Sunday, June 28, 2015

About Patience and Learning

I’ve come across a number of blogs this week by experienced writers advising new writers to slow down, learn the craft, and stop trying to cheat their way to fame and fortune.

For those of you who are aware of subscriptions services like Kindle Unlimited (KU), you’re also probably aware that many (though not all) writers have lost incomes and, according to Kristine Katherine Rusch, have quit. Rusch and many others cite gaming the system as one of KU’s problems. Rusch refers to gaming the system as elevating book sales by doing something non-writing related, and she’s plenty angry about it. Apparently, people are studying Amazon’s algorithms to find ways to increase sales. Personally, I’m puzzled why writers would even bother spending time analyzing algorithms when they should be spending precious time and energy writing better books. Sure, algorithms might help improve a writer’s sales, but algorithms change, and then more time must be spent trying to figure things out. Even now, KU has changed how authors will be paid in an attempt to sort out the problem.

A second, quite aspiring blog comes from author Elizabeth Hunter who advises self-published writers to fully embrace the concept of owning their work by not bitching about poor sales, discoverability issues, and vast competition. She encourages writers to take full control of self-publishing and be proactive in improving their situations rather than whining about how hard it is to sell books. It’s great advice, but is it as easy as she makes it sound?

Lastly, I’ve chosen to share a poignant blog by Hope Clark, owner of the fundsforwriters newsletter and a mystery writer herself. Hope is a pretty positive person in her weekly blogs, but this week she too laments about writers who want quick money without putting in the time to hone their skills. She wants writers to stop focusing on commercialism and get back to the basics of digging deep to write and rewrite the best story possible until it is truly ready to be shared with the world. Incidentally, she also quotes a really striking bit from John Steinbeck who addressed the dark side of success.

Each of these blogs essentially says the same thing. If writers want a career, then they must be patient. They must take the time to learn the craft, to learn the business, and to keep learning as change is inevitable in this business. These authors wouldn’t bother blogging about their concerns if they weren’t seeing huge numbers of people trying the quick, easy route, and that’s a shame.





Sunday, June 21, 2015

Summer Sizzles With Imajin Books!

About three years ago, I was happily vacationing at a friend’s condo in Penticton when I first began compiling notes for what was to become either a new short story or a novel. I had no idea where the story would take me at the time. After the vacation ended, I made a few more notes than put it aside. I would go back to it every now and then between endless drafts of my Casey Holland novels.

Three years later, I’m happy to say that I finished my first Evan Dunstan novella, Dead Man Floating. Two days after I submitted it to Imajin Books, the novella was accepted for publication. The editing process was quick and the book is now in the final production stage. I can’t wait to show you the cover when it’s ready! I’ll also post little excerpts from the back cover as we get closer to launch time. Stay tuned!

I’m telling all of you this now because I’m really excited to be working with Imajin Books. I’ve known Cheryl K. Tardif for some time and have posted here on her writetype blog for years. In fact, she was the one who first encouraged me to start blogging. One of the most exciting things about Cheryl’s publishing house is her marketing savvy and the innovative ways she showcases her authors through social networking.

To that end, Imajin is hosting a Summer Sizzles party in three weeks on Facebook, Sunday July 12, from 4 to 8 pm. As my book won’t be ready yet, I’ll be there an enthusiastic reader and fan. Visitors can learn about the books, ask authors questions, and participate in trivia games to win gift cards and ebooks. Sounds like a lot of fun to me.

One of Imajin’s authors, Eileen Schuh has posted about this as well, offering more info.


Using Your Senses. Or Not. --reblogged from MarianAllen.com

If you're a writer or if you've studied writing, I'm sure you've been told that using sensory details enhance the story.

I'm here to ask you to rein that in a little bit, hoss.

See, here's the thing: When I'm reading a story, I want to be in the moment. I want to experience what's going on along with the viewpoint character.

What that means is, I want to hear, taste, smell, touch, and see whatever the viewpoint character NOTICES, not what the viewpoint character hears, tastes, smells, touches, and sees.

Something that really jars me out of the moment is misplaced or meaningless sensory detail.

reason

I'm such a cheapskate. I want everything in a story to do more than one thing. If Anouk hears a mockingbird, I want there to be some reason she hears it. There might be mockingbirds mocking their brains out, but do we notice it? Usually not. We don't observe everything that's within our range of vision; if Billingsgate sees a Lexus, I want there to be a reason. If Action Man is in the middle of a knock-down, drag-out fight, the chances that he would notice the scent of frying tortillas is slim -- if he does notice it, it better have more impact than just the fact of it.

I also don't want the story to come to a dead stop to explain why Paula notices the texture of the tablecloth. If there's a reason, you won't be stopping the story; if you have to stop the story, there's no reason for that detail at that moment.

Now, none of this applies in a naturally sensory-rich setting. If somebody goes to the circus, it's perfectly legitimate for them to be all: popcorn, grit under my feet, lights and colors, taste of spun sugar, calliope music.

But not many of us walk out of the door in the morning and go: chirpy birds, this flower and that flower and this other flower, honeysuckle, my heels go click click click, peppermint toothpaste. If I'm going to be in the moment of somebody noticing all that, I want it to mean something, you know?

Like, okay: As Paula listened to Albert list the reasons he was leaving her, she ran her fingers over the tablecloth, morbidly aware of the warp and weft of the fabric, of the broken threads and imperfections left by years of use and laundering.

See?

If you're not writing from the viewpoint of a particular character, if you have an omniscient narrator, you have a little more wiggle room, but even there you need to choose wisely. You want to bring me into the setting, not juggle details for me. I hate being nibbled to death by ducks.

Marian Allen, Author Lady
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Sunday, June 14, 2015

For the Love of Short Stories

Thirty-five years ago, I began my career by writing short stories. I thought that if I started on something short, I had a better chance of finishing and submitting work. I learned a lot about writing succinctly and the constructive criticism of editors who eventually published my work really helped. I also read numerous short story magazines and collections. It was a great education before I turned to novels. When I found a publisher for my Casey Holland series, I stopped writing short fiction altogether. Frankly, I’ve missed it, so I plan to start again while also tackling novellas. I love short stories, always will. While some say that they don’t sell and aren’t widely read, others maintain that short fiction is a good fit for busy readers who don’t want to take the time to invest in a 350 page book. It makes sense to me.

While mulling over what to write, a couple of colleagues suggested that I work on pieces featuring my novels’ protagonists. They said this could be a great promotional tool for the books and help boost discoverability. Will it, though? I’ve read conflicting opinions about whether short stories sell by themselves, so I’m still trying to figure things out.

This week, I read an interesting piece in The Guardian about Comma Press, a publisher that is launching a self-publishing platform for short stories, essays, and poetry in text and audio versions. Writers can upload their work and tag it in appropriate categories. The piece doesn’t mention anything about payment, which is something to consider. The platform, known as MacGuffin, will provide visible stats as to how many times the piece is read, if it is finished, when the reader stopped, and so on. In other words, the author might also be subjecting themselves to fair, or possibly unfair, criticism.

This method of showcasing one’s work isn’t new. In fact, websites and other forums have been posting stories for feedback for years. The author of The Guardian piece thinks this is innovative idea because it will enable Comma Press to directly mine more detailed information from customers. Again, I think that some publishers have been doing that for a while now.

In any event, I’m happy to see that short stories are being given more platforms. Short stories are just as capable as giving one a satisfying reading experience as a novel and don’t allow room for the padding that reviewers often complain about in larger books. If MacGuffin helps raise awareness of short stories, then maybe that’s a good thing. If you know of other platforms, websites, and forums devoted to short stories, I’d love to hear about them.




Monday, June 08, 2015

One Publishing Service In a Legal Mess

Over recent weeks, I’ve been reading a number of articles about Author Solutions (ASI), the now infamous publishing service that fooled many into thinking it was legitimate, especially after Penguin Random House quietly bought the company a while back. A class-action lawsuit citing a number of deceptive practices was brought against the company and Penguin. After months of legal wrangling, however, Penguin was dropped from the lawsuit, so an addendum had to be made.

While all of this has been going on, a number of organizations such as Bowkers, Writers Digest, and Crossbooks have cut ties with ASI. Now, the Authors Guild has done so as well, according to author and blogger, David Gaughran.

David’s blog and TheDigital Reader provide a pretty good overview (offering links to more info) of the situation that includes years of alleged inappropriate conduct that has cost a long list of authors thousands of dollars. Let’s be clear  that not authors set out to do business with this company in the first place. ASI bought iUniverse and several other publishing services. I don’t know whether authors had a choice of opting out once these companies were bought. If they did, do you think they were given a clear picture of what to expect with ASI?

You may also be interested in reading last month’s Publishers Weekly piece which states that the judge must now decide if the class action will proceed. As you can imagine, lawyers for Author Solutions insist that the case has no merit and falls short of the requirements for a class action.

It’s an interesting situation. Authors have complained for years about companies like Author Solutions, but how much of their disappointment was based on ASI’s deceptive practices or misunderstanding, or unrealistic expectations? As always, authors must do due diligence when signing a contract with anyone. It should be a no-brainer, but unfortunately things aren’t that simple. A number of authors who were sold alleged worthless marketing packages were seniors who wanted to tell their story before it was too late.

Twenty years ago, vanity presses were easily identifiable and quite avoidable. With improved technology and the arrival of publishing services, where you supposedly paid for a range of clearly specified services, one would have hoped that the vanity press would disappear. But they simply advanced with technology, developed sneakier marketing tactics and are still sucking people in the same way they were doing twenty-five years ago. It’s the dark side of publishing and unfortunately, it won’t be going anyway anytime soon.



Sunday, May 31, 2015

What's Missing From This Picture?

If you’re a professional author who works hard to make a living from writing, this week’s news is grim, based on three surveys from Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. TheWriters’ Union of Canada (TWUC) reported that writers’ incomes are down by 27% from 1998. 45% of survey participants report that they are working harder just to earn what they had previously. Note that the average income for writers is $12,879, which is $36,000 below the poverty line, and women earn only 55% of that earned by their male counterparts. One of the major reasons cited by TWUC’s executive director is weakening copyright protection in Canada. Also note that TWUC is comprised of 2,000 members, but this is only a fraction of all writers in Canada. Ironically, some writers I know find TWUC’s annual fee too expensive.

The American AuthorsGuild (AG) conducted a similar survey in April 2015. Results are still being analyzed but they do state that writing incomes have decreased by 24% since the last survey in 2009. Median incomes were $8,000 with full-time writers’ incomes dropping from $25,000 to $17,000. Here’s the stat that got me: writers who’ve been writing for 25 to 40 years have seen the greatest drop in their incomes from $28,7500 to $,9500. Yikes! The Guild is citing unfair publishing contracts as a main reason for the drop, claiming that publishers’ revenues have steadily risen over the years.

In the UK, TheAuthors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS), gathered information in 2013 from different writers’ organizations. They found that writers’ incomes have dropped by 29% since 2005. They also found that the number of writers who’ve been able to make a living from writing dropped from 40% to 11.5%  This survey also acknowledges the self-publishing aspect a little, by indicating that 25% of survey participants had self-published at some point and that 80% would do so again.

But here’s the thing. All three surveys don’t come close to capturing the real story of writers’ incomes because, aside from ALCS, they don’t address indie authors. I suspect that many indie authors don’t belong to these organizations. I also believe that there is an increasingly large shadow industry of writers writing and selling books and earning money.

The shadow industry was alluded to in one of Hugh Howey’s Authors Earnings reports that I blogged about earlier this year. Howey discovered that a fair number of titles were selling without ISBN numbers on Amazon. ISBNS are used by many organizations to identify the number of books being published globally, but the stats aren’t accurate. I am just one of many authors who bought several ISBNs back in the day, but never used all of them. Also, I and other writers use local services to print books which we sell by hand at trade shows and other events. Honestly, I sell more print books than TWUC or any organization realizes. This doesn’t mean that I’m earning more than the average writer. In fact, I’m earning less. But neither am I working at publishing and selling full-time.

My point is that although those surveys reveal important things, they don’t tell us the whole picture. No one does because I seriously doubt that anyone knows what it really is.