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FOREST THROUGH THE TREES REVISITED

November 2, 2022

            This will be the third time I’ve posted this article.

            Why?

            Someone on line was debating using an editor, or doing it themselves.

            Here we go again…

The second time I posted this, the beginning was as follows: A while back, I was trying to figure out a way of rephrasing “forest through the trees” for my latest Meleena’s Adventures fantasy novel. It inspired me to look back to this original article that I posted, the very second one to this web site. The date was June 1, 2011. To let you all know, I did come up with an alternate way to say forest through the trees.

            We all get that forest through the trees tunnel vision at times. Whether it be from editing, or maybe overall outlook on writing. Let’s see how I thought back then and how much has changed, given any tweaks I’m going to add along the way.

INTRO

Why is it that we learn all the “rules” of writing, yet we still cannot write perfectly? That is a question I hear more and more from new writers. No matter how hard we work to edit and perfect a sentence, paragraph, or whole story, we never get it quite right without external input.

The simple reason is that we’re too close to the story. We can’t see the forest through the trees. As tired as that old cliché may be, it’s still the truth. When we’re too close to something, we see what we’re thinking rather than what we wrote on the page. Even professional writers are wise to have a second set of eyes look over their work. The longer the work is, the more chances there are that they’ll get something wrong.

DON’T BEAT YOURSELF UP

The point is this: don’t beat yourself up for getting something wrong. Whether it be a misplaced comma, a tautology, or a passive phrase, just fix it when someone else points it out. No big deal. No matter how much you write, you’re going to make mistakes. For those of us that have been at this a while, it’s a fact of life. You cannot have an ego when it comes to writing!

CRITIQUING

As a writer, if there’s any way possible, I highly recommend that you seek out a writer’s group. A writer’s group can be two people or fifty. The key is that these people must be nice! The point of getting together is to help each other out. Helping is giving good advice, opinions that’ll help you and your fellow writers improve their craft. This does not mean demeaning, intimidating, or embarrassing them. I’ve been-there-done-that. It’s ugly, and doesn’t help. The “tough love” argument is just an excuse to be mean.

Some of you have heard my example of the writer’s group from hell. It’s ultimately unproductive and destructive to be part of a group like that, unless you’re a masochist. I have yet to meet a successful agent, editor, or publisher face to face that’s that mean and cruel. I have met a few, mostly through the mail, but they don’t make it far in the business and as the more successful ones know, it’s just plain bad for business. Don’t ever let anyone convince you that being a “tough” critiquer is the way to go. I hate to quote another cliché, but you get more with honey than vinegar.

OBJECTIVE NOT SUBJECTIVE

Critiquing should be objective, not subjective. Critique the work, not the person. Sometimes, it can be tough, especially if you find the material objectionable. If it’s that bad, maybe it’s best just to defer rather than say anything. There was one case where a lady read some material that really got under my skin and I wanted to shout out “bull!” However, I held my tongue. I thought about all the times I read some of my icky bug, a genre where I use a lot of “colorful metaphors,” and a bit of gore and violence. Some members of our group are a bit religious, yet they gave me objective critiques. I kept that in mind as I sucked it up and gave her an honest critique of her writing instead of her content. Luckily, she did not come to too many meetings, so I didn’t have to bite my tongue often. You may run across this in a group, but that’s just part of the deal. Not everyone is going to be a fan of your stories. Critique the work, not the person!

When you read before a group, you’re presenting many new eyes and ears with things you can’t see, no matter how many times you’ve read and re-read your story. Trust me on this. You’re too close to it. Your jaw is going to drop when someone will point out something so obvious. For instance, your villain pops a few shots at the hero with his silenced revolver, misses and steals away. Screech! Halt! Any gun enthusiast will tell you, you can’t silence a revolver!

That was a rather blatant example, but you get my point. Your audience will catch repeated words, run-on sentences, misplaced modifiers, characters names changing from one section to the next, technical errors, the list goes on.

I self-edit these articles each week, and mainly for expediency, they’re all self-edited. I sometimes share them with other publications like the former Writer’s Tricks Of The Trade. Sometimes months or even years later, when they get published again, I see them in print and cringe at a glaring typo or phrase I messed up because I thought it rather than wrote it. I do my best to edit each article, but don’t be surprised to catch an error here and there. I can’t afford a staff here at Fred Central to keep me straight!

OH, BUT THERE’S MORE!

            As I alluded to last week (this was 2020), when it comes to rejection, unrealistic expectations are also part of forest through the trees. If you’re so focused on getting published and not enough on #1 honing your craft, or #2 why you’re doing this in the first place – the love of writing, you’re going to get lost.

            That’s right. Don’t forget the whole point of writing in the first place. If you’re doing this for a hobby and expect to get published, I suggest you take up golf or knitting or something far less stress-inducing. If you don’t love writing, if it isn’t a passion, if it isn’t something you have to do, something you’re going to do whether you get published or endlessly rejected anyway, then find something else to do. If you’re in it just to make money, well…I can show you a bunch of slot machines near my home that probably have better odds for a payoff.

            I’m not saying you won’t succeed with time and persistence, but lightning rarely strikes in a bottle. The chances are, it won’t happen to you in an instant, and the only way to be successful is with hard work. If you focus too much on lofty goals, you’re not going to see the forest through the trees. You’re going to miss the pleasure of writing and let the frustration overwhelm why you’re doing this in the first place. You’re going to let the criticisms eat at you and forget the original reason you took pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard.

            To write.

            Second thing is that if you’re going to self-publish and think you can do it all yourself (the inspiration for this current re-write), think again. There are way too many books out there that were self-edited and it shows. You can’t do it all yourself, no matter what anyone else says.

            A perfect example of forest through the trees is an autobiographical short story I read the other night to my writer’s group. As long as I’ve been doing this, they still pointed out plenty of errors I couldn’t see. A younger self would’ve cringed at the errors, but I’ve been at this a long time and I’m used to it. I’m glad they looked at it before I submitted. I still have some work to do!

            Stop. Breathe, and take a look, so you can see the forest through the trees.

            Happy writing!

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PACING AGAIN – SLOW

October 26, 2022

            I’ve talked pacing before (2014 & 2017) but the ole’ nugget of inspiration struck me again as I recently suffered through an icky bug with a pacing problem. As an avid reader, while also being a writer, I like to learn from other people’s mistakes. I also look at what’s out there that’s either trending for good or bad.

WHAT I LIKE

            In the last article, Pacing Again – Fast, I stated what I like to read. I won’t rehash it here. What I will say is there are plenty of genres I won’t read because the pacing is usually too slow. That includes most fantasy and literary fiction.

SLOW PACING

            I’m no fan of rambling on. Where this takes us is fast from the previous article to slow in this one. There are just as many extremes with slower stories.

            The gist of this is that something has to happen right at the start, and after maybe a little smelling the roses, something else has to happen.

            That does not mean chapter one is action, and then nothing else really happens until halfway through the book!

LITERARY FICTION

            Literary fiction is all about stopping to smell the roses, and characterization.

            The character opens the door. Then the author rambles on for fifty pages on the description of the room, door, whatever…then rambling thoughts about why the character opened the door.

            While that description may seem extreme, it isn’t too far off the mark.

            Some people really enjoy the rambling. It’s the reason they read in the first place. What happens is secondary to everything else.

FANTASY

            Unfortunately, given that the entire fantasy world is often made up, the fascination with that made up world is far too often dampened by rambling and characterization.

            What should be exciting ends up being nothing but a snail’s pace of a slog.

            I may sound harsh about that, but seeing as how I suffered through more than a few thousand-page tomes, it’s true.

            As I like to say, quite often the story doesn’t live up to the cover artwork.

            Mind you, this is personal taste, as there are many fantasy fans out there, but the ones I enjoyed were a bit shorter and up on the pacing.

            Were they thrillers with a fantasy theme?

            No, they just had stuff happen.

MAGIC FORUMULA

            There’s no magic formula for pacing, though to keep a readers attention, it’s a good idea to back off on the descriptions and characterization for many readers.

            If you want to ramble, go right ahead. Just don’t expect about half your audience to put up with it. Or, to put it more exact, don’t expect a multitude of potential readers to get into your rambling.

            Let instinct be your guide.

            Happy writing!

PACING AGAIN – FAST

October 19, 2022

            I’ve talked pacing before (2014 & 2017) but the ole’ nugget of inspiration struck me again as I recently suffered through another thriller with a pacing problem. As an avid reader, while also being a writer, I like to learn from other people’s mistakes, but also look at what’s out there that’s either trending for good or bad.

WHAT I LIKE

            I like thrillers, adventure and icky bug. That includes murder mysteries as well. If you were to look at most of the book reviews I have on Amazon (at least the ones Amazon hasn’t hidden because I didn’t buy the book from them), you’ll see they’re almost all in those categories.

            A lot of detective/murder mysteries are now catalogued as thrillers but if you go to the “only” chain bookstore left on the West Coast, which is Barnes & Noble, for years until recently, just about everything except science fiction/fantasy, western and romance are all lumped together into “general fiction.” Folks, that lumps a lot together and I’m glad they corrected it. In my mind at the time, the only other chain out there was Hastings, which serviced at least the Midwest and possibly the East Coast. Unless they categorized differently, it probably didn’t make much difference what you call your book as far as shelving it, as long as it wasn’t western, romance or science fiction/fantasy.

            With the changes made over the past few years, that has changed somewhat.

            On the other hand, when it comes to online, that category makes a much bigger difference.

            I got off on a rant here only because in my roundabout way, I’m getting back to what I read the most, thrillers.

            What’s the main concept of the thriller? They have to be thrilling.

            The story must be fast-paced.

            What do I personally like?

            I like the story to move, for sure. However, do I like a frantic pace with non-stop action?

            Not really.

            I like my stories to live and breathe, but at the same time not dally too long.

            Pacing. Which brings me to the gist of this article.

OUT EXTREMING THE EXTREME

            I am a failed musician. My new outlet is writing and has been for twenty-plus years. However, I didn’t give up music entirely. I still love to listen to it. In that respect, being of Medicare age, I surely (and don’t call me Shirley) don’t listen to the music of my age group. I like metal as well as (of course) older heavy psychedelic and hard rock. The problem is that a lot of the metal today is extreme metal. Though I like some of it, there’s some that’s brutal just to be brutal and extreme just to be extreme. To me, it’s just plain annoying. I listen to it sometimes to try and find something musically redeeming. I usually turn it off after a while, switching to something with a more melody, or at least a rhythmic cadence to the vocals, guitars and bass that is more distinguishable for the riffing versus a blur of noise.

            Now, why do I bring this up? Because when these younger generations take music and go to the extreme just to be extreme, it’s no different than some authors who pace their stories extreme just to be extreme. If that’s their thing, it’s fine with me. I appreciate that they’ve found their groove, it’s just not my groove. I make an effort to understand it, but don’t have to like it all the same, whether it’s extreme music or writing.

WHEN THERE’S TOO MUCH ACTION

            A thriller’s supposed to be full of action. That’s the premise. However, a thriller doesn’t have to be non-stop, from page one to the end. In-between, the characters have to take a breath, rest, gather their wits once in a while. Plus, the author must develop the plot.

            Not only that, but the reader needs a chance for a breather as well.

            I always see the “Non-stop, pulse-pounding action” catch phrases on books but usually find out that’s not strictly true. The good author takes the time for the characters to relax a bit, breathe, investigate. Get to know each other. Smell the roses a bit.

            In the story I just finished, there were few breaks to develop anything. It was almost non-stop chases, boom, bam, shooting and killing. The chase scenes took up six to ten chapters each with maybe two in-between for something else to happen. Then on to the next major chase or escape. It went that way right to the epilogue.

            That pacing gets monotonous. I dreaded the next chase, which I knew was coming way too soon. I wasn’t the only one either as the reader reviews prominently displayed, matching my own in a lot of ways.

SOME PEOPLE LOVE THE FRENETIC PACE

            There are plenty of fans of this, just like there are plenty of fans of the screaming, shouting and grunting of extreme metal. The same for the current trend in movies with the herky-jerky first-person camera style that some people seem to compute with being more into the action.

            While I personally find these frenetic styles nerve-wracking, it’s da’ bomb for others.

GOOD EXAMPLES

            While I won’t name names when it comes to the bad examples, such as the novel I just read, there are plenty of good examples.

            The Jack Reacher series. Our hero has many calm moments where the tension builds before things get frantic, where the pace builds. Now, keep in mind that the story is in constant motion. However, it’s not all chase. There’s time to smell the flowers, contemplate, investigate, figure out what’s going on.

            The Harry Bosch series. Same thing. It’s a fast-moving slow burn, if that makes sense. There’s no sitting around or endless narrative. Harry’s constantly on the move, investigating the case. However, he gets into situations and the action has plenty of intense moments, when called for.

            That’s just two prominent examples. Both have plenty of thrills and action but also give the characters and the reader time to breathe and let the mystery grow a bit. The author lets the tension build instead of slapping you in the face right out the gate and never letting up.

SUMMARY

            There’s probably a good cliché to mention right now, but I’ll just say this.

            There are many ways to show a story. The easier you make it on the reader, the more likely the fans will come back. You have to balance between driving them crazy or boring them.

            Let instinct be your guide.

            Happy writing!

COMING UP WITH CHARACTERS/CREATURES IN A FANTASY WORLD

October 12, 2022

            I still see this all the time. “What are some …based on …type creature.”

            First of all, there’s no such thing as realism in fantasy, except some mundane aspects of urban fantasy. Why is it some authors want to stick with certain rules when they create their characters/creatures?

            I suppose it gives their story some legitimacy within the norms of the genre.

            My suggestion is always the same. “Just make something up.”

            While that may sound useless to some, is it really?

WHAT IS FANTASY?

            Fantasy is a made up world set in some far off distant place, usually in a medieval setting, or close to it.

            However, as in urban fantasy, the setting can be in present time with real world mixed in.

            It can be steampunk, with turn-of-the-century technology.

            It can be the standard medieval setting.

            Or, it can be something else. The key is that there are certain conventions to differentiate it from science fiction. Sometimes it can be hard to tell.

CONVENTIONS

            The conventions are similar to D&D rules, which is not to say they’re hard-core compliant. The setting is pseudo medieval with swords and old-school tech. The variant is magic (or as I say, magick). Then again, D&D rules were pretty much derived from some variation of Lord Of The Rings, one of the first huge-selling fantasies.

            The key is not everything has to be either D&D or Lord Of The Rings.

            The story can have elements of both and still be fantasy.

MODELING CREATURES AFTER LEGENDS

            There’s nothing wrong with modeling creatures after the tried-and-true legends. Elves, Dwarves, fairies, so on and so forth. Monsters, the same way.

            This is the sticking point. When a writer feels they have to stick to some convention, such as their story models after Greek mythology or Japanese whatever, that’s where things become complicated. Now the author corners him or herself. They become trapped in a convention. When they go to research say…Greek mythology, they can’t find all the answers they want so they poll other writers on Facebook. Someone may have used so and so that they found in research somewhere else.

            Fine and dandy if you feel you must stick with certain rules.

            However, if you want to be truly original, who says you can’t twist, turn, or add in surprise elements that break the say…Greek mythology rules?

            Why corner yourself with such restrictions.

COMPLETELY MADE UP WORLD

            The truly original author will likely consolidate a mashup of tropes and their own stuff. Of course, the story is most important, but adding artificial restrictions to what you can make up seems counterproductive to me. More than likely the majority of readers aren’t going to know the difference anyway. Why narrow your focus to those few who actually know the legends.

            Keep in mind this isn’t the same as real-world fact research, which would apply to other types of fiction. What you need to worry about is realistic scenarios or ways to get around the realism, such as magick to compensate for overuse of weapons.

            As for characters and creatures, why restrict yourself to legendary characters and creatures when there’s a wide open world to make up?

            There’s nothing wrong with throwing in conventional characters/creatures. However if you’re stuck, or just want to veer off the path, why not just make something up? After all, it’s fantasy, not a textbook!

PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

            I have to make a confession in that I don’t read much fantasy.

            Why?

            It’s often way too wordy and nothing happens for thirty to a hundred pages. It’s all just characterization so I like to say that quite often the stories don’t live up to the cover art.

            Now, for when I’ve actually enjoyed fantasy stories, I didn’t sit there and refer to some mythology textbook to check the author, I just enjoyed the story if it got to the point and had plenty of action. While there are those that do, the majority of us don’t and don’t care.

            I’ve read all kinds of stories with fantastical characters and creatures and never cried fowl because the author wasn’t holding to convention. In fact, the ones that bent things were, to me, the most enjoyable and interesting.

SUMMARY

            When writers poll their Facebook friends for ideas on characters or creatures, I’m still going to give the best advice:           Just make something up.

            Then you have my attention.

            Happy writing!

FACEBOOK

October 5, 2022

            The original body of this article came out in 2018. I’ve since wanted to add the rest of the story.

FACEBOOK ADS

            Back in the day, I had a very successful book signing. As part of the buildup and marketing campaign to that book signing, I turned to Facebook to try their advertising.

            Before this, I’d posted the article, Reaching Readers On Facebook, telling you about the experience. Once the book signing was over, I went over the actual results of the advertising campaign. Though I’m dread to use foretelling in novels, in this article I did. The results weren’t pretty.

IN THE BEGINNING

            As a quick reminder, for those that are new to this site, when Lusitania Gold first came out, I spent a lot of money on Facebook publicity around the book launch. At the same time, I also plugged my previous published novel, Treasure Of The Umbrunna. The total outlay was over $100 and included my ad to first the West Coast, then the entire You Ess And A, then finally the western half of Europe.

            The result? Plenty of hits (several hundred), a few engagements, three or four comments, one of them nasty (stop sending me ****ing spam), and zero sales.

LUSITANIA GOLD

            In my previous article, Reaching Readers On Facebook, I only blasted the local Las Vegas area and a fifty mile radius that included Henderson, Boulder City, Pahrump, Indian Springs, etc.

            I spent a total of $21. According to their statistics, I reached 322 people.

  1. I got 39 likes, 3 from people I know, 1 from a friend in Holland.
  2. 0 feedback.
  3. 2 shares.
  4. When I personally commented on the promo, THAT generated a few separate comments and likes from friends that already subscribe to my site. However, that was on the separate pages that those comments created (go figure).

The final result?

When I did my book signing at Barnes & Noble, not a single person that bought a book or showed up and talked to me were ones that found me from the Facebook advert.

My $21 resulted in a big fat ZERO.

Let me be clear. I had a very successful book signing. I personally sold nine books and that same day, someone bought three other copies but somehow missed having me sign them. To me, that’s a killer day! However, unless one of those three that slipped in and bought without contacting me were Facebook people, I still have to mark my campaign off as a big fat ZERO.

My book signing was a success, it just didn’t have anything to do with Facebook or my $21.

FAIR WARNING

If you’re contemplating using Facebook advertising, all I can say is buyer beware. It may work for some people, but so far, I’ve batted a solid zero after using it twice.

WHAT FACEBOOK IS REALLY GOOD FOR

            I can put it all into one word: NETWORKING.

            The real value in Facebook is keeping in touch with your fans and maybe on occasion, pick up someone new.

            Nowadays, I don’t do any ad campaigns, boost any posts, or anything else Facebook throws at me that costs money.

            How many of you pay attention to spam when you get on Facebook?

            I’m not holding my breath for an answer.

            That leaves keeping up with friends and fans, which is precisely what this social media platform was originally designed for (at least I hope so).

            Once in a while I’ll advertise one or more of my books. However, I NEVER pay for it. When I advertise without pay, the audience is more limited, but the way I target, they’re a lot more receptive than throwing the ad at the wall to see what sticks.

            I am right now exploring other ways to advertise my books that do cost, but seen to have better results.

SUMMARY

Facebook is a great communicator for letting people know what’s going on. In that respect, it works well to get immediate info to fans. I love using it for that and more.

However, to draw in new readers, it leaves a lot to be desired.

I’m just saying.

Once they know you and like you is one thing…

Drawing them in is still an issue.

A BIG issue.

When it comes to Facebook, I’ll stick with the free networking idea and giving news to my readers.

Happy writing!

BOOK SIGNING RESULT

September 28, 2022

            I just had another book signing. This time at a mall in Primm, Nevada. While it was a lot of fun, it wasn’t fruitful. That’s nothing new. It inspired me to go back to these articles from early 2016 and 2022 where I talked about an individual book signing and results of another multiple author one early this year. Quite a bit of difference! I’ll tweak and add as needed.

2016

            And then, it happened!

            Okay, I copped that infamous line from at least a dozen, if not more episodes of Sea Hunt. It was worth it.

            It happened, alright. It surely happened (and don’t call me Shirley). If I need to tell you where I copped that line, well you’re no movie buff!

            Anyway, I had my first solo book signing and at the risk of repeating myself, it was well worth it!

THE PRELIMINARIES

            My solo event was organized by Barnes & Noble. The idea was to get as many people as possible to show up. The store pre-ordered a certain number of books, on the condition that my publisher accepts returns. That’s the big condition of a major retailer doing a book signing. Either you have to supply them the books, so they can sell them through their cash register at the retail price, which they don’t like to do because it isn’t in their system (more on that in a moment), or they order them from their supplier who accepts returns.

            It’s not that retailers are so much against self-published books. However, when you self-publish, you have no distribution system. A large retailer deals with stock systems and distribution. This means inventory and returns etc. When you try to bring them something outside the system, it plays havoc with their bookkeeping. In that regard, they simply don’t like to deal with it.

            In my case, since I did NOT self-publish, my book’s available through Ingram and Baker & Taylor distribution systems. Not only that, but it’s available through Barnes & Noble. The only issue was that I’m with a small press, and not the big six. More on that in a moment. At first, there was a glitch, and it was cataloged wrong, but that was straightened out. When I got that cleared, the very nice lady in charge of things said yes to the book signing.

            The difference between a small publisher and a large one is distribution. Because my publisher is not one of the “big six”, my book isn’t distributed to all the stores across the country. In that case, this local store ordered that set quantity for the book signing, on the guarantee the publisher would accept the returns. With that taken care of, it was a matter of pre-publicity.

            Though Barnes & Noble posted the event on their web site, it was up to me to do my own marketing as well. I learned a few things.

            First off, social media was by far, the best way to get the word out under these circumstances. I used Facebook and Twitter, even though 99.9% of my followers don’t even live in Las Vegas.

            On the other hand, I had some mailers and flyers printed. As for the flyers, I deliberately had them printed 5X7 because I figured the larger they are, the more likely someone would take them down from a bulletin board. The smaller size was more likely to stay up longer, even if they were smaller and drew less attention. (Note: For this current 2022 library event, my only publicity was through Facebook like most everyone else that had social media.)

            One little problem.

            Have you noticed that almost nobody has bulletin boards anymore? I found that out the hard way. I went all over the place and found almost NO bulletin boards. When I did, I usually got “It can’t be for any money making event.” Say what???

            Shot down in flames. I had a pack full of useless flyers and mailers. Oh yeah, about the mailers, I ended up just giving them to people that I either see all the time, or are already Facebook friends.

            Lesson learned.

THE SETUP

            The day of the event was tight. Since it was a Saturday, I unfortunately, usually have something going on with my astronomy club as well, and quite often miss my other writer’s group member’s book signings. I couldn’t very well miss my own! Right after this event, I had to rush home, pack my telescope and head to the north end of town for a public viewing session.

            I arrived at the store and they already had a table set up for me to the right of the main door, with my books displayed and a sign with a photo of my book. They also had a display screen with my book and name as you walk through that door above their Kindle display.

            I brought my fold-out banner, my bookmarks and business cards. I also brought a note pad to write down complicated names for signings. I always do that in case someone has an unusual spelling of their name so I get it right, or if someone speaks softly or in a tone I can’t hear very well.

            Finally, a key component, to attract extra attention and for a conversation starter, I added a candy bowl.

            The store ordered fifteen books.

THE EVENT

            The event went very well. The key to a book signing, now this is important, is to NOT sit at your chair (which they supplied) and just stare forward. Remember, you’re there to sell books, not wait for people to come and discover you!

            Some people avoided eye contact. I still said hi. Sometimes they responded, sometimes not. There are certain people you just know not to mess with. Some people are shy and if you say hi and start talking to them, they respond. With some people, if you say something, you can start a conversation.

            Don’t be afraid to be rejected. Most will, but once in a while, someone will spark an interest.

            The candy bowl was a great conversation starter. Sometimes it was just an avenue for kids. Sometimes adults with a sweet tooth. It made people hesitate.

            I said hi to a lot of people. I found a lot of people didn’t read fantasy, but a few did as well. I explained the book to many. Some showed interest. Quite a few took my business cards and bookmarks, both which have the book title, ISBN and/or my web site.

RESULTS

            As a result of my publicity, four people I know stopped by. Three bought a copy of the book. One stranger bought a copy as well. I went with no expectations. My goal was to sell at least one, so I outdid my expectations and then some!

            That may not sound like much to some of you. However, consider how many book signings virtual unknown authors or even some very well-known authors go to where they don’t sell ANY books!

            I think I did pretty well.

            Oh…and I also got a maybe from one person who had to leave and catch a ride. We’ll see about that one.

            In the end, the store asked me to autograph six copies of the book. They put “autographed by author” stickers on them and set all of the remaining books on a table by the door for a few days before transferring them to the local author wall in the back of the store.

            I’ve been posting that on Facebook to let everyone know. Maybe some of those will eventually sell as well.

            Folks, this is the life of a new author. Unless you’re up there on the New York Times Best Seller List, get used to it. You’ll be doing the same things.

EARLY 2022

            My latest signing was almost none of that. I had a table to share with another author just inside and to the left of the door. No banners (no room) and no standing in front of the table (no point). We had a sparse crowd, which was no big news. At these events, most usually sell only a couple of copies at best. A few maybe more, depending on the genre and who shows. Neither me nor my partner at the table sold a thing. She wrote erotica and some supernatural and also had a lot of swag stuff, which is great if you can go that route. Most of the people I knew did not sell a thing either, though a few sold one copy.

            Still, it was worth it just to get out in public, a rare thing still with the current pandemic. I got to see old friends, have some interesting conversations with strangers who stopped by to check me out, and gave away a few cards, bookmarks and candy. Oh, and I didn’t have a telescope event planned for the evening! It was something else.

LATE 2022

            This one was in Primm, Nevada at the outlet mall. Sounded like a great idea and it was worth it just for the networking alone.

            I was glad the organizer Stephen was in the parking lot to show me the shortest way in because I had no idea. Saved a lot of walking!

            Was early, as usual, and only partially set up while I waited for my table partners to arrive. This time I shared with my publisher, Mystic Publishers, from Henderson, NV.

            In the meantime, I took a trip up the escalator into the casino and walked right past Bonnie & Clyde’s death mobile on the way to the restroom. Took a few photos on the way back downstairs.

            After everyone arrived and set up, we just waited. A few sold books, which is typical. However, when you are a genre writer like me, it’s hard to catch the casual passerby, of which there weren’t that many. I had banners up, addressed everyone that passed by, but outside of a few cards and bookmarks taken as well as a few pieces of candy, nobody was all that interested. It seems romance and reality books sell the best at these things.

            I was able to meet Stephen Adler’s mother, who was selling his autobiography, Sweet Child Of Mine. Adler was the original drummer in Guns and Roses. Nice lady.

            Had some great discussions with my publisher and another author at our house. I made a few contacts, got some exposure from the author crowd. Got two possible web sites to plug my book to as well.

            You take what you can get.

            I didn’t sell anything, but I still consider it a victory for just getting out into the world.

            Happy writing!

NOTHING TO WRITE ABOUT

September 20, 2022

            A few years ago I wrote an article about having a blog and nothing to write about. This time it’s about writing in general. This is NOT ME! I want to emphasize that. I’ve seen some Facebook posts about writers having nothing to write about and that’s what I want to address here.

MOST WRITERS ARE BRIMMING WITH IDEAS

            Like me, most of us who take up this passion are bursting with ideas. In fact, we have so many we often forget over half of them before we ever get around to writing them all down. However, let’s just say our “wells” are not likely to run dry anytime soon. One day, we’ll get to each and every idea, whether still lingering at the back of our minds, or newly re-discovered by some prompt in real life.

SOME PEOPLE STARTING OUT

            While it still may end up being a passion, there are those that take up writing because they think they’ll love it, only to find out their one great idea didn’t pan out. What next?

            Uh…maybe you need to just practice what you do know until something pops up. Maybe you need to set things aside until the inspiration comes. A few of you probably need another hobby. Not to discourage anyone, but if you only ever had one idea or just vague notions, you might what to take up something else to avoid frustration until you get that idea again sometime in the future.

WRITING PROMPTS

            Writing prompts can be a great way for new writers to get their mojo.

            For anyone starting out, it’s not a bad idea to write from prompts. This will give you practice for the “real thing” when your own ideas start to form. Besides, writing prompts can be the source of great inspiration.

WRITING WHAT YOU DON’T LIKE

            I’m not a big fan of just picking a random subject you’re not interested in and making it real. That’s work, and while it has some benefits, for those of you starting out, it can be a real source of frustration. Or, it can also make what might seem like a passion into work. It might snuff out that spark, but then again, if you succeed in writing about something you have no interest in, it may get your creative juices flowing in the opposite direction, right into what you wanted (or thought) you wanted to do in the first place.

THE PASSIONATE WRITER

            For many of us, the passion of writing involves writing any and everything that pops into our head. There are no limits except our own interests and imagination. For example, when I started out, I was writing performance reports and instructions for other people. I liked it and decided to dig up my own muse, which when I first tried it, was a frustrating experience. Why? Because I had no idea what I was doing!

            Through writing those reports and instructions as part of my Air Force supervisor job, I realized I really liked writing. I was getting practice. Around this time, my wife and I also did an international newsletter to a select group. This prompted me even more, especially added to all the other technical writing I was doing.

            When I finally decided it was time to find another passion (after music failed), I sat down and wrote a complete novel. This was the first of many novels, short stories, and articles.

NOT EVERYONE IS LIKE ME

            Each of you has your own story on how you got (or are getting) started. The thing is that learning the ropes first helps tremendously to finally get into your inspirations.

            The people just starting out, or even those who have been with it for a while can run out of ideas if they never had many to begin with. Or, never did have any to begin with, just a desire to write.

            You can still nurture that desire to write if you find those elusive ideas. Writing prompts may be a good way.

SUMMARY

            Whether just starting or having been at it a while, you need something to prompt you if you’re out of ideas. If that great idea to be a writer started with no idea what to do, be patient. Either use writing prompts, do a lot of observing, or walk away for a while until something hits.

            There’s nothing more frustrating than staring at a blank page.

            My opinion is don’t do it. Don’t ruin your desire to write by placing undue pressure on yourself to produce something. Leave it alone for a while and do something else until that inspiration hits. If you’re truly meant to do it, it will come.

            For those of you that have the chops but are just burned out, or at a stopping place, I suggest to keep writing even if it’s mundane subjects, just to keep the chops up. Eventually, the inspiration will likely come back.

            Happy writing!

THE SHORT STORY – WRAPPING IT ALL UP

September 14, 2022

            Going back through some of my published short stories, I found that the total scene count varied. The Walk Home had four. The Basement had seven. Don’t Mess With A Snorg had five. Fun In The Outland had six. In those examples, all still had the same basic three elements consisting of the beginning, the middle and the end.

ENDING/OUTCOME

            Let’s consider the end, or the outcome of your story. What are you trying to accomplish? Do you want to leave the reader with a smile on their face? A tear in their eye? Leave them hanging? Whatever that might be sets your path. Compacting that path is the trick. That’s one reason you can’t clutter the story with too many point-of-view characters, too much description, and too much narrative.

COLLEGE PAPER EXAMPLE

            Though this wasn’t a short story, per se, I once did a term paper for a college class. I forget the actual subject, yet I remembered the process. Go figure! The paper had to be so many pages, so many words, just like a short story. I had a subject with several parts to explore. I found one of those parts easy to research and came up with a lot of info. When it came down to writing the report, the words flowed out. Before I knew it, I’d gone way over the page and word count, yet what I’d finished was just one piece of the puzzle and still had to address the rest of the parts that needed to be combined to make the Big Kahuna. I could’ve ended up with a novelette for a rather mundane term paper, except I didn’t have near the inspiration for the other parts.

            That anecdote applies to your short story. Don’t get caught up in a scene and forget about the big picture. You have a goal, the ending to get to. Don’t get lost in the middle and forget that you have a limit, or you may lose your direction and fizzle out. If it becomes all that important to keep going, I strongly suggest you forget about the short story and turn it into a full-blown novel. Follow your muse!

LOVE OF IT ALL

            To me, the whole point of writing is because I love to write, to create and to follow my muse. That should be the same for you. Unless you’re under a contract, or are being somehow forced to write this short story, don’t let it hold you back. On the other hand, if you just get carried away with a huge scene, but lose direction when it comes to wrapping up the rest of the story, time to back away and let it sit until you figure out what’s going on. You can always pare down the over-long scene. That’s called editing.

EXTREMES?

            Let’s look at the opposite extreme. You write your short story and you say what you have to in a lot less words than expected. Your goal was four to five thousand words, but the story is five hundred. Is that bad, or did you just accomplish your goal too soon? Look at what you have. Does it have all the elements you wanted, or did you just get in a rush to finish it? Can you expand any of the narrative or dialogue? Does it need to be? Let someone else read it. If they like it and they’re not your mom or a close friend or underling, maybe it’s okay. Just remember the well-worn word cliché, Don’t fix something that isn’t broke!

SUMMARY

            Finally, it’s time to find somewhere to get it published. If you already have a word count, then I’m assuming you have a place to submit. If not, start looking. The only thing I suggest, which I’ve mentioned before and I cannot emphasize enough, never EVER pay to have your story published! EVER!

            Until next time, happy writing!

THE SHORT STORY REVISITED – MORE DETAILS

September 7, 2022

            Since you have to write tight and concise, the story must be done in such a way to convey all the necessary details to get across your point, cram everything you want to say within the demanded word count, and still make it something someone would want to read. This isn’t as bad as it sounds.

MY USUAL METHOD

            For me, it’s just a matter of following my usual method which I’ve described endlessly in these pages. However, for those of you who don’t want to read through my previous blogs, I’ll ‘splain it once again. I know where I want to start and where I want to end. Everything else in the middle is a total surprise. That’s if I’m writing fiction. Now, what did I say in the last article on short stories? There has to be a beginning, a middle and an end. Yup, the pattern is right there. Since I already know two parts of it, all I have to figure out is the middle. In my creative process, that comes naturally. The trick is making it come together in the right word count.

WORD COUNT

            The big hang-up between short stories and novels is word count. With novels, you have the freedom to write to your heart’s desire (within limits) until the story’s finished. If it’s ridiculously long, you’ll have to pare it down into something marketable. Even then, there can be a lot of leeway. If it’s too short, you either have to shoot for a novella or it may be time to beef up the story. With a short story, things are more restricted. You can certainly come in under the word count if you finish saying what you need, but you can’t go over too far.

            A lot of anthologies ask for between four and five thousand words. That works out to between twelve and fifteen pages double spaced in twelve point typeface (if I remember right). To get the story into that restrictive limit, I’ve found a basic formula that helps me.

BEGINNING, MIDDLE, AND END

            I’ve mentioned several times that there should be a beginning, a middle and an end. With that in mind, I’ll write the story with three major scenes in mind. A beginning scene, a middle scene, and the slam bang scene at the end. The beginning scene introduces the main character or characters (usually two at most), the bad guy, and sets up the main plot (or premise). The middle scene puts the character (s) in the main conflict and has he/she or them beaten down by the bad guy. In the final scene, he/she or they rise above all and resolve the conflict.

            Not to confuse you more, but that’s just a simplification in my head of how the story is laid out. In print, the actual story will be a series of scenes like mini-chapters, or groups of scenes that block together in my head to make the beginning, middle and end. In the rough draft, I may have written three original scenes or ten, but in the editing process, I’ll have condensed and combined or even broken apart into the final product to get the best flow. The finished story may have five, six, or even two scenes. When you set out to write your story, either keep those three parts in your head as you write, or outline them if that’s your formula. When it comes out in the wash, you may have any number of actual scenes, from one to who knows? We’ll talk more about number of scenes next time. The point is to organize the story into bite-sized chunks. That makes it easier to write and helps you keep organized.

            This formula does not work quite the same for non-fiction, at least where plot is concerned. A non-fiction story should still have a beginning, middle and end. The difference is that instead, there should be an aim, a platform, or some kind of message (moral) to the story.

SUMMARY

            For me, when I sit down to write a short story, it’s like I’m writing chapters of a novel, except I’m not going to continue. Regardless, the story just flows out. I’ve been able to do it for some magical reason and my word count usually comes close to the ballpark every time. It may be over by a hundred words, maybe slightly under, but it’s never far off. Editing will take care of the rest. Why I can do this, I have no idea.

            Next we’ll go into a few more mechanics.

Until next time, happy writing!

THE SHORT STORY – BASIC STRUCTURE

August 31, 2022

            This next series is one I originally ran in 2012. The subject came up recently on one of the forums. I’m fixing to submit another short story soon, and some of you writers have contemplated writing one, if you haven’t already. Some of you may be struggling with yours. Why not revisit one way how to do it?

TERM PAPERS

            For many of us writers, our beginnings were, quite naturally, with the short story. Most of us had to write term papers. Remember them? Not exactly what one would call writing for pleasure. I recall one in particular, from high school, where I had to write a story about a hike down the Central California coast, following the path of the missionaries from Morrow Bay south to Santa Barbara. The history teacher gave me a B and only docked me because the timeline was unrealistic. I vaguely remember liking that paper because a good dose of it was bull, mixed in with the research I was forced to do to “fake out” the teacher.

            Any other term papers I did, including book reports (a form of a short story, if you stretch things) I don’t remember a thing about. I have vague memories of writing short little stories here and there, but the subjects are lost to the winds of time (how’s that for a metaphor?). In my case, by the time I took writing seriously, I went right into novel-length stories. When I tackled the short story format, I’d already had four or five full length manuscripts under my belt. In that respect, I already had my mojo working for me.

TO BEGIN WITH…

            Many of you starting out in this writing passion will want to stick your toe in the water. The way to do that is with the short story. There’s less effort involved and less to lose if you miss the boat. If you take your time and structure it correctly from the get-go, you’re less likely to fail, especially if you have a great idea but need the structure to put it together.

FORMAT

            All stories, whether short or long have the same basic format. There’s the beginning, the middle and the end. The difference is that with a short story, you have a lot less real estate to work with. We’re talking between five hundred and five thousand words. For an extreme example, when I lived in Indiana, back in 2001, there was a writing contest in the local newspaper for a fifty-word short story contest. Yeah, that’s right, fifty words. That’s about three or four sentences. I submitted around a dozen stories to that contest but didn’t win. In fact, I never saw the winners. We missed the paper that week. It was rigged! They cheated! They don’t know talent when they see it! Well, at least I didn’t have to pay to enter.

            In a novel, you write scenes which give you a chance to leave the reader hanging so that they’ll turn the page to read the next chapter. You don’t have that luxury with a short story. You have to grab the reader’s attention and keep it within one to a dozen pages, and that’s it. You have to grab them in the beginning, keep them in the middle and satisfy them in the end, with a conclusion.

            With such short space, that means you have to write tight, keep the narrative short, and keep the point of view (POV) characters to a minimum. Too many POV characters weakens the story and leaves the reader confused. You don’t have enough space to flesh out each personality. It’s best not to have more than one or two POV characters, which applies to novels as well, though with the larger format, there’s more leeway.

            Narrative and description must be kept concise. No time to blather about every blade of grass or the color of the lampshade and the shadow of the mailbox. If it’s a key plot point, fine. If you need to set atmosphere, do it quickly with as few words as possible. Don’t let that dominate the story or you won’t have any story left!

            Next time we’ll go into more excruciating details about your short story. They’re actually quite fun to write, so don’t get too depressed. If you love writing, you’ll love short stories. They rock!

            Happy writing!