Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Art of Self-Reference

I wonder if anyone has named this reflexive phenomenon of having the title of the story explicitly mentioned within the story itself. Sometimes it works and in fact is necessary, such as when the title of the book/story is a part of the plot. Terry Goodkind does this - each of his book titles are in fact parts of the story, and thus need direct mention. (Edit: No sooner did I post than I thought of a couple exceptions. "Faith of the Fallen" for instance)

However, some authors use titles that never see direct mention within the story. I could be wrong, but I think that a couple of George R.R. Martin's titles have never actually been used as a part of the story - rather, they are allusions to the events within. A Feast for Crows, for instance. Obviously a 'Game of Thrones' is an exception. Everybody and their brother uses that phrase within the books... (I exaggerate, of course).

The same goes for songs. In fact, I like it when the song title is not an actual lyric. Some of my favorites are "Tripping on a hole in a paper heart" by the Stone Temple Pilots, and "Paralyzer" by Finger Eleven. It is a form a of meta-writing, I think. You're actually extending the meaning of the story/song itself by using the title to elaborate on its themes.

I just finished a story in which I really had to struggle not to put the title in. I wanted to use that meta-discourse, but damn I love self-reference. It's a weakness, I suppose. I find it amusing even when it is cheap and gratuitous.

What do the rest of you think of this sort of thing? Does anybody know of a name for it? What kind of effective uses of it have you seen and used?

Reducing and Removing Redundancy

Sometimes, when describing a favorite concept or some trick of magic in my stories, I tend to get a bit over-the-top. A little of that is no big deal - hey, we're reading/writing fantasy, we should be able to handle it. The biggest problem that comes with this habit of mine is the overuse of certain words.

Word repetition is actually a big pet peeve of mine as well, which makes it all the more embarrassing when I use the word 'power' or 'force' several times in the space of two paragraphs. The problem is that I get the opposite problem when I try to pare them down by substituting other words. Power. Force. Magic. Wrath. Anger. Vigor. Violence. Et cetera. Et cetera.It becomes a comical cavalcade of vocabulary.

Really the only solution for this is to abbreviate the descriptions themselves, thus necessitating the use of fewer of these words. In fact, the description of abstract concepts is a realm that I need a much greater mastery over, given my love of trying to share them with the reader.

A couple tools I've used for this are examining such passages sentence by sentence and making sure that each one is saying something different. This rule alone has helped me the most. After all, I can write:

"The force of the mage's will pressed inward upon his enemy, befuddling the man's mind and slowing his blows. The mage lashed his foe with power, robbing his every action of urgency."

Pretty passages, maybe. Too bad they say the exact same thing. I have a habit of falling in love with my own sentences, when worded just so. No doubt most writers do. Lately I find myself getting irritated when I come across a mistake like the above, though. This is good - if modern me can be annoyed at past me, it will be easier to kill past me's darlings.

It also comes down in part to trusting the reader. I know exactly what I'm imagining, and I want so badly to get the reader there as well. I have to learn to put the skeleton of an idea out there, with only the crucial aspects sketched, and let the reader fill in the less important details themself.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

What does support mean?

I'm trying to throw myself into supporting the eBook community. I have an eReader now, I'm plugging into the blogs and news, etc. But now I'm up against an important question:

Can I do honest reviews of eBooks as an author?

I want to read some of the new entries in our community and give my opinion, but quite frankly the first couple of books I've tried were - well, crap. As in, if I want to stick to the 'if you can't say something good, don't say anything at all' maxim, I should just keep my mouth shut. However, that is not being honest as a reviewer. If I really want to offer reviews, I need to be truthful about the good and the bad.

However, if a lot of my reviews bash other authors it just looks like I'm being petty. Maybe I should hold off on the whole reviewing idea altogether? Can an author be a reviewer and still be taken at his word?

Friday, December 23, 2011

Harnessing Excitement

Even though I love to write, it is occasionally hard to be enthusiastic about it. I often tell others - and myself - that "I write for me first." Meaning that I won't stop writing even if I don't see any success from it.

This is probably even true, but lets cut the bullshit for a second, shall we? I don't know of any writers, or painters, or other creative types that really do it 'just for themselves.' Sure, some work is private. Some is meant to be therapeutic for the creator first and foremost. Deep down in every single creator's heart, though, is the hope that someone, somewhere will want to read/see/enjoy their work. All their work. Even the stuff created purely for catharsis - because we all hope that our self-therapy is powerful enough to help somebody else, too.

So it can be disheartening when you're up at 4 a.m. writing a short story after receiving three rejection letters for your novel the day before. Your work ethic makes you want to finish the story, but the growing possibility of nobody but friends and family ever seeing your work - and the sneaking realization that they're probably just humoring you - can really harsh your buzz, man.

We need a reason to put words on the page, because we already know our stories. I have stories living in my head that I've been enjoying for years, and still haven't written. I don't want to get it on paper for myself - I can enjoy it right where it is. I want to get it on paper so others can enjoy it, and so they can then tell me how awesome I am. I need that validation.

I need that hope. Which is the reason this ePublishing thing has helped my productivity so much. I know that somebody is going to read my work. I don't know who or how many. Maybe my clever title will catch the eye of someone sitting bored on a long train ride. Maybe the beautiful cover will draw someone in. Better yet, maybe the well-crafted summary and sample pages will convince someone that this story, this author, is worth trying out.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011 which we second-guess ourselves

Now that the initial hectic preparation is over for my descent into the beautiful madness of ePublishing - getting a blog, a twitter, polishing up my first offerings, planning what I'll be publishing at later dates, etc - I've managed to stop and think for a second about one important question.

Am I sure I want to do this?

There have been nagging little voices all through the process, but I found it easy to ignore them due to the sheer pace. I was too damn busy for reflection. Now that I have to wait on a few things, I have the opportunity for some good, deep self-doubt. C'mon, you think the work is really that good? If this is the first stuff the public sees from you, your career is DOP! (Dead on Publication). Are you sure those 'free' stories you're planning to offer will entice readers?

To that last question - well, no. I'm not. The story I'm putting up for sale is easily the best short work I've ever done, but the other stuff - I think it's good enough. And I go back an forth on my own work enough (as I'm sure most writers do) that I can only trust the average of what I think, and what others think.

Self-Doubt is losing to good old fashioned impatience, though. I want to put myself out there. I'm tough enough to take the backlash, if it comes.

Edit: It occurred to me that in this business 'backlash' takes the form of 'deafening silence.'

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Launch Pad

One of the most exciting things about the prospect of ePublishing is how wide a potential audience some of my less marketable ideas might have. Provided I gain any sort of notoriety at all, someone is likely to read just about anything I put out there - which is as sobering as it is exciting, really.

If we want to make sure we're taken seriously, we have to be very careful what we put out there.

I could publish my profanity-laced short story about a war between human colonists and nano-tech driven zombies - but should I?

I could publish little back-story explorations of characters and events in my first novel - but should I?

I could even publish the little snippets of poetry that I write, two and four line things that never got beyond a clever couplet or a heartfelt question - but should I? (Does the world really need more bad poetry?)

The answer is actually quite simple - no idea is too radical, no premise too cliche, so long as the writing is good. Authors turn old tropes into fantastic new stories all the time. As usual, it's all about the writing. I just have to make sure that everything I put out there stays above a certain bar.

Which is probably why the poetry will never, ever see the light of day.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Step One

So I've made the decision - I'm going to publish an eBook. I have the story all picked out - in fact it was the positive reception this story got from all readers that cemented the decision in my mind. Now what?

I started with research, just as I did when I had traditional publishing front and center in my brain. Where to publish, how to publish, formatting, marketing, what the prices are like these days... I read just about every article I can find on ePublishing. Soon I'll get around to devoting an entire post to what I've found.

For now, though, I've divided my foray into ePublishing into a few separate topics/concerns:

Cover Design:
I put this one first because its the one I'm least capable of handling myself. I'm not an entirely hopeless artist, but I want my books to be represent by a much better artist than myself. As soon as I'd made my decision to publish I started putting out notices to all my art-minded friends. I wanted to talk to anyone who could draw well. If I hadn't found anyone that way I was all set to start trolling deviantArt (some amazing stuff on there) and asking strangers if they'd like to help me out. Fortunately, I've found someone who was willing to take a stab at my cover.

eBook formatting is the arena I'm least worried about. I'm currently a computer programmer by trade, and eBook formats are generally based off of HTML/XML. No problem. My writing in the future will be set up with a mind towards making the eventual eBook conversion easier, though. No more tab-indents for me!

Here's the big one. If you're thinking of publishing at all you should be thinking about how you'll build your reader base. This is more important than ever with the advent of ePublishing - it takes nothing for somebody to put their work onto the net, and not much more for them to get it onto Amazon and Smashwords. How to set yourself apart?

First step I had in mind is making sure I have a good cover. I'm guilty of buying a book based on an attractive cover (which I have definitely regretted in the past, but there it is) so I want my cover to catch the eye of anyone browsing through a page of thumbnails.

Second, active promotion. As you may have noticed, you're reading my blog - started once I was sure I was going the indie route (I had always intended to start a blog, but... well, I'm not sure I'm the natural blogging type). Somehow, I also ended up with a Twitter account - @GregoryWrites. I'll no doubt be maintaining a Google+ and Facebook author page as well. What a workload! Fortunately I already was - and long have been - an active member of some writing groups. Then comes the fun "Tell everyone I know to tell everyone they know to tell everyone...". Repeat ad nauseum. Probably my loved-one's nauseum, but I hope they'll forgive me...

Finally, to wrap up this little checklist...

I'm gonna go ahead and bet on myself. I may not make much, but I think I can make something. Certainly enough to attract the IreS. Er, the eye of the RS. Or perhaps the ire of the IRS, should I fail to report every measly cent to 'em.

The wonderful Victoria Strauss said something along the lines of "Most authors have the financial sense of a sea cucumber." Probably true, but I intend to buck the trend. Research, research, research, even when it's boring stuff like quarterly tax reporting and special cases for income earned on book sales...

Sunday, December 11, 2011

So it begins

I've been writing as long as I can remember, but it was only in high school that it occurred to me - due to the words of a friendly creative writing teacher -  that other people might want to read my stories. Since then, I've had publishing on the mind.

I had the usual dream: Write novel, amaze agent, get contract, enjoy fame. Fortunately I'm a realist, and never held any illusions as to the likeliness of this dream coming true. I knew the odds were against me making it big. When I presented that fact in all its sobering glory to my conscious mind, the answer I greeted it with surprised even me.

"Who cares?" I replied to myself. "I just want some people to read my work."

It's an important realization, I think. If you can't be realistic about your chances you're all to likely to become disappointed and disillusioned with the long slow slog. So I humbled my dreams. I'd love to make it big - who wouldn't? - but my goal is just to get my work out there where people might enjoy it. Maybe I'll even earn something. For a long time this meant putting my shoulder to the wheel with my writing and trying to find an agent.

Then ePublishing comes along.

At the beginning of the year I looked at the possibility of self-publishing my book or some of my shorts as eBooks, and decided against it. Not ready, too small, too filled with dross. Here we are only eight, maybe nine months later, and I've changed my mind.

My, how the publishing world has changed in such a short time. eBooks are rapidly gaining in popularity, there are more and more channels to market and display your work, and most importantly - the up-front costs are the same as traditional publishing. (None).

I'm still hoping to publish my first novel traditionally, but I'm rapidly warming to the idea of ePublishing it. For now, though, I'll test the waters with other work. It's exciting to watch industry change - I just hope I can keep up with it!