co.uk

A friend and fellow publisher on Google+ also recommended the services of Harvey Bunda , who does some truly extraordinary and beautiful artwork.

An Unpopular Truth

It's going to take work to get your book to the top of the pile...

It’s going to take work to get your book to the top of the pile…

The past few years have seen a tremendous rise in the variety of “…For Dummies” books. Now available on almost every conceivable subject, these books show that there is a belief that anything – any subject, any activity, any skill – can be made EASY.

Not easier. Easy.

Adverts for nicotine-dispensing chewing gum, or electronic cigarettes push the idea that withdrawing from smoking can be done with ease. Without effort or discomfort.

The sad and unpopular truth, is that all these ideas are wrong.

It’s certainly possible to buy a book called, for example   “7 Easy steps to write your book”  

You can follow the advice inside and find it’s a better way to write than the method you previously used. It may take less time, or be more efficient.

But YOU still have to write your novel. YOU still have to have the idea and commit to writing the words down. Maybe 100,000 of them. The new method may (and probably WILL) help sort your ideas out, give you a structure to work within. It may make it EASIER to write, but it’s unlikely to make it easy.

This is a good thing.

Because worthwhile things take hard work to produce. Michelangelo’s “David” wasn’t bashed out in an afternoon. Lennon and McCartney took more than five minutes to write their songs, and even that writing came at the price of years of playing and singing to develop their skills. Yes, some people seem to have an innate ability to do something wonderful, whether it’s playing, or singing, or drawing or water-skiing, but that ability is never enough to carry them all the way to greatness. That ability usually only confers a love of the medium, a love that ensures they are happy to put in the time that improves on their natural skills. It never feels like work if you love doing it.

Giving up smoking isn’t easy. Why should it be? You’re kicking an addiction, having to change ingrained habits. You’re not just learning to cope with a craving for a smoke you can’t have, you’re finding ways to occupy hands that usually fiddle with a cigarette, avoiding buying new packs of smokes in the shops you visit every week, turning down offers of cigarettes from friends who haven’t quit… Gum may help with one aspect of that struggle, but it’s not going to be the answer to everything. That will take effort.

Part of that effort could be examining these helpful guides though. Certainly many hints and tips exist to help a new author find a different method of approaching their work. To find a different organisational system, a different method of plotting, of outlining, of editing. All these possibilities might improve your work, reduce the number of times you have to backtrack or review what you’ve done. It IS worth looking at them, and speaking to other writers and editors to learn what you can from their experience.

Nothing will make completing your work EASY, nothing will do the work for you, but you CAN be more efficient, be more organised and be more realistic about the work involved.

This post is a response to a recent discussion about “overnight success” and how rarely that phrase is accurate in the world of publishing or screenwriting. All that happens overnight is that the wider world becomes aware of someone who has put in a great deal of work in private before something reaches a tipping point and they achieve success.

Please feel free to argue with this assessment of the situation in the comments below.

Incidentally, I did give up smoking, using a two-step plan I devised myself. Step one was “not buy any more cigarettes”. Step two was “Don’t smoke anyone else’s cigarettes”. It was a simple plan, but it was not easy.

 

Self-pubbing : Is it a Catch 22?

Though there’s no guaranteed way to self-published success, a lot of writers will agree on some “best practice” ideas that will improve your chances. The Holy Trilogy are these:

  • Pay for a professional Editor to make sure your story and copy are spot on.
  • Pay for someone to get the formatting right for whatever method of publication you’re using
  • Pay for a professional to design your cover artwork.

They may not be in order – the cover art is what is likely to snare your passing trade, after all. A decent front cover makes your book look professional and worth buying. Once you’re over the threshold, it’ll really help the reader get into your book if the inside is as well laid-out as the outside, with no irritating typos, bizarre paragraph breaks or plot holes you could lose a badger in.

We can all see the worth of these three choices. But what if they’re beyond your reach?

Certainly, a lot of people are finally able to tell the story they’ve been thinking about for years, and publish it through the magic of the internet. No more submission letters to agents and publishers, hoping to catch a break. Just write it, upload it and wait for the money. Except, without the money to start with, you don’t get your Editor, Formatter and Cover Artist, so the odds of your book selling in decent numbers are small. Maybe you could hire them once your book has sold a few hundred copies, but…Oh. It won’t sell without the hiring and I can’t hire without the….Right.

I posted this question on some writer communities on G+ and received some great responses. Many of the writers there had used contacts they had made through social media – getting friends to Beta Read, rather than using editorial services, or they had traded their own artistic or graphic design skills to get editing in exchange for cover art. Some simply shopped around, getting good deals on editing work from new editors looking to make their names.

My favourite response was from Buzz Malone of the writing group “Literary Agents Hate Kittens”. He said:

“The good news about self publishing is that you can learn from your mistakes and fix them. I would encourage every writer to dive in and start making the mistakes as soon as possible. It really is the best way to learn.

HOWEVER, I would also encourage every writer to think and long and hard before ever spending a penny on almost anything. Why not try it yourself first? You may discover that you needn’t ever hire a cover artist because you like the pictures your fiance takes. Or, it may be a good venue toward showing an artist friend’s work.

As far as making the whole chicken and egg thing of hiring people to do stuff using the money you’re going to make from your writing, etc., forget about it. We all have golden dreams of becoming overnight sensations and making it rich somewhere deep inside. But the fact is that 99.99999% of us will never get rich writing. 99.99% of us will never make a living at it. 90% of us will never sell enough to recover our time. If you’re writing books or novels as a way of getting rich… let me save you a lot of time and money and heartache. Stop….now. Buy a lottery ticket. Your odds of winning are way better.

If not, you write and starve and go in debt, and then, you make the mistakes. And then, finally, you get a job and hire an editor to fix the mistakes that you cannot fix for yourself. But even then you do it with the realization that the investment is into making your art the best it can be, and not with the idea that somehow, someday, your “investment” is going to pay off in cash. That’s not why we write. “

This is the real truth, I think. Always strive to make your work the best it can be. If that means you re-read it a dozen times yourself, and hand-draw the cover art, then so be it. As long as you are committed to producing the best work you are capable of, then be proud of it. If that means you hire people to work on it because you have the available cash, that’s fine. If you do it all yourself, then that’s fine too.

The work and words of Buzz Malone can be found here: http://buzzmalone.blogspot.ca/