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.