Category Archives: The Writing Life

Adapting to a Changing Industry

It is now widely accepted that the publishing industry is changing–or rather, has already changed. Electronic books have been gobbling up an increasing share of the market, and the brick-and-mortar bookstores that have dominated in the past are struggling to stay afloat. Of course, such a huge change also affects how new and aspiring writers must conduct their own business–getting in.

The bad news first: the traditional publishing path is getting harder to break into. Even before e-publishing, big publishers were affected by the worsening economy, just like any other industry, and have had to become pickier when taking on new talent. And as I discovered talking to agents and editors at World Fantasy Convention last year (something which I highly recommend you do, if you can), not only are they becoming pickier about the talent, but also certain aspects of the goods you are offering. Book length, which wasn’t much of an issue ten or so years ago, is becoming critical in many of the eyes of these agents or editors. Doorstoppers, they say, are no longer in vogue in the marketing and accounting departments. Of course, exceptions apply, but one must keep in mind that they are exceptions.

It gets worse. E-publishing, which has garnered tremendous success for authors such as Amanda Hocking, isn’t a sure thing either. In traditional publishing, you get a fleet of editors, artists, publicists, as well as advertising–for free (in fact, they pay you). In self-publishing, you have none of these things unless you do them or pay for them yourself. While self-publishing has become far more attractive since the advent of e-publishing, you might still sink a hundred bucks into the cover art, only to make fifty bucks selling your book online, all the while thinking that you would not only profit from your venture, but become filthy rich. While I don’t have exact figures to back up my claim, I’m sure that people who have had that experience far outnumber those who have had successful careers e-publishing, even more so than the rockstars like Hocking.

Worse are those stuck in the middle, unsure of which path to take. Some people in the know claim that it is unwise to sell your e-publishing rights to big publishers, that it will end up costing you in the end. But that assumes you will achieve success, and how does one do that all by himself? I, myself, am plagued by these doubts, and I know other authors in the same position.

But despair not. There is a silver lining to these changing times. While publishing seems to have become a dangerous frontier where anyone can get lost, in it there can be discovery, and with that, opportunity.

Solutions can be found with perseverance, as well as something we all should have in excess–creativity. While it seems that there is an either/or type of dilemma–traditional publishing or e-publishing–one need not be bound in such a way. I shall describe to you what I am planning. It is untried, for me anyway, but I think there is a lot to recommend to it. Feel free to adopt it as your own, should you find value in it.

I am writing a novel which I hope to sell to a traditional publisher. But while I’m doing that, I am also writing a collection of short stories which will serve as an introduction to the world of the novel which I plan to release in electronic format in the very near future, at a low price. While this approach may not seem, ahem, novel, consider the implications.

If and when the novel is published by a traditional publisher, my potential readers will have an opportunity to check out my writing without spending $30 on a hardcover by reading my collection online. Also, anyone who reads the novel and likes it will be able to get more of the same by purchasing the collection as well. All the while, I’m using the publisher to indirectly promote and support my short story collection without them getting a dime from it–ever. All the rights and most of the money for the collection, I retain. Success in one venture feeds into success into the other.

Good idea or not, recipe for success or not, what this should show you is that there are ways of standing above the norm in these turbulent times. All you need to do is apply your mind to the task of building a world in which you achieve success.

Getting it Right: Character Counts

Six months ago I started a novel, and in that time I’ve written enough words for most books–somewhere in the realm of 185k though 23k now lives in a deleted scenes file–but I’m only just beginning to know my characters. I mean really know them. This might be due in part to my penchant to discovery-write the majority of my story rather than meticulously plan every scene out in advance. I’m a Gardener, not an Architect, and that means I’ll be prone to much more rewriting.

Oh, I know the ending and several key events, who dies, who lives, and a few other elements of the story, but for me, I enjoy the process of discovering the nuances of my characters as I write. As a result, I’ve recently decided to start over. That is to say, I’ve decided to begin my second draft before finishing the first.

It’s not unheard of; David Farland–bestselling author of the Runelords series–has said he writes through the first half of a book then does a rewrite before tackling the second half. Granted, he’s a self-proclaimed Architect, but the practice seems sound in my opinion, especially since I’m doing it for the sake of character. I finally know much more about the motivations of my characters, their voices, how they would actually handle certain situations–which, in some cases, is different from what I wrote originally.

Many authors talk about how it takes them a few thousand words to truly get into the head of their characters–longer for those like myself writing Epic Fantasy since we’re often dealing with multiple POV characters and, depending on needs of the story,significantly larger casts. But it’s extremely important to know your characters. A good plot is important, key scenes that might be depicted in cover art are important, but, when you think about it, what you remember most about every book you’ve ever read or every movie you’ve ever seen are the characters. You remember the Vaders, the Gollums, the Tyrions, the Moiraines.

Every character should be the hero in their own story. Their motivations should make sense even if we as impartial–or even biased–readers disagree with them on a moral level. This is especially true of antagonists who can become flat and one dimensional if they are not at least some variant of gray. My primary antagonist just happens to be one of my favorite POV characters. He also happens to have the most complex motives, and is the main impetus for my decision to rewrite what I’ve already written before pushing on to the end. In many ways, he’s more a protagonist than antagonist in the true sense of the word, though he does work against the main protagonists’ goals.

So how does one accomplish the task of creating memorable characters? It starts with knowing them yourself, as their creator, the writer who gives flesh and blood to the ink of their existence. Learn their habits, their quirks, their wants and desires. This, I’ve come to discover, can only be achieved by writing in their heads for long enough to begin thinking as they think, acting as they act, loving or hating as they do. You must know them as well as you know yourself for ultimately, they are a part of you.

Another way to breathe life into a character is through physical description. I love to people watch, everywhere I go, looking for the tiny idiosyncrasies that make us all unique and which I might be able to apply to my own characters. It might be something simple: a limp, an incessant cough, the way a woman tilts her head when confused or a man clenches his fists when challenged. It could be something more subtle like speech patterns, grammar–or lack thereof–the amount of eye contact one person chooses to give versus another. We are all of us different, and so too should your characters be different from one another.

Perhaps the most important thing is to like your characters, even the antagonists. Robert Jordan used to say his favorite character was whichever one he was writing at any particular moment, something I took to heart. After all, if you don’t care about your characters–even the baddies–no one else will either. Give them something to strive for, something to long for, something that, if they don’t get it, will bring their world crashing down around them.

These are the things I’ve only now, after 180k+ words, discovered about some of my characters, and why I’ve decided to begin draft two of my novel. I was always going to do another draft anyway–perhaps many more since I’m more Gardener than Architect–so I do not feel like I’m going backwards by starting it now. I’ll be building stronger, more memorable characters, and that will go a long way toward getting this novel published. And who knows, maybe somewhere down the line, some other aspiring writer like me will mention Bos Illur in the same sentence as Vader, Gollum, Tyrion and Moiraine. One can only hope!

 

The Empty Nest

For most of my life, I have been striving to become a writer. One day, I thought, I will be a writer. Of course, I know this was wrong thinking. I have constantly been told, “Writers write.” Writers don’t simply begin writing one day when they finally hit the big leagues; they have to put pen to paper for years before anything comes of it.

Armed with this common knowledge, I did just that. Ten years ago, I began developing a science fiction epic. I finished my first draft, entitled Colony, last December. Five years ago, I began a second story. I finished my second draft just this past week.

I thought I was getting busy. I thought I was being preemptive, practicing my craft and preparing for the day when my career would begin.

I was wrong.

As a creative type, I’m not so good at math, but let’s add up my progress so far. In the ten years that I’ve been “committed” to being a writer, I have written two novels. On average, that’s one novel per five years – and 90% of those words were written in the last twelve months. This means I’ve been pretty unproductive for someone who intends to somehow make a living at this.

Well, my two novels are done now. They’re fully birthed. I would like to pat myself on the back for having churned through so many words this year, but the reality is that I have to get much faster at this process.

Ideally, I need to be writing two books per year, and I can’t take five to ten years to conceive of them, which means it’s time to get going on something new. I need to get going yesterday, to be honest!

But there’s something stopping me.

I’ve got a bad case of “Empty Nest Syndrome.” You know what I’m talking about, right? After parents finish raising a family, their children go off into the world, leaving them alone for the first time in twenty years or more. What are these parents supposed to do with themselves? They clutch to their children as long as possible, fearing the separation anxiety they know is just around the corner.

Well, the metaphor only goes so far. I’m not worried about separation anxiety. I am worried, however, that I won’t be able to have any more kids. Do I have another two books in me somewhere? How about four or five? Ten?

A lot of writers have great ideas coming out the yin-yang, but I’m not sure I’m one of them. Most of my writing time has been so obsessed with nursing the babies I have that I haven’t spent much time grooming new prospects for the future.

Well, the future has officially arrived.

I have become a little spoiled. Writing a first draft is fairly easy when you have ten years of background research in hand. However, my new babies are barely embryonic. If I’m going to meet my two-books-per-year goal, I don’t have time to spin my wheels in development.

The question is this: how does one write from a blank slate? How does one develop a workable outline from an idea that’s only partially formulated?

At this point, you might be waiting for me to offer up a sage piece of writing wisdom, some neat and tidy advice to get you on your way if you’re in a similar position.

But that’s not the kind of post this is today. Rather, today’s post is a call to action.

Starting today, I’m going to ignore the blindfold over my eyes that represents my creative uncertainty about the vast terrain of untold and unconceived story laid out before me. Starting today, I plunge forward into the unknown, step by step, word by word.

It’s hard to believe that, in six months’ time, this baby is going to be headed off to college.

Monday Bonus: Scrivener for PC

I contemplated merely commenting on Matt’s 4/18/11 post regarding the Writer’s Software Arsenal, but thought this info might have been lost or overlooked as a comment. And, since Colette already posted a wonderful article today on learning from our mistakes, consider this Bonus Monday Content!

Many Mac users might already be familiar with Scrivener, but as a PC user, I had never heard of it. Most likely because, until now, it hadn’t been available for the PC. Scrivener is currently conducting a public beta test of the PC version which you can download here. I decided to give it a try and have been extremely impressed despite the bugs I’ve come across.

“Scrivener is a powerful content-generation tool for writers that allows you to concentrate on composing and structuring long and difficult documents.”

The program has built in templates for Fiction Novels, Novels with Parts, Short Stories, Non-fiction, Poetry & Lyrics, and Screenplays. You can also create your own template to suit your personal needs.

What is so great about Scrivener, at least from the perspective of a speculative fiction novelist, is that it allows you to have everything you need to write your story–outline, character bios, research, glossary, etc.–all in a single “project.” You can even add images and video which can be viewed while you’re writing, easily rearrange scenes/chapters, and then compile everything into a single document for exporting or printing. As someone who has multiple Word docs (glossary, book guide, etc.) and an outline in Excel open at any given time–I worked in cubicle for 10 years and have yet to spend the time to learn wikidpad, what can I say?–having everything centralized in a single location seems like a dream.

The current Beta test runs through May 30th, 2011, and the full program will be available sometime in June. The PC version will cost $40, which is a steal considering how robust the software is. Additionally, if you participated in November’s NaNoWriMo contest and verified your 50k word count, you get 50% off the PC purchase price. You can’t beat that with a stick!

Scrivener for Mac: (http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php)
Scrivener PC Public Beta: (http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivenerforwindows/)