Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Self-promotion seems quite important to authors

There seem to be two schools of thought and electronic media, one is that an author should do everything possible to promote himself, and the authors who know this go out and do it. The other school is the one I think most of us fall into, and that's the one that says we know it's important, but we'll bury our heads and ignore the pitfalls of not self-promoting.

There are two authors I've run across on various forums (various is used to protect their identity) whose prose is weak. They are in dire need of getting some feedback on critique circle or listening to some advice on Absolute Write, yet they seem to be selling a lot of books. They use cliche themes, cliche plots, shallow characters, and the wrong words in the wrong order. Ugly words. Not a graceful one among them. But they pound the pavement like nobody else.

It's not jealousy. I don't begrudge them the sales. In fact it makes me happy in some perverse way that someone can "get ahead" in this business on hustle like that. It's like a no-talent soccer player who hustles his way onto the World Cup winning team by being "scrappy" and "tenacious."

I know there are other authors it irks, because they believe themselves to be better, and they probably are in many cases. But that's not enough.

My problem is that I absolutely detest tooting my own horn about anything. It runs against my nature. It's not that I'm not self-confident; I happen to thing I'm pretty good at some things, like, uh, lovemaking, yeah, the best there is (if the wife ever reads this, this is the point at which she pees her pants laughing and starts telling me I should write comedy). But who the hell wants to tell people how wonderful their writing is day in and day out? I sure as hell don't want to. I want people to tell me how great it is, not the other way around. And authors are by their very nature reclusive, shy, and self-effacing.

I think the goal here is to get rich enough that you can hire someone to do that for you. Of course, you have to do it yourself first in order to get that rich, so in many cases, neither the chicken nor the egg comes at all.

p.s. I just started looking at some cover art in case I have to find my own and I'll post some of the more interesting ones I find which are available from time to time as I come across them:

I actually like one of these more than the other two. (no hints as to which) But none of them convey exactly what I'd want. I contacted the artist of the one I like and his price is reasonable for doing three custom covers for me to choose from.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Technology in sci-fi

Yesterday, I convinced the wife to buy and watch the movie G.I. Joe. Ugh. I thought about buying it when it first came out, but waited until I could get it for under $10. It wasn't worth the gas it took to get to the store.

I like clever technology in sci-fi movies, but that movie was nothing but one gadget after another. One is similar to something I use in my WIP. The writers of G.I. Joe must read Scientific American same as me, because their move came out about 8 months after the article that had the technology in it did. That's where I got mine from. My use is different, so I'm not worried about the similarity. Mine's far more subtle.

This brazen overbearing assault of technological gizmos and video game action in movies is silly. If someone wants the experience of zipping through scene after scene, shooting attackers while shot at, they can simply buy a video game. There are plenty out there sure to please. Movies with nothing but, and I believe books with nothing but, will invariably flop. Because the director decides what to shoot and where to hide. The audience that wants that kind of action, is the type that wants to be doing the shooting. They want to shoot the aliens off rooftops, or chase spaceships with their lasers blasting away. A movie should tell a story, not a video game. That applies tenfold to books. But I see them on the kindle boards, books that are techno-rich and story poor. I'd rather read a sci=fi story about a horse, than a read a video game about the most fantastic technological advancements.

Use technology with the utmost of discrimination. Unless it's I Robot in which the machine is humanized, The story needs to be about the people, not the machines.

p.s. Finished chapter 12 in about 2 days. Quite the contrast to 11. Chapter 13 should go fairly quickly, and then I hit the next monster.

p.p.s. I'm up to level 8 on the chess game, but it's kicking my ass so far.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


It's like watching soccer players running in slow motion. Chapter 11 is now in its third week of construction. It's arranged and I'm almost all the way through with the polish, but I didn't think it had been this long until I looked back at the dates of my other posts. In fairness to me, three weeks constitutes approximately 42-48 hours of actual time at the computer, working on the thing. By the time I get home, walk the dogs, cook dinner with the wife, etc...and all that.

Fortunately, there's hope on the horizon. I'm finished renovating our office. It was a royal pain in the ass. The wife and I decided to get creative. I had to strip off the old paint which is this Ralph Lauren stuff that's supposed to have the texture of suede, but acts more like tungsten when you're trying to get it off the wall (I had to buy myself a 21" belt sander because my little sander wasn't powerful enough to strip it). Then I had to build frames on the wall like picture frames, about twenty of them. Staple a thin sheet of felt down inside the frames, then cover the felt with the fabric we picked out and slap the frames over that to hold it down. Then I had to fill in the gaps and nail holes, and paint over the places I filled in. It seemed easy enough when I was drawing it up, but it took two and a half months of weekends to do that, plus replace the nasty Berber carpeting with hardwood floors. But that's over with.

Now I should get at least six to ten hours of work on the WIP every weekend, and add the nights to that, and it should pick up the pace significantly. And, luckily, we're broke, so the wife can't dream up anything else for me to do. (Yes, I blame the wife. I do it with conviction, because I know she doesn't read this blog and so she's not here to call me the liar I am. When in doubt, blame her) Yeah, life just got better.

Monday, June 20, 2011

On scathing reviews

Okay, I don't think anyone who's been writing for more than three days expects every review to be as positive and bubbly as a cheerleader's yell. But I've been crawling through the reviews of some authors on the Kindle Boards, reviews of classics, and reviews that authors I'm friends with have received, and there are a lot of blistering reviews out there.

Here's what I'm finding. The people on Kindle boards who are hyper promoting their books and touting their talents are getting hit the hardest with 1 and 2 star reviews. Usually, the complaints are that the writing is amateurish -- which I agree with most every time I see that charge leveled, clunky phrasing, the wrong words used, unclear thoughts, spelling and typos, that sort of thing. I don't begrudge the reviewers those comments, because I'd give the same ones.

There's another kind of bad review that's just a foolish mistake like the dope who reviewed Barbara Elsborg's Chosen and gave it a low mark because she didn't see how the book could be considered a romance. She's right that it couldn't be considered a romance, and that's because it's a suspense thriller. Not much you can do about that kind of review.

I'm not worried about those two types of reviews. If my prose is bad, I deserve a bad review. If someone makes the mistake of not reading the blurb and orders the book without knowing what it's about, on some level I'll actually be flattered because I figure they trust my writing enough to buy without thinking about it.Though, secretly, I'd want to slap them silly.

The other types of bad reviews are tougher because they are more likely to pop up on my stuff. There are readers out there who know science, the military, women, and a whole host of other things far better than I do. I'm doing my best to be true to what I've learned, but I don't have any experts handy who can discuss time travel, faster than the speed of light travel, alien anatomy, etc...Some writers of science fiction are getting hammered over minutia. You know, "This author says that light would be bent around the black hole at the center of Andromeda by 3%, but everyone knows that it's 4.2%. He doesn't know what he's talking about." Hmm. Okay, I guess it's a legitimate complaint (and, no, I don't even know if there is a black hole at the heart of Andromeda), but if a book is spoiled by something that minor, then I'm not sure that reader will be pleased by anything other than technical books. I'll do my best, but I reserve the right to be wrong. And I'm not joining the military just to get the verbiage down. (I'm giving it to my cousin to help me with that, she's a colonel)

Another type of bad review is the unappealing plot. Hard to take, but there's no recourse other than to try to do better next time.

The last type of bad review I saw was probably the most confusing. "The book was exactly what they said it would be, but I didn't like it." I had to shake my head. This, paraphrased, appeared on one star reviews for books like Day of the Jackal, Casino Royale, and The Foundation Trilogy. I read the blurbs on those books, they're not deceptive. Nobody tricked the reader into buying a book by promising that the Day of the Jackal is a deep love story. Yet some dope gave it a single star and complained that it was nothing but one man's obsessive quest to track down a clever would-be assassin. The reviewer said, "That's all it is. I don't see how anyone can like that kind of stuff." Of course, that's exactly what the blurb said it was. I'm shaking my head thinking, why the hell would this guy buy a book that's about something he knows he doesn't like?

Oh well. I'll deal the reviews when it's time, I suppose. Hopefully they make me a better writer.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Stuck in chapter 11 hell...or, is it heaven?

There's a part of me that wants to hurry. I want to hurry to get the damn thing done. I want to hurry to have a possible second source of income if things don't pick up at work (our business is off 60% and I fear for my job every day in this economy). But I've spent at least a week organizing chapter 11 and another week polishing the first 1/4 of it. The last three or four days, I sat down in the evening in the time I have allotted to work on it (between 8 and 11 p.m. typically, if I can stay awake that long and if the wife doesn't have me doing something else). And I started at the beginning, reading through it and every day I get farther.

This sort of arranging and polishing typically takes me longer at the beginning of chapters because those are usually heavy in narrative, setting description, that sort of thing. Once I get to the dialogue, it flows a lot quicker because I have the conversations already completed for the most part, it's all the rest of the crap I'm having to fill in right now. But I'm really enjoying myself with this one. On the one hand, it's a bitch because I want to see it complete, but on the other, I can't rush it. I just can't. I want the reader to see what I see without boring him, and that means compacting and making every word count. On top of that, I'm very conscious that I'm still over 6000 words for the chapter and want to cut that significantly, so it's making me look twice at every phrase. You know what I've found? God damn it, I waste a ton of words. Must cut.

In fact, I'm going to practice by summarizing this whole post in one word: sphincter.

p.s. What this has to do with the two ladies, I don't know. I'm running out of pictures I've uploaded to photobucket, and I'm gonna have to get some more soon.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Are you serious enough to be an author?

My buddy Dan has a hard time being serious about a lot of things. I'm not afflicted with the disease quite to that degree, but I can only be serious for short spurts, and then I lean back and utter those famous words of John Lennon, "It's all dick."

As hard as I've been working on the WIP, I can't seem to take myself all that seriously. I go on various message boards like the Kindle Boards, Absolute Write, CC, and others and I marvel at how stoic the authors on those things are. Maybe if I had to depend on writing for my bowl of rice, or if the wife and I needed the money, I'd see it differently. But I can't seem to get that serious about it. Not like some of them get. Obviously, there are exceptions; Barbara, Arlene, and Jean come to mind, but for the most part, it seems as though, when you get a couple authors in a room, they turn to stone.

I want to be as professional as I can be when putting words to paper, but outside of that, I can already see I'm going to have a hard time. They fume over the slightest problem with cover art, or promotional videos, declare how furious they are that the person doing theirs made a mistake. They recount arguments they had with their editors, and agents. They talk about their conferences and their agendas when they attend, and I seriously thought the conferences were a reason to escape the house and chores and get loaded with some fellow authors of a like mind.

I'll finish my book. I'll send out queries. If I get an agent, I'll show up wherever I'm told to show up. But I couldn't act stuffy to save my life. I'd never be able to act like a businessman at a writer's conference. If that's what writing's all about, then screw it, I have that now. Show up in the pinstripes, starched shirt and tie. I want to escape that. I don't want to carry a briefcase anymore.

Of course, I say all this now, but when it comes to it, if an agent tells me to put on a suit and wipe out my blog because it's too unprofessional, I'll probably roll over like a dog and show my belly. I just don't take it seriously enough to argue. Make sense?

p.s. Chapter 11 is down to 7,000 words, so now all I have to do is add some setting description and it should get down between 4000-5000 words where I want to be, right? I think that's how it works.

Monday, June 6, 2011

God help me

Okay, I'm not the least bit religious. Agnostic by choice. But I'll take a little help with chapter 11. It started out as a 12,900+ chapter, and I have it under 11,000 words. Only 7000 more to cut.

It's actually not that bad. What happens is that I write several versions of the same scene, put then in the file for that chapter and then merge them together, keeping the things I like from each version, so I know where 5000 of those words will come from. But not the other 2000. I thought about stretching it into two shorter chapters, but discarded that notion. Too much other stuff to get to, and I suspect I'd have to cut that many words one way or the other because I'm determined to keep the whole thing under 120k. Yeah, it's a silly arbitrary number, but as of now, I intend to query agents and try to go traditional pub route 66. (Which makes it something other than arbitrary, I guess)

p.s. Haven't been able to post comments on anyone's blog for a few days. I don't know what Google's problem is, but it's pissing me off.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Voice

So I was grappling with chapter 10 last night, revising the same paragraph for the 20th fucking time, and I had to push away from the laptop to take a break. This chapter's been brutal. I went bipolar on it Monday night:

"This sucks; nobody is going to be interested in-"
"Wait, no, we can fix this. What if we add...yes. Yes."
"No! Cut it! We must cuts it!"
"How about if we twist this a little? Yes! Yesss! That's it my precious. Golum. Golum."

Anyway, so I went down to the basement and picked up books by some of the masters (?), Asimov, Clarke, Brooks, Eddings, Jordan (lol) and I noticed that I wanted to stuff my voice down their throats. I've been so long at critting, that words my mind found perfectly acceptable when I first read those books now stood out like a sore thumb (Or maybe they stood out back then as well, and I just couldn't put a finger on it.). Not a lot (except in Jordan's case), but enough that I had to ask myself if there's only one PERFECT rhythm to words in our minds, and any time an author's words deviate from that, it sounds "wrong" even if there's nothing wrong with the sentence.

Definitely, the words on the page release some kind of endogenous endorphins or opiates in the brain that give us pleasure like the rhythm and lyrics of a song would. The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that a good writer is like a good songwriter, able to tap into that natural flow in the brain. We must find that. When I read William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist as a kid, there were scenes that literally had my skin crawling, put tears in my eyes, and I had to set the book down. Clunky words could never do that. Words that didn't fall in the rhythm my brain expected could never do that. My brain had to merge on that highway of thought with his and become one in the fictive dream. They don't have to be identical brainwaves, but close like those parrots. Must find the lyrics.