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HOW MUCH TIME DOES IT TAKE TO WRITE WHATEVER?

December 23, 2020

            How much time does it take to write…whatever?

            This is a question that comes up a lot on the Facebook writing forums.

            When I think about it, for a beginning writer, it’s a good question. However, for those already into it, not so much.

            Before we go on, you may wonder the disparity in my two answers. I’ll get to that in a moment.

TIME

            Everything takes time, no matter what it is. Writing is no exception. It’s taking time to write this article. How much? I can tell you that the average time it takes me to write one of these articles, which average 800-1200 words is about twenty minutes.

            So what?

            That’s a big question.

            Why would anyone care?

            How about a short story of say 4,000 words?

            On average, it takes me about an hour for the initial draft.

            A novel?

            It used to take me about six months because I had plenty of extra time at my job. Now that I have to do it at home on my own, it can take up to two years.

            How many words?

            65K to 130K or thereabouts.

            Now that I’ve given you actual statistics, once again, who cares?

WHO CARES?

            When new writers are starting out, many want to know how hard it is. They also want to know how much time they must invest in something to compare with where they are.

            They also want to know if they’re spinning their wheels on something they’re working on.

            They want to know if their pace is too long or too short.

            This would seem like legitimate questions. It is, to a point.

ISSUES

            First off, to me, the speed in which you write isn’t a competition. It isn’t a measurement of your worth, or of how much better or worse you are compared to someone else. If you think that way, writing may not be a passion for you. It may be a sport or a hobby.

            If writing is a true passion…

            You’re going to be compelled to write regardless of time.

            If you’re looking at time because you’re worried you’re in a rut, or because you think you have a problem that needs to be addressed, that’s only natural.

            Time management can be a part of the learning process.

            However, when it’s being used as a competition process, or to measure up against someone else, here again, you’re turning it into an ugly sport instead of a pleasure and a passion. That’s not good.

WRITING SPEED CONTESTS

            The most infamous contest, which I’ve discussed here at Fred Central before, comes up once a year and it’s a great way to hone your chops and to see if you can do it.

            On the other hand, why do it at all? Why write a full novel in a month? Why churn out something instead of taking your time, doing it right, doing it for fun instead of under pressure?

            To me, that’s once again turning it into an ugly sport.

            If you’re competitive minded, I guess that feeds your competitiveness. I sincerely hope it also feeds your passion for writing as well.

            I’ve never had even an inkling of desire to participate in something like that.

            I have my own pace and my own passion, and no speed contest has ever even entered my radar. I personally find it destructive, but that’s just me.

            If it encourages other writers, I’m all for it, even if I find it personally demotivating.

MY STANDARD ANSWER & SUMMARY

            Even though I’ve answered the technical side of how long it usually takes me to write something, the answer I give on the forums is always the same.

            When someone asks how long it takes to write this or that, I always say:

            “As long as it takes.”

            Why?

            Simple.

            There’s no way to gauge how someone writes. Everyone’s different. You can’t standardize the capabilities of any one person. A five-hundred word essay is not going to take everyone the same number of minutes, hours, or days to write.

            It all depends on the person’s skill level, inspiration, and passion to write it.

            This is not a speed contest, like some new writers seem to think.

            This is about quality and passion.

            Why is that so hard to comprehend?

            Happy writing!

DO YOUR HOBBIES INFLUENCE YOUR WRITING?

December 9, 2020

            For once, this idea just popped into my head this morning as I sat here thinking of something to write about. Often, these ideas come from whatever is trending on the Facebook forums. Not this time.

            Throughout Fred Central, I’ve alluded to the influence of hobbies and other interests and their influence on your writing indirectly and directly, but have never summed it up in one place before. So now, here it is.

FIRST OF ALL…

            I’d first like to define the difference between a passion and a hobby.

            A hobby is something you do for fun, like tennis, or dancing, coin collecting, or macrame. It’s something you may do once in a while, a lot, or something you do in spurts. Then it may fade for years, or you may quit it and the gear or “residue” from it may sit in a closet only to be sold at a garage sale years or decades later.

            A passion is a lifetime interest. It’s not something you throw money at, only to end up, inevitably, with that closet or garage full of gear, but something that consumes your life. It’s something you live and breathe, and even if there are lulls due to unforeseen circumstances, you take it up again at the first opportunity. When you look back on it decades later, it’s a lifetime thing.

REGARDLESS

            Now that the definitions between a hobby and a passion are out of the way, for simplicity purposes, I’m going to call them both hobbies from now on. To that point, with you deep into your passion over a lifetime, or deep into a “hobby” at the moment, do you reflect that in your writing?

MAKING IT OBVIOUS?

            One would think the way characters or situations are drawn, an author makes it blatantly obvious their hobbies and interests come through in their writing.

            For example, in a murder mystery, the protagonist has a thing for tennis. Therefore, the story features scenes where the hero plays it at least once in every book (assuming a series), or mentions it often. One would assume the author is a big tennis fan. You go to the back of the book and sure enough, right in the bio the author states they play tennis every weekend.

            What have I said before here at Fred Central?

            It doesn’t hurt to write what you know.

NOT SO OBVIOUS

            The characters in the series always end up in some kind of cave for at least part of the story. One would think the author might be a spelunker, right?

            Bad buzzer.

            The author, while having a mild interest in caves, has no desire to crawl underground. When he or she was a kid, sure, they were all full of adventure and the thought of diving deep into a cave was a great idea until they actually did it. Then the flashlight went out. All the fascination went out of their great and fantastic idea of the great adventure. Decades later, while not particularly scarred for life from the experience, they’d still rather be an armchair spelunker, a mild interest in the subject, and not a real-life cave diver. You’ll never see that in their bio.

REFLECTING WHAT WE KNOW

            There’s nothing wrong with…in fact it’s great to reflect your hobbies in your writing.

            The key is that when character building, or in fact, story and plot building, those hobbies need to be relevant in some way to character, story and plot.

            In my Gold series, my interest in rock and metal plays a minor but significant role in the “coloring” of the series. Several other of my interests do as well. As for my fantasy series, Meleena’s Adventures, I confess that my mild interest in caves do as well as several other things, though that metaphor I used earlier is not my reason for not being an amateur spelunker. While that actually happened to me a few times, it was just a matter of squeezing through tight spaces, scaling drop-offs, and a general lack of enthusiasm for the overall thrill. Spelunking is a great passion or hobby for some people, but not mine. Besides, now I’m way too old to be crawling around in the dark.

            Quite often, the general subject matter of plots in stories are reflections of the interests of the authors. Given spelunking, for instance, I’ve read several thrillers where the author was a spelunker as well. I’ve seen cozy mysteries where the plot was centered around a knitting circle and the author was a big knitter. Same with quilting. I’ve seen authors who were painters and the plot had to do with painting.

            It’s great to use your personal knowledge from a hobby as part of your story. In that way you can be assured you get the details correct!

WHEN IT’S NOT

            This is where it can get tricky.

            When you use a hobby that you’re not familiar with. You come up with this brilliant idea for either a character quirk or a plot device, but you don’t have a clue about the particular hobby.

            You can read up on it, research and go for broke.

            The best way is to talk to someone who is deep into it.

            Chat them up and learn some quirks and details that the books may not tell you. Or, they can clue you into details you may not notice because you don’t even know to look for them.

            If a reader deep into that hobby notices something off, your bad. Therefore, if you can drop in a few intimate things that only an expert would know. That makes it even more realistic.

            Examples are the proper or slang names for gear. What happens to your hands when you do certain repetitive motions. Sounds, smells, reactions of passerby.

            Little things.

LESSER KNOWN HOBBIES

            Some authors use lesser known hobbies. This can be tricky because when you do, very few people can relate to them.

            I’m a deep sky visual observer and telescope maker. To the world, that’s known as an amateur astronomer. I don’t particularly like the term “amateur astronomer” because what I do isn’t astronomy, per se. Why? Because I’m allergic to math and I don’t do any science. I have a large telescope, I look through the eyepiece and I observe galaxies, nebulae and star clusters. I also record my observations for my own pleasure. I sometimes even draw them. I have no interest in taking pretty pictures of these objects. I do nothing to advance science. However, like writing, this “astronomical” thing is a lifelong passion I’ve had since 1967.

            If I used that in a book, how many people could relate to that? Maybe a handful across the entire country. How many of them would even read my books?

            Most of the country could not even tell if a telescope was set up correctly in a movie scene. That’s not slamming anyone, that’s just a fact.

            It’s a rare hobby, or in my case, a passion.

            Have I used it in my stories?

            Sure, but in small doses. I not only don’t want to overwhelm my readers with jargon they won’t understand, but I don’t want to alienate them with a hobby (or passion) they cannot relate to.

            Consider that when you have a hobby that is out of the mainstream.

SUMMARY

            It’s great for an author to write what you know, and hobbies are another way to add color to your story. That’s especially true if it’s a popular one. If not, I’d have second thoughts about letting it dominate character color, story or plot.

            Happy writing!

DESCRIBING THINGS

December 2, 2020

            I’ve discussed several aspects of description here at Fred Central, but this one pertains specifically to objects, sounds, smells, rather than people or locations.

            Quite often on the forums lately, I’ve seen questions like “How do I describe…”

            While I consider that a legitimate research question most of the time, once in a while, these queries veer into the creative realm. When it does, I don’t like answering because then it gets into writing the story for the author, which is another subject.

FAVORITE EXAMPLE

            There’s a weird sound that’s hard to describe because it’s not something one can easily compare it to anything familiar. In more than one book and magazine article from the distant past, I’ve heard the sound a UFO makes described as like cellophane being peeled off a roll.

            Have you ever actually peeled cellophane off a roll before?

            If you peeled say…plastic wrap off a roll, would it make the same sound?

            Hmmm…

            What about wax paper, or aluminum foil, or that new sticky plastic self-sealing stuff?

            In other words, does it HAVE to be cellophane?

THE VAGUARIES OF DESCRIPTION

            Smells are a good example.

            The pie smelled like rhubarb but looked like apple.

            Oh…kay.

            How many of you have ever smelled or even know what rhubarb is?

            Out of my relatively long time on this earth, while I know what rhubarb is, have seen it plenty in the grocery store, I have yet to taste or smell it (that I know of). As old as I am, I couldn’t tell you what rhubarb smells like if it slapped me in the face.

            So much for that description.

            Sounds.

            It sounded like a car horn honking.

            Okay, generally, that’s fine except in what context?

            If that sound is critical, as in a clue in a mystery story, then which car horn?

            Do all car horns sound alike?

            I think not.

            What model car?

            European car horns sound a lot different than American car horns. European car horns are usually more of a beep than a honk.

            Different model American car horns sound different.

            Color.

            The green house trim contrasted with the brown walls.

            Maybe that’s not important in itself. However, what if it is? What shades are the green and the brown? Most writers will add in the color tones.

            Now, here’s the tricky part.

            How many readers know their color tones or even care?

            Hunter green (a dark green).

            Dark brown (how dark is the brown).

            Cerulean blue (a mid-dark blue).

            Ebony black (a tautology).

RELATING DESCRIPTION TO THE FAMILIAR

            When you relate description to the familiar, you have to keep in mind that the familiar you are using is YOUR familiar. You have to consider your reader’s familiar. Generally, they’re the same, but not always. You can assume to a point. A lot of times when I have read a description, I assume an image in my mind that may not be what the author sees. It’s probably similar, but may not be at all. It’s my reality versus the authors.

            As a writer, when we come up with these descriptions, we have to assume a certain education and experience level from our readers. What we shouldn’t do is veer too far into the realm of the bizarre.

            Now, for you literary writers, I don’t even have to say this means straying into a full page or chapter description of something simple when a few words will do.

ONE MORE EXAMPLE

            Though this one is about a person, it still holds true.

            I’ve said time and again, I don’t like to describe my characters in relation to celebrities. In fact, most of my characters I don’t describe at all or very little. I’ve gone into the reasons why many times here on my site.

            I made one exception and have kept it as sort of a running joke.

            The hero (MC) from my Gold series, Detach I’ve described as looking like the infamous (and lucky for us) dead former leader of Russia, Vladimir Lenin, but with hair. Those that see him for the first time and are familiar with history say he sort of looks like either Lenin with hair, or some crazed biker with tattoos.

            Now, I got the idea for Detach from a lot of places, but the image of him came from a factory worker I once knew of where I was working when I original wrote the manuscript. The guy, which I never knew personally, always reminded me of Lenin, but with hair. At the time, I thought it was a great idea, so I incorporated that into the story. The real guy has no idea.

            Now for the clincher. Years later, when I did some research and looked up the real Lenin, I saw a short movie clip of him disguised with a wig on. I was shocked. He looked nothing like what I pictured. He looked nothing like Detach! My whole image shattered.

            What did I do?

            Nothing.

            Once in a while, I still see some guy with long hair and a goatee and moustache and tattoos, and you know what? He still reminds me of Lenin. He also still reminds me of the “image” of Detach. Yet neither of them look like what the real Lenin actually looked like with hair.

            How many other people have seen that short clip of Lenin with a wig on?

            Probably not many unless they’re history buffs or maybe watch a lot of the History Channel.

            Another thing is that I wanted my hero to be the complete opposite of what the real Lenin was like. I think I did that.

SUMMARY

            Description is in the mind of the beholder, to borrow part of a phrase.

            When you describe something, it’s always best to use the most familiar way to describe something so the most people will “get it.” Maybe not everyone will, but hey, you can’t please everyone. You have to toss it out there and hope for the best. Also keep in mind that not everyone is on the same wavelength as you are.

            Happy writing!

WRITING IN UNUSUAL FORMATS

November 24, 2020

I wasn’t originally intending on piggybacking on last weeks article, but it slapped me in the face this week.

Why?

I happen to be reading a book that did just that.

If you want to see how being a maverick can either be genius, or shoot you in the foot, read on.

WHY DO IT?

            You’re a new, or maybe even an established writer. You want to buck the rules, break out and start something new.

            Maybe you’re emulating one of your heroes from the past.

            Maybe you simply just want to do something different. In other words, throw something at the wall and see what sticks.

            You’re gambling on starting a new trend that could either take off or fall flat.

KEEP IN MIND

            No matter what “brilliant” idea you’ve ever had, it’s all been done before.

            Published books haven’t been around to the masses for a long time, historically, but long enough that everything has been tried sometime. With that in mind, some books that have become classics because of the story, not the writing. Some became classics because there was no competition at the time of publication. Some became classics because they were re-written or edited so that they became readable.

LEARNING OVER TIME

            The publication “industry” has learned a lot over time. Publishers and agents and writers have learned what the public wants, what readers are willing to put up with, tolerate, and what works best.

            That’s not to say they won’t let authors try new things. They will, obviously.

            Like in the old days of music, the old mafia guys would take a lot of weird and unusual bands and symbolically throw them against the wall to see what would stick. That’s a lot harder for some great and unusual bands to accomplish nowadays, given the rather bland state of pop music. Not as much so with books.

            The best, and most tried and true formats for books are still the ones that sell the best because…and I have to go back to my mantra…

            The writing doesn’t get in the way of the story.

CASE IN POINT

            I just finished a book by a highly qualified writer. This is his or her first novel.

            The book has no quotation marks.

            That’s right. The dialogue is blended in with the narrative.

            I could use a series of colorful metaphors but I’ll refrain.

            I could go back to the section on the why’s, but given this author’s qualifications, I can’t even venture to either guess why he or she did this, nor why this big-name publisher let the author get away with it.

            I’ve found it to be a decent story, but one that’s not only flat and emotionless, but very hard to read. It’s jarring, and also full of other faults like tautologies and no point of view whatsoever.

OTHER EXPERIMENTS

            I’ve just about seen it all.

            One that’s particularly annoying is mixing points of view. Going from third to first to second, mixing tenses, changing from fast-paced to literary narrative. All of this in one book.

            My favorite example is that book by a Spaniard from decades ago. I never read it, of course, because it was in Spanish. What made this one weird was because the entire 200+ page book was one sentence. I’ve mentioned this example before, but that’s right. One sentence. The only bit of punctuation in the entire book was a period at the very end on the last page.

            Can you imagine trying to read a 200+ page sentence?

            That’s kind of how I feel about this very annoying book I just read, though it had relatively short chapters and scenes.

SUMMARY

            Whether this book is a one-off, or your “style,” are you ready to punish your readers or alienate half your potential readers with sone weird, or off-putting style of writing? Maybe you have some high horse or artistic “integrity” you want to stick with. Fine.

            Or, do you want to reach the widest audience possible?

            While I’m no fan of first-person, that’s just a personal choice. If the story is written well, it’s still a popular option because it can be done well, and the writing doesn’t get in the way of the story.

            As many of you know, my preference is for third limited. That’s personal taste, and it’s the most widely read and appreciated.

            Also, past-tense in fiction is my preference though some are fine with present tense. I find it unreadable and irritating, but some can write it just fine and some readers are fine with it. Once again, personal preference.

            Mixing and doing weird things doesn’t bode well for broadening your audience. Punishing them or making them work for their story isn’t a great way to introduce yourself either.

            It’s up to you, of course, but if it were me, I’d leave these weird experiments for the writing classes.

            Happy writing.

PUBLISHING IN UNUSUAL FORMATS

November 18, 2020

            This reminds me of the old warning about sending out query letters to agents. “Don’t get cute.”

            By that I mean, don’t use frilly stationary, soak it in perfume, or send a tattered note with a bad typewriter key on it, coffee stained, with a cigarette burn…things like that. Agents usually don’t appreciate when the author goes into character for their query letters.

            How about the book when it gets published?

WHAT’S AN UNUSUAL FORMAT?

            This should go without saying, but not everyone is on the same wavelength. Any book that does not fit on the shelf is the simplest way to put it.

            When you go to the bookstore and you see row upon row of books, and something sticks out because it looks like it doesn’t belong on the shelf, THAT’S an unusual format.

            In the past few years, maybe more, the only games in town (brick and mortar bookstores) have narrowed so that nowadays, trade paperbacks are now mixed with mass market paperbacks as well as hardbacks. A long time ago, things didn’t used to be that way. Each format had their own shelves. With shrinking brick and mortar space, and variety, that’s no longer true. It’s all mixed together.

            Still, when you browse the shelves and see something that looks like it doesn’t belong, it’s going to stand out.

            For instance, when the shape and size of the book looks like it should be in the art department, or sewing, or maybe crafts, that’s going to stand out.

            When the binding is three-ring, or spiral-bound, we have something unusual.

            When it looks like it has foldouts or appears to be a children’s story in the adult fiction category, uh oh…

CAN THIS WORK?

            There can be significant hurdles to such an endeavor. First off is why? Does the story fit the unusual format? If so, can you get the publisher to go along with the format?

            Another big if is will the public go along with it?

            Think of this. Consider the extra expense involved in publishing something in this unusual format. Will the public be willing to spring the extra bucks for it?

            Now, consider those that collect books at home. They’re going to have to figure out where to place your “masterpiece” on the shelf.

            Have you considered whether this “experiment’s” really going to be a hot seller, or just a novelty that’s going to fall flat?

WHY I BRING THIS UP

            I just read an icky bug novel that I’ve seen on the horror shelf at Barnes & Noble a few times but have skipped for a while. The format was like an art book. It was set up as a furniture store catalog, a very familiar furniture store catalog. The difference is that the text was a highly entertaining haunted-store icky bug story. Each chapter had a heading with a piece of furniture just like out of a real catalog. I loved the story. The book was a bit pricey, but considering the format and the cost of a regular trade paperback, it was equitable. So, I broke down and bought it.

            In this case, the gimmick worked. The book would still be a bit hard to shelve, as it sticks out and doesn’t quite fit with either hardbacks or trade or mass market paperbacks. Since I now only save signed copies, after having purged a whole room full of books, it doesn’t matter.

            I’ve seen plenty of other gimmick books that I’ve turned my nose up at. Maybe I did that not because of the gimmick itself, but because of the subject matter. Makes me wonder if they were sellers or not.

ARE YOU THINKING OF THIS?

            A big caveat to this is just remember, the e-book wipes any physicality out of it. Then again, I’m not sure how the illustrations would survive. Since I don’t read e-books, I can’t vouch for illustrations to translate to that little screen.

            I only personally know of one case where it worked. I just read it and seen the proof in the many reviews this book received.

            It might be a bit difficult not only to come up with something original, but to get your publisher, or if your self-published, to spring for the extra expense of printing (and/or) manufacturing it.

            Keep in mind that breaking the mold is always a risk. Then again, as they say, you can’t win if you don’t play.

            On the other hand, don’t go through hoops looking for some freaky way to publish a book juss’ ‘cuzz. I’m not. I’ll stick to convention. I have enough to deal with already. If an inspiration hits me one day for something like this, I’ll think long and hard before I ever spring this on my publisher. If I do, I’ll have a real good reason for it. For now, I’m quite happy to keep it simple.

            Happy writing!

THROWING THE DICTIONARY AT YOUR READER

November 11, 2020

            The last time I addressed this issue specifically was way back in 2012 in my article, Are You Writing A Story Or A Dictionary? I’ve addressed it since then, indirectly, in articles about the writing getting in the way of the story. I thought it worth addressing again, specifically, since it was brought up on one of the Facebook forums just last week.

ORIGINAL PREMISE

            I’d originally participated in a discussion on the Absolute Write Water Cooler in the Horror Forum. A participant asked if he should use a certain word to describe a gory scene involving a victim being stabbed in the eye. The word he picked was a medical term that I’d never heard of. He asked the forum if he should use that word or pick something simpler. There were several responses asking what the word meant. I gave him my philosophy, which I’d mentioned here in an earlier article.

            Here’s my quote from the forum: Simpler is better. It’s best to use word economy and keep it at a sixth-grade level whenever possible. Don’t try to impress your reader with big words unless you define those words. That means extra narrative that usually slows things down, unless it’s a key plot point.

            Whoa… hold the fort! The board suddenly came alive. Several responded saying that the writer shouldn’t dumb down the story for the reader. Okay, I can understand that. One responder qualified that you shouldn’t throw the dictionary at the reader, but it’s okay to throw in new words and not explain them so that the reader has to go look them up. He said he appreciated it when he had to look them up, so he figures others will too.

WHAT I’VE REALIZED SINCE HASN’T CHANGED MUCH

            Jumping forward to the present, the Facebook forum had about a fifty-fifty mix of responses this time. Many went for simpler is better, if at all possible, while some said it’s up to the writer to write what he feels, and it’s up to the reader to educate themselves up to the level of the writer (or thereabouts).

            How have I changed in that? Let’s look at this from a logical standpoint.

            How many of you would appreciate stumbling across a word where you have no idea of the meaning? Will you stop reading and go pick up a dictionary, ask someone, or go online to find out what it means? Does the term, jerk you right out of the story mean anything? It certainly does to me, and that hasn’t changed since day one.

            Look at me today, with two master’s degrees under my belt. I’m not exactly a walking dictionary but I have a fairly good grasp of English, my native language. Then again, I still don’t know a good many high-falutin’ and obscure words. Some I can imply from the context of the narrative or dialogue. Some, I don’t have a clue. So, what do I do now? If the word doesn’t jerk me out of the story, I just skip it. I don’t keep a dictionary on the table next to my chair. So, it’s not only my loss, but the author’s loss as well.

            When I was twelve, I didn’t have the greatest command of the English language. If I read the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew or Edgar Rice Burroughs, did I go to a dictionary to look up the words I didn’t know? Not a chance. Did I ask someone? Maybe once or twice. I either guessed the meaning by how the paragraph was written (like I do now), or I just ignored it. I figure that’s what most readers today are going to do if I start throwing in a bunch of fancy words in my writing.

            I like to use the occasional fancy word. However, it’s usually a technical term key to the story. I always explain it either through the narrative or dialogue. Besides, if I do throw in something wonky, my writer’s group will be sure to call me on it!

            As a reader, even now, when I read someone like Dean Koontz (I’m a big fan when he writes third-person), who likes to throw in the occasional freaky non-technical word without explanation, I’m not about to go running to the dictionary to figure it out. If the narrative or dialogue doesn’t explain it, I just blow it off. I don’t care that much. It’s most likely a word I’ll never use in real life or in my own writing, so who cares? Using it doesn’t make me any more sophisticated or make my two Master’s Degrees any more or less valuable, so I just move on.

SUMMARY

            Sure, it would be nice to expand my vocabulary, but once I do, who am I going to use it on? There was a guy I worked with at the AGE Shop in Spain back in the 80’s. He was a walking dictionary. Half the people in the shop couldn’t understand him, and I was among them. On the other hand, I’d love to learn Cockney slang, for a hoot, but who would I use that on?

            As a writer, please consider your audience. This is especially critical to young adult, but it applies to even the older crowd. If you’re shooting for the highbrow intellectual bunch, maybe you can dazzle them with ten-dollar words, but if you’re appealing to a wider audience, KISS!

            If I have to explain that acronym…NO, it’s not the band!

            Once again, I’d like to make this as plain as possible:

            Your job is to entertain your reader, not force education on them. It’s great to provoke thought, but much better through subtle philosophy and ideas woven into the narrative and plot, not complicated words that put up a barrier to the prose. Therefore…

            DON’T LET THE WRITING GET IN THE WAY OF THE STORY!

            Happy writing!

VISITING HISTORICAL SITES

November 4, 2020

            It just dawned on me how different we perceive things through words versus what we see in person. My latest book, Spanish Gold is coming out soon. Through it, I do my best to describe various places I not only visited (well, with one big exception), but actually lived a significant time. Through my words, I hope I was able to draw a vivid picture without bogging the reader down in excruciating exposition. As many of you know, I prefer action over excessive detail. At the same time, I like to convey details others would neglect. Which brings me to today’s subject, visiting historical sites.

FAMILY VACATION

            This past weekend, we had to skip our trip to Disneyland and find someplace else to go. We decided to go the other direction. Since we didn’t want to mess with bad weather or snow, we opted for south. We chose Tombstone, Arizona, the site of the OK Corral and Wyatt Earp and all that good ole’ cowboy stuff. There were a couple of other things in the area to see as well, so we went for a self-made package deal and took in as much as we could.

            Here’s the deal.

            What I pictured about the place was a far cry from what I actually saw.

THE REAL TOMBSTONE ISN’T LIKE THE MOVIES

            Let’s forget the blatant tourist trap side of things for a moment and just look at Tombstone, the reality. While it’s a vibrant and friendly little town, it’s still a far cry from the myopic images one sees in the movies, TV, and fictional books one might read. The impressions I got were completely different. Not only that, but the local terrain wasn’t even close.

BISBEE

            I’ve enjoyed quite a few Joanna Brady mysteries from J. A. Jance. When I actually went to her hometown of Bisbee, saw the Lavender Pit (which was named after a guy, not the color), visited the mining museum, and ate at a restaurant across the street from the museum, the place didn’t look anything like what I pictured in her books! To tell the truth, it reminded me more of Weston, West Virginia, the town my wife’s family is from, except for the desert vegetation on the mountains peeking above the buildings. Plus, maybe there was a dash of New Orleans Square in Disneyland from the little park next to the museum. What I pictured in her Joanna Brady novels was, well…now when I read the next one, maybe it’ll click different.

HMMM

            Since I don’t read westerns, I may never have a chance for stories of Tombstone to ever click with me, unless someone writes a thriller or icky bug involving the little town. After all, the Goodenough silver mine runs underneath the town with literally hundreds of miles of tunnels (the mine tour guide told me that). That might make a good icky bug setting.

THE POINT

            No matter how we describe things, or even show them on TV or in movies…by the way, the movie Tombstone with Kurt Russell was filmed elsewhere…people are going to see things differently.

            You can use a thousand words or ten words. It’s not going to matter. People are going to draw their own picture anyway. Sure, you can bore them or mesmerize them with page after page of description, but they’re still going to fill in their own details.

            Now, if you think I’m just giving this from my own perspective think of this:

            “I thought it would be bigger.”

            “I thought it would be smaller.”

            “This is it?”

            “I’m not impressed.”

            “Wow! This is so much better than I ever thought!”

            I rest my case. A word picture is just that, a word picture. They say a photo is worth a thousand words, but I can tell you it isn’t worth much more than that because photos are just as myopic as words in their own way. They can tell a lot, but unless you’re there, a photo can only show you what the lens is aimed at. Sure, it can be worth a thousand words, but there are so many words it leaves out, so many sensations and angles the camera can’t capture.

            The only way to get that is to be there.

            As authors, all we can do is our best to describe a setting and hope for the best from our readers. We’re never going to get it right. So, with that in mind, don’t even try to make it perfect. Don’t try to beat yourself or your reader up with details. Give them enough to get the idea. If it’s a real place, maybe they’ll visit one day and see for themselves. If not, no harm, no foul. In the meantime, we have to rely on their imaginations to go where our prodding leads them.

            Happy writing!

EVERYBODY DIES

October 27, 2020

           This will be the fourth time I’ve covered endings in one form or the other.

            Subjects have ranged from Endings in 2018, to Crappy Endings and Crappy Endings Revisited appeared in 2012 and 2017 respectively and for good reason. The ending can have a huge impact on my enjoyment of the story, and it’s the same for a lot of other people.

            The reason I bring it up this time is the book I recently finished. It was icky bug. Sure, they can be practically synonymous with crappy endings where everybody dies. Just to make sure (and one reason I don’t read e-books), I always peek at the last few pages to see if the main character (MC) survives. While this is usually a good way to tell, sometimes those last few pages, especially with a quick scan and by not actually READING it, can fool you.

            The day I originally wrote this, I’d almost reached the end of the book. The way the author set things up, the gang, including the MC, HAVE to die. I was already pissed. There was about a ten percent chance they might’ve survived, but the way the story went, if they did, it wouldn’t be good. As it turns out, they didn’t. I was pissed, and my review showed it with one star.

            That leads me to the main gist of today’s discussion, which I breached again the last time I wrote about it.

            Motivation.

WHY DO YOU READ?

            This is the real reason that determines what type of endings one is able to tolerate. Since this discussion primarily focuses on fiction, why do you read?

            We’re not talking about non-fiction because it has a pre-determined, and inarguable conclusion. You can’t change history or real subject matter unless it’s opinion or a philosophical discussion.

            However, with fiction, it’s entirely up to the author to decide how the book ends. In that regard, you, as the reader decide why you’re reading.

PURE ENTERTAINMENT

            When you read for pure entertainment, it’s all a matter of taste. The ending may or may not matter, depending on your personality. It can be a happy or a bummer ending, depending on how you swing.

JUST SOMETHING TO DO

            Same as pure entertainment. It can go either way.

NO PARTICULAR GOAL IN MIND

            Same as the other two.

OPEN TO ANYTHING

            I could’ve lumped the previous three and this category together, but broke them down for illustrative purposes. Like the other categories, open to anything means the reader doesn’t mind happy or bummer endings. They don’t feel ripped off when the hero dies.

ESCAPE FROM REALITY

            Here’s where things get a bit more complicated. I’m in this category. My whole purpose of reading fiction is to escape the real world. Unlike any of the other categories, which of course, include bits of the rest in there, as well, my MAIN goal of reading is to escape reality. I don’t want anything to do with the real world, and especially now in 2020 with our COVID mess. I want a happy ending. If the ending’s a bummer where the hero (or everyone) dies, I automatically hate the book. If I want reality, I’ll watch the news, get a college textbook, or a non-fiction book. When I read fiction, I read explicitly for a happy ending! That’s the whole point.

            I don’t want to learn any life lessons, I don’t want to get emotionally jerked around. I don’t want to get philosophized up the yin yang about this and that. If some or all of those things are thrown into the mix, fine, as long as the story ends on a high note. That high note had better not be bittersweet, where the hero dies, or where there’s any kind of bummer. I don’t want to hear “well, it’s like real life.”

            Real life is 2020. Real life right now is stuff like COVID!

            I know very well what real life is like. I’ve certainly lived long enough to experience all that, and still see enough of it all around me every day. The last thing I want to do is read about it in a damn book! I’m trying to escape all of that!

            A large number of people escaping from reality feel the same way.

ENFORCE NEGATIVE VIEW OF THE WORLD

            This is where the negative or bummer endings really come into play. The Debbie Downer group love bummer endings. They love the big twist at the end where not only the hero dies, but everything turns to crap. They love to be shocked.

            When the author turns the whole story on its head, the negative people love it. It enforces their negative view of the world. That’s why certain authors, infamous for doing this, sell a lot of books. While they have plenty of haters, they also have substantial followings.

            There’s the group of people that are bored with happy. They specifically want reality in their fiction because they’re sick of happy and “unrealistic” endings. That’s not real life. They cannot stand the fantasy of happy, or simply like to switch it out once in a while.

            There’s a big audience that loves to grovel in their misery.

            So, if you want to grovel in your misery, suck it up and see life for what it really is, then I guess “everybody dies” is for you.

SUMMARY

            It all boils down to why you’re picking up the book in the first place. That turns around to you, as a writer, and what your goal is, and what type of audience you’re trying to attract.

            Sure, everybody dies in real life. However, what IS the purpose of writing fiction anyway? It’s a chance to escape all of that for a little while. At least to me. Do I mean, nobody dies? Of course not. All I mean is that someone needs to survive. Someone you can invest in and root for needs to survive so there’s a positive payoff, a reason to close the book with a big smile on your face, not a scowl or a tear.

            If you want to write the big twist and a bummer ending, a shocking ending, you’re going to draw a certain crowd. However, if you write a positive ending rather than shock value, you’re going to draw a much larger audience.

            You can mix it up, but once you shock an audience, it may be hard to earn their trust back. Some won’t care, but for those that prefer a happy ending, you may lose readers. It’s hard to tell. Either way, you’re always going to have an audience.

            It’s up to you.

            Think of yourself as a reader and then as a writer. Sure, you have to follow your muse, but you also have to think of your potential audience and your reputation. Once you go down a certain path, it may be difficult to recover the trust.

            Happy writing, and I don’t say that lightly!

REVIEWS AGAIN

October 21, 2020

            I could’ve called this Reviews Revisited. After all, I’ve broached this subject multiple times here at Fred Central. However, Revisited doesn’t quite cover it. Again, is a better word because reviews are the lifeblood of an authors marketing world, as explained below.

            Amazon has now made it even harder. Somehow the software geniuses at the site have now decided, in their ultimate wisdom, to start cutting “irrelevant” reviews. While you may see an author has 20 reviews, only five of them may actually show for reading.

            What?

            Now, to top that off, apparently, you can rate a book with just the star rating and no narrative. While I welcome a five star rating, it would be nice to know why they liked the book. The same if they’re allowed to post a one star rating.

            No idea what that’s all about but they seem to be either cutting down on space, or their new algorithms have been randomly cutting what their filters consider either offensive, irregular, or somehow incestuous material. I’m purely guessing here.

            So, with some editing, I want to emphasize, once again, how important reviews are to the author and go over some do’s, don’ts, and some preaching to the choir.

INTRO

            When it comes to marketing your book, one of the most difficult things to obtain are independent reviews. When you’re a total unknown, one of those brass rings you have to grab for are independent reviews. I’m not talking about “paid” ha ha “independent” reviews. I’m talking about legitimate and honest independent reviews by people you don’t know who actually read the book and either like it, think it sucks, or somewhere in-between.

            The whole point is to get independent feedback from the real world. You want that feedback, hopefully good, of course, to help sell your book. After all, “word of mouth” is one of the best ways to sell something.

PAID REVIEWS

            To me, there’s something inherently dishonest about paid reviews. Okay, the “reviewers” can go ahead and say they’re a business and they have to eat. On the other hand, you’re paying them for a supposedly “unbiased” review of your book.

            Ahem.

            Have you ever actually looked at one of those paid reviews?

            I have and it wasn’t pretty.

            Does the phrase boiler plate ring a bell?

            A couple of them, who I won’t name, were so boiler plate, they almost mimicked a certain blatant paid reviewer I used to rail about on Amazon, one I warned you about that was an obvious fake reviewer. This “lady” if she really existed, used to take the back cover blurb, use that as her review and give the book either four or five stars. That was her review. She had like 100K reviews on Amazon, and every one of them was exactly the same format. They were all on books I wasn’t particularly happy with, by the way.

            Back to the paid review sites. You go to their submission pages and they’re full of warnings and “no guarantees.” This is all the usual bla bla bla stuff about how you could be throwing your money away, could lose your book in the slush pile and may never see your review. Or, if you did, it may be up to a year before it ever shows. Also, there would be no guarantee of a good review.

            Ahem…once again, go right to the boiler plate. I looked and looked and of all the boiler plates, there might be a single sentence attached to the standard boiler plate that varied to tell the truth about the book. Those single sentences didn’t vary much. So, if the book really sucked, I guess it never made publication and was culled. Those are the ones that got “lost” in the shuffle, or never made the “no guarantee” cut.

            Only the good reviews or at least the better ones made the cut.

            Now, you may ask, what was the boiler plate the review was based on? I can’t give you the exact words without giving the web sites away, but they were all customized to each genre, let’s just say that. If it was fantasy, it was about the beasts and wizardry. If it was western, it was about the boots and cows and so forth. If it was romance, it was about the whatever romance is about. Every review on each genre page was the same except for one sentence that actually applied to the book!

            So much for paid reviews.

NON-PAID REVIEWS – INDEPENDENT

            These are the gold, especially to the new and struggling writers. Unfortunately, to the new and struggling writer, these non-paid review sites can be just as struggling and unknown as you are, and their viewership can be a few to non-existent.

            However, you’re more than likely to get a more specific and honest review. The good with the bad?

            Obtaining a meatier review on a web site that nobody sees doesn’t get much promotion potential does it?

            Well…it depends.

            Who says that review has to sit there in obscurity?

            What about you?

            There’s always your own publicity machine, however small and limited you might be, starting out the gate. If you’re any kind of marketer, whether you get out there in the trenches, or do everything from a computer, you should at least have a few sources. How about a web site, Facebook page, forums for your genre? All of these present an avenue to trumpet your new review.

            How about Twitter as well?

            All of these are potential sources to repeat that review, provide a link to it, spread the word. Not only are you helping yourself, but you’re drawing more traffic to that web site. Maybe, just maybe that’ll draw more of an audience to that site and multiply exposure to both of you. The reviewer’s site gets bigger, more prominent, your review becomes more important in the big picture.

            Ever think of that?

            How about adding that review to a list of reviews for a publicity sheet?

            One day, you may want to accumulate all these independent reviews into a consolidated package, maybe to be used for a re-print of the book.

RETAILER REVIEWS

            We mustn’t forget the retailer reviews like Amazon and Barnes & Noble and Goodreads etc. Of course, you can’t copy them directly, but maybe quote lines. I did a bad review of a monster movie and the produces took one line from my review and used it out of context to tout their movie. I saw that and went what??? If they can get away with it, why not you?

            Whether all of your reviews are good or bad, copping the best lines from your reviews may be a thing to do. It may be a bit shady, but you can also go the high road and just pick the best of the best of the best. Keep it true and use it to your best advantage.

GETTING BLOOD OUT OF A TURNIP

            The hard fact is the 99% of your readers never do a review. That’s a huge hurtle to get over. No matter how much you beg and cajole your readers, most never will review your book. You may have decent sales, but that doesn’t mean it will reflect in reviews. Besides Amazon spending restrictions, there’s the fact that some people are just readers and not writers. Then there’s the effort to actually write the review.

            It all sums up to authors getting desperate and some giving in to the temptation to pay for reviews. As stated above, not a good idea.

            The only real solution is in the numbers, which is in itself a damned if you do, damned if you don’t thing. Reviews help sell books, but if you don’t get reviews, you don’t sell books.

            All I can say is outside of paying for reviews, do whatever it takes to get them legitimately and unpaid, wherever possible. The more the better.

            Happy writing!

BOOK MARKETING SITES

October 14, 2020

            A potential way to market your book, once it’s published, is through so-called book marketing sites. There are a bunch of them.

            I’ve done it before with mixed results.

            Before you take the plunge, there are some things you need to consider.

WHY DO IT?

            You’re either a self-published author or with a small press. Numbers aren’t exactly setting the world on fire. Another issue that isn’t hepling is a lack of reviews. More on that later.

            While you’ve maybe done a lot, or maybe little with your own marketing on social media or word of mouth, things just aren’t happening.

            So, you want to add a bit of boost to your sales.

            Hence, one solution is book marketing sites.

WHAT DO BOOK MARKETING SITES DO?

            When I say book marketing sites, I’m specifically talking about sites that readers subscribe to. These sites feature e-books, usually Kindle, or maybe even Nook books that readers can buy with one click. These sites encourage the author to offer (but usually don’t force) their books at steep discounts.

            The whole idea is to expose the book to a wide audience. The larger the web site, the larger the audience. However, the larger the audience, usually, the larger the fee.

QUALIFICATIONS

            This can be the sticking point for a lot of self-publishing and independent authors.

            It can be a damned if you do, damned if you don’t type scenario.

            Many of the sites require a minimal number of reviews to qualify. In other words, if your book is right off the press, forget it. If your book doesn’t have enough reviews to qualify forget it.

            Another qualification is quality. This one I agree with. If it’s self-published, a crappy cover, poor editing, poor quality with see it turned down. These sites don’t want to sully their reputation with crappy books. Then again, some of them will probably sell anything for the fee. I’m just saying.

THOUGHTS TO CONSIDER – MY EXPERIENCES SO FAR

            This goes back to why do it?

            You want to generate sales, right?

            You want to get more reviews, okay?

            Let’s take the first one.

            Depending on the site and their fee, there are certain things to consider. First off, don’t believe the hype on their web page! The first thing you will see is all these success stories, whether true or not.

            Do the math. I took the plunge and things didn’t quite add up. For instance, I spent $25 on one site. Fine and dandy. I dropped the price of my book down to $.99 to sell more books. I think I sold 8 books. After the publisher’s take, I made a couple of dollars (small press). I generated zero reviews.

            I did it once again, same price, sold I think ten books for a little more money. Almost enough for a Starbucks. I still generated zero reviews.

            Not exactly like the booming sales expectations of the endorsements touted on the web page!

            On the other hand, I also maybe got a few fans for the next book. I did sell a few, however I still got no reviews on that one either.

            What did it do to my Amazon sales ranking?

            It skyrocketed for a couple of days, then slowly plunged once again.

            It wasn’t enough to take me into an elite category, but at least the number changed for a while.

            In the end, was it worth it?

            To me it was. Sure, math-wise, I lost money, but sales wise, I may have converted a few more people. Time will tell.

            As of yesterday, as you read this, I’ll have tried another site with a different book. I won’t know any significant results for a while, but we’ll see if it results in anything different.

            As of today, the day before I post this (Monday), my book sold at the normal list (Kindle) price. I maybe sold a couple as my sales ranking leaped up into the thousands. Sure, it never set the world on fire and of course, I didn’t make my money back. Then again, just maybe I made a few more fans, especially considering this particular book is the first in the series and is going to be just prior to the launch of the second one. Finally, I gained a review! Yes, lo and behold, out of all of that, regardless of the math, I gained one new review. A five star one at that. The problem is that while the number is there, the review isn’t. That’s an issue for another article.

SUMMARY

            Book marketing sites, at least the ones I’ve run across so far, deal exclusively in e-books. They all have a high readership, which exposes you to a large number of people who may or may not have an interest in your book. The sites all push for pricing your book from cheap to free, but you can still charge what you want, sometimes at a slightly higher fee.

            The math almost always doesn’t add up, but once in a while, some lucky bastard strikes gold, at least according to their own marketing data. I cannot seem to find any reliable reviews on the marketing sites themselves.

            The qualifications vary from site to site. The fees vary from free to almost a thousand dollars. You heard me right…a thousand dollars.

            Keep in mind that regardless whether you are on a budget or not, marketing is going to cost something. If you want to sell your book, you have to do it somehow. This is one avenue, especially now with COVID going on and no personal book signings on the table.

            So, folks, another option on the table.

            Happy writing!