How To Treat Your Writing Like A Business

I just found this, via Faran Silverton, and even though it’s necroposting (I mean, my goodness, this post is almost a year old… that’s like 107 in blog years) I found it excellent and wanted to flag it for future consideration.

Darla G. Denton

How To Treat Your Writing Like a Business

Writing is a magical journey that can lead us down paths of frustration, enlightenment and financial success…. Among other things.

If you’re like me then you love to write but you’re ready to take your writing from “Hobby” to “Career”.

Here is how to do it.

Step 1: Think about what you want to write.

It all starts with an idea.

  • What do you want to write about?
  • Do you want to do fiction or non-fiction?
  • What genre do you enjoy writing the most?

If your goal is writing romance you need to settle into a genre to have the best chance of understanding what guidelines need to be met while writing your story. Also, if you continually produce work within the same genre you will gain a fan reader base faster.

Once you figure out what you want to write, think about who you want to be as a…

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Logline, part III- back to the salt mine

Russ J. Fellows tossed in some opinion here  where he said,

“Just a bit confused – is the “newly discovered family” doing the galactic takeover, or is the protagonist saving them from one? What is a “galactic takeover” anyway? Some alien corporation looking to pad their margins? It has some intrigue to it, and it piques my interest, but too many questions that might stop me from reading further. (Just my $.00002 worth).”

The logline I’d submitted was this:

“An orphan who joined the military returns to her home planet to stop her newly discovered family from a galactic takeover.”

I think Russ spotted a huge weakness. So back to editing it to get it really right. I’ve got only 22 words there, so I can potentially add another 18 to total it out at 45, though that might feel wordy. So, I’ve got the protagonist: An orphan who joined the military
Antagonist: her newly discovered family
Active Verb: returns
Active Goal: stop her newly discovered family from a galactic takeover
Stakes: a galactic takeover

Jaime pointed out that the stakes, which I had thought not really present, were the galactic takeover. But then Russ pointed out that it’s not compelling. Why isn’t it compelling? I used boring terms. Galactic takeover.  (Galactic makeover? Story idea.)

So I shall hack away at it some more.

“An orphan who joined the military becomes marooned on her home planet and must decide between her duty to protect the Imperium or fighting her newly discovered family to take the reins to the highest office in the solar system.” (38 words)

I’ve got the protagonist: An orphan who joined the military
Antagonist: her newly discovered family
Active Verb: decide
Active Goal: protect the Imperium or fighting her newly discovered family to take the reins to the highest office in the solar system
Stakes: duty vs. taking the highest office

Better? Worse? Ideas? It’s up to you, peanut gallery. My logline is in your hands. Sort of. I mean, if you came up with something totally ridiculous, I’d blow raspberries and ignore it. Or maybe I wouldn’t.

Edit: Yeah, reins vs. reigns. Sorry.

Next stop: Synopsis. But the logline is broken.

Assuming that 198 random strangers treasured followers of this blog plus the random guy from Sudan who wandered in here don’t give my logline the big thumbs down, the next step in this process is to create a synopsis.

The logline (so far) is:

An orphan who joined the military returns to her home planet to stop her newly discovered family from a galactic takeover.

We break that down as follows:

An [orphan who joined the military] (protagonist) [returns] (active verb) to her home planet [to stop her [newly discovered family] (antagonist) from a galactic takeover] (active goal). It’s lacking stakes. It’s LACKING STAKES!

As you know, or don’t, the logline is the pitch, the sales of your book or movie. It is succinct and provides enough information so you could, say, describe your book to a stranger who asks, “what do you write?”

(Or you could do a Bob Mayer, who is a former Green Beret and I think I read likes to carry around extra copies of his books. When someone says, “what do you write?” he hands them a book. At least, I think it was Bob. If it wasn’t you, Bob, then someone else and I don’t remember where I saw it and I apologize because this is a fantastic idea. End parenthetical.)

And I’m not doing this because Kristin Lamb said to do it, nosir. Though I totally hope you look at that post if you haven’t, because it’s all about this.  Though, after re-reading that post, I may have to go back and redo my logline, because it’s gotta have protagonist, active verb, active goal, antagonist, stakes. Yeah, stakes. Bleh. See above.

Mine is a bit short for a logline – by about 9 words, but I’m not sure it needs more than that. The ideal for movies is 35-45, I think, based on mumble mumble I’m Not Sure Where They Came Up With This Number but Douglas King Said So Here. I found that link because it had that fabulous logline for the Wizard of Oz picture, and then I read the excellent article following it. Thanks Douglas!

Where was I?! Ah, yes, synopsis. Randy the snowflake guy says I’m to take a day, or a week, or a subjective period of time that fits my schedule and write four sentences scratch that, make that a paragraph about my entire story. Logline (expand it a bit to include the ending), three disasters, and the ending. That’s going to be my synopsis… which I haven not yet written. I will post my attempts at a paragraph synopsis in the next relevant post, though all my posts are relevant.

But what about the stakes in your logline, Pontius, you say?

That is, once I decide on the stakes and stick those in there. The gist is that the protagonist has to make a decision: Help the family or remain loyal to the Empire she swore an oath to? If you could assume total power by going back on your oath, or remain a nobody and be loyal to your oath to a collapsing power, would you do it? That’s the question. And that needs to be fixed in the story, so how to write that in to the logline?

You may comment at length about this. Have you done a logline? Will you do a logline? Do you even care about it?

Logline – comments gladly accepted, please skew the averages

image
It’s a good logline, really. From https://screencraft.org/2014/11/10/how-to-write-effective-loglines/

Yesterday, I wrote out my process for establishing the logline for my novel (which is 26k already written. Better late than never).  I figured for the folk out there who’ve never done a logline, watching my tortured process might be helpful. I had a short logline which I liked, but it was still lacking. I ended with this:

“A marine orphan must stop her family from a galactic takeover.”

I submitted it to the peanut gallery after some handwringing about wanting to say something about orphan who joins the marines but not wanting to imply the story was about the process of joining the marines, and darn if Mister Cool Hand Boyack didn’t just nail it.  He said:

An orphan who joined the military returns to her home planet to…

Boom. That’s what I need. Let’s cobble that together with my semi-final from yesterday.

An orphan who joined the military returns to her home planet to stop her newly discovered family from a galactic takeover.

I added “newly discovered” because that’s important, otherwise the orphan/family part doesn’t make sense.

What do you think? Opinions, comments, etc. gladly accepted. Go ahead and comment to throw off the averages and help me out. Even if you’re one of them there Romance novelists and this isn’t your cuppa, comment to say “it’s not my cuppa but it sounds good as a logline” or “I hate it, I hate it, I hate it” or whatever it is you have to say. Or promote your book. Or your editing services. Comment. Yes. Go, you masses of readers. Your work here has begun.

Op-Ed: The Indie Scam

Awright, I’ll toss in here. I’m not complaining about tradpub’s overpriced books. They sell at the price point the market will bear or they go out of business. Thus, if HogRowling wants to sell a hardback for $32.00, people will pay that because they consider it worth $32.00 (first edition!).

Back to the Indie pubs. I was conversing with someone who had a 176k first book. My thought? Divvy it up and sell the first half as an introduction to your work for $1.99, then sell part 2 as the $4.99 supplement. That’s 85k per book, and if you price #1 low enough, you’re essentially selling trust. Once they see that you’re not going to typo them to death or use commas in a homicidal way, they can buy #2. Either way, the intro book, either 176k or 85k, is going to have to be priced low enough for the unknown writer to sell any copies, so they may as well capitalize by having two full size books and get paid a bit more. I think the market knows the sequel thing is happening and that yes, some of those are novellas. If you get a book of only 30 k, then you have to consider, “Is this worth pursuing?” They’ll Publishing Clearning House CDs for Only $1 you to death. Sure, that first CD is a dollar. But the rest, they’re cheap. It’s the $15 shipping and handling that you might not like.

But what happens when someone sells a novella, a 30 k book, and only charges $1.99 for it? The reader feels like they were ripped off, because that guy over there is selling his 300k monster for $1.99, too. So the question is to the reader, why is the 300k book so low priced? Doesn’t the author value his work?

Unusual Things

There are a lot of blogs, posts, and news articles out there decrying the pricing of the big publisher’s books. They make regular appearances on smaller author’s sites, reddit’s r/books, and very frequently in the circles of indie authors. “Publishers are making their books too expensive!” they cry. Look at the price of these books!

And to be fair, they have a perfectly valid point. One I was reading last week pointed out the ridiculously high cost of a new fantasy title ebook: $14.99. Too high, the post claimed, and I agreed.

Then came the bit I didn’t agree with. That everyone should flock (and was flocking) to ebooks and indie because the prices were so much better.

The problem is, this isn’t always true.

Let me tell you a story. About a year ago, I was attending a con and talking with a bunch of authors about ebook sales and…

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Logline, Logline, what do you see? In which the author attempts to write a logline

The logline is the one sentence statement of what your book is about. It must accomplish getting the entire idea of the novel across to another person in a single sentence, and do so in a way that the person can immediately determine if the thing is going to be a book they want to read.

On to mine.

I’ve got a character, a female marine. She’s an orphan who joins the marines to get away from the orphanage, where they buy and sell kids. By strange chance, the ship on which she is stationed ends up back in the solar system she is from, and is attacked causing her to have to flee for the surface of the planet. Once there, she must go to the orphanage to find out answers to who she really is and why she is mistaken as the politician who is doing a political coup to take the solar system from the empire.

That’s not the logline, that’s just me throwing out the premise. There are no coincidences in books, are there?

On to the character. What are the important bits about her? Orphan, Marine, Female. I think the most important factor here is that she is an orphan. Can I say orphaned marine, or is that confusing? The marine part is certainly a big portion of the whole thing, but is it expressive of the storyline to mention that? I think that the military aspect should probably be mentioned, yes, in the logline because if you don’t like that stuff, this book will not be something you’re interested in reading. I’m leaning toward:

“An orphan joins the marines to escape the orphanage, but…”

That’s too wordy. Plus it misstates the content, because it’s not about her joining the marines, she’s already been there for a while.

So, let’s break that down again. How about:

“A marine is marooned on the planet she is from and must confront her past.”

Oh, that was terrible. Marine, yes. But that non-specific “confront her past” is awful.  Let’s rip that out. And the “Planet she is from” is super awkward and wordy.

“An orphan marooned on her origin planet stumbles upon a plot by her family to take over the universe, and she must stop them or join them.”

I actually like that.  It’s still wordy, though, and Mr. Soghomonian from Poly Sci wouldn’t like it. Is it stumbles? That implies a Nancy Drew sort of awkwardness, like she fell into the plot and was clueless it was there to begin with.  And it wants clarity. Plus I need to mention the military aspect.

“A marine and her squad must fight to discover and stop her family from a galactic takeover.”

That sort of accomplishes it. I left out orphan, left out the planet marooning, and that’s the gist of the story– discover her origins, find the truth, and then decide whether to throw in with the evil family or fight them. Do I put in orphan? Here’s what that looks like:

“A marine orphan must fight to discover and stop her family from a galactic takeover.”

However, it’s not popping. What makes this story unique from any other? There’s the whole origins of the protagonist, but if I say more, it may be a spoiler. And the middle – “must fight to discover” seems weak. Perhaps drop that? It would look like this:

“A marine orphan must stop her family from a galactic takeover.”

That, however, has the disadvantage of the two disjunctive thoughts, and looks like a mistake. After all, you can’t be an orphan and know who your family is, can you? Sure, there’s instances where you know your family but you’re still an orphan because none of them can care for you, but most of the time the implication is that being an orphan is to be without family.

Ideas, peanut gallery? Suggestions (besides, “scrap this book. You can’t write the logline for it”)?

Granular to Macro: Writing is Impossible

The conversation about outlining has evolved into talk about craft books, and our favorite advice blogs. Kristin Lamb comes to mind because she hits homers with each post, mostly, and there’s a bunch of others who love and appreciate the writer and want to encourage and help you.

And the sum of those blog posts is that this is a craft, and it’s got a whole lotta stuff you that needs your attention. The granular: Typos, homophones, punctuation, commas, no commas, periods, don’t use passive, don’t use adverbs, how big to build your sentences and paragraphs and chapters. That’s just a few of the solid bits that tend to be more objective than subjective, I think, except for how big to build those last three. And I see you back there, you people who are saying, “Well, shoot, you must learn the rules before you break them, and I know them rules, so I break them, and JK Rowling got to do it, so I can too.”

No, you’re not breaking the rules artistically. You’re causing the reader pain with your abuse of the comma and the semicolon. This isn’t art; it’s feces on a wall. You can put a nice card next to it that says, “Feces on a Wall. Brick, Feces,” but that doesn’t make it art, or good art, or anything.

So the macro is the overall plot structure, three acts, character development (arcs for all, personalities of each character, their qualities and characteristics), the scenes you decide to show the reader and the scenes you don’t. The macro is still objective, in a way, since certain things have to be done in a specific manner or your reader will throw your book at the wall, where it will stick to the aforementioned feces. You can have the most beautiful prose in the world, but if the scenes are boring or not advancing the plot, it’s just drivel, it’s Wagner, it’s mashed potatoes without gravy, it’s harmony without melody. Or your protagonist might be too perfect, and instead of grinding her way through a bloody battle to survive, she just waltzes through it and is never in any danger. Boring. Do something mean to your little darling. Make her fail. Failure will bring out the character arc.

And that’s the purpose of the outline. A good outline is going to introduce the macro. We’ll meet the characters beforehand, maybe eat some cheese and crackers and drink a little wine and say, “How do you do?” and they’ll say, “Great, thanks. I can’t wait to get into this novel and really start doing a genocide.” “Whoa, there, sparky, I think I have some people you’re going to kill, but nots go crazy.” “Wait, I thought I got a genocide? This might not be the book for me.” “Hold on, why don’t you meet the protagonist, he’s over here.” And they mingle, chat, maybe they smoke cigars together and bond over single-malt scotch. In the meantime, you’re outlining scenes so that you have a classic three act book, and you know what everyone is going to do before  you get to the granular. What does each scene need to accomplish? Oh, yes, it needs to accomplish moving the plot forward, of advancing the story, or it’s up against the crap wall with it.

While you’re mapping out your scenes, then you can also place the character arcs. Each scene can influence the arc in some way, so that you know how to write the scene to make sure the protag is going to make it to his destination on time, and you know what the destination is.

Plus, you’re tracking the pacing of each scene. Too slow? Too fast? If you’re too slow, the reader will walk away. If you’re too fast, the reader will grow tired and walk away. Either way, they’re super-fickle. The fix is having the scenes flow with enough action to keep it moving, and not too much of the dull boring stuff like your character acting as a mouthpiece to tell the world why you hate Donald Trump so much.

And then there’s the up and down of the scenes. Just like Classical Music, you have a nice Allegro to start, then the second movement is andante or slow, and then there’s a nice scherzo at the end to round things out. A slow sandwich, where the bread is two quick pieces. Do that in your book, too. It keeps things flowing.

During all of this, you need a plot that is interesting and not too obvious. We don’t want a recap of something else we’ve read, we want something new and delicious and fantastic. Oh, and make it slightly original.

This, all of this, is why writing a good book isn’t an easy task. We were talking to a young lady recently and asked her what she did in college. “I have an English degree.”  The snarky side of me thought, Oh, you took the easy way and studied a language you already knew.  However, I know that it’s not like that. Just knowing English isn’t enough: Composing something that people will read, willingly, and then come back and buy more of your product because they like what you write, that’s an accomplishment far above analyzing the deeper meaning of a Clean, Well-Lighted Place or A Rose for Miss Emily.

And this, all of this, is why seat of the pants isn’t the best way to get it done. There’s too much to go horrifically wrong if you’re not paying attention. Great plot, but no character arc? Dull. Character arc but no plot? Dull. Your characters are writing the story? Tell them to shut up, there’s a plot and they’re along for that ride. They are, after all, figments of your imagination, and with a little self control, they can do whatever you want. Making that look organic, that’s what makes you a writer, not stringing words together in formulas to please the pharisees of writing who cannot look beyond function to see any form.

 

Outlining with OneNote (it comes with Microsoft office suite)

I just had another thought- has anyone tried doing outlining with OneNote? If you’ve ever used it, it’s a nifty deal which is packaged with the MS Office Suite, and it is a program where you can drag and drop stuff from webpages, or type notes, or drag and drop pictures, and so on. If you copy paste from a webpage, it’ll give a linkback to the URL of the page you grabbed it from and append that to the end of the pasted content. It does a bunch of other stuff… but I wonder if anyone ever used it for outlining? You’ve probably all got this program, but it doesn’t seem to get used much.

A quick google search found this: Life Hacker onenote. But can it be used for outlining a book?

Fine, I surrender. I’ll outline. But you better do it with me.

Into Google I went, and the second result to “fiction outline template” was this super linky post by Jennifer Mattern, which I post here for your use.

Okay, I admit it. It’s really for me. If you want to come along, you can too. You know you want to try it. All the cool kids are doing it. Except Stephen King. But he’s not a cool kid. He’s the dorky guy with all the money living in Maine with J.B. Fletcher from Murder She Wrote. I wonder if they know each other?

I see on the site that Jennifer got an award for “101 best Websites for Writers” from Writer’s Digest. So that’s not a totally made-up award. She’s got it from 2011 to 2015, so they sort of stack up the little yellow discs and it’s cool. I suppose if I was important, I’d know who Writer’s Digest is. Nevertheless, it sounds toity and important and stuff. And she looks serious. Look at her. Serious writer. I need serious. So do you.

There’s a link to “First Draft in 30 Days” which is like the gym for writers. Get in there! Lift those adverbs! What sort of weak outline is that? Go back and redraft! You think you’re going to outline in EXCEL?!  I’d have to buy the book to get in shape, though. I’ll consider it.

Back to Jennifer’s site:
I clicked on “No Plot? No Problem. — by Chris Baty” and as you can see, it says:

Page not found

Ouch. I’m wondering about the metaphysical message of No plot? No problem. Page not found.

Oh, look! The link for Fiction Book Outline Template — from Adelphosbooks.biz is a free goody, a form! I love forms. Outline Worksheets, free for life. There’s a lot of forms… Hmmm. Do I have to answer all of this stuff? There’s a lot of boxes. A lot. Go look. You’ll see. If only it were a fillable PDF so I could type everything instead of using, blech, pencil!

Not sure that’s for me, but… here’s something! Index cards!!! (squeal!)

Okay, I’m kidding about the squeal part. I don’t like them all that much. Maybe I can learn to love them, like Dr. Strangelove and the H-Bomb.

Karen Woodward uses index cards. I’m down with that. That’s a professional trick of the trade for screenwriters. You use freaking index cards. Says she uses a program that simulates the index cards, which is also cool. I dunno if that’s me. Can I just use excel with a lot of open workbooks?  This looks extremely organized, down to the “did your villain remember to pack his toothbrush and floss?” kind of level. I’ll look at it in more detail.

Inevitably, I’m back to Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method. I think it works, though the story I composed using that method didn’t turn out to be the story I wrote. It kept changing. I think I knew it wasn’t working when I was doing the outline, though it substantially changed the initial thing I worked on – 20 thousand words of something that could be potentially salvaged in the future to make it work.

I’ll give Randy’s method a go, again, and it’s back to motivation/reaction units, and scene/sequel. Does ANYONE actually write this way? Besides Randy?

The torment and anguish: Outlining Abomination

Look, I don’t like outlining. I just don’t. This does not make sense, considering my soul’s desperate desire for order. You’d think that order = not chaos, and chaos = not outlining, therefore order = outlining. Somewhere in that logic sequence is a flawed statement, but I don’t know where. In the meantime, I read stuff on other blogs that sounds vaguely like this:

Hey there, everyone. I used to type only 150 words a day, and my novel was taking FOREVER. But then I learned how to outline and now, with only five minutes of outlining a day, I now type 9000 words a day, and have finished five books last month. You can learn to outline, too, with my free 7 FABULOUS TIPS TO NO-BRAINER AWESOME BEST-SELLER OUTLINING brochure, which I will send to you if you give me your email address.

Also, I rescued 10 kittens this morning and bought groceries for the poor family down the street.

For one, nobody likes you, if you’re this person. We’re all supremely envious (not jealous) of your 9000 words a day. Secondly, we don’t believe you, unless you start pumping out titles three times a month and they’re good. Thirdly, nobody likes outlining, do they? Do they?! Fourthly, nobody rescues 10 kittens. Maybe 1 or 2 kittens, but never 10. Those things are too wild to catch. So that’s another thing we don’t believe. And the groceries thing? Fah. Maybe you did. But anyone can buy food for others in need, so that’s not a big deal.  We’re all still envious of the whole 9k a day.

Back to this grindstone of this one particular task. Obviously, I can write, as you can see from this awesome example you’re looking at with your peepers right now. How awesome is this prose? That awesome. And there’s no tyops, like you might get on an Amazon book which hasn’t been complained about yet. (Note to you jealous authors: See a book written by a competitor that has a typo or badly formatted table or picture? You can help the Amazon Book Gestapo by reporting them. “Vee haff ways of making you punctuate,” they say. Chris McMullin asks some questions and clarifies the issue. It’s interesting, in the least.) Maybe MJ is frowning at the informalness of it all, but she’s an editor and they’re supposed to frown. Though the latest post with the blonde in the boots did not get my attention for prurient reasons or anything. I read it for the post!

Not so obviously, I don’t seem to be able to outline to save my life, or my book. Perhaps it’s because I’m not original in my thinking. “That’s okay, Matt, I took my last plot and ripped it from Homer,” you say. That’s cool, except my current plot does not look remotely like Homer. I say plot, what I really mean is half-plot, since the back half of it isn’t written yet. It’s not outlined. Because I didn’t rip it from Homer.

That’s because I like to claim I’m organic and all that. As if that’s something to be proud of. “Stephen King doesn’t outline,” you drone at me. So what? Everyone else is outlining. Not only that, but they like it. And then they tell me on their blogs how much they like it.

I think I just need to get the 7 steps brochure, suck it up, and do the outlining. Developmental editing seems so much easier when it’s not for you.

PS: Yes, I’m avoiding outlining by writing about avoiding outlining. Clever, aren’t I?