Saturday, March 2, 2013

Cover Artist Directory

I have a new directory of ebook Cover Artists out now.  It is a listing of over 150 different graphic designers and illustrators that can create ebook covers for a writer's opus.

Here's the Amazon link.

I also have a DIY Self Publishing Guide for Beginners available for the non-tech writers who are just getting started.

Here's the Amazon link for that one.  I should have it available everyone else soon.

Happy Writing and Publishing everyone!


Thursday, February 7, 2013

Pixar's 22 Storytelling Rules

22 Storytelling Rules ... according to Pixar

I thought this was a pretty great post.  Most everything applies.  Though there is definitely some leeway in terms of streamlining and tightening up--that is one of the advantages of a novel vs film/script, the ability/privilege of meandering along a few tangents here and there.  Of course, having said that, there always something to be said for economical writing.  And do the meanderings cripple your pacing? 

Sorry I haven't posted in awhile. 

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
#2: You gotta keep in mind what's interesting to you as an audience, not what's fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.
#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won't see what the story is actually about til you're at the end of it. Now rewrite.
#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You'll feel like you're losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
#8: Finish your story, let go even if it's not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.
#9: When you're stuck, make a list of what WOULDN'T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
#10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you've got to recognize it before you can use it.
#11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you'll never share it with anyone.
#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
#13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it's poison to the audience.
#14: Why must you tell THIS story? What's the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That's the heart of it.
#15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don't succeed? Stack the odds against.
#17: No work is ever wasted. If it's not working, let go and move on - it'll come back around to be useful later.
#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
#20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d'you rearrange them into what you DO like?
#21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can't just write ‘cool'. What would make YOU act that way?
#22: What's the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Cliches: Can't Live With 'Em, Can't Live Without 'Em

I'm not sure how I feel about clichés.  Even that tepid opinion would get me laughed out of a few writers groups.  Clichés are the devil, right?  To be avoided at all costs? 

I’m not so sure.  Isn’t there a certain amount of comfort in a cliché?  Isn’t a cliché simply a way of communicating a concept at its heart?  Can they be overused? For sure!  But is ‘being on the same page’ with someone really such a bad thing?  The answer to that argument is that a cliché is basically lazy writing, that a writer should spend the time to convey the concept in a new and exciting way (fresh!).  If you are under a time limit when you are writing, must the choice be between originality or ease of communication? 

I used to think so.  Then I realized that I didn’t think all clichés were evil, that, in fact, I kind of liked some of them.  Is that just my rebellious side showing through as it is wont to do (especially at inopportune moments)?  I don’t think so.

It’s about resonance.  The emotional connection with either what is being communicated or the way it is.  All writers strive for resonance—creating the connection with the reader.  And whether we know it or not we are embarking upon that high wire act between familiar and original.  Familiar can create that resonance, that connection to keep the reader interested and hopefully invested in the characters we create.  But make your tale too familiar and we risk boring the reader.  So, we spice it up.  We spin a yarn like none ever experienced before (again, hopefully) and our reader loves us for it, tells their friends, and sets us up for a great career path as a teller of tales. 

The more I thought about it, the more comfortable I was using the occasional cliché.  I made my peace with breaking that particular writing rule.  But then I kept thinking (silly brain!) and wondering how far the comfort level of familiarity applies.  We all hear about the ‘formulaic’ Hollywood movies.  Isn’t formulaic the same concept as cliché?  I mean, a certain fictional setup wouldn’t have become a formula if it wasn’t quite successful in first place, just the same way a cliché doesn’t really become a cliché unless it is used over and over enough to make it into our common language.   

Is formulaic bad? Is that even a fair question—bad and good being denominations of taste and therefore indefinable except on the individual level? (Got a little college-y with that last one, sorry.)

Well, I don’t have an answer to that except to say it all comes down to the tight rope that we walk when we write.  Only, we don’t know if we are keeping our balance as we go.  We only find that out later when our work reaches the masses and is either embraced or shunned.  Happy writing to all!

Linky Links: 

Here is link to a cool lecture by Malcolm Gladwell (Blink, Outliers) talking about Hollywood formula makers at a New Yorker conference:

Friday, May 18, 2012

The future of the world, I mean, ebooks

Today I read two very different blog posts about self publishing that were both right. 

The first was Konrath's "Exploited Writers in an Unfair Industry" which did an excellent job as usual of explaining the history of publishing and the changing distribution of power in the industry.  I agreed with all of it and appreciated the polished nature of the post.  But I didn't really care anymore.  Or at least not as much as I used to.  

I assumed this was due to newfound cynism on my part with regards to the publishing industry.  And while I lamented that fact (innocence lost!), I couldn't really change it without a little 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind' action.  

But then I read a different blog post by an equally brilliant author, Scott Nicholson, where he talks all about ads in books being the future.  But he starts the post out by mentioning that the whole indie/traditional argument only matters to a small number of people. 

--AHA!  Yay, it's not that I'm crazy cynical.  I'm just not in that group that really cares about big publishing, its fate, or its authors.  Thanks, Scott.  You're a great listener and this couch is really comfortable.  Same time next week? 

Anyway, I agree with Scott about ads and sponsorships being the future of ebooks since there are sooooooooo many free ebooks.  We writers are going to need to make some dough, somehow.  Gotta eat, right?  

But what would that look like?  As far as putting ads in our manuscripts, I don't think Amazon will take too kindly to usurping their business model-- they already have the kindle with ads.  Heck, they may even have a new option that will be available in 2014 where we can enroll our book in the ad program.  Maybe we get paid based on our sales rank (and therefore views).  Maybe it will be based on click-thrus only since the fire is basically a storefront from which one can buy almost anything. Who knows? But I doubt they will let us writers put little commercials in our books right now or in the future. 

That leaves product placement-- I'm pretty sure they can't tos ('terms of service') that one out of our toolbox.  This seems pretty intuitive if one is at least a midlist level author.  Striking a deal can't be that hard, especially after a few name brand authors do it successfully. But even before then, it's a basic sales call.  Now THIS might be something agents could be useful for and diversify themselves away from the Big 6's pockets.  Granted, it is just a different pocket, and similar relationship structure, but with the right contract, it could be doable. 

Of course, the risk here is that we don't sell ourselves out--at least not obviously: "Jane sips her refreshing Coca-Cola as she ponders her love for Dick."  But we're writers.  We can get creative about how a Volvo totally saved the spaceship from burning up when re-entering the atmosphere.  Or something.  You get my point.

And then there is the time honored 'patronage' method where a rich person just pays for you to write as happens often with painters in the 18th century.  Or something.  Today, that's morphed into marriage more than anything else.  Get the right spouse for your writing career!  Okay, that might be selling out. But where's the line? 

There is also kickstarter, a non-matrimonial version of patronage that really favors real world and online extroverts.  If that is you, start a campaign today because this one is the present rather than the future.  

Another direction ebooks can go in to get readers to fork over money for their fiction rather than get it for free (nonfiction will still be able to command money) is 'enhanced ebooks.'  I hesitate to even use that term because it makes me think of Vooks which really, really didn't work.  For good reason.  

What I mean by enhanced is like dvd extras.  Earlier drafts, outlines, research materials, interviews, alternate endings and the like all being included in the (e)book. I think this will become the norm in the next few years as authors need to convince readers of a book's value before that author has built a brand with their name (by that I mean autobuy based on name). 

Okay, this post is getting book length so I better wrap it up.  I hope everyone is enjoying May and its flowers, sun, and bugs. 

Happy writing!


And in other news: more H'wood glory for a beloved self pubbed author

Monday, April 16, 2012


To lighten up the tone after all my lawsuit bitching, I thought I'd share this.  May we all aspire to write such timeless books as these:

Amazon, Apple, Trad Pubs, the DOJ, and Agency

This is somewhat of an evolving story as 3 of 5 traditional publishers being sued alongside Apple have settled with the DOJ. What that means for agency pricing and if or when things will begin changing is up in the air.

Honestly, I don't really care about any of that.  This doesn't affect the day to day of my self publishing business.  I have no intention of ever submitting (in the truest sense of the word) to a traditional publisher  to publish my stories (unless I am wildly successful and they want to empty their coffers into my coffers for the chance to do business with me a la Hocking or Locke--in which case I might).

Then why am I talking about this?

Because I was initially surprised at the press over the suit (here and here).  Everyone is bitching and moaning about what a bad actor amazon is. I am sorry but lowering prices for your customers (charging 9.99 for bestsellers) and gaining marketshare because of that doesn't make one a bad actor. Do right by your customers and your customers will do right by you.

I say initially surprised because the news outlets that are moaning have been in bed with traditional publishing and will continue to be. These are the same publications that wouldn't even list self published titles in their 'bestelling' categories despite some titles selling hundreds of thousands more copies than the most successful traditionally published titles that they did list. They are basically the mouthpieces for the publishing industry. So, no, I am no longer surprised by the tone of the coverage.

This whole thing just seems so wasteful to me, however.  There will be untold millions wasted in legal fees because some CEOs couldn't be mature adults and instead chose to act like children.  Pure waste.

The rundown:

Basically, the companies being sued by the Department of Justice are alleged to have colluded with each other and Apple to the detriment of Amazon in the 1-2 years prior to the Ipad's release. While I can understand their motivation for doing this (they all seem to hate Amazon's success in the marketplace), it doesn't give you the right to break the law.  (I am not being a right and wrong moralist here-- If you don't agree with a law, go ahead and break it.  But be aware of the consequences of doing so.  Better yet, lobby to have the law changed.)

Apple's introduction of the iPad and the resulting growth of the iBookstore was bound to be an enormous disruptor to Amazon's marketshare. But everyone had to go just a step too far and that's why they are now in trouble.

Agreeing to use the agency pricing structure as a way to punish Amazon a) didn't really work and b) promotes price fixing rather than price diversity in the marketplace.  But that is not even the issue for me.

How things played out could have easily have occurred legally.  Without the collusion.  Apple was introducing a tablet that was (is?) definitely a game changer for ebooks and bad news for the Kindle.  They could have insisted on Agency.  That in and of itself is fine, though aggressive.  But still well within their rights.  And each publisher could have easily said yes or no based solely on their own counsel rather than making sure things are lining up with the other publishers.  (This is exactly what the 2 non-settling publishers say occurred.)  Each publisher most likely would have gone along with Apple's plan individually and the end result would be the same as what exists now.

Agency in and of itself is not bad.  Agency is not the reason they are being sued.  They are being sued bc of the way they went about it.

If I knock on your door and offer you money for your TV and you say yes-- I get a tv.  Or I could break into your house and take your tv--I get a tv.  One way of getting your tv is legal.  The other is not.

This is what I mean by waste.  Those being sued let their emotions rule and instead of thinking things through and making better decisions (I am sounding like a mom for a reason), they chose the first thing that came to mind.  If only a little more frontal lobe activity had occurred when making these decisions, perhaps they could have achieved the exact same result without resulting to such dubious methods.

Chatting it up over multiple dinners and phone calls about how we can stop a business from doing business bc they are hurting our business is just not allowed.  It is the opposite of a free market.  Consumers are the bosses in the market.  If you as a publisher are losing marketshare or profits then change is clearly needed.  Do something bigger, better, brighter for your customer and you will be the marketplace king.  It seems pretty simple to me.

Am I missing something?

Linky Links-
Some more opinions on the matter:

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

To Pen Name or Not To Pen Name?

This is a personal choice in the sense that there is no right answer. There are authors such as BV Lawson who write in many different genres and do so very successfully. The benefit of writing under one name is cross promotion. Your readers might drink from your well longer because they try out one of your other books in a different genre. John Locke experienced this benefit when he began his Western series after having written many successful Donovan Creed suspense novels.

The risk of doing this can be seen in the reviews of those westerns. Many people tried it out because they loved his writing, characters, and wacky plots but didn’t quite get what they wanted from the westerns. And then wrote about it in an Amazon review. Turning off your reader is the risk you take. You may have it labeled all over the cover and description that this is a ‘departure’ or ‘different style’ or something like that in addition to the explicit different genre mentions. And then it will seem unfair when a reader then leaves a review saying this book wasn’t what they thought it was. It happens all the time.

The Solution? A Pen Name

Being a writer is one of the few professions where we are allowed to explicitly take on many different identities (other than being a spy—they’re allowed, too). Having a different pen name whether secret or public typically prevents a reader from dipping into the wrong genre well and being disappointed. One of the most famous uses of a pen name is with Nora Roberts who writes romance. She adopted (or her publishing house made her adopt) a pen name when she started her futuristic police procedural romance series called In Death. For that she writes under the name JD Robb. It is said to have been a private pen name for a couple of years before she was ‘outed’ and thus began receiving the cross promotional benefits of her more successful Nora Roberts name.

The Risks of Using a Pen Name

More work— it is that much more work to market and promote yourself and your work. However, if you are using an ‘open’ pen name where it is public knowledge that the name is the same writer as another name, the work load lessens. You can mention both names in various marketing endeavors and get the benefits.

You might want to keep a pen name private for a few reasons. First, good, old-fashioned privacy. This is even more of a concern today when we can find out so much about each other online in five minutes. A pen name can help keep your private life private.

Another reason, though, is to prevent audience crossover. But why oh why would we ever want to do that??  Because some stories are inappropriate for some audiences. This is usually only true for erotica pen names if you happen to write inspirational or young adult fiction (or don’t want your day job colleagues finding out about your erotica writing forays). In these cases, yes, you do have to do double duty on the marketing and promotional fronts. That is the main cost of private pen names.

A third reason to use a pen name is for marketing and discoverability reasons. Is your name hard to pronounce or spell? This might be a good time to adopt the name you always wished as a kid that your parents had chosen for you— as long as it IS easy to pronounce or spell. Smooth the way for potential readers to find you so they can become fans. The caveat to that is to not fall off the cliff into the pit of generic and forgettable names. It’s a fine line that I still struggle with myself (hello?Kate Madison?!?).

There is another issue (besides more work for you) with using a pen name: reader confusion. It is hard enough to get a reader to find your book, buy it, read it, tell someone about it, and maybe even buy another. And then you want them to remember another name on top of all you are hoping and praying they will do for you already? While this effort might seem small to you, it can be enough to prevent a potential fan of your ‘other’ books from ever checking them out. For some people with busy lives and brains full of endless details, this is too much and they don’t act (i.e. Buy your other books).  

There are costs and benefits on both sides of the pen name issue. Only you can decide what is right for you. 

Obviously, I have gone with using them.  Both private and public.  I have four pen names currently with 26 titles published between them.  Will I create more?  If I try more genres, yes.  I have enjoyed the benefits of the separation.  Although, yes, it has been more work.  But a lot of the extra effort is one time, upfront variety.  But for you?  Your call. 

Anyway, long post.  Sorry about that.  

Happy writing, all!


Linky Links: