Monthly Archives: September 2017

#NaNoPrep Season Is Upon Us: Ideas & Context

As a Municipal Liaison for my NaNoWriMo region, I try to get things going at the start of September with prompts, advice, and helpful story-building whatnot. We’re currently going through Michael Stackpole’s 21 Days to a Novel as a group. Good stuff, but it doesn’t follow how I work.

What do you need to write a novel in a month? What do you really need before you start?

  1. Time. Writing is an activity that requires uninterrupted time in blocks of at least 15 minutes. You can certainly pause for 1 minute to jot down a sentence, but you won’t meet the daily goal by doing so, and your project will lack coherence.
  2. A writing medium. Anything that lets you record words generated by your brain into a reviewable format is fine. I write on a laptop. Some folks dictate. Others go old school and use a pad of paper. Someday, we’ll use datajacks with an ASIST interface. It’ll still be writing.
  3. Ideas. For most writers, this is the easy part.
  4. Technical stuff. Plot, characters, setting, etc. This is where the novel actually comes from. Some folks need all the technical things to start, others only need a few.

#1 & 2 are pretty straightforward. Either you can make time or you can’t. Either you have something to write with or you don’t. It’s #3 & 4 that trip people up.

What is an Idea?

We all know what ideas are–seeds for greater things. But how do you make your ideas coherent and usable? It’s all fine and dandy to see a a gif of a cat knocking books off a shelf and thinking that’d make a great story somehow. Converting it into a story idea is the tricky part.

Because no one really cares about a cat knocking books off a shelf. Most folks find it amusing, but there’s no actual story. It’s a cat acting like a cat. Whoopie-ding-fizz. No story there.

To make this a story, you have to do something important: place it in a context.

Context is how stories happen. Why is the cat up there? Whose bookshelf is that? What happened 5 seconds before this gif? How about 5 seconds after? Expand to 30 seconds. 3 minutes. Is this Earth as we know it? Does magic exist in this gif’s world? Is the cat sentient? Was it chasing something? Escaping something?

So many ways to take that story once you start considering the context.

More to come as we prep our way to November!

How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Not Tell People How to Read #amwriting

Every so often, I run across an article predicting the demise of print books, or ebooks, or books altogether, critical thinking, libraries, and so on. Every time I see one of these articles, I read it to see which argument the writer has elected to trot out, whose numbers they’re paying attention to, and whether they have anything new to add to the conversation.

Spoiler alert: most of them fail at that last thing.

I have ebook and print versions of all my books. Here’s what I know.

Ebooks are cheap and easy to produce. Once the final proofing is done on a story, I can bang out a perfectly acceptable ebook in an hour. No fancy razzmatazz, but the story is there with all you need to enjoy it. I typically spend a few hours to make it a little prettier than that. For most of my ebooks, I make about 70% of what you pay, and the distributor takes the rest.

Print books are less cheap and less easy to produce, but still not a huge investment. My print books typically take about a day to format. I can do it in four hours or so with zero razzmatazz, but as with my ebooks, I prefer taking a little time to do it right. For most of my print books, how much I get of what you pay depends completely on where you buy it. Unless you get it directly from me at a show, a $15.99 book sale pays me anywhere from $1-6. The rest goes to pay for printing and those pesky distributors. (Before you get excited about how much I earn from a book sale at a show, remember that I have to pay to be at that show.)

Major publishers can charge less for the smaller-sized paperbacks because they can print 10,000 at a time, which makes them super-cheap. They make money because a $1 profit on 10,000 sales is still $10,000.

Like most indies, I get my print books from a Print-On-Demand service, which means my print books are not super-cheap. They are still relatively cheap, but I have to charge what I do because my volume is much lower and I like doing crazy things like eating food, using electricity, and sleeping in a bed.

Major publishers would like ebooks to die for a lot of complex reasons that boil down to the fact they don’t control the sales channels for ebooks, but they do control the sales channels for print books.

You see, indies price our ebooks cheaper than our print books because there’s no paper involved, and it’s easier to get ebooks distributed around the world than print books. If I want to get my print books into a Barnes & Noble, I have to convince a store manager that they want my books in their store, then go through some hoops and provide a method for them to return the books to me for a refund if they don’t sell in an allotted amount of time. And also not get very much money for them.

By the way, when publishers get those returned books back, they still counted as sales for the bestseller lists.

But I digress.

Even if I do all that for Barnes & Noble, that gets me into one (1) B&N store. Not all of them. One.

That thing you just thought upon learning this information is about how I feel about it, only tempered because I’ve known this for a while.

To get worldwide distribution for my ebooks, I upload the file to three different websites. That’s it. No haggling, no convincing, no crap.

An in case you happen to still think indie books are inferior, I challenge you to visit the bestseller lists on Amazon and pick out all the indie books in the Top 100 of any given category. Author services has become an industry. Artists of high quality have turned to cover art as a way to pay the bills. Editors have gone freelance. Indies are teaming up in collectives and co-ops like Clockwork Dragon to trade skills.

Ebooks aren’t going to die. Print books are also not going to die. Each has inherent strengths and weaknesses. It’s okay to like one and not the other. It’s also okay to like both.

As they tell kids in school, what matters is that you read and support the people who make the things you love, in whichever format you prefer. When you stop supporting us, we stop producing it. Because we’re people who like to do silly things like eat, use electricity, and sleep in beds.

P.S. I left out audiobooks for a reason. Whole other topic.

A Serious Moment

I was raised in a time and place where we didn’t talk about politics or religion much. Not for any particular reason, other than perhaps because my homework seemed to be a topic of incessant and pointed interest.

At extended family gatherings, I didn’t have That Uncle because we didn’t talk much about That Stuff. We watched football, ate foodstuffs, and played cards. When people did the talking thing, they had more than enough family whatnot to keep them occupied. Occasionally, someone would bring up some political thing, but everyone just agreed about it and moved on. Religion also came up once in a while, but typically in the form of determining when everyone last went to church and why it wasn’t Gramma’s church.

Discussing either of these topics with strangers wasn’t even in the realm of possibilities.

As such, I’m reticent to get into these two topics, especially on the internet. For once, though, I’d like to be serious and take a firm stand on a few important things.

Nazis are bad.

Institutional Racism is also bad.

Slavery is really bad.

Representation matters.

Science is important.

Climate change is real.

Mental health problems should not be shameful.

Whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever you are, someone cares about you.

If these stances make me a radical loon, then so be it. I’m a radical loon.

By John Picken from Chicago, USA

This @storybundle Thing Happened #fantasy #ebook #SPShow @NIWA_writers

Topic: https://storybundle.com/epic

Once upon a time, there were two authors. Well, actually, there are thousands, but this story is about two. Five. Fifteen, really. But we’ll start with two, because one of them is me, and the other one is Kevin J Anderson.

For clarity, this story is not a romance. There is no romance in this story at all.

Okay, there’s a little, but it’s all in books. Because we’re authors and that stuff is about the human condition, and that’s what spec fic is about. Besides, I’ve met Kevin’s wife, Rebecca, and she’s lovely.

*ahem*

Moving on.

Once upon a time, there was an indie author and an established, famous, excellent person. No lie! I’ve met him in person and he’s pretty cool. This one time, we were both concurrently at a convention–which is to say that I was there as part of Clockwork Dragon, and he was there because he’s Kevin J Motherf—ing Anderson (not his real middle name). This fan walks up, and Kevin drops everything to say hi, pose for a pic, sign some books, and remember the dude’s name from ten years ago in Greenland*.

*Not actually Greenland.

Everything I know about how to behave toward fans was reinforced by watching this man. I didn’t learn it from him, because by the time I met him, I’d been at this for a while and come to similar conclusions on my own. I’m smart and stuff, or so people tell me. Also, did you know I write books? It’s amazing! You may have read one or more of them without noticing because I’m an indie, and that’s our lot in life.

But I digress.

Again.

At this point, I should probably sum up, because there isn’t too much.

Ta da! *hand flourish* Look at that. Pretty, ain’t it?

Kevin graciously extended an invite to some indies like myself to have a book in the 2017 Truly Epic Fantasy Bundle on Storybundle. Other authors with books in there include some dudes named Brandon Sanderson, RA Salvatore, and Michael Stackpole. Y’know, regular guys you’ve never heard of.

Part of the proceeds benefits starving* indie authors like myself and Erik. The other part benefits the Challenger Learning Centers for Space Education, which is all about STEM and full of excellent people.

*Not actually starving to death. Erik and I are both in excellent health and should be around long enough to finish The Greatest Sin. No promises after that.