Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

There are two kinds of cliffhangers.

#1 The good kind, where the book is a complete story, but gives you a reason to want to read the next one. ‘Good dog, Lassie, you got Billy out of the well.’ ‘Dad, Dad! Billy’s just fallen off a cliff…’

#2 The bad kind, where…

Trade publishing can put its books in every bookstore, and get its friends in the media to push them constantly. But that becomes less useful every year.

I doubt we’re ever going to see another Harry Potter, because the mechanisms that made it so popular no longer really exist. While the publishers have every TV talk show talking about the book, we’re watching Netflix and Youtube.

That doesn’t mean Stephen King has anything to worry about, because he has a popular backlist and and established fanbase who’ll buy most or all of his books. But creating another King will be much harder. Another Rowling, probably impossible.

Trade publishing isn’t going away any time soon, but more and more new writers start out in indie publishing and need a very good reason to consider a trade publishing deal.

Generally speaking, in order for a subscription model to make sense, someone has to be screwed. The subscriber has to get less value than they would by purchasing, the producer has to get less value than they would from sales, or the subscription service has to get less money than they would from sales.

There’s a small argument that people who subscribe to a service would watch or read things that they wouldn’t have bought, but that’s just redistributing income from high-value producers to low-value. Since I got a Netflix subscription I rarely buy movies any more, so the companies have lost all those $10-20 sales in favour of the few cents Netflix give them.

And it’s ten times worse with an uncurated service like KU, because it literally becomes a license for scammers to print money. KU is now basically the Hunger Games, where writers are thrown into a pit of money to fight to see who comes out alive.

KU eliminates the pricing mechanism that makes economics work, and gives scammers a license to print money. A bot costs $9.99 a month, and earns $0.004 every time it ‘reads’ a page. So it can trivially generate far more income than it costs.

Giving scammers the ability to print money is not something that can be fixed. KU is broken by design, as anyone could have told Amazon before they created it.

You can’t do the same by having bots buy your books, because Amazon takes a 30% cut. It’s only the subscription model that makes scamming profitable.

Of course, Amazon claim to be able to count page reads, but they really can’t, and it’s a fundamentally complex problem to solve. Unless, maybe, they restrict KU books to tamper-proof Kindles and put a face-tracking camera on the front to check you’re actually reading the words.

Hence scammers exploit that to make more $$$$$.

I have a story coming out in a new anthology tomorrow:
http://www.alasdairshaw.co.uk/thenewcomer/guardian.php

1. Finish a bunch of my half-finished novels.

2. Publish them.

3. Spend the royalties on an estate in Hawaii and a Ferrari.

Saying a new writer should spend thousands of dollars on their first book because successful writers do so is like saying a kid who wants to win motor races should buy a Ferrari because the people who win races drive them. The kid wouldn’t have any idea how to control it and would be off in the grass on the first corner with a big repair bill.

Sure, if I was making a million dollars on each book, I’d farm out all the editing and covers and spend a bunch of money on advertising, because doing the work myself would make no sense when I could be writing the next book. But I’m sure glad I didn’t do that when I was starting out, or I’d have quit long ago because I couldn’t afford to keep losing money. After a few years and several books, I’m only just about at the point where I think I’d benefit from doing those things.

A few things to consider:

1. You can write and publish several books in the time trade publishers would take to reject your first book.
2. A publisher who’s giving a $5,000 advance isn’t going to spend much on publicity.
3. Odds are you won’t sell your first book to a publisher anyway. You’re likely to sell at least a few copies if you self-publish.
4. Most forms of book promotion don’t work as well as writing a good book and getting it into the hands of people who’ll spread the word. The days when you could sell a million copies just by posting ‘buy my awesome $0.99 ebook’ on Twitter every hour are long gone. So many writers do that that readers just blank them out or unfollow them.
5. If you self-publish a bad book, the odds of some irate reader stalking you with a chainsaw are low. The worst that’s likely to happen is that it disappears into the Pit Of Despair (aka the million-plus rankings on Amazon).

I think you just need to make it your day job. A month is about 160 hours of work time. I can write about 1500 words an hour, so I could write a 60,000 word novel in a quarter of that time. That would leave three times as many hours to do everything else once the first draft is complete… farm out some of the editing, the formatting, and the cover design, and there’s plenty of time in a month to write and release a book if you don’t need lots of research or world building (as per Richard’s comment about writing in a series).

Lionel Fanthorpe used to write a (mostly bad) novel every weekend, based on a cover and title the publisher sent him, and did that for a few years. Michael Moorcock wrote some of his most famous books in a week.

We basically need:

1. A story readers want.
2. Competently told.
3. Competently packaged/marketed.
4. Luck.

Different writers need different amounts of time to get all of those to come together.

I’ve started a writing factory like James Patterson. Now I just write an outline, and pay hamsters to write the book. Sunflower seeds are much cheaper than royalties.

Hamster on laptop

I’m not a nomad any more, but I believe I wrote a chunk of Final Contact in China or Japan, and the first draft of Take The Plunge, which is set in New Zealand, in Fiji and the Cook Islands. I remember writing part of one story on the ferry between the North Island and South Island in New Zealand, but I’m not sure which one it was. Parts of Fade To Grey were written in Italy, Holland and my first class pod a few miles above the Atlantic, and about the first third of Horror Movie was also written in Holland.

One of the most tedious parts of preparing the paperback print-on-demand version of a book is fixing up the formatting to minimize hyphens, widows and orphans (single lines at the beginning or end of a page), and dangling words on a single line at the end of a paragraph. This is particularly difficult if you’re formatting on the cheap with a word processor rather than a proper page layout tool like InDesign.

Fortunately, LibreOffice includes some useful features which can make your life easier. I would assume other programs like Word will have similar options hidden away in their settings, too.

For example, I added a missing comma to this paragraph which used to be two lines, and it suddenly became three, leaving a dangling word at the end, and creating an orphan where it pushed the final line of the final paragraph on that page onto the next page.

Three-line paragraph

Too many lines

So, how do we fix this? Changing margins would work, but would impact the entire book. Changing font size would work, but would stand out if we reduced it by even half a point. Revising the wording would work, but it’s already about as sparse as it can be.

The answer is in the character formatting:

Width set to 98%

Character format window

The LibreOffice Character Format window has a ‘scale width’ option, which leaves the font height the same, but makes it wider or narrower. If you change this by a few percent, it will change the position of the words, but not be obvious to the reader. In this case, we’re changing it to 98%, for a tiny 2% reduction in character width.

Now only two lines.

Scaled paragraph.

Job done. We’re now back to two lines, and you can’t even see the joins.

Now, let’s look at another option. Instead of scaling the font horizontally, we could scale the entire page vertically.

Here’s the original page, with the evil paragraph which caused all this fuss:

Page with no scaling, and evil paragraph highlighted

Full-size page

So, next, we select all the text on the page, and choose paragraph formatting. If there were some dangling lines at the top of the page where a paragraph was split across a page break, we’d skip them.

Window with line spacing set to 98%

Paragraph Format window

The Paragraph Format window has a line spacing control, which lets you specify spacing as a percentage. In this case, we can set it to 98% to slightly reduce the spacing on this page.

This allows LibreOffice to move the orphan from the next page back to meet the widow on this one:

Page with line spacing scaled to 98%

Modified page

So there’s an alternate way to fix the page, without changing the paragraph. Personally, I prefer the character spacing change as this page will have one more line than the facing page, so the two will seem misaligned. But, it may be useful in some cases where you can’t fix the formatting any other way.

Sold 600 books, or, more precisely, 603 with three returns. That was a bit of a shock, even after the 100+ I sold in the couple of months before.

I’ll be interested to see how February goes, I’ll be happy if I at least manage to sustain the 100+ of the last few months.

Past the three-quarter mark. No unexpected poisonings, but some unexpected sex scenes with guys in werewolf costumes and the girls who love them.

I’m twelve thousand words into the first prequel to Petrina. Originally the two were to be a single novel, but I quickly realised I had two different stories in the same book and had to split them out; hence two prequels instead of one.

One of the difficult things I find in writing is getting half-way through a scene and realising that it’s pointless and boring. You need something to go in the story there, but the scene you’re writing has no reason to exist other than filler. Do you throw it out? Do you rewrite it? Do you need to change the next scene so you don’t need to fill the gap?

The good part comes when you suddenly realize not only what’s missing from that scene, but that the element you’re adding is actually going to fill in some plot holes later where you couldn’t justify a character’s actions. Suddenly it all comes together and you can race through five thousand words to the next roadblock.

The difference between trade publishing and self-publishing reminds me a lot of the difference between Hollywood movie releases and the old B-movie method.

Hollywood puts the movie in hundreds of cinemas, hopes for a big opening weekend, then forgets about it because the next weekend’s movie is coming soon. If the movie doesn’t do well in the first weekend it rapidly disappears, even though the movie might have been a success if released a week before so it didn’t conflict with some other entertainment venue which kept people out of the cinemas that weekend.

B-movie producers would release the movie slowly, judge the reaction, see if any changes had to be made, and try to build up an audience over time. Unless it was abysmally bad, they could probably make a profit, but it might take a few years.

In a similar way, the trade publisher throws a book out onto the book store shelves for a few weeks until they’re returned, sells them as remainders and forgets about it. A self-published author might make very little money on their first novel, make more after they rewrite the blurb, change the cover and fix any issues early readers complain about, and sell thousands of copies a few years down the line when they’ve released other books that brought in some dedicated fans.

Last year I planned to release three novels and a dozen short stories. Due to slacking and tight deadlines in my day job I ended up with seven short stories and no novels, but I did learn how to create print-on-demand books as well as e-books, and I wrote over 200,000 words in half-finished novels and stories.

This year I’m going to aim for the same again, which shouldn’t be too hard as I have all those novels and stories to finish off and release. Let’s see how it goes.

Another good post on the subject:

http://annerallen.blogspot.ca/2012/10/8-sure-fire-ways-to-improve-your.html