Before Coffee: How to Tell a Great Story

August 24, 2016 § 2 Comments

I came across an article this morning with the terrible title “A Writer’s Guide to Hacking the Reader’s Brain in 5 Steps.” Because everything has to be about hacking these days. “Hacking Your Diet with Oreos and Bacon Fat,” or “Hacking Your Cerebral Cortex to Never Need Sleep (Without Becoming a Murdering Hobo),” et cetera ad nauseum.

A better title for the article above is “How to Tell a Great Story,” or maybe “5 Steps to Bringing a Story to Life.” Or maybe those are just as terrible.

Regardless, the article is very good. You can skip the first half of it if you’re in a rush and just start at this bit: « Read the rest of this entry »

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A couple of things

April 29, 2013 § Leave a comment

joe-hillSo … it’s been awhile since I’ve posted anything. Partially, it’s because I’ve started a new (well, returned to an old) job, which has freed up my evenings a bit, which in turn has gotten me back to work on my novel. Which is the other part of “partially,” really. All good news, then, being that I’m happier at work and finding time to write.

Part of the joy of being back at the new/old job is that I get to chat with my friend Paula whenever she isn’t up to her neck in software code. Okay, she’s always up to her neck in software code, but every once in a while, we cross paths in the break room and steal a few minutes to chat. She told me about Ilona Andrews’ blog post on ebooks and hybridization, which I’ve just read and thought it worth sharing, since I’ve kind of been hung up on the changing landscape of publishing. Andrews says:

Some people don’t want to bother with self-publishing and I certainly understand that.  Others treat the idea of working toward traditional publication as some sort of idiocy. It’s each author’s prerogative to steer their own career.  For us, I believe hybridization is the way to go.

And then goes on to explain why. It’s good, thought-provoking stuff, and a post I’ll definitely re-read when it comes time to decide what I want to do with my novel.

So that’s one thing. The other thing I wanted to share was an interview with Joe Hill about his forthcoming book, NOS4A2. There’s a lot of great stuff in this interview, like this bit:

I think ideas are the easiest part of it. A lot of people believe, “I could be a great novelist or a filmmaker if I had just one good idea.” But really, I think the execution is more important than the ideas. An idea is just an adhesive that you use to stick a reader to a character. But the adhesive doesn’t last for very long. And then if the reader hangs in, they’re only hanging in because they care about that character.

It’s almost like—the best and worst bubblegum is Juicy Fruit. Because it tastes so good when you first chew into it, but the flavor goes out of it after about 30 seconds, and then you’re just chewing this nasty lump of concrete. And a good concept can be a little bit more interesting than a stick of Juicy Fruit, it can have a little bit more flavor to it. But I do think all the nutrients are in characters. The satisfying meal is who these people are.

This struck me because of another conversation I had with Paula, in which we were trying to figure out why we only kinda like the new Syfy show, Defiance. We were specifically trying to figure out why Firefly worked from the get-go, while we struggle to connect with the characters on Defiance. A few lines later in the interview, Hill nails it:

The thing I like about Whedon’s work is, he’s always very careful to give every character their moment. A moment where they will stand revealed as hero or villain or clown. And that’s what I believe about both literary fiction and genre fiction: You can have great setpieces and a great concept, but people really want to fall in love with characters. They even want to fall in love with your bad guys.

Defiance has shown the spotlight on each main character briefly, but I don’t think any of them—including the main character, Nolan—have had their “moment” yet. But I digress. The point is, there’s a lot of gems of writing wisdom in that Joe Hill interview. Go read it.

So, apologies for the long silence. In the future, I’ll try to be a little more bloggy. (It’s a word … now …) I’ll at least try to remember to share inspiration, tips, and interviews with great writers as I find them. Until then—keep writing!

WSJ: The Return of the Serial Novel

April 12, 2013 § 2 Comments

Jules Verne, circa 1878

I spotted this article about the new trend toward serial novels over on the Wall Street Journal and thought it worth sharing, since it goes hand in hand with what I talked about in my last post.

St. Martin’s Press has published five serial novels in the past year, ranging from historical fiction to erotic romance, and has three more in the works. Penguin’s digital romance imprint, InterMix, is testing serialized romance and erotica, and has released three titles so far, with several others on the way. The science-fiction and fantasy publisher Tor recently published a science-fiction epic by John Scalzi in 13 weekly episodes.

Click through to read the entire piece. It’s pretty interesting—especially the bit about Amazon.

What comes around goes around, I guess. I’m currently reading Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days (actually, my antique copy is titled A Tour of the World in 80 Days), and when I looked up the history of it, I discovered it had been published as a serial novel, with each chapter going to print in the newspaper on the day the chapter was set. This caused many readers to believe it was a true story, and gained Verne a lot of attention.

I wonder if you could do something similar today. If so, what do you think the story would be about? Could be an interesting writing exercise …

Get paid or give it away?

April 6, 2013 § 6 Comments

Photo by Larrie Knights

Photo by Larrie Knights

For several hundred years, writing has been a job. That is, a writer wrote something, and someone paid to read or perform it. Sometimes, people paid writers before they wrote anything. In olden days, those people were called “patrons.” Today, they’re called Kickstarter contributors.

But there’s a new model of publishing that’s emerged in the last year or two, or perhaps it’s been around longer and is just now gaining the spotlight. In this model, you write something — a song, a play, a short story, a novel — and then give it away, trusting your readers to pay when they read it. It’s the “leap and the net will appear” philosophy applied to the writing biz.

The latest take on this new model is Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s venture, HitRECord:

Says Gordon-Levitt:

BIG NEWS: We’re gonna be on TV!
“Hit RECord on TV” is gonna be a new kind of variety show. I’ll host the show and also direct our global online community to create short films, live performances, music, animation, conversation, and of course, more! Each episode will be focused on a different theme. And like always, anybody with an internet connection is invited to contribute.

Amazon Studios is a similar creature. You write a screenplay or teleplay, upload it, and let others read it for free in the hopes that someone will deem it worthy of making into a movie or TV show. I have an Amazon Studios account, and actually got a little recognition at first. I thought about chucking novel writing for scripts as a result, but the more I learned about Hollywood, the less I wanted to be a part of it. Besides, I love books more than I love movies, which means I want to make books more than I want to make movies. Simple math, in my mind.

But I come back to the idea of giving it away, of leaping and waiting for the net to appear, and it continues to appeal to me. John Scalzi certainly found success that way; he published Old Man’s War as a serial novel on his blog for free, posting a chapter a day and offering the complete book for $1.50 “if someone was impatient.” He landed a traditional publishing deal a month after he started giving away his novel, and now it’s a classic.

So there’s evidence that it works, this whole idea of giving it away. But it’s unnerving, isn’t it? It is to me. I mean, my net gain from my Amazon Studios experience was a hat, a t-shirt, and a mug. Not exactly filthy lucre, and certainly nothing I can pay the mortgage with. So I’m not sure why I feel like it’s such a cool idea, but I do.

Would you give your work away, trusting your audience to pay for it as they could?

Dave Borcherding

No-Cost Book Trailers via Twitter Vine

April 2, 2013 § Leave a comment

I spotted this on Galleycat.com and thought it was worth sharing: A publisher called Grand Central Publishing is using Twitter’s new micro-video app, Vine, to make no-cost videos that act as trailers for books. Check it out.

Chuck this in the Guerrilla Marketing for Writers category.

What’s your opinion of book trailers — either low-budget or high-end? Have you ever bought a book because it had a good trailer? I don’t think I have.

For publishers, the times are a-changin’

March 20, 2013 § 3 Comments

Unless you’ve been living at your desk, so completely immersed in your writing that you’ve not tuned into book news in several months, you’ve probably heard of Hugh Howey and his novel, Wool. You may have also heard that he self-published the book electronically as a serial, and made a great deal of money doing so before finally selling the print rights to Simon & Schuster—after turning down seven-figure deals from other publishers because he was already doing better on his own.

Howey’s story is one the one everybody points to when they talk about the new publishing paradigm that’s currently taking shape. Over at Wired, Evan Hughes published a fascinating look at how publishers are reacting to authors like Howey and the growing sales of e-books. SPOILER: They aren’t reacting well:

Still, it’s not clear that traditional publishers are well positioned to own the digital future. They are saddled with the costs of getting dead trees to customers—paper, printing, binding, warehousing, and shipping—and they cannot simply jettison those costs, because that system accounts for roughly 80 percent of their business. Ebooks continue to gain ground, but the healthiness of the profit margins is unclear.

My dream has always been to publish a paper book with a well-known house for a huge advance. But after seeing Howey’s numbers (as quoted by Hughes), perhaps my dream is outdated. I’m starting to wonder if the Dickensian serial model has found new life in the e-book world; Dickens and other writers of that time often published their novels piece by piece in the newspaper before they were published as bound books.

In the classic film Ghostbusters, Egon states categorically, “Print is dead.” And that was in 1984. Was he ahead of his time? Is print dying? I look at the success of Wool, and I have to wonder.

How many copies do you have to sell to be a “best-selling author”?

March 15, 2013 § 3 Comments

FULL DISCLOSURE: I had never heard of Neal Pollack before reading this interview. I have read nothing by him. I now feel like I ought to, especially since I read a lot and feel like I should have heard of him. But I haven’t.

Regardless, Neal Pollack sat down with The Onion’s A.V. Club for a brutally frank interview about the ups and (mostly) downs of his career. He even breaks the taboo about talking sales figures, telling how many copies his “bestsellers” have actually sold. Check it out here.

Here’s how Pollack sums up his career as “the greatest living American writer”:

I was still just a guy with one book under his belt. And a book that, despite all the attention it was getting, sold maybe 10,000 copies. It wasn’t some sort of international publishing phenomenon. It was, at best, sort of a moderately successful indie-rock project. So I still had to do stuff like write promotional copy for Weight Watchers to support myself and pay my mortgage, which was relatively small. The year I quit the Reader, I made almost no money. Maybe $30,000. And I thought, “Aren’t I supposed to be a famous writer? Is this it? A drafty townhouse in Philadelphia?” So that pattern established itself for me over the years; I’d have a little success, let it go to my head, and then make some outrageous move to try and capitalize on that, and the move would come crashing down on my head. I would always get a little overexcited.

Have you read anything by Pollack?

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