There’s nothing that beats the good old American entrepreneurial spirit and self-publishing fits well into that category. After all, to self-publish is to take on a small business. In reality, to publish any book other than a New York Times best seller is to take on a small business, when you get down to it. The difference is that with self-publishing, you pay for everything. You have no backing whatsoever. The entire onus is on you, from writing the book to the editing, marketing, distributing, and every other little nuance. With a small publisher, a good bit of that is on you as well, but not everything.
Self-publishing came to mind the other day when my friend, a self-published and quite successful author, Deborah Dorchak posted an article about Barnes & Noble. The article headlined the fact that B&N will start selling and featuring self-published books from those authors. Woohoo! Big news! Oh, but wait a minute…
For those of you that saw that headline, maybe on another forum, or on a news site somewhere, how many of you actually read the article?
You may have noticed that my title says “rears its head” instead of “rears its ugly head” because I don’t find self-publishing ugly. I just find that this avenue is not for me. I have neither the time, money nor the principle to follow that path. However, some do and I have nothing against that. The thing I need to bring up here is that though the article headline sounds like a big deal, for those of you that didn’t read it all the way through, there are some details you might have missed.
B&N is ramping up to put a dent in Amazon with the self-publishing crowd. However, the devil seems to be in the details right now. The one that stood out to me, and seems to be an issue and might be for new authors is that to get your book in their stores, you have to meet certain sales goals first. Uh oh…I saw numbers of 1,000 and 500 before they’ll talk to you. If you’re starting out, you have to find some way to prove to them you have these numbers. In other words, you can’t just put out your book and go right to your local store and expect them to display your book! Last night at the writer’s group, one of the members who read a version of the article said the sales figures specify you have to have sales of 500 in Nook, which is the Barnes & Noble version of the e-reader. In that regard, they would have a way to track your sales figures even if you can’t (at least I’ve never been able to figure them out yet).
Another issue someone mentioned in the comments section of the version I read, and to which I can attest to as fact. B&N already represents self-published books in their stores! Our very own Deborah Dorchak & Wendi Kelly’s shape changer series is on the shelves. In fact, that’s where I bought their first book. I did not buy it from Deborah directly at one of our writer’s group meetings. I bought it in the store. Folks, they’ve been quietly selling self-published books all along, at least to some degree, especially from local authors.
A VIABLE OPTION FOR SOME
I, personally, will never self-publish. Okay, I take that back. I’ve been self-publishing all along on the Let’s Talk Nevada web site. That’s where you’ll find my autobiography, or to be more sophisticated or if you want…or snooty, my memoir! Yup, I’ve been self-publishing it there since 2014. No overhead, nobody telling me what to do, of course, no money coming in and no sales figures. I’m doing it for free. I can say one thing, I have no money in my pocket, but I also don’t have a garage full of books, haven’t spent anything but a bit of time writing those articles, and had a great time doing so. In that regard, I’ve been self-publishing for several years and have a legacy on line. I’ve never spent a dime on it.
Using the example of a success story, Deborah Dorchak and her partner, Wendi Kelly succeeded because they’re relentless marketers. On the other hand, I know so many self-published authors that have ended up with a garage full of books because they have no clue how to market their book, or are unwilling to get out in the trenches and sell them.
You have to have the entrepreneurial spirit to pull this off. Even if you’re conventionally published, you have to do this.
Time will tell if this Barnes & Noble feature works out for the self-publishing crowd…or even the small publisher crowd. We’ll see.
Whichever path you choose, the best of luck!
So often when I go to the bookstore, I’ll be browsing the shelves and see a book title followed by the cliché, “A novel.”
The book is sitting on the novel shelf, it’s more than a few hundred pages, it’s obviously fiction and not poetry. I think people can figure it out. Not only that, but the people in the store placed it in the fiction area. I’m sure they have plenty of other clues to know where to place it, like in their on-line image/inventory…whatever.
I never could understand that extra little marketing nudge, that extra stating-of-the-obvious.
MOST COMMON CHOICE
Though not for everyone, the majority of writers I run across are out to write a novel. We have plenty of memoir writers, a fair bunch that are into short stories, a few poets and some that are undecided. However, the majority are in for the long haul, to write a (or many) novels. Some have already completed several. I’m dabbling with number twelve and have started thirteen and fourteen, two starts that have been put on the back burner for quite a while now.
Why are novels in the majority?
To me, it’s the ability to really flesh out a story, to go into a vision for the long haul. While other forms can be satisfying, it’s the novel that gives me the most bang for my buck, and of course, I don’t necessarily mean that in a monetary way, and as of right now, that still isn’t much of a factor!
One big reason for writing novels is simple. Go to the bookstore. What do you see on the shelves?
I rest my case.
As I mentioned in the first section, the novel is where you, the writer, get to flesh out your story, get to go into detail, get to explore the world you create. Where in a short story, whatever form it takes, you’re limited with every detail, in a novel, you have room to stretch, to complicate things, to add more details.
Back to the first point I made here, novels are also where all the money is.
Something else to think about. Not every story can be told in so few words.
LITERARY OR GENRE?
This is the age-old question every writer faces when they start out. Some never quite figure it out until their work is finished and they show it to others. It may be someone else that tells them what they end up with.
I prefer, and highly recommend, that you, the writer, know what you’re doing before you start. I say this so you have a specific focus. It just saves time and energy in the long run. Then again, this is no absolute.
On the other hand, what’s wrong with just writing whatever comes out of your head to see what you end up with? Well…this unfocused and unplanned approach may create something new and unique, but it also may create a mess that you cannot end up using in the long run. I’ve seen these experiments far more often than not. Most of the time, these writers have had to start over again from scratch with a new and more focused approach. While they earned plenty of experience writing, they also spent a good bit of time and energy accomplishing nothing they could use.
The majority of writers have some idea ahead of time what they are interested in writing.
In my case, I always knew I wanted to be a genre writer because that’s what I liked to read. I had no interest in literary reading or writing. For my first stab at novel writing, I chose science fiction/thriller. True, it was a mishmash of genres. However, it fit in with what I was reading at the time (which was that exact mishmash). When I actually finished it, knew I could do it, I found my muse. Though I might’ve taken that story, tweaked it and used it (in this case, severely tweaked it), I ended up shelving it and moving on to another project. If things had turned out different, I could just as easily have gone back and hashed The Cave out and maybe perfected it. In the end, I was more interested in other genres. The Cave proved to myself that I could write a novel. It opened the door.
I chose genre.
Are you the literary type? Are you the people versus plot driven type? I’ll tell you that when you look at the book section in most of the popular magazines, you’ll find the majority of books represented are literary. Genre fiction is looked down upon as trash, or at best, “summer beach reads,” not to be taken “seriously.” Therefore, when you do happen to see genre fiction in the popular magazines, it’s only by the top tier authors and only once in a while at best.
Literary might be the way to go for some of you.
On the other hand, there are a lot of people that write genre fiction.
HOW DO YOU EXPECT TO GET PUBLISHED?
Hah! Not to be a big dent in your expectations, but that’s the million dollar question. This applies to every written form. The agent/publisher search is all part of the game, the never-ending search, the albatross on every writer’s shoulder.
It’s usually a bit easier for short story writers. Why? Because of contests, writer’s groups and knowing people. There are more opportunities to slip a short story into an anthology somewhere, somehow, than to get someone (a publisher) to invest in an entire novel without you footing the bill. It’s simple numbers.
Therefore, though you’d like to just sit back and write and let the world find you, you’re going to end up spending half your time writing, and the “bigger half” of your time trying to get the damn thing published! Oh, let’s not forget, if you do manage to get your novel published, you’ll have to spend a much bigger half, more than the other two halves combined marketing the thing!
Oh, but that’s another story!
I’ve never got poetry. It’s one of those things that just leaves me flat. Unless the words are dirty or funny (as in song lyrics), my eyes glaze over after a few words or lines. However, that’s just me. The same goes for quotes. Oftentimes, I read thrillers that start with some obscure quote from so-and-so. If I read the entire quote, I usually end up scratching my head, and go “whaaa?”
That’s the same feeling I get off poetry. It just doesn’t sink in.
Then again, I can’t help it. It’s the power of words, but that magic only works on some people. Only some people get it.
Thought there is a market for poetry, poetry is a tough sell. I’ve been to a lot of writer’s conferences as those of you who have been with me for a while know. I have plenty of experience and anecdotal evidence to back this up. I’ve witnessed up-and-coming…aspiring poets attempting to pitch their poetry to agents, only to more often than not, get a cringe, or a polite no.
Poetry is a niche market, like icky bug (horror). It’s another one of those bastard children of the publishing industry. There are people that love it, but the big five usually don’t think it’s “marketable enough” for mass sales.
In the case of icky bug, which if it’s lucky enough to make it into stores at all, is usually mixed in with general fiction. Poetry is more widespread, though like icky bug, I think it too, is mixed in with fiction, though I may be wrong. What I do know is that you’re more likely to find it on the shelf. You’re also more likely to get published in a collection with other poets, or, as part of one of those (cringe) contests. Now, if you have enough pull, you may rate a full-fledged stand-alone book.
Without going into detail (which would really show my ignorance), I can say poetry comes in many forms. Some of them are (thanks Wikipedia):
Sonnet: From the middle ages which are complex in structure.
Shi: From classical Chinese. Rhyming is obligatory.
Villanelle: Made of nineteen lines, five triplets with a closing quatrain.
Tanka: A Japanese unrhymed poem with five sections totaling 31 units in a 5-7-5-7-7-7 pattern (yeah, I’m scratching my head at that one, too).
Haiku: A Japanese unrhymed poem with three sections totaling 17 units in a 5-7-5 pattern.
Ode: From ancient Greek. Three parts. Okay, Bobby Gentry comes to mind.
Ghazal: From Arabic. Five to fifteen rhyming couplets.
As you can see, poets have a lot on their plate to consider. None of it means much to me. I’ll stick with the humorous or dirty song lyrics from Frank Zappa or AC/DC. That’s about the limit of my poetry interest. Plus, despite the descriptions above, I have no idea which form song lyrics fits into. Go figure.
However, for those of you that take this seriously, you know far more than I do about this subject. This is a fascinating and contemplative matter to you and to fans of the genre.
I see no difference in creating poetry as opposed to creating a short story or a novel. You, the poet, have to, or should know A and B. Your poem has to have a beginning, a middle and an end.
Am I right?
Maybe not. Maybe that’s not it at all.
On the other hand, your poem has to have some kind of point. It has to convey a message. The language you use must convey a thought, something your audience can understand.
Is the purpose of your poems to convey half-thoughts?
Is it to convey half-feelings?
Is it to convey half a mood?
When you sit down to write (or type) your blast of consciousness, can you sit back and know you conveyed what you wanted to convey?
Or, are you just raising questions? Is your purpose not to have a beginning, middle and end?
Poetry may not always be the same as a complete story like what regular story writer’s do. Poems can be abstract thoughts, feelings, sparks of ideas.
It could be that your collection of poems, put together, create a collective idea. Maybe they don’t at all. Maybe they just generate an atmosphere and that’s their whole purpose.
Therefore, you still have to know A and B, the beginning and the end. However, the beginning and the end might not be the same thing as a complete story. Maybe A and B are not a story at all. They’re nothing more than a question. Maybe they’ a feeling. Maybe they’re an emotion.
Looking at the best and most popular poets, what does their poetry do? What are their goals? What do they accomplish? Do they have an A and a B?
Regardless of what you want to call it, your poetry has to have some sort of plan. It can’t just be a bunch of words. It must have some sort of organization…it must have a point. If it has no point, you’re wasting your reader’s time. They’ll not appreciate it.
You, the poet, have to think about that when you sit down to put those words on paper or in the ether.
For most writers starting out, the best way to gain your chops is with the short story. In fact, that’s almost always how a writer gets into this passion. You have to start small and work your way up to the novel form, and very few go the other way around.
Think about it. You’re pretty much forced to write short stories in school. To the majority of people, this is torture. However, to those of us who consider writing fun, maybe not right then, but somewhere down the line, a switch clicks on…a trigger pulls and we discover we have an inclination for telling (or…gag…showing stories). There you go.
WHAT IS A SHORT STORY?
Hah! More like what isn’t a short story? Obviously a novel isn’t. That’s about it. In many ways, a novelette and novella are short stories, but not by the definitions in Wikipedia. If we go by that standard, a short story is, by word count, 7,500 words or less.
Personally, anything less than a novel (under 50,000 words – by Wikipedia, it’s 40,000 words) is a short story, despite what is called novellas and novelettes. Why complicate things? Then again, we as well as publishers have to put everything into a category for marketing purposes, so I suppose I should also, since I’m trying to keep accurate information going here.
A novel is over 40,000 words.
A novella is 17,500 – 40,000 words.
A novelette is 7,500 to 17,500 words.
A short story is under 7,500 words (this includes flash fiction which is much less than that, down to 50 words or even 140 characters).
Most of that I copped right out of Wikipedia, who copped that out of various other sources. Some of you will probably disagree with those numbers and I don’t blame you.
All I can say is it’s like the Pirate Code – “Guidelines.” “Arrrgh!”
So…back to the short story. To put it in a nutshell, the short story has just enough beef to get out a thought, but it doesn’t let you ramble. Got it?
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
The difference between a short story and flash fiction is that you have a bit more room to develop the plot, so to speak. However, you don’t have that much more room. You have time for a single basic plot but you have to keep one thing in mind, above all others, and this is something I’ve preached over and over again…
It must have a beginning.
It must have a middle.
It must have an end.
Without those three things, you have a mess.
The short story is a format to get out a thought, something you have a little space to develop quickly. Within that word limit, you have time for a bit of description, a bit of narration and a lot of movement. The key is movement. You have to move from A to B with no waste, no muss and no fuss. If you hesitate to ramble, you’ve just busted your word count.
I’ve written dozens upon dozens of short stories. Many of them are in print right now. How do I do it? Probably the key to my technique is that the first thing I do is figure out A to B right off. Before I even type (I don’t write with a pen or pencil, my writing sucks) a single letter on screen, I hash out in my mind where I want to start and where I want to end. The same as I do with my novels. I have to have a goal (by definition here, the plot) in mind or I’ll end up nowhere. I have to have the plot up front or I’ll be typing random thoughts and end up with a mess. Notice how I just repeated the same basic thing twice? I want to emphasize that point because it’s key to the short story or even a novel.
You have to know where you’re going, you have to know the whole point of what you’re doing or you’re wasting your time.
Once I know A to B I wonder if it’s worth going for something bigger. If not, then I go for the short format. I must mention right here that when I first started this passion seriously back in 1995 (not counting my first stab back in 1972 in Spain), I actually wrote a novel first. While I was writing that novel, I did a few short stories in the meantime. I did it sort of backward-simultaneously.
Anyway, with a short story, when I know A to B, I have an idea in my head where I want to go and what I want to do, so I just start writing. Since I can write almost as fast as I think (which is actually pretty slow), I can whip out a 5K short story in about an hour to an hour and a half, depending if I get interrupted.
Now, depending on what the word count is required (most short stories I’ve submitted are around 4K to 5K, mostly 4K), by the time I’m done, I’m usually fat.
The key on the first blush is to get the story out. Don’t worry so much about writing it perfect the first shot, just get the idea down. Worry about cleaning it up later. Especially when you’re starting out, you aren’t going to get it done well anyway. You’ll learn so much during the editing, those techniques will come the more you write and edit.
Knowing the story is fat, I go back through and make changes, tweak this, take out that.
Then, since I’m in a writer’s group, I’ll read it to them. I usually get some great feedback. I don’t always take their advice, but I always take their advice seriously whether I use it or not. I do take seriously the forest-through-the-trees mentality. In other words, I’m too close to the story to see what I’m doing wrong.
While the original might be 6,500 words and the limit might be 4K, by the time I’m done I’ll have it trimmed within the limit even if I have to cut some sacred cows to make it fit. By sacred cows, I mean stuff I just wanted in there that in the end, won’t really impact the story. Okay folks, we all like to throw stuff in a story “juss cuz” we think it’s cool. However, when you look at it from a distance and a fresh set of eyes, well…that cool stuff may not be all that critical. This is when the chopping block is necessary.
The key elements are: Have I said what I wanted to say? Is the story improved or have I cut the nuts off what I was trying to accomplish?
This technique hasn’t failed me yet.
Give it a try.
For new authors just starting out, or for those of you just looking to flex your writing muse muscles, there’s a quick and dirty way to get down by writing a story called flash fiction.
Since I just covered fan fiction, it hit me that this is another aspect of writing, one in which I’ve dabbled as well.
WHAT IS FLASH FICTION?
The actual definitions and parameters of flash fiction are all over the place, but to put it in some kind of nutshell, a flash fiction story is quick and dirty, to-the-point and usually ranges from 50 to 1,000 words. Some even measure it in characters, ala Twitter.
Flash fiction has been around as long as people have been rubbing charcoal on paper or etching grooves into stones. It’s been called from nothing to various names over the ages and just recently, probably in the past decade or so came around to the name flash fiction.
The point is that it’s a short burst of an idea without all the details. The best stories tell a tale with a beginning, a middle and an end. They give everything you need, to get the point across, but with no literary rambling at all! Lean and mean. Little to no development, just as Joe Friday says in Dragnet, “Just the facts, Ma’am.”
IT CAN BE QUITE A CHALLENGE
If you thought writing your regular novel or short story was tough, especially when you are trying to write lean and mean and getting to the point, try flash fiction!
The style of a flash story is that you have no room to ramble. If you don’t get to the point right away, you’ve busted the style and it’s no longer flash fiction. It’s a short story or even something else like a novelette.
Flash fiction is a great way to learn to write lean – cut out the extraneous material. If you do enough of these stories, you’ll start to learn what you need and don’t need to get your point across!
When we first moved to Indiana back in 1999, the local paper in Gary, I think it was the Lake County something or other, had a contest for fifty-word short stories (hey, folks, it was free or I never would’ve entered). They could’ve very well called them flash fiction stories but at the time, the term didn’t exist, at least not around there, so it was just fifty-word short short stories. You could submit as many as you wanted, but the key was the fifty-word limit.
I wrote I think thirty-plus stories. I don’t even remember how it all came about, but I just sat down at the computer after work a couple of days in a row and spit them out, one after the other. Most of them were a bit longer and I had to edit them down. The trimming was tough, but I got them all within the fifty word limit. I then submitted the best twenty to the paper.
I didn’t win diddly, or even get an honorable mention in the paper. The ones I saw that won had me scratching my head. I can’t find any of those stories! I’ve looked every so often through my computer files and zip, nada. Oh well…I had a lot of fun and didn’t pay a thing, not even postage because I was able to submit them electronically.
On the other hand, I’ve written several short flash pieces of a couple hundred words when the must hit me. One of them I submitted to my writer’s group for a “guess who wrote this” thing they were doing a few years ago. It’s called The Word Factory. It was just one of those flash pieces that popped into my head.
WHAT I’VE LEARNED
Okay, flash fiction is often associated with contests. You all know how I feel about those! On the other hand, if you want to, and want to potentially throw away the bucks, why not?
Whether you write flash fiction for a contest, or just do it to hone your chops, I’ll tell you that it helped me tremendously.
As many of you know, I’m not a literate type writer. I’m a genre writer – I like to get to the point! From flash fiction, I learned to get to the point! Even when writing novel-length stuff, I write to the point and don’t ramble. By doing that, my stories get a whole lot more done with fewer words. Not only that, I can describe people, places and things with better economy and not bore my readers to tears.
I’m not going to make fans with literary readers.
On the other hand, those that love genre fiction will appreciate me giving them just enough to draw them into the world. I’ll let them paint their own pictures with me guiding them.
Writing fan fiction taught me the economy of perfecting that technique.
With my talk on H.P. Lovecraft, I brushed on the subject of fan fiction. Why to some authors or writers choose this path rather than something unique and totally their own?
MY OWN BRUSH WITH FAN FICTION
My very first attempt to write something on my own was fan fiction. Back in the day, in the barracks in Spain, with that old manual typewriter, I got through three quarters of a page of a Star Trek satire.
About ten years ago, I wrote a short fantasy story called Bog Roll Blues, based on a song by The Groundhogs. My interpretation of what bog roll was, and what I found out the term meant are an embarrassment for the ages, but at the time, the inspiration was pure and I thought the story was cool. Apparently the band got a kick out if it also, but maybe for the wrong reasons!
That, folks, was the sum of my fan fiction forays. That’s not to say I didn’t contemplate it from time to time, but I had too many of my own ideas to piggyback off other people’s inspiration.
WHY DO IT?
For some people, it’s a matter of being a super fan. If you’re inspired by something and have the urge to write, hey…follow your muse. Why not?
On the other hand, if it may present you with an avenue to break into a franchise, there you go.
How many of you remember the D&D craze back in the 80’s when there were dozens of books inspired by the Forgotten Realms series, for instance? If I remember right, they were basically fan fiction stories written by different authors and incorporated into that world, following a set of rules and all under the D&D umbrella so the creators would get their cut. I’m sure it broke some writers into the market. I have no idea which of those writers are still around from that craze. For all I know, they’re prominent in the fantasy world today. Do you know who they are?
NEEDING THAT SPARK
Here’s another situation for you. You want to write…learn to write, but don’t have your muse yet. However, you’re a huge fan of say…Twilight. You live and breathe Stephanie Meyer…or maybe Anne Rice. You eat up every vampire book that comes out. You don’t have your own story lined up, but you see maybe a continuation of the Twilight universe or some LeStat whatever. You can handle that.
Boom, there you go. A fan fiction piece.
Now comes the big problem for any fan fiction writer.
OKAY, YOU’VE WRITTEN YOUR GREAT FAN FICTION NOVEL, NOW WHAT?
Fan fiction can be a sticky deal. Since the only thing that’s yours is the story itself, but you don’t own the rights to the characters or whatever, you can’t do a thing with it until you get hold of the owners.
Maybe you should’ve done your homework before you started.
Sometimes the “owners” don’t appreciate others infringing on their worlds.
If it’s an individual author, you’re more than likely to have trouble. If it’s a syndicate, there’s a chance you might be able to “join the team.” Sometimes, certain franchises are even set up for fan fiction.
DO YOUR HOMEWORK BEFORE YOU START!
Unless you’re just doing a writing exercise to hone your chops, I strongly suggest you investigate before you dive in and start writing fan fiction! You could put out a lot of effort to create a masterpiece novel, short story or whatever, only to have a team of lawyers descend on you with cease and desist orders!
Don’t waste your time.
If you don’t have your own ideas, or you’re just a super fan and want to pay tribute, do your research before you begin. Make sure that you can follow your muse without getting your hopes dashed. It’ll save a lot of effort and disappointment.