Book Magic

outliers-volume-1It’s been a long and very exhausting two months, but we finished it at last. Outliers: 2016 is now available in paperback. Forthcoming posts on the Outlier’s main site will cover more about the actual content of the series. I’m more drawn to the technical how.

Usually when people find out about publications I do, they approach with “hey, I got a story of my own.” I’m sympathetic to people who want to tell stories, but many personal experiences have educated me in the difficulties in producing quality books. I’m certainly not trying to crush anyone’s dreams, but I do think many folks underestimate the incredible amount of labor it takes to get to print.

I’ve come to suspect that events like National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) have become more part of the problem than the solution. The event tends to promote an erroneous idea that writing a novel is easy. The timing creates a spike in material that builds slush mountains (not piles) at larger publishers, or hemorrhaging on Amazon and other self-published distributors throughout the winter.

Amazon and other services who promote NaNoWriMo do not care how much poor quality material is produced because even if only a few copies are sold to the author’s immediate family, they still make a profit. Or else they would pull the plug so fast, you’d wake up the next morning to discover indie publishing all but died overnight.

Instead, a lot of what goes into publishing is primarily about 1,001 magic tricks, such that readers never know, never spare a thought to every minor detail. To borrow from Christopher Priest…

The Pledge. 

Something ordinary, seemingly a book. These days, for a story to be exceedingly original is very rare, such that the description will sound similar to what others have written. This is fine, but there are unsaid expectations: hopes of proper grammar, punctuation, spelling, formatting, page numbers, etc, etc, etc.

The strange thing is that the more there are of these simple but professional elements, the more ordinary is the book in question. This is because of our expectations caused by prior generations of book publishing. And by applying these elements, we would not otherwise be distracted from…

The Turn. 

The pledge is the responsibility of the formatters and editors, to convince us of something grounded. But the turn, the second act in which an ordinary story does something extraordinary, that is up to the writer. The turn is the point where true magic is unveiled, when we are shown emotions that we didn’t expect to feel from reading.

Sometimes, that is to experience something in writing that we wish for ourselves.
Sometimes, that is to discover and explore an idea we had never considered.
Sometimes, that is the twists and turns of plots that subverted our expectations.

It is the most important magic, for it conjures something we never thought we could think or feel. And that is why we read until…

The Prestige.

All stories end. The extraordinary becomes ordinary again, and people have to go back to reality. Such is the demand of the natural universe.

But if the spell is good, then the magic will travel from the reader’s mind to their mouth. Emotions always want an outlet, or such we wouldn’t bother writing to begin with. And it is the goal to create something worth discussing, so that the magic can spread and live on. Thus the prestige is left to neither editor or writer, but the reader. They have to want to believe in that magic.

That’s what goes into creating a story. And I suspect, that’s more than most expected to weave.

Advertisements

Musings & Outliers: 2016 Available Now!

outliers-volume-1

We’re losing control.

Director Zimmerman won’t admit it of course, but the projections are bad news in all directions. Outliers, men and women of extraordinary talents, are exploding in numbers across the globe thanks to the new drug “Illumination.”

We think the clandestine group “Legion” is responsible for spreading the substance, but not for producing it. And they’re not the only ones on the move, as others are playing in the shadows. AURA has begun operating in other countries, and our network is growing to match that of the CIA. But I can’t shake my gut feeling that we’re making a mistake, that we’re spread too thin to see what’s really coming.

The future is a jigsaw puzzle that we try to rearrange into something pleasing, but the image it’s taking is horrible…

–Dr C. Reynolds, PhD

Outliers: 2016 is now available in eBook format for the United States and the United Kingdom. The print version will be available next week, but until then be sure to follow us on Facebook or Twitter for more news!

I finally have this thing called “spare time” again. Not much, but some. So much of last week was spent formatting and preparing Outliers for release. The eBook version maybe complete, but the print version isn’t just yet.

What little spare time I’ve had has gone into preparing the Halloween costume, playing Bloodborne (tis the season of beast-hunting) or catching up on television. We finished Luke Cage and Downton Abbey very recently, so we’re are currently catching up on Orphan Black which we left off after the first season.

I really have to give Tatiana Maslany credit for going above and beyond with the demands of her many, many roles in Orphan Black. Toni Collette had a similar position with the United States of Tara, which was set against the backdrop of being a dramedy, but whatever comic elements are found in OB are strictly an occasional byproduct of its genre as a sci-fi drama. Maslany does a fine job of truly wearing the many, many masks of her characters, from accent to history, body language to quirks to truly create unum de multis (the opposite of e pluribus unum).

Well, back to work…

Franchises and Stuff

There’s a degree of palpable anxiety in the air.

The release date of the new Outliers volume is fast approaching and we’re perhaps 85% the way to complete. Much of what’s left is primarily grunt work: formatting, administrative, distributive. Being an editor for the project has me weighing in on techniques and methods to improve my writers’ skills. A great deal of the process boils down to something like this:

Step 1: The writer is tired and not as stoked because their creative energy was invested in writing the synopsis. They start writing.

Step 2: In the rush to finish it (and get to mentally rest), the writer blindly cranks out the first draft. The draft is never great, because in their haste, they:

  • overlook redundant sentences or even whole paragraphs
  • misuse form/from, pubic/public and other spell checker-immune horrors
  • forget to add a somewhere (hint: reread that)
  • use the same words, phrases and grammatical approaches too often
  • leave scenes too flat, or include an additional scene that doesn’t add much (I’m raising my hand on that latter point)
  • use too many words to superfluously describe something technically
  • or describe a technical matter badly
  • have POV errors galore
  • write plot holes

Step 3: Editor receives draft. Pretends he’s a proofreader and issues minor edits. Smiles and pats everyone on the back. Yay! Good job!

Step 4: …Editor suddenly remembers he’s an editor and the publisher. Transforms into Mr. Asshyde and starts tearing into the drafts. Process involves:

  • staring with total disbelief at a scene involving software security or medical operations that even a Hollywood writer would laugh at
  • researching appropriate details about said technical matters and rewriting section
  • wondering why the last two hours were blown making one single page look correct
  • cussing such profanity that would make a sailor blush
  • pondering what happened to that massive wound the main character received just one minute ago
  • privately wishing your own stories received this degree of abusive love
  • stopping pronoun juggling
  • consoling yourself with alcohol because you aren’t getting paid extra for this
  • finishing the last page and firing it to the writer, while finally understanding every story rejection you’ve personally ever received

Step 5: Editor wonders why people hate him.

I feel it takes frank honesty to transform a story one notch better than what it was. And I admit that fear is powering many of my decisions: if the series isn’t addictive, people will put it down. Great writing should be smooth, balanced between the eye opening and the jaw dropping, and leave readers hungry for more.

If your audience stops reading, they won’t talk about it. And that kind of silence is death.

And this is a factor that’s going to get tougher for me, because I have rapport with the five guys I’m working alongside. Outliers is a shared-universe, not another book series. Generally authors rarely allow others to develop in their literary universes, but the franchise nature changes the dynamic considerably.

Fellow authors whom I show our releases to swiftly pop the question, “Can I submit to this? When’s the open submission window?” And the reason I cannot give direct answers is because there’s a vision, a direction that the series is going.

Outliers is a road, and I hesitate because any writers joining us for the journey have to be prepared. Some are being readied even now, others are coming in time.

Editor’s Gripes

“We are pushing our ourselves to do more.”

I sent an update email to the other editors. It included a spreadsheet with the status of all the stories, and a break down of everything we still had to do.

A lot of our tasks are dependent on previous things. For example, we can draft the table of contacts but we cannot finalize it until the authors have signed the contracts. Authors can easily change their mind in the last minute and its certainly their right to. Once we have their approval, we can finalize the table, which is the blueprint for organizing and formatting the book.

Thus it’s difficult to get a head start on a lot of the end-game aspects of publishing. Our challenge is magnified by the fact that we’re doing illustrations for the anthology too. The con is we can’t rush the art. It’s done when it’s done. But on the pro side, that time can also be spent getting advanced copies to reviewers. And there were a few other issues to deal with. Some marketing opportunities, contract writing. Andrew has to write the introductory letter.

There’s so much we’re doing that’s ground breaking for us personally. I am grateful that, at the very least, we are pushing our ourselves to do more. To try new things and grow, and not be stuck in the complacency of the same thing as the last two anthologies.

But there comes a time one needs a break from it.

I am managing the finances for three separate anthologies. And although one of which comes to an end this year, I want to avoid the potential of grave errors. Once the slate is cleared, I might do a new anthology. It won’t be involved with the Bolthole however.

Anyone who fancies themselves a writer, try it. Try editing. Put together an amateur anthology, learn from it. Discover your mistakes, figure out what sells. You’ll learn so much. Even if you find out it’s not your thing, you’ll walk away from it with improved writing skills and understanding of the business.

You have to get out there. You have to make business if there isn’t any. You can try forever and face a wall of preformatted rejections, or you can find out yourself what sells and what doesn’t.

Rejecting Folks

Shameless sellout: For today only, The Black Wind’s Whispers and Marching Time have had a price cut to dirt cheap. Get it while it’s hot.

I made a promise to myself that, as an editor, I would always send a personalized rejection email to people informing them why they didn’t make it. Sometimes it’s quality. Sometimes it’s circumstances beyond their control. But I’d always tell them why so they wouldn’t make the same mistakes if at all possible.

At the moment, I’ve kept this promise. It’s painful for myself and the people who get rejected, but they have to know. I remember what the early parts were like, getting meaningless rejections. But I also know that as the number of submitters grows in future projects, I won’t be able to personalize every refused piece.

As it stands, this promise has been put to the test. Already, the number of rejections are starting to climb and more are surely on their way. I’m sure sooner or later there’s going to be someone who has got to fight me on the decision. Thankfully it hasn’t happened yet. Most of the people I’ve dealt with have handled their rejections with professional integrity.

The secret I’ve noticed is to always include a few good things to say about the work involved and try to be compassionate if honest. Point out what they’ve done well and where they need work. Tact takes energy and effort, but it sure beats making enemies.

Well, it’s not something I hope to get good at… but can’t hurt.

Movember + NaNoWriMo = Evil Plot

Just wait until I finished the *second* draft...

Just wait until I finish the *second* draft… Full beard time, baby!

That’s a mighty fine NaNoWriMo novel you got there. Mind if I take a look?

BOOM! :{

Come on. Did you really think people just grow a mustache? Evil mustaches must come from evil deeds. And what finer way than to destroy the hopes and dreams of terrible, terrible writers? It’s a conspiracy, I tell you. A conspiracy among editors.

Pandora

Funny thing about hope. You get it when you open Pandora’s box…

Anyway, it’s been a busy night. I’ve taken the edits and suggestions of both my editors and am about half way finished implementing them. I really meant to be finished already, but the tale is somewhat long. Tonight, I’ll wrap it up.

The closer I get to the deadline, the more nervous I feel. I’ve been making the horrible mistake of reading author reviews on Amazon, of authors I appreciate and admire. Whenever I see anything less than 3.5 stars, my heart sinks.

That could be me soon. That could be the anthology not being the huge success I quietly hope it will be. I trust that the guys brought me their best work and I can votch that it is damn good. And I say without arrogance that some of the guys, like Jeremy Daw and Jon Ward, did some of their best work yet. Better than mine.

But you never know. Bad luck frequently takes the form of bad timing.

How many good movies got crushed because they chose the worst weekend to release? How many books get passed up and unnoticed because some unforeseen event happens that distracts everyone? Or a wave of same-genre fiction crashes upon the market, and a gem is lost in it?

For every factor I can account for, manage or control, there’s 10 other things I cannot prepare for. There’s nothing can do about that. I can’t control the market and I’d oppose anyone who tries.

Nothing to do but relax, finish my work and publish. Oh, and finish reading Valkia the Bloody.