Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, July 27, 2012

When I started this morning’s reading, I thought I might be seeing slow day at the end of a busy week. Boy, was I wrong! In fact, as I type this, I’m considering breaking this post into two: one strictly on craft, the other on marketing and publishing, since there’s so much on each. Have to see how this develops. We’ll start with craft.

  • Harvey Stanbrough’s (@hstanbrough) hilarious but on-point Narrative, Dialogue and the Fantasy of Balance zings the idea that there’s some ideal ratio between how much narrative a story has and how much dialogue. Particularly in Harvey’s sights is the false credibility of percentages, the idea that if someone quotes percentages, what they’re saying must be right and true. (I’m thinking of a certain writer and blogger who does this with plot points.) For my money, the “right” balance between narrative and dialog is the one that tells the story best. Because every story’s different, there will never be a single ratio that will apply to every one.
  • Kathryn Lilley (@kathrynelilley) weighs in with another funny piece, this time on The Kill Zone: Drop That Polysyllable!This time the target is the idea that some words are “too fancy” for a piece. Many sides to this argument, some of which are hers, some her commenters, some mine:
    1. New-to-the-reader words improve their vocabulary, which is a good thing;
    2. Making the reader stop reading while they reach for or activate a dictionary distracts them from your story, which you don’t want;
    3. Showing off your vocabulary, just because you can, pisses readers off, and pissed-off readers won’t finish your work;
    4. Mark Twain’s argument about the right word versus the almost-right word–if the right word’s not common, it’s still the right word; and
    5. Whatever happened to using context to suss out the meaning of an uncommon word, eh?
  • OK, I’ll fit one serious piece in here: Gabriela Pereira’s (@DIYMFA) The Villain’s Journey–Recap from ThrillerFest, in which she discusses not only how villains and antagonists differ, but ways to make villains more interesting–not just by the usual way of giving them a goal opposite to the hero’s but by giving them the same goal but with different means and motives for achieving it.

Ordinarily the transition from craft to marketing and publishing would be quick and clean, but today there’s a post that covers both, so that’s where we’ll go first.

  • Marcia Yudkin (@marciasmantras)  writes In Praise of Ripening on Writer Beware (R) Blogs! The “ripening” she refers to is writers spending the time to learn their craft, rather than inflicting whatever they come up with on the world via self-publishing. That sounds like such an old-fashioned idea to many, especially given the get-rich-quick siren call of the internet, but alas we know what’s really happened: crappy book after crappy book thrown out there, not even worth its 99¢ asking price. Let’s hope this is just a phase in the development of e-publishing that will wear itself out after enough wannabes fail. But then, there’ll always be more wannabes out there, won’t there, and modern day P.T. Barnums willing to take advantage of them.
  • Along those same lines, Joel Friedlander (@jfbookman) posts a video today on why Bookstore Distribution for print-on-demand books is such a bad idea. This math, unlike the phony math Harvey cites above, is hard to argue with. And brutal.
  • Dee DeTarsio (@deedetarsio) guest posts on Jane Friedman’s (@JaneFriedman) blog about her Small-Budget Marketing Experiment. Not all marketing efforts produce big results. Dee offers no explanations for why hers performed as it did, but that’s not the point in this case. She’s just reporting on what happened.
  • Which gets us to two posts that come via Nathan Bransford’s (@nathanbransford) These Past Few Weeks in Books.
    • Penelope Trunk’s (@PenelopeTrunk) How I got a big advance and self-published anyway is a blunt and almost-no-holds-barred tale of her experience with a major (but unnamed) publisher and their incompetence (in her view) at marketing. It’s clear from the post why she killed the contract for her non-fiction book. What’s not clear is whether her experience extends to fiction publishing as well or to other (Big-6?) publishing houses. Still, her point about the major houses not having any market information to guide their marketing efforts is in line with an article I mentioned in a previous post about the data Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other companies who sell e-readers are gathering through their e-readers.
    • Laura Hazard Owen (@laurahazardowen) provides some additional context on Paid Content in her interview with Trunk. She provides some background on Trunk herself, how Trunk came up with the numbers she threw at the publisher’s marketers, other views of Trunk’s opinions, and Trunk’s own reaction to those responses. In addition to the fiction/non-fiction divide I noted above, I should also note that Trunk’s book is a compilation of her own blog posts, which might also be a significant difference–or it might not–when it comes to how a publisher would plan to market it.

Still, this entire set of posts is a powerful reminder to not-yet-published authors to go into the entire experience with your eyes wide open, your expectations realistic, and your homework done. Publishing–traditional or electronic–is a business, and the business world does not treat the naive or the unprepared kindly.


Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, July 23, 2012

A busy Monday follows a busy Sunday. Let’s jump right in, starting with a few pieces on craft.

  • Joseph Putnam’s (@josephputnam) The #1 Secret of Great Writers on Write to Done has to be the lead post, if for no other reason than its Ernest Hemingway quote. Hem told an interviewer that he’d written 39 drafts of the last page of A Farewell to Arms. Shocked, the interviewer asked what Hemingway was doing. Papa’s answer: “Getting the words right.” What a great way to illustrate that writing is rewriting. There’s just no getting around that.
  • In a related vein, Rachelle Gardner (@RachelleGardner) wonders Is Talent Overrated? She’s picking up on Geoff Colvin’s (@geoffcolvin) thesis in his book Talent Is Overrated that talent alone isn’t enough, but that focused hard work on improving one’s skills is the most important thing. In fact, Colvin and others go so far as to say that if you’re not actively trying to get better, you are probably getting worse. Personally, I think a degree of talent is necessary as a base to build from, but I 100% agree with the “actively trying to get better” part. It drives what I do–including rewriting! Especially rewriting.
  • Clare Langley-Hawthorne’s Villains in Fiction post on The Kill Zone is pretty much a review of what’s well established regarding making a story’s baddies believable. What jumped out at me was Jim Bell’s (@jamesscottbell) quote from Dean Koontz (@deankoontz), which reads in part, “The best villains are those that evoke pity and sometimes even genuine sympathy as well as terror.”
  • Henry McLaughlin (@riverbendsagas) picks up on something I first encountered in a Writer’s Digest article by Steven James (@sjamesauthor). McLaughlin’s Everybody’s Talking at Me on WordServe Water Cooler discusses how what characters say and how they say it depends on their status relative to the other character or characters in the scene. James’ article was a real eye-opener for me. McLaughlin’s is a good one, too.

OK, now for a couple of how-to’s (or is that how-tos?).

  • Chuck Sambuchino’s (@ChuckSambuchino) How to Publicize and Promote Your Book: 7 Pieces of Advice on Writer Unboxed is a blunt assessment of the realities of book marketing from the author’s point of view: “Coverage is insanely hit-or-miss…” At the same time, and to maybe make matters worse, we should note that Chuck may actually have had some advantages most of us don’t have because he works for Writer’s Digest. Bottom line: marketing is a lot of work.
  • Videos on blogs are becoming more and more common. Joel Friedlander (@jfbookman) lists 15 Steps to Create Great Blog Videos on The Book Designer. To be clear, there can actually be more than 15 steps–or fewer, depending–and Joel’s advice is Mac-specific but the main message is that preparing a quality video involves a lot more than just standing in front of a camera and jabbering.

And finally, who says “young people” don’t read? Check out the photos on Robert Bruce’s (@robertbruce76) Reading On the NYC Subway on 101 Books, and the Underground New York Public Library site they come from. Attention writers: there are readers of all ages waiting for your work!