Saturday, September 25, 2010

Number Eight

I just typed "THE END." Are there any better words in the English language?

I've disappeared from view lately because I made myself a vow: write every day until my current book is finished. I'm sorry to say that didn't exactly happen, but you know what they say about aiming high ... you can miss the mark and still do pretty well. So in the last 60 days or so, I probably missed 5 days of writing and turned out a 72,000-word novel.

I'm such a tool that I didn't even give myself one full celebratory beer before the "to do" list started piling up. My half-empty beer is sitting next to me right now, in fact. The problem is there's an enormous gap right now between what this book COULD be and what this book IS. I think it COULD be a wonderful, funny, fast-paced, original, and thematically interesting book. It IS a steaming pile of problems at the moment.

Let's not even get into it.

But it's also book #8. It's kind of hard to believe ... I've finished eight full-length novels. That's eight. A tiny bookshelf. I've published exactly zero of them, but I'm not getting into that either.

Anyway, in honor of #8, I thought I'd look back on the ones that came before.

Book #1: Totally autobiographical. Full of self-regard and purple prose. Is there a plot in here somewhere?
Book #2: A doorstop—120,000 words written in seven weeks. Maybe three redeemable scenes and one scene that caused my crit group to question my masculinity.
Book #3: A dirty secret. We don't talk about book #3.
Book #4: A medium-sized leap forward. Sure, it took three years to write, and it suffered from one character who was so toxic that one agent remarked, "I had to set it down when she showed up." Also, this book was the seed for book #7. It contains the idea that has become my own great white whale.
Book #5. A giant leap forward. Plot? Yes. Hook? Yes. Characters? Okay, not so much. But still ... I love you, book #5. You almost made an honest man out of me. We almost went all the way, baby, and I want you to know that despite the crushing rejection we suffered at the end, I still believe deeply in you.
Book #6: Boy, did I love this idea. And boy, did I love writing this one. And book six, I think I did wrong by you. I know you attracted attention from a major publisher, but I think the editor didn't understand you. I'm sorry now that I tried to change you to fit her vision. It was a bad fit, and my heart wasn't in it. Murph, my little buddy, go rebel all you want.
Book #7: A misfire. I went back to the idea from book #4 and tried to write it again—same mythology, same backstory. And while the setting was my best yet, the book itself did not work. A giant step back. I didn't even bother to query this one.

Which brings me all the way back up to this afternoon and book #8 with its pile of rewrite notes. And now I hope you'll forgive me for signing off—I'm finally feeling like there's some celebratory drinking I should be doing.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Podcast to Start Soon

I had an awful realization this morning: my life is full of anachronisms. I'm teetering dangerously on the brink of forty, so maybe I'm extra sensitive to these things, but I started to worry that if I didn't do something, I'd end up like someone's grandfather. You know, the kind of old man who calls grilled cheese sandwiches "toasted cheese" until the day he dies and doesn't understand how that tiny little cable can carry so many big pictures.

So I've decided to make a list of all the anachronisms I need to get rid of. If I want to enter this next decade of my life as a sleek, sophisticated modern man, I have some work to do.

First, our landline must go. What kind of dodo still has a landline into their house? Sheesh. We might as well use smoke signals.

Next, our ethernet network. Yes, I installed it myself. And yes, I learned how to crimp cable and run ethernet through the whole house so we could we be wired. But the future is wireless, so goodbye homemade ethernet network (which until this moment, I was rather proud of).

CDs. What kind of dork still keeps CDs? Upload them all. Same goes for photo albums and all important documents. Scan, scan, scan.

Body hair. That's probably self-explanatory.

Cable TV. Hello? Ever heard of Hulu? Duh.

Newspapers and magazines. You know what? We'll just discontinue the mail in general as a precautionary measure.

Pencils. Seriously? Can anybody give me a good reason why these things still exist? Do they still even bubble anything in?

Cotton garments. Just because it seems like a good idea to get ahead of the curve on this one.

Friends. By which I mean actual people friends. If you're in my network, you still count.

I'll admit the food thing confuses me. I'm not sure if I get rid of all prepared foods in favor of locally grown, organic, CSA-delivered raw veggies. Or if I should get rid of all home-prepared food in favor of ready-to-warm bags of chicken chunks, flash-frozen veggies and some kind of salt-delivery system. I don't think the future is clear here.

And last but not least, all paper books. Wait. Sorry. I mean "dead tree books." Wait, wait: DTB. Good-bye DTB. I would say I'll miss you, but I also plan on ditching sentimentality in favor of my own weekly Internet podcast where I compare my political enemies to Adolf Hitler at least once a week while simultaneously declaring that only I know God's intentions.

Brave Man's Death

Besides the commenter who said "This song whips a mule's behind with a belt," am I the only person in the world who likes this song?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Zero for Three

I don't know what's going on, but the last three—that's THREE—books I've started I haven't had the heart to finish. It finally got to the point that I had to wonder, "Is it me?" Then I thought long and hard about WHY I set each of them down, and here it is ... my list of what kills a book for me:

1. Snooze. The voice is boring, confusing, or full of insider lingo. Or all three. This is probably what kills more books for me than anything else. These are the books I set down in two pages ... if it's just blah, or pretentious, or if it's one of those books where the writer is stringing together all these ridiculous sentences that don't actually say anything. Writing doesn't have to be "lyrical" for me to like it, but jeez, give me something to go on.

2. What?! I set a book down last week after I finally got fed up with asking, "Are you freaking KIDDING ME?!" Listen, I'm willing to go along with a lot of things for the sake a good ride. You want me to believe that Jesus had kids and some crazy secret society has been burying clues throughout history? I'm in. But if you try to present a book as "literary" fiction, grounded in the real world, and then ask me to go along with all these ludicrous plot points that NO ONE else in the whole book thinks are weird, I'll get pissed. Every time.

3. Boring. Here's the thing: my life is fairly boring. I work. I raise kids with various degree of effectiveness. I water plants. I brown meats. I hang out with my wife a lot and friends less often. I watch movies. And every so often, I engage in the utterly impractical, but hopefully healthy, practice of moving weights around. And that's pretty much it. We vacation with family members. I don't have wings; my decisions neither grant life nor death; my profile isn't so shockingly handsome that people must avert their eyes at first glance; I've never killed a living animal with my teeth, a knife, or a bone pick; I've never caught a raging venereal disease from a rising starlet. So here's what I'm saying ... if I'm more interesting than the characters in the book I'm reading, I Am Out.

I did start a book this week I have high hopes for. So far, it has an interesting character, a cool voice, and the plot is managing to hang together. I hope—almost against all hope—that my drought is over.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Guest Post: Zoe Winters on Editors

If you spend any time around the publishing interwebs, my guest poster today probably won't be a stranger. Zoe Winters can be seen popping up everywhere, advancing the cause of self-publishing, writing the world's longest comments, and promoting her Blood Lust series of novellas (she just released an omnibus version with all three novellas combined into one e-book ... and she's having a promotion this week so go buy it). I asked Zoe if she'd be kind enough to stop by and post her thoughts about where and how editors fit into the self-publishing process and how she personally handles the issue. Then I made her promise not to say anything bad about editors because I have thin skin. Just kidding. So without further ado:

Jon asked me to come by and talk about my views with regards to editing as an indie author. Oh, yeah, hi, I'm Zoe Winters, and I'm an indie author. I don't think there is a support group or anything for that, but there probably should be.

One of the biggest stigmas against self-publishing has to do with the general quality level of the work being put out. No book is perfect. Even NY published books have editing problems. In my reading, I've caught more NY pubbed book errors than I used to. I'm not sure if this is a lessening of the general quality, rush jobs at the publisher, or the fact that I'm so much more tuned in to the issues of editing now.

I suspect it's the latter. It's sort of how when you get a blue car, suddenly every car on the road seems to be blue.

Because of the stigma, if you decide to self-publish, or "go indie" as we super-cool-awesome people like to call it, the most important thing you have to worry about is not living up to the stereotype. Your book needs to have a professional or professional-level cover, and most importantly, good editing.

That cover thing can make or break you, but if readers get past the cover and see problems in the first few pages, all you did was put lipstick on a pig.

Indie authors generally are on shoestring budgets, and most can't afford to hire super-expensive editors. That doesn't mean you can't have a well-edited book. For myself, my editing process for a book is as follows:

After the rough draft, I do as much as I reasonably can do on my own. I use techniques from books such as "Self-Editing for Fiction Writers". I pull out my little "Elements of Style" and "Eats, Shoots, and Leaves" (which is seriously the funniest book on punctuation ever). I use an editing software called "Editor" that is produced by Serenity Software and catches all kinds of things beyond your basic grammar and spell-checker in Word.

I have critique partners who help during the developmental stages. Susan Bischoff and Kait Nolan. They're both indies (I think I corrupted them), and very talented writers whose work I admire. Kait also does professional editing at her job. Susan and Kait help me work out any story issue that's not about "how I say it" but "what happens". (I do that before the nitty gritty stuff with the editing software).

Once everything is as clean as I can make it, I bring in crit partners and beta readers. Then when I've gotten back and applied all reasonable feedback (there is always that one wacky request from someone that I just can't follow, that is more about how "they" would tell the story, than an actual empirical problem), then I send it back to Kait for a line edit. I pay her for this service.

And that's the process. The result is not a perfect manuscript, but a professional one that can, in my opinion, stand next to books published by other publishers.

The biggest challenge with editing (and actually cover art, too), is that you have to have an eye/feel for what's right and what isn't. You can hire a "professional" editor or cover artist and they just not be any good if you can't tell quality editing or cover art from crap. Plenty of people charge for their services in both of these areas, who quite frankly, should not be charging.

When I work with a critique partner, or beta reader, or editor, I have to be able to surround myself with people who can actually write and/or edit, who are literate, who understand grammar and punctuation and sentence and story structure. It's not just "quantity" as in... many eyeballs looking at it, but the quality of those eyeballs. There are people like my CP's/editor who I fundamentally trust. I take about 95% of their suggestions. And what I don't take isn't grammar or punctuation related.

Sometimes I'm wrong about advice I don't take. And I have to take responsibility for that. In Mated, the third novella in Blood Lust, there was one line in the first chapter that turned out to be a pretty local colloquialism. I thought it was a normal thing to say, but Kait caught it and said something about it. That was in my 5% of ignore. And I was wrong. Because I got feedback from a few early readers. If more than two people say something it definitely gets edited no matter how much I like it. One confusing colloquial line is not the hill I want to die on. I edited it after that, and thankfully we hadn't gone to print yet, so it wasn't a costly error.

For other betas sometimes I take less than 95% of the feedback. It just really depends. Usually when I don't take a lot of advice it's because the beta is trying to "rewrite my voice." It's not issues with something being wrong, or unclear, or in the case of story: illogical or poorly paced, but... just not how they personally would write it. And it's a problem you can run into with people who haven't done a lot of beta work before, or people who have but haven't had anyone pull them aside to mention the issue.

When in doubt, I run the advice by my primary CPs. This is important because you can end up with an overall weaker book than when you started if you don't choose your council wisely.

Anyway, for what it's worth, those are my thoughts on editing. I think it's very important for indie authors, and no matter what your budget is... barter, trade, sell your soul... get your editing taken care of. The last thing you want to do is reinforce the stereotype of what it means to be self-published.

To me, being self-published is honorable and a point of pride. That's because I work very hard to produce the best possible book, and I don't take shortcuts. There is no shortcut to awesome.

Also, this week I'm running a promotion for my latest release, Blood Lust, and I'm giving away a free Kindle (maybe two).