In case you’re not signed up to follow Pride’s Children.com, or haven’t heard me mentioning this on FB, here’s the link:
Traditional publishing believes it: they LIKE to take a beginner’s book, push it like crazy as ‘the next big thing,’ and then, if it takes, take credit for the success. If it doesn’t, most of the time (as that first book can take a number of years to create), we get articles in the NY Times and The New Yorker by disillusioned young MFA-program writers who thought ONE book was their ticket to live in Manhattan forever.
Hindsight is 20/20. You learn things later you wish you had learned sooner. And they can hurt you. Significantly.
And it’s possible this isn’t important for many beginning self-published writers, so no one has thought to mention it as specifically important.
Instant gratification is a plague on the modern world.
And the Dunning–Kruger effect is rampant. The link will give you a precis of the science, but the short version is that about the bottom 10% of people in competence in a subject think they know it all. Reread that sentence because Washington is full of it right now. The least competent think they are the MOST competent.
Maybe it’s a survival thing – if you thought you knew how to hunt the mammoth, even though your hunting skills were terrible, the mistaken belief allowed you to leap in there with your spear, and it was successful just enough of the time that the gene didn’t die out. Once in a while. And possibly is the origin of the phrases ‘fools rush in’ or ‘beginner’s luck.’ But I digress.
How does this apply to new indie authors?
Here it is: the thing I wish I’d known about – and had paid attention to: your book launch is critical, because in the first month you get a bit of free publicity (new books) from Amazon, and the DATE of that launch determines its eligibility for awards, and you need to know if your book is good enough and apply for those awards at the right time.
NOBODY IS OUT THERE SEARCHING THE NEW INDIE BOOKS TO SEE IF THEY ARE ANY GOOD, AND GIVING THEM AWARDS.
I published late in 2015. That made me ineligible for most 2015 awards (their deadlines had passed), and ineligible for 2016 awards because Pride’s Children: PURGATORY was published in 2015.
I didn’t need to publish then; I could have waited, would have waited if it I’d known the consequences. Early 2016 would have lost me the Christmas 2015 season (during which I sold a few books, very few), and I was so focused on getting that thing out there, that I didn’t even think about awards.
TO GET AWARDS, YOU HAVE TO SUBMIT TO AWARD COMMITTEES – AND PAY AN ENTRY FEE.
The fees cover the administrative costs of most awards, and the prizes (part of which may be subsidized by some foundation). They are set just high enough to discourage most new authors from frivolous submissions. And if you’re determined that the book should pay its own way, are an expense that may be hard to justify.
NOBODY will know that you applied for an award. Other than the financial one – which could be significant – there are no downsides to applying. IF those committees are honest, this might be your only chance to be considered on pure merit (their subjective definition, of course).
And the whole process runs up against the other part of the D-K effect, that the most competent people are hesitant to say they are competent in a subject – because they actually know how much they don’t know. Many top scientists are modest and humble people.
There is a surfeit of Arrogance in the world.
Self-promotion is something most indies have to work at, and we’re all tired of the relentless self-promotion – Buy my book! Buy My Book! BUY MY BOOK! – of the modern Twitter feed.
But once in a while, a new – or even a first – indie book is a carefully-drafted, polished tome that would have merited consideration by an award committee – but didn’t know the basic facts of submission, because, even though they spent years reading the forums, blogs, and boards before publishing, the FACTS above in bold were never mentioned.
I would have liked to try.
‘Bestseller’ or ‘Bestselling author’ is USEFUL in marketing. And that should be achieved by sales, which most indie newbies won’t have. But ‘Winner of the _____ Award’ IF the award is a real one, and a significant one, is also very good for a book.
I would have liked to know it could be important. I screwed up.
If that’s arrogance and ego, so be it. The awards committees would have let me down, the money could have been wasted.
But the simple facts would have been nice to have, so I’m putting them out here on the off chance that someone else in the newbie self-publisher category will see this, and at least know to look up the awards and their submission guidelines and dates.
And that’s my screed for today. Are there hidden gems, condemned by the very lack of knowledge of their indie authors to remain hidden? What do you think?
“I coulda been a contenda,”
Marlon Brando, On the Waterfront.
Or so one likes to believe.
ACTIVISTS TELL ARTISTS TO BE POLITICALLY CORRECT?
I received an email today from someone in my own community which reads:
Please, please, PLEASE change the name from CFS to ME. I have just watched [X]’s TED talk, and that only reinforces how important it is not to continue using this dreadful name. We must NOT add to the wrongness of all that is wrong or not happening with this disease.
[X] might well be putting ME on the mainstream map. …
Thank you, [NW – name withheld]
And it raised my gorge, for reasons I will now explain.
A little background would set this in context
I started Pride’s Children at the turn of this century, set it a few years later into the time period 2005-2006, and locked it down in my memory to keep the details accurate.
It took me a long time to write, a long time to get it right, and a fair amount of time to publish.
Promotion is not my thing, but I’m womanfully shouldering the task, which used to be a purely indie/self-publishing task, but has now become a task most writers, traditionally- or self-published must undertake (or risk selling no books – traditional publishers only market those books expected to be big sellers or for writers in their top 1-2% – everyone else gets bupkis in promotion).
SINCE publication, a bit over a year now, among other efforts, I have asked a lot of CFS people to read, and possibly make a mention of Pride’s Children on their blogs or sites – and haven’t even had the courtesy of a reply.
I shrug – figure they have more important things to do with their time.
My own Facebook ME/CFS community has been far more supportive, and people there have made a huge effort to read (even when they rarely read books any more, and even more rarely something of PC’s length (167K words for the first volume in a trilogy) and complexity. And several have given me the incredible additional gift of a review – and I know how much it costs me/them.
I’ve asked other people connected to the ME/CFS community to publicize, read, review – again, no interest.
Fiction breaks down walls
I emphasize that fiction is one of the prime ways (cf. Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Black Beauty, To Kill a Mockingbird… in novels; movies such as The Philadelphia Story with Tom Hanks) there is to get through the barriers people put up against involvement around their hearts and minds.
I understand; the world used to have a disease of the week, and now it is more like the disease/charity/cause of the second on the internet, TV, and the mails. ‘Compassion fatigue’ is real.
I think I’ve written well; some readers tell me so.
And you’ve heard endlessly my statement that
the more there is a message in the fiction, the better the entertainment value must be
because people don’t like being preached to. Have an important message? Don’t tell people – let them find out for themselves through your characters.
So why did this email bother me so much that I’m blogging about it?
- Historical context: for a disease that has been called yuppie flu, CFIDS (chronic fatigue and immune dysfunction syndrome), SEID (recently – something to do with our post-exercise exhaustion), ME (for myalgic encephalomyelitis or encephalomyopathy), and others that didn’t stick very long, it is disingenuous to decide that ‘ME’ (with the first description- one I don’t understand because I always though myelitis was an inflammation the covering on the outside of nerve fibers (Google: infection or the inflammation of the white matter or gray matter of the spinal cord), and I don’t even remember what ‘myalgic’ means (Google: muscle pain). In any case, ME always has to be explained.
- Everyone’s CFS is different, though there is a core of symptoms (like a Chinese menu – so many from Column A, so many from Column B). I was diagnosed with CFS in 1989, and nobody did anything then or since to see whether there’s inflammation somewhere on my spinal cord (nor would I let them – the symptoms are bad enough).
- There is no approved designation worldwide – the European ME people say we US people with CFS don’t have the same disease, for example.
- There are no approved tests – up until now, and especially in 1989 and 2005, the diagnosis was made BY EXCLUSION of everything else they could think of that gave you the same symptoms. We’re hoping for research that will nail down a cause, and possibly give hope for treatment, at least for those who are more recent victims, or possibly not full of co-morbidities after all these years.
- Insurance companies and the CDC and the NIH change their designations all the time, for reasons which they always claim are ‘the best.’ I’ve seen a lot of these in 27 years, and few have stuck, and each one claims to be the one which will put us on the map (and wastes a lot of money on talk, administration, and stationary each time).
Another name change could come along tomorrow – and I hope it will when they figure out the cause – some exotic virus or virus fragment or new quasibiological entity – which will give the whole thing the correct context (cf. HIV). CFS is as good as any of these other designations – and has the advantage of being far better known (and not pronounced ‘me’ as in ‘I have me.’)
But of course the most important part is that I choose what I write
And was careful to make some of the above distinctions (ones which would be known in the time period the book was set in), before using CFS consistently in the rest of Pride’s Children, BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT WE USED BACK THEN.
And I guided the reader in and out of those distinctions with care and deliberateness to emphasize the (at that time and still now) UNKNOWN quality of this illness.
If you own a copy, it’s in Pride’s Children, Chapter 2, where Kary explains it to Dana. If you don’t own a copy, the Look Inside feature on the book’s Amazon page includes that chapter in the sample.
C’mon, wouldn’t it be an easy change, and shouldn’t I play ball?
In addition, the email sender shows a cluelessness about how a book is written, published in ebook and in print that tells me blithely to put in hours, days, weeks to change something – because X gave a TED talk.
Good for X (who belongs to one of the organizations I’ve gotten no response from – an organization within a few miles of me, by their address). This is X’s mission – along with more advocacy that I am very grateful for – and which I cannot do. X has put a life on hold (no choice in the matter because, well, of CFS. ME/CFS. ME.) and chosen to use connections I can’t do anything but drool over. I am happy for X.
And one of X’s project, which may make X famous (15 min.? hope not), had a very catchy and expressive name, which was JUST CHANGED to something entirely different I don’t like!
But I spent FIFTEEN years writing the first third (and outlining the rest) of what I consider a major novel with a CFS main character, before any of this other stuff happened (X has been sick for five years, and was in elementary school when I started this project).
I started serializing the final polished novel in 2012 – when X’s project was not even begun.
And there is no way in hell I’m going to make a change to my published story to accommodate anyone, just because they may end up being (probably will – those connections I mentioned – and a HUGE amount of effort) much more famous than I am.
I guess that covers it:
- it was inappropriate to ask me to change MY book
- it couldn’t be done, even if I wanted to, without an enormous effort on my sole part
- and where were you, NW (name withheld) when I asked – I couldn’t even get you to read
- I don’t think, personally, that CFS is all that dreadful a name; the name recognition, you see
It isn’t ignorance; the person (NW) who wrote has known me and my book’s existence for FAR longer than those five years I mentioned.
Thanks for listening. It is good to get these things written down – and out of my mind, where they tend to fester.
I will happily listen to opinions civilly offered.
I’M FEATURED TODAY ON BOOMER CAFE!
Hey! That rhymes!
I am a Baby Boomer, born between 1946 and 1964, by the Boomer Café definition.
We are the Post-WWII babies, and there are a lot of us. Many of us are getting to retirement age – and able to do as we darn please.
I’ve been reading Boomer Cafe for a while now (though not since 1999, their founding date!), submitted an article now titled, ‘A baby boomer writes the novel she always planned,’ and they published it today!
There are a lot of hard parts for beginning self-publishing novelists
One of them is the perennial question: who is your target audience?
Because the natural answer for newbies, even if they have written a baby board book, is EVERYONE! Which is not as silly as it sounds, since board books are not bought by babies, but for them, by siblings, parents, and relatives, of all ages.
Pride’s Children: PURGATORY, my debut novel, uses every technique I could learn to appeal to men and women of all ages, and teens mature enough to understand adult themes of love, marriage, work, jealousy, obsession (teens = fans?), getting what you want, and sacrifice. The sex and violence and language ‘rating’ is PG-13 (minimal) because I’m interested in story, not mechanics.
But wide POTENTIAL appeal makes it a bear to market: try planning an ad or outreach that will grab the attention of male teens and their grandmothers, and you’ll see what I mean.
Wide appeal for a book means no generic marketing
So you have to look at yourself, see how you are a member of the demographics you are included in, and figure out how to use that to present your book and yourself as author to diverse groups.
If you write straight Science Fiction, for example, there are oodles of promotional opportunities in newsletters, blogs, lists, sites, and at your online retailers. Your only problem (and it is a doozy) is how to make yourself stand out from all the other SF writers and their books).
I read and I learn. What I have learned since PC came out is something I suspected before I published: regular indie marketing strategies aren’t going to work for me and this book.
Which means one thing: diverse marketing, and a different marketing strategy for each group, with the understanding that there is no more homogeneity in the ‘groups’ than there is in my general audience.
Call it ‘trait marketing’: What do I have in common with Baby Boomers?
And that’s where the inspiration for this particular article came from.
First, to clear that away, I have no interest in writing non-fiction articles for magazines, online or in real life. I am a novelist, with books to write and sell, not a free-lancer looking to support herself by writing non-fiction. That’s a different calling, and I don’t have it.
To the extent that I do, this blog and the one for the books (prideschildren.com) are my non-fiction outlet, and I don’t expect them to pay for themselves or my time from what I write there. I get satisfaction from putting my thoughts in order, from the possibility of an eventual book or two if one arises from the posts because a bunch of people seem determined to write the same way I do (it could still happen!), and from the visitors and commenters here and on the blogs I visit.
But it is almost a cliché that many people think that some day they will write a book – and, until I actually finished one and published it, I was in that group. And that was the perfect topic to pitch to Boomer Café, it met with their approval, I wrote it – and it’s here!
Writing for exposure is not NECESSARILY a bad thing, is it?
Boomer Café doesn’t sell ads. The only way I can use their site to get my book in front of the other Boomers who visit there is to write an article which gets published. And provide something of interest for the subgroup of Boomers who might like to at least consider whether they should attempt that novel.
Anyone who writes to me after reading that article will get pointed in the right direction, and that will be a small partial payment for the advice and many kindnesses other more-advanced self-publishers have given me.
If people who read the article want to, Boomer Café has posted my cover, and a link to Pride’s Children: PURGATORY on Amazon, so readers can check it out and purchase if it appeals to them (or they want to see what it looks like).
And I couldn’t hope for any more than that!
I’m exploring myself and Pride’s Children for that kind of publicity opportunities
This past year, I’ve done a lot of hand-selling, to readers and writers I’ve met on Goodreads, Wattpad, Facebook, and via blogs such as ThePassiveVoice and the many others I follow and comment on. That will continue – it is a more personal approach, and has worked well in getting some awesome reviews. It is not a given that I will get a review or a new reader – my success rate there is about 50% for people who will try reading. More importantly I have found almost all of the blurbs for the book that way.
I’m determined to make this a career, rather than a hobby, so I expect PC to pay its own way eventually.
The question to take away is…
What is there in common – and how do I use that to entice people into reading the first few pages, a couple of scenes, or a chapter or two?
BEFORE that, I have the usual: book title, description, cover, editorial reviews, ratings, Look Inside feature, ebook sample, reader reviews, author page, numerical rankings within the various categories and subcategories (if you scroll down far enough on the Amazon product page for the book)…
Even price. Readers have their own opinions about what books are worth; I have priced at the lower range of what traditional publishers charge for ebooks and paper copies, but higher than what indie genre writers charge. And run a sale at least quarterly.
AFTER that, after TRYING, readers know if they might like a book or not. I trust readers as I trust myself to know what they like to read – and whether I’ve done my job to supply that.
I’ve already met some new and interesting people on the Boomer Café site – maybe some will turn into readers.
Thanks to Stencil for the image above and the ability to add my own words.
Readers: how do you like to be appealed to?
Writers: what special niche marketing do you do?
Looking forward to hearing from you (hint, hint)!
LET’S SEND 2016 OUT IN STYLE
If you’ve always wanted to try Pride’s Children – now is the time.
If you’ve read Kary’s story, and wanted to recommend it – now is the time.
If you want to give it to a friend – now is the time.
If you’ve hesitated because it’s long, and you’re not sure, and it seemed too big a commitment – now is the time.
The latest reviews have been amazing
The characters feel like real people that you meet everyday
…One reviewer complained about the length, but I found it too short. I am used to reading BIG books. Alicia has written a book that is spellbinding and you don’t want the story to end.
Pat Patterson, a self-identified ‘simple man, a Southern redneck,’ said,
This book was a feast, and I am quietly stepping into the line for the next one
…Kary is CLEARLY a hero, by any criteria you want to apply apart from armed combat, and she is the center of the book.
…I found myself turning page after page, and DEVOURING the words, licking my lips figuratively at how delicious they were, and thinking: SHE CAN’T KEEP THIS UP! There is no way she can continue to let me walk around and see and hear and feel what the characters are experiencing; except she did.
Indie freedom means I can do this when and if I want to
One of the big advantages to being a self-published author is that I can turn on a dime.
If I wake up one morning, check my sales and ads, and don’t think my marketing plan is working well for this book, I can change it – or I can ditch the whole thing RIGHT THIS MINUTE and do something else.
This means that the marketing – an entirely separate skill from writing – is a work in progress.
I don’t want to think about it too much for the rest of this – interesting? – year.
But if the price I chose for the ebook doesn’t work for some readers who might otherwise enjoy Pride’s Children: PURGATORY, I can find that out by playing around with the price point.
A Top Reviewer, I am told, said that Pride’s Children was the best 0.99 novel she’d ever read.
What do I want?
New authors want readers. And the beginning of word-of-mouth recommendations.
Of course we want fame and fortune, but realize that may take a while – and more books published.
We want readers waiting for the next book with bated breath.
We love reviews and sales and publicity and…
But most of all, we want to be read.
Because that encourages us to write more.
I’ve tried many things both ways: with positive reinforcement or with stubbornness. I’m sufficiently persistent to keep writing, with no regard for the outside world, but the encouraged way is far easier. I don’t like taking good time to write myself back into writing fiction; with my CFS brain, this happens far too often.
I want your most precious gift: your time. And I want you to feel it was well spent.
Thanks to Stencil for holiday images and the ability to make quick images that look professional, to illustrate posts. If I needed more than a few images a month, I’d get the paid version in a flash.
Today is turkey day for many people, including my huge and wonderful extended family in Mexico City, Detroit, and all over the western world. I am so grateful for them. I wish I were with them.
I am grateful for friends.
For self-publishing. Even for Amazon.
I realize how grateful I am for the ability to write, however slowly, but I’ve been feeling lately it is slipping away.
Part of that is the normal losses of life: the last chick has left the nest (we hope, for her sake and happiness, for good). I am in the middle of a huge effort to downsize. And another huge effort to walk properly again. Both these efforts take a lot of energy – and the energy has to come from somewhere.
A big part is chronic illness; it demands more than anyone can afford.
But part is also aging, and the thought that if I slow down much more, I will be at a standstill.
Time is finite – will you be happy what you do with yours?
So this morning I asked myself the title question: If you only had one more year to be a writer, what would you choose to be your legacy?
Many writers have had this question thrust on them. Some have quit writing – they’ve said what they want to say, and the work is getting onerous.
Others, like Sir Terry and Iris Murdoch, were taken from us by the disease no one seems to be able to fix except in mice – Alzheimer’s Disease. I hope AD also removed from them the pain of knowing they were losing it, because it is the most awful feeling.
But still others – and I hope to be in this group – use this question to focus, to re-prioritize and re-aim their writing, and to ask themselves if they really are doing everything they can – and whether the work is important enough to warrant the expenditure of so many chits.
I have a very short professional list:
I have to finish Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD, and Book 3, tentatively subtitled LIMBO & PARADISE. Or maybe just PARADISE. And get them both published on Amazon.
I want to put the prequel short story, Too Late, up on Amazon.
I want them read, and I hope they will have an effect on people who consider the disabled ‘other,’ and not worth considering – or reading about.
I think I can accomplish those things IF I focus. Tempus fugit.
It is nice to consider that I have all the time in the world. But nobody ever really does. Life can strike the writer at any age.
Note that I’m also asking this question of people who don’t consider themselves writers – is there someone you should write to, or something you could write, need to write? That letter to your children? The one where you tell someone how much they’ve really meant to you?
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.
If you don’t like epic mainstream commercial fiction (i.e., ‘big books’), you should think a bit before you start, or you might have to make some adjustments along the way. I’m not going to tell you what you can read and can’t read (note carefully this is not on the book’s site, which should contain nothing but praise and happy customers’ reactions).
If you don’t like the epigraphs at the beginning of the chapters in Pride’s Children, you can skip them. All of them, the long ones, only the ones that are Kary’s writing, or the biblical ones – whatever you want to skip. I won’t stop you. Epigraphs in general are sort of pretentious, aren’t they?
At the same time, feel free to ignore the Chapter titles – they probably don’t add anything to your reading, and are just the author pretending to be refined. Too mysterious by half, just decoration. Skip.
If you don’t like prologues, you can skip mine. You will miss a few tiny pieces of critical information tucked into a single-page, 145 word piece, but it’s definitely your choice if you don’t like prologues. Besides, some of that won’t even be relevant until the second or third book of the trilogy, and you’re not going to remember it anyway. Skip without a thought.
If you don’t like third-person multiple point of view, we’re going to have a major problem, because that’s the choice I’ve made for how the story is told, and it isn’t easy to change, though you might just tell yourself it’s omniscient pov done poorly, and live with it. Three first-person povs, rotating, seemed more awkward, so I chose three third-person ones.
There may be a problem with too many characters. I stopped counting after about 50. Just ignore the minor ones and you’ll get most of the story. If they’re important, they’ll come up again. If not, why bother remembering them? If you don’t want to read about disability in your characters, you might want to skip the whole thing anyway, and look for books with young, hot, healthy characters – all of them.
Many people aren’t all that happy spending time with Bianca. Her scenes are clearly marked, so if you want, you can just skip those. You probably get plenty of her in the scenes by the other characters anyway.
Don’t like big paragraphs of mixed dialogue and interior monologue, some direct and the rest indirect? Feel free to pick up the dialogue bits (they’re marked with double quotes, single quotes when it’s remembered dialogue), and skip/skim the rest. Your choice. There are all kinds of annoying bits that foreshadow things that won’t happen for a long time, anyway.
Don’t like paragraphs of pure description of which you think there are too many? Skip ahead – don’t worry that there might be something buried in those descriptions that will add to the story. They’re probably window-dressing, the author showing off she knows many words for sky color.
After all, Pride’s Children: PURGATORY is a whopping 167,000 words, and they can’t possibly all be relevant to the story, and you usually skip the boring parts, so skip ahead freely, without a qualm.
Don’t pay too much attention to the language – it really is a little bit much, and it would have been much better if the author learned to ‘write simple.’ Maybe she will by the next book. If you bother to read that one. Skip the part about context.
If you’re still going to be unhappy that he and she (not telling which she) don’t get together and have hot monkey sex sooner, feel free to skim until you find the parts you like to read. It won’t bother me anyway, since I won’t know unless you decide to write about it in a review, and then you don’t really have to put your name on the review, so it’s no biggie.
You can even tell everyone you didn’t like PURGATORY, and aren’t planning to read NETHERWORLD and whatever I decide to call the third book in the trilogy. Besides, trilogies are too long. Fine with me – I am happy for you to have your own tastes and opinions, and truly believe they are just as good as mine.
I’m not sure I can help at this point if some of this stuff seems confusing, there are too many characters, the story seems to keep getting disconnected, and many pieces just plain don’t make sense, though.
I wish you much happy reading with other books more to your taste if you don’t like mine.
Still want to read? Or should I have warned you before you already read?
Every once in a while I get myself into a jam, and, though I think I have every thing I need in writing a piece of a scene, it fails to gel, I feel frustrated and tied in knots, and I keep going at it from all directions, starting and restarting the section without getting to a coherent flow.
I tried an old newspaper trick this morning.
Newspaper reporters have to make it fast and easy for a reader to engage with a story, get the basic information into the reader before she does the pre-computer equivalent of clicking on something else to read: giving up on one story, and finding either another one to read or moving on to the rest of her day.
Your English teacher probably taught you this, too (I didn’t have an English teacher, so maybe that’s why I came to this in a roundabout way).
It’s called 5W + H.
And it means, you recall, supplying the six pieces of information the reader needs to lodge the basics of the story in his head:
- Who – people present or necessary to the story
- Where – setting
- What – is going on (the plot)
- When – time, time frame, sequence
- Why – are you telling this story? Why did they do it?
- How – the plot reaches resolution, and the information is transferred securely into the reader’s head.
The order doesn’t really matter as long as, after a very brief period, the reader has enough to interest him to keep reading the details.
TV news people usually drag this out as long as possible, especially if there have been little advance hints all day (news at 11) – and now they have to supply the goods. They tease you along with the less interesting bits, finally supplying the actual meat of the story (which is often anticlimactic – I waited up past my bedtime for this?) after as many commercials as possible, when they could have ‘informed’ you the first time you heard about the story.
Writers can’t afford this – the reader won’t stick around.
For the writer of FICTION
The problem for a writer is when the dramatic pieces want to come first – the startling headline, the shocking news – but they won’t make sense without the more informational bits.
Readers have an empty gray-goo area in the brain, a formless void, when they approach a new story, and it has to be filled in quickly.
If you don’t reveal that this shocking dog’s death occurred, not in their neighborhood, but in Manila, they will 1) assume it’s local, and 2) be annoyed at you when they find out it’s not.
So the system is: shocker, fill in the absolutely necessary stuff to orient the reader, more shocking details.
But it’s not the reader’s job to avoid the confusion: it’s the writer’s job.
LEAD with the emotions
Life is boring – readers need vicarious experiences.
We are, as Lisa Kron says in Wired for Story, primed to absorb new information that we need.
Need is critical: grab readers by the emotions, and supply the details as quickly and efficiently as possible, and they will follow.
What I figured out was that I’m relatively good at doing these steps in a normal scene – hook, set the scene, supply story, leave cliffhanger of at least one question so the reader will read the next scene.
But not when I get tricky – for good story reasons – and try to cram a lot into the piece of scene.
Then I need to stop, make sure the 5W+H are provided asap, and choreograph the presentation of story information in the most effective way I can. Deliberately. As if I had a news desk editor with a lot of experience to satisfy, and the pickiest readers.
The contract with the reader
Lead the reader down the garden path, as it were, until we find the dead body.
If you can do this in a tricky case, it improves the facility for doing it in normal situations.
It comes down, after you’ve identified the 5W + H:
DON’T CONFUSE THE READER – FOR VERY LONG.
Just as soon as the reader starts to think all this is a bit too much, it GELS.
Because the critical information is all there.
And the reader is no longer confused, the dreaded info drop has been avoided, and the story is firmly lodged (one hopes) back in the reader’s brain.
The analytical side of my brain is very pleased with itself – the artistic side is chomping at the bit.
The details? You’ll eventually have to read Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD to grade my performance, but I can tell you the bit is the beginning of the second scene; it involves four people and four different settings; there is a tiny necessary shift in the timeline; the formatting helps (Lord knows how I’m going to do this in the audiobook version); and, if I do it right, it will bring you right back into the story with very little ’splainin’ (think Ricky Ricardo and I Love Lucy: “Lucy! You got some ’splainin’ to do!”).
Trust me, the other way was long and boring.
What say you? I love discussion.
Thanks to Stencil for the ability to create images for posts.
To give them the biggest emotional journey you can, the most stress and pain they can take vicariously?
At least, it is your job to consider their feelings – and how you’re going to invoke them – if not as you write, then at least before you publish.
You owe your readers a thorough exploration of the questions raised by the story. If you present one action, and only one reaction, you’re preaching. Which is fine as long as you know what you’re doing, and some writers and readers are perfectly fine with that.
But not me.
Real-life choices are made with options. Fictional choices are made with a lot MORE options. Just because writers can. There is no budget needed when a writer says, “Overnight, a mountain had moved in front of her window.” A few black marks and it’s done. Less than a minute of writing time, and we have a new mountain, right where I say it is.
So there’s no excuse such as “it’s too expensive” or “where am I going to get a mountain?”
Since I write realistic fiction, I do have limits that I choose (and shouldn’t use dream sequences with new mountains very often). But the mountains of K’Tae, where Kary sets her SF novel (if you’ve read Pride’s Children, you know what I’m talking about; if not) were necessary for her plot on an inhospitable planet, and cost me practically nothing. Nice, eh?
Readers’ reactions to roller coasters, emotional
Leaving out those who like their fiction tame, and those who prefer a lot of physical action, gives me readers who want to know how the appearance on a single TV interview can make such a difference in the life of a woman who normally hides, due to a carefully managed illness, from any publicity. How much can she take? What does it do to her? How does she cope before, during, and after a roller coaster comes into her life?
Do we want her to get off? Do we care where the ride stops? Is it even a possible ride for her and the other people involved?
Readers deserve an author who takes into account their emotional journey, presents each relevant event as the only possible next event, has a sequence of emotions calculated to lead them through a scene, chapter, book in an inexorable progress (Noooo!) to the only possible end to the story, and then dumps them at the station wanting more.
Margaret Mitchell did that continuously through a very long Gone With the Wind, and left us at the end wanting the more which either she didn’t plan to write, or didn’t get the chance to. And which was so badly mishandled by the writer her estate hired to do the sequel that I won’t mention it – which disappointed many.
How to engineer a roller coaster:
Planning, planning, and more planning is how I do it.
My tools (the books I consult most frequently while setting the journey up) are:
- Writing the Blockbuster novel, in which Albert Zuckerman masterfully takes apart several important and well known scenes (from The Godfather, GWTW, and Ken Follett’s The Man from St. Petersburg) showing how it’s done.
- The Fire in Fiction, in which Donald Maass carefully shows how to create conflict in every element of a scene (from landscaping to literally nothing happening).
- Wired for Story, where Lisa Kron shows how to make a reader empathize with a character with a thorough understanding of how the human brain works, and how we feel.
I start a scene, for example, by asking myself what the character needs to go through emotionally for the scene to work for me.
Then I start working out whether some of the emotions cluster in groups. If so, a smooth transition from feeling to feeling within a group gets planned.
I ask myself where the scene starts, what the emotional changes in the character have to be, and where the character needs to end.
Once I have the character’s path and the actual events working to give a transition which makes some kind of sense, I work out how to get a reader to identify – and take the same journey. It has to be a believable journey. In real life, people go through circular emotional journeys, coming back again to the same thing, over and over, repeating themselves. If you do that in fiction, readers will notice.
You don’t get to take that trip in fiction because it’s boring. Once a character achieves insight over something, the reader expects him to remember that insight.
That’s because stories are the highlights of life, condensed, told as quickly as possible so that readers can get many vicarious lives. My kind of stories, anyway.
That’s where I’m at right now: writing the very first scene in Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD. In the midst of taking the reader expectations left at the end of PURGATORY into account, setting a new direction for the next level of exploration, making sure the reader gets dragged into Andrew’s head for the battle (yes, Book 2 starts with Andrew), making sure a few old questions get answered, and even more new questions get lodged in the reader’s consciousness, and planning that very long ride up from the station to the tip top of the track and then…?
Thing is, the starting point is partly determined by where Book 1 ended, and where I know Book 2 ends and Book 3 begins.
But I know it has to kick things up to a new level, so I get out my trusty software tools, and my slow brain, dump all the marketing and promotion stuff which has been bedeviling my existence, and start chuckling at what I’m planning to do.
Because the Roller Coaster Designer gets to take the ride over and over and over until it’s as good as she can make it.
Thanks to Stencil for the ability to make up to 10 free images per month. I’ve enjoyed using their easy tools – and every month they give me new choices. I will get a paid account as soon as I need more images – I’ve only explored the surface of what’s available.
I you like my prose, consider purchasing my fiction. It’s written by the same person.
I’m planning to put up a few short stories in a polished form as soon as I can create covers.
SATURDAY MORNING REDEDICATION AFTER A WEEK OR TWO OFF FROM WRITING
Every morning I wait for the wits to gather, for the two usable neurons to click on and do their job, for the moment when (IF) the minimum amount of brainpower is available to make the decision: block the internet so I can write.
I am fortunate: I have time for writing. I actually spend each day at the computer, where, if I can write, I write. Many other people have to snatch their writing time from a busy life with a day job and children and the dog and… I don’t. I could write all day every day – if I could get the brain to cooperate.
It’s frustrating. I always wanted to write when I retired, back in the days where computational physics took my daily energy – and I gave it gladly; programming with the purpose of filling the space between experimentalists and theoreticians is the best use of the kind of brain I had back then. Connecting the measured reality with the equations which explained them (if the equations were right, which is what I was ascertaining) is a joy reserved to few, and calculating theoretical parameters from experimental data was a trip. I could do it; I did it; it was useful and appreciated, and the way I had planned to spend my life.
So now that I am retirement age, and all finished with even the possibility of going back to do useful physics, and have the time, I have to wait to get the neurons clicked on (both of them), and see if I can make them think for a little while. Frustrating.
You see, they don’t want to turn on. What a joy it might have been to write with a right mind. For that matter, what a joy it would have been lo these many years to do almost anything with a right mind, I will never know.
But life is what happens when you’re making other plans, and this is mine, and I write with it, and I know that if it doesn’t come on today, this brain of mine (or, much of the time, that it is not urgently required to do something that only I can do), it will come on tomorrow, and I will get a few more words out.
Why? Why do all that work when I could sit around and eat bonbons (we can afford it)?
Because the story of Pride’s Children, of Kary and Andrew and Bianca, was VOUCHSAFED to me, as a whole, and it’s not finished writing yet. It’s such a lovely word, ‘vouchsafed.’ It means, roughly, granted to ME, because I am the best person for it. It came as a whole, this story ‘of obsession, betrayal, and love,’ and I know where it ends, even as I discover some of the side paths it takes to get there, NECESSARY side paths.
I won’t stop writing, finishing the remaining two books in the trilogy, until I am finished – or I am stopped.
So all the ‘life events’ and distractions and bonbons have to wait, because I have work to do, it is important, and it isn’t finished.
And because, by starting, I have promised my readers.
And because I can. Eventually. Most days.
And that will have to do.
I had hoped, by this year, to have made more of a splash with a novel which has a main character who deals with CFS – and some of the complications, from exhaustion, to limited exercise capability (and especially very limited ability to INCREASE exercise over time), to pain, to brain fog.
It is difficult to write a character who is sick without triggering the pity response in readers – and then immediately checking out with “Who wants to read about that?”
It is difficult to write a character without making her seem inspirational for dealing with a major illness – this is called Inspiration Porn by disabled people who rightly don’t appreciate being called inspirational because they can get out of bed in the morning and try to make the best life they can of what Life has handed them.
And yet saying that giving a character CFS (or the old standby from the Romantic days, tuberculosis – otherwise known as consumption) is the same as giving them green eyes, just another character feature, is completely wrong. Though green eyes may dictate a character’s choice of lipstick or jewelry or clothing color, a major CHRONIC disease is a huge commitment for a writer, since it affects everything in the story. EVERYTHING. From the subject choice to the characters to how the writer (me) has to set up scenes and plot.
I write between the Scylla of ‘ick’ and the Charybdis of ‘does she still have that?’ Going too far in either direction immediately loses a portion of the audience, prospective or actual.
Today is International ME/CFS Awareness Day
And this post is about that, and it’s about me, and it’s about the story I chose to write, TOO.
I can’t help that. I have always said that I write from the fullness or paucity of who I am.
I don’t know how other writers do otherwise; I’m sure they find ways to tuck part of themselves and their life’s experience even into Sauron.
What it’s like, for me
I try to ignore it as much as possible, and yet a lot of my time is spent making sure I don’t do any of the things I know will bring that day’s writing to a complete non-starter. Such as eating too many carbs, not getting enough sleep, ignoring the start time for the next nap.
I spend a lot of time staring at the wall, able to surf the web gently, but not even capable of writing a blog post (and you can tell from the results how little thought goes into some of them!).
You don’t even want to hear the scads of coping methods – what’s the point?
My one determination is to let CFS destroy as little of my remaining life as possible; I’m partially successful at that. The rest of the time I’m fooling myself.
And I am depending on the kindness of family – who ignore my inability to be a normal participant in family life, to pull my weight, to not need things more than my ‘fair share.’
Even with an absolute minimum of what we can reasonably hold me responsible for, I get further behind every day. And any day that has ‘special stuff,’ such as today (which ALSO has me having to deal with insurance by phone – or risk not having pain relief because the company switched to a generic WHICH DOESN’T WORK) takes what little good time I have and pours it out like water on hot sand.
I don’t say this for any other reason than to stand witness on this day.
May 12, 2016.
Another year gone by with no real progress.
Verisimilitude – the appearance of Life
Considering what many of us PWCs (People with CFS) go through, the fact that I can sometimes write, and have actually worked my way through publishing a novel, is just short of miraculous – and I’m rather proud of the results.
In case you were wondering, things WERE better when I was Kary’s age; the mobility problems which bedevil my life came later, and might have been avoided (I won’t go into surgeons and knives – what’s the point? Hehe) had I known a LOT more, and had I not been the beneficiary of ‘old lady medicine’ (the kind of treatment which assumes that after a certain age, you aren’t worth saving).
Kary is NOT me, except in the small details and the normal amount of characterization that writers use: details such as outlook on life, a background we either have or research, a house in a place I’ve visited, a life in a place I know well enough to portray realistically for the purposes of the story.
Kary’s story is not mine: other than sharing a disease and some vacation landscaping and a proximity to Princeton, my life is routine – I have been happily married for 41 years now (Happy Anniversary again, dear husband), have never lost what she loses, have not had the experience of having big publishing pick up a historical novel that happens to go best-seller, have a different professional and personal background, don’t have the capacity to get through Anatomy…
Maybe we share having been affected by a particular set of books – but we grew up in different countries, so there can’t be that much overlap.
Wandering minds and brain fog
I’ll stop here, and list a few links to places doing a far better job of staying focused on real-life ME/CFS.
Me, I keep shying away from letting it have any more of me than I absolutely have to cede.
Links for ME/CFS International Awareness Day and CFS in general
- ME/CFS Action is doing a protest in Washington on May 25th (the day they could get a permit?). I have sent a pair of shoes which will represent me – if it isn’t obvious by now that there’s no way I could go there, park, walk, protest, …, you haven’t been reading this post or the blog.
- Some background on Jennie Spotila’s blog about the highly controversial PACE trials in Britain which in 2011 claimed to prove that all we need is behavior therapy to stop seeing ourselves as sick, and exercise therapy to get better. The British health system would love nothing better than to state there is already a ‘proven’ therapy which costs them very little, and that patients with ME/CFS are lazy – and sweep the whole thing under the proverbial carpet. BTW, when you want one-payer health systems, one of the things you get is a single-therapy for everything approach – and entrenched cost-cutting measures because of rationing.’ Look well, oh wolves,’ before you sign on. Budgets are ALWAYS getting cut.
- If you want to find out how many ‘solutions’ have been proposed, spend some time at Cort Johnson’s Health Rising blog – and you will be immediately depressed at the enormous number of unproven methods and supplements and ideas that have been put forth over the years, none of which have fixed much.
- Last one for today is also Jennie Spotila’s: she keeps track of one of the indicators of how our National Institutes for Health spend research money. When researchers, and administrators at government agencies, don’t believe something is real, they have no guilt about diverting money to their pet projects (some diseases have WONDERFUL PR – PR agencies and lobbyists riding the gravy train completely out of proportion to the number of people affected and the severity of the illness). And every week she points to one of the indicators of research money AGAIN being zero for a major disease.
I don’t mean to disparage all the researchers who ARE doing good things – without them we wouldn’t have ANY awareness to celebrate/memorialize/trumpet today. Some of them have been downright heroic.
I do mean to warn about the abundant quackery that rises up when the diagnosis isn’t known and there is no treatment that works for a ‘condition.’ People need hope, even when it dumps them with nothing, and money, time, and effort spent.
Depress you enough yet?
Not my intent. ‘Awareness’ is all we’re going for here today – readers here are no more responsible for fixing things than I am; if anything I am more (except that I can’t – but for the fiction).
I believe mightily in the power of fiction to change hearts and minds.
And a final plea: if you haven’t, consider reading Pride’s Children. And giving it to people or recommending if you like it. And writing a review.
MY GRATITUDE TO STENCIL for the ability to make images with quotes. If you use a lot, try them out.
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.
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.