Category Archives: Myths and Truths

The Pros and Cons of Prologues

Thanks to Chris the Story Reading Ape for making this visible! I’m of the “do what serves the story school,” and I hate hard-and-fast rules (“Agents hate prologues”). What about you? Weigh in!

Uninspired Writers

Prologues can be a contentious issue. Everybody has a different opinion on them. I’ve known of readers who love them, agents who hate them, and everything in between! The last novel I wrote started with a prologue, even though as a reader I’m not a huge fan of them. Sometimes you just have to do what works for your novel. But for anyone who’s not sure, I’ve listed some of the pros and cons of prologues below.

The Pros:

You can hook the reader
Prologues tend to be short and sweet, and so it gives you the opportunity to really hook the reader with a gritty opening. You don’t need to introduce the characters involved in any depth, which gives you the chance to create a real air of mystery.

Chance to use a different POV
The prologue doesn’t have to follow the pattern of the rest of your story…

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How I’ve Come to Love Book Pirates

Well, maybe that title is just click-bait. Hope it gets some clicks! Big green smiley

More accurately, my title should read, Why I’ve Quit Worrying about Book Pirates.

Books flying into pirates' hands

Here are a few links you can check out if you’ve heard horror stories (I sort of have some), and/or if you’re interested in this debate:

My quick take—and my reasons for copping out on the anti-book-piracy crusade: Like some of the responders on Kaye’s post, I tried the beta Blasty service. I found myself on sites where I didn’t have the technical knowledge to identify the site owners (Kaye offers some tools to help with this). No address to which to send my own DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) takedown notice. Some offered their own DMCA form—but every one I completed returned an error notice.

And after I’d spent a whole morning uselessly following Blasty’s leads, I got yet another massive list of all the places where my books could be downloaded for free.

Blasty offered paid services that would send the notices for me. There are other such services; comments on the various articles I’ve linked to above provide some sources, if you want to pursue this route.

But if you read the Guest piece, you may, like me, come away with a sense of “what for?”

“The legal and tech aspects of book piracy prevention are complex and fast-evolving, but those in the know describe it very simply: it’s whack-a-mole. One of the most persistent ebook pirate sites has been taken down multiple times, only to pop back up again under a .com, a .net and a .org domain name. At least 120,000 take-down notices have been issued against it already, involving web crawlers, lawyers, its domain host and the Metropolitan police. But that website is back regardless, complete with some intimidating legal language of its own, addressed to anyone who plans to complain.”

I have read, in more than one place, that many of the “free” sites don’t even have copies of the books they’re selling; they just want people’s credit card info. A lot easier way of taking people’s money than actually scanning books and repackaging them, I suspect.

Who knows? If the big publishers are really losing a lot of money to piracy, maybe they will finally figure out a way to protect their property. And maybe some enterprising soul will pirate their methods and share them with us (in a user-friendly form). Maybe even Amazon will catch on and act. In the meantime, I have other wasteful uses of my time that are a lot more fun than hunting down all those links and filling out a new version of that form ten times a day.

I’m thinking, in fact, about making more of my work (I really do have WsIP!) available for free. The truism Kroese and others offer makes sense to me:

The biggest challenge facing a new author isn’t piracy; it’s obscurity.

So from one so-far obscure writer to others, I’ve quit worrying about people stealing my books. When you read one you like, just be sure to tell your friends.

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A Manifesto for Overwriters!

Overgrown planet!

No one knows better than I do the anguish of being an inveterate overwriter. Here are some of the ways my penchant manifests itself:

  • Stacking up adjectives, sometimes without any particular point other than the love of words. One example at random from my Failed Novel: “By the time he pulled out once more onto 41, the Tamiami Trail, the sun had turned dusty red behind him, piecing out of the sky faint, ominously pendant, pink-tinted blooms of cloud.”
  • Piling up metaphors and images until I end up with a bean soup of ingredients that don’t always play well together and end up siphoning reader attention away from characters and into the quagmire of the language itself. . . . Need I say more?
  • Hunting obsessively in thesaurus.com for THE PERFECT WORD so as to avoid settling for what Mark Twain would have called “the lightning bug”—but ending up with a choice (often a verb) that is so far out there that writing groups suggest gently that I probably ought to settle for something a little less . . . well, I’m having to go to thesaurus.com to find THIS right word. “Arresting”? No, that’s not right. Disruptive? Intrusive, contentious, militant. . . . You get the point.
  • Diving into long passages of introspection in which I explore the character’s relation to life, the universe, and everything from so many directions readers probably feel as if they’re inside a disco ball.

What a dangerous way to write! Here are some of the sad consequences of this indulgence:

  • Too much verbiage, even the brilliant kind I am so clearly expert at, slows the story pace. Readers emerge from even a page or two exhausted, just wanting to move on—or quit.
  • Too many details, descriptions, and distractions dilute important moments in a scene so that what should be on display gets lost in the window dressing. Scenes should have a structure that builds to the crucial turn, but overwriting drags out scenes so that every event, line of dialogue, metaphor, or action carries equal weight.
  • The words themselves start demanding the focus that should go to the characters and their interactions.
  • The backstory in introspection loses its force when not linked to the characters’ actual experiences in time. If we’re told in a long, over-filled expository paragraph on page 10, among seventy or so other details, that a character had a traumatic experience at age seven, by the time we see that trauma play out on page 100, we’ve forgotten its source. We don’t know about that trauma from being told it exists, but from seeing in the moment what it does.

I’ve seen writing group members defend some pretty egregious excess by insisting that what they’re writing is “literary,” a form in which the language itself becomes the focus rather than the “plot.” I guess there was a time when I retreated behind this rationale myself. But I’ve come to apply terms like “lazy” and “self-indulgent” to pile-it-up-on-the-page writing these days. I confess I’ve arrived at this judgment after seeing how some colleagues’ drafts exhaust me when they do all the things I tend to do.

So the moral here must be “Don’t Overwrite.” Followed by “10 Steps to Avoid Overwriting.” Right?

Umm, not quite.

Instead, I’m going to claim that, in its proper place, your tendency to do all the things I listed above (and more?) is a strength!

So: X Reasons to Love Your Curse.

Actually, there’s one real reason you should value your overwriting impulses: unlike your more verbally impoverished colleagues, you overwriters generate a lot of text! You never have to sit and try to “come up with” an image or a detail. You’ve already poured out a grand effusion of writerly stuff.

This means:

Experimentation! You know you’ll cut four-fifths of what you generate. So you can let the words wander. See where they lead. Mixed metaphor? No problem. It’ll get put to rights—or in its place—in the final cut.

Choice! Somewhere among all those words and sentences and images, there’s one that really produces that scintillating “this is it!” shiver. You just have to clear away the litter that keeps it from doing its job. And don’t throw out all the efforts that didn’t answer this particular need. They aren’t necessarily substandard or failed. They may work perfectly in the scene you’re writing next.

And although all that introspection may not work for your harried readers, it’s your way into your characters. You end up knowing them intimately, as you must if you and your readers are to willingly share their worlds for 99,000 words.

Same with world-building. Too many details? Even if you cut that street-by-street description, you still live in those alleyways and cul-de-sacs in your mind.

And who knows? Maybe you, more than your verbally limited colleagues, actually will one day produce a literary masterpiece. After all, it’s from the piling up of words, images, sentences, that the “voice” that commonly defines “literary” emerges.

The key, of course, is to actually do the CUTTING that converts your curse to a strength. I know how hard it is to hack out those lovely lines that flowed from that sacred font. I’ve found that I finally have to be told, indisputably, that X words have to go. Then it actually starts to become fun to watch how paragraphs firm up, cohere, how fast the lines race by and how hard they slice.

One painful but potentially useful exercise: take a particularly long, detail-and-event laden chapter, and vow to reduce it by one-half. Can’t do it? Try for one-third. Just to see what you get.

(Hmmm. Maybe I should do that with this post. . . . :D)

Do you have strategies that make your overwriting indulgences work for you?

 

 

 

 

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Counterintuitive Advice from Jane Friedman

Big word "book" in "lettepress."

If you don’t know about Jane Friedman, learn. Her site is full of excellent advice and links. Today, in my email, this article that contradicts what we might all think: that it’s always better to get lots of feedback. Not on this issue, Jane says. All over social-media sites for writers, you find people posting their book covers and asking for advice. But Jane says no: Don’t crowdsource your book cover! Who’d’a thunk it?

I admit I’ve been guilty of asking a couple of friends for feedback. Some of their responses have been telling, but they haven’t really told me how to improve my own “designs.” Since book covers, in my view, are the one component of self-publishing where you can’t avoid spending money, I’ve ended up looking for affordable professionals rather than trying to make sense of all the conflicting opinions myself. While I do think my current covers could be improved, that improvement will be part of an eventual complete revamping of my whole publishing enterprise, not to be undertaken until my infinite revisions of new books are finished.

So if you have advice for me about my book covers, save it for that day. Though I thank you all the same.

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Filed under book design, business of writing, indie publishing, Marketing books, Myths and Truths, novels, Print on Demand, Self-publishing, social media

The #1 Mistake New Self-Publishers Make That Leaves Them Vulnerable to Publishing Scams – by Anne R. Allen…

Another extremely useful post from Anne R. Allen, via Chris the Story Reading Ape. A reminder to us all to DO OUR HOMEWORK if we want to publish and sell our books.

Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog

Publishing scams target babes in the woods

I hear about new publishing scams all the time. Sometimes scammers approach me personally, but more often I hear a sad tale of woe from some newbie who has fallen for the latest con.

This week I realized that almost all the victims of publishing scams have one thing in common: they don’t understand the most important part of the digital self-publishing revolution that started in 2009.

This is the thing you MUST understand in order to be a successful indie author:

Continue reading HERE

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A Small Riff on “Infinite Revision” (I’m an Expert!)

cresock deserted peer sea

I’ve been deep in revisions of two major Works-in-Progress, with a resultant and perhaps regrettable absence from the blogosphere. The process has led me to think about the pros and cons of “infinite revision”—the impulse to come back to a supposedly polished manuscript again and again and again (and again. . . . ad infinitum).

The impetus for these revisions is twofold: first, responses from my valuable beta readers; and second, experiences at two recent “pitch” events, both of which I recommend: the one-day WritingDayWorkshop held in Louisville in April and the Midwest Writers Workshop “Agent Fest,” a Friday-Saturday affair in May at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana.

The fact is, every time I attend a conference to pitch or get feedback from agents and editors (REAL agents and editors, mind you), I come home thinking that before I can respond to invitations to send materials, I really need to revise the darn book again!

Which of course means that my pages are sitting here, going nowhere, instead of in an agent’s inbox.

It seems worth asking whether the gains from the process of re-re-revising in response to these conference experiences are worth the inevitable delay. Surely there should come a point when I hit “save” for the last time and say “Enough!”

Well . . . yes. But. . . .

Two major eye-openers from this pitch-conference process have driven my compulsive rewriting, leading me to propose that maybe, just maybe, I’m not wasting my time.

“First-Page Reads”

First, both conferences included a “first-page read,” a feature that seems to be gaining popularity. In the “first-page read,” if you haven’t experienced one, conference attendees turn in, anonymously of course, the first page of their book. During the session, a moderator reads randomly selected submissions aloud.

At WDW, agents had copies to read along, a modification of the original format that I think made it easier for them to hone their responses in a rapid-fire, somewhat artificial setting. Agents raised hands or voices when they “would quit reading.” As one agent at MWW pointed out, ordinarily agents would have already glanced at the query, so they might be more tolerant of less than perfect submissions than when hearing a page cold (especially late in the evening after a long day). Even with those caveats, seeing how a panel of agents responded to my first page has, each time, been one of the most valuable conference experiences I can report.

“The Three-Minute Pitch”

Second, there is nothing like having to explain your book fast to a potentially skeptical listener to make you home in on that perennially vital question: what is this book about?

Think you know the main conflict, what’s at stake, how the main character changes, and why readers should care? Give yourself the three-minute test.

To meet the format requirements at MWW, I honed my pitches to ninety seconds. By the time I applied advice from my writing groups, they took barely a minute. And they both worked.

Things I Learned from Writing Conferences (This Time)

From the first-page read, I’ve distilled a “rule” much more important, it seems, than common prohibitions like “Avoid adverbs” or “Use strong verbs.”

Most obvious to everyone but slow-witted overachievers like me: BE CLEAR. Those agents wanted to be able to locate themselves in space and time in the company of a recognizable character. They wanted to be able to figure out, duh, what’s going on. And all this, of course, with only the tiniest touch of backstory. A hard lesson for those with unquenchable literary aspirations. Turns out all that energy devoted to haunting and mysterious hooks and complex, original metaphors would have been better spent on who, what, why, and where.

From the three-minute-pitch process, I’ve learned something else I sort of already knew but kept resisting: even the most complex plots, with the most tortured and nuanced characters, must have a throughline.

This rule is not in the least simple. It points to a tenet of structure as old as storytelling but one easy to overlook. Even if you are creating convoluted characters who wander all over their own emotions and tangle with fifty secondary characters and subplots, the book has to be about somebody who wants something and will pay in spades if he or she doesn’t get it.

That’s the throughline. Finding it is like that old story about chipping away parts of the marble that aren’t the statue. At some point, what your character wants, why she can’t get it, and what will happen if she doesn’t has to emerge from all the stuff that only supports your story, however important all that other stuff will ultimately turn out to be. The extras won’t work if they have nothing to hook onto.

Bottom Line: Sorry, You’re Not Stephen King or Salman Rushdie or Margaret Atwood or Any of Those Wonderful Folks

It’s tempting to think that our writing is so special, our creativity so rich, that any agent or editor who opens our file will be so entranced that clarity and throughlines are simply beside the point.

I fully acknowledge that there are literary geniuses for whom this is true. But two hard facts I’ve come to accept more and more: we first have to get our files into that agent’s inbox, and a clearly stated throughline is our best chance of slipping them in there. That throughline, which a three-minute pitch forced me to write, is also one of the best ways I’ve found to figure out where my book goes off track and w

Second, you are almost certainly not the genius who can transcend clarity once your first page is up for scrutiny by people who might actually pay you for the rest. Your genius—okay, my genius—will remain undiscovered if an agent or editor chooses “Move to Trash” before finishing that first page.

Quick Caveat before You Infinitely Revise

Choose your conferences carefully. It’s fun and often inspiring to attend lectures on how to do this or that in your story (“Make Your Characters Dynamic!” “Build Conflict!”). And it’s nice to chat with a “real author” who has agreed to critique your work

But conferences aren’t cheap. You can get “how-to” in spades online. And authors, bless us, don’t come to the chat thinking, “Would a publisher be willing to PAY FOR this book?”

With infinite revisions already behind me, I’ve found that someone who comes to my work with that question looming—who has made me do the work to answer it—is the only one who can definitively tell me whether I should revise again.

Okay, so when do you decide, “I’m never revising again”?

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Filed under Finding agents, Learning to write, literary fiction, looking for editors, Myths and Truths, novels, Plot Development, Publishing, Works in progress, Writers' conferences

Beyond Good Writing: Two Literary Agents Discuss What Matters Most – by Sangeeta Mehta…

Thanks to Chris for this piece from Jane Friedman’s blog. It says some things that are always good to hear. For example, that you didn’t get that agent doesn’t mean your writing is no good. . . . Take heart!

Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog

on Jane Friedman site:

Almost anyone who has spent time in the query trenches knows how challenging it is to capture the attention of a literary agent.

Most agents, even new agents eager to build their client list, pass on over 90 percent of the queries they receive. In some cases, the reason is obvious: The agent doesn’t represent the writer’s genre; the writer has written a synopsis rather than a query letter; the agent isn’t accepting queries, at all.

In other cases, the writer might be doing everything right—researching agents, following submission guidelines, querying only once they have a polished manuscript—but still experience radio silence. Or, maybe they are receiving requests for pages, or feedback from the agent along with the opportunity to resubmit, but an offer of representation just isn’t coming through. If the writing is good or at least shows potential—how else would they have come this…

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