Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Writing Metric


Scott D. Parker

How do you talk about your writing with non-writers? And how do you keep track of your writing successes?

Among my family and friends, there is a nice group of people who always ask after my writing career. More often than not, these folks are the ones I don't see but once or twice a year. It's a nice thing to experience, except, of course, when it comes time for me to answer the question.

Unlike some of the other folks here at DSD, I've not published a novel…yet. Yes, I've had a few short stories published and I've helped David Cranmer edit an anthology or two. Of these, I'm proud and count them as part of the curriculum vitae of my fiction writing career.

Those of us who are writers and follow each other's careers, we know and appreciate these achievements as stepping stones to a longer, lasting fiction career. But, and this may only be my impression, I never get the sense that non-writers understand that these small steps are crucial to getting to where we want to be (usually novel writer) or, at least, assuaging that inner desire to tell stories.  I think non-writers are focused on the novel as a thing by which to measure one's progress. Think about it: With the proliferation of self-published book available on the internet, just about anyone can write a book and get it in front of the eyes of readers. Forget whether or not its good or not; anyone can do it.

Just last Sunday at a Super Bowl party--the event where I see a certain group of friends only once a year--I got asked by a couple of folks about my writing. For the one who has a Kindle, she mentioned that she reads a lot of books, way more than she used to. That is certainly a positive benefit of the ebook revolution. She mentioned the self-published thing and asked if I had anything up there or not. I said no…but then later got to wondering why not? Why not just put up glorified first drafts out for the world to see? Other people do. But, then again, I think lots of folks clog up the arteries of the internet with their self-published stuff, making it more difficult for better work to rise to the top.

Oh, you see what I did there? I basically implied my stuff's better than other stuff. I guess we all do that and then proceed to upload our books to the internet. I guess those folks count their success by how many things are available in novel form.

Another friend asked about the writing and I proudly let him know about my 2012 accomplishments: editing and writing. I told him that I was working on a new project, one that I plan on completing this year.

Of course, with luck and perseverance, perhaps I could have a common answer at next year's Super Bowl: I've written a book and it's online.

How do y'all measure your writing career? Do you do it by the number of short stories you publish or do you only keep track of the novels because that's how non-writers seem to keep track of things?

Friday, February 8, 2013

Whooshing Sounds

By Russel D McLean

"I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by" - Douglas Adams

At this moment in time, I am on a deadline. Both for the new novel and because The Literary Critic is in her car on the way here.

Deadlines are an essential part of the writer's life. They are the very thing that keep us going, that make us sit up and pay attention. You can ignore them, stick to them religiously, or you can do whatever the hell you feel like, but the fact is that deadlines remind all writers that there is work to be done and that there is an end in sight.

Without deadlines nothing would ever get done.

Now, you can argue and rant and rave that the muse needs to take hold and that no art should be held to a deadline of any sort, but in my thinking you'd be plain wrong. Because if given the opportunity and the funding I think most artists - whether painters, authors, actors, whatever - would keep focusing on the little things, always fiddling with a little something here and a tiny widget there. I know I would. I would go word by word through every one of my manuscripts forever and always find something new to change. If I didn't have deadlines, I would be a literary Sisyphus, condemned forever to keep going through the manuscript and changing this word here and that word there.

But at some point you have to let the manuscript out in the world, accept that it is right for that moment, if not for all time, that it deserves a life beyond your pedantic scrutiny.

I've talked before about how I won't go back and edit old, published work to make it better or more in line with what I envision it as being now. Because a literary work is of its time. Once that deadline has passed, once the work is out there, you move on. Now, editing for technical reasons (a misspell here or a wrong date there) is great but going back to try and rip out the guts of something and make it new, more in line with who you are as an artist, now? That's nonsense. Its counter-productive. Just because you don't like the old work doesn't mean someone else won't.

Which has rambled a little off the point. The point in question being that deadlines are good things. They focus the mind. They help guys like me remember that at some point the work has to be finished.

Sometimes they make a whooshing sound. But even then, that noise reminds me that I need to get a move on, that I need to make up for missing the deadline. And finally, finish the damn book.

Or in this case, the damn blog post.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Tough Love

By Jay Stringer

Back when I worked in book selling, there were certain sections of the store that would not stop growing. One was what we called -only half-jokingly- "the misery books." Autobiographical (sometimes) tales of the unrelentingly miserable lives of people who aren't you. The second section was "self-help". 

How to lose weight, how to lose weight fast, how to lose weight while still eating all the same shitty food, how to feel better about yourself, how to assert yourself, how to win friends and talk in buzz words, how to get ahead in life, how to put one step in front of the other without stepping in front of a bus. 

The two sections worked together. they both say life is crap, but don't worry because your life isn't as crap as someone else's, and you can always seek help. Or self help, which is kind of like help, except with people profiting from your problems. 

If you're online for more than five minutes (avoiding the obvious joke about what takes five minutes and would lead to you being online) you start to see writing advice. 


Some people are very good at giving advice. Chuck Wendig is so good at it that his advice is going to packaged up into a little bundle of profanity-for-hire and sold by Readers Digest. People should take his advice. He can help you improve your writing in specific ways, but he wont pretend to have the magic thing that'll do the work for you. 

See, Chuck knows the secret of good advice. He dishes out tough love. There is a huge gulf between what we want to hear and what we need to hear, and he understands that. But so much of the advice -as with so much of the self help section- is platitude. It's telling you want you want to hear. It's giving you bundles of advice in a form that you will plonk down cash or time for, and it strokes the ego of the writer. Look at me, I know stuff, I must be good at it. The reader and the writer are both seeking validation. 

Look at self help. Look at all those books on losing weight. Let's also overlook for the moment the people with genuine conditions that impair their ability to lose weight (as opposed to people like me, who are just lazy.) For normal standard weight loss there is no secret. You eat less and move around more. If you don't have the time to do these things, you either make time or you shut up about your weight. But people don't want to be told that. They want the magic thing that solves the problem. The CD you can listen to that re-programmes you in your sleep, taking away even the need for you to fight with your willpower and make it all easy. Or there's the magic recipe that means you can still eat half a pig and still lose weight, and if you want chocolate pudding, crap, there's a book that says you can do that to. And people remain upset over their weight, they remain miserable, and someone else makes a bit of profit. The people who want to ignore the secret to quitting smoking ("stop doing it") in favour of six books and a DVD that make you think someone else can stop for you. 

I see a lot of people talking online about "tips on how to get an agent," and "tips on how to find time to write." Sometimes I get asked these questions in real life, too. There are also people who seem to obsess over what font they should use in their query letters, what the word length of their manuscript should be, whether it's advisable to mention in your query that you know where the agent lives.

There is no advice that will do the work for us. There is nothing that will instantly produce a novel or the perfect query letter, and there is no video on youtube that can suddenly teach me to play guitar like Bobby Stinson. There are no magic pills for any of the things that are worth doing. 

The answer to most writing-tip questions that I see online is simply this-


There is no secret. You put one word after another until you have a story. You then work on it until it's the best you can possibly do, then you show it to someone else. Listen to what they say, and then use this information to once again write the best thing you possibly can. 

You want to know the real secret to getting an agent? 


That's it. That's the secret. If that agent says no then submit to another. If you get feedback, act on it. 

There are no magic pills. Embrace that. It's actually part of the fun. Learning to write is like learning to fly, you just have to get up everyday and throw yourself at the ground in the hope that one time you miss. You never miss, but you never stop trying. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Apple Promotes Indies, Big Six Promotes Big Six

Stephen Blackmoore, Christa Faust, and Russel D. McLean
at The Mystery Bookstore, LA, 2010.
By Steve Weddle

Some interesting developments this week in terms of book sales.

First, Stephen Blackmoore's DEAD THINGS dropped yesterday. I haven't received this one yet, though his CITY OF THE LOST (my review here) was one of my favorites.

One of the two big INDUSTRY NEWS briefs arrived in the DSD inbox in press release form.

Today we are thrilled to announce that Bookish, a LLC founded by Hachette Book Group, Simon & Schuster and Penguin Group, has officially launched with big exclusives from major authors, including Michael Connely, Michael Kortya & Harlan Coben. 
Bookish is an all-in-one book resource powered by book experts. By leveraging its deep knowledge, Bookish delivers a dynamic discovery platform with original content, a rich catalog of book and author information and a unique recommendation tool. ...
Celebrated authors, personalities, and public figures will be at the center of interviews, articles, opinion pieces and more throughout the weeks following launch, including [list of authors].

Authors with Hachette Book Group, Simon & Schuster and Penguin Group should be thrilled. (By the way, Stephen Blackmoore is a Penguin author, so there you go.)

And fans of these authors will be pleased to find yet another outlet in which you can find more news about the authors, including interviews with the authors and excerpts.

The press release is meant to spread the word, which it has done. Word is out. When half of the Big Six get together to promote their authors, it's news. The press release isn't meant to be poked at. For example, when the release says "Bookish is an all-in-one book resource powered by book experts," you're meant to just take that information. You're not meant to envision a basement of nerds, pedaling away to keep the web servers up. You're not meant to say, "Well, this is better than all those other book resources powered by furniture experts."

Three other ADDED FEATURES of the new Bookish site:

Robust book and author pages (Presumably these will have author photos, so now we can learn what authors look like. Also, maybe they'll have a list of other works by the authors. How exciting.)

First chapter previews (So instead of downloading samples to your Kindle and then buying, now you can read them on your computer screen.)

Convenient commerce options (Finally, you'll be able to purchase books!)

Big publishers getting together to market big books from their authors? As some idiot said on Twitter, this is as if 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros, and Sony joined forces to make entertainment suggestions, share trailers.

All kidding aside, this seems cool. The more publicity Michael Connely, Michael Kortya, and Harlan Coben can get, the better for them. They're some of my favorite white, male authors. Also, they seem like very nice people.

AND the iPod people are promoting independent authors. According to the payWall Street Journal, Apple's computer screen bookstore is adding a page for self-published authors.

The New York Times also had a rather silly piece about it.
Yet another sign that self-publishing is making inroads into the traditional houses: On Tuesday Apple will include a feature that organizes a group of popular self-published e-books together and then gives them prominent display on iBookstore.
Woohoo. Self-publishing is "making inroads." Neato. Pretty soon we'll be doing math on our watches and watching porn on our cellphones. This new technology is awesome. Have you heard about this Hulu that the kids are doing?

Of course, when people report -- with a straight face -- that Barnes and Noble has a plan for which bookstores it will be closing in 2020, I guess you can't expect much. (Hint: Ask Barnes and Noble which bookstores will be open in 2019? k thx)

Here's the thing: Big Six is publicizing Big Six books. Or three. Apple now has a section for promoting books that aren't Big Six. Breakout novels.

How cool would it be if we had a place where all the books could live together? Where you could choose books based on THE BOOK and not whether it was self-published or Big Six published? How neat would it be if stores were able to stay open by selling books instead of focusing on coffee and Michael Buble CDs? I'm not generally nostalgic, but I miss the good old days of 2012.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Does This Crime Fiction Make Me Look Homicidal?

By Steve Weddle

A new study just released claims that so-called "chick lit" is bad for self-esteem. This study has nothing to say, as far as I can tell, about whether the genre is bad for your soul, but that's another matter.
"The negative effects produced from the current study underscore the concern of previous scholars for the potential effect of chick lit protagonists' obsession with weight and appearance," write Kaminski and co-author Robert Magee in the study, "Does this book make me look fat?". "Scholars and health officials should be concerned about the effect novels have on women's body image, especially since these issues could lead to disordered eating and other health issues."

In reading the stories on the study (you can get a copy of the scientific article itself for a low $39.95 (roughly two Euros according to today's exchange rate (God bless America))) the claim seems to be that the focus on body weight in these novels is harmful. Ya think?

Here's a piece by friend of the blog Alison Flood on the matter.

We could, and perhaps have, argue about "chick lit" and whether the term alone is simply a pejorative and misogynistic attack attempting to reinforce the patriarchy of belles lettres.

Chick lit sells, even though (perhaps because) the covers aren't tres literary.

So millions of people, men and women, are enjoying this genre. Or sub-genre. Or marketing label. Whatevs.

The underlying question is whether studies that determine a certain type of reading is bad for you are good for you.

Imagine what they'd find if they get hold of Ray Banks or Neil Smith or Christa Faust.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Reading to reject

[Quick note, American Death Songs by Jordon Harper is FREE for the Kindle so act now.]

Short post since I'm writing this just before kick-off but one I've been meaning to write for a little while now.

I think that there is a certain inherent belief some authors have about submission editors (ie: those faced with a slush pile).  I also think this belief is more prevalent among aspiring authors.

The belief is that editors are reading every submission with an eye towards acceptance. That we are reading every submission thinking that we want to accept it until it proves otherwise.

Unfortunatley this isn't the case, particularly when slush piles are large.

We're actually reading to reject. In an effort to cull the pile we are looking for reasons to reject to make the pile smaller.

This isn't without precedent. I've heard HR reps say that when hiring and faced with a large stack of resumes they are looking at any small thing to toss resumes out to make the pile smaller.

This may seem disconcerting to writers and presents a challenge to them.  How can this be overcome?

This is bit harder to answer.

The first answer is to be compelling.  That doesn't mean to just resort to cheap hook.  We know what those look like.

The second answer is within your control. Don't make stupid mistakes.  Don't send me a manuscript filled with typos.  If you do you'll shoot yourself in the foot before you've even started.

Another thing.  Polish your manuscript start to finish.  Too many strong ideas don't see print because they fall apart in the end.  Don't secretly hope an editor will like the first half enough to ask for a rewrite of the second half. 

If your manuscript isn't ready don't submit it.  Own it.  Put it away for a week or a month if that's what it takes to see it clearly and fix what needs to be fixed.

For every manuscript accepted there are hundreds and for some publishers thousands of manuscripts rejected.  Editors are just looking for a reason to say no to move on.

Take care of what is in your control and submit the best story you possibly can.

Currently reading: Submissions, Dark Paradise by Lono Waiwaiole, Brother Blood by Donald Glut, Grudge Punk by John McNee.

Currently Listening: Gin Wigmore, Shovels & Rope.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Life owes you nothing

By: Joelle Charbonneau

Yep – by the title you can guess that this is not going to be a cheery post.  Or maybe it is.  Only you can decide. 

No matter where you are in life or your profession, you get up, you get out your toothbrush and toothpaste (I hope), you get dressed and begin your day.  After the sun sets, you finish your day by going to bed. 

Exciting right?  Everyone does the same thing.  Get up.  Brush your teeth. (Yes, for some reason this is very important to me.) Get dressed.  Do stuff during the day and go to bed.  Day after day.  Year after year. 

But in between those day to day tasks, we do other things.  And those other things are what defines who we are and how we see ourselves.  For some of us, we write, which in the case of the fabulous Chuck Wendig, means we might never even bother to get dressed before we start pounding away at the keyboard.  Day after day (wedged in between periods of sleeping) we add pages to the pile until finally there is an entire book.  Woo hooo!  Score!

That book should be published and make a million dollars because we created it.  We love it.  Life owes us something for all that work.


Life owes us nothing for getting up and writing.  It owes us nothing after hours and hours of rewriting and reworking and submitting and finding an agent.  It owes us nothing after submitting to editors and getting a contract.  It owes us nothing for going through more revisions and going through copy edits and proofing pages.  And more –life owes us nothing even after the book hits the shelves. 

Whether you go through traditional or self-publishing channels to see the book available for the reading public, you have done a lot of work.  And despite all that work, the book may barely be a blip on the reading public’s radar.  And while that is disappointing to hear, it’s the way it is.  No matter how many promotional blog posts you write and how many bookstores you visit, your book may never sell more than a handful of copies.  That book could be the best book ever written and this is still the case.  Because luck plays a part in everything and life owes us nothing.

Thousands upon thousands of books are traditionally published every year.  Thousands more are self-published.  So if you think life owes you the top of the list and a ride to the bank to cash all those royalty checks, you are probably setting yourself for disappointment.  I mean, ask yourself how many books you bought and read this past year.  Even if your reading count is high, it’s only a drop in the bucket compared to the titles which were published.  Think of how many books you never had an opportunity to hear of and know that if you write and publish a book—that could be you. 

See—I told you this post was going to be a downer.  Or is it?  Because while life doesn’t owe you the trappings of success, it does owe you the opportunity to sit down and type.  After that it is up to you.  You owe it to yourself to take advantage of that opportunity and celebrate the victories that you accomplish every day.  Writing a page.  Two pages.  Finishing a chapter.  Reaching the halfway point.  Typing The End.  Life doesn’t owe you those moments, but rather you owe them to yourself.  And when you are done writing a book, life doesn’t owe you fame and fortune.  If you are writing to achieve those things you are most likely going to find disappointment at the end of the publishing rainbow no matter what happens.  But if you go into this business remembering that life doesn’t owe you anything and that you are doing it for yourself—then each day will be a triumph and every reader who sends you a note telling you how much they enjoyed the story will make you feel as if you have found a pot of gold.

Writing is about you and the story.  A published book is about the story and the reader.  And that is the case whether life owes you anything or not.