Friday, April 29, 2011

First Page Critique: contemporary YA


Thanks go out to Shelley for submitting her contemporary young adult novel, Counting Change, for a first page critique. (You can read the submission without comments in yesterday’s post.)

My mother’s mission in life is to change me. She’ll deny it, but ever since daddy’s accident, she colors the rooms of our home like Michelangelo threatened with unemployment. She wears her paint scarf wrapped tight around her curls, and dangles brushes from each hand like a gunslinger from an old movie.

CE: The first sentence is intriguing, and I’m sure many teens will identify. We get a hint of another conflict and recent changes in the phrase “since daddy’s accident.” I don’t understand how the rest of the paragraph relates, though. What does coloring the house have to do with changing the daughter? “Dangles brushes from each hand like a gunslinger from an old movie” is a great image. “Like Michelangelo threatened with unemployment” doesn’t work for me as well. I started to think about what exactly that meant—is Mom painting murals?—Plus, can she really be both Michelangelo and a gunslinger?

“Jenna and I are going back to school shopping,” I say before she can get a word out. All summer I’ve worked at Connie’s Coffee listening in on conversations. A study in human weirdness. Right now in my sock drawer I’ve a folded wad of twenties waiting to buy jeans and shoes for my first day of high school.

CE: This jumps around. What do listening in on conversations and a study in human weirdness have to do with back-to-school shopping? I feel like the author is trying to get in too much information at the beginning. I’d save the coffee shop information for later.

I grab orange juice out of the fridge, and hunt through our cupboard for a clean glass.

CE: Not much going on here. I’d cut this line or replace it with an action which is more relevant, such as trying to get away before Mom interferes.

“Wonderful! I think you’re going to love high school, Stoney. I know I did.” Mama runs her hand over my hair. “Why do you insist on cutting your hair like a boy?”

I tug on my new bangs, knowing I cut them way too short. But I don’t care. “I’m pretty sure I’m going to hate high school, Mama. Just because you liked it doesn’t mean I’m going to like it.” In fact, it’s a pretty sure bet that if she liked it, I’ll hate it.

CE: Lots of good information in these paragraphs. We get Stoney’s name (unusual! I wonder if there’s a story behind it), some of her appearance, and some personality of both characters. It’s a nice example of “showing” through dialog and specific thoughts.

I’m trying to figure out why our lives have to change so much. Why can’t we stay the same?

CE: This doesn’t logically follow from her previous thoughts. It sounded like she was used to opposing her mother, so how is that a change? This feels like a teaser line where the author is trying to let us know right away that this novel is about change. Plus, we’ve gone from feeling like we are right there in the scene to a vague time and place. Is Stoney just standing there pondering through the next couple of paragraphs?


It’s unbelievable the changes one person is required to go through in a lifetime, let alone a simple summer. I’ve written some down:

Besides the unspeakable accident, which changed everyone’s lives forever, at the top of my list is Carl Journey, ex-boyfriend and creep. Also on that list is: school, body, and environment. Mine to be exact.

CE: I could see starting with these two paragraphs, if this novel has a lot of lists or diary style elements, or if the voice includes addressing the reader a lot. It would establish the voice and start by focusing on change. It introduces a couple of interesting elements—the unspeakable accident and the creepy ex-boyfriend. The rest of the list is bland, though. I’d like something more specific, such as suddenly growing boobs or growing three inches with stretch marks like tire tracks or becoming the acne queen. Specifics are more interesting and the way she words things would give us some indication of how she sees herself and the world.

CE: I’m not sure the opening scene fits with these last two paragraphs. Either could work as the beginning, but now it jumps too much. We get so many elements that I’m not sure where the story is right now, let alone where it’s going. What is the main element of the story? Is it about the character’s relationship with her mother? Then the conversation with Mom is a great place to start. It is about how the character deals with changes, the list might be a good start.

CE: Either way, Stoney is an interesting character and the first-person voice, written as if she’s talking to the reader, works well for teen novels. Simplify your beginning so it’s a little more focused, and let other information come out over time. One interesting element and a strong voice is enough to grab the reader. You don’t need to introduce everything at once. Click on the click on the "beginnings" link to the right for more thoughts on story openings.

Thanks for sharing! I have a couple more critiques waiting. If you’d like to add yours to the queue, see the guidelines.

You can get a complete manuscript critique starting at $1.50 per page. Get details and recommendations on my website.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

First Page Critique: contemporary YA

Our first page critique offering this week comes from Shelley. This is a contemporary YA novel. Read it through today and think about how you would offer a critique. Leave feedback in the comments section if you like. Then stop by tomorrow to see what I have to say.


My mother’s mission in life is to change me. She’ll deny it, but ever since daddy’s accident, she colors the rooms of our home like Michelangelo threatened with unemployment. She wears her paint scarf wrapped tight around her curls, and dangles brushes from each hand like a gunslinger from an old movie.
 “Jenna and I are going back to school shopping,” I say before she can get a word out. All summer I’ve worked at Connie’s Coffee listening in on conversations. A study in human weirdness. Right now in my sock drawer I’ve a folded wad of twenties waiting to buy jeans and shoes for my first day of high school.
 I grab orange juice out of the fridge, and hunt through our cupboard for a clean glass.
 “Wonderful! I think you’re going to love high school, Stoney. I know I did.” Mama runs her hand over my hair. “Why do you insist on cutting your hair like a boy?”
 I tug on my new bangs, knowing I cut them way too short. But I don’t care. “I’m pretty sure I’m going to hate high school, Mama. Just because you liked it doesn’t mean I’m going to like it.” In fact, it’s a pretty sure bet that if she liked it, I’ll hate it.
 I’m trying to figure out why our lives have to change so much. Why can’t we stay the same?
 
It’s unbelievable the changes one person is required to go through in a lifetime, let alone a simple summer. I’ve written some down:
 Besides the unspeakable accident, which changed everyone’s lives forever, at the top of my list is Carl Journey, ex-boyfriend and creep. Also on that list is: school, body, and environment. Mine to be exact.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Role of Agents in Self-Publishing


Many people are astonished to hear that my agent approved and encouraged my decision to self publish Rattled, even though he thought he could sell it traditionally. Shouldn’t agents be afraid that self-publishing will put them out of business?

Not exactly. I recently interviewed several agents for an upcoming article in Children’s Writer. While some agents are still largely dismissing and ignoring the self-publishing trend, others are figuring out how they can work with self-publishing in their business.

Laura Rennert, Senior Agent at Andrea Brown Literary Agency, said, “As in the past, I help my clients weigh and understand the different publishing options available to them. Certainly, a significant piece of this equation is now to weigh the pros and cons of traditional publishing versus indie publishing, and to help the author decide which path makes the most sense for them and then to work with them to help them achieve the greatest success.”

Agents may not make a commission on an advance with self-publishing projects, but they can earn money in other ways—through a percentage of sales or by managing other aspects of the author’s career, perhaps. They can also still represent subsidiary rights, such as foreign, movie, or TV.

Jenny Bent of The Bent Agency says, “Even someone like Amanda Hocking isn’t necessarily equipped to sell their own film/TV rights, or to sell their own translation rights. There can be lots and lots of income to be gained from selling these rights, sometimes much more than the underlying book rights, and you need contacts and knowledge that you just won’t have as a non-publishing-professional to sell them.”

Amy Burkhardt of Kimberley Cameron & Associates noted that some agencies are experimenting with different business models. The first is “Agencies acting more as mini-publishers. With the expanding options for digital and self-publishing, agencies may move toward offering services to writers that they formerly received from publishers (editorial, design, marketing, PR) and utilizing the self-publishing or digital publishing programs already in existence to bring their clients books to print.”

The second option involves “Agencies acting more as talent managers. In this model, agents may move toward representing fewer clients but offering more services to each client, in terms of managing all aspects of his or her career.”

Many agents are also looking at self-published work to find new clients, with the hope of getting those authors a traditional publishing deal. I’m not suggesting that self-publishing is the best way to find an agent, since you generally have to have impressive sales numbers to attract an agent. Plus, if you’re going to have an agent at all, wouldn’t you rather have one who loves your work, and not just your sales statistics? But these interviews show that turning to self-publishing doesn’t have to be the end of an author-agent relationship. It could even be the beginning.

Rattled: an adventure in the dramatic and deadly southwestern desert. Read the first three chapters on the Kris Bock website.

Friday, April 22, 2011

First Page Critique: A Middle-Grade Paranormal


Yesterday I posted the 300-word opening of a 55,000-word middle-grade paranormal novel, submitted for critique by Ruth. If you didn't see yesterday's post, you may want to read it first to form your own opinions. But before we start, a note -- when I first read this quickly, I thought, Wow, this is great. I don't know if I'll have any comments on it. Now see what happened when I took a closer look.... (her text followed by my comments with CE at the beginning of them)

Eleanor shivered. It was spooky in the woods, and Lola seemed to have vanished without a trace. She whistled, then paused to listen. If she didn’t get back to the car soon, her mother would be furious.

CE: This puts us into a scene where things are happening and we have immediate tension, which is great. "Eleanor shivered" is good action to suggest either cold or nervousness. "It was spooky in the woods" is telling rather than showing, though. Can you give a few specific details to let us feel the spookiness? The trees loomed over her, casting deep shadows.... It's also not entirely clear here if Eleanor is whistling to call Lola, or just whistling, perhaps to ease her own anxiety. You might clarify with something like "She whistled, a short, loud call, then paused to listen." I might then add the word/sentence "Nothing." This lets us know the results of the whistling and becomes a transition to the next sentence, which otherwise seems a bit of a jump.

She was in trouble already, but it hadn’t been her fault. How could she have known that putting liquid soap in the dishwasher would cause a lemon-scented flood? As for Lola’s crime, if the neighbors didn’t want teeth marks on their umbrellas, they shouldn’t leave them lying about the foyer.

CE: I like the humor here. It stops the action for background information, so I do wonder if there's another way to bring out this information -- maybe in dialogue a little later -- but here it does give us a nice idea of Eleanor’s personality and it lets me know this book won't be too serious, at least in terms of voice.

Eleanor had apologized. She’d mopped up the suds, and she was saving her allowance to pay for the umbrellas. Still, Mom saw the incidents as proof that she needed more supervision. More structure. That was why they’d come to visit Looking Glass Falls Wilderness Adventure Camp.

CE: Again, background information. Can we leave this until Eleanor gets back to Mom, and then maybe see it as an argument? An angry mother is likely to restate Eleanor's crimes and explain the punishment, even if Eleanor already knows that. This could also be brought out in dialogue between Eleanor and a new friend at the camp.

CE: I do like the idea of a wilderness adventure camp, and Looking Glass Falls has intriguing possibilities. But you don't necessarily need to introduce this on the first page. Or you could do it in another way that is more immediate in Eleanor’s thoughts. Perhaps she thinks or mutters something like, Why did she need a wilderness adventure camp? She hated the wilderness and whenever she tried to have an adventure, she got into trouble. Or, She'd only been at this wilderness adventure camp for 20 minutes and already she had lost Lola and herself. She'd be lucky to survive a whole summer. The specifics of her thoughts will tell us something about her attitude.

Eleanor sighed. Somehow she had to convince Mom that, at eleven, she was old enough to keep herself and her dog out of trouble, and that camp was a terrible idea. But first she had to find Lola. She scanned the woods for a gray-white plume of a tail. She strained her ears for the jingle of dog tags. But all she heard was a roar, like rushing water--then, suddenly, a scream and a splash.

CE: Nice details with the gray-white plume and the jingle of dog tags. Using multiple senses helps put us in this scene. And of course a scream and a splash makes for great drama! You've hooked me now and I want to know what happens next.

Eleanor ran toward the sound. Soon she burst from the shadow of the trees into a little hollow and saw a wonderful sight: a waterfall, spilling from the top of a cliff into a pool--and Lola, vigorously shaking water from her fur.

“There you are, you rascal! Did you fall in the water?” As she threw her arms around her dog and fumbled for the leash, a sudden movement caught her eye. She looked up, squinting in the sunlight.

CE: When you mentioned a scream, I assumed that was human, not canine. Eleanor should have expected to find a person, but she immediately assumes the noises came from Lola. I wouldn't mind a bit of Eleanor’s thoughts after "Eleanor ran toward the sound." Maybe something like, "Was someone in trouble?" I'm willing to believe that she forgets about the scream after she sees Lola, but you have to show that by showing her relief, laughter, or whatever. And then she should remember the scream shortly -- though maybe she does and we just don't have that part here.

A girl was walking slowly toward the edge of the woods.

CE: There's some nice drama in this as well, though I'm not certain whether the girl is walking toward or away from Eleanor. I assume away. And is she wet? Since your submission was exactly 300 words, perhaps you cut a few details to get that line in, or maybe things get clearer in the next sentence.

CE: Overall, I thought this was an appealing submission. I like Eleanor and Lola can offer some complications and comic relief. The premise is intriguing. I would keep reading. The writing is smooth, but I would suggest watching out for places where you might summarize and work on showing instead. I know there's a lot of pressure to get everything into the first page or so, but you don't want it to feel rushed. You could leave out the two paragraphs of background information and I'd still be interested. From what I read here, I would check this book out of the library, or ask for the full submission if I were an editor. A few tweaks will make it even more appealing. Good luck!

If you'd like to participate in a free first page critique, post your submission in the comments. See yesterday's post for the complete rules. If you'd like a full novel critique, see my rates on my website.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

First Page Critiques


Several weeks ago, I posted an offer for a free first page critique. Life got extremely busy (see my post on Priorities from last Friday), but I hope to make May the month for critiques. So far I have only gotten one submission, from Ruth, but I understand at least one other person tried to post and I didn't get it. We'll start with Ruth. Anyone else who wants to participate, please paste your submission in the comments below or e-mail me through my website.

Here are the rules again:
  • To participate, become a follower of the blog, if you aren't already. (If for some reason you find it impossible to "follow" or subscribe to blogs, include a note to that effect with your submission.)
  • Post the opening of your novel, short story or picture book  in the comments -- up to 300 words.
  • Everyone who posts will get a brief critique. That's right, everyone!
  • One out of every 5 submissions will get a more thorough critique. That means the more people who play, the more critiques you'll see. So bring your friends and spread the word!
  • By posting your excerpt here, you agree to a public online critique. (Don't worry, I'll be nice as well as helpful.)
  • Please post only one excerpt.

So you can play along, here's our first submission, from a 55,000-word middle-grade paranormal:

Eleanor shivered. It was spooky in the woods, and Lola seemed to have vanished without a trace. She whistled, then paused to listen. If she didn’t get back to the car soon, her mother would be furious.

She was in trouble already, but it hadn’t been her fault. How could she have known that putting liquid soap in the dishwasher would cause a lemon-scented flood? As for Lola’s crime, if the neighbors didn’t want teeth marks on their umbrellas, they shouldn’t leave them lying about the foyer.

Eleanor had apologized. She’d mopped up the suds, and she was saving her allowance to pay for the umbrellas. Still, Mom saw the incidents as proof that she needed more supervision. More structure. That was why they’d come to visit Looking Glass Falls Wilderness Adventure Camp.

Eleanor sighed. Somehow she had to convince Mom that, at eleven, she was old enough to keep herself and her dog out of trouble, and that camp was a terrible idea. But first she had to find Lola. She scanned the woods for a gray-white plume of a tail. She strained her ears for the jingle of dog tags. But all she heard was a roar, like rushing water--then, suddenly, a scream and a splash.

Eleanor ran toward the sound. Soon she burst from the shadow of the trees into a little hollow and saw a wonderful sight: a waterfall, spilling from the top of a cliff into a pool--and Lola, vigorously shaking water from her fur.

“There you are, you rascal! Did you fall in the water?” As she threw her arms around her dog and fumbled for the leash, a sudden movement caught her eye. She looked up, squinting in the sunlight.

A girl was walking slowly toward the edge of the woods.

That's the opening 300 words! Take a few minutes to see what you think, and I'll weigh in with my comments tomorrow. You can post your comments in the comment section here, but remember to focus on constructive criticism.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

print on demand -- in bookstores

As e-books take up a larger market share, independent bookstores are finding ways to stay relevant. One option is to get the Espresso Book Machine, which allows customers to get a printed copy of a book in about five minutes.

In a PW article, New York's First Espresso Book Machine Debuts at McNally Jackson, the reporter noted that the bookseller "said that while he expected the machine to be used mostly for backlist and public domain books from Google, McNally's machine has been used more frequently as a printing press for self-published authors, who have been using it to do small runs of their books, from 20 to 300 copies, for $6 plus $.02 per page. Self-published authors are also able to place their books in Espresso's system at no extra charge, so that they are available for printing on other machines."

Watch a video of the Espresso in action.

Authors who are serious about selling their self-published books will find better prices online, but for those who want a few copies -- or for anyone who wants copies urgently, perhaps for an event -- the Espresso offers an interesting option. And of course it's also a way to keep people going to bookstores, where they can now find a greater variety of titles than what the store can keep on its shelves.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Priorities

I started a new book last week—another adult romantic suspense. I realized I hadn’t done any “real” writing in three months. I had edited two manuscripts, gotten those books through the publishing process, written blog posts and a couple of articles, taught, completed freelance critiques, done publicity, and traveled twice. But I hadn’t worked on a novel.

I didn’t really have time to start one yet, either. I needed to get the word out about my new novels, if I expected them to sell. I needed to earn some money, which meant finding jobs, proposing articles, and so forth. My to-do list had at least a couple of months worth of tasks on it.

But I am a writer, which means writing has to come first. Professionally, if I’m not writing, I’m not advancing my career. Articles can help pay the bills, but they don’t move me forward as a novelist, and there’s no point in building a publicity platform if I have nothing to sell.

Equally important, working on a novel keeps me sane. When life is stressful, cutting out the thing that keeps you sane doesn’t sound smart.

It hasn’t been easy getting back into the habit of novel writing. I tell myself I’m going to write 2000 words every morning, but so many other things demand to be put first. As of this writing, I have three presentations to give in the next eight days. I have eight freelance critiques to do plus several correspondence school lessons. I have dozens of publicity tasks, and of course all the usual e-mail and mail and chores and errands.

But I also have a new book to write. I’m a couple of chapters in so far, making progress slowly. The more I focus on the writing, the easier it gets to settle down and ignore everything else for a good stretch of time. The other work will be waiting when I’m done.

How do you prioritize your writing? Does it work? Are you satisfied with the place of writing in your life?

If you’d like a little boost, remember to post the first page of your manuscript—any work for children or adults (so long as the excerpt is family friendly), up to 250 words, as a comment on any day’s blog post.

And now, for little more of that publicity, here are the blurbs on my latest books:

The Eyes of Pharaoh, set in Egypt in 1177 BC, brings an ancient world to life. When Reya hints that Egypt is in danger from foreign nomads, Seshta and Horus don’t take him seriously. How could anyone challenge Egypt? Then Reya disappears. To save their friend, Seshta and Horus spy on merchants, soldiers, and royalty, and start to suspect even The Eyes of Pharaoh, the powerful head of the secret police. Will Seshta and Horus escape the traps set for them, rescue Reya, and stop the plot against Egypt in time?

For ages nine and up. $6.99 paperback on Amazon, $2.99 e-book. Read the first chapter.

Rattled, by Kris Bock, brings romantic suspense to the dramatic and deadly southwestern desert. Erin isn’t used to adventures-except those in books. But when she uncovers a clue to one of the greatest lost treasures ever, she and her best friend Camie head for the New Mexico desert to search for a secret cave. They’re not the only ones interested in the treasure, however, and they’ll face more dangers than Erin ever imagined, from wild animals, wilder humans, and the wilderness itself. Fortunately Erin and Camie have help, in the form of one sexy helicopter pilot and a surprising orange cat.

$7.99 paperback, $2.99 e-book. Read the first three chapters. (You’ll notice that this is written under a different name because it is for adults.)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Cover Design for Self-Publishing


As we know, people do judge a book by its cover. This has been one of the challenges of self-publishing—even someone who is an excellent writer may have no clue about cover design. A year ago, people familiar with the Kindle self-publishing revolution often noted that many self published e-books had terrible covers. (In a way, this was an advantage to the potential reader, since a bad cover often meant the author hadn’t taken the time to properly edit and proofread the text, either.) 

Now the importance of a good cover is so well known that most self-published authors hire a designer. In my recent visits to the Kindle discussion boards, I noticed that the majority of “indie” published books had covers which were reasonably well-designed and appropriate for the content. I saw a few exceptions, like a romance set in Australia where the cover was a photo of dull scenery that didn’t even look Australian, but overall, self-published authors have recognized that they need to spend time and/or money on their covers.

So is this a disadvantage of self-publishing? If you go with a traditional publisher, they’ll take care of all that kind of thing with their expert staff, and you won’t have to pay for it upfront. That’s better, right?

Well, it’s easier, but you are also at the mercy of the design department. I know a lot of wonderful art directors, and they work hard and take their work seriously, but that doesn’t mean every cover released is brilliant. They face a lot of pressure from the chain bookstore reps—if the Barnes & Noble buyer says he doesn’t like a cover, typically that cover isn’t used. But of course, the buyer hasn’t actually read the book. Quite possibly the design department hasn’t either.

I have a friend with a new novel coming out, and the cover is beautiful—except that it makes the book look like a romance novel, which it isn’t. When the author pointed out that all of her friends and students thought the cover looked like a romance, the editor dismissed her concerns—the marketing department loved it! Maybe that cover will sell the book, and maybe readers will love the story... but maybe they’ll be disappointed and feel cheated because it wasn’t what they were expecting.

Barry Eisler, who recently made news by turning down a half-million dollar traditional publishing deal in order to self publish, posted complaints about a horrible cover one of his publishers used, then offered an intelligent guideline for brainstorming cover ideas (scroll down about halfway through the article for his complete advice). Here are some of his tips for designing a good cover, directed at the publisher’s design department:

“You need to start by asking yourself what *you* liked about the book. Why did you buy the publishing rights? What about the book made it special to you? Why are you excited about it, what moved you, what do you talk about when you talk about the book? If you like, you can approach this step instead by trying to articulate to a imaginary customer why he or she would like the book, find it exciting and satisfying, etc.

“Next, once you’ve articulated these things and refined them, list them, in order of importance.

“Third, try to identify imagery that suggests these things. You can do this yourself, or through a design firm to whom you’ve conveyed the list above (but don’t outsource the creation of the list itself. You might wind up with… well, with a picture of an olive-hued garage door). The imagery you or the designer selects will form the basis for the cover.

“Finally, pressure check the proposed cover by asking the question I mention above…”

If you decide to self-publish, it’s worth hiring a professional designer. For many cover types you may get away with inexpensive stock photography, and you should be able to find a capable designer for $200 or $300. Some genres are more challenging, such as fantasy, science fiction, and historical fiction, where you most likely won’t be able to just use photos. Some fabulous artists do work for around $500, and you might be able to find someone who is less expensive because they are just starting out. But make sure you go with a professional, and make sure you understand what you’re getting—complete cover design, or just illustration?

I hired painter/illustrator/graphic designer Lois Bradley to do my covers for Rattled and The Eyes of Pharaoh. I have an art background (BFA in photography from the Rhode Island School of Design), and my husband is a graphic designer. Between us, we had a pretty good grasp of things, but I also did market research with my critique group and by posting different cover designs on Facebook and asking for feedback. We considered every aspect of the design, from the background color and texture to the font type, size and placement to the appearance of the character.

For Rattled, I chose to go with something different from most romantic suspense novels, because I didn’t like the traditionally published examples I was finding (mostly naked torsos with a color wash turning everything a murky blue, red, or purple). This is a gamble, since readers familiar with the genre might not immediately recognize that this book is a romantic suspense, but on the other hand, my title might stand out against all those bland copycats. Also, because my book is heavy on the action and light on the sex, I think my cover gives a better suggestion of the content.

Cover design: just one of the many aspects of self publishing an author has to consider. With self-publishing, you get control, which is both a burden and a freedom. Whether or not you are considering this journey for yourself, you might find it interesting to start studying covers more closely. Which covers do you like best, and why? Which do you like least, and why? What promises do the cover make about the book? Does the book fulfill those promises? How might you have done things differently?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

What can publishing learn from the music industry?

In this long conversation between Joe Konrath, the torchbearer for self-publishing, and Barry Eisler, an author of bestselling thrillers who has decided to give up traditional publishing for self-publishing, they make an interesting comparison between the music industry and book publishing. Not just that both are suffering because of digital media, but rather that the music industry spent its time and money fighting against piracy instead of building a digital distribution system, allowing Apple—a computer company—to take over music delivery. 
Joe says, “Simon and Schuster or Random House should have invented the ereader. They should have been selling ebooks from their websites a decade ago. Instead, an online bookseller, Amazon, is leading the revolution.”
Barry Eisler responded, “If you think about it, for years publishers have been steadily outsourcing their core business functions. Culling the slush pile went to agents long ago. A lot of editorial devolved to agents, too. Marketing has increasingly become the responsibility of writers, who are expected to blog and be social media demons. I think publishers felt comfortable outsourcing all these functions because they felt the lock they had on their core function—distribution—made their overall position impregnable.
“The problem is, they’ve lost that lock, and they’ve already outsourced so many of their other functions that it’s getting hard for them to offer a writer a coherent value proposition. For now, they have enough cash to offer advances, which most authors will need to live for the same reason most people need a mortgage to buy a house. But even that advantage is being eroded by digital, because with digital, you publish right away and start earning right away.”
Are publishers becoming obsolete? I don’t expect traditional publishing to go away anytime sound. But in this changing climate, authors—even those who are traditionally published—have many new incentives for turning to self-publishing.
According to Mark Coker in the Huffington Post, “More and more talented writers—including authors previously published by the Big 6—are losing faith in the old system of publishing.”
He lists as reasons:
  • Advances are declining
  • Publishers reluctant to take chances on authors without established platforms
  • Most print books forced out of print before they’ve had a chance to reach readers
  • Authors expected to shoulder most post-publication marketing on their own dime
  • Lost and mismanaged rights
  • Brick and mortar retail distribution disappearing
  • Publishers value books through myopic prism of perceived commercial potential (publisher death panels)
  • Publishers acquire today what was hot yesterday so they can publish it 12-18 months from tomorrow
  • Publishers over-price and under-distribute author works
  • Publisher ebook royalties 17% list (25% net) vs 60-70% list (85-100% net) for self-publishing
So what does the future hold? Do traditional publishers need to change their ways? Or will the self-publishing revolution fade away as most “indie” authors fail to sell well?

Friday, April 1, 2011

Get to the Point


Last week I talked about the importance of balancing action and dialogue, using advice from some of Hollywood's best scriptwriters. Be careful about including too much description as well—too much of any one thing, really. Above all, screenwriters know the value of editing—and so should you. Studios expect scripts to be within a certain length, generally 90 to 120 pages. Although some movies today run longer than that, any writer who turns in a 300-page script looks like an amateur. Novelists don’t always have such stringent requirements, but there’s still a valuable lesson here.

“You should always be moving on to the next story point,” Liar, Liar writer Paul Guay says, “so you have almost no time to indulge in character flourishes or slow moments. If something is off-topic it has to go. Screenwriting teaches you to be ruthless.”

Sweet Home Alabama writer Doug  Eboch says, “I’ll go back through every line and look for lazy writing, dialogue or description that doesn’t advance the character or plot, and see if there’s a better way to do that.”

As for description, keep it short. “A little detail is good in the beginning,” David Steinberg, author of Slackers, claims, “but readers don’t care what things look like on Page 3, let alone on Page 50. Use description sparingly, and only if it’s really relevant.”

Novelists who focus on action over description are a step closer to making their books page-turners. However, you must remember that you don’t have the luxury of visual aids, as screenwriters do. Make up for the lack of visuals by appealing to all five senses. Just keep the story moving, and use short descriptions to advance the plot, not distract from it.

Novelists have some advantages over screenwriters. Don Hewitt, who adapter Spirited Away with his wife, says, “You’re so sparse when writing a screenplay, but a novel’s fun because you’re able to explain the emotions more clearly, and you can use any voice. You have the freedom that you don’t have in a screenplay.”

Take advantage of that freedom in your manuscripts. But also consider what you can learn from the movie world. Open big, increase the drama in each scene, balance action and dialogue and edit ruthlessly. The resulting story will be stronger and provide imagery on par with the visuals modern audiences are used to seeing in movies. Who knows? It may even increase the chances of your book being made into a movie. Now pass the popcorn.