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02:37 pm: Wright’s Writing Corner: Guest Blog by Douglas Cobb

Douglas Cobb of Professor Crazy fame has done us the honor of guest blogging on the subject of publishing an e-book!

He writes:

I have been a fan of L. Jagi Lamplighter Wright’s novels for a few years now, and have been fortunate enough to have gotten the chance and honor to review a couple of them :   Prospero In Hell and Prospero Regained. I have not yet read the first book in the series, Prospero Lost, but I have truly enjoyed reading the second and third novels, and I look forward to reading more of her writing in the future.

Who am I, you may well ask? A humble reviewer by the name of Douglas Cobb, who got re-infected by the writing bug that made me want to become a writer when I was a boy, and then as  a teen, and as a young man. Though it was, of course, possible for people to become well-known authors as I was growing up (it’s always theoretically possible, no matter the state of the technology), today, anyone can publish their writing, for the better or worse, one way or the other, because of the Internet, Kindles, Nooks, Kobos, the whole Ebook business that’s sprung up and which seems to be the wave of today and the future.

In this Guest Blog article which Jagi has granted me the privilege of writing, I’ll go into the background of my two novels (just one—Lily, Unleashed (The Case Files of Lily and PAWS)is currently an Ebook; the sequel, Lily and PAWS: The Ghosts of Summer I’ll hopefully have formatted and up by this coming weekend) and discuss some of the Pros and Cons potential profit and assured craziness about trying to go the Ebook route.

My seventeen-year-old daughter, Kaitlin, had been asking me for some time to write a novel based on our black-and-white (mostly black) brindle terrier, Lily. I put her off for a while, but the idea intrigued me. I like to joke around and mess with my daughter, as I enjoyed doing with our son, Benjamin, when he lived a the house (he’s now 21 and in an apartment living with his girlfriend). I would talk in a female voice, as if I was Lily speaking, and use slang like “Oh, no you didn’t, chica!” I had Lily confess that she was actually a pterodactyl, and not really a terrier.

So–one thing led to another in our discussion. Kaitlin and I talked about the possibilities that might make for an interesting novel involving Lily. We decided that she would be the leader of a crime-fighting organization, PAWS (Private Army of Warrior Sleuths). They would fight against crime in all of its forms, the Dangers of Strangers, and one of their mottoes would be: Be Ever Vigilant. Their arch-enemies would be the criminal organization, the Scarlet SNURFLES Super Nefarious Union of Rascals Formidably Linked in Everlasting Solidarity), headed by the scarlet Macaw, Freddie Sinister. The other members of PAWS would be equally strange, bizaree, and hopefully humorous, and would also be, like Lily, mutants with the ability to cloud the minds of humans to make them think that they were merely dogs. I tried to chose funny names, that would make me laugh as I read them. There’s Fuzzy Wally MacGee, a Chinese Crested/rhino who is the team’s Distractor; there’s Lucy Marmoset Higgins, who is a Great Dane/orangutan, and is adept at picking locks, fighting, and hacking computers; and, last but not least, is Prince Alphonse Saed, “the only member of royalty of the team,” who is a miniature dachshund/Mountain Lion.

Not twisted enough yet for you? Besides the members of PAWS, and Frankie, the other foes of PAWS are pretty strange, as well. For instance, there’s Benny the Beak, the leader of the Scarlet Mafia, which is an organization that encompasses the Scarlet SNURFLES. Also, there’s the red panda, General Yao Xing, and the Egyptian red fox and head of the Guild of Assassins, Omar Khalid Ali. Then, there are also the aliens known as the greys, evil Christmas elves who sing kind of Oompah Loompah-like songs, and evil Leprechauns. They each present several difficulties for Lily and PAWS, which I hope you’ll read about by downloading Lily, Unleashed, at Smashwords.com or Amazon.com for $2.99. If you decide to purchase Lily, Unleashed at Smashwords.com by Dec. 30, and use the coupon code: XE47N as you check out, you can download the book for HALF PRICE. That would be for $1.50, as opposed to $2.99.

Hey, if I couldn’t have a good time writing, what was the whole point, I felt—so, I tried to add lots of wordplay and humor and pop/cultural references. I named names, and didn’t care about the possibility of being sued (though now I sort of do, and hope that doesn’t happen). Among the many people/things I reference are Lady Gaga, Justin Beiber, Justin Timberlake, The Beatles, Lost In Space, Elvis Presley, Dr. Phil, Anderson Cooper, James Bond, etc., etc, etc. I was writing for myself and my daughter, and I began it while she was at her grandparents’ house in Paris, Arkansas (the novel is set in the fictional town of Centralia, Arkansas), and I emailed her pages as fast as I finished them, and she kept writing back for more, and my wife said she was laughing out loud as she read. So, with that encouragement, I wrote on….

Lily lives with the Quinces, an Irish-American family. Thirteen-year-old Celeste Elizabeth Quince is Lily’s “owner.” She is loosely modeled after my daughter, but I made her younger, so that if people liked reading what I wrote (other than our immediate family) I could write further adventures. I wanted to make her young enough for this to be possible, but not too young that she couldn’t (somewhat) realistically do certain things I had envisioned, like to be skilled at aikido and judo and use these skills participating in Lily’s adventures with PAWS.

Both of Celeste’s parents are multimillionaires, who have made their money with very unique and humorous inventions. But, don’t ask me what the inventions are—I’ll never tell—and, I’m getting a bit long-winded as it is, but I am enthusiastic about the novel (and its sequel, Lily and PAWS: The Ghosts of Summer, of course—I learned a lot about the history of my adopted state of Arkansas and its many haunted locations as I wrote it).

I will (finally) get to what was intended to be the main topic of this article: the Pros and Cons of self- publishing an Ebook through awesome sites like Smashwords.com and Amazon.com. The biggest Pro, probably, is that there are great sites that will allow you to express yourself, and to get whatever story you have to tell the world out to a wider audience than just your family and friends. Besides that, another major plus is that you have the opportunity to make your hobby into a money-making venture. Also, you don’t have to wait forever and a day on the backlogged and overworked folks whom you write endless query letters to, in the hopes that one might choose to make you his/her client: that’s right, I’m speaking of the quest to obtain an agent.

Don’t get me wrong, though—there are loads of fantastic agents out there, and if you can attract the attention of one who would like to represent you, I’d heartily say: “Go for it!” But, of course, agents take their cut of any profit you might earn on your writing. Granted, they work hard to earn it, and to try to sell your work to a publishing company. And, the promotion of your book is handled generally very well by said publishing companies, as is the distribution of your ultimate book. They choose the cover, they name the price the book will sell for, they take a lot of the inherent risks. Perhaps your book for whatever reason isn’t a bestseller—the publisher then takes a loss. Perhaps your novel does very well—then, you might get signed to a multibook deal, and everything in your immediate future then will look quite rosy, indeed. Agents and publishers, at their best, work hard to get your writing the attention it deserves, so if you happen to have an agent, more power to you, and congratulations!

But, agents are inundated with literally hundreds of query letters a week in many cases. They can afford to be extremely picky with the clients they choose. The same goes for publishers. Competition is fierce, and it can be very difficult to get noticed, even if you have written a novel that’s pretty kick-ass. It’s easy for your masterpiece to get lost amidst the slushpile that agents and publishers have to wade through  to select the authors they eventually will represent and publish. Also, your particular novel might not easily fit into a certain category, or might not have the “correct” amount of magically-derived predetermined words. Maybe your query letter wasn’t quite as attention-grabbing as the next person’s, and on that basis alone, your novel might not even get read at all.

Lily, Unleashed (The Case Files of Lily and PAWS) doesn’t fit into a prescribed word count for an MG novel, which some sites suggest should hover around 50,000 words. My novel has 65,960 words. And, even though many bestselling MG novels contain way more than 50,00 words, for some reason a higher-than-usual word count still often is a deterrent to getting one’s novel represented and published. I don’t really know if that was one aspect about my novel that might have worked against me or not; but, it can be a potential factor.

Besides this, perhaps any perspective agents who read even a chapter of my novel might have worried about representing someone who has named several celebrities, even if just in passing, and for comical effect, because they might not have wanted to risk a potential law suit. I also don’t know if this is the case, but it might be yet another factor. I don’t insult anyone, or slander them, so I was hoping as I wrote that if the novel ever was published and any celebrity found out his/her name was in my book, that he/she wouldn’t care very much. After all, David Letterman, Jay Leno, The Colbert Report, and The Daily Show drop names all of the time and poke fun of celebrities, and that seems to be fine for them. But, I don’t really know much about potential legal ramifications, to be honest.

Let’s say you might be in a similar boat. You have a great novel you’ve spent quite a while writing and polishing, then you’ve agonized for days, weeks, months waiting on being told good news by an agent that you’ve been selected to be his/her client. Then, you either don’t hear at all from said agent, or get a form letter saying “Sorry, you just don’t quite fit the agency’s current needs,” or something to that effect.  Face it, such an experience where you pour your heart and soul into what you’re writing can be a devastating experience.

Formatting your novel into an Ebook is one way to get over your dejection and then hopefully prove the naysayers wrong when your Ebook takes off and makes you a pile of cash. Has mine, yet? No, but it hasn’t been out in the marketplace for very long so far, and—here’s a big catch—it hasn’t received all that much publicity yet. Individuals don’t have the media power of major publishing houses, nor, generally speaking, the big bucks to promote a book or distribute it. Also, there are millions of other people who have written Ebooks whom you’re in direct competition with for the public’s attention. These are some of the Cons to doing what the Fleetwood Mac  song says about “Go Your Own Way.” Oops—there I go with another reference.

Another drawback to going your own way and creating an Ebook with the help of Smashwords.com or Amazon.com is that it can be a relatively complicated and time-consuming process. It’s true that some people can format their novels into Ebooks within an hour’s time—I’m not like those people, though. I’m the joker who has written his entire novel in the ridiculous format of WordPerfect 2007, when sites like Smashwords and Amazon.com pretty much require you send them your novel as a Word.doc file. I also typed my name and the page number at the top of each page, nice and neat, just like you do in high school or college, and double-spaced my lines. I subsequently learned that page numbers are both unnecessary and shouldn’t be used in an Ebook, and that I should have my lines single-spaced for Ebooks. You might be getting the picture—what should have taken me maybe an hour ended up taking an entire weekend, give or take.  

But, I do have an actual novel, in the form of an Ebook, at two different sites, whether I ever sell a copy or not. That’s more than some people can say, who get rejected and then decide to give up their dream, because they feel crushed, and that there’s no other way they can get published, aside of paying a vanity publisher to do it for you—which I. personally, never want to do.And, I have another novel waiting in the wings, which I’ll begin formatting possibly tomorrow, and with the hope it might appear at one of the sites by the weekend. I’d say that’s better than waiting for months and years. And, I have been asking around at sites that do reviews to try to get more attention for my book, in the form of reviews. BookSpot Central, which I write reviews for (among other sites), has offered to place an advert for me, so who knows what the future might ever hold?

Will you ever make millions of dollars writing an Ebook? Honestly, probably not, though some people have. Will you have your novel out there, and will you reach at elast some people with your words? The odds of that are much, much better, especially if you have written a great story, have a nice cover made (my daughter and I used Photoshop, with my wife’s help, and took photos of Lily at a local dog park), and get someone(s) to give you a few good reviews. That’s more than can be said if you have felt like you’ve just been banging your head against a brick wall, and that no matter how hard you’ve tried, nothing seems to be working out for you. And, you have much more immediate results, without having to wait on the whims of others. There are definitely both Pros and Cons to self-publishing Ebooks, but for me, the Pros outweighed the Cons by a landslide.

If you do attempt to do the same, I found the Smashwords.com site to be somewhat easier (though still a pain) to get  the formatting right. Also, they offer you the chance to make coupon codes to give to reviewers so that they can download your book for free to review it, and you can generate coupon codes—as I did—to allow your potential customers to get a break on the list price of your book. To anyone who enjoys writing, whatever you ultimately decide to do, I say that you should never give up on your dreams. You might not become the next Stephen King, or J.K. Rowling, but you should never expect that to happen—if it does, though, so much the better.

–Douglas R. Cobb–

Links to purchas Mr. Cobb’s work:

Amazon  :

http://www.amazon.com/Lily-Unleashed-Case-Files-ebook/dp/B006H9FQUW/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1323287843&sr=1-1

People of course can just go to Smashwords.com or Amazon and type in the keywords: Lily, Unleashed, also.

Originally posted to Welcome to Arhyalon. (link)

Comments

[User Picture]
From:David Marcoe
Date:December 8th, 2011 01:54 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I think it has to be said that even if you do find a publisher, the chances of becoming rich and famous are very slim. Most authors never even make enough to live off of their writing and usually have a day job. A King, Rowling, or Clancy are exceptionally rare creatures. It's a saturated market, made more so by an army of the would-be famous who self-publish with the idea that they will become another King, drowning out those whose work deserves more attention. Success in self-publishing, in part, means self-education.

1. Style - I've seen more than a few small press and self-published works where the authors clearly needed to work on their technique. There are many excellent books on grammar, style, rhetoric, and even logic. The last one many a head-scratcher for would-be authors, but poorly constructed plots and muddled characters demonstrate the need for such study. Rhetoric is another area that might seem unnecessary--as it calls up pictures of speech-making and banal political double-talk--but authors, poets, playwrights, and others, even well into the 20th century, made a formal study of rhetoric to learn and hone the technique of writing clearly and persuasively. Shakespeare, for example, had an education in grammar, logic, and rhetoric as a youth, steeped in sources and models from Classical literature. And he employed that training in the writing of his plays and poetry.

When searching for these types books, it's useful to dig underneath the latest flavor of hype to find what's consistently recommended over time. A lot of the best books are older, some of them out of print, but sold used at a reasonable price.

2. Editing - This is a place where self-published stuff can stand out rather painfully. Aside from the typical typos and grammatical errors, there's often an excess of material that would've been excised by a professional editor. Luckily, a lot of professional editors have written really good books on self-editing one's work. In the same way that formal study and application can polish one's technique in style, so to is it for editing. The one thing to remember is to be brutal with the material. You can't get too attached to something, especially when it doesn't aid the plot.

3. Research - A lot of people forget about this. One area is subject research, if you're writing on a topic that needs it. For instance, if you're writing a high fantasy work, churning out something that would be a mediocre campaign at a D&D table is probably something that shouldn't be published. If you want to write a real fantasy epic, it helps to read up on history, culture, languages, and details of daily life for those cultures and periods of history that are going to inform your work. The biggest names in science fiction and fantasy--such as Lewis, Tolkien, Le Guin, Wolfe, Martin, Gaiman, Anderson, Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke--were either writing what they knew (sometimes being actual scholars in those areas) or were deeply-read in what they were writing about. Lewis was a professor of Medieval and Renaissance literature. Tolkien was a philologist specializing in Northern European languages. Le Guin is the daughter of a famous anthropologist. Poul Anderson trained in physics. Asimov was a biochemist. Heinlein served in the Navy and trained as an engineer. Of those names, only Martin and Gaiman come from general backgrounds as writers (one a journalist and one a television writer), but both are known for being pretty deeply and widely read.

But outside of subject areas, being, as Jagi has often written about, well-read in the classics, is also important, having first a knowledge of the genre one wants to write in (top 10, 25, 50, and 100 lists are useful places to start) and and, secondly, being educated in the greatest literary works, which feeds back into working on one's style, as well as areas of plot and character. A good helping of the Great Books alone is practically a university for the art of storytelling and useful to add tools to your toolbox. In supplement to the Great Books, there are also excellent works of literary criticism that can teach you "close reading," or examining a work with an eye toward technique.

(to be continued)
[User Picture]
From:David Marcoe
Date:December 8th, 2011 01:55 pm (UTC)
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(continued)

While there are many good works, books on the actual art of writing have to be carefully sifted. Many of them come from echo chambers of writing workshops and are geared toward writing a "literary novel," which (1) is of less use to a genre author and (2) might be laced with ivory tower advice that it's better not to take. Others are in the vein of "write the next best-selling novel!" and can be passed over without loss. Still others are too general (attempting to be all things to all), too idiosyncratic, focusing on what works for that particular author, or too basic, being stuff that you can read on the internet. Again, you have to dig underneath over-hyped books to find what has been consistently recommended by and useful to readers over time.

Another area of research that authors seem to forget is market research; what do readers want to read? Reading user reviews on sites like Amazon.com and Goodreads.com can be an eye-opener. While a lot of reviews are incoherent drivel, you'll find some real gems, some of them excellent examples of writing in and of themselves.

4. Production - It's too easy for self-published books to look rather chintzy or cheap. Readers have a stock set of assumptions about what a book should look like and call tell the difference between what is commercially published and what is self-published. An author can take note of how commercially published books are put together and organized, taking the time to put some cosmetic polish in their own. In addition, one can find a good freelance illustrator or artist to put together a cover. Details, that won't break the bank, can really spruce things up.

5. Placement - Too many authors take a scatter-gun approach to promoting their work, or do too little promotion and depend upon luck. As an example, many authors spam forums and engage in self-promotion on practically any website where they'll be publicly read, not thinking about how it violates rules of net etiquette and is filtered out by most users as white noise. The two keys are to target your promotion and practice the old art of "winning friends and influencing people." There are highly-trafficked online communities related to the area/genre one is interested in writing about, but it helps to be an active participant in those communities, building up a presence, earning respect and goodwill. Instead of just promoting a book, post other fiction and ask for critiques. Get people interested in what you write, gain a following, and increase your exposure over time. In the process, you will polish your technique and gain useful feedback.

Some good books:

- "How to Read a Book" by Mortimer Adler (START HERE!)

- "Rhetorical Grammar: Grammatical Choices, Rhetorical Effects" by Martha Koln

- "Style" by F.L. Lucas

- "Classical English Rhetoric" by Ward Farnsworth

- "Shakespeare's Wordcraft" by Scott Kaiser

- "Classical Rhetoric for The Modern Student" by Edward P.J. Corbett

- "Shakespeare's Use of the Arts of Language" by Sister Miriam Joseph

- "Socratic Logic" by Peter Kreeft

- "Logical Self-Defense" by Anthony J. Blair

- "Master Class in Fiction Writing" by Adam Sexton

- "Story" by Robert McKee

- "Beginnings, Middles & Ends" by Nancy Kress

- "Characters & Viewpoint" bu Orson Scott Card

- "Line by Line: How to Edit Your Own Writing" by Claire Kehrwald Cook

- "The Craft of Research" by Wayne C. Booth

(I use a mixture of two opposing schools of literary criticism--New Criticism and Chicago School Criticism--to gain a wider picture through juxtaposition)

- "Principles of Literary Criticism" by I. A. Richards

- "Practical Criticism: A Study Of Literary Judgment" by I. A. Richards

- "Understanding Poetry" by Cleanth Brooks

- "Understanding Fiction" by Cleanth Brooks

- "Critics and Criticism: Ancient and Modern" by R.S. Crane (Ronald S. Crane)

- "The Languages of Criticism and the Structure of Poetry" by R.S. Crane (Ronald S. Crane)

- "The Rhetoric of Fiction" by Wayne C. Booth
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:December 8th, 2011 02:01 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Hey,David, could I repost this as its own Guest Blog in a couple of weeks?
[User Picture]
From:David Marcoe
Date:December 8th, 2011 02:08 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Sure.
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