Lies Told By Small Presses — A Writer’s Path

Awesome guest post by Steven Capps on A Writer’s Path.  Take a look.

by Steven Capps Like many of my posts, this stems from something I saw in an online writer’s group. Essentially, someone who has been traditionally published from a small press was putting down people who self-publish. Personally, I have my own problems with self-publishing that I discuss in my “Why I’ll Never Self-Publish” post, but […]

via Lies Told By Small Presses — A Writer’s Path

UCLA and my 18 month old

Baby OutlawSo, third born child, Johnny James (“baby outlaw!”), he’s got communications issues, and the teams of doctors (TOD) have diagnosed as pre-autistic. We ask TOD, any programs you know about going on? Sure, there’s this Baby Jasper thing at UCLA, they say. We apply, and our kid took a test which he failed (meaning they think he is or has a high chance of being autistic, but can’t diagnose that until 2 y.o. for some reason), so he’s in the program. The program has been going for 5 years and JJ is the last kid in the program, then they shut down and will write a paper about the whole thing.

People say, “what’s up?” and I tell ’em, Hey Johnny is taking communications at UCLA.

He’s super smart and cute, that boy. Maybe someday he’ll talk. Right now, he’s learning sign. He says some one syllable noises (“Moe” for more, “Moe” for sound of cow, hiss for snake noise, low rumbling noise for dragon growl, and “Up” for everything else.)

Do Something – how to get something done

I was reading on Burpees to Bubbly and there was a post about the book called “Subtle Art of Not Giving a F***.”  And the blogger did a post about that, Just do something, and it’s fantastic.  The gist is that we operate in, as she says,

Inspiration ->  Motivation -> Action[,]”

when instead we should operate on

Action-> Inspiration -> Motivation[.]”

If we sit around waiting for inspiration, we waste time and we don’t do anything, because maybe inspiration won’t strike for a while, or it’s upstairs at the bar drinking and we’re not, or inspiration has just gone out on a night with the boys/girls and left us home alone, waiting. Screw that! Instead, DO SOMETHING. When you start doing something, inspiration will show up and redirect it, and then you’ll be that much further down the road to completing whatever it is, and, bonus, you’ll feel motivated. Sure it looks like it’s the wrong order. Try it anyway!

The doldrums of writing

I’ve been avoiding the manuscript, because I’m somewhere around the 50% part and I’ve been wishy washy about moving forward.

So I just let the characters talk for a while:

“It feels like we’ve been in the middle of this book forever, doing nothing,” Bendtsen said. “Can we just get this slark done and move on to whatever it is we’re going to do?”

“I haven’t decided,” Yuen said. “I’m prepping for her, as you know, but—”

“Screw that. That’s why you make a sharty heroine. Start deciding. You going to let everyone else control your life, your decisions? Nobody wants to read that.” Bendtsen said. He took a spoonful of the cabbage, and shot a look at Yuen.


I might have to change a few words, but it works. Keep the story moving forward, keep up the conflict, don’t let it settle into boredom. Let the characters critique the scene if necessary to keep the author honest. Amusing… but not terribly useful. Anyhoo, we’ll get this done, one way or another. The protag is supposed to start taking control at this point, anyway, so it’s good advice by Bendtsen.

How much review is necessary? Sequels

The ADHD audience demands that you get to the point and do so quickly.  That’s the deal in movies and television today. Compare the opening episode of Columbo, where there’s a loving 5 minute helicopter shot that brings us to the mansion– 5 minutes of nothing but scenery. Unnecessary? Yes. That was just how they did it. Compare to today, where that same information would be conveyed in several 1-2 second shots. We’re in a bay, and now we’re at this mansion with this guy.

And look at the cuts in movies now. Every 5-6 seconds they change the shot. In the more extreme, Alfred Hitchcock’s shower scene has multiple cuts per second, to give us a frenetic view of a murder. There’s something like 36 cuts in that scene, and we’re not talking about what Norman is doing with his knife, either.

How does this affect books?

I think your average reader isn’t tolerant of the long, loving descriptions that we see in 19th century literature. Get to the point! BLUF! Bottom line up front! We’re looking at you, JRR.  Skip to weathertop, the rest of that stuff was unnecessary.

Maybe you do shorter cuts and try to stay relevant and on topic. Maybe you don’t. That’s a matter of author style.

But this brings us to the sequel. These days, it’s not enough to publish one book and then profit. You need sequels. That’s apparent. Does your sequel stand alone or does it need to be read in sequence? Do you just stick a synopsis in the beginning to fill in those who are joining the program in progress, or do you put it in the novel, real organic-like, so the reader is thinking, “Gee, I know that Oedipus was sleeping with his mom, skip this paragraph because there’s nothing new for me here.” At least the synopsis can exist sort of outside the book. Has it been a year since I read the first book? And why didn’t you have the sequel published sooner? Then I can look at the synopsis and I’ll think, “okay, yeah, I remember it all vaguely now, like looking through a glass darkly. Thanks synopsis, you’re the best!” Otherwise, I can say, “read the first one 2 hours ago, so it’s all fresh and don’t need the synopsis. Skip!”

I may have mentioned this before, but there was a series of books about these spaceships that were powered by mages. This is not surprising; after all, most of science fiction looks like magic. It’s not like authors have physics degrees. If they did, they’d be off running companies instead of writing fiction. Just sayin’.  So back to the book. Every stinkin’ chapter, we had a recap of what just happened. This drove me NUTS. After 3 chapters, I went to read the afterward to figure out what was going on. Turns out, this was a serialized book, in which installments were published at separate times. Fantastic! In my OCDness, however, I wanted to tear it up and edit it to rip out those sections so it was readable.. Blah blah blah, yes, we know he’s a mage and he’s on this ship, rip out those 12 paragraphs, let’s keep the story moving.

It seemed odd to me that no one edited it after stitching it together to make it flow.  If you annoy your readers, you lose them, at least the ones that don’t have a weird book fetishes. You know the sort of book fetish people: “I must complete all books that I start!” and “It’s criminal to burn books or use them for toilet paper, no matter what they are.” That’s just weird. If I could burn some of the ebooks I’ve read, I would gladly do so. They were awful, and didn’t deserve to see the light of day. And some stuff is downright dangerous, i.e. all books by Joel Osteen.

Besides books by the damned, many books start with a good premise but the execution needs to be, you know, edited. By an editor, not uncle Mumphy who may have taken a college class in creative writing. 50 years ago. While he was avoiding the draft. In Canada. Yeah, if you’re selling a book, then you are a professional, and thus you need to treat your writing like professional product. Unless you’re giving it out for free, and then what’s the point of that? Isn’t your writing worth something? So find an editor so we don’t have the whole ebook stigma hanging over your novel. Then we can get down to the basics of critiquing your novel for the other things it lacks, not just dumb cosmetic tiny typos.

Those editors who happen to be pricey will also fix the problems in your novel such as you over-using a phrase or perhaps you hammer a point home a few too many times. Yes, we get it. You support a political position and this book is your platform, darnit. Even the best writers seem to do that, the difference is that their editors put big red slashy marks through the bad parts and those are ripped out before it ever gets to the consumer.  Instead of a preachy book which goes on for hours about climate change, we can instead read about what your characters think and how they’ll arc, i.e. they could go from being a chickenlittle alarmist to someone who doesn’t believe the sky is falling. Didn’t the fox eat up all the birds in that one? Alarm was correct, just didn’t see the right threat.

Anyhoo, back to the point, which is deciding how much review is going to sink this sucker.  If you MUST review, please do so lightly, and put it up front. And put the review in paragraphs which can be skipped, without new information, so if some of us are skimming that stuff, we don’t get blind-sided. No, really, it’s okay for us to skim that stuff. That’s why you really ought to just have a synopsis of the previous episode, like they did on Murder She Wrote: “Previously, on Murder She Wrote: “Jess, you’ve been at or near the scene of over thirty murders. Most people never see one, yet you’ve been a suspect in a dozen, and your proximity, while not correlation, seems to be an indicator that someone is going to be bumped off. That is why I don’t like being around you.”  “Well, Sheriff, I understand you, but I’m not leaving Cabot Cove.”

Mandatory Sequel

Conventional marketing for your ebook seems to be that the more books you have, the more you can sell to customers who like your writing. That’s simple, right? If you write one book, you can upsell your next book to the reader who is enjoying your style. Also, you have a sequel available so the reader can spend more time with the great protagonist you provided them in the first book.  Your first book is at a low price point to provide new readers with incentive to obtain it, then your second book is priced at more moderate ebook prices ($5) because the reader knows what they’re getting in product.

This, then, is the problem for the new author.

You spend half a decade churning out your best-seller, and you’re ready to publish. Great. The problem is the money you’re leaving on the table. Without a proper platform to retain readers, you don’t have a hook after they’ve finished your opus magnus. They finish it and say, “hey, that was a pretty good book. Wonder what else they have out there? There was no afterward trying to sell me a sequel.”

They go to Amazon and type in your name. One book. That’s it. That’s all you’ve got.  Nice work, Harper Lee.

In lieu of your fantastic sequels which you are working on, you could set up a mailing list, maybe give away some novelettes relating to the first book, and that way you have a way to retain those readers who liked your first work and can contact them when the next novel is published.

Or you could spend another half decade, and publish both books together, one as the teaser loss-leader, the other as the full price you-know-my-work-now-pay-up. If you’re a fast worker, that could take only a few months, instead.  But you definitely need a multiple book body of work to turn those profits.

Unless, of course, you manage to get a book featured on Amazon Prime, and that’s some major exposure.  You had better have that sequel ready, then, because there’s going to be some people waving fistfulls of money at you.

That is, according to conventional wisdom.

There’s a ban button!?

I started listening to accuradio.com a few months back. I like country music, but not all of it. Some songs are over-played, others are awfully like banshees wailing.

That aside, I discovered a few days ago a button, “ban artist/song.” Euphoria! I never have to hear an awful song again.

Technically, I’ll have to hear it to know it’s awful, but once we’ve established that, into the banner it goes. There’s a few artists who’ll be chucked in there as well.

Speaking of Strange Vocabulary

One thing I find interesting is reading authors from, say, late Victorian to about the 1950s. Their vernacular is spectacular.

For instance, I can read Edgar Rice Burroughs John Carter of Mars series, at least most of them, for free.  Edgar never messed around with using short words when he could use big ones. I tried reading one of those books to my 7 year old, and found myself doing a lot of substitution or “do you know what that word means?” Obviously, the sophistication level of ERB is higher than a 2nd grader, but there were words in there that are $20 words where a .25 cent word would have done fine.

Were authors showing off? Was having a large vocabulary of singular purpose words, like defenestration, useful when writing? Did people at the turn of the century or in the roaring 20s appreciate or desire complex words over simpler ones?

Zane Grey, that prolific western writer, like to use the term ejaculated, and no, not like what you’re thinking. It meant, “say something quickly and suddenly.” So you’d come upon gems like,

“Har har har, Sheriff!” Black Bart ejaculated, expectorating a large glob of chew into the dirt and on the sheriff’s boots.

That’s not ZG, that’s my version of something he might write. You get the drift. Or take something written by Sir Walter Scott:

“We bestow no mean compliment upon the author of “Emma” when we say that keeping close to common incidents, and to such characters as occupy the ordinary walks of life, she has produced sketches of such spirit and originality that we never miss the excitation which depends upon a narrative of uncommon events, arising from the consideration of minds, manners, and sentiments, greatly above our own.”

(From Jane Austen. (1775–1817).  Pride and Prejudice., The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction.  1917, Criticisms and Interpretations I. By Sir Walter Scott, retrieved from http://www.bartleby.com/303/2/1001.html March 19, 2017.)

That’s really wordy. I know a couple of editors who’d tell SWS to tone it down, and not be so high falootin in his language.

Which raises the question, if Leo Tolstoy were writing Anna Karenina today, would the editors have been writing in big red letters on his draft, “What the hell is this? Unnecessary chapter. Cut it out.”  and “Why did you kill the title character half way through this book?” OTOH, at 364,000 words, the editor charging .014 per word would make $5,096.  That’d be in rubles, of course. And all those big words… let’s dumb it down a little, Leo, the people simply don’t have the vocabulary of 100 years ago.

Cultural trends point toward the continual dumbing down of our language. Most people do not understand the simple apostrophe, and while they may have composed 80000 word novels, those novels were in vapid text messages to their friends. “Wht R U doing?”

Based on this cultural change, do writers reflect that in their writing? Where it was okay for Josef Conrad to slowly bring you into the Heart of Darkness, would that sort of writing be considered overly pretentious and wordy today?

In support of this, I submit the movie making of the 1960s vs. now.  First episode of Columbo, we get a 3 minute loving helicopter shot zooming in on a mansion.  Then we get several more long scenes showing the murderer in their home, doing this and that, and it’s quite slow and lazy.  Contrast that with today’s movie, where all that would be accomplished in several 4-5 second scenes, because you don’t have the luxury of mucking about on a long scene. That reflects the audience, not the movie maker.  The audience is so ADD, we’re bored to death if you don’t do a cut every 4-10 seconds. Action, reaction, action, reaction, wide shot, action, reaction, etc.

If I see terms that are archaic in modern writing, I think either the writer is out of touch or they’re trying to show off. “Look, I’m smarter than you because I own a thesaurus and it has these obscure terms that no one knows. Even your Kindle dictionary won’t know ’em. I’m awesome.”  Thanks, but no. That’s not communication, that’s prattle.

That does not mean you’re allowed to spell minuscule with an “i” instead.

Learning the Cornetto in G – renaissance instrument

A few years ago, a friend lent me two cornettos, one in G, the other in C. The G is an alto, the C is a soprano.  The cornetti are curved and have a thumb hole and six finger holes, and is fingered similar to a recorder. The mouthpiece is shaped like an acorn, and similar in size to a french horn mouthpiece. It has a more mellow sound than a trumpet, and is unique in being a mouthpiece instrument that uses woodwind type fingerings instead of valves.

I have extensive experience playing brass instruments (tuba, baritone, trumpet) and can easily make noises on those, but this requires a small embouchure (I think that’s French for “pucker up.” Okay, no, it means mouth. I was close). Like as in half an inch across embouchure.

Every couple of months or so, I pick up one or the other and play them a little. Very little. Because it requires a mouth of iron, and I don’t have the callouses yet to play for more than 1-2 minutes at a time. Then I must rest for a minute, and go another 1-2 minutes. If I play every day for 15 minutes, I can build up endurance so that I can play for longer periods, to the point where I would be able to play an entire song.

If you’ve never heard or seen a cornetto, it’s because there was a battle for who would be the lead instrument in the late renaissance. Violin or cornetto? The violin won.

Here’s a vid of one being played by one of the premier cornettists, Bruce Dickey.
Josquin des Prez: Mille Regretz

In the meantime, the instrument can be used in context of playing at renaissance faires and SCA events. That’s pretty much it, unless I can talk others into including it in their musical affairs. I’ve got some sheet music from a few SCA sites–they’re pretty nice about giving out music because they WANT people to perform it for dancing. The cornetto is the perfect instrument for leading a band in dance music, both country dance but especially noble dance, such as Fabritio Caroso, Cesare Negri, and their ilk.

There’s an import CD I picked up years ago, entitled Danses de la Renaissance Itallienne, directed by Sergio Balustracci.  It was published in 1988. In it, the cornetto is featured on nearly every track, and it remains my favorite version of these dance tunes that I’ve heard.  I remember when learning noble dances for faire, that our instructor loved to use a tape of tape of a live performance of the tunes for training. It was muddy and hurt my musically sensitive ears with a loud, muddy thumping performance of the music that had been recorded on the world’s worst microphone. I hated it. These, these I would listen to.

So, this time around, I’m being intentional about playing it. I started 3 days ago. I will hold to it, learn the fingerings (I’ve been lazy about the accidentals), and be able to perform with it within 3-4 months.