Readers Know Your Shenanigans

The studies are in, and they strongly suggest that readers are smart cookies. Indeed, word addicts possess more fluid and crystallized intelligence. They’re more empathetic. They have wider vocabularies, less stress, and better memory. They are the superior nerd!

So why the hell do some authors treat readers like they’re suckers?

Look buddy. If you’re buying automated book reviews, readers will catch you. Nor can you force your novel to “become a viral sensation.” Even the almighty Big Five can’t do that. If they could, we’d have a new bestseller every week.

“What?” you may ask, with statistically probable innocence. “What do you mean? What ‘tricks’ have been tried before?”

Oh, let me count the ways…

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1D Creators

In the business, can other authors really help you as a writer?

Many folks go, “Yeah! Absolutely!” and mention their writing groups. Or point to big name authors who provide promotional quotes for marketing. Maybe they’ll even point to review exchanges, where novelists swap books and publicly applaud each other.

…yeeeeeeaaahhh. Honesty time.

Writing groups aren’t bad or anything, but most attendees just want to be the hot topic du jour. Few will give you deep, valuable criticism because that takes effort. If they knew the market’s tastes, they wouldn’t be hanging out at the library on a Tuesday night—they’d be employed at a publisher. It just becomes the blind leading the blind.

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Artificial Aesthetic

“At long last!” self-published authors declare, deviously twirling their evil mustaches. “Thank to the power of artificial intelligence, I no longer have to pay a premium for beautiful cover art!”

Okay, I’m embellishing that. Still, it’s hard to ignore the zeitgeist. Last month, social media was inundated with image after beautiful image. Reddit and Facebook briefly became digital art museums of the information age before mods cracked down on the deluge. The situation was not lost on Ars Technica.

The art flood has slowed or stopped, but uncertainty remains. We finally live in a time where something gorgeous and one-of-a-kind can be mass produced faster than toilet paper during an epidemic. Still, why take my word on the matter when you can try it yourself?

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June Skullduggery

Pride month is here, and unfortunately I’m spending most of it at home, entertaining guests and taking care of household needs. Next month holds bigger plans, including a wedding and even a beach getaway. June is my month to prepare.

And preparing I am. For those who don’t know, I became a parent almost five months ago. This prompted thoughts as to how my own parents could have done more for their health. So I’ve put myself on a dieting and exercise regime to get the weight down. A routine that involves an hour on the treadmill for four days a week, usually coupled with almost an hour of calisthenics and weight lifting.

I’ve been at it for about a month now. Aside from weight loss, some extra muscle is really helpful. There’s always something heavy to be lifted, be it the baby carrier, stroller, or additional bags. It could come in handy next year when I return to fan conventions, and have to lug all those extra books to the booths…

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Clappin’ the Book Slappers

If you have this thing called the interweb, you may have been exposed to virulent contagions known as “memes.” To date, the CDC has no known procedure for handling exposure to these infectious buggers, but one particular strain is on my mind.

Book slappers.

Yes, book slappers. The fictitious job in which a literary snob would strike a movie director with a printed novel, or perhaps a very durable e-reader, for the audacity of possessing creativity. As if movie studios exist for the express purpose of selling novels. Because many claim “the book is always better than the movie.”

Is it really? Are books always better than movies? Or are we justifying the many hours a novel requires against the runtime of a full-length film? Not unlike how we merely think expensive wines taste better?

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Paired Writing Techniques

The year is 202X. Technology and progress have advanced to such a point that two nerds can get together and create poetry from thousands of miles apart. What a time to be alive!

While solo writing will always be the norm, it’s easier and more reasonable to share the experience with co-writers than ever. The Expanse, a recent book-turned-television series phenomenon, is actually a team effort by Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck under the pseudonym James S.A. Corey. The San Cicaro series is no stranger to paired writing either. While working on Beasts of San Cicaro and Decades of San Cicaro (which is out this week by the way), Andrew and I got together to create the misadventures of one Olivia Murphy, the book series’ new hostess.

“By why?” the naysayers scream. “Why would I share writing credit with anyone? The glory is mine alone! There can be only one!

Eaaaaaasy Highlander… I can think of three good reasons.

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Genre “Experience”

Sooner or later, everyone in the biz is going to hear it. “But you’ve never done [genre/topic] before!”

For some reason, audiences get this ludicrous idea that writers, musicians and yeah, even artists, should “stay in their lane” regarding what they produce. I can’t say why this is the pervading wisdom, but being asked these questions feels like a job interview against (not with) an obstinate hiring manager.

I too have experienced turbulence when I made the transition from contemporary horror to low-fantasy. And again while introducing those familiar with my tie-in fiction to my original work. I’m not the only one. Other franchise writers have been miffed when their debut homebrew fails to make a splash, despite being published traditionally. Friend Manuel has faced similar problems as a graphic designer, for no other reason than never having worked with a particular product before.

As if new folks can’t or shouldn’t break into the field in question.

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Writer vs Editor

It’s been… a long time since I’ve written anything here. Perhaps four years plus interest. Originally I shut this blog down to focus on Thunderbird Studios. Things change, and here I am again. Doing my own thing. Focusing on just writing once more.

My tenure as editor ends after this month. The forthcoming Decades of San Cicaro will likely be the last time I serve in this capacity for the foreseeable future.

I’ve learned so much from editing, but I don’t enjoy who it made me become. As an editor, you train yourself to seek weakness in other people’s work. To catch errors and faults, to strengthen prose and fill plot holes. Yet every changed line left me wondering if it was right or fair. Where was the boundary between their words and my own? Editing even erodes one’s ability to enjoy reading for the sake of entertainment. I found myself seeing problems in media I once adored.

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Production Blues

Work calls and my head is just not in the game. Too much is going on this week, so perhaps a few paragraphs might take my mind off matters.

As of this blog, I am getting closer to the final touches on two anthologies. Both are due out in roughly a month. The first, Welcome to San Cicaro, is an urban fantasy and horror anthology written by authors besides me. Yep, I’ve taken the job as “just editor” on this one. The other anthology, Banner Saga: Tales from the Caravan, is one story from being finished with edits. Because it’s intended as a collection of shorter Banner Saga works, a few pieces of mine will be a part of that one.

The next few months will be critical. I’ve been jotting down ideas, some of which are for team-based projects that other writers and artists maybe invited to. Others are for personal novels or works I’ve been dreaming about for a long, long time… and put off.

The latter point is interesting to me. Nothing I’ve ever done has been 100% mine alone. The Bolthole anthologies, The Gift of Hadrborgand the aforementioned upcoming releases… they’ve all either leaned on others or have involved a franchise. And I feel I know why that is.

One of my biggest fears is to finally hit that degree of success, only to be defined solely by that one win. I dread the thought of writing dozens of novels around the same character, never visiting a hundred other minds in scores of unique settings. To never wear a thousand masks and live a thousand lives.

I don’t understand authors who are happy with revisiting the characters, again and again. I’m fine with it for a while, perhaps with one sequel. But so repeatedly? When is one satisfied? But who am I to judge. I can’t say I’ll know satisfaction after completing my own dreams. Perhaps I too will not know happiness in creation, and know not whether I seek an elusive magnum opus or pray that it is illusive.

Oh. Yeah. And we’re closing on a house tomorrow.

Lean, Mean 2018

2018 certainly started right.

Late last year, Manuel, Andrew and I were talking about new projects for Thunderbird Studios. I pitched a few ideas, but also sent them the first half of a short story I’ve been struggling with. Yet Andrew and Manuel were excited enough for the tale that we swept almost all other projects off the table to work on a comic book for it.

Yesterday, a few hours of New Year’s Eve were spent finishing a 16-page long script. And today, the second draft. Manuel, our artist, received it this afternoon with the intention of printing, reading and returning revisions.

It might sound strange for an artist to do this, but here’s the thing. Writing a comic book script can be anything between writing and writing/graphic design. Pages have to be written with an idea of how many panels they’ll involve. We have to consider how much space is needed not just to show (rather than tell) the story, but also for speech balloons, sound effects and narration.

“Show don’t tell” is generally good advice for novice writers of novels and short stories, yet there are limits. For example, the difference between telling and showing could be the difference of one or two narrative sentences versus three to five additional paragraphs, pages… or even entire chapters.

So the question becomes whether or not the information conveyed in those brief sentences is worth:

  1. The extra time for the writer to produce the new content.
  2. The cost for the editor to check the extra material.
  3. The increased price of formatting the expanded manuscript.
  4. The expenses of printing them (physical copy only).
  5. The reader’s time to read it.

That last point is actually the most important. If that new content entertains readers, the combined effort of all the prior steps is likely validated. If not, then everyone’s time and money was wasted. If you need proof to believe me, try reading The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson. Or even just reading the comments and reviews.

Being pedantic can be a writer’s sin.

With comics, the problem can actually be reversed. The “show” aspect is naturally handled through the art. You can even tell a tale that intrigues readers’ speculations by removing all dialogue and narration. The Darkest Dungeon comics (online and free) are really good about this.

But when you want to confirm needed details or convey aspects of the world that are beyond the scope of the story, actually telling the story can be the way to go. It would be quite the challenge (not to mention expense) to draw everything.

As I’m finally getting back into the swing of writing, I’m hoping to be able to handle all revisions on the script, then fire and forget it. This may sound optimistic but part of my problem is that things keep “bubbling back” and grabbing my ankle. I end up getting pulled into many small issues that need work, affecting other projects.

Lately I’m trying to solve these issues by focusing on shorter works. While comics take about the same amount of time as short stories, novellas are considerably faster than novels. They’re also easier. Usually I find myself staring at a novel synopsis and scratching out entire sections that are nothing but “filler.” Or if they don’t fulfill two of the following three needs:

  1. Developing characters
  2. Advancing plot
  3. Expanding the world

I actually sat down and took a hard look at the math on novellas on Amazon’s sites. With e-books, it actually makes great sense. In print, it’s certainly possible although the extended distribution options can force prices above what I feel comfortable charging. But after taking a quick look at my well-selling novel, I noticed that extremely few of my sales come from those channels.

Let’s see what the new year brings…