Category: Writing

The first line: a phobia (primascriptophobia?)

My friend Robert recently posted a writing exercise he’d done from the prompt: “What is your metaphor for the fear of writing that first line?”

Click to embiggen.

Click to embiggen.

Well, it seems I face that fear with every line when I first sit down to write, whether it’s the first or halfway through, so when I couldn’t come up with a next first line for the story I’m working on, I wrote this instead:

And here is the OCR’d version, with minor edits:


A good week to get published…

It’s been a good week on the writing front. Well, the publishing/feedback front of this multi-pronged battle anyway. The actual writing for the week has been disappointing–trying to get back up on the horse after the mad dash of last minute novel editing for ABNA has been difficult.

It was confirmed earlier in the week that my short story, “Spider Without a Web,” will be published in the April issue of Abyss & Apex. This is my first prose sale ever, so it’s a big fucking deal, as our Veep has been known to say. (Strangely enough, I’ve been paid for prose twice before, some *mumble-mumble* years ago, but those were for awards, not for publication.) I am beyond excited and will post a link as soon as it goes live in a few months.

The second bit of goodness will take some explanation. A few years ago I joined the Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror (thankfully, the name is shortened to OWW). In fact, I got some good feedback for early drafts of “Spider Without a Web” during that first stint of membership. But I let my membership lapse because I was alternating between working on my novel and despairing at the futility of this writing endeavor. Having finally finished the first draft of that novel months before, in December I decided that I really needed some feedback before deciding how to proceed with it. So I re-joined the OWW and uploaded the first few chapters for critique. The response was generally positive, which led to my having the confidence to begin querying agents–although I put that on hold to give the ABNA a go first.

Monthly, the OWW chooses up to four submissions as Editors’ Choices. They tend to be some of the better selections on the workshop at the time, and in addition to the honor, the choices are critiqued by one of their panel of published writers and/or editors. One of those authors is Elizabeth Bear, who has written and had published about a thousand books in the last decade and who is a brilliant effin bloggist.

(Urban Dictionary suggests that “bloggists” are paid and “bloggers” are not. But blogger is a platform so doesn’t sound right describing a person who blogs. Ahem. Where was I?)

About three weeks ago, the OWW sent me a note that one of my novel chapters had been chosen for an Editors’ Choice the next month. Which meant that by the time I had the feedback, I would have already submitted to ABNA. In retrospect, that was probably for the best, because I would have either been locked up with indecision about how to fix the first chapters, or I would have made a complete mess of them instead. The book is off to ABNA, and today I got the critique from OWW. By Elizabeth Bear. Exactly who I’d been secretly hoping for. My heart leaped, it did. She had some reasonable criticisms of the structure and content that will have me beating my head against the manuscript in a few months. But the review was overwhelmingly positive. It overwhelmed me, anyway.

Yeah, it’s been a good week.

Now back on the gorram horse…


Fun with OCR

The only problem with using typewriters to compose my first drafts, is that I somehow have to get those words into the computer. I’m currently using PaperPort, but I’ve tried MS Office’s OCR (Optical Character Recognition) tool as well. The computer has mixed results at translating the typewriting pages into document files. I don’t think I had the resolution turned up high enough on this last batch because it was particularly bad. Here’s a funny example:

A painting still hung where the headboard would have been, years of neglect transmuting the colors into a stat brown sky over a burnt orange ocean with sunbeasts that looked like pies raining down from heaven.

Now I want to know what “sunbeasts” are. And why do they look like pies? Mmmm… pie.


Cat Waxing

I have written a lot of blog posts this week. About halfway through, I realized what I was doing. The time honored tradition of cat-waxing.

There was writing that needed to get done, but instead I was working hard on the one thing that hasn’t gotten much response: my blog. That’s because I was avoiding the more difficult editing, re-writing, and fixing of my novel’s manuscript. Much more fun to talk about my typewriters.

Well, cat-waxing or no, I got my manuscript a bit more polished, and shoved it into the intertubes for Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award. How many times have I re-read my <300 word pitch? About a billion. And re-written it? About a million. Is it any better than the first version I wrote? At this point, I have no clue. Sometimes, it seems passable for prose written in the English language. Other times, I think it was written by a toddler in excrement on the bathroom wall.

But it’s done! I’m in. They still allow me to fiddle with it until they reach the cut-off point of 10,000 submissions or January 27th. Though there are probably untold things that could be improved, my sanity would be better served by leaving it alone. Then it’s just a month’s wait until February 13 and I discover whether my pitch was written in English or crap.

I have had a couple of encouraging pieces of writing news in the last week. One of them I can’t really share yet. The other was feedback from an editor on a story that I’d submitted many months ago. I’d queried to see what the status was, and she responded that she’d “loved” it. But it still has another layer of approval before it could be published. Nevertheless, a good ego-boo.

Now, I can get back to my typewriters. And this time maybe it will be for its own sake rather than as an avoidance technique.


Blogs and Marketing (with Fruit and Meat!)

Marketing your writing with a blog is like a grocer trying to sell meat by giving away fruit.

Maybe Joe likes fruit, but that’s no guarantee he’s going to like your meat. He might even be a vegetarian. Conversely, Pam may like meat, maybe she’s been coming to buy her prime cuts from you for years. Maybe she doesn’t eat much fruit, and she wonders why you’re giving away all this weird foreign fruit instead of discounting her regular meat purchase.

As you may have surmised, I love a good metaphor. I really love taking a good metaphor to its breaking point.

John Scalzi was well known for his blog before he ever became a bestselling science fiction writer. He had been giving away fruit for years. So most of his customers, at least those who weren’t vegetarians (or didn’t like sci-fi), were willing to take him up on his meat special (when his novel Old Man’s War was published). But there are those who like his novels, light military science fiction in the early Heinlein tradition, who are quickly put off by his somewhat liberal leanings and tendency to blog about them. Often, an inflammatory topic will elicit an outraged comment to the effect that “I will never buy any of your books again.”

Orson Scott Card was comfortably in my top three favorite writers in high school and college. The first couple of Ender’s Game books and Seventh Son books remain favorites. Prime cuts. But in the last decade, with the transparency offered by the internet, I’ve learned a lot more about Card’s politics, and frankly, his strange fruit has soured my taste for his literary offerings.

So if you’re a writer, the prevailing wisdom seems to be that you should blog to market your work. If your personality is perfectly in tune with your books, that might make sense. Even then, you are going to do or say something that will piss someone off and lose readers. You also could gain like-minded readers who like both your fruit and meat. My point here is that it’s likely to be a wash. Card seems to be doing fine even though he’s pissed off half the blogosphere. Ditto Scalzi.

I’m going to blog for myself and anyone who happens to stumble along and think what I type is worth their time. Basically the same way I write books and stuff.

Write what you want. What’s the point of it otherwise?

I don’t think this holds true just for writing. Most good marketing is just human beings sharing what they’re interested in and think is cool. Word of mouth is the ultimate. Trying to goose people into buying crap they don’t want is manipulative and douchebaggy. Telling people what’s cool is being a good human being. Which do you want to be?

Then be that kind of marketer.


Why the blinding hate for Amazon?

For its sixth Breakthrough Novel Award, Amazon is ditching Penguin as its publishing partner. In the opening paragraph of the article on the Christian Science Monitor, they quote Ann Patchett as saying this past summer that “Amazon aggressively wants to kill us.

I love Ann Patchett. She’s written some wonderful books (perhaps my favorite is The Magician’s Assistant) and she co-owns a cozy little bookstore in Nashville called Parnassus Books, which she opened when the two nicest bookstores in the city closed up in about the span of a year. She’s also a delightful speaker, and seems generous and friendly in person. Unfortunately, no matter how vehement her rhetoric against Amazon, I have to disagree with her.



Duotrope Digest: The Value of Free

I just discovered that Duotrope Digest is moving to a paid model after being free for some seven years (on the donation model). Duotrope is a great resource for writers, including listings of a vast number of markets and a very useful submissions tracker for keeping up with what stories have been sent where. In all the time they’ve been on the donation model, they’ve never hit their targets, which either means their targets are too high, or writers are too tight (or broke).

I’ve donated in the past. About $10/year that I’ve seriously used it. Which is two, even though it covered a timespan of four years. The new cost is going to be $5/month or $50/year. That’s a little high, but I’d be tempted to pay, for the ease of their search features and the tracker. It’s a little high because unless and until I’m publishing regularly, that’s a bit much for a hobby. Still, they have the easiest to use features as far as I know, and I spend stupid hobby money all the time.

It’s not the price that really concerns me. At least not directly. As useful as the listings and tracker is the data mined from hundreds of users inputting their submissions. There are stats for the fastest and slowest responding markets. Every market gives an estimated response time, but those can vary widely in their accuracy. Through Duotrope, you could see if a magazine said “allow 60 days” but returned most submissions in less than a week. That suggested that one’s story held for 60 days had received more consideration. Conversely, you could see the markets which were simply chronically late.

If most writers using the service decide that the price is too high, as the early feedback suggests, the amount of data on all of these markets is going to drop enormously. Considering only 10% of users have ever donated, one could expect the data input to drop by 90% (depending on how active those non-donating users were). Not to mention most users did not donate $50/year, which suggests that fewer than 10% will subscribe.

Without all of the user input of response times, the usefulness of the Duotrope database could drop exponentially over the next year, leaving them with only two valuable services, market search and submissions tracking, which can be accomplished for free through Google, Ralan, and others I’m certain and a spreadsheet.

I like Duotrope, and I don’t want them to shoot themselves in the foot. Losing all the free users may take away their most uniquely valuable asset–A wide range of market response data.

If they kept the submissions tracker and search functions free, they would preserve the data collections functions and could charge for more detail on individual markets. Because I might pay $5/month for that data, but I won’t pay that much for a spreadsheet and a search engine.


If you can’t sell it, give it away

It’s been about ten months since I “indie-published” my first novel, Chrysalis.

(I don’t really like the term indie publishing, because that signifies books from the small press, rather than what most of the ebook crowd are doing, which is self-publishing. But that term is loaded, too, since for so long it was synonymous with the vanity press. I guess it’s much like using “graphic novels” instead of comics; neither term is really apt, but they’re all we’ve got.)

I was kind of curious to see what response a book would get with no promotion. Nobody knows who I am, so no one would be looking for my book. All it had going for it were the cover that I had Photoshopped together and my words inside. (Which may have been two strikes against it, but just keep those opinions to yourself…) A few weeks after I clicked the publish button, we did a little announcement on Facebook, and the first few sales trickled in. 14 in all, undoubtedly from friends and family.

Even with such a pitiful number, it was a little rush to get that tiny royalty check, barely enough to pay for the photos I’d licensed for the cover.

Then, for the next eight months, it’s been mostly silence. I published to B&N’s Nook as well, where I got another single sale, presumably from another friend, but that’s not even enough to trigger a royalty payment, so that was my donation to B&N. Randomly, in March, there was another sale on Amazon–not sure if that was a late friend & family purchase or a stranger.

Not long after that, I decided to sign up for Amazon’s Kindle Lending Library, to see if that would have any effect. The only catch, that I would have to delete the ebook from B&N, didn’t seem like much of a downside, considering the sales. But the Lending Library didn’t make any difference either. No one could find my book.

In all this time, there hasn’t been a single review either. This is the downside of self-publishing. You put your work out and there is no bang; there’s not even a whimper.

I’m not stupid. I know that some amount of promotion is necessary. But I don’t want to be the guy spamming Twitter or Amazon forums or whatever other corners of the internet saying, “Buy my book!”

The advice of several other “indie” authors is to have multiple “products” available, so that when a reader finds one book and likes it, they have something else to purchase as well. The data supports that, too–most of the big selling self-published books have been part of series. Since I don’t have another book completed, that option is out for the time being, though I am working on more.

However, my three month stint in the KDP Select (the Lending Library) was almost up, and I hadn’t used the other “perk” of the program. For five days of the three months, you can list your book as free. Doesn’t seem like much of a perk–giving something away instead of selling it. But it’s another avenue of promotion, and I figured I might as well give it a shot. This whole self-publishing venture has been a bit of an experiment anyway.

I set Chrysalis to go free for the five full days, Wednesday through Sunday. I changed the book description because the prior one (still listed in the sidebar of this blog) seemed a little bland.

Wednesday morning, I didn’t expect much. After ten months of nothing much, I expected nothing much again. To make matters worse, I woke up to an e-mail rejecting a story I’d submitted to the Writers of the Future contest. After moping around for most of the morning, I decided to check and see how my giveaway was going.

At 11am, 73 people had downloaded Chrysalis and it was listed at number 48 on the free suspense thrillers list. I almost fell out of my seat. I hadn’t tweeted about it, or announced it in any way. Who are these people who scour Amazon looking for free ebooks? (Google leads me to this website. Perhaps that’s it.)

It peaked on the chart this morning at #22, with 206 copies downloaded. At that point, my ebook was out-“selling” a James Patterson freebie. The pace has slowed considerably today, as the people who are willing to take a chance on an unreviewed book tapers off.

So what now?

It’s been a pretty cool experience to know that over 200 people have downloaded my book in two days. I know that it doesn’t mean a whole lot in the long run, but it’s been a nice morale booster. My biggest hope and greatest fear is that some small percentage of those who downloaded the book will read it and review it on Amazon. I hope they like it and fear they won’t. I now know that I should have done this freebie promotion sooner, as the quickest potential way to get reviews. It is a gamble, of course, since a few negative reviews could sink the book just as well as no reviews. Except that the right kind of negative reviews could be a boon. I dunno how many Amazon reviews saying a book is “too dark and violent and has too much profanity and sex and I just didn’t like any of the characters” have made me want to read the book.

What now?

Back to work on the next thing.


It’s a draft!

A stack of paper with marks on it.