All right, folkingtons – it’s available! Whether you’re an Amazon Canada customer…
I have spoken once or twice about writing my merry little novel marathons. (Hey! The next one is coming up in August! You can support me here!)
Last year, I went in with an idea of some bad things that could happen, and a couple of disturbing images in my head. By the end of the weekend I had the awful little novella you see here.
I’ve never written horror before – I’m not even much of a horror reader. I even got slightly uneasy making the fake blood you can see on the cover. But I like the book, and I hope others will like it too.
- On Kobo
- On Amazon
- On Barnes and Noble, Apple iBookstore, And whatever other purveyor of fine e-books you tend to shop at. (If you don’t find it at your favourite ebookstore, let me know so I can get it up there!)
Oh, and by the way, if you sponsored me for the Toronto Novel Marathon in the past, I will gladly send you a copy of The Taste absolutely free. Just contact me and I’ll get you a copy in the format of your choosing.
It turns out that handwriting engages your brain in different ways from typing:
The benefits of handwriting — though it’s a disappearing skill — have been documented by lots of educational psychologists, who have found that handwriting engages parts of the brain that typing neglects, especially areas associated with memory formation. For these reasons, the arguments go, kids come up with more ideas when they’re writing in cursive versus typing.
But I knew this already.
When I was first thinking about writing novels, I made a lot of false starts. This was in the late nineties and early oughts; at that time, there was no wifi, and e-mail wasn’t something you had all the time–if you wanted to take a file off one computer and put it on another, you put it on a floppy disk and used the walknet to transfer it–that is, you carried it from one place to another. I didn’t get a USB drive until 2006. I didn’t even have high-speed internet till the end of 2000.
But I started having ideas for novels, so I would sit down at the laptop (if I had one at the time) or desktop, and started to write.
I quickly learned that the keyboard and screen were not a source of creativity; everything was a false start. Usually I couldn’t get more than a paragraph written, and never more than a page.
I found a similar effect when I was working, as a technical writer at the time. I could write user manuals and technical documents just fine, but if I had to figure out the structure, or put together an outline, I reached for pen and paper, and put it together there first.
So when an idea for a novel hit me hard, I bought a notebook and tried writing it there. And it worked. I finished the (short, very poor) novel. After that, I was clear: creative writing was to be done by hand; non-creative work could be done on a keyboard.
That’s what I did from then on. I wrote my first published book, L.M.F., entirely longhand. I even started a novel for NaNoWriMo on the keyboard, stalled, and then went on to finish it longhand. The sequel as well. And two other novels since.
There were a couple of real advantages to writing this way. One was the security of it: the notebooks wouldn’t get corrupted, wouldn’t get obsolete. I’d never open an outdated file and work on it. I was forced to write at least somewhat procedurally: I couldn’t jump from scene to scene (not that I like to write that way anyhow).
And one of the extra tasks in writing the first draft longhand was to retype the book once it was finished; that turned out to be a positive, not a negative. It forced me to give a very close read-through and light edit along the way. This was a good way to identify contradictions and inconsistencies, as well as find poorly-written sentences.
One interesting effect I found in retyping: I would start typing a handwritten sentence, and halfway through discover some kind of flaw in the way I had executed it. I would start to change it… and then by the end of the sentence would realize that I had been right the first time. Sometimes it was a little linguistic twist, sometimes it was a way to bring in some idea I wanted to connect up. But I was surprised how my writing would take me in one direction, and then land somewhere I didn’t expect.
Then two things changed: I started outlining, and I had an idea.
They started at the same time. I bought myself an Android tablet, one of the Asus Transformers. The tablet had a detachable keyboard which was actually a joy to type on despite its slightly smaller size, and was very easy to carry around–that is, out of the office and down to the coffee shop without people noticing. A few days after I got the tablet, I landed on an idea.
A book had never thrown itself open to me in this way before. It was a science fiction book–a genre I hadn’t read much in the preceding 15 years, and had never written–and the idea quickly became an outline that spilled out in a torrent.
I finished the 9,000-word outline in two days. I started writing immediately–on the tablet. I wrote it in five months. My previous record for finishing a novel was closer to a year and a half.
I noticed something else, too: I wrote much, much faster on the keyboard. Part of that was the outline, surely; I wasn’t sitting and trying to think of what came next. But longhand, I would write at most three 175-word pages in an hour. On the tablet, I averaged about 1200 words, and in more productive sessions, I could top 1500 without straining myself.
But I noticed another thing: I wasn’t as interesting a writer. Granted, it was genre fiction, but in re-reading the stuff I wrote, I found that my writing wasn’t as coloured as it could have been; I was missing opportunities. The writing was functional, but lacked energy.
It’s taken time to get used to the keyboard. But over time, I’ve modified my writing style to better handle the words through my fingertips rather than the nib of a pen. Still, when I really want my writing to count, my first draft is often a handwritten draft.
Your tools are important; the medium might not be the message but it inevitably shapes the message. And my creativity is best captured with ink and paper. That’s laughable to some, abhorrent to some, but next time you’re stuck, give it a try. As it was for me, it might be a way to open up something new.
* Check out Kaarina’s site, OnPoint Writing and Editing!
In editing work – my own and others’ – I often come across scenes that feel rushed. The action swings by so quickly that we don’t feel like it really happened; instead we have an uncomfortable feeling that we have missed something.
When I feel that a scene is rushed, I find that it’s usually because I haven’t grounded it in the real world enough. This isn’t just a matter of adding description; it’s writing the scene so that it is experienced from the given point of view.
So what do I do?
Eliminate Reported Dialogue
First, I look for reported dialogue, where the narrator summarizes what a character said. The characters need to say their words; readers can sense when you’ve taken a shortcut.
Of course, we also don’t want reams and reams of uninteresting dialogue in the scene, right? If that’s your worry, though, then why did the narrator have to report that something was said?
So our options here are to remove the reported dialogue completely, or find a way to make it into interesting dialogue that’s actually on the page.
Use the Senses
One of the most easily missed opportunities in enhancing a scene is looking for ways to bring in the senses of your characters – especially senses other than sight.
That doesn’t mean the point of view character needs to touch and smell everything in the room; it’s a matter of being aware of the environment the character inhabits. Is the air dry, moist, warm, cool? Is there any background noise? (We are very rarely in a completely silent environment.) What is the light like? Is there an unfamiliar smell?
Put yourself in the point of view, and describe that experience.
Inhabit the Point of View
The sensory descriptions are a good start; but to really make a scene feel right, the narration needs to truly inhabit the scene.
This can be hard work, but I find it gives the biggest payoff for readers. It goes deeper than just sensory description, too; you need to not only feel what the POV character feels, but think what the POV character thinks.
Imagine your character walks into a study in a stately home. What does she notice? If she’s a bookish character, she would scan the volumes on the shelves to see if there’s anything interesting. If he’s the son of the owner of the study, he might look at the desk–what was dad working on? If she’s trying to find the dead study owner’s will, she’ll be on the lookout for hidey-holes and secret spaces in the furniture. If he’s the study owner’s mortal enemy, he might notice–disgusting!–the elephant’s foot wastebasket and stuffed tiger head on the wall.
It’s not a matter of describing everything in the room; it’s a matter of making choices about what’s worth describing, and making those choices based on the character whose eyes are actually viewing the scene.
Scenes seem rushed not because they’re short, and not because things happen too fast; they seem rushed when the scene doesn’t have enough relevance for the reader. Look for ways to truly inhabit the scene, and it will be not faster, not slower, but right.
Finding time and energy to write can be difficult enough. If you’re going to add a step to the creative process–one that itself has some disadvantages, as I discussed last week–you’re going to need to get some serious benefits from it.
But in this case, outlining has a ton of things going for it, and some of them directly counteract the effects of the disadvantages. A good outline makes a better book, and makes it easier to get the damn thing written. An outline is a good deal all around.
The number one advantage of an outline is that it is the number one way to defeat writer’s block. Now, I’m one of those who refuses to buy that writer’s block even exists; it’s a convenient excuse, and one that I’ve readily used myself in the past. But when your writing is stalled, I think it’s a sign not that you’re blocked, but that you need to do more thinking.
And that is exactly what the outline forces you to do: get your thinking out of the way early on. You have already gone through the process of figuring out who does what, and when, and why. You’ve already got those scenes mapped out, to some level. And by separating the thinking from the writing means that instead of getting blocked, you can get to the fun part of making the scenes come alive.
But an outline can do even better than this. You have probably had the experience of sitting down to write, and watching the cursor blink for a few minutes before you really get down to the business of making another cup of tea. And maybe petting the cat for a while, and doing some dishes, and painting the porch.
What I’m saying is that writing is often a matter of momentum. When you sit down, it can be really hard to get back into the scene, and to remember what the next paragraph, the next line, the next word was going to be. Each time you return to your manuscript, you’re resetting your mind completely.
An outline gets you past that. It was written by you, as a guide to writing the book; it’s probably the best possible way to get your mind back into the groove. I found that my writing speed picked up immensely without having to wait for the right idea to reintroduce itself to my frontal lobes.
I’m not the only one, either. An outline is the number one piece of advice from SFF Rachel Aaron, who created a sensation a while ago with her blog post (and later e-book) about going from 2,000 to 10,000 words a day. Read it, and check out her e-book as well. If you’re struggling to increase your output, you’ll definitely want to take a look at her advice.
So outlining helps with the day-to-day task of putting words on the page. But it is also, of course, a big picture tool. How many times have you found yourself halfway through a novel, wishing you’d taken just a slightly different approach to that character? How many times have you had to go back and shoehorn a brand new scene into an already completed part of the book?
If you’re outlining, it’s easy to do those things: you go back to the earlier part of the outline and change it. Add a chapter, add six chapters, move things all around if you like. And if you discover that you could add something awesome but that would need wholesale changes throughout the manuscript, you can do that too.
So the outline has a lot going for it: it can make you a better writer in many, many ways. However, as we’ve discussed before, an outline can also have its disadvantages. So next time I’ll tell you the secret to outlining, the thing that made me the outliner I am today: finding your outlining level.
Cross-posted from the Calamus Communications blog.
E-book redistributors (start here if you’re not familiar with the term) make a compelling case for independent authors: they are an easy and cheap way to get your e-books up on multiple platforms, which can mean higher sales and visibility. There are plenty of other advantages, too. But it’s not all good news.
The main problem with any one-size-fits-all solution is that the size may not fit everyone exactly right, or in exactly the same way. This is definitely the case when you publish an e-book once to get it on a multitude of different sites.
All of the e-book sales platforms require mostly the same basic information about the book, which is why these redistributors work at all. But they also might use this information differently. For example, Amazon allows only seven keywords, and in some cases they have specific uses (for example, the keywords might determine which sub-categories a book goes into).
And some authors have found ways to supercharge their Amazon keywords too – ways that might cause issues on other sites. You want to maximize your sales on all the different sites where your books are sold. For the ease of publishing on multiple sites at once, you could be trading away significant royalty dollars in return.
Another problem is the follow-on sales from e-books. One tried and true means of boosting sales is to include links to other books in the same series or by the same author at the end of every book. If a reader just finished your book and is desperate to read another one, putting a link right there in the e-book might lead to a second sale.
But using a redistributor means that you can’t add those links in. You’ll only be able to put the links in for one site at a time, and some sites, if not all of them, will simply delete links to their competitors’ sites. (Why would Kobo want you to go to Amazon to buy the next in the series?)
Another trade-off is control. You can’t tweak your book to look its very best on every device; all your content has to be at the lowest common denominator among the different sales platforms. And to make sure that your images and content look right, you’ll have to publish the book, and then test it out on each platform or device separately.
It’s always the same story: the trade-off between convenience and perfection. If you’re just starting out with e-books, and you aren’t doing anything complicated with them, you might be fine with the redistributor approach. But you also need to think about what the convenience is costing you, not just in their commission, but in potential sales as well.
In the last post in this series, we’ll look at some of the redistributors who are out there – and recommend our favourite!
So I’ve already admitted to being a planner, not a pantser myself. But even if you’ve never written with an outline before, you have probably wondered about it. You might have read an article on it or heard a talk from a successful author about it. Lots of authors swear by the technique. Why don’t you?
For myself, some of my first few attempts at writing novels started with an outline. Sometimes the outline was a point-by-point breakdown of the plot of the novel; sometimes it was just a couple of paragraphs explaining what would happen in the novel, and when, and why.
These novels never got written – and in many cases never even got started.
In my experience, and for many other writers I’ve discussed this with, this is the primary drawback to writing with an outline. They rob you of momentum. They steal the magic from the process of writing.
And you can even lose that momentum halfway through writing the plan for a novel. By the two-thirds point, you hit the wall and there’s no coming back. You don’t care about the characters any more, you don’t care about the ending, you just want out. And you file that outline away, and never look at it again.
Sometimes, though, you’ll actually finish an outline, and maybe even draft the book from the outline. It might be a short story or a novella, and maybe you did it for an event like a novel marathon or NaNoWriMo. But the book lacks something; it’s too rigid, too mechanical.
I know a novelist of some fame who is an avid outliner; he writes extremely detailed breakdowns of each part of the novel, to the point where every single scene is described in detail before the first draft starts.
I’ll confess that I don’t like his novels. For me, they are clockwork novels; everything is so formally constructed that the twists and turns aren’t interesting and the big reveals are always telegraphed. It feels like a slog to get through the books. I like the author very much, but his books leave me a bit cold.
His novels strike me as the product of too much planning and outlining. And that’s the second major problem with outlines: sometimes the novel feels like it was built to serve the outline, not the other way round.
So these are what I see as the major drawbacks to writing outlines. We can all agree that a non-fiction book needs an outline – especially publishers, who don’t offer a contract without reading an outline first. With fiction, there needs to be a little bit of the unknown, a little bit of magic – a little bit of art – in the books you write.
And if an outline dims that spark of magic, you’re better off writing without one.
Although there are many advantages to writing with an outline. We’ll talk about those next.
Cross-posted from the Calamus Communications blog.
Last time I talked about what e-book redistributors are: services that allow you to submit your e-book once, and then automatically publish it to a number of the biggest sales platforms. For an e-book author or publisher, this confers a number of huge advantages.
The biggest plus is that it increases your reach. One of the keys to higher e-book sales is making them available in as many places as possible, therefore putting them in front of as many customers as possible.
To do this one by one, and figure out the intricacies of each separate platform, would be extremely time-consuming. But by using a redistributor you can have your book published in six different places, almost instantaneously.
It also allows you to manage your published e-books better. What happens when you’ve got an e-book live and on sale in six different places, and you find a typo in the first sentence? If you published it on each platform individually, you would have to create a new version of the e-book and then upload it separately six times. You might even have to work with multiple versions in different formats. That’s a lot of work.
If you are using a redistributor, you change it in one place, and it gets published to all the different places automatically. No need to go to multiple places – and you won’t forget to update one of the sites either.
Sales tracking and payments are much easier too. You can see how books are doing on all the different platforms at once, and at the end of the month you have one set of royalties, not six or seven.
So there are plenty of advantages to using an e-book redistributor, and they are typically well worth the money you’ll pay in commission. The ease of publishing alone makes them worth considering as a writer.
Are they perfect? No, of course not: there are a few disadvantages as well. But we’ll deal with those in the next post.
The argument about whether you should outline your work before you write it or not has almost become a religious war. Both sides are utterly convinced of their correctness, and both sides are in fact correct.
Creative writing is difficult enough without deciding in advance what will work or not work for you. There’s no magic bullet, nothing that will get your book written except writing words, nothing that will get your books to improve except editing and learning and writing more. Those are the only absolutes.
However, the argument about outlining has become so polarized that it’s worth considering whether either side is completely right. In fact, up to a few manuscripts ago, I was not an outliner in any serious way.
I had a rough outline for my novel L.M.F. that was about twenty lines long – I listed where each chapter took place and what major incident took place there. And that one had a fragmented timeline, with two timelines presented in parallel, and the earlier one ending at the point where the later one began. It was complicated enough, and I was new enough to novel-writing, that I needed a rough guide.
But for the novels after L.M.F., I didn’t even put that much thought into what would happen. I would sometimes make some notes when I was done about what would happen in the next scene, or in the rest of the current scene, when I was finishing my writing session and putting the pen down. Otherwise, I relied on the novel’s premise and my own understanding of my characters to figure out how to push the story forward.
The first change, for me, was when I embarked on a novel that had four different points of view. (Not published yet – but someday.) With four interlocking stories, I had to make sure I was balancing them well enough; was Stan in too much, or Zsolt in too little? When did I need to have this crisis, or that one? It took a bit of care and planning, and an outline was absolutely crucial. I ended up making a few handwritten pages of notes in the back of a notebook to get that one done.
Around the same time I was struck with an idea for a science fiction novel. (Not published yet – but someday.) The concept, the characters, and the entire story hit me all at once. I sat down and over two days completed a 9,000-word outline for the book. I started working on it right away, and in five months, writing only on lunch hours and coffee breaks, I had finished the 90,000-word manuscript.
That was the point where I became an outliner, for every book I wrote. I even plot out the general points of a story when I’m writing a shorter piece. But everything has its own document somewhere in Google Docs or Evernote that I can open up, skim through, and figure out what happens next.
So in the religious war, you can put me on the side of the outliners. But I’m still agnostic enough to accept that it might not work for everyone. So if you’re an outliner, what drawbacks do you have to keep in mind as you work? If you’re not, should you consider doing it?
Next time: the problems with writing an outline – all the reasons you haven’t done it before.
Cross-posted from the Calamus Communication blog.
If you’re considering publishing your work as an e-book, you’ve probably encountered the bewildering number of platforms out there. Amazon, Kobo, Apple iBooks, Google Play, Barnes and Noble — all of these sales platforms are worth considering to sell your book.
Just putting the books on one platform is daunting enough; dealing with the many intricate details of this vast array of platforms and getting your book on all of them seems like an impossible task. How do authors do it without taking on e-book publishing as a full-time job?
The answer is e-book redistribution services. These are web-based companies that don’t necessarily worry about selling your books directly to consumers; they’re more interested in publishing books on your behalf on other e-book platforms, and taking a commission on each sale you make.
How do they work?
Publishing a book through a redistributor is not much different from publishing on any e-book platform. You enter the details about your book (like the author, title, blurb, and keywords); you upload a manuscript and cover; and you send it for publication.
The difference is that you do this once, and the redistributor does the work of repeating those actions for every different platform they support. They’ll reuse the book details and put them in the right place; they’ll convert the manuscript (usually from Word or HTML) to whatever format each platform requires; and they’ll jump through all the hoops needed to publish the book. You publish once, they publish a half-dozen times. Pretty efficient!
What does it cost?
Typically, the fees are far from exorbitant. There are no upfront fees, so if your book doesn’t sell (or if the platform rejects it for some reason), you don’t lose anything. And on each sale, the redistributor tends to take about 5% of the royalties. For Amazon, where you’re getting just over $2 for a $2.99 e-book sale, that comes out to only a dime. That’s not such a bad deal.
It takes a little longer for your sales to show up – the platform reports them to the redistributor reports them to you, which delays the process sometimes. And the redistributor typically collects the royalties together for all of the platforms and provides them a month or so after they receive them, which means you get a nice lump sum from all your sales at once, but it might come a little later than if those sales were made directly on the platform.
Are they worth considering?
Given the small slice that the redistributors take in commissions, their efficiency and effectiveness are amazing, and any e-book author should consider using the services. However, there are drawbacks as well. In the next posts we’ll look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of using e-book distributors, as well as review the services that are currently on the market.