Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Okay, you can do it the hard way, and study journalism and, if you’re lucky, start working as a journalist for a newspaper or magazine. But most people I’ve spoken to have already got jobs in some other industry, probably because they’d (sensibly) thought to have a job that would actually pay the bills, and don’t really have time to pursue these qualifications.
The media industry being as fickle as it is, editors and journos’ positions are often the first to be shed, should a company look to tighten its belt. I’ve also encountered a perception that writing for a magazine or newspaper is some kind of glamorous job. It’s not. It’s a job, like any other, and if you’re chasing daily or weekly print deadlines, it can be extremely pressurised.
There’s another way. You can study copy writing at an advertising school, university, college or technikon. These can either offer you a diploma, certificate or degree by way of tertiary qualification. You’ll end up working in marketing, at an advertising agency or, like me, as a commercial features sub-editor for a national newspaper publisher. And, no matter what the TV shows lead you to believe, this is not a glamorous job, either. You can only write so much promotional editorial or advertorial before you want to reach for a blunt spoon and slit your wrists. Granted, this has given me an excellent grasp of the English language but it’s dead boring. The only benefits I can think of is that one of my projects is a weekly travel publication and I occasionally get to go out and review game lodges or five-star resorts on tropical islands. Place the emphasis on “occasionally”. I don’t get paid for this extra writing. I do it because I love it. Ditto for the books I end up reviewing in the papers. Or the lifestyle pieces I craft. I don’t get paid for these stories, okay?
Then you have your average, garden-variety freelancer. Some of these individuals studied languages, copy writing or were just damn hot and learned on the job, so to speak. They write editorial for magazines, newspapers, promotional material and websites. But they were not making oodles of money overnight. It takes a long time to build up a decent client base and, more often than not, these intrepid writers end up spending most of their time writing copy for corporate clients. Corporate clients can also be full of s***.
And you don’t just break in into this industry. You go freelance only once your extra work is paying you the salary you’re already earning. Generally, unless you’ve got a very strong handle on grammar, I don’t advise sudden career changes unless you’re absolutely certain you know exactly what you’re doing to the English language. I’ve seen people try to make this jump after working in an unrelated industry, often resulting in a spectacular income failure when they were still learning the basics. And, trust me, it looks really bad when you write copy for a corporate client when you abuse homophones or don’t punctuate your sentences properly.
And there’s the last category that makes me smile. Sometimes people approach me and tell me they want to write novels with the view of staying at home and being a career novelist. I’m in agreement with one of my friends, who said her first impulse is to tell them to take a ballpoint pen and repeatedly stab themselves in the hand because it will be less painful. I know very few full-time authors. Those who are, were incredibly lucky and got in with a big publisher the first time round with huge deals and a best-selling international series. Many of them held onto their day-jobs until they were earning the royalties to replace that income. But that was usually only by books six or seven, and they were proven authors.
Others are big names but still have day-jobs. Sure, they may have a number of books with a mass-market paperback publisher, but they hold onto that day-job. Some of the ebook authors I know write fulltime but I’ve been told they write the books they know will sell (romance and erotica) and sometimes write the books they want to read. And even this is hard work because you’re competing against so many other people who are established brands. This means that you must constantly strive to improve your writing skills and learn from what your editor or writing buddies tell you about your writing. You don’t just sit down and write an instant best-seller in the space of a month.
So, before you start writing, ask yourself this question: Why are you writing? If you’re writing to make money, then look at the choices that will actually pay. And if you decide to embark on that trip, make damn sure you’re passionate about that type of writing because, trust me, it shows when you aren’t.
Monday, August 30, 2010
Saturday, August 28, 2010
It's also important to remember that no one is "the bad guy" or "the best friend" or "the whore with a heart of gold" in real life; in real life we each of us regard ourselves as the main character, the protagonist, the big cheese; the camera is on us, baby. If you can bring this attitude into your fiction, you may not find it easier to create brilliant characters, but it will be harder for you to create the sort of one-dimensional dopes that populate so much pop fiction.
It's easy to put so much energy, so much thought, into creating your main characters that all those secondary characters wind up being cardboard cutouts. "The best friend" or "the wacky sidekick" or whatever else have a purpose to fulfill, in relation to the story and the main characters. The trick is to not write them as if that's all they're for. The trick is to write them as if there is an alternate universe of the fictional world you are creating and in that alternate universe, that secondary character is the main character. Some of the best, most fully realized novels I've ever read had secondary characters that were so interesting, I would gladly have read a book about their adventures.
One of the best examples of this I know is the Harry Potter world. While I understand why JK Rowling doesn’t want to spend the rest of her life writing Wizarding World stories, as a reader nothing would delight me more than reading the further adventures of some of the side characters, especially George Weasley and Neville Longbottom. In fact I loved the entire Weasley family and loved every minute they were on the page. As for Neville, his own journey through the course of the books was every bit as amazing, and occasionally heartbreaking, as Harry's. When Neville had his big moment in the Battle of Hogwarts I cheered so much I dropped the book. In the hands of a lesser storyteller, Neville would have been just the stereotypical nerdy picked-on kid, and a prop to reflect aspects of Harry's own journey. But instead we saw glimpses of a young boy on his own Hero's Journey, every bit as compelling as the main character.
Who are some of your favorite secondary characters that you'd love to read more about?
Thursday, August 26, 2010
Since we seem to be discussing the business side of publishing this week, I'm going to just jump right in with my two cents worth. Times are changing. As Nicole said, with the economy so poor right now publishers are looking for ways to cut costs while staying in business. For every customer who holds the rank of editor or author there are probably twenty everyday folks spending their hard earned dollars on our words. When it comes down to the bottom line, their budget for little luxuries like books is swallowed up by rising food and energy costs. Perhaps that's why a lot of publishers are beginning to take a second look at eBooks and the benefits of publishing electronically.
Dorchester's big change to a digital model with print on demand sent ripples of surprise through not only the publishing community, but the reading one as well. Will other big print houses do the same? I wonder what would happen if every publisher that prints actual books conformed to the same model. I think eventually we will see it happen though it may be years into the future.
Which brings me to another soapbox, eBook pirating. Okay, pirating people. Johnny Depp as a pirate, cool. You? Not even a smidge of frost. I wish these pirates would realize what they are stealing here. It's more than thoughts, electronic words and art. It's money the author uses for everyday things. Here that pirates? You're taking the money for their kids lunches, gas, bills,and thousands of other things. There needs to be better security on eBooks that doesn't hinder the reader from enjoying them. Ebooks are not meant to be forwarded or transferred. Do your part. Don't become a pirate. Report shady ner'do wells to the proper authorities and let the publisher know too. *climbs off soapbox*
On another note, I'm gearing up for the release of To Take Up the Sword on September 6, 2010 with a release party at The Romance Studio on 8-28. http://theromancestudio.com/party/ Several authors are scheduled to be in attendance. Interviews with Rachel Leigh on 9-1 www.rachelleighromance.blogspot.com
and You Gotta Read Reviews 9-7 http://yougottareadguest.blogspot.com
During the month of September I'll be the featured on author at The Romance Studio and on 9-24 I'm giving away a copy of the book in their Book a Day giveaway.
Lastly, 9-16-9-19 I'm participating in RBR's Halloween Bash. Details below and I believe this event last through Halloween. www.trinagon.blogspot.com
Upcoming Event: Halloween Bash. Do you love spooky tales? Do you like to read about shape shifters and their mates? Or perhaps enjoy a spine tingling ghost story right before bedtime. Well starting in September, Ramsey's Book Reviews is the place to be for all your "Needful Things". Stop in and visit with over 30 authors, enter their free book giveaway contests and read what scares them the most. There will be many books/ebooks to choose from, all with their own twisted story. We look forward to your arrival.
I'd love for you to drop by and visit.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
But there’s a condition. It’s not what a person says but how he or she says it that matters.
At the papers I’ve had editors throw my work back at me telling me exactly how bad it is in colourful language I’m not going to repeat here. I’ve had people tell me I’m all manner of horrible things, including “amateur”. I’ve been reduced to tears on numerous occasions and each time I just carry on. But that’s my day-job. Thankfully over the years I’ve learnt to suck it up and get on with my work. And, trust me I don’t make the same mistake twice.
So, when it comes to the groovy world of commercial fiction, I pretty much say it like it is, sans the melodrama, of course. I conveniently forget that some people don’t want to hear that their self-editing is not up to scratch or they need to give their writing a little more oomph by avoiding passive sentence construction and cut out filter words.
I’m not going to tell an author they suck, or should give up writing, but I’m not going to lie and tell them, “Oh, this is great! You’re faboo!” when their writing needs some serious work. That being said, I also don’t give praise lightly, so if you suddenly find me clinging to your leg and declaring myself as your undying fangrrrl, I mean it.
And when I deliver criticism of someone’s writing it’s not to make them fall into a pit of despair. It’s because I can see, based on my experience in the industry, where they could improve. Hell, I wouldn’t be where I am today without my writing buddies who I can assure you, didn’t coddle me.
A few of my author friends have graciously offered to share their opinions on how to cope with criticism. Take note, and take heart!
What the authors say…
When I get back editorial/agent/beta letters, first I have a full-blown panic attack. This is before even opening them. Then I try skim through while hyperventilating. Then I cry some more, and condemn the writer of the letter to several terrible fates, and curse their unborn children.
Luckily for me I have a very close group of writer friends who talk me down from my cliff and give me suggestions, and encourage me with soft words and cupcakes. Finally, I realise that they are making more sense than I am, and I try read through the letter again, this time making notes. Nowadays it takes me about a week to get to this point, which is way better than my original time of around three months.
Eventually, about a month later, I’m hardened by repeated reads, and I realise that what’s there is not a long list of YOU SUCK YOU SUCK YOU SUCK DIE DIE DIE, but advice and suggestions designed to bring out the best of my novel. Obviously, being the special snowflake that I am, I’m going to fight people on one or two points, but usually by this time on board with the majority of the suggestions, and better than that, I’m excited by them.
Lesli Richardson, who also writes as Tymber Dalton
Hmm, depends on the source and the content. If it’s constructive criticism in the writing stages, I look at whether it’s just one person pegging a certain point or several hitting the same issue. If it’s just one, it could just be that person’s opinion. If it’s several, I take another look at it. After publication, I try not to pay too much attention one way or the other to criticism. Not everyone will like what you write, that’s just part of the business. Of course I love to get positive reviews, that’s a given. But bad reviews, fortunately they’re few and I just ignore those. My feelings are if my beta readers liked it, and my editor and publisher liked it, and at least some of my readers liked it, then I’ve done my job. You cannot please every reader, and if you try, you’ll drive yourself crazy. You can’t try to write to a specific audience because then your focus isn’t on the story.
You also have to consider the source of the criticism and the spirit in which it’s given. Is it someone genuinely trying to help you improve your writing, or is it someone who might have other motives.
That’s why it’s extremely important to have good beta readers who will be honest and point things out to you that you might not see otherwise.
As I read what’s been said I give it more weight if I know it’s coming from someone I know, trust and respect. Though if they seem to be saying something utterly daft I will still ignore or mark down their criticism.
So after reading what they’ve said I will take a note of the points they’ve made that seem relevant and compare them to what others have said. Then I decide which points I think are correct. This method breaks down if you only get a few critiques. And “gut feeling” does play a part.
Even if I think a point is valid I may not act on it or I may do less than what they advise—this is because people like different things.
Once I’ve rewritten a story I will preferably give it to more people to read to try to see if the problems are fixed.
The above is my logical response to criticism.
Emotionally if I get too many downer crits I get depressed. :(
And/or I call the critiquers many bad names. Sometimes I do the above then I do the logical stuff once I’ve recovered.
If you mean criticism of my writing, that depends too. If people who don’t know me read something of mine, decide they don’t like it, and then either attack me personally or ridicule it, I ignore them—they’re f***tards. If someone politely says it just cannot stand something I have written, I thank that person for its time and accept that individual didn’t get it and just isn’t the right audience for it. If hundreds of people say this and none say the opposite, I consider that the intended audience may be extremely small, or nonexistent. If someone says, “I like a, b, c; but I don’t like x, y, z for these reasons,” then I carefully compare with my own opinions on x, y, and z and what other people have said of them, I leave the writing alone for a bit in order to think through what I need to change, and then I make an outline of what needs to be done and do it.
If you’re talking about reviews, in that someone buys something I wrote and hates it, and writes about this on Amazon or wherever, there’s nothing you can do about stuff like this. You just have to accept the first or second statements in the above paragraph, and take whatever comfort you are able from the fact that you now have said person’s money. :-P
I also am wary of taking people’s comments at their obvious meaning.
Often if there is high-level stuff wrong with something, people can have the right sort of idea of what to do with it, but not the complete picture. “I want to know more about what this character is thinking” doesn’t necessarily mean that. It could be that the character’s history and interpersonal relationships need to be better established (discreetly) to provide a framework for the character's motivation to be apparent from. Particular example: The original first chapter of Pilgrennon’s Beacon didn’t work (in fact, I think it was *three* chapters back in the earliest version).
With retrospect, I can now see why. I had an axe to grind regarding my own childhood. I put in way too much stuff about horrible schools, vile teachers, and being ostracised. “This is too long,” beta readers said. “Cut some stuff out.” I kept trying to cut stuff out and it wasn’t working. What I really needed was a future, wiser version of me to tell me to throw it away and start again from scratch, with a clear head, and only including such information as was absolutely necessary so as to establish the character and begin the story. Which is what I eventually realised I needed to do.
I pay very little attention to it, because it always relates to something I wrote a long time ago. The time between finishing the story and finally releasing it to the market is measured in months, sometimes years. Even with digital releases, there are many editing and proofreading and production steps. So when you criticise my latest work, it doesn’t make me feel the need to change anything in the story. It is done. You didn’t like it? Sorry for you...there are many others who *will* like it.
But I do *listen* to criticism. It is useful feedback from my readers.
How I deal with it depends on what kind of criticism it is: bright criticism, cynical criticism, or stupid criticism. Bright criticism is the only one worth paying attention to. It is an intelligent commentary on my writing, and although it is always coloured by the critic’s own tastes and limitations, it shows which aspects of my writing worked for them and which aspects could be improved.
The problem with criticism is that you have to read the criticism first to classify it, and this is where you can be hurt if you are just starting out, over-sensitive or insecure. That’s when cynical or stupid criticism can be damaging.
Cynical reviewers are writing to flex their own snarky egos. Their “special skill” is the art of the put-down. You have to pity them because they won’t ever finish writing a decent novel...they will find too many faults with it. Authors have to combat this aspect of their own psyche and not let it out until the editing stage. Cynics *seem* intelligent because of their command of the English language and their incisive wit, but in fact they often miss the art of the storytelling entirely and focus on a few technical aspects. When they are linked to a large readership they can become confused by the attention and believe they are “guardians of the art” when in fact they are writing words that will have a lifespan of about five minutes. Some reviewers are genuinely interested in good writing, and write enlightening responses which are worth their weight in gold.
Others are cynics. Consider if the review is bright or cynical, and if it is the latter, forget you ever read it at four minutes fifty-nine seconds. That way, you win.
What I have found is that when one reader strongly dislikes an aspect of the storytelling, another will praise the book for that same quality. Reviews are entirely subjective. You will never please everyone, because some people are by nature unpleasant.
The reviews that really piss me off are people who give low-star ratings on books without having read them, those who lambaste a book they didn’t like when they admit they don’t like that genre, or the twits who make up facts to fit their opinions. It would be nice to blow them off as harmless, but negative reviews are damaging to sales.
It costs the “reviewer” nothing, but it threatens my livelihood.
However, I don’t argue or challenge these reviewers on their opinions, just as I don’t beat up the crazy man on the corner who says f*** you to everyone who passes. Hopefully my readers are intelligent enough to disregard the mutterings of orcs.
So look out for bright criticism. Pity the bitter cynics. And ignore the stupid critics...they’re the bottom-feeders. Don’t let them spoil your party. Write something for the rest of us.
I don’t think I’ve ever thought out a set of guidelines! I think the cardinal rule has to be to take what’s useful and leave the rest, irrespective of where it comes from. It’s easy to get turned off by a critique that comes across as didactic and arrogant, but that’s not to say that there isn’t something potentially useful in there somewhere.
Conversely, there are people whose opinion I respect and seek out, but that’s not to say that I will do anything and everything they suggest.
Whether we’re talking about a specific story or my development as a writer, we are talking about something that is mine and mine alone, and no criticism can ever be more than observation and suggestion that it’s up to me to make use of or disregard.
With regard to work-shopping, I put all the comments in one place and work through them systematically. If I regard a comment as not being useful, I’ll disregard it. If it’s something that’s obviously useful and only involves a minor change, I’ll make the change there and then. If it’s something that immediately makes sense, but involves more than writing or deleting a couple of sentences, I’ll make a note of it and address it when I’ve been through all the comments. For example, if some people aren’t following something, I need to foreshadow it better, but I’ll have to work through the whole story to work out where to put the foreshadowing.
The hardest decisions are when comments come up that I’m not sure whether to act on or not. If one critiquer out of twenty said they didn’t understand something, should I change it? Was that person not paying attention? Or did several have the same misunderstanding and not bother mentioning it? In that case, I usually make a note but don’t make a decision until I’ve read all the critiques.
Monday, August 23, 2010
Saturday, August 21, 2010
A strong enough situation renders the whole question of plot moot, which is fine with me. The most interesting situations can usually be expressed as a What-if question.
In all honesty I don't see much difference in "plot" and "situation", but let's talk about using What If as a starting point for a story. Sometimes a novel will start with a character that is so compelling, he won't stop haunting you until you tell his story. Sometimes a novel will start with a question. What if this happened, what if that happened? That initial question will invariably lead to more questions. For instance, what was the fallout? Who was affected? How did they react? All of these questions are just a variation on the theme of, and then what happened? What if is your jumping off point, and if it's compelling enough you'll jump into the story with or without a safety net.
For Bring On The Night my initial question was, what if the noir tough guy was both a girl and a vampire? Followed by the question, what if she didn't brood and fall in lurve? I went from there, asking more what ifs as the story progressed. With the short story that eventually mutated several times until it became Mojo Queen, my starting point was, what if someone chose to be possessed by an evil spirit? Mojo Queen went through quite a few incarnations but in the end that initial question could still be found as an integral part of the plot. I found myself floundering when I tried to write a follow-up, until a question occurred to me: what if a natural disaster, like a flood, created havoc on the spirit plane just like those events do in the physical world? How would ghosts and spirits react, how would that affect people, and what would it take to calm these rattled spirits down again? I've worked out answers to the first two of those questions and I’m sure I'll figure out the third one in the course of writing. I’m also sure more questions will come up.
Have you ever started a story with a what if question? Was that a successful way for you to start?
Monday, August 16, 2010
- Take a break from writing. Sometimes a new perspective will help you figure out what needs to happen next. (Hey, this is when I get my Farmville fix!)
- Do some research. Since my novels mention real spots, I've been known to visit so that I can get a renewed "feel" for the location.
- Write a different scene. Stuck at an intersection and can't decide which way to turn? Write whatever happens next and come back to it later.
- Read something. This is very similar to the "take a break" suggestion. I firmly believe no one can be a good writer without being a veracious reader. So even though you're taking break from the writing, by reading a book, you're helping yourself become a better writer. (Might I recommend Ghost Mountain?)
- Draw a card. When all else fails, I've been known to ask my characters what they want to do next. Usually this involves drawing a tarot card and seeing what that tells me. It's not a suggestion that will work for everyone, but I've had success with it.
Saturday, August 14, 2010
The group is called Write Club (tag line: Chaos. Mayhem. Books.) It's open to writers of all genres, so if you think you might be interested drop me an email at clarksonyab @ gmail.com.
Saturday, August 7, 2010
When I need a break from writing, usually the first thing I do is reach for someone else's fiction. I think it's fair to say all writers were book-loving readers first, and stay that way for life. Getting immersed in a story is always a terrific escape. Sometimes you want to completely unplug yourself from books and enjoy a good movie or television show. Sometimes the only thing that will blow the cobwebs out of your mind is to do something completely unrelated to fiction - working in a garden, going for a long drive, working on some household project. Whatever you do, it's important to know that it's okay to take the time to recharge and let your brain rest. We writers live and work in our heads so much of the time, it's easy to forget to take a vacation.
What are some of the things you do to take a break from writing? Is there a particular favorite activity that helps recharge your creative batteries?
Monday, August 2, 2010
I’ve been hearing a lot about voice lately. And, no, I’m not taking singing lessons.
One e-group I’m on shared a link designed to tell the user who they write like. Just submit some text and you have it. I must be fairly eclectic. I tried it four times with different sections of Ghost Mountain and got four different answers: Margaret Atwood, H.P. Lovecraft, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Dan Brown. Not sure what that says about my own voice. I’ve opted to take it as a positive sign that I combine the best of all of them.
Around my house, however, my voice has been sounding a bit like Robin Williams’ version of Adrian Cronauer, the military disc jokey who inspired the movie Good Morning, Vietnam. Our air conditioning is on the fritz and I’ve been quoting “It’s hot! Damn hot! Real hot!” As it happens, Mr. Cronauer and I have something else in common — I graduated from the same Department of Defense training school he did… and with similar unremarkable scores if the rumors are correct.
Another voice has found its way out of my mouth lately, and it’s one that is hard to own up to. My daughter is getting ready for her senior year of high school and I’ve found myself being possessed by the voices of my own parents. “How are those college applications coming?” “Have you been looking for scholarships?” “What do you expect to do with that major?” “You know, if you don’t keep your grades up . . .” I’m trying to avoid those voices, but they do sneak out when I’m least expecting it.
Seven. That’s seven voices—besides my own— running through my head at any given moment. Legally insane criminals often say the voice in their head made them commit their heinous acts. St. Joan of Arc claimed she heard three voices. I wonder what it means to have seven.
Maybe it just means I’m a writer. . .
Nichole Bennett is the author of Ghost Mountain, available on Amazon.com or secondwindpublishing.com