Monthly Archives: March 2011

Deal heard round the world…

A few weeks ago I discussed the e-revolution, especially the advent of e-reader devices such as the Kindle, Nook, and iPad.  The original post, if you missed it, is here.

What I didn’t discuss in that previous post is the relative success many authors were having in publishing directly for the e-reader market.  I am not talking about the success of the e-book version of the latest Stephen King novel.  I am referring to previously unknown and unpublished writers who are publishing original fiction for the first time in e-book format and are selling via Amazon.com and BN.com.

What does this mean?  Why should you care?

Well in my recent poll on e-readers, 57% of respondents indicated they either had an e-reader or planned to get one soon.  I imagine across the English-speaking world, when prices continue to drop, more people will buy them.  Those that do will find that they read more and buy more e-books than they normally would buy print books.  This increases the market for new material.

Buy more e-books?

Yes, when you can log into the Amazon store right from you Kindle and can immediately search and download a new book at midnight, from the beach, or in an airport you’ll probably agree.

And you’ll agree that the price of e-books, which currently ranges from free to an average of around $12 for the latest bestseller release, is attractive and you may find you don’t miss those $25 hardcover price tags.

It also means that times are changing.  Technology is bringing writers and readers closer together and the time it takes for a writer to publish a book and put it in the hands of readers can be drastically reduced with direct e-publishing.

A writer can finish an edited, packaged, formatted, e-book on Monday and have it posted for sale that same day.  That may not seem like a big deal, but consider that the average time a print publisher takes to publish a new work is close to a year and often much longer.  That means the brand new bestseller you bought last week for $25 was written by the author a year ago.  Yes, a one year delay.

But who is doing this?  Who is publishing e-books only and is having any success?  See this announcement in the NY Times: http://mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/03/24/self-publisher-signs-four-book-deal-with-macmillan/

Who is this Amanda Hocking?

A bout a year ago, Amanda Hocking was a frustrated writer of young adult paranormal romance/fantasy, like “Twilight” and others.  She couldn’t attract the interest of a print publisher, so she published several of her novels as e-books through the Kindle store and within ten months or so she had sold over 1 million copies.  She made over $2 million dollars and now has a big deal worth another $2 million plus for four new books with St. Martin’s Press, one of the big six publishing houses.

She came from nowhere, couldn’t get published, published herself via e-books, and now she has effectively taken the publishing world by storm.   Read what she has to say about this big deal here:  http://amandahocking.blogspot.com/2011/03/blog.html

This news and Amanda Hocking’s success is what you call a game changer.  The landscape for writers has been redesigned and is far more open than when the only path forward was through the gatekeepers in New York.

Let’s be honest.  Many, many people will publish their e-books and 90% of them will be unedited, unpolished, unformatted, or just plain terrible.  When it is that easy to create something to sell, people will indeed try.

But, the marketplace is the great equalizer and only the cream will rise to the top.  Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other e-books vendors display sales rankings and customer reviews so a discerning reader can sift through all the dirt to get to the gold.  There will plenty to choose from, but unlike the slow browse through the stacks at a library or bookstore to find something good to read, you can simply do a keyword, author, title, or genre search and then sort and shop the results to find what you want.

It’s fast, it’s easy, and it’s not the future.

It’s the now.

It’s a brave new world for publishing and I, for one, think it is a great time to be a reader AND a writer.

What do you think?


Why we need more conflict…

…or what we really need from a story.

I read the other day that many aspiring and novice writers tend to avoid the very thing that makes a story interesting.  When these moments, the moments where characters at cross purposes cross paths, are what we read for.

The conflict.  The tension.  The argument.  The fight.  The physical war.  The silent war.

We read for the exchange of glares and stares with set jaw, thin lips, narrowed eyes, boiling blood, red face, quickened pulse, and perspiring palms.  What will happen next?  We must know because the characters we like are struggling with what  they need versus what they have.

We read for the break up and reconciliation.  We read for the beginning and end of a battle.  We read for a naive character gaining wisdom.  We read for the prideful character finding humility.  We read for the pursuit, loss, and rediscovery of love.  We read for the saving of the world or the saving of a family.  We read for the hero to triumph and the villain to fall.  We read for small victories and great victories.  We read for things to change.

We don’t want to read about happy characters making a great living where their boss and co-workers idolize them.  We don’t want to read about characters with loving and supportive spouses and high-achieving and obedient children living the dream in the suburbs with the annual vacation to the timeshare in Lake Tahoe.  We don’t want to read about the well-adjusted character who was raised by kind, wise, and affectionate parents, who provided everything and the character lacked for nothing and faced no adversity in their childhood.

As much as we want and aspire to some of these things in our lives, why wouldn’t we want to read about characters that have it all and can just cruise through life without any ill winds blowing their way?

Because it’s boring.

Stories are not meant to lull us into a false sense of the ideal life around us.  A story is a window into a setting where characters struggle for what they want and fight for what they need.  Story is drama.

Dictionary.com defines drama as “…a story involving conflict or contrast of character…”

Think back to your favorites books or even movies.  What happened?  Did someone just cruise through a perfect life with no problems?  Or did things go wrong from the beginning and the entire story was about trying to set it right or at least to achieve some form of equilibrium?

So, when a writer tries to tell a story by emulating what we want in real life, he misses the whole point of telling a story.  There must be a difficult and challenging path for the characters and it is the writer’s job to provide those obstacles and really push the characters to overcome.  Because it through that process of overcoming that we as readers truly identify with the characters we like most.  We share their journey through the ups and downs and can experience the highs and lows we may not normally find in real life.

Very few of us will sneak through an orc encampment in the heart of an evil nation to toss a ring into a molten lake inside a mountain like Frodo did in Lord of the Rings.  But, we were right there with his every faltering step, his every burden, his struggle against Gollum, and the weight of the ring itself on his soul.  We won’t do that in life, but we did it through a story.

So, next time you read a story, relish the conflict, the drama, the tension.  The author worked hard to make life difficult for the characters so that they could learn and grow from their experiences.

And if the writer does his job well, and you as reader identify with a particular character and a particular struggle, then you may just learn a little bit about yourself.

And isn’t that really why we read stories?


Spring clean your mind

…and how to reboot those resolutions/goals you have already forgotten about.

It’s early March and the weather has turned.  Here in Phoenix it was 82 degrees today and that is okay with me.  On Saturday we recently decluttered our yard and garage and dumped a huge pile of debris on the sidewalk for the quarterly bulk goods pickup.  Today, that huge pile is gone, and our garage and yard look great.

This is the month where many of us go through this annual ritual of cleaning out the winter dust, rust, and cobwebs.  We toss out the stuff that has been collecting in the corners of our yard or garage because it has been just too cold or snowy or rainy to dispose of properly.

That time is now.

But should we stop there with the annual spring ritual?

I propose that we also need to cleanse our minds of all those useless, wasteful, irrelevant, and discarded artifacts of thought and memory that linger in the proverbial corners of our minds.  It’s junk, it’s clutter, and it’s in the way of a clear and present path forward.

What are some examples?

  • New Year’s Resolutions that you stopped pursuing the second week of January
  • The new hobby or project you started and then gave up on because it was too hard, too time intensive, or too expensive
  • The unformed or unfinished idea you had for a story, blog, or journal entry
  • The idea you had to improve a process or product at work that you wanted to spend more time developing
  • The trip you thought about planning, but never got around to it
  • The call you never made to that family member or friend who hasn’t heard from you and could use your support or wisdom

Now think of your own unfinished business, something that has been bugging your all winter that you just haven’t dealt with it.  That stuff piles up inside the mind and doesn’t go away unless it is addressed.

What to do?  Well, sort the piles and like that cable show, Clean House, create three virtual piles of your mental debris.

  1. Trash: to be thrown out and never worried about again
  2. Sell: to be given away to someone else who will have more use for it
  3. Keep: this is the stuff you value and you can keep using

Once things are sorted, administer the piles and move on.  The idea here is to toss or sell over 2/3 of the junk.  If you are keeping too much, the point of the exercise is defeated.  Your decluttered mind and psyche will thank you.

Okay, you’ve dealt with the piles, now what?  Is spring cleaning over?

Not quite.  You need to make a deal with yourself to keep things clean.  Don’t let the junk pile up again.  Monitor that unnecessary stuff and sort and clear daily or weekly.  Write it all down if that helps.  Especially the mental junk you want to throw away.  Write down a useless thought, feeling, memory, or idea on a piece of actual paper and either crumple and toss in the wastebasket or burn in the fireplace.  Sometimes the physical act of destroying such mental debris is cathartic and frees you to focus on what is really important.

You’re asking yourself if I follow my own advice….okay, let’s work though an example.

At the end of last year, I hit a mini-slump in writing my epic fantasy novel when the market changed to limit the size of first books from new authors.  After spending over a year on it, I had developed an unhealthy pile of useless thoughts and emotions about the subject.  I had two choices, I could despair or use the information to my advantage.  So, at the beginning of this year I began outlining a prequel that will more closely align with the market AND will better set the stage for my original novel.  I knew it was the right plan for 2011 and I was comfortable with my path.

Early in February I started have winter thoughts about the setback.  I had lost 15 months of time on that halted novel.  I was starting over and the outline was going much slower than expected.  I got sick and missed two weeks of writing.  Woe is me!

Waa, is right.  Play me a violin.  To anyone else it would be no big deal, but to me it was becoming a big roadblock that I was creating for myself.  I was starting to question my decision to write using an outline (click for a previous post on outlines).  I was supposed to start writing the first draft on February 1st and as March approached and the personal deadline was missed, my frustration trebled.

Then I had enough of the nonsense and took a figurative Mr. Clean to the roadblock thoughts and recommitted myself to a well designed plan of writing an outline so my first draft goes smoothly, and I don’t hit any dead ends.

That’s it.  Done.  Junk thoughts have been trashed.  The soil of my mind, after a long hibernation, is now ready for new seeds to be planted, new ideas (click for a previous post on ideas) to take root and grow because I’ve pulled all the weeds and killed all the pests.  Only good bugs remain, and good seeds.

Spring cleaning of the mind can be done.  I just did it.

Get rid of what is in your way and revisit those goals and resolutions you thought important at the beginning of the year.

It’s spring.  Things grow in spring.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can too.

–Mark


Scott's Grimoire

MY SPOT OF INK: my ramblings on the ups and downs of writing a fantasy novel (or anything else that grabs my interest - books, food, movies, life)

The Undiscovered Author

A Day in the Life of aspiring Fantasy Author Stephen A. Watkins

Geoff's Ruminations

The thoughts and passions of a hopeful future author.