Success? I don’t know if others are in the enviable position of not writing for a living, but I am. Which is good, because I’m what we used to call glacially slow, until the glaciers started calving and melting with climate change. A friend called it ‘at the speed of continental drift,’ which still works.
My concern is that after I’ve put twenty-two years so far into the first two books of a mainstream literary trilogy, I want READERS. Legacy would be nice, but that isn’t exactly an aim, and if you’re not known during your lifetime, you will have to be unbelievably lucky in today’s world to be known because someone championed your work after you left us.
Disability – and now – retirement make writing my personal choice. I always meant to do it when I retired from computational plasma physics at Princeton; disability just made that happen at 40 instead of 66.
I spend my energy parsimoniously – there isn’t much of it, and I want it spent on writing when it is discretionary. I’m sure that if I had managed to persuade a traditional publisher to take me on, the marketing would have still been a problem – most traditionally-published works get six weeks on a bookstore shelf before they disappear.
I would like to see all the hoopla be about the quality and especially accessibility of the writing itself: as I have always found books such as Rebecca and Jane Eyre eminently accessible STORY- and CHARACTER-wise, that is what I’ve aimed to write. Maybe my view of ‘literary’ is flawed or limited (personally, I’m not a fan of ambiguity – others love it, or of speculative fiction – ditto, or of creatively formatted fiction): I want better, more intense, more compelling fiction with care for all the factors that make a ‘good book’. Which is why I appreciate the genre fiction with a literary quality – ‘Dune’ isn’t just SF: it is at least literary-quality SF, at best literary storytelling.
The problem is that ‘literary’ now covers anything that doesn’t fit elsewhere, a common contamination.
Instead of being the fiction that subtly raises literacy – and pleasure. As it was for me as an American child growing up in Mexico, with limited access to books in English and no libraries.
I want READERS. Readers who find what I write better than their usual fare. That’s how I define ‘success.’ It requires that I do a much better marketing job somehow.
And the books which become favorites, the ones you remember, are the ones that make you feel good somehow.
Because that’s what you get objectively and subjectively when you read/buy a writer’s book: their particular take on a life, love, and the universal.
It isn’t accidental that some books become classics: they appeal to something in the reader that makes the reader buy the book as an adult, and read it to their children, because it’s an easy way to say that: this is what I want you to grow up loving – and feeling – because it was important to me, and I want you to have it.
As you go through life, and get battered, you choose
But you have to read widely first, so you find out what you need.
Is it The Velveteen Rabbit?
Is is Pooh, original or Disney (or both)?
Is it mysteries or gory serial killer thrillers? Do you like fantasies and are you satisfied when someone else – the protagonist – is The One? Or do you prefer stories in which, due to the writer’s skill, YOU are the center, the quester, the One.
There’s a whole MATRIX of other relevant bits
Location on this planet or an alternate universe
Complexity of ideas
Style and tone and vocabulary
But the most important one is always: how does it make you FEEL?
Because that’s what you’re looking for in the next story, the next favorite, the next book.
And that’s what will determine a basic satisfaction with what you read, and what you look for when you take a chance on something new.
I’m a sucker for well-written books
And I get annoyed when that leads me astray: well-written – but with a basic nastiness to the ending; well-written – but with an underlying misogyny or racism; well-written – but with characters you’d never want to meet in real life.
I still remember one book which was recommended by a literary blog I no longer recall and which the reviewer said it was a shame more people hadn’t read, since it was so well-written. I bought it! I read it! I was indeed very well written. And the recommendation made me miss the early red flags, because the story, about a murdered young girl, and how it affected her family and friends, turned into a story which blamed the victim for her own murder – because of the way she ‘responded’ to the sick adults who perverted her innocence. And the final conclusion to the story was that it wasn’t important to identify and stigmatize the killer!
I deleted the book from my Amazon account, something I rarely do, but haven’t been able to scrub how it made me feel from my mind.
Because first the writer described how wonderful she was and how everyone loved her – and then destroyed her by saying she deserved what happened to her! As if anyone, especially a child, a teen, deserved to be murdered.
It makes me wonder WHY someone would write such a book. And realize there’s a whole subculture of writers who do – and readers who love those books.
When I write I make conscious choices
I leave the characters those turnoffs that the big trucks use on a mountain road when their brakes fail – but I can’t make the characters use them.
I adopt the slow burn: things happen with enough time to think about why, to consider consequences, to justify actions. There are plenty of stories – and real life events – where something pivots on a tiny accidental point. They don’t interest me because there is nothing a character can do to avert the coming disaster – they will cope with the change, and the coping will show who they are, but it’s a cop-out, and, under dire circumstances, even good people make mistakes. And have to live with the consequences of a split second.
Not much in the way of subtlety with the turn-your-life-on-a-twisted-dime stories, especially if the reader can see it coming at the previous mile marker. Plus, those books don’t reward re-reading, and that’s a waste: depending on a trick ending is a fool-me-once.
I WANT to write something re-readable.
I want it to take several readings to see many of the connections.
I want most readers to have to go back and read the previous volume before the new one – or to have internalized what came before so they wouldn’t have to (I’ve had both kinds of readers comment about this).
I offer the usual bargain:
I do the work – you tell me how it made you feel.
Then tell me how it worked for you.
Try it out on the prequel 1500 word short story Too Late.
Then remember there’s plenty more where that came from.
I’m going to be very careful with this post, as getting a bad editorial review is one of the hazards of paying for reviews: your book could be crap, and a proper reviewer is entitled to say exactly what they think of it.
This reviewer sends you the review as a courtesy, so you can tweak any problems before it gets published.
Sometimes you have the recourse of requesting that the review be dumped, and I have exercised that right.
So any quotes I list from the to-not-be-published review are my only product for my money – as only the reviewer and I should have access to the content, and therefore no one should be able to search for the quotes on the internet, and identify the person I’m complaining about here.
I will leave off any identifying information
and write only about the substance of the review, which is the subject of my complaint in a general way (I can already see readers wondering how bad Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD was, and whether I simply can’t take criticism).
Indies like me need a few impartial honest editorial reviews and we need to pay for them. They – in full, or quotes from them – go in the Editorial Reviews section of the book’s Amazon page.
Having a decent editorial review legitimizes you as an author, gives you some credibility.
We need to choose our source, as it can get into real money (for example, a Kirkus review is almost $500), and it will take a lot of sales to make that review worth the expenditure.
There are many other reputable review services available to self-published authors (SPAs), less expensive ones, but the field is, like literary agentry, completely unregulated, even taking into account that the ultimate result, the review, is published for anyone to see.
One would hope for some self-regulation, but the standard thing for an author to do if you don’t like a review is to let it sink like the millstone it is and hope no one sees it.
FIGHTING a review is not done, and will get you branded a ‘difficult author.’
Again, got it?
So why am I taking the risk?
Because I had expectations (silly woman?) that a professional reviewer would at least read the book.
Or enough of the book to be able to say something real and thoughtful about what I spent 7 years of my small supply of good energy producing.
When I was offered the draft review to tweak
my heart sank.
I wrote back, after a bit of reflection at the complete mismatch between my understanding of my book, and the review:
…I have been looking forward to your review for a long time.
And now I have to ask you to completely cancel publication.
If you have any interest, let me know, and I can provide you with a list of all the points your review did not mention that are critical to the story continued in NETHERWORLD.
I don’t know what to think, but the review below in the email you just sent me is not something I would want published if I have any choice in the matter. It does not represent the continuing story nor the characters.
I did NOT expect a response other than cancellation; what I received was:
Oh my! The review can of course be put on hold.
Please let me know what was wrong or missing. I will go over my notes and re-read, and re-do the review to get it right.
Sometimes I leave out some points in a story in favor of trying to preserve some elements of surprise for the reader; but in this case it sounds like I missed too many and was too general.
Please let me know specifics, and I’ll work at identifying where in my notes I went awry, and will redo the reading and notes as needed.
Lovely offer, so what’s the problem?
I’ll go into specifics of a few things below, but ‘missing a few points’ was not my interpretation.
In fact, when I started to make a mental list of the ‘few points,’ I quickly realized that the entire book had been left out, and a completely generic Romance review was what had been supplied.
If anyone knows Pride’s Children, they know that it is NOT a Romance, was never intended to be one, and misses every trope that a Romance reader expects from a satisfying Romance. Romance is a perfectly viable category with dedicated writers and MANY more readers than literary fiction – and enviably lucrative – but I don’t write Romance.
I’ll let a reviewer for PURGATORY comment:
…And the development of the central attraction isn’t a “romance,” except in the sense that a Jane Austen novel could be called one (and allowing for differences in setting and literary conventions between the early 19th and early 21st centuries, a comparison to Austen isn’t entirely inapt!), nor is it predictable or syrupy…
In fact, as much as I respect Romance writers and readers for knowing and getting what they like to read, I have been fighting Pride’s Children being categorized as a Romance everywhere that crops up, including Goodreads, where the librarians refused to do anything because some READERS had chosen to include PC on a shelf with ‘romance’ somewhere in its title.
Pride’s Children is a LOVE STORY embedded in a mainstream trilogy set in the intersection between Hollywood and writers
From the same reviewer:
…This is solid general fiction of a very high order, in the best Realist tradition, exploring human interactions and relationships between enormously well-drawn characters who come fully alive, as real, intensely human people. These relationships do include romantic attraction and love (and even have it as a central focus), but it’s not the sole focus; family relationships, friendships, working relationships, etc. -some healthy and some not– come under the lens as well…
And now for a few review details, so you can judge for yourself
The whole mention given to Bianca, arguably the most important character in NETHERWORLD, is “And then there’s Andrew’s film co-star Bianca, whose debut film is starting to make its mark on the world,” followed by a single reference to ‘the dance between these three’ and one to ‘a triangle of connections, ambition, and obsessions that embraces scheming, film industry politics, and love and friendship alike.’
The rest of the review tries, generically, to make a two-character Romance out of the friendship between Andrew and Kary: “… recommended pick for prior enthusiasts of the tale, who will find the ongoing growth and connections between Irish megastar Andrew O’Connell [sic] recluse author Dr. Kary Ashe continues to introduce challenge and revised their visions of life…” and “…As each makes their way through dates, other life connections, and events that test their talents and perspectives, readers receive an intriguing contrast in personalities and love that will especially delight prior followers of Andrew and Kary’s worlds.”
The ending tells libraries that NETHERWORLD has “… thought-provoking escapades and interpersonal conundrums where all the characters are both villain and hero will welcome the nicely-developed tension and psychological insights…”
All the characters are both villain and hero?
Excuse me while I gag. The whole point of Pride’s Children is that integrity and morality are NOT relative, not subjective, not ‘opinions,’ but fraught choices with consequences even for those who don’t get to choose.
What do authors do with bad editorial reviews?
Distinguish here first between the REVIEW being bad and the BOOK being so bad the review which says that is good, but this can be irrelevant unless the book is so hyped people go to the original source to see what was actually written, which could lead to a firestorm of sorts until the internet finds the next flaming pile.
The most obvious and most common response is to find some chunk of words in the review that can be used as a pull quote – words to put on the cover or in an ad – that are TECHNICALLY not a lie, because those words, in that order, appear in the review, even if the review context clearly negates the pull quote. Easy? “…one of the best thrillers…” from an original “Nowhere NEAR one of the best thrillers…” Usually a bit more subtle, but you get the idea.
Or if lucky or money is available, a bad review can be buried by several good ones. With the additional fillip of implying the unwanted review is somehow sour grapes.
Dropping the review completely means the loss of whatever was paid for it, which is sometimes the only option.
Arguing about the review in public, WITH names, is best left to well-paid PR pros, because of all the positive and negative ramifications. ‘Going to war’ is expensive, with pitfalls.
Another option, mine, is to use the review carefully as a cautionary example of what can happen, for the newbies to learn from and more experience writers to commiserate about. And then to put it behind you. And, of course, never use that reviewer or editorial review service again.
I briefly considered one OTHER final option
Complaining to the service managers or owners about the review and the reviewer.
Not probably the best option – the reviewer may have been bringing in cash for the service for a while.
Possibly an excuse for the review service to dump the reviewer (usually added to other examples of the reviewer cutting corners or losing their touch).
But extremely dangerous to the individual unarmored AUTHOR, because people won’t necessarily remember that there was some justification for a complaint, only that a certain AUTHOR (those horrible people) had the nerve to complain about a PROFESSIONAL REVIEWER, followed by closing of the ranks of the pros and more complaints about, in this case, entitled indie AUTHORs.
So I’ll stop at ‘cautionary tale,’ hope I get some feedback and not too many people trolling (if you are not a regular, that behavior will get you banned before leading to any posting of your comment; regulars are welcome because I know they will be civil).
I can’t be the only one unhappy with a paid-for review that seems entirely unrelated to the book.
Oh, and don’t forget to BUY the book (or going to Booksprout to request an ARC if you are even considering writing a review), so you can make your own decision if my happiness with NETHERWORLD, and especially its ending, is a crock.
I am just coming out of a period that started, really, far before Sep. 26 when I went to Stanford U. hospitals for a badly needed surgical repair.
It involved taking care of myself in ways I had to learn, going through all kinds of medical tests to make sure that someone with ME/CFS (me) would be a suitable candidate for surgery at all, and then getting there at the right time without the coronavirus putting a stop to the whole parade: I literally had a covid PCR test on Sunday Sep. 25 in a parking lot in Redwood City – all ready for the hospital the next morning – and being fairly sure I was not sick, but knowing that the juggernaut would come to a shuddering halt if I happened to be and be asymptomatic.
And it would take months to get another surgical date, months I did not want to have to face.
Husband and I had isolated in our apartment in the retirement community for over two weeks, going out for doctor’s appointments, and husband going down to dining to retrieve takeout every night for dinner so we wouldn’t be exposed to the cases that seem to randomly infect this place now that people are being so less careful with masks and gatherings.
I had literally been waiting 2.5 years for this surgery date, since I needed it just as the pandemic was getting going in 2020, and anyone who could avoid going to a hospital did so.
Before going to my medical destiny, I published NETHERWORLD:
It was finished in March, but the complications of the health stuff kept me from focusing on cover and formatting, and I finally got help from friends, Bill and Teresa Peschel of Peschel Press in Hershey, PA. Bill kindly and accurately produced the cover from my notes and comments (patient man!), and responded to many rounds of requests for corrections to the interior formatting of the paperback – and I did the final touches to the ebook cover and interior produced by Scrivener on Sep. 18 and 19 and uploaded the files, which Amazon accepted with relative alacrity, making me no longer a one-book author.
And then came the surgery and its aftermath – the HORROR
The operation went fine, and the results have been stellar and relatively painless, and most everything now works properly, and all of it as well as possible.
But pain management went flooey – starting with side effects of medication changes the week before, and then continuing for the most pain I’ve ever had, for weeks, accompanied by side effects from other new medications designed to help, to finally me getting off EVERY NEW MED, and back to my long-time stable pain medications from before – and them slowly being enough.
I tried to tell them I’m a non-standard patient; I thought they had listened.
Don’t know what I’ll do if I ever need to do something like this again, but there will be some very interesting and thorough conversations somewhere along the line: ME/CFS patients are NOT normal patients.
It’s over, I will be released from restrictions in a week
and I will be able to use our warm therapy pool, and then work up to riding my tricycle, and longer trips that the bare minimum rides on Maggie, my Airwheel S8 (a bicycle seat on a hoverboard).
And after getting my brain back these last few days, and catching up enough on sleep to be coherent (pain makes it IMPOSSIBLE to get rest), I have a big paperwork task to finish and send to the accountants.
And I will then be able to start up my new Macbook (I got the midnight blue one), and plug away at organizing the upgraded software I bought it for, and get going to finish the trilogy by writing volume 3, working title LIMBO.
I will be back to whatever passes for normal in this body and this household.
Nothing has yet changed on the research horizons
Rather, it seems that every day some scientist group has a new theory about what may be going wrong in the aftermath of viral infections such as Covid-19 and ME/CFS, and they want research money to find out if they’re right.
One of them will figure it out – the economic impact of millions of people coming down with Long Covid cannot be tolerated.
Except for the diehard holdouts, most doctors are starting to believe that post-viral illnesses are real and not psychological, or hysterical. They have no clue how to help us that gets down to basics and CURES us yet, but they are starting to treat the symptoms and minimize some of the miseries.
There is where HOPE lies: enough scientists committed to figuring it out, supported by research funds. Whether it is too late for people like me who’ve been ill for decades won’t be known for a while, and indeed the research horizon, my husband cautions, is more likely to be five to ten years than anything much faster: the coronavirus does an incredible amount of damage.
Some of it may not be fixable. I may not be fixable. Which would be a bitter conclusion I’m not ready to face yet.
All us post-viral illness folk still have to make it through the days
If you have it, my sympathies. If you have managed to avoid long covid, please be careful – if you get covid, your chances are estimated at 10-30% to not get better.
Have sympathy if you are not ill or have not lost someone dear – the tragedies are endless.
And send good vibes, pray, or cross your fingers – because I can’t wait to get back to spending my daily tiny allotment of energy FINISHING Pride’s Children.
If you read mainstream fiction, or psychological literary fiction, and haven’t read NETHERWORLD, it’s on Amazon in ebook and print. And in KU.
I would love to hear what you think – especially about whether it ends suitably.
And you can sign up to be informed about matters connected with the books at prideschildren.com.
Seems such an obvious statement, but being invisible is a big problem for authors – getting the title of your book out there is a constant pressure, and you become very fond of those who make the effort on your blog, their blog, a writing site, a reading site, or any place where readers who would like YOUR books congregate.
And then something has to persuade them to read enough words to get to a ‘Call to Action,’ which can be as simple as a recommendation followed by a link.
The problem of recommendations
If the subject of what you’re reading comes up naturally, I don’t find it too difficult to ask a few questions about what someone new to me likes to read.
I rattle off a couple of favorites of mine – say Jane Eyre and the Dorothy L. Sayers mysteries and maybe Dune – and watch to see if the listener’s reaction is fight or flight.
No one likes pushy authors, those who insist their books are ‘for everyone.’ Because it’s not a very believable statement in general, though people who are glad they read Jane Eyre have the most flexible mindset (which is why it gets so much attention). The enjoyment, or even that the story was self-chosen, are the keys – such a reader probably plowed (or ploughed) through similar long-lasting books.
I tried reading A Confederacy of Dunces – an award winner with a good author story (John Kennedy Toole committed suicide when he couldn’t find a publisher, his mother persuaded a legendary literary agent to champion the book, and it won the Pulitzer Prize), but had to force myself to finish Chapter 1. Because it may be brilliant, but it made my gorge rise and choke me. ‘Icky’ is the best I can remember about that long-ago attempt I have no desire to repeat. I don’t get very far into Lolita, either, for similar reasons. Or The Catcher in the Rye.
I can’t imagine their authors spending time with those characters, however good the writing may be.
So I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone, and am glad I don’t have to assign either book to, say, a class of high school juniors (assuming teachers still get to make those choices), and then have to talk about it in class.
It’s personal for the author
And books can become a personal crusade favorite for readers who then recommend, gift, or lend something they loved.
So, if you LIKED a book, take a moment and do SOMETHING to encourage the author to keep it up:
Rate the book
Review and rate it
Blog about it
Recommend it to a friend
Leave nice words on the author’s websites
Buy an extra copy to lend
Send a copy to a friend or family member
Use as gifts
Ask your library to order the book(s)
Write a guide
Mention your favorite parts
Tell people you can’t wait for the next book in the trilogy
Hire a band to parade in DC in costume
Anything you would like if YOU had written the book.
Be your most creative.
Give a copy to any medical personnel who have no empathy for diseases like ME/CFS – this will allow them to live the life of one – without actually having to get it, or Long Covid, or Post-polio Syndrome, or Lyme disease – or any one of a bunch of post-viral syndromes and similar misunderstood ‘invisible’ diseases.
Crusade for indie books in principle by doing something a little beyond your normal response – the author will be delighted.
It’s not the money (though adequate royalties of around $6 per any version I have are about three times larger than many traditional authors make per book) – I crave the readers. Thanks!
When we find something that blows us away, that touches us somewhere in the deep recesses of our hearts – sometimes for an odd reason – in this case because something about Mark reminded me of our middle son, so that when they appeared in my FaceBook feed, with an instrument (the Chapman stick) I’d never heard about, I was intrigued enough to listen: we need to share.
Because of my ME/CFS, I have a very hard time listening to music, instrumental or otherwise, and have a horrible tendency to get earworms from it, and to not be able to get it out of my head for literally weeks (I think it’s one of the many processing problems from the damage the disease does to the brain).
So I don’t listen much any more – but Cascade’s versions don’t kick that pile of dust up. I just went through making up a weeks’ pills, listened to 3-4 of their pieces, and none of them wrangled my brain to the ground, so I was immediately prejudiced in their favor, because I LOVE music, and miss it greatly.
Not intending to be dire or apocalyptic – but often being able to write a blog post, almost any kind of a post, signals, for me, the end of a difficult period where the brain power needed to do almost anything is just not there, and I’m not sure if it’s the waxing and waning of ME/CFS – or the beginning of the end of being able to write.
Those who know me, or have been following for a while, know how close to the edge of completely non-functional I live. A little bit worse, and no creative juices flow at all.
I wait it out, deal with whatever is causing additional problems beyond chronic illness and disability, pick up where I left off when I can function a bit again.
THERE IS NO POINT
in wasting any of my energy in railing against my fate – it doesn’t help, and doesn’t make me feel better. [Note: my brain supplied ‘railing’ as the appropriate form of protest against things bigger than I can manage. I was terrified for a few seconds when Google only supplied ‘fencing’ as a definition, until I insisted further and ‘rail’ as a verb came up. Phew!]
It is what it is until they figure it out, this ME/CFS, come up with a definitive diagnostic, find the mechanism(s) that cause it, find a treatment, find a CURE!
Today I had an interesting interaction with someone online who claims 1) to have had it, and 2) to have a treatment protocol that cured him. I had the strength of character to tell him I was glad for him, and not interested in arguing with someone online who has the ‘solution of the week.’ And to please stop writing to me.
As we tell new people, “Hope it’s something else – something that DOES have a diagnostic and a treatment.” If something actually cured someone, it is awfully likely they didn’t have what I have in the first place, but something with similar symptoms – and a CURE!/treatment/prognosis.
It’s vanishingly likely that he has something that can help, and I don’t have the bandwidth for another savior with a solution. I’ve been at this nonsense for 32 years.
There is a finite (ie, non-zero) possibility that now that they’re pouring money into long covid research that they will actually look enough to find a real solution. That’s where my hopes are being pinned; ask me in a couple of years if anything panned out – because governments finally realized that 10-30% of the long covid survivors were, essentially, getting ME/CFS and, more importantly to governments, turning from productive working tax-paying citizens into sick citizens needing the disability benefits they have been promised since they started working. Ie, it will COST the governments, and they may figure out a cure is finally worth putting some money into research, instead of telling people it’s all in their heads.
Hope I’m still around.
More than that, hope it works for people who are not recently ill – not that I begrudge the newbies, but I want to be at the head of the line.
Hey! Look! I’m producing coherent (okay, you may argue about that) sentences!
It’s been a rough time since I announced I had finished writing Netherworld, and now that I have finished proofing the text.
The plan was to format and then to get the cover out of my head and onto a page. It’s been weeks. Sometimes I just go read the end, fall in love with it all over again, and go back to sitting staring at the screen.
Because love hasn’t been translating into action.
So far it’s just par for the course, and I expect it will resolve itself, and it won’t hurt to get the new Airbook(name?) from Apple with the M2 thingamabob my eldest daughter says is good – not having the computer question resolved – should I format and cover on the old machine, or wait for the new one and bite the bullet and update my Scrivener which may have some of the things I needed that the previous version didn’t have?
But I can’t believe how much that tiny obstacle in my path stopped me from making ANY progress.
Physical problems have been the stumbling block
I don’t want to go into details, yet, on a public blog, but my already-strained-to-the-limit body and mind have had a huge task added to keeping us all going, it has affected sleep, pain, and comfort to an incredible degree, and taken every speck of energy I had.
Finding a solution took energy I didn’t have, and going outside my medical system, and I’m glad I did – but it won’t be over for a while, and it isn’t going to be any fun. Until AFTER September, and then there will be recovery.
And I won’t have any relief from taking care of the problem constantly unless I am very, very, VERY lucky next week.
I’m sleeping in 1-2 hour chunks. That should account for the feeling of doom – sleep deprivation is classified as torture.
So I shouldn’t worry, right?
Except that there’s always that one last straw, the one that breaks the badger’s back, and I wonder, when I have the brain to wonder, whether this is it, and hope it isn’t, because I’m not finished writing quite yet.
If I am, it isn’t because I quit. I was because I was wrestled to a standstill by Reality, which always wins.
Meanwhile, putting words on page has given me a little much-needed hope again, and getting the news my computer situation might be resolving has given me a goal in a decision I kept going back and forth on (wait – or go ahead on familiar if not completely adequate technology – wait -…).
Thinking outside the box hasn’t worked yet
but I am vastly encouraged by the fact that I figured out how to, initiated it, was fortunate enough to find a listening ear (after several tries), and it may work much better than what I have had (nothing). And in my weakened state, no less!
I’m very proud of myself for trying – hope it works out.
So there – and mysterious. The women who read this blog and are older than 50 and/or have had children may have a clue; the rest of you really shouldn’t want to know. It’s grotty and embarrassing and against all the modesty my middle-class Mexican upbringing instilled deep, courtesy of my beloved Mother.
If I navigate it successfully, you may ask privately, and I’ll name the Beast.
As soon as the fog clears a bit more, and/or the new laptop is here and mastered, I will go doggedly right back to working on the publishing of NETHERWORLD, instead of just going to the file, re-reading the end, and crying into my beer because I love it so much.
I’m just waiting for two good friends to let me know if they liked it, too, to feel a whole lot better.
And if you like to be in at that stage, my contact information is in the About. I could use a few more readers/reviewers who are familiar with PURGATORY, and need to keep going.
In the publishing of the next book, every self-published author has to face the fact that typos exist, are blamed on the author (who has ultimate responsibility), and are as hard to eliminate completely as cockroaches.
What is a practical limit for the number of typos?
A little checking provides a couple of rough guidelines:
A typo per thousand words is too many.
Three typos in ten thousand words is proofing to a professional standard.
That standard means that, in a novel of 187,000 words, one could discover 56 typos – a huge number – and still be within professional quality. But it’s a twenty-chapter book, and that is only 2-3 typos per chapter, which doesn’t sound quite so bad.
The kind of errors matters
Using the wrong word isn’t a typo – it’s a mistake. It often comes from not knowing a word well enough, and not looking up the correct usage if you’re not certain.
There are a number of these anthills to die on, and experienced writers will know the difference between may and might, principal and principle, and verb affect/effect and noun affect/effect.
No one but beginners should have problems with its and it’s, or their/they’re/there. A professional writer needs to be certain about the basics, and have a cheat sheet for the ones which cause them trouble personally.
And it never hurts to check again, reinforcing what you know, challenging what you think you know. I am getting very humble in that department, as my damaged brain keeps throwing me the almost right word, I find it slightly odd – and have the sense to check. The bigger your vocabulary, the more chances for this to trip you up.
Leaving out a short word is a typo – a good friend just caught me leaving out ‘to’ from the infinitive ‘to commit’ – thank you!
The little shorties which are the wrong word, but are an actual word, are one of my peccadilloes: it, if, is, in – it is so easy to type the wrong consonant!
Transposing a couple of letters or leaving off a final letter – happen frequently to all typists, and can be very hard to catch. Sometimes the best way is to have the robot voice of your computer or program read you your own deathless prose – and make you giggle. My current typo-in-hiding is leaving the final ‘r’ off ‘your,’ which sounds funny when read back to me – YMMV.
Paying for professional proofing
does not guarantee perfection, unfortunately. It may be worth it but I think it doesn’t teach you anything. You’ll still make mistakes and typos, and have to figure out how to make the corrections stick in your writer’s mind, if they’re the kind you can learn from such as using a word incorrectly.
If you accept the corrections made by a pro too quickly, you may not move the problems into long-term memory properly – and so will continue to make that kind of flub. It’s worth taking some time to ask yourself why they happened, and whether you can make a permanent self-fix.
And you’re still the one with your name on the book.
So wish me well on what is the final proofing:
Sending out ARCs I think are perfect, and getting back the little niggly (and wonderfully welcome), “I liked it – but on page #n, you have a typo…”
Embarrassing – but I am grateful for every catch.
And vow to learn from them.
Can’t be perfect – but I can always become better.
Gak! It’s been almost a month since I posted anything!
There was a lot of quarantining in that time. NOT because we were exposed to Covid, though some independent living residents in this facility were (we found out because they had dinner with friends in Assisted Living at the Friendship Table, and the AL people ARE tested regularly because they’re in the health-care portion of our facility).
And because those people in IL who WERE exposed to the people in AL who tested positive, the State of California required them to quarantine for FOURTEEN DAYS in their apartments. None of the IL residents got Covid, thank goodness, but WE had a vacation in Lake Tahoe with our kids a few weeks later, and realized that WE wouldn’t be able to go IF we got exposed ourselves, here, and then had to do the same quarantine for 14 days.
That is, we quarantined for 14 days so we wouldn’t have to quarantine for 14 days – at an inconvenient time which would put the kibosh on OUR vacation. Mixed up world, eh?
So – any progress on publishing NETHERWORLD?
Well, yes and no.
For the ms., I created an easy ARC from Scrivener – the complete, very long pdf of the whole thing (~500 pages), and sent it to the first person who’s offered to review AND buy it on launch day (thank you, David!), and as a backup complete proofed file to several places, including my amazing beta reader (thank you, Rachel!), and gave my husband and children the necessary information to manage my literary estate (and publish Netherworld) if something happened on the trip/vacation/return. You never know.
The formatting is no further than that.
For the cover: I have all the pieces, an updated Pixelmator 3, and an updated Learn Pixelmator 3.5 video course (free update – thanks folks!).
I’ve bought licenses for the two cover images from Dreamstime, acquired another photo from the same friend who supplied the sky for Purgatory’s cover, found a couple of low-res images to guide me in the changes I’ll need to create the cover in my head, and put the whole thing into a folder and a backup on the iCloud. Phew.
Now I just have to do the work, get it past my cover mentor (thank you, Jessica!), and create ebook, paper and hardback covers to spec, and then, because I want to make one change to them, redo a bit of the Purgatory covers (bigger name so it shows on the thumbnail, add the award, etc.) which really amounts to redoing a fair amount of the Purgatory covers AND creating the hardcover one.
I have my permissions from Cambridge U. for my KJV quotations – feels nice and official.
I got my copyright certificate from the Library of Congress! I always feel better after I do that, for whatever it might be worth.
Launching is, of course, dependent on having something to launch. I had approached a PR firm, put up with a long delay to talk to them, checked in with them and received a promise of an answer of some kind before the end of May, and than have been ghosted. It does remind me that if people are not reliable in the small things, it’s probably better not to rely on them for the big ones, so that firm is permanently off the table. Too bad, because I liked them, and had already invested some effort into them.
I’m still obsessively re-reading the end of Netherworld – and not changing a word. I promise explosions, and I hope they are well received.
I want to continue getting into writing LIMBO
I literally can’t wait – because there are only a few hours between the end of 2 and the beginning of 3, and I’m very happy how that turned out.
And I’ve already started writing Chapter 41(LIMBO goes to 60).
BUT I’ve been dealing with some medical problems for 2.5 years to no solution, and I’m in the middle of trying to fix some things that really need fixing, and it’s a slow process because disability means EVERYTHING is so much harder – from making phone calls through phone systems that won’t just let you call someone to make an appointment, to doctor visits which consume an incredible amount of prep time, energy, and recovery time, to a whole slew of medical tests with the same problems – which the new doctor insists on before she will even consider DOING something.
Plus a big paperwork problem I’ve finally admitted I had to step in and manage, do some of, get help, hand over to the pros…
And my limited number of daily spoons is gone every day before I manage to write. Because it’s not just ‘write a few words’ now – it’s the whole huge Book 3 planning review, restart, clean up, carry stuff from 1 and 2 typical glorious mess of starting the final volume in a trilogy. Drives me up a tree that I can’t just do it.
But I’m literally doing the best I can
And not managing to sleep very well with all the above, to boot.
I can tell stress that I’m fine until I’m full-body blue, but that does NOT take away the stress. It just doesn’t add worry, but the things I’m having to do are stressful in and of themselves, and that is such a deep autonomic process that you can’t affect it much.
Plus the physical problems have extra pain and much discomfort associated, which has to be micromanaged – and I was already exhausted before that.
There are signs, portents, and possibilities
of improvements, but not fast.
This is literally the first time I’ve even been able to think of writing a simple blog post, in the whole past month.
Life happens – you deal.
I know what my primary aim is (if family is okay), but I’m not able to DO it right now.
Don’t worry. Nothing TOO horribly grim. But I’m all tapped out of spoons every day, almost the end of the morning, when I’ve done nothing yet.
But stuff slowly gets done, and goes into the rearview mirror queue from the To Do list, and I’ll get there.
On the bright side
my oldest daughter is helping me select my new computer for the foreseeable future – my current lovey is from 2015, and can’t be upgraded far enough because then my necessary old software – Office 2011 for Mac and Dramatica Story Expert – won’t work, and I don’t have the mental bandwidth right now to deal with another potential crash.
Everything is properly backed up (Time Machine and iCloud), but bobbles with computers cost me days or weeks when they happen, so for the first time in a long time, I’m being proactive: a new Macbook Air with the M2 processor and good camera should take me far into the future and definitely through LIMBO.
It will, however, require some learning – not my strong point.
So that’s the update:
I’m working as hard as I can on the critical list items
I’m as far along with Netherworld as I can be, including covers
Ditto redoing the Purgatory covers
Ditto writing into the future with Limbo
and dealing with the sorry carcass which makes all of this possible at all in as graceful a manner as I can against the extra stress of having to do it at all, and the unbelievable amount of extra energy it takes
AND, courtesy of my lovely assistant Sammy, whose last day is today (she’s graduating! going on to grad school! going home for the summer!), I have already acquired an assistant for the fall (another senior – so I’ll get 8-9 months of her life, and leave her a changed young woman – but seniors are really handy), and she’s interested in learning the self-pub aspects of the job I haven’t had time to do with Sammy because other things were more, uh, important.
And the ability to write this post reassures me that there’s still a ‘me’ here.
More when there’s actually progress on this laundry list.
Be well. Have a great summer. Don’t work TOO hard.
PS: If you are desperate to read NETHERWORLD, and wouldn’t mind writing a review to be posted when it’s published, email me (abehrhardt at gmail), make your case, and I’ll send you what I have at the time.
WANTED: INTERESTING BLOG POSTS ABOUT LIFE AND WRITING
If you’re of a certain age, or ever went to Scout camp, you may already been humming along.
I’m having to sign up to follow and receive via email more and more blogs, because the bloggers I’ve been following for years are publishing fewer and fewer posts, and I need reading material to keep myself centered in the writer-support blogosphere I inhabit.
I write fewer posts because most of my posts have had something to do with the skills I acquired while learning to write – and I’m not actively working on those right now unless I find something I need to learn to get through a current scene.
Because I’m getting to the end of Netherworld – and know exactly where I’m going.
And there aren’t any tricky or new scenes – just the kind of wrapping up I’m hoping will put smiles on readers’ faces, followed by worried frowns about the implications!
I use writers’ blogs to stay up-to-date
I haven’t done marketing in a while (and it shows) because I have two brain cells, and one is needed for breathing, while the other takes an occasional turn at writing a few more words.
But one of these days someone will post something which will trigger something else, and I’ll be off and running.
There are lots of beginner ‘How to’ posts, fewer post on marketing, and almost none on marketing a very small output. At least not successfully.
So I take on new blogs
when I find one which has something a little less basic to say, or is in an area I probably won’t write – hoping to steal the genesis of an idea I can tweak into the book-selling campaign of the century.
I’d appreciate suggestions of blogs to follow, especially if you wouldn’t mind telling me what you like about them.
New platforms may be the problem
I don’t think I’m going to try Instagram or Tik Tok or Book Tok or even Twitter – mostly because I don’t think that’s where my kind of writer finds readers and followers.
Certainly not Youtube – not now! The competition must be fierce.
Trying a Patreon was a waste of time for me (this time) because you have to bring your own followers – and then generate extra material for them. The latter I like – I have lots of words about process and writing – but I don’t have yet the critical mass of followers, and, with very little energy, can’t afford to try.
But a lot of people ARE moving to the new platforms – the young ‘uns don’t use FB much any more.
Where are the readers?
To be more specific for me, where are the readers of mainstream/literary/contemporary fiction, but only those who are not hiding behind the wall of ‘I only read traditionally published and vetted fiction.’
And that, my dear readers, I have not solved yet.
But then I spend most of my time writing lately, and ultimately that will have to yield the answer.
So I try each new blog I find through blogs I already read or people who somehow find me, and participate for a while to see if we are a good fit. There are tens of thousands of my words out there contributing to these fun conversations.
He kindly provided a long list of questions, and after I got started, I realized I should post this here, and just leave the first two answers as a teaser on his blog, which you should visit and follow.
He starts his post with:
Publishing gurus are full of ideas for you. To optimize your sales, they might suggest new covers. They will tell you that your only barrier to startling success is a simple (yet costly) tweak to your book description.
Here is my list of answers – a good set to answer for yourself in writing. I’ve edited or changed his questions a bit in places to suit me better – you should read his.
What is success to me?
People reading and reviewing my mainstream trilogy – I am pretty sure it will take off in a big way some day, and these people keep me writing.
What works for you?
Doing it exactly my way, designed for a damaged brain and no energy – because it works.
Everyone else’s suggestions – I can’t follow them, and when I make the big effort, they don’t work for me.
Have you tested other options?
Yes, though not extensively – I’m VERY slow, and this takes time away from writing.
Have you played with the variables?
Not a lot – by definition, half of A/B testing is going to be wrong!
Would you drop what isn’t working?
In principle, yes – but I have to somehow decide people who don’t know me and my work know what they’re talking about. So far, not convinced.
Are you doing more of what works for you?
I am – and I do as soon as I identify something that works, I do more of it. When I have time and energy, the kicker.
What haven’t you succeeded at trying that might work?
Going viral (not something you can just ‘try.’) Getting on Oprah or equivalent. Practically, attracting a BIG influencer who goes to bat for me.
Have you tried that?
Have asked maybe ten – they all have shied away or answered in generalities or haven’t answered at all. Doing things their way works for them; altering, looking at the outliers, not so much.
Before changing, have you completed other projects?
Yes. I can only work on one thing at a times – very little ability to do elsewise.
Have you analyzed pros and cons of a strategy such as changing genres?
Not until I finish the mainstream trilogy (but I managed to tuck some historical fiction AND some science fiction into it).
What would your costs be?
Funny: They go from me, my time, and my energy, immediately to a very expensive version of let other people do it. I could probably afford it, if I were convinced it would make a permanent difference – but I don’t believe that, because the limitation is still me.
What would the cost/benefit of getting paid helpers be?
I would have to sell a LOT more books to make them pay for themselves, and, since I will never be able to create much of a backlist, there won’t be much help from other work, so it would depend on a single huge campaign for the trilogy.
How much money do you need to live?
Fortunately, I’m retired, settled into a retirement community, and okay.
How much MORE do you need for WANTS?
Lucky that way – none.
Do you have the helpers to effect this change?
Not yet, though I’ve approached several possibilities, and listened carefully to their answers.
Would this be an investment, or money down the drain?
It’s my life, and my only chance of a legacy, since I became chronically ill.
Is a helper worth the time or mental toll it will require?
Haven’t found one yet that is.
What’s keeping you from trying?
Lack of energy.
What’s the worst that could happen?
No increased sales, and the loss of a lot of money which should have gone to charities and the kids.
What’s the best that could happen?
Breakout – and a fame which wouldn’t make much difference to a very isolated disabled life, but would be fun (instead of always being odd woman out).
Is the new way of working a passion, an excuse, or an escape?
Passion, of course. Nothing else is worth the kind of effort necessary.
What makes your new approach significantly different from old projects that failed?
I’m doing it myself; the failed one approached traditional publishing and didn’t get a brass ring.
Are you happy or excited to make this new commitment?
Haven’t had a credible proposition yet; there’s one possibility in the works – a PR company. I’m waiting to hear, because they will have to do all the changing – I don’t have the capacity to.
It is axiomatic that there are no overnight successes.
Because it takes huge amounts of determination and preparation to be ready to respond well when an opportunity finally comes along – and if you’re not ready, it will leave you in the dust and move on.
Take your American Idol singer
The pipes that astonish are not natural, spur of the moment, magically angelic. Nope. If so, they are most likely to freeze at the first sign of stress.
The singer not only sings a lot in the shower, but has had parents paying for individual teachers, has been singing in the church choir, has spent years listening to music, and has been through a whole list of roles in the school plays.
Being on stage in front of a bunch of strangers and wowing Simon Cowell is not a fluke.
The illusion that it is sudden and unexpected and a direct blessing from Heaven is for the AUDIENCE. The ones who want to jump on the bandwagon as it goes by because, “I’m just as good as she is.” It keeps them buying the advertised products, watching the shows, purchasing tickets for Kelly Clarkson when she comes to town.
Even the little Wow! stories are the product of hours and hours and hours of cameramen recording every remotely possible candidate practicing in the hall – to be scrolled through for the exciting bits AFTER the winner has been chosen.
It matters only for the individuals
The producers don’t care who wins – they have SO many contestants that their triage is stricter than that after a major accident: they may let a few charismatic duds go through a few levels they aren’t qualified for – one leaves in the random possibility because crowds are fickle, but the staff’s job is to make sure that the two or three possibles culled out of each thousand who apply are usable.
They have no investment in a particular candidate. It’s dangerous to have one because talent and stardom are unpredictable beasts.
But the individual candidates, those who want to win, have to be ready to win – if it happens.
Artists need support BEFORE
before they are recognized as somehow ‘good.’
before they get discouraged and stop producing amazing work.
before everyone else discovers them.
It is even more important for those who are slow, or for whom doing the work is a great mental and/or physical effort.
I know that I will never forget the earliest responses on Wattpad from other writers, the ones who kept me cheerfully sharpening my nose. Because they KNEW – and SAID so – BEFORE others.
Peter Hyland, one of my characters, says,
“None of my friends are perfect. And most of them are irreplaceable. They provide the mirror when I get too big for my britches. New ones are hard to find.” He squinted at the dying sun. “I need them far more than they need me.”
PRIDE’S CHILDREN: PURGATORY, Chapter 13
It is hard for people to commit, to say, “I’ve found this new writer/photographer/painter…, and you should look into their work” to recommend someone to a friend. What if the friend doesn’t like the new artist? Easier not to say anything, and just nod wisely.
But once the wagon is full, one more supporter isn’t going to make that much of a difference.
Getting started is hard – but up to the writer, who is the one to make the decision when something is first ready to be released to the public.
But keeping it going is much harder still, and that’s when the support can make the difference between someone going on to do creditable work – or quitting.
It may or may not be important, or a stepping stone of any size, but I’m saying thank you to all my readers who have been saying, “I like what you write,” since I started putting Pride’s Children out in serial form on Wattpad.
You may or may not have noticed the new badge on the sidebar.
Pride’s Children: PURGATORY has been named Indies Today’s 2021 BEST CONTEMPORARY novel, and I’d love it if those of you who read mainstream fiction would pop over to my other site, the one for the books, and sign up to follow that blog as I get ready to finish and publish the second novel in the trilogy, Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD.
GOING TO ABSURD LENGTHS TO MAKE TIMES AND DATES WORK
There are two parts to verisimilitude: characters and plots.
When you graft a fictional character onto a world in a historical context – changing the name of the president, for example (still missing President Bartlett of the West Wing, not so much the Presidents Underwood of House of Cards), is a perfectly reasonable thing to do, because FICTION.
But there is a significant difference between an alternate history – one which answers what if? questions about what would happen if something changed due to that fictional occurrence (President Lincoln survived the Civil War) – and one which aims to change only a few features of an event, without completely changing the chronology of what happens after.
Because, within wide parameters, most people aren’t important enough to change history, and writing things a little different to end a personal story in a particular way is a perfectly valid fictional technique: you don’t imagine the 1950s differently, but your sleuth solves cases in them.
My fictional world is the real world
I want you to think, when you finish reading my WIP, that you’ve read something that really happened.
But because I chose Hollywood (and Bollywood added to it in the second volume of the trilogy), I need a worldwide stage for some parts, which has resulted in characters at times in very different time zones being aware of or communicating with each other.
Or traveling from one place to another and back.
Or of something they do affecting a different character somewhere else.
Stories aim to give you the flavor of reality
Stories – even very long dense epic stories – give you only a tiny part of what ‘happened.’
Try to document your day. In just one 24-hour day, you perform thousands of actions, make hundreds of decisions. Even listing them in a recording as you go through the day would take forever.
So the writer in a novel has to give you enough of the right kind of scenes so that you think you’ve lived with the characters – but are actually seeing a tiny fraction of what real people would do in that time.
The RIGHT tiny fraction. To give an illusion of time passing and being present.
The writer has to know a lot more than the reader
Or readers will notice the gaps. Call them plot holes, inconsistencies, anachronisms. Or my favorite: refrigerator moments. Because you’re at the refrigerator at 3am and suddenly it occurs to you that there was no logical reason for something that happened in the plot, but you were swept away by the action, and didn’t notice. It may have been Lawrence Block who mentioned no reason for the Estonians to be eating chocolate chip cookies (my memory is very vague on the topic).
Well, I don’t want any of those.
I don’t want readers to say, “Wait a minute – that couldn’t happen!” Because it would pop the ‘suspension of disbelief bubble, and damage the flow.
So I go to a lot of trouble to make sure something might have happened that way.
MOST readers will never notice the hole, or if they do, care.
Funny thing: in my mind, that doesn’t absolve me of the requirement to make sure there aren’t any I can see.
In practical terms in NETHERWORLD
It means that when I do my complicated alternation between characters, and something has to happen on a close timeline, I spend effort making sure that timeline is actually possible.
If two characters alternating are on different continents (a recent example), and there is a plane flight from one of those continents to a place on a third one, I use a lot of convenient time/date software (what time is it in Berlin when it’s 3am in Shanghai?) in coordination with other software which tells me how long the flight will be for a particular aircraft.
Sometimes I’ve had to reset the time for a particular sequential scene.
Other times I’ve had to start a scene earlier or later, build in a gap, or have it end at a different time.
The interesting thing to me has been that when I get that involved in the details of ‘could it work’, I find myself feeling more like a detective than the plotter of a novel.
I’m discovering what happened rather than creating it.
It has been eerie how real the timelines are – and how I’m able to fit the changes in without it rippling through the rest of the scenes.
Some scenes are anchored in REAL TIME
I’ve chosen to insert a character into an actual historical event, so I have to make sure a barrage of physical actions happen around that exact event.
I don’t want a reader to remember something – that year that award ceremony happened on a Monday, not the usual Sunday – and me have gotten it wrong.
It’s enough fiction that I’m putting my characters into that ceremony.
I want the reader to have the spine-chilling thought, “Hey. Wait. Am I remembering it wrong?” because my fictional part fits so well into the past reality.
And it’s not that many years ago.
Next time I may pick something without these real-world anchors!
Or in a fictional universe.
I never realized how much work it might be until I was up to my neck in alligators in the swamp.
As a reader, what do you do when the glitches are so obvious you can’t ignore them?
As a writer, am I crazy to worry about these tiny details?
I didn’t expect to, not this late in the middle book of a trilogy.
I capture these thoughts when they happen, hoping to have something to refer to when it happens again.
The constraint here is both the calendar – the end is near, and the content until the last scene is what it has to be – and a sense of pace.
In the real world, things have their own importance, and can’t be hurried – or slowed. Their pace is what their pace is.
In fiction, however, technically every bit is under the immediate and complete control of the writer – nothing happens without her say so – and completely not. Why? Because the pace you work hard to develop as you go seems to have a built-in speed you didn’t put there.
I’m not used to this
All pantsers are familiar with this.
Whereas I, an extreme plotter, like to think I’m in control of everything.
The story takes over.
And you bumble around in the dark until you learn.
Oh, and try doing this with WRITER brain fog!
You can’t write chaos smoothly
But it can’t be completely chaotic stream-of-consciousness either, not for very long on the page: the Reader won’t stand for it.
So it’s a mixture, and, from deep third multiple pov, you have to credibly present a chaotic situation for a character you’ve already developed (starting that way in Chapter 1 or with a new character is a different ballgame), and who is usually much less confused.
So you will get a little indulgence from your audience, but don’t want to presume on that – or they’ll start skimming, and you’ve lost them.
So, another skill attempted in the craft.
I wonder what the beta reader will say.
If you’re a reader, do you notice this kind of thing? And how much patience do you have for a change in how you see characters, especially when they’re under stress?
If you’re a writer, has this one bitten your ankles?