Continuing Education

I was struck yesterday in the comments by how many of us are taking workshops for various aspects of craft and – in my case – sales related to writing.  And then I thought that for something that doesn’t have formal training, we writers sure take a lot of learning.

Time there was that you knew the writers for their two or three shelves of writing books, some of which weren’t even advertised, but were passed from writer to writer like panaceas in the incurable ward.  Now we go from blog to blog, on the same kind of recommendation, and we take workshops.

I’m not dissing Kris Rusch’s and Dean W Smith’s workshops.  If I were I wouldn’t have taken a number of them and frankly the only reason I don’t take more is that well… they cost money (as they should, btw.  They’re providing a priceless service at a relatively low cost.)  And money is one of those things writers hear about but rarely see, like unicorns, fairies and publicity.

In fact, so far as I know, Kris and Dean are providing the best workshops for writers targeted for the new landscape.  Yes, places like Writers’ Digest are still doing their workshops, but they’re still targeting to have you break in to the world of publishing as it was – before the great changes started.  Perhaps they’re waiting for the great changes to stop long enough that they can retool.  If they are this is going to take a good, long time.  (Also they’re prohibitively expensive.  I know.  I took one way back.)

And yet… and yet writers need more help than ever.  (Yes, okay, we always needed help.  Most of us.  The psychiatric kind.  Not that we’ll get it.  Because you know, when they fix what’s wrong they might also take away the writing thing, and ain’t no way we’re sitting still for that.  Even if it made us into normal, perfectly adjusted people.  [ And you can tell you’re a writer right now, if you’re cringing at those words.])

It’s not that writing itself has got more difficult – though it has, too, in a way – but that the job keeps growing subjobs.  There’s publicity – and I wish someone would teach workshops on doing that (if it’s still needed/effective, which frankly I’m not sure of.) Now there’s coding your ebooks (and the same kink in my brain that makes kitchen math – but not higher math! – well nigh impossible means I have a heck of a time with html.)  We need to know how to write back of the book blurbs – true story, for the longest time (like five years) I simply didn’t send novels out [though I continued writing them, natch] because I had no clue how to write a query letter.  Just because you’re a writer, doesn’t mean you can write everything.  We need to know what categories to put our stuff under.  We need to know elements of cover design (I still stay we should force Mark Alger to teach a mini-workshop on that?  What do you say kids?  Oh, wait.  He’s refractory to authority.  We probably can’t force him…)

So we, the overworked horde, lurch trying to learn more and more jobs, so we can do for ourselves.  Because, well, it’s needed.

But Kris and Dean are teaching – as proven by my commenters – a batch of things that are needed for writing itself.  And this is because writing has got more complicated.  And also way simpler.

It used to be that you could teach someone how to appeal to editors in one long workshop.  And since that was the sine-qua-non of getting into print and getting readers to see you, that was what you learned.

Now you can go to the readers directly.  And you’re guaranteed to appeal to at least some readers… if you don’t write in badly spelled Martian.  Simpler.

But we writers are… creatures of ignominy.  While we might not have a thirst for power (Some writers do.  I never understood that) and few of us have an all-consuming greed for money (if we did we’d be doing something more lucrative, like making buggy whips.)  we do have an all-consuming-greed for “people who read my work.”  The final ambition of every writer is to have every person who walks on two legs (or rolls in a chair.  Or lies in a bed) and is capable of reading, read his opus.

This means we need to learn those old techniques from back when writing was an ungentle art where people actually expected to – gasp – make a living.  You know, beginnings.  And cliffhangers.  And plotting.

Because this is the thing.  Laymen have a very odd idea of writing.  Well, some writers, I suppose work like this.  Or at least their biographers (and sometimes their autobiographies) insist they do: writer has an idea.  He works madly to figure out how best to express it.  Then after much noodling, he puts his immortal words on paper…

Again, maybe some writers work like that.  I’ve met a couple who claimed to my face that they do.  But why would you trust people who lie for a living, anyway?

In my experience and that of writers close enough to me that I’m sure they’re PROBABLY telling me the truth with minimum embroidery the process goes more like this: I was sitting at home minding my own business (or in the more traditional gangsta excuse for coming into emergency with one’s *ss shot to pieces mode, from that terrible interns site that my friend Kate sends me to, and where I lose days and days reading entries in horrified wonder) “I was sitting on my front porch reading my Bible.” (And then it varies from the standard “When two bad dudes” with) when this crazy book just came by and crammed itself into my head and demanded I write it.

(This is more or less literally what happened with A Few Good Men.  I was sitting… er… minding my own business, and suddenly I had the whole book in my head [and more irritatingly, it only let me see a chapter ahead.]  I tried to tell it “no.”  I tried to make it tell me whom it thought would be the audience for this very odd volume.  I tried to tell it Baen would never buy it.  It kept just pushing and pushing and blocking everything else I wanted to write, till I gave in and wrote the d*mn thing.)

In my experience, we’re imperfectly tuned transmitters.  Those books don’t know where they’re aiming.  They’ll come and crouch in a head that might know zilch about writing that kind of book.  Say, an adventure book will sit in the head of a poetry major.  And all you can do, when that happens, is get the dang thing out.

Which means you need forceps.  Which, in this case are tools.  Knowing how to write openings.  Knowing how to hurt your characters without breaking them.  Knowing what to do about multiple character novels, if one of them becomes dull… etc.  Oh, yeah, knowing how to kill for effect.

I’m not going to set myself up to rival Kris and Dean (h*ll, I’m taking their workshops.)  But I know they’re just two people and teh awesome though they are they can’t cover everything.  Besides, we all have different ways of turning corners, and perhaps I can add something to your perspective on something?

This is the holiday season and next week all my guys are home for two solid weeks. I have a few themes to write about because one of you – you know who you are! – has been sending me news articles that are the equivalent of poking a bear with a sharp stick.  (Thank you.  Sometimes I need that.)  But I’m bound to run dry now and then.  Besides that series of posts I did, on writing interesting books has got collected and edited into a self-pubbed ebook, and it keeps selling.  NOT spectacularly, but a few copies a month, which is good.

So, if you should prod me and I should do another series or two that I can collect into books, this is not a bad idea, either…

And therefore I must ask: what writing skills would you like me to write about and tell you how I personally do it?  Preferably something more involved than just “how do you write fight scenes?” (with difficulty) and less general than “how do you write adventure?”  Something that will be meat for five posts or so.  (And no, not “how to write rambling blog posts before being awake.”  Shuddup.)

Yes, I am blatantly asking for fodder for blogging, but maybe in the process I can also further your continued education as writers (or amuse you if you are – just – readers.)

School not only isn’t out for summer.  School is in forever.  Whether we set out to do this or not, whether we hated school with a purple passion or loved it with sloppy wet kisses, we writers are now in the adult learning/teaching business forever.

That is the effect of catastrophic technological change.  (I wonder when it will hit education fully.  And won’t that be fun to watch.)

So… throw ideas at me.  And then go work.  I need to finish Noah’s Boy because I have other books trying to write themselves in my head.

And it’s not fair.  I was sitting on my front porch, reading my Dwight Swain, minding my own business, when suddenly two big ideas…

121 responses to “Continuing Education

  1. The only workshop I’m taking right now is one on how to make my own blacksmithing tools.

    …but I should be paying more attention to this.

    I read Walter Jon William’s blog and see his annual sales pitch for his Taos Toolbox class.

    It seems interesting. Does anyone here have experience with it, or second hand notes?

    • Very cool on the smithing effort! That’s on my list of skill sets to acquire, hopefully starting in the near future. Spending the last six years in Hawaii (yeah, listen to me whine. sacrificed to serve my country, me) put the proverbial kybosh on that plan. It’s awfully hard to find an anvil in the middle of the Pacific, not to mention finding enough space not to annoy your neighbors with pounding metal noise. Moving to Maryland soon, though, so hopefully I’ll be able to work something out. After all, I need something marketable for when the SHTF.

  2. > what writing skills would you like me to write about and tell you how I personally do it?

    Character arcs.

    Everything I read tells me that characters need to learn and grow, and that seems reasonable…but I find it hard to figure out how any given character should change. I feel that, yes, people in real life change, but not that quickly, and not that much.

    It seems a bit odd to me that I’m expected to have my characters Learn An Important Lesson ™ in just 500 pages, when I need to spend most of those pages introducing the world and the conflict, then heightening the tension, then resolving the problem.

    • Funnily enough, I find that if the story is strong enough, it forces the character to change — he/she becomes tougher, gentler, more compassionate, less compassionate, whatever. The stronger the story, the greater the change — which is as it should be. A character whose only problem is the disapperance of the local supermarket where he/she used to buy bread is important only to the French existentialists. (This is why most French movies are visually gorgeous, but terminally boring. This is also why the Dragon Tattoo series was exponentially better than anything ever made by Ingmar Bergman.)

      With a strong story, the danger is always the character becoming cartoonish, where the character doesn’t essentially change, but just becomes more bad-ass — eg. Bruce Willis’s Die Hard/Harder/Hardest/So Hard You Could Puke movies — but Bruce is such an interesting character, he pulls it off.

      For my part, I never worry how the characer’s going to change. I just pick the events in the story which are going to cause the changes, and let them happen.

      • With a strong story, the danger is always the character becoming cartoonish, where the character doesn’t essentially change, but just becomes more bad-ass …

        This is often a criticism of John Wayne, particularly in his best movies: he doesn’t change. What such critics are overlooking is that it is this very inability to change that is the theme of those films. The West was built by hard, rough men who were unsuited to enter the promised land they made possible.

        • Which goes to show that there are two parts to this– either the character changes or the character changes his surroundings– The second one seems to get lost in the technicalities (literary analysis).

            • What if the character and the environment both change so much they’re relatively still the same? =P

              • As in the character puts everything back? It could have merit lol, but normally that wouldn’t be the case. Haven’t you heard “you can’t go home again?”

                • Well, they might not be successful, but it’s an interesting idea for them to try their very hardest. Of course, that would probably turn the novel into a tragedy but who doesn’t love some heartbreak in their stories? 🙂

                  • Tragedy is right 😉

                    • We’re despicable people, aren’t we? Thriving on fictional characters’ misery like that…
                      What can I say, though, there’s a lot to be said for inflicting as much destruction on your unfortunate head-people as they can take. While adversity doesn’t necessarily create heroes, it does induce their likelihood quite a bit if only in the sense that any lesser person would not make it through intact. I think that’s what has always drawn me to those plot devices: it makes for better heroes in the end, and I adore heroes (of either gender, obviously).

                    • I can’t wait to get my hands on A FEW GOOD MEN– when it comes out– for that reason 😉

    • I’ve been re-read-skimming the Liaden Universe novels, as I tend to do when I’m out of romances. And while I think that the characters have “arcs” they also have… character. And in a sense I think that character is impervious to arc. Or something like that. My husband was talking about Tenchi and how he likes Tenchi so much and I suggested that Tenchi’s super-power was attracting all the most powerful female destructiveness in the universe to himself and neutralizing it (they all fall in love with him… guy’s got a harem.) My husband disagreed and said that Tenchi’s “power” was that he always did the honorable thing. Always. And I realized that this was also the case in the Liaden books. The characters aren’t perfect, but they have character and care for honor and when push comes to shove there is no question, not even hesitation, they are compelled. And I think that, as flawed as Miles Vorkosigan is, that this is also the character dynamic in those books and for Aral and Cordelia and even Ivan. Do they have a character arc? I don’t know that they do. Stuff happens and people do grow, I suppose, but that’s because life happens to them and their circumstances change but *they* are the same person with the same essential values at the heart, as they were before. Ivan, with his survival plan of being not-a-threat, has a core loyalty as profound as Miles has, no question and no hesitation.

      Perhaps sometimes character, like magic, requires a cost… not an arc.

  3. One of the things that struck me most when I started writing was really how little choice there is involved on your part in terms of characterization and plot progression. I’ll start writing and have some idea of how it *should* go in my mind, and most of the time the story just writes itself however it damn well pleases and ignore my best-laid intentions. I’ve had so many situations where, for example, I intend two characters to be good friends only for them to have insane chemistry, and most of the time the story just unwraps itself like some demented pretzel in a way that’s entirely dissimilar from how I had thought about it before I actually went about and started writing.

    I feel like that’s one of the things that a lot of people who aren’t writers just don’t get when they cry out for alternative endings, or complain “Why couldn’t the writer just have done X instead, they’re the ones who write it!” I’ve found that characters are really just like people out in the (real) world, you can’t for the most part make them do things they don’t want to do, and if you try and force some square peg into round hole resolution the book just goes and refuses to write any further.

    • Oh, yes. I could write a blog post on that — or two — not a series, but perhaps a satirical “How to kill a book” and one on how to negotiate with the subconscious. Also on how to SORT OF control it (which has to happen before the idea is fully there, etc.)

      • One thing I would be interested in hearing more of, too, was your mention the other day of the Art of Editing. I’ve fallen into the trap myself where I keep rewriting how I am structuring sentences so much that scenes just lose all of their character. Sometimes I feel like I really should just ban myself from going back into earlier sections until the entire thing is written.

        I’m not talking about editing for typos/grammar; I make very few mistakes like that. It’s more the insidious cycle of rewriting scenes/chapters that tends to completely destroy a story.

        • Revising versus rewriting? Smoothing the pieces so they fir together well, as opposed to recarving them so they lose all texture?

          • Yeah, that’s one of the things I struggle with most in my writing. Having a good sense for when I really would be better off leaving the text as is, versus what kind of stuff you really DO need to go back to and change?

            • Editing at the sentence level is often not a good idea. Don’t fuss at the details unless the whole thing is already perfect.

              The main control I have over where a story goes is in picking the big problem that has to be solved, and how it will be solved. Then the story goes all over, but generally winds up back at solving that problem.

              Then I edit at the plot level. “Shouldn’t this have happened first?” or “That scene could be rewritten and be perfect for over here.” or “They tripped over that clue too soon.” This is kind of fun, now that I’ve gotten into it. I can see the structure of the whole and pound down a few lumps.

        • Maartje, allow me to suggest my peerless editor, Jeff Hill, who does exactly what you’re looking for. On the other thing (rewriting to death), I would recommend that you only rewrite to correct blatant plot contradictions; otherwise, finish the damn thing first.

          Jeff can be reached here: I cannot recommend him highly enough; he will be editing my work as long as I can still write.

          • Thanks, I’ll keep him in mind for when I’ve finished writing a few of my stories. I only write (very) part-time as I’m in graduate school and about to have a baby and there’s only so much downtime in any given day to write. But one day they’ll be done! ^_^

      • The only writer I can think of who has been massively successful in spite of her tendency to order her characters about is Ayn Rand (and now that I consider it — wasn’t she infamous for doing that with the real people in her life, as well?)

        Perhaps it is best thought of as “directing” a cast — an actor has inherent limits to what they can convey and sometimes an actor will surprise you by what they can do — as, famously, Jimmy Cagney on the first day of shooting forced the director to recast him as the lead in Public Enemy.

        • I think that might be part of the reason it took her so long to write all those books. She wrote Atlas Shrugged for what, fourteen years? It’s still one of my favorite books, but it’s not really the kind of novel I’d read for pure entertainment. It reads more like non-fiction than fiction at times.

          • shrug – seems more non-fiction every year, doesn’t it? As Glenn “Instapundit” Reynolds quips: some take it as forewarning, others view it as a manual.

            Except Glenn phrases it much better than that.

          • Yeah, but she wrote cinder blocks before bricks were in style. (Or should I say she wrote cattle chokers before goat chokers came into being???)

    • Hear, hear, Maartjie.

  4. I think it would be useful if you would describe what scents you use for your bathwater while getting in the mood to write. Do you vary the scents according to the type of scene/book intended? Perhaps vanilla for “literary,” violets for “space opera” and garlic for vampires?

    • You. Are. A. VERY. Bad. Man

    • Wayne Blackburn

      violets for “space opera”

      Do you mean, “shrinking violets”? (runs)

      • Violets for the purple prose.

        Wasn’t that a Zane Grey novel — Writers of the Purple Prose?

        • Wayne Blackburn

          Ah. I was thinking of some descriptions of vaporish, easily-discommoded women in Science Fiction (I’m a particularly big fan of Doc Smith).

          • Something with a strong note of musk, definitely musk for that.

          • ?? Don’t let Clarissa MacDougall hear you think that. Nor any of her daughters.

            • Wayne Blackburn

              No, I wasn’t talking ABOUT them! Do I look suicidal to you? Ow, worse, they wouldn’t kill me.

              No, I was considering that you said, “garlic for vampires” and thought you were talking about the bane of the character. I was considering a vampire character, not bad guy, so I was thinking what the female characters were NOT. Yes, it’s a convoluted misunderstanding, but I am known for doing things the hard way.

  5. Maybe it’s a writing skill maybe not…finding markets. Not Amazon or Smashwords. Markets that don’t necessarily pay but that do give one exposure. You are in a different category from most of us, you have a following. Getting paid in Thanks on a popular E-zine might be worth it to an unknown. Or maybe not. How does a complete unknown change his status? That would be useful for many of your followers

  6. The Best Example of a book forcing itself on an author is John Ringo’s “Paladin of Shadows” series, which began as “that wanker piece” which intruded on him and prevented progress on the series he was contracted for … so he put it up as a snippet in the Bar at Baen and fan reaction was such that he not only wrote the entire book (Ghost) but got it published even though it fell outside Baen’s oeuvre, and has the sixth book in the series due for release this January.

    Which should not be taken as indication that such drive-by books will be successful.

    • I do not think that Ringo comes under the general laws of writing. Hell, he, like Keith Moon, started on a dare.

    • Ghost is the first book where I was *profoundly* glad that I bought the e-book so that there was no chance whatsoever that any child would ever discover it in my house.

      … just saying…

      • I quite understand. Several young ladies from church, friends of the Daughtorial Unit, were (are) great fans of Ringo and I had to lavishly layer any endorsement of that book with multiple caveats.

        All the same, I remain bemused by the disparate reactions to the fundamental disparity: carnography good, but pornography bad. Massive planetary destruction, no problem; put in some sex and we get the hissies?

        People iz the craziest animals.

        • It certainly wins on the carnography level, too, doesn’t it?

          What I’ve never quite been able to do is try the second book… I’m told it actually gets… less… as the series progresses.

          My, er, literary criticism of Ghost is that what makes the first novelette compelling is that the main character is portrayed as *broken*. Morally, psychologically, etc., broken. And then in the second novelette he is portrayed as both sane and *safe*. Not broken. And then in the third novelette he’s more-or-less portrayed as broken again.

  7. I once sent a story to an editor and she said it was very good but needed changed. Then explained how she wanted it changed. When I sent her the revised document she admitted it was exactly what she had asked for and it had destroyed the story. Sometimes even editors have no idea what is making a story ‘work’ when they are reading it.

  8. Martin L. Shoemaker

    Subplots that improve the story, rather than subplots that are just there because somebody says a novel is supposed to have subplots (or somebody wants a longer novel).

  9. I worked in the advertising field (I was the typesetter) for a few years and because of the digital revolution that field has changed so much that I don’t recognize it anymore. I have no idea how to promote books. In the past, you could take a page, half page, or quarter page of a newspaper or advertising paper, and that would get your book read. Paper ads were better than radio ads because the targets could see it. Plus TV ads were better than radio and paper ads because it would be visual. Radio ads used jingles to get their ads noticed…

    Maybe we each need our own jingle. 😉 Anyway, a lot of the things I have tried to reach my target audience (FB ads, webpage, blogging, Goodreads, Amazon Author Page etc) haven’t worked like the old advertising did. Old advertising– you get a sale and people would show up as soon as the paper was printed. New advertising– no one looks at the little ads that float on the screen.

    Probably why FB is having a hard time getting corporations to buy advertising now. My mother is still selling advertising for a small ad paper in a small town. It used to be a lucrative job. Not so much anymore. So I can’t tell anymore about advertising except– if you get your book on one of those big big shows, you might get readers that way. The best way nowadays is to play kindle select (although the readers are not getting as many free books either not like the first time I tried it in the beginning of last year) and get those books and stories out–

    • Wayne Blackburn

      I’m guessing that FB probably charges too much for their advertising, too. They don’t post their fees up front, which is usually a sign that they want too much money.

      I work for a media group, and they sell mountains of advertising on their websites. Part of my job is tabulating and reporting on the online ad delivery. Their ads cost, on average, about $8 per thousand impressions (an impression is when the ad is delivered to a webpage). There are probably options that are less expensive. I don’t know if that would be worth it for an author, though. You’d have to get at least 3 sales out of each thousand ads for it to be worth it.

      • Now that would be a useful metric: what is the response rate for authors who advertise? I sincerely doubt that you sell 3 books for every 1000 banner views. From what I’ve read about online ads they tend to have very, very low response rates… Maybe highly targeted ads are better, but 0.3% seems awfully optimistic.

        • Wayne Blackburn

          I could find out how many ads get clicked on, but not how many result in sales. IIRC, clicks are about 0.1% of impressions.

          Yes – just did a quick check, and that’s about right. Of course, the pricing is kind of at the high end, there are plenty of other venues that are less expensive. One of the selling points for these is their wide readership and targeting (and believe me, they take audience targeting very seriously).

          • Yeah, it’s just that if you get 1 click per 1000 ads then even if EVERY clicker buys (which I doubt) you’re losing a few dollars. Maybe that’s worth it for the longer-term investment in readership due to subsequent mouth-to-mouth advertising, but it seems expensive if you’re essentially losing money on the proposition even in the most positive situation?

            • Not every clicker buys– I know this because I also do Amazon Associate marketing and I don’t get by at all (I am supposed to get a percentage if the clicker buys– haven’t gotten a cent). Plus I make more money just putting up books and hoping. 😉 As I said before when 1,000 clicks are that much money and only three buy, it is a really bad bad average. Worse than original advertising. If the ads had worked like that in the 1980s, the ad papers and newspapers would have been out of business then.

            • Wayne Blackburn

              I did say their pricing was high. I’m not trying to push the people I work for. I was originally responding to Cyn’s point about FB not selling many ads, by saying that FB is probably pricing its ads too high, and added some prices where I know that literally tens of thousands of ad campaigns are being sold every month, with many Billions of impressions being delivered. The implication I’m giving is that if FB can’t sell enough ads, they are probably pricing higher than that, by a significant margin.

              Frankly, my SWAG* on the issue is that unless you have a book, or are an author, who already has name recognition, then advertising on these sites would NOT be a good business prospect. Unless you had the capital to buy a few HUNDRED thousand ads, to get multiple impressions delivered to the same people, then it wouldn’t be worth it.

              *SWAG – Systematic Wild-Assed Guess.

              • That’s fair enough 🙂 I think you’re right that the payoff would be significantly better if you can either get some degree of saturation/multiple ads to the same person, or already have enough name recognition that people will see your book and go: Oh, awesome, Wayne has a new book out! I’ve been dying to read his next novel!

              • I agree with that Wayne– it is like a vicious circle– you need brand recognition, but you need to build brand recognition, but you need brand recognition first–

                • I do remember the days when you could build brand recognition by starting with a want ad– I wonder if I should have been looking at (I just had a brain fart)… Craigslist– or something like that

                  • Lobby the local school board to have your book be assigned reading for the entire county? *Whistles innocently*

                    Pass it off as satisfying the new non-fiction requirements in the Common Core: all that science/engineering in the books has to be good for something, right? Though maybe shy away from explaining the specifics of that F-drive 😉

                    • UMMM – that would mean I would have to meet with the germ-filled gas bags in person. Hard to do with an auto-immune disease. Plus I still have to write a comedic rendition of the F-drive. I usually write supernatural/horror– not really suitable the local school board, I suppose. I just don’t write gray goo. 😉

                • This is probably an area best addressed outside the writing community, in that it sounds like your basic “new product entry” in an already crowded market. A little mining in the marketing research sections of a good business journal would probably be productive.

                  As a reader I know that nothing makes more eager to read something new from a writer as having already read something by them (chicken/egg, I know) so free samples is probably a better method of building the brand.

                  IS THERE* a web site specifically configured to offer readers a chance to sample works by aspiring writers? Carefully marketed, I could see many advantages to such a site: at least a minimal editorial presence to raise it above slushpile status (even if only to assure that the language is not abused except by intent and for valid purpose) and a chance for adventurous readers to be cultivated by authors building their brands. It could even permit reader comments (probably a bad idea to have an open forum) and/or voting for favourite submission of the month/year — which the winner(s) could use in their future marketing.

                  *I s’pose the Baen Bar “slushpile” conference would qualify? But Baen seems almost unique in the publishing world in its belief that free samples build sales.

            • To be sure, what really sells is words of mouth. Get it into the hands of a few readers, and maybe it will generate it.

              That’s what makes it so much fun!

      • Yea– they charge too much– I tried it out on a special and it was two dollars for a couple hundred impressions more or less (this summer). One person contacted me and didn’t buy a book. 😉

        • It was a test of FB’s range and wasn’t satisfactory so I won’t be doing that again–

        • Wayne Blackburn

          it’s stupid, because FB could price way down in the $1 per thousand range and get huge payback, because people are on there all day long, and there are so many people on it, it’s ridiculous.

          • yes, it’s stupid… but FB is from the liberal school of business. You price it high enough so that only the wealthier people can use the product– However, if you price it affordable, you end up having customers from all walks of life– and make tons of money– IF FB is free (which it is), then they must have other ways to make money from their natural customer. Advertising (something the newspapers used to do because news is hard to sell w/o a product at least when I was in the business) is a natural fit. However I will say it again– they have no idea how to be capitalists.

            It isn’t how high your price something, but how many people want to use it– a good example is the Iphone and Ipad. In something like advertising which is a nebulous product that needs to show something for nothing pretty much in my opinion, the prices should be lower– You need to prove to the customers that you can deliver.

            • I was looking for the reason GM pulled out of FB– 1. FB was resistant to ads, and 2. GM and Ford were having hissy fits. I remember hearing that GM said that FB was not giving them the bang for the buck, but I can’t find that report now. FB’s side is all over the internet though.

    • If you have time (because Time is also Money), then consider You can advertise for 2 days, for free, in 4 regions (US, Canada, England/Britain/UK, and Elsewhere, if I recall correctly); ads which outbid you will replace yours in that region. Some sites have a minimum bid, but many don’t. You can “search for places to bid” by entering in keywords — or, if you happen to look at ads, and see a link that you will quickly recognize, you can just hop to Project Wonderful via that “want your ad here?” link and see if it’s affordable.

      Webcomics do this a lot.

      Free sells. Other books… I honestly don’t know.

      Anyway, for example, check out — they have a banner ad up at the top, and button ads at the bottom, under the comic. Girl Genius is expensive, but go to their other comics: — MythAdventures and What’s New, being “done,” are not as well-read, and I can often get free button ads onto at least Canada, UK, and Elsewhere (though US is outbid many a time).

      The hands-down best advertising is to find a review site with a decent following, that takes self-published works, and get a fair review. A “C” from was probably the difference between modest-to-good success, relatively quickly, versus languishing in obscurity for many more months. (An acquaintance, who followed my blog for the fanfic, also reads Dear Author and mentioned my book briefly when doing a “guest review” for another book; said acquaintance then suggested I should talk to the DA people…)

  10. “we do have an all-consuming-greed for “people who read my work.””


    The answer: first put it somewhere they can read it.

    If that greed cannot be satisfied by publication – for whatever reason – then get yourself one of them free blogs, and put your writing (blog + fiction) out for free. Then go find blogs you like*, comment on them, and eventually some people MAY follow you home (ie, YOUR blog) and read your stuff. And comment. And follow. And maybe pass the word on. And later maybe buy.

    If it’s on your hard drive, or in your drawer or file cabinet, NO ONE can see it.

    It’s a little scary at first, but I can almost guarantee that you will start with very few people reading your stuff, and by the time someone comes along to actually comment on it, the fear thing will be old hat for you, and you can do the “grow organically” bit they keep talking about.

    Once you have that blog out there – and keep trying to keep yourself satisfied by putting stuff out as it’s ready for public viewing (no, not funeral; okay, maybe) – the possibility exists of readers – random world readers, not just friends and family.

    If you try the regular route for self-publishers, fine. Go for it.

    But if you’re not quite ready for that, blog about why. And how. And your opinions. And take that chance someone may like your writing. IMHO, that’s a place to start.

    Blog topics on craft?

    Appealing to both male and female readers (preferably with the same story).

    Staying fresh when showing how a character displays emotions, especially common emotions like fear and anger, without TELLING that a character feels that emotion.

    How to make a villain appealing while still remaining very much the villain, so readers will not minding a significant fraction of your novel in the villain’s point of view.

    Motivating bizarre or unbelievable behavior on the part of a character. I know that seeding bits previously works, and going from tiny to large, in the scope of those bits, but some things require more motivation than I can muster, and I would appreciate your comments.
    *You are obviously already reading SOME blogs.

  11. Just a note– blog on what books are good to read to develop our craft– some of us just cannot afford workshops. Money and health is a problem here–

    • Blog on books/authors providing good examples of a particular techniques. “Heinleining”, for example, or perhaps Shane* as an example of P.O.V.

      When reasonably** possible, include examples of the technique used ineffectively.

      *Different genre, I know – but it is a great example of employing a child’s p.o.v. to observe adult actions.

      **Reasonably = will not get you attacked by author or fans thereof. For example, almost everybody admits Rand’s characters are puppets.

  12. I’d like to see information on hurting characters. Without, y’know, breaking them to the point where the story fails. Is it in the setup, the backstory? Kthrag teh Barrbarrian with his bulging thews soaks up axe-blows like a sponge, but gets his heart broken by a wisp of an enchantress, bringing the Mighty Hero low? How do you ride (write?) the edge of physical, mental and emotional stability and still keep it interesting? Nobody wants to read the Archwizard Maggelkrin’s Really Relaxed Vacation, unless the name is a complete misnomer. It’s only when he’s stripped of his archwizardship and forced to swing a sword for a while that anybody takes an interest. But how? I think my question is less “how do I hurt my characters,” and more “how do I keep my characters hurt enough to make things interesting without hurting them so much it ruins the verisimilitude”.

  13. Heck, I’ve been learning all my life — why quit now? 8^) I can’t remember where I heard or read it, but there’s one comment that has stuck with me for 40 years now. “When you’re learning, you’re growing. As long as you’re growing, you’re living. Once you stop growing, you begin to die.” Teach on!

    It’s remarkable how much I’ve learned from this weblog in the what, three months(?) I’ve been reading it. It’s the first thing I look for in the morning. Between you and the commenters, I learn new things. I also usually get a good laugh, and frequently (way TOO frequently!) new book ideas.

    • “When you’re learning, you’re growing. As long as you’re growing, you’re living. Once you stop growing, you begin to die.”

      Amen to this! As much as I enjoyed school when I was a wee lad, round about junior high, I started to get angry about learning. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t want to, as the format bothered me. Also the subject matter generally sucked. Part of that was the biologically induced insanity of puberty. Part of that was the presentation (and it was just that: presentation. there was very little interaction with the material. learn it; regurgitate it) Since leaving college, I’ve rediscovered how much I like to learn. My problem now is focus: I seem to have developed a near-terminal case of “Ohhh, shiny thing over THERE!” when it comes to subject matter. I blame the internet, with it’s ready availability of cra- interesting topics for research. Is there a cure? Do I really want one?

  14. I have a technical writing request to cover… I understand the point behind scene/sequel/decision structure for scenes when I read about it but, I gotta tell ya, if I’ve got 100-plus scenes in each of my (two piddling) books, not many of them (hardly any) were consciously built that way. And yet, they seem to work, by and large. It’s how the story wants to be told, which I’m convinced seems right to me from having read so very many other genre novels (and their oral literature predecessors).

    More specifically, any one longish scene of mine often has trouble staying stuffed into one of those scene structures, though it may contain one of them. For example, the hero may try something and get shot down, but the scene doesn’t necessarily end there, since someone else may intervene with an issue of their own or another topic arises. It’s not that the scene seems long or diffuse to me, and separating it on sheer formalism grounds seems wrong, too. But I’m puzzled about lack of conformity to the “blessed standard structure.”

    So, the requested topic might be: how do you construct scenes, what to they contain, do they all contain these elements, sometimes more, if not/why not.

    I was reading the latest (Lee Child) Reacher novel and was getting distracted by the scene mechanisms. All surface and no soul.

  15. I think that workshops are mandatory if you respond to every “build vs buy” choice by saying, “I’m doing this myself.” I’ve found that IF after I replace the gaskets and the faucet still leaks, THEN I’ll call the plumber. Thus some tasks need to be hired out. But if there’s a good chance I will spend a lot of time gainsaying the judgment of a hireling, shame on me for not learning to do-it-myself.

  16. You want to know what I do about cover design? How do you know I’m not just blowing smoke? Just sayin’s all… ::grin::

    BSN: I wouldn’t know where to begin. Trust me, I’ve thought a lot about this. How do I blog about design without falling prey to the millipede’s dilemma?

    And pedagogy? Design a lesson plan? It is to laugh. I did just buy a neat book about pencil drawing…


  17. I just finished your novel Darkship Thieves at some crazy hour this morning. I enjoyed it very much! Perhaps over Christmas, I’ll find time for the sequel.
    I’m somewhat amused that I have the same initials as your main villain. I suppose I’ll have to practice my evil-laugh. 😛

  18. I think the thing that pushed me mentally across the line from trying self-pubbing over traditional pubbing was the sudden thought, Hey, I don’t have to write a query letter! (But yeah, still have to do the blurb.)

    On lessons I’d like, along with the good ones already proposed, I’d love to see stuff on story structure and plotting – and more on foreshadowing and how important that is to tie your story together.

    • Yep – I really don’t take rejection letters well either– and worse when they don’t even write back. Don’t tell me it is a part of writing– I don’t think it is– It is a part of breaking down the writer’s character so that he becomes a puppet of an editor/agent/or something more evil.

  19. Idea for a writers’ blog.

    What’s a chapter? When does it end? Is it a thematic sort of collection of scenes? I’ve heard suggestions of 750 to 1500 words max per scene, and “Action chapters have shorter sentences, shorter paragraphs and are shorter in length over all” but very little to tell me when and where I’ve drifted too far from the start to still be in the same chapter.

    • I think of it this way…. there are, in order of how great a pause is involved, commas, semi-colons, colons, periods, scene breaks, and chapter breaks. It’s just another form of punctuation.

      Of course… this may be a horrible way of looking at it. It’s just where I am now and I’m constitutionally incapable of not sharing. 😉

    • Good topic although it seems likely a moving target. as this seems something that varies by genre, writing style and what side of the bed the writer fell out of that morning. ERB was very skilled at building tension through a chapter in his Tarzan books, taking it to a peak (often literally) and then switching to another character and repeating the process. Robert Parker’s novels seem to break each scene as a chapter (at least in his Jesse Stone series; I am less familiar with others.)

      If you are writing in a style that is intended to be reminiscent of a form (e.g., Death of a Musketeer) you would want to deliberately adhere to the chapter conventions of the style you are reflecting.

      And while I will name no names, there seem to be a number of authors who simply chop the narrative at random intervals and insert a new chapter heading.

      Perhaps a discussion of “what are chapters and why do we have them; what purpose do they serve?” would be useful. Should a chapter provide the reader a good point in the narrative to insert the bookmark and get at least four hours’ sleep. or should it be an incitement for the reader to say “heck; four hours sleep isn’t worth it, I might as well stay up and finish this book”?

      • Stephen King? I know you’re not naming names, but that was who I was going to bring up before you went to that point.

        But reading his work and sort of… “getting” why most of those one lines or even one words were “chapters” opened up my mind and I didn’t feel so self-conscious about chapters. However… I knew very well that I “wasn’t Stephen King” and there was probably going to be problems with the editors once I got to publisher level and I didn’t really know what they would want.

        But now it doesn’t matter so much, so I’m mostly going on instinct when I do chapters right now. “This feels like a natural break.” Even if it means that one chapter is 1.4k words long and the next is 3.5k.

      • Chapters breaks are places where you let your reader get up and go answer nature’s call, refill the coffee, walk the dog before something smelly happens, open the door to let in the mother-in-law who has been leaning on the doorbell for the past half hour, that sort of thing.

        • I’m planning on adding chapters later, when I revise, but right at the moment, my narrator rarely stops talking enough for me to put them in.

  20. Please, please do a post or series of posts about formatting for the various platforms (choose your favorite–I suck at leaning all of them). Why on the green living earth can the pub platforms not just take a .doc file and deal with it themselves? After all, they’re getting a percentage…formatting is the one reason I haven’t yet taken a book indie.

  21. I second the suggestion of editing at the plot level and learning not to edit at the sentence level.

  22. Before reading all the comments…

    Pacing. Preferably, paint-by-numbers pacing. I always hate my pacing — though no one’s complained about it, even in the bad reviews* (I think?) — but I don’t know if I’m too close to it or what. Mostly I wind the characters up and prod them vaguely in the direction I want them to go, with the goal that they wind up properly together at the right time for a half-way satisfying climax. (At least, that’s how it feels in my head. But what do I know? I’m just the author.)

    Also, there is an alien SF thriller in my head as a long short-story/novella and I would like to get it out. Right now, I’ve gotten to “the bad guys blow up the transport while Our Heros escape into the night” and am not entirely sure what to do next, to make the Pacing work.

    * Mostly, the bad reviews complain about…
    1: menstruation as a plot point.
    2: don’t like the characters. De gustibus non est disputandum.
    3: “tedious.” I suppose that’s a pacing thing, but then I get people who go, “yay, immersion in the world! yay, a relationship unfolding without Luv At First Sight!” so it doesn’t really help — I’m obviously scratching an itch for some people, so I don’t know if it’s in spite of pacing or because of it or what.

  23. Managing subplots. Also, advice on outlining. I never used to outline as I usually write short stories, but my schedule has gotten so unpredictable this past year that I often have to pick up a WIP after a week or more. Outlining would make that a lot easier (I hope).

  24. Alpha Readers / Beta Readers / Writing Groups / Feedback.

    I am most emphatically not an author. I am, however, married to one, and I know I’m a terrible giver of feedback. What are you looking for? What sort of feedback do you want to hear from the first people to see a work in progress?

    Yes, yes I am looking for a set of guidelines on what may be a highly individualistic process. But hey, why not? The worst that happens is you skip this loaded request. 😛

    • This! I know that my husband ,when we were first seeing each other, was somewhat disappointed that (aside from typos) the only feedback that I could give him after reading one of his manuscripts was that I would have been very satisfied in paying paperback prices for the book and would have looked for more books by that name. I don’t know what an author is looking for when they ask for a critique of a work in progress.

    • I’m using my husband as first reader. The bad news is that he wants to try and suggest what should be there instead (I’m in book 2, book 1 is already out there. The character names are Welsh. Get over it or go write your own.) The good news is that he often gets sucked into just reading the damn thing for chapters at a time before realizing he hasn’t taken a single note.

      Personally, I want the first reader to comment on what does or doesn’t work, AS A READER. Is he confused? Can he remember who that character is? Did some too-modern term kick him out? Was something too much of an arbitrary surprise? Does something need more description? Too much/too little back story? Those are the things I can’t see any more as the writer.

      Typo-alert (always) and fix-it suggestions (sometimes) are useful but not the point of the exercise for me. I’m the writer — I can fix things. But I can’t be the reader at the same time, and that’s what I need.

    • Yep, definitely. My wife REFUSES to read any of my books. She does NOT like science fiction, and refuses to read it. I hope to ease her into my writing with the romance short story I’m writing.

  25. I’m so green I don’t even know what I don’t know.

    But that’s sort of my approach to research in general. I want to write a book about X. But to understand X I need to understand so many things. So many. So I end up consuming a lot of information.

    Of course, with as much as I read and for as long as I’ve written, most of what I “know” is subconscious. But that means it’s sort of a crapshoot over whether or not I can consciously use any of what I instinctively “know”.

    In most cases, I can watch a mystery show or read a mystery novel and know anywhere from 60% – 95% of what’s going to happen, because I understand the structure. But I don’t think I could consciously write a mystery.

    Oh, sure, the formula is “simple”. Something has happened or will happen and either the protagonist needs to figure out whodunnit before they get away clean or keep it from happening or keep it from happening again. Drop a few hints (or not in the case that your detective is exceptionally bright and you don’t want the reader to have all the information the character does) and throw out a few red herrings to distract from the more real shadow in the back, and bring things to a boiling point before Revealing All.

    But I’m not sure I’d feel confident writing one. I mostly don’t read “pure” mysteries anymore because so little catches me off guard. The two Agatha Christie books I’ve read did (and a significant number of the Poirot tv series did) and the majority of the show “Jonathan Creek” would keep me guessing. But there’s no real point in me reading or watching a mystery unless either it keeps me on my toes or I find the characters interesting. (The Mentalist, for example.) Or, in the case of mixed mysteries, I find the romance or the fantasy setting or the historical setting at least as interesting and it doesn’t quite matter so much when I know who to expect did it and why and how.

    Not sure if my rambling is making much sense, but mystery is the genre that it’s easiest to put this into words for. I feel more confident about romance and fantasy, because the conventions are so bone deep for one and so nebulous for the other that I’m not sure I could mess it up too badly unless I tried to be “clever” and just kicked every convention and expectation a reader had and told them it was stupid.

    Blahblah. Shouldn’t try to think when I’ve just woken up. :B

  26. Via Instapundit, in case anyone is interested (it’s sort of on-topic): Call for submissions for fiction?

  27. How about a post on how to diagram a novel?