Category Archives: Epublishing

Anything I deem useful for future epublishing of my writing.

Data mining for the critical book description

Teddy bear with sign Looking for friend; Words: Help refine the book description; Author: Alicia Butcher EhrhardtCROWD-SOURCING IS THE NEW GOLD STANDARD

The purpose of a book description

The description of a book should do one thing, and one thing only: get a reader to click further.

The click may be to the book’s page on Amazon, to a Buy link, or to the Look Inside feature on Amazon. The next material seen, if it’s not the book, already downloaded onto a Kindle or Kindle app or a book in the mail, has to continue the process, but the first click which lands in a place the reader can make a decision should have an irresistible ‘Call to Action.’

The book description is the beginning of the words that form the Contract with the Reader.

Why fiddle with the book description after spending so much time crafting it?

At this point in the development of marketing for Pride’s Children: PURGATORY, the book description, originally crafted to attract the kind of reader I thought would like it, someone exactly like me (!), isn’t working.

Plus that turned out to be wrong: there is something that unites the merry band, a sensitivity perhaps to the way I’ve chosen to tell a story, or to something in the characters themselves, but I haven’t isolated it yet.

My gentle description of what is an intense book full of unexpected shadows is too mild. It expects too much of the general reader – and is not helping convert those who might reach the description into possible readers of the book.

Advertising – the soggy ground

The field of advertising is one I don’t wish to plow, because of the energy it takes to generate a hundred concepts until a few seem ‘possible,’ and then to refine the gold in those into ‘probable,’ and continue working an ad into ‘Yes!’

Companies spend a lot of money on advertising. I have neither the money – nor the time. So I’ve resisted doing the work.

I tell myself, ‘Finish the next book – then this one will sell.’ I think, ‘It’s good enough,’ or ‘The description is accurate,’ or ‘It doesn’t matter what I do.’

And maybe I’m expecting too much – and all this is moot.

But an ad I crafted for a summer issue of the Princeton Alumni Weekly netted exactly one sale. I’m not getting it right.

Are there stones left unturned?

There are books out there whose readers I want, and I haven’t mined them yet to see whether there’s something I can use. Amazon has oodles of data – the whole book’s page is stuffed with information. Some of it I can’t get easily (or within my budget, such as Kirkus review) because the big publishers need a staff to do that for the books they’ve decided to push, and my staff consists of me.

‘Editorial Reviews’ can contain some pretty heavy hitters (‘Stephen King recommends that if you read one book this year…’) I don’t have access to – whether anyone reads the blurbs or not.

And I haven’t mined the 24 reviews, 21 of them positive, to really hear what my readers have said. The ones I already attracted, and who were impressed enough (yeah, I’m going with that explanation for now, rather than the chain-gang one) to write a review.

I intend to start doing this.

Especially the first: if I think Pride’s Children would attract readers who either liked, for example, Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, or who specifically didn’t like it because of perceived flaws, I need to be spending some time looking at the description the copywriters at the big publisher produced for the book, and what the book’s readers have left in the reviews they wrote. I’ve done some of that – it could use a serious go-around.

That’s work I will do on my own.

You, my blog readers, have been kind

But I also want to ask my blog readers whether they think I’m doing the advertising part wrong – and what they think might work better.

Feel free to do one of two things:
1) Think for a minute and tell me what attracted you to read Pride’s Children, if you did, and
2) Anything you haven’t already told me about what I’m not doing right. Because I have saved, and will be rereading everything anyone already sent.

I have my own small data bank – that cache of all the words I’ve received already, kind or caustic – plus the reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, and blogs, and I think I’m ready to do some more digging.

Email privately (abehrhardt [at] gmail [dot] com) if this blog is too public for you. I promise not to publish anything identifiable! And I’ll be taking suggestions in the helpful intent they’re offered. No hurt feelings.

For blog responses, here’s the easy link (no scrolling back up).


PS: price and cover are not up for discussion in this round – they are separate issues. I’ll reexamine both eventually, but right now I’m concerned with book description and ad copy. Just the words.

PPS: Don’t worry, writing NETHERWORLD is still my first priority. If you were worried.

Writing a DRABBLE got me banned

A pair of small empty canvas sneakers between two sets of lower legs with sneakers; the word NO is in a yellow circle and the word BANNED is below.BANNED – FOR WRITING FICTION?

New milestone: my writing got me banned permanently on a site.

The reaction to a fictional drabble (100-words) was swift and disproportionate.

I was writing for FREE for a site which publishes a drabble a day (or none if they don’t have any they like). The reason: because, if they included your drabble on their newsletter, they would, by way of payment for your work, put up a link to your books.

Writers shouldn’t write for free, should they?

IF they choose to, and have a reason which makes business sense to them, now.

It’s fair enough: I write something you can choose to use, you give me a tiny bit of promotion by

1) letting me publish a sample of my work (NOT my book, just my writing), and

2) providing a link a newsletter reader can choose to click on to my Product Page on Amazon, where, as it happens, I have one single book up – 167,000 words of fiction (see that – I can write at more than one length!)

Drabbles? Is that like a haiku for prose?

Drabbles are an interesting story form. You get exactly 100 words and are supposed to tell a complete story, beginning, middle, and end, in that space. Obviously, you get little room for backstory or description, and editing a short story down to an even hundred word is an art in itself. I have written a few fiction ones before, and a whole book of non-fictional drabbles on Wattpad (64 at last count, I believe, mostly about the process of writing, editing, and publishing a novel).

Back to being banned, please!

I submitted some drabbles to the site as time permitted; the first five were, in due course, published.

Then I realized I had two available there which had not been published, and that the daily newsletter had been appearing for a while with no drabble in it, either.

So I thought it reasonable to go investigate; sometimes software somewhere between the site and your home computer resets, and the defaults need to be changed.

I was totally surprised when I attempted to log into the site and received the message:

Totally barred for unprofessional behavior

or was it?

Permanently banned for unprofessional behavior

(didn’t get screen shot; can’t now)

Excuse me? Huh? I hadn’t done any behavior at the site for a while, much less anything I considered unprofessional – all I did was post a few drabbles a while back for their consideration (no obligation – they warn you at the beginning that your drabbles may not be posted – I was fine with that when I started submitting a few, after noticing what other writers had created with their 100 words). These drabbles were in the site’s SUBMISSION queue, posted to my account while waiting to see if they would be published or used.

Pause: If I had been informed at this stage that something was unsuitable, I would have removed or changed it. You can hardly afford, when sending work anywhere, even for free, to get upset if it isn’t published.

What do you do when something like that happens out of the blue?

Through a back channel, and assuming something technical had gone wrong somewhere along the line with them, and expecting an apology!, I cautiously sent the email:

I went to the site this morning intending to post another drabble, to find that I have been permanently barred for ‘unprofessional behavior.’

This mystifies me – the only behavior I’ve committed at the site has been to post a few drabbles, some of which have been published in the daily newsletter.

Would you please tell me what my next step should be? I would at least like to retrieve the unpublished ones – or see a list of them.

I’m assuming this is a mistake. If not, could you please let me know what I’ve done, so I don’t do it again?

No answer came over a several day period; I assumed the person I had written to was busy (it had happened before that I didn’t get a response, prompt or otherwise).


CAUTION

Before I do this next bit, PLEASE NOTICE I AM NOT NAMING NAMES! I’m making the information vague ON PURPOSE: I believe this site and every other has the right to control what they publish, to remove contents and comments they find objectionable (as I have at my site), and to not be publicly indicted for their behavior because of it. In fact, I consider TROLLING and FLAME WARS very unprofessional, and do not participate.

In addition, brain fog and extremely limited energy and awake time due to CFS, make it really not worth my while. I actually assumed I had missed something important in this whole event simply because I didn’t read something or understand it right.

So why post at all?

BECAUSE it is MY first banning anywhere for writing FICTION, and I choose to write about the experience on my own blog. That’s what writer’s blogs are for. It may even serve as a cautionary tale for other newbies.

If someone I know very well wants the information, I will be happy to supply it; I have warned some writers already. PRIVATELY.


When you got no response, what did you do next?

Next step, try the front channel. I sent the following email to the site directly:

Dear XXX site:

I had been happily supplying drabbles; you published four or five of mine for the daily newsletter.

Then drabbles didn’t appear for a while, when I knew I had two left that hadn’t been used.

I went to your site to find I’ve been ‘permanently banned for unprofessional behavior.’

Since I’ve done nothing on the site, much less anything that might be considered unprofessional in my book, I’d appreciate it if you’d take a look.

If I did do something you objected to, would you please let me know what it was? So I don’t do it again?

Really clueless here – no idea of what I did. They had even actually published a somewhat similar drabble of mine before.

The response was swift and abrupt:

[Short pause here: because the sender of a letter/email owns the copyright to the words, while I could show a friend the actual email, I may not publish it exactly as is, and it doesn’t come under the concept of Fair Use. So I’m going to paraphrase it, and try to be accurate, but you’ll have to trust me on the content. Of course, the owner of the copyright – the sender – would have to own up to it and make a big deal of it if I did publish exactly what I received – but I’m well read in copyright law, and not about to give that a chance, since I’m trying not to identify the person, but only write as to how this affected me, okay? Also, too bad, because there was a lovely typo.]

It’s not professional to request help, dislike the help offered, and write about murdering the person who offered the advice.

[I didn’t request the kind of unsolicited advice the drabble was writing about; it was sent by a marketing firm without being asked for or wanted. Especially not wanted. And the number of writers who have use an incident that happened to them to choose their next murder victim in their stories is Legion, to the point where it’s a meme for beginning writers (I did it myself when I started) to get rid of some hostility that way. It’s FICTION, folks. What else do you call The Silence of the Lambs or Misery?]

This is rubbish.

[The opinion of the site owner is valid on their site. It was an intense drabble, and it took me an hour to get it to say exactly what I wanted it to say, with no room to qualify or maneuver. I have the feeling I hit a nerve somewhere, but have no idea WHAT nerve, unless the responder has had unpleasant experiences – and how would I know that?]

It’s a permanent banning so don’t bother me again.

[Not bloody likely. Excuse me for asking when you provided no information at all, and I didn’t think that much of your site anyway, nyah, nyah, nyah!]

I asked a writer friend whose response was, “Banned for fiction? That’s absurd.”

What should the response have been to my original email?

Any one of the following, singly or in sequential emails (if I was insistent), would have been the professional response of a site open to the public. And remember, the drabble was never published by them. It was in their SUBMISSION queue. Something like:

Your drabble does not suit us at the present time.

We don’t think drabble X can be rewritten to be appropriate for our readers, so we have deleted it.

Your drabbles are too dark; please don’t send us any more. We don’t think we are the right publisher for them.

We find your work too disturbing for our site. Please do not send us more. And we don’t think we want to associate with your work. Thank you for your previous submissions. We have closed your account. Please do not open another account.

In other words, just about any formal rejection you’d get from a publisher after submitting, oh, say, Carrie. Or Hannibal. Or Cujo. Or any slasher thriller or novel with Jack the Ripper in it.

What next?

Nothing, really. No action is necessary on anyone’s part, least of all mine. I know where I’m not wanted, and would not return even with a very good quality formal apology (which I’m not likely to get). The drabbles are mine (those were the terms – they merely requested you not post them elsewhere until they had been used on the site – IF they were used on the site). I always intended to publish them myself later.

I’ve put them on a new drabbles page; note that the drabble You Do What You Have To Do has a similar punchline and was published on the site (without ‘advice being offered’ by the victim, of course – which should make it worse, not better, as the results were applied without provocation).

I will put these on MY site, under MY control, from now on – it’s easier. I have apparently thin skin, probably too thin for indie, and it bothered me. I have now written the bother out, and it’s a closed matter as far as I’m concerned.


That all said, I don’t think it’s a bad thing for a writer to consider her words before putting them out into the wide world. Words have power – words can hurt.

Have you any experiences of being banned? With or without provocation? How did you react? (Not talking here to those who make a habit of being deliberately confrontational to get attention – you know who you are.)


Thanks to Stencil for the ability to make images for posts.

And, if you like the non-fiction and/or short fiction, consider purchasing and/or reading the long fiction – see sidebar. They’re written by the same person.

Mainstream: when your writing category vanishes

mainstream

THERE USED TO BE THREE GENERAL CLASSES OF WORK: MAINSTREAM/COMMERCIAL, LITERARY, AND GENRE.

Where did the mainstream go?

Caveats

I’m writing this post to dump the contents of my brain* about what has happened to the classification of novels on sites such as Amazon BECAUSE of the desire to categorize everything into smaller and smaller bins so the reader can find exactly the kind of book he is searching for.

It isn’t meant to be a scholarly discussion of any merit – and I welcome differing ideas, but would appreciate a general sticking to the question: Where did the mainstream go?

Mainstream fiction – as opposed to what?

This is a serious question. Type ‘mainstream’ into your Amazon search box and you won’t find the novels you expect. Maybe I should say that I’m older, and these aren’t the novels I expect.

‘General fiction’ brings up so much stuff I would consider genre fiction that it’s useless.

Although very well written genre work elevates a good story to a literary quality – which is where such novels as Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale are, in my opinion – it doesn’t make it mainstream or general fiction – the story is, in my mind, literary SF.

What IS ‘mainstream’ (IMHO)?

Mainstream fiction is meant to be appropriate and engaging for a majority audience.

Some books which I would call mainstream:

Love Story

The Thorn Birds (when it came out)

Gone With the Wind (ditto)

On The Beach and Trustee from the Toolroom (Nevil Shute)

Airport (and many of Alex Hailey’s other books)

Hawaii (ditto, Michener’s work)

Exodus, QB VII (and others by Leon Uris)

Authors such as Sidney Sheldon (The Other Side of Midnight) and John Fowles (The Magus)

The Bridges of Madison County and the novels of Nicholas Sparks

Some of these books are now classified as ‘classics,’ but were mainstream when they came out. Others are currently classified as ‘historical fiction,’ but the same applies: they were meant for a very large audience of literate people, an audience that went from children/young adults to older people, male and female, and encompassed much of the educated population.

There were no conventions; this audience could handle a WWII novel, a novel about finances, or The Key to Rebecca. Or Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca.

Mainstream. Commercial. Epic. General fiction.

Or simply what used to be called ‘a novel.’

And the category used to cover what was called a ‘big book’ – books with large casts of characters and elaborate plots, whether or not they were well-written, encompassing a spectrum of writing quality from Dan Brown to Ken Follett and Mary Stewart’s Arthurian legend novels starting with The Crystal Cave.

Mainstream novelists. People who wrote for the broad center of the complete reading public. Writers for whom plot and characterization were important.

But most importantly, people who did not want the reader to have to stop because of the language. The writing quality was sometimes awkward, generally competent, but stopped short of going into literary rhapsodies – because that would stop the readers’ flow.

Literary fiction then and now

A category which used to encompass everything from Proust (A la de temps perdu) to The Color Purple, ‘literary fiction’ used to mean stories that were intended for a more discerning audience than mainstream fiction, one with a more educated group in mind – and people who were comfortable with and appreciated language and description and minutiae and nuance. People who expect literary allusions and epigraphs and quotations from English poets, who can read Saul Bellow’s Seize the Day with pleasure.

I can’t. That kind of fiction, with its exaggerated precision and lack of plot (on the more literary or experimental end), makes me itch. These books are often taught in English and American Literature classes (the box where I found my husband’s copies had a large number of books of that kind) as ‘good for you’ and requiring study. It often meant work that was tinier in scope and more enamored of language than most readers were looking for.

Oddly enough, ‘literary’ as a category on Amazon is now used heavily by the big publishers to indicate that their books are better (and worth the much higher prices charged). When Data Guy puts out the quarterly charts of book prices by genre, the columns above 9.99 for ebooks are labeled literary and occupied mostly by traditional publishers: big 5, medium and small presses, and university presses.

Worse, literary is now the keyword associated with work which is the same as everything else, only better written. Literary fiction writers are probably screaming about that.

The problem with ‘literary’ as a category:

On Amazon, ‘literary’ has come to mean ‘mainstream.’

Now, ‘literary’ means anything not in a specific genre such as SFF or Romance or Thriller.

I’m sure authors of true literary books are not pleased to find their category invaded by everyone who thinks they write better than average prose.

The rise of genre fiction, partly propelled by Amazon and search categories

Books such as Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy were clearly science fiction. And The Lord of the Rings has always been fantasy.

Romance is a relatively recent category, but Pride and Prejudice is not a Romance; it is mainstream. Jane Eyre is now called ‘literature,’ but was mainstream when it came out.

Thrillers, mysteries, and such have always been genre – and some of its practitioners have elevated these genres by writing so well that we could probably call them literary mysteries, etc. – but the general audience I’m trying to delineate wouldn’t call them mainstream.

NOTE: there have always been omnivorous readers (I was one) who read anything they could get their little hands on, but we knew what we were reading when we chose a mystery or a science fiction story like Dune. Same stuff – only very well written.

Amazon provides all these categories and subcategories and sub-subcategories, but it doesn’t curate the lists. If you write ‘literary’ on your fantasy novel, it says ‘fine’ and shows that book with the literary novels and the fantasy novels, depending on other things like reviews and sales.

Nobody curates these lists online – it takes too much human time and trouble. Algorithms do it.

But it renders categories almost useless when anyone can put a paranormal romance with werewolves into general fiction. Or call their work literary. And I’ve had writers tell me they do this because their appropriate category is too crowded. Aargh!

What to do about this – assuming anyone cares?

And I do care – because I WRITE mainstream fiction, and I aim for the literary end of the writing quality spectrum – careful language. With the very strong warning to myself that it is NOT allowed to stop the flow.

I label it ‘literary’ and ‘general fiction’ and ‘psychological’ and ‘contemporary Romance’ (it IS a love story.

And I cringe when I do it.

I want my mainstream back. I probably won’t get it.


NOTE: If you’d like to see what the heck I’m talking about, Pride’s Children: PURGATORY, the first book in my mainstream contemporary love story trilogy, is available on Amazon US in ebook and print. For other countries, it’s easiest to type in the book’s name.

Thanks to Stencil for the ability to create images. I use fewer than 10 a month, so I have one of their free accounts. When I need more, they have very reasonably priced services with a LOT of flexibility.


*How and why I noticed the disappearance of the mainstream

I’m ideally positioned to answer this question because of an accident: for the past twenty-seven years, most of the energy normal people use for reading and writing fiction has been denied to me due to the energy-sapping disease called CFS – Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

In the beginning, merely surviving the illness and coping with the children took everything I had. After a number of years, things improved a bit (or older children require somewhat less intense mothering), and I started thinking how to stay sane, not merely alive.

Writing was the answer – something I could learn to do and had always wanted to and planned to do.

We won’t argue names and etiologies here, but CFS has a constellation of symptoms, and my worst three are:

  • Brain fog
  • Exhaustion
  • Pain

The relevance of this is that I don’t have energy for reading AND writing, and, because I wanted to write, and had a story to tell, I have spent most of that time on the debut novel Pride’s Children: PURGATORY. And I didn’t read much during that period. When I woke up, ‘mainstream’ had vanished.

It’s a subject close to my heart – as I write mainstream fiction, and, as an indie, I’m having a very hard time connecting with the right readers. A collection of terms such as ‘literary’ and ‘contemporary’ and ‘romance’ does NOT add up to ‘mainstream love story which deals realistically with disability, fame, and integrity,’ does it?

‘Write the book you want to read’ is then followed by ‘find the people LIKE YOU who want to read the same book but can’t/don’t write it.’ The problem: I have no idea how I would attract ME to my book. And the categories aren’t helping.

What say you?

Creating and improving the dreaded Author Photo: Part 2

look like 2CHOOSE YOUR GOAL: HOW SHOULD YOUR READERS SEE YOU?

This is a toughie, because we would prefer to be attractive naturally (‘attractive’ here meaning strictly to find more readers who will like your writing), and then any picture would do.

So you have to instead suss out what those readers expect to see, and trust to produce the kind of writing they like to read.

You can go with mysterious, and skip all forms of visual presence. Your choice. Which will be destroyed if you ever get interviewed, do a book signing, go to a convention – and someone takes a photo of the ‘mysterious author’ and makes it public.

“But,” you say, “I never go out in public.” Like me. Okay, not never, just rarely. Maybe then it’s even MORE important to have a photo you like be your representative out in the world.

I’m sure it varies widely by genre, and a fresh-faced young beautiful blonde girl would lack the picture creds to write a really nasty military thriller conspiracy. We trust Stephen King to write horror – he LOOKS like he writes horror. We have these ideas in our head…

If you don’t look like the stereotype, can you modify yourself to look like the stereotype? No.

Can you modify your PHOTO to look like the stereotype? Yes.

Determining the stereotype requires a bit of detective work

Pride’s Children: PURGATORY is a mainstream contemporary literary love story.

Here’s my analysis:

  • The author of such doesn’t have to be as pretty as the author of a Romance (who should at least look a bit like her (usually young and beautiful) heroine).
  • She should be older than the ‘pretty young thing,’ but maybe not ‘old.’
  • She should be smiling. Love, after all, makes us happy. But not grinning.
  • She should NOT look like a business person, yet she should look competent. She will be your guide on an adventure.
  • She should be slightly soft, rather than hard.
  • She should not look deeply worried.
  • She should definitely not look realistic, warts and all.
  • She should be dressed in something that does NOT signal Romance or Romance writer (think of Meryl Streep in She-Devil with Rosanne Barr – go look; I’ll wait). Nor should she dress like Roseanne Barr on that poster (which is a parody of the Romance-reading suburban housewife). Roseanne Barr is a beautiful woman, and so is Kathy Bates, but they have made a career out of allowing themselves to be portrayed as ugly or frumpy – I’ve been startled by how well they clean up!

How does this translate to what I hope to aim for in the Author Photo?

Plan to ‘airbrush’ or ‘retouch’ the heck out of anything I choose. This is not the time to be starkly realistic.

Plan to pick a background to enhance the person; here’s the Kristin Hannah photo on Amazon – if I looked like her… but older? A really good makeup session, and a really good photographer would do that for me. The choice of clothing and the background combination bring out her eyes beautifully.

A forward-facing but slightly un-centered and three-quarter body position is better than one squarely facing the camera, like a mug shot or a photo for a job application.

Look directly at the reader. Readers need to be able to trust the writer of an improbable tale.

Smiling, but not grinning.

No plastic hair for this – enough said? Soft, flowing, but tidy, a frame for the face. This part is me: no bangs/fringe. Not too much hair obscuring the face. No hint of hiding.

And, of course, the EXPRESSION – the overall ‘feel’ of the image – has to be right. And no, I can’t define ‘right’ in this context; I hope I’ll know it if I see it. It’s not just ‘pretty’ or ‘confident’ or ‘competent.’

It’s the same reason I licensed the photo for the cover that I chose: I could not find another that had the right ‘expression’ as a whole – and that one worked for me, though in that case the face is not visible – it’s the whole body and body position that expresses the longing.

Okay now – skillset? Acquire or farm out?


CAUTION

*** This is how a PWC* is doing this, not how you should if you want a beautiful photo. ***


I thought about going to fiverr for the retouching after I picked out a photo with a suitable expression. There are a lot of people there who will retouch for a very reasonable fee, and the portfolios I saw were impressive.

Maybe I’ll go there later, if Richard Avedon still doesn’t live in Hamilton, NJ.

For me, it’s always the balance between how much energy it takes to set up and work with another person, usually a healthy, energetic person. But more importantly, people with their own ideas and opinions, whom you hire because of those, are not going to get exactly what you want without a good deal of back and forth over a suitable period of time. And it would take a lot of time to vet the portfolios, and go through the whole process with several people. I might be surprised and pleased – the same way I might be surprised and pleased with some of our local photographers – but I don’t have a history of success in that department.

Maybe I’ll just send the picture I choose, pay three or four people, tell them ‘glamorous,’ and see what comes back. Still sounds like a lot of work.

I don’t have a friend who just had a gorgeous head shot taken.

I don’t live near my sisters, or their hairdressers.

Pixelmator and Youtube to the rescue!

With the caveat that the best way to get a great picture by retouching is to start with a very good picture that is almost what you want, but needs a little enhancing and cleanup – and I lack said good picture – I located online, free, available any time (my kind of energy saving), a series of videos giving me exactly the tools and instruction I need, and which I am learning, taking notes on, and starting to follow.

As usual, I talk/write too much, so I’m going to cut the ‘goal’ post off here, and write the rest as I try to achieve my goal: to look like me as you should see me, not as the cold harsh light of day does.


Your place to dump the insecurities that make this dreaded – from the Author Bio post comments, I assume many other authors (and normal people) have the same problem, or I wouldn’t be posting this!


*PWC: Person with CFS (chronic fatigue syndrome).

Also, thanks to Stencil for the free account I’m using to do the images at the beginnings of my posts. They have paid accounts if you need more than an occasional image.

Creating and improving the dreaded Author Photo: Part 1

look likeYOUR CHANCE TO CONTROL HOW THE WORLD SEES YOU. LITERALLY.

After having just interacted online about the dreaded Author Bio, and navigated that to a conclusion (satisfactory or not), I continue on my mission: to have every useful feature that connects me to potential readers for my fiction neatly and professionally (in the DIY sense) filled out.


CAUTION

*** This is how a PWC* is doing this, not how you should if you want a beautiful photo. ***


I COULD go out and find a photographer, get the professional headshot created, and post that. In fact, that’s on my To Do list. Has been for YEARS. NOT very near the top. If I ever become famous, have some extra time to waste, or decide I absolutely must, well, there are photographers in Hamilton, NJ. Every once in a while I look them up online. Richard Avedon is NOT in Hamilton, NJ.

I want to return to writing – and I’ve seen so many headshots that I positively hate, and few that I don’t – so, in my ‘fools rush in’ usual manner, I’m trying to make do with no help from anyone. Because I can count on me, and my tools, and everyone else seems elusive and slippery.

I have a nice little camera, courtesy of husband a few birthdays ago. It has lots of megapixels. It is the source of the snapshot that is the current photo of me in most places online. I’ll put it here, because the whole point is that it’s about to change.

AliciaHeadshotNO

It has, of course, been edited. Taken in New Orleans on a family vacation a couple of years back, it is cunningly calculated to fool all automatic editing by the cunning collection of windows and other architectural features from the cathedral I was standing in front of when someone caught a snap of the least objectionable expression on my face of the whole vacation.

Truly.

The source of the problem is…

That I, like many women (including models), don’t like the way I look in photographs.

There are PLENTY of photographs of me.

I come from a photogenic family – any picture of my sisters will show you how beautiful, polished, smiley, and always impeccably dressed and made up and coiffed (even on the golf course) my sisters are. Mother’s cheekbones are still impressive and lovely, and she just turned 93. She is ALSO kept beautifully coiffed by her lovely helpers.

But I rarely measure up. The CFS means the energy it takes – and it is considerable, ask my sisters – is not available. I throw myself together the best and quickest I can (cleanliness IS next to godliness, if not before it – I manage that often), with no thought for style.

This little detail is a very large part of why ‘Have professional headshot taken’ is so low on the priority list, BTW. Besides the four months of doing nothing but dieting required, I would have to get hairstyling and makeupping and fashion updates which are out of my energy budget from the sheer amount of time they would take, not to even mention the energy.

Your excuse may vary.

So the solution comes from…?

Well, I’m working on it.

For people like me, there are two sources of an acceptable photo:

  1. Candid shots taken by someone else – the source of the one I’ve been using
  2. Shots taken by me on daughter’s forward-facing iPhone camera – one of these days; for reasons which will be discussed below, it won’t help until I have some extra energy
  3. Shots taken by me on my computer – with the software and hardware already available to me – in this case, the wretched Photo Booth

Why wretched? Because it turns out the resolution is absolutely crappy, and there is no way to change it! The resolution settings for the camera – which sends much better quality pictures of me to Skype and such (so I know it can) – have NO way to be accessed ON the computer.

But it has the ONE advantage I need: I can see what I look like as I take a picture. Or rather, what I THINK I look like. So I can manipulate the heck out of that.

The source photos I accidentally acquired

One day within the past year, I went to church, where I sing in a tiny choir.

As I try to do, I was tidy, had a tiny bit of makeup on (okay, eyeliner – it makes my pale lashes stand out a little; possibly lip gloss – easy compared to lipstick), my favorite purple shirt, and my hair was as clean and soft as it gets with my limited haircutting and maintenance routine (yes, I cut it myself when it drives me crazy; very fast compared to that energy-sucking salon trip which normal people use).

So, basically, I looked as good as it gets nowadays (don’t expect that much).

For an unknown reason, I had a bit more energy than usual when I got home from church (maybe daughter drove), I sat at my computer, and it hit me: take some quick snapshots – and we’ll process them later and see if we can kick this headshot thing up the next step. I took my glasses off to avoid reflections. Besides, I don’t usually wear them EXCEPT at the computer, so you wouldn’t expect to see me in glasses.

I quickly took about 20 photos with Photo Booth – and the day’s extra energy was used up.

When I looked at them a few days later, I discovered that Apple, which usually does much better for me, had chosen the low resolution photo as the output of this app which comes with the computer AND there is no way to change that!

Aargh! After blowing my energy wad, I had 20 low resolution photos of me at all kinds of coy angles, every one of which would go straight to the garbage if I had my druthers, and not one of them was suitable as taken because of the background, the coloring, and the subject.

But I’m nothing if not game, and I will be using one of these photos (I might even dare post beginning and after versions) as the source of the dreaded Author Photo, which, unless you are beautiful may actually be better a little fuzzy. Okay – a lot.

Thus endeth Part 1.


LAST KINDLE COUNTDOWN DAY US AND UK!

Amazon US     and     Amazon UK

If you like my prose, consider purchasing my fiction. It’s written by the same person.


Your place to dump the insecurities that make this dreaded – from the Author Bio post comments, I assume many other authors (and normal people) have the same problem, or I wouldn’t be posting this!


*PWC: Person with CFS (chronic fatigue syndrome).

Also, thanks to Stencil for the free account I’m using to do the images at the beginnings of my posts. They have paid accounts if you need more than an occasional image.

Summer reading sale: Kindle Countdown for Pride’s Children

PC1 3D frontPride’s Children is on Kindle Countdown SALE at 0.99, US and UK!

For new followers – if you’ve liked my writing, here’s a chance to try my long-form fiction.

WARNING: not everyone likes it.

Decide for yourself!

Here are the links to go directly to the Amazon US and Amazon UK sites.

Writing the Author Bio is painful

all about meCHILDREN START WITH HUGE EGOS – ARE TAUGHT TO BE MODEST

Edited 1/17/17 (see end).


I have been struggling with a stupid task I thought I’d already accomplished and would merely have to revisit for a quick update before any more ad campaigns: having an ‘Author Bio.’

I don’t know how it is in traditional publishing, whether authors are now required to write their own bio in third person and send it in, along with a ‘professionally edited’ manuscript they’ve paid to have edited, but the big attraction was always that someone would interview you, tell you you were being way too modest, extract all kinds of interesting bits from you (thus allowing you to remain officially modest), and write something up that made you sound much more interesting that you are.

Until you could replace the whole thing with the fact that you are now famous and a list of your accomplishments as long as, well, whatever.

Once OTHER people have conferred interesting-ness on you, you can act modest and even bashful, and still wow consumers into buying whatever it is you produce.

In these days when indies have dumped gatekeeping and vetting from outside, and have learned to speak of their own work in public, and say that it’s good and persuade you to read it – the other part, writing your own ad copy, is also hard – we now find ourselves in exactly the position our parents would not want us to be in: praising ourselves.

The resulting bios, from absent (coward or busy or not realizing you need to have one) to whimsical to dry to boastful, have been instructive. And the samples online, ‘How to write your author bio,’ have been equally ludicrous.

About vs. Author Bio

You are allowed, nay, expected, to be whimsical on the About page of your own blog. Mine is a mixture of things about me which might appeal to someone – but they are just a random bunch of facts and factoids, things which are individually true or illustrative.

Many of the people who read your About page become online friends.

But the Author Bio on your books’ site – and the Author page on Amazon or your Goodreads Author Profile – is a different beast. It is for strangers.

It is supposed to represent you as a SERIOUS WRITER.

It is something which could be on the back flap of your hardcover traditionally-published FICTION, written by that (possibly fictitious) publicist/copywriter.

It’s a grownup thing.

Writing the REAL Author Bio is PANIC TIME

I can’t tell you how long it’s been on the list, because I thought I had done it, so AT LEAST since October 2015, and probably longer, this task.

Here’s a note to myself from 2013: “I come from the tradition that says the author is the least relevant part of the book, once it’s out.”

I have To Do lists with ‘check Author Bio’ on them, as you’re supposed to revisit your Amazon Author Page periodically and tweak it. I have resisted that tweaking mightily for a very good reason: I’m afraid if I touch ANYTHING on the materials submitted when I posted ebook and print versions, it will lead Amazon to review my materials – and possibly decide I’ve done something wrong and cause all manner of delays in getting it back up.

I didn’t ask anyone about that fear, because it is my experience that fear doesn’t survive information, and I DIDN’T WANT TO DO IT.

But I have this ad campaign coming up, and a To Do list specifically to be ready for it, and so many things causing me angst on it, that I decided this is it, the ‘write Author Bio’ was THE next task, and that I would not go on to another task on that To Do list until it was done, because bouncing around from item to item is getting me nowhere but even more confused.

The actual writing of the Author Bio took seven days

The current method – stick with one item until it’s done or the ad is past and there’s nothing you can do about it – started on June 16, 2016.

A usable (up for comments, so feel free) one was produced today by yours truly. 332 words for the long version, and a shortie of 72 words.

If you’ve gone through the process, you know. If not, I don’t think I can make you feel the pain sufficiently.

I have been facing this, putting it front and center as other things had to be dealt with, not moving on to the many other things I need to do (a handwritten list of twenty items, many with subparts), for SEVEN DAYS.

It’s been so bad that I started writing a new book – titled PAPER BRAIN for now – about how to use a damaged brain and still manage to GET SOMETHING DONE. Waiting for ‘good time’ not required if even half-functional. I kept throwing every bit of time – good, semi-good, and non-functional at the task – and getting nowhere.

Brain fog rampant. Inability to make decisions foremost. Whole worldview exposed.

Today I figured out how to break the logjam

In desperation at all the flopping about, lack of decision-making capability, and sheer angst, I found the right question.

I couldn’t write my Author Bio. Why? Because of all the stuff I started this post with.

But,

How about writing the bio I WISH I had?

As if I WERE someone else.

As if life had gone the way I planned it to, more or less.

As if all those details had happened.

I am ashamed of being who I am instead of who I always planned to be, and have been hoping to go back to. So someone could write a bio about me and put it on the books I always planned to write.

I finally realized it has never been up to me, not the final outcome: life is what happens while you’re making other plans.

Here it is, finally, shorn of angst and agita:

Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt is a former researcher and computational physicist at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory and the Johns Hopkins U. Applied Physics Laboratory. She holds a BS in physics from Seattle U., and an MS and PhD in Nuclear Engineering from the U. Wisconsin-Madison. A minor problem with her right eye kept her from fulfilling her ambition as an astronaut.

A voracious reader since beginning to read at three, she had always intended to write fiction, and, now retired, dedicates her whole life – when not spending time with her husband, family, and chinchilla – to exploring the concepts of integrity in relationships, and the psychological questions of why people do what they do and make the choices they make, including their life partners.

A homeschooler by accident when illness derailed her working life’s plan, her life-long dedication to the sciences aided in the development of three STEM children with a love of language.

She has dedicated the past twenty some years to learning to write to the standards of the early classics she was steeped in, as she believes that messages in fiction must be surrounded by the utmost in quality entertainment, and that fiction is the most powerful tool we have to slipping through the barriers we put up around our hearts and our minds.

As a writer, she’s published traditionally in short story. She’s been featured on Wattpad, where her story Too Late has received 63.7K reads, and where her debut novel Pride’s Children: PURGATORY was serialized and currently has 19.7K reads.

When she’s not writing, you can find her enjoying the hummingbirds in her garden of perennials designed for them, or singing.

She is hard at work on the next novel in the Pride’s Children trilogy, working title NETHERWORLD, scheduled for publication later this year. Follow her on Amazon or at prideschildren.wordpress.com to be informed when her next story is available.

Discover more about her opinionated opinions and quirky writing methods on her writing blog, at liebjabberings.wordpress.com.

With the short version:

Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt is a former researcher and computational physicist at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory.

A voracious reader, she had always intended to write fiction, and, now retired, dedicates her whole life – when not spending time with her husband, family, and chinchilla – to exploring the concepts of integrity in relationships, and the psychological questions of why people do what they do and make the choices they make, including their life partners.

This is me, folks. What will go out there in public for those who don’t know me, who haven’t earned the details by knowing me personally or reading this blog.

Comments of all kind especially welcome – it’s so much easier to change things at this point.


1/17/17 Update:

As always happens with these things, I updated, and then I visited recently, and didn’t like it. The content was fine, but I realized that, as a READER, I would want to know things in a different ORDER, because I wouldn’t care about the writer’s credentials and history (because I am not a famous person), but about whether she could WRITE.

All I had to do to have it work much better for me was to rearrange so that items of interest to me as a READER came first; then, if someone wants to continue reading about the rest of my life and times, they can.

Here’s the current version:

Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt is hard at work on the next novel in the Pride’s Children trilogy, working title NETHERWORLD, scheduled for publication later this year.

Follow her on Amazon or at PridesChildren.com to be informed when her next story is available.

As a writer, she’s published traditionally in short story. She’s been featured on Wattpad, where her story Too Late has received 66K reads, and where her debut novel Pride’s Children: PURGATORY was serialized and currently has over 20K reads.

A voracious reader since beginning to read at three, she had always intended to write fiction, and, now retired, dedicates her whole life – when not spending time with her husband, family, and chinchilla – to exploring the concepts of integrity in relationships, and the psychological questions of why people do what they do and make the choices they make, including their life partners.

She has devoted the past twenty-some years to learning to write to the standards of the early classics she was steeped in, as she believes that messages in fiction must be surrounded by the utmost in quality entertainment, and that fiction is the most powerful tool we have for slipping through the barriers we put up around our hearts and our minds.

A homeschooler by accident when illness derailed her working life’s plan, her career-long commitment to the sciences aided in the development of three tech-oriented children with a love of language.

She is a former researcher and computational physicist at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory and the Johns Hopkins U. Applied Physics Laboratory. She holds a BS in physics from Seattle U., and an MS and PhD in Nuclear Engineering from the U. Wisconsin-Madison. A minor problem with her right eye kept her from fulfilling her ambition as an astronaut.

When she’s not writing, you can find her enjoying the hummingbirds in her garden of perennials designed for them, or singing.

Discover more about her opinionated opinions and quirky writing methods on her writing blog, at liebjabberings.wordpress.com.

What say you?

Signaling literary ebook audiences by pricing strategy

PAW ad 7:6:16 hi-resPERSUADING LITERARY FICTION READERS TO READ INDIE

As those of you who have read Pride’s Children: PURGATORY will know, I write literary contemporary mainstream fiction.

I added ‘literary’ to this, somewhat reluctantly, since I published in October 2015, and I don’t intend to remove that designation. Reluctantly, because in some circles this is the equivalent of trumpeting your own horn.

But ‘Literary’ now covers a spectrum which goes from writing which literally brings the story to a halt to admire a butterfly’s scales reflecting the light, to mainstream, to works which are genre but use language so perfectly you don’t even notice.

The first problem: literary indie work is a tiny subset of the literary ‘genre,’ (as the Author Earnings report characterizes it), and that is the smallest of genres. Here is the link to the AE graph for genres, from the June 2016 report.

The second problem: the literary category is dominated by big publishers (who have fought hard to maintain the principle that they vet authors, and the work they publish is worth publishing), and who price their ebooks in the higher ranges. The combination big 5 + small/medium publishers includes most of the bestseller sales. Here is the link to the AE graph for Kindle Bestsellers by price range from January 2016.

I’m concluding that buyers of literary fiction are used to paying $7 to $15 for their ebooks. And Amazon imprints are priced below that (and are doing extremely well – their books have a hugely disproportionate share of earnings in the price range they have chosen, peaking at around $6.99).

And therefore, pricing a literary ebook at $8.99 is a way of both staying in the Amazon 70% royalty range (2.99-9.99) and NOT raising a red flag of ‘cheap’ with literary readers (unless that is clearly a sale price).

My main problem now is advertising in such a place and manner to attract those readers who prefer their reading somewhere on the literary spectrum. I’ll be trying that tactic this July with an ad in the summer reading issue of the Princeton Alumni Weekly (PAW), about the only place I’ve planned to use my title.

Awards, a popular strategy for this class of writing, are often (almost always) not open to self-publishers – or expensive. And possibly biased.

I’m also aware that this may be a severely time-limited transition strategy which may only work until the literary category is well populated by indies. Amazon’s literary imprint, Little A, is going to be making inroads, if it hasn’t already. But Amazon becomes the publisher, and they don’t take submissions from indies (last I checked, submissions were accepted only from agents).

I’m sure there are MANY things wrong with this as a pricing strategy, but for me, for my kind of writing, for this book, for my extremely slow rate of production, and for the kind of readers who I believe will like Pride’s Children: PURGATORY and its two remaining volumes, I have not been able to find a better strategy. (This is not the indie genre pricing strategy.)

Other than either going viral or finding a champion – events even rarer than indie literary fiction.

Ideas and experiences welcome!

Worldwide sale means thirteen Kindle marketplaces

worldwide

IT DOESN’T MEAN WHAT YOU THINK IT MEANS* – sale details below

Okay; I promised myself this one when my brain-fogged brain figured out that Kindle Countdown Deals are only available for the UK and the US: have a sale EVERYONE who has access to a Kindle or Fire device (or app) can take advantage of.

Amazon is not to blame; country regulations are to blame. At some point in the future, maybe France’s arcane regulations will allow online Countdown sales; don’t hold your breath – the French (or should I say the French government, for good or ill) have all kinds of regulations designed to keep prices for books high, digital books out of the marketplace, and bookstores in business.

It’s their country – their laws and rules and taxes.

The only time it’s my problem is when I wanted to hold a Kindle Countdown Deal for Pride’s Children in France.

I can, sort of, but I will be manually changing the prices daily (and hoping Amazon, which was very fast when I did it today, would continue to be fast – they don’t guarantee it). And I wouldn’t have the cute little Countdown deal image that goes on the product page, and tells people time is running out.

WAY too much trouble for moi.

*So that everyone who has access gets a sale (which ends May 1):

New authors need READERS, REVIEWERS, and RECOMMENDERS at the beginning far more than they need revenue; the small business that is a single-practitioner press (Trilka Press for me) has to become known, and that takes marketing and advertising and sometimes annoying everyone you know, on and off Twitter and Facebook.

(In fact, if you’ve heard this one before and have no interest, just skip the rest of this post.)

If the practitioner is slow, like me, the usual indie recommendation – write more books – is just another annoying thing ‘they’ say, with no bearing on your real life. Because you can’t.

Therefore, you want to make sure you don’t neglect anyone – which brings us to the following thirteen links for the marketplaces where Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) sells mobi (and paper?) versions of your book if you  set yourself up in business with Mr. Bezos.

How to do your own sale:

Nobody told me – I think they must have assumed I knew. Nope. Newbie here. Just figured it out this month: I can do my own sale. In India. Or Canada. And Mexico, Australia, Brazil, The Netherlands, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Japan, the US, and the UK.

But I have to do the work (I did: I checked out every link personally – they are not all carbon copies of each other with a tiny bit changed).

IF you have always wanted your own personal copy of Pride’s Children: PURGATORY, but you live in Mexico, today is your lucky day. You WILL need an account with the appropriate Amazon, but then you can even buy it cheap, and leave it on their website until you eventually break down and buy a Kindle. Or get the Kindle app for your iPhone or desktop or laptop or iPad – or wherever you consume your digital breakfast.

At this point I’m not even going to nag you to read it (next week).

But I can’t do this very often – you guys want me writing NETHERWORLD, not futzing about running sales for PURGATORY, right? It takes more time and energy than you realize getting all these details right (not sure I have!), and it has to come from the ‘good time’ I have relatively little of.

I read the self-publishing blogs daily, and stay current, and ESPECIALLY pay attention to ‘things that can go wrong if you mess up’ and don’t pay attention. Trust me – I can mess things up so bad I don’t know if I can straighten them out.

The links (finally – she is going to stop talking and cut to the links!) for the 0.99-equivalent sale ‘worldwide’:

PLEASE be so kind as to let me know if ANYTHING doesn’t work. You guys were WAY too kind to mention before that the sales weren’t available in Australia and the others – and I never meant to leave you out.

If you don’t want to buy Pride’s Children or read it – that’s absolutely fine, I’m very clearly not everyone’s taste, as so many people have kindly told me lately, some MUCH more nicely than others.

I’d love to hear 1) if I’m doing anything wrong, and 2) what your experience as a reader or writer and sales was like.


** Many thanks to Stencil for the ability to make a few images a month free – they have a lot to offer and it is VERY easy to use. If you make a lot of image quotes, get the paid version.

Pride’s Children is on Kindle Countdown SALE!

PC1 3D front

I AM DELIGHTED TO ANNOUNCE AN EBOOK SALE FOR PRIDE’S CHILDREN: PURGATORY (BOOK 1)!

The Kindle Countdowns for the US and UK (sale for other marketplaces to follow on April 27 – I’ll let you know again) is announced on the books’ site with a few more details.

Please tell all your friends.

OR go directly to the Amazon US and Amazon UK sites.

In training for a writing marathon

it takes what it takesFOR THE NTH TIME, I TELL MYSELF THIS IS A MARATHON, NOT A SPRINT

The title of this post is meant to be ironic, as writing is a long steady race for me – and many others.

But it isn’t just the revising/editing/polishing of the rough draft that is slow, it is the entire preparation period, now complicated by having to use at least a little time for promotion of the previous book – a process which I assume gets worse as you publish more.

Added to that are the nice conversations (via email) I’ve had with people who’ve read Pride’s Children, some of whom have left lovely reviews.

And wondering about who the people are who’ve left reviews with either ‘Anonymous’ instead of a name, or who are people I’ve never heard of.

The latter kind are more exciting – one out of the first 12 positive reviews came from someone whose name I don’t recognize, who created a profile just to write this review, and vanished. (Thank you, Cris, whoever you are.)

Authors with more experience than I have, expect these. For me, each new oddity gets a tiny bit of attention. I scurry to make a copy of the review for my records when I see them, less Amazon decide for some reason best known to themselves to remove them.

VERBOTEN COMMUNICATION: READERS ARE OFF LIMITS

I’m fascinated by the interdiction on authors communicating with readers OR reviewers – and I can see it could easily become a zoo without the proscription. Half of the commentary I’ve read on Goodreads has to do with people defending or attacking two logical points of view:

  • authors should stay out of reviewer venues such as Goodreads and Amazon – those places are for readers only to express their opinions, except where clearly marked ‘for writers/authors’
  • some authors wanting to say thank you, thinking this will encourage reviewers – and lead to more reviews

I removed ‘desperately’ from the second phrase after I realized you can’t be impartial about these things if you use such adverbs. My opinion is that the first group is safest – if someone writes to me or posts a comment here or on the books’ site, they will get an answer, but I’m staying out of mine fields. Not nearly nimble enough, I’ve discovered, from trying to maintain peace and civil discourse on one of the GR threads.

PROMOTION – AN EFFORT HERE, AN EFFORT THERE

I’m waiting to hear from Ereader News Today whether they will take my money and give me a place on their lists; I’ve decided, after reading lots of things, that my primary category need to be ‘Contemporary Fiction,’ which may be the new ‘mainstream’ for stories set in the real world within recent memory.

There will be a Kindle Countdown Deal to go along with the ENT promotion, if they take me on.

I’m looking into Amazon giveways for ebooks and print books – Chris McMullen’s blog post had lots of details.

And I’m trying to get my brain organized to send a few print copies on walkabout via Book Crossing: you label the book a traveling book, get it a unique ID and register it at the site, and then either release the book into the wild (leave it somewhere, preferably where the cleaning staff won’t dispose of it) or give it a controlled release (ie, hand it to someone). If people keep handing it from person to person, or leaving it where someone can pick it up, AND go to the site to comment that they’ve had it/read it, you can see how far it goes in the world. Sounds a little iffy, but I’ve always wanted to do that.

One other advertising opportunity is to a specific group of people – if that works, I’ll report on it.

PREPARATION IS GOING WELL

I keep saying that – and I keep discovering new little areas of plot and characterization that I really ought to investigate BEFORE getting up to my ears in the writing.

It doesn’t help that I keep having days in which I stare at the wall, so I’m instituting some practices to minimize the effects of leaving the house, namely, much more deliberate resting practices before, after, and the next few days. Oh, and fewer carbs – those kill me.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll notice a lot less angst over the above – I do the best I can, and I don’t worry so much any more (because it never helps). Good days, like today, I try to use my time well. Bad days I try to ignore – but they are scary when my brain refuses to check in for a several days in a row (at which point I get really deliberate with those dratted naps – because, for me, the resting/pacing works).

The hope is that the preparation will mean that I can just write, and not have to stop and do research into obscure points, but I do realize you can’t predict everything you’ll need. It wouldn’t be any fun if you could.

But it doesn’t hurt to take a road map when you travel, does it now? Especially if you know you’re going to need frequent stops along the way.

What does this character do for your story?

character for reasonIN LIFE, PEOPLE HAPPEN; IN STORIES, YOU WRITE THEM IN

I’m just about ready to start revising the excruciatingly rough draft of Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD, and my last task is one I thought I wasn’t going to have to do much work on.

Why? Because many of the characters in PURGATORY carry over to NETHERWORLD.

And really, since I am writing a trilogy – split for the convenience of size, not because the stories are separate – you’d think I already had my characters well in hand, and that I would just give them a quick review, add a few, drop a few, and be able to move on.

I’m dropping four characters, and picking up four characters.

It doesn’t seem like much, does it?

And they are minor characters; our main characters, Kary, Andrew, and Bianca will of course be there for the whole, but there are changes, and some of the characters (two of whom come back for Book 3) don’t belong in this volume.

That’s typical, and not at all unusual.

Relationships between characters are half the story

But my plotting software* gives roughly equal space to plot/theme – and characters.

We don’t see the world abstractly. We don’t sit on the front porch and muse about honor.

We compare friends, one of whom acts honorably and responsibly (most of the time), with the one who seems to have an excuse for anything that somehow puts the responsibility for her actions elsewhere.

And from how it hits us, and from what the results of their behavior is, we come to form our own opinion of whether standing up is better than slithering out from under. We understand an abstract concept by its concrete representation in a form our brains are designed to respond to.

Characters are chosen to represent extremes

There isn’t much point in wasting space in a story on two characters who are very similar in their outlooks on life, regardless of how common it is in real life to surround yourself with people you have a lot in common with.

Stories are created from CONFLICT. DRAMA. TENSION.

Stories have word limits. Yes, even long stories like Pride’s Children. If the writer spends too much time belaboring the obvious, the reader starts skipping. Elmore Leonard recommended leaving out the parts people skip.

In Albert Zukerman’s useful book, Writing the Blockbuster Novel, he has an example which stuck with me: Ken Follett, in an early draft, had included two policemen in The Man From St. Petersburg. Zuckerman recommended combining them – and making the single remaining character a much more important personage – to kick up the potential for conflict.

When every word matters, the pages turn more quickly, and the point the writer is trying to make sneaks into the reader’s mind more easily.

In real life, there’d be a whole police precinct full of cops, most of them of similar personality type – those are the people who enjoy police work. But for a story, one is MORE than enough. Unless it’s a police procedural, and the point is to push the in-house conflicts of a group of officers, under pressure to solve a crime, fighting over the best methods.

But in a story we have to be parsimonious in the extreme.

And this means not adding a character to a story unless he or she is there for a multitude of purposes.

Relationships are where the story’s points get made

So the interactions between the characters have to carry their weight.

Ever notice how good dialogue skips all the small talk? In life we spend lots of time inquiring about family and friends, work and leisure activities, before we settle down to something as unpleasant as having a friend on the police force look up a license plate number for us because we have a sneaking suspicion a neighbor is responsible for the new dent in our car door. In a book, the reader would go mad with boredom!

Rule #1 of writing: Don’t bore the reader!***

But the dialogue or physical interaction that remains then has to serve as many purposes as possible: information exchange, state of mind, difficulty in responding to a request that is faintly illegal, status of the friendship… plus class and education and income level of the two participants…

And to set these up, the writer should know why she picked these two particular characters, and what exactly the reader should take out of the exchange.

Setting the web of character interactions into place

1 – For continuing characters interacting with continuing characters, the story must change. We already heard what they had to say in Book 1.

2 – For new characters interacting with new characters, the story must explain why these new characters at all, and what has changed/what has remained the same in the story that the new characters reveal.

3 – For interactions between old and new characters, what is new to the story.

Not surprisingly, planning takes time and a fair amount of effort

I found myself extremely reluctant to go into the relationships when I realize how many of them there were. Then I had the above talk with myself.

So the past two weeks I’ve been thinking about characters, what gets space in the story and why, and what can be left out – because somebody has to do it.

I’m almost to the end of it, and it’s been fascinating.

And since I’ve been having the best time planning to use all this.

I almost missed it due to that reluctance (missed doing it as a unit, because I would have certainly had to do it in every scene) to dig into what seemed finished. It wasn’t.

I hope readers like the results.

————

*Thanks to ShareAsImage.com for the ability to create graphics

**Dramatica – which allows me to look at a tiny piece of the puzzle at a time (drat that brain fog) and have some hope that the whole will make sense when I’m done.

*** The only rule that matters, so far as I’m concerned.

From PLAN to PUBLISHED, writers make events HAPPEN

well structured fictionPEOPLE FORGET THAT WRITING IS WORK

It’s the most fun work I can think of, being mistress of all I survey, but sometimes it’s still work, and it takes time, and is subject to all the interruptions Life has to offer.

For all that I didn’t start polishing Book 1 (Pride’s Children: PURGATORY) until I had a complete blueprint and a rough draft of the whole story all the way to the end of Book 3, I’m finding that the original blueprint – even the one from the Great Reorganization – is merely a sketch compared to what I need to actually sit down and write every day.

Suppose you’re building a house, and you have this nice little plot of land on a hillside, and you sit out there and draw a few lines of what it might look like when it’s finished, with a porch here, and a big window in the kitchen with a view of that magnificent dogwood tree…

The house is no more real at that point than a dream, and you can’t go into the bedroom which doesn’t even appear on the drawing, and take a nap.

There’s a bit of work to be done first.

The road from dream to reality is a long one

Once the house is built or the book is finished, it has the solidity that belies its complete lack of existence before that sketch, and somehow it doesn’t FEEL any different than the sketch did, but the concept has absorbed an enormous amount of human time and energy (and money or opportunity cost).

In Spanish we say, ‘Del dicho al hecho hay mucho trecho,’ which means, ‘From words to action is a long way.’

Many books never get written.

Well, the reason I haven’t had much to say lately is that I’m just down in the trenches, doing the work, and it isn’t all that exciting.

But it’s incredibly necessary.

Blueprint/outline/storyform – don’t proceed without it

I’m a structuralist and an extreme plotter, partly by nature, and partly because, working on one tiny piece of the quilt at a time as I do, I have to know the pieces will fit together when I finish them.

Book 1 proved the worth, to me, of my methods: I did it exactly the way I said I was going to do it, and it worked and came together and connected and made sense.

Now for Book 2

The blueprint that I have, my Dramatica storyform and its ‘encodings’ – the sum of everything that I’ve put into the little text boxes which are the result of figuring out the structure behind this WIP, or what you might call events illustrating each structural point – was complete in concept, and even had placeholders for everything.

I had two choices: use the long-ago blueprint, and try polishing the rough draft.

Or go through every single piece and decide if it was still the best way to do that part of the story – or if it needed replacing with something better.

A lot was already good and connected and made sense.

What happens during writing?

But I’m more experienced now, and the first part of the story, a developing friendship that left its characters at a particular point with no obvious way forward, is finished.

The characters – big surprise – grew in the writing. Not changed. Grew. Things only hinted in my rough draft and master plan – happened.

That’s the only way I can describe it: until they are written in their final form, things haven’t ‘happened.’

And the blueprint for the next part needed a thorough going-over before being used to make the next set of things ‘happen.’

The eternal problem: picking up the story in the next book

Instead of choosing to understand and execute what I had planned back then, even if it was somehow part of the whole – which would have meant examining every choice I made in the storyform, and reading every bit of text I put in a text box so that I could write that better, I chose to delete most of it.

Not because it was ‘wrong,’ but because making it mine again as a whole would require that I remember why I put it there in the first place, and then that I take the time to decide if I still wanted it quite that way.

I foresaw that it would actually take me longer to go through the steps, for each entry, of figuring out what I meant back then and then deciding whether I still meant it quite that way and changing it to reflect Book 1 where necessary – than to trust that I have enough of the story encoded in my brain as a whole, and just answer all those prompts again from that gestalt.

This, I hope, will have the side effect of making the ‘new’ more connected when I start, and making the revisions – complete rewrites in most cases (as it was in Book 1) – easier when I’m working on my quilt squares.

I didn’t do that in Book 1, because I was too deep in revision by the time I really needed that one-ness, and so I found myself having to figure out whole sections AS I went.

I think this will be easier in the writing phase because I’m putting so much work into the planning phase.

And since I really need to write faster – and a major part of my time in writing the scenes in Book 1 was spent figuring out what and why – this may help me complete the next two books faster, so we can all have the whole story sooner.

Will this help Book 3?

Yes, this means I’ll have to do the same thing again for Book 3.

I naively thought I could do 2 and 3 simultaneously, and then pick up at the end of revising Book 2, and just move right into writing Book 3.

Until I realized how much work the re-planning is.

Book 3’s will have to wait.

I took extensive notes, and I’m feeling out my whole system (I’m not planning to stop writing after I finish the trilogy), and it shouldn’t be nearly as hard as for Book 2, since I won’t go through most of this questioning again, and just do it.

Learning to write is a process of finding out everything there is, and then selecting YOUR writing best practices, and finally getting practice doing it your way.

Even with refinements, and especially when you start out older, this system, if it works for you, is not going to get a lot of future change. This is one of the benefits of being more mature as a LEARNER. [And if some of you are out there, laughing at me because I’m STILL naive, so be it.]

Progress on preparing for writing again?

Those little text boxes for the Dramatica prompts? There are 71 of them, if you don’t count the character appreciations.

I’m almost finished with re-filling them, and I’m pleased that both nothing has changed – and they are filled better and more consciously and, what’s more important for me, more coherently.

They are forming a better ‘set’ than they would have, had I merely tried to remember what I was doing.

And – phew! – they have not hugely changed anything in the story that I care about.

And I have answered a bunch of niggling questions in my mind that I was putting off until ‘later.’

Character appreciations? What is she talking about?

The remaining ones, the character and character relationship apps? There are a LOT of them, but they tend to be shorter and smaller and more obvious – and require only a bit of thought or dialogue to reveal in the final version. Plus many of them carry over from the first book.

Only a few characters change from book to book. I use the Dramatica technique of handoffs: if character A represents something in Book 1, and then dies or leaves or the story moves elsewhere, then someone else is needed to represent the same thing in Book 2 or 3, and may express the ‘something’ differently.

To put that in more understandable terms: George has to go home at the end of Book 1, which will leave Andrew, just at the point where many things are heating up, without the childhood friend he trusts as a sidekick. Who will his replacement be – and how will the replacement deal with the pressures of the job – and will the replacement have the right stuff – and what will the consequences of the change be to Andrew? All questions important to the final end – and all planned in.

Hint: how is Nahrendra like George – and how is he George’s antithesis?

I’ll stop here, having talked forever about something few people will have any interest in.

But if you wondered why there weren’t more posts in between, when I have so many other things to write about, this is the reason: I’m putting in the work, and I need to stay focused until it’s done.

But trust me. It hasn’t been boring.

And it’s all necessary.

What say you? Does structure bore you or bear you up?

 

Amazon PRIME plus a Kindle equals a free book a month

Jan 2016 free bookFREE MONTHLY BOOK BORROW FOR KINDLE, FIRE OWNERS with PRIME

January 2016 is almost over – have you borrowed your free book this month? There’s a snowstorm on its way where I live (NJ), and you should make sure your Kindle or Fire device is charged up – and loaded with books – so you will have something to do if all else fails.

You do it FROM the Kindle; it’s on the list of options on the starting pages.

Many people have Prime – the benefits are significant even if all you do is order from them several times a year.

Many people either don’t know – or don’t remember – that one of the Prime benefits for people who own ‘a Kindle, a Fire tablet, or a Fire phone’ is the FREE ability to borrow a book from the Kindle Owners Lending Library (KOLL) once a month – and keep it until they finish it. (Not Kindle apps 😦 – it’s their way of making the devices even more attractive.)

Any book in a storm (if the publisher agrees)

The book’s publisher has to have put it into Kindle Unlimited (KU) for you to be able to borrow it (I have put Pride’s Children: PURGATORY in KU); the author will get paid for pages read out of the Amazon fund for that.

Books priced right make their authors about the same for a borrow as a sale – and it doesn’t cost you a penny.

READ A BOOK – ANY BOOK – (even mine).

And don’t forget to do it again EVERY month.

Being taken seriously as a writer is daunting

First timePUBLISHING? BE PREPARED TO ENJOY THE TINY DETAILS OF THE EXPERIENCE

We went to a concert tonight, Princeton Folk Music Society.

And one of the long-time members, a wonderful woman who was active in the folk music scene when I was still in diapers, brought over a copy of Pride’s Children: PURGATORY – and asked me to autograph it.

It was a curious sensation, being treated seriously by someone I love and respect, and have known a long time. She went to the trouble of ordering the print version, and of bringing it to the concert where she expected to see me.

A FAN, IN PERSON, IN AN UNEXPECTED PLACE

But then she started asking questions – about the biblical quotations, real questions about how I chose them and where they came from. I have epigraphs and chapter titles which are quotations from the Old and New Testament.

I explained that several came from the Book of Job in the Old Testament of the Bible (she’s Jewish). Of course we have different versions, since I obtained permission to use the words of the King James Version, and her scriptures would not have a New Testament.

I chose the quotations I did because they resonated for me, knowing that my readers might be from very different backgrounds: the words can be taken at face value, but they always have a deeper meaning, and one that may take reading further into the chapter to understand.

But she told me she had been going online to find out where the quotations came from – and I never thought about how some educated people like her might be interested in quotations enough to check them out.

The epigraphs as a whole tell part of the story: some are commentary on the worldview represented by the main character, some are a little bit of extra backstory (such as when I quote books Kary has written).

In addition, there are two ‘group characters’ represented by the media quotes I created in the spirit of what I’ve seen online – those that are supportive of a particular artist and those that tend to pick a few entertainers and find nothing but critical comments to make about them. The source attributions for these are as imaginary as the characters they refer to – but the models are ‘torn from the headlines’ of print media and TV news shows. My friend won’t find these online.

LEARNING TO BE ONE OF THE WRITERS (the grownups)

A warm fuzzy place in my heart made me happy. I am now a ‘published author’ and my book is available in the marketplace of books. It’s not that it hasn’t been true since last Oct. 28, but that these little steps on the way to FEELING like a real author happen when you least expect them.

I check out the Amazon Reports – and see that SOMEONE is reading Pride’s Children, because the graph of KENP (pages read) is non-zero. Amazon reports how many pages people read on Kindle Unlimited, in fairly real time, updated when people get near their computer – and you can SEE the numbers grow, almost see the pages turning. And I don’t know who the someone is. It could be a complete stranger. It could be someone I reached via a comment, or an ad, or a personal recommendation. All weird. Good weird.

I’m too new at this to get jaded for a LONG time.

Do you find yourself taken aback when someone treats you seriously in connection with your writing?