Killing Your Darlings With Coffee

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Today’s story begins with the phrase which had begun many a morning for me:

So I was in line at Starbucks.

Judge me. Go ahead. Because I’m sure you always have time to hunt down an indie coffee shop. I’m sure you and your indie-coffee-shop-finding buddies enjoy the sweet nectar of free-trade hubris in recyclable cups every morning, with a soupcon of disdain for people who don’t shop at farmer’s markets available in organic creamer-form on the dash.

No? Boo hoo.

Anyway, I was in line at Starbucks, and I noticed it was taking the guy in front of me a while to get his drink. Six or seven minutes sort of a while: in Starbucks language, that’s geological ages. Like, I was checking my phone wishing I could die.

When the barista was finally done sacrificing to the coffee gods, or whatever it is a barista has to do to produce a cupload of soylent coffee-substitute, I could see why. The thing that had been produced–this coffee-esque item–was a modern marvel. It had more sugary shit on top of it than Miley Cyrus after a night on the town. There were sugar drizzles, sugary whipped cream, flecks of sugar, chocolate sugar scrimbles. It was probably four thousand calories, and provided enough diabeetus to keep four third-world countries in insulin for the forseeable future. It probably had extra pumps in it.

(On a related note–why does it not bother people to order things with extra ‘pumps’ of stuff in them? Nothing natural–nothing–has ever been pumped into anything. Anyway.)

This quivering gelatinous pile of almost-coffee–this southern-style cream pie rendered as a potable liquid–this degenerate fuck-you to good taste and simple living on all seven continents–was picked up by its proud owner and, unceremoniously, slurped down on the way out the door.

As though he got one of those every morning.

As though it were perfectly normal–perfectly–to suck down a sugary showboat that took some poor kid seven minutes to make on the way to your car, balancing your phone in your other hand.

Now, don’t get me wrong–there are times when we all want a fancy ten-layer coffee beverage. There are times when even I, diabetic curmudgeon extraordinaire, am okay with paying eight dollars for a frappa-crappa-cuppa-zuppa-mocha-latte-hazelnut.

But these times aren’t every day. I want one of those maybe once every three months, and even then I usually ponder the craving for a month or so (‘how badly, really, do I want a diabetic coma?’). And I usually get a small. And I tip the poor barista.

My point:

Don’t listen to all those people who tell you whether or not to kill your sugary-sweet darlings. They don’t know what the hell your darlings are–you do. Some of them might have literary merit. Just like, sometimes, that ridiculous coffee confection is just the thing you want–sometimes, you need fillings and a serious sugar-coma.

Writing, my dears, is the Starbucks of the soul.

Most of the time, you should probably go for the plain black coffee of prose. A pack or two of sugar if that’s how you like it, some milk or creamer if you’re that sort of person. Nonetheless: plain coffee. It wakes you up. It gets the job done.
If you drink mostly plain coffee–if you keep your writing style simple and direct–it’ll only mean you appreciate your moments of prosey frappa-mocha-fucka-whatever better.

Because it’s hard to appreciate two pumps of extra whatever-you-pump when you’ve been having it every day.

And plain black coffee isn’t so bad–there’s a lot of subtle difference in plain black coffee. You might even argue, for that matter, that the person who can wax rhapsodic about a cup of plain black coffee is a gourmet–whereas the person who waxes rhapsodic about a cup of sugary, milky, coffee-putrescence is a future diabetic.

It’s up to you, of course, to decide what the appropriate amount of time between frappa-fuckas really is. But, believe me here–there is one. I know, I know, you’ve all heard that old adage, kill your darlings–it’s true. For the most part.

But if you kill all your darlings–if you drink nothing but black coffee from now until the end of time–I can’t help it, I find that a little sad. There’s a fun, sugary part of your soul that no one else will ever see again, that makes your writing what it is. And, sure, indulging in it too much is bad for you–but a little self-indulgence, from time to time, is medicine rather than murder.

The expression ‘kill your darlings’ teaches us, wrongly, that something is harmful to us just because we like it. And, like the Starbucks coffee, it certainly is, if we let it rule us–but if you use your darlings judiciously, if you pick the best of them and apply them with care, there’s no reason that bit you like shouldn’t stay in.

Just because you like it doesn’t mean you can’t make it work.

And in the end, you should be getting a second (or third, or fourth) opinion anyway. If they give your sugary baby the axe, maybe it’s not quite time yet. But if they don’t, let your darling live.

Because people who never ever get a frappuchino are just a little bit soulless. You need to play a little, give in to your cravings a little. They’re part, after all, of who you are.

Unless, of course, you hate frappuchinos. In which case: get one once. Just so you know. If you don’t break the rules ever, you’ll never know what happens when you do.

By the way, this whole post is me not killing a darling. There’s nothing we like over here in Emville like extended metaphors…regardless of how well they work.

Writing: Popular Pedantry

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Popular Pedantry

I’m going to start this story with its own little story. We’re going to talk, for a few seconds, about the food stamp ‘issue’ in America.

See, there are people looking to beef up food stamp regulations in this country–beef them up to keep folks from buying ‘luxury items’ such as soda, junk food, steak, or lobster. I don’t want to get too into the politics of this–I’ll just say that, if I were on food stamps and they banned me buying soda, I would be a quivering pile of unhealthy and certainly unemployable jelly for a period of months as I got over my Diet Dr. Pepper addiction. Afterward the state would undoubtedly be paying my living wages, as well as for my breakfast, while I picked up the pieces of my shattered sodaless life.

Anyway.

The reason I’m bringing it up is the same reason lawmakers and pushy online commentators bring it up. The reasons folks have been giving for supporting such a bill have little to do with an overextended budget, or a lobster shortage, or what have you. While the purpose of the bill is essentially to curb abuse of SNAP benefits, that isn’t why people support it. The reason folks support this bill is because, at some point in their lives, they’ve been standing in line at the grocery store, and they’ve seen someone pay for steak or lobster or what have you with food stamps. This whole issue blew up because of a receipt some lady found in a parking lot this one time.

I know, right?

Your first question, upon reading this statement, was probably the same as mine: why the fuck were you paying this much attention?

I can honestly say I’ve been standing next to a stranger while he or she pays for groceries maybe, oh, .05% of the time I’ve spent in a grocery store line. Usually, I’m back a polite distance, reading the tabloid headlines. Sometimes, it takes me a minute to notice they’ve left.

I don’t think I’ve ever noticed what card they used to pay.

And that’s been my main reaction to these restriction attempts. Not oh no poor people don’t deserve lobster or gah rich entitlement. It’s been: wow. Are we really this open about our own nosiness now?

We spend a lot of time (and I blame the internet for this, though it’s always happened to a lesser degree) concerning ourselves with other peoples’ business. What women wear, what poor people eat, chance remarks by some C-list celebrity.

And, in writerly circles: about typos and grammar.

Why are we all so suddenly concerned about the Oxford comma, someone’s placement of who and whom?

Don’t get it twisted, if someone published a novel and the grammar therein is execrable, by all means, point it out. This is a serious problem, and it denotes sloppy editing. If you didn’t care enough to figure out the basics, I don’t care enough to give you five stars. My reasoning for this has nothing to do with me liking you as a person, or caring deeply about English grammar–your lack of care interfered with my ability to read your story. It made your story crappier. It lessened my ability to enjoy your novel. A more conservative person than I might point out that your tax dollars are going into that food stamp purchase–so I might argue your money went into the purchase of this sloppily edited book. Therefore, if the grammar got in the way of you enjoying your money’s worth–well. Mayhap the literary steak and lobster of grammatical license isn’t to be given.

Y’see, grammar exists for one reason, and one reason only. English grammar is the set of rules that help a reader decipher meaning in the complicated code of the English language. If your shitty grammar gets in the way of someone understanding what you said, you have a major problem, and you need to correct it.

If, however, your use of the fucking Oxford comma doesn’t meet Chicago style handbook regulations, boo hoo. The situation where an Oxford comma is necessary is relatively rare, so why is the internet blowing up about it?

The fact is, typos and grammar errors happen. Every once in a while, you’re going to make one, and you (and your proofers) are going to miss it. It’ll burn you, when you’re rereading your published masterpiece. It sure will. But it happens. Even if you think it hasn’t happened. You might not even have noticed it yet.

I’m mentioning all this because I picked up an indie novel recently. I noticed, in perusing reviews, a reader had complained about the grammar in the novel, and had given a three-star review for that reason. So I opened the book with some trepidation, but hell, it was only a buck.

Imagine my surprise when the grammar was just fucking fine. There were a handful of typos, and a few occasions where I might’ve made a run-on sentence a little shorter, but overall–just fucking fine.

Were those small infractions really worth dinging a story two stars?

I didn’t think so. The story was good, the plot cohesive, the characters well drawn. I enjoyed it. I had no trouble reading it. I’ve occasionally seen more typos in ebooks released under a major publisher.

My point: we sometimes use grammar criticism for our own nefarious purposes. We use it as a way to bolster our own literary appearance and writerly status. This needs to stop. Grammar is a tool, and a story is infinitely more than the tools it was built from. I’m a grammarian and an amateur etymologist by nature–I love me some words, basically–but even I recognize there are occasional faults in the machine, even (grammar gestapo, go ahead and gasp) places where poor grammar works better than perfect. If it works, reward that.

Writing is a magical and mystical process, in which you put a bunch of typed characters together and, if you do it well enough, images are generated in someone else’s brain. It’s a little bit like telepathy. If poor grammar stops or damages the flow of these images, by all means, ding someone a star. If it doesn’t–if, basically, you only noticed it because you were looking–consider letting that dangling gerund phrase go.

In short: stop looking in other people’s literary carts. Mind your own business–when reading a novel, the business of a reader–and ask whether or not the story worked for you, not whether or not it plays by the rules.

And, again, to quiet the hounds: if you feel your literary ‘tax dollars’ are being misspent, do what the food stamp folks are doing. Take to the internet and complain about it. Bad grammar might be a reason the story does not work. Ruinous grammar is, well, you got the idea from the adjective.

But a typo or two? Not the mistake of the century. Not lifting your out of the story too much.

And a note: if you must be Gina Grammar to someone’s self-published ebook, at least be helpful. You ‘found a few typos?’ List them, and where they are. Ebooks can be republished at a few hours’ notice. If you’re kind enough to list, the author will probably thank you. Nobody wants typos, and it’s far easier to correct them when someone tells you where they are.

Advice Column: Grammatical License in Writing

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Hey there, guys. Looks like I’ve got some interest in this advice column thing! It’s fun, so we’re going to keep doing it.

As always, if you have a question about writing, self-publishing, or, well, whatever you feel like asking me, post an anonymous comment anywhere on The Blawg, or send me an email at efrussel@gmail.com. A note: I won’t moderate your comment as public where you post it, so if you’re worried about something connected to that, don’t be. The only place you’ll see it again will be in the post where I answer it.

This question comes from a reader who’s seen me around Goodreads:

Hey I saw on GoodReads that you’re doing an advice column. I’ve read your stuff and it seems descent so, I thought I’d ask your opinion.

I recently got involved in a group of authors that do review swaps (but carefully so Amazon won’t get all hot, and bothered). Anyway one of the other authors dinged me a star, on my review. She said I had too many copyedit errors. When I asked her to point out one or too, she sent back a reply listing five and said that was only for the first too pages of my novel! Many of her comments were around comma use (except for the ones about hyphens). I don’t agree with her entirely re. the use of commas, would think there is some licence here. After all what do readers know, about grammar? Tell me I’m right. I can’t wait to wave your column under her nose.

JC

Dear JC,

I hate to say it, but there might not be any column-waving this time. Readers frequently know just as much, if not more, about grammar as we do–especially readers who are also authors. 🙂

That being said, I don’t know your novel, I don’t know her, and I don’t know the errors, so for all I know, she’s wrong on all five counts.

But whether she is or isn’t–there actually ARE some hard and fast rules of comma usage, though you’d never know it to listen to a lot of grammatical conversations. You don’t just use a comma ‘whenever there’s a pause for a breath in the sentence’– one of those popular phrases that’s been getting under my skin for years. I mean, if you did that, a death scene would be nothing, but, commas. Ending in one long, neverending trail of commas.

So if you want to check up and see who has the upper hand gramatically, here’s a pretty good list of all those times you should use a comma (and some of the times you shouldn’t). I disagree with them on the subject of the Oxford comma–while it IS standard in Americanized English, this doesn’t mean it’s a hard and fast rule–but otherwise, the advice there is gold.

But here’s the thing. There are times when I’d say you have some license with grammar when writing a novel. But these are times when there’s a distinct purpose to using poor grammar–I always think of Kaye Gibbons’s Ellen Foster when I think about this, probably just because it’s the first book I ever read that did use grammar as a stylistic tool. Ellen Foster is the story of a child, told by that child, and expressed as a child with little education would express it. Therefore, Gibbons’s grammar isn’t always good.

So. A writer does have some grammatical license in a story–as long as that license is being used, knowingly, to fulfill a purpose. The sort of character who would say ‘ain’t’, in other words, should say ‘ain’t’, even though it isn’t technically correct. If a story is told first person by a nine year old girl, ‘whom’ probably isn’t going to appear very frequently in it, even when it should. So, if your story is of this sort–if your misplacement of commas (assuming it is misplacement in the first place) is done deliberately, for fairly obvious purposes of mood setting or character voice–then the point may well be yours.

Just for fun, here’s a list of some long-held grammatical rules that perhaps aren’t really hard and fast rules, and are now considered okay for a writer to break in fictional writing. The first thing she talks about is another answer to your comma question–though I actually disagree with her there (or think, at least, it’s a device that should be employed VERY carefully), it’s what you were looking for in print. Even if she uses that phrase I hate. Hope it helps!

Yours,
Emily

Why Reviews Aren’t Everything

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The Silent Majority: Or, A Story About Reviews

So I wrote this book a while back (you may have heard of it. It’s called Aurian and Jin). Since its publication in November last year, I’ve sold, given away, lent out, etc. about two thousand copies of it.

That’s not a big number, compared to the number of people in the world–or the number of bacteria colonizing the screen of your phone, even. But it’s pretty sizeable. It’s consideration worthy. Two thousand people out there (more, if they lent it out) have at least heard of my book, probably read it, probably had an opinion on it one way or the other. I regularly hear things like this, day-to-day: ‘my cousin loved your book! She’s like your biggest fan now.’ ‘Grandpa’s been recommending your book to his coworkers. They have some suggestions’. ‘I left a copy of your novel in the bathroom at the strip club, and now the girls can’t stop talking about it.’ (Okay. Maybe not so much that last one. Though, now that I think about it, gratis copies to strippers might not be a bad policy.).

My point is–even if my friends and coworkers and family are just being nice to me, a lot of people have read this book, and said something good about it. And yet, when I look at my Amazon listing, I’ve only got sixteen reviews.

Now, I could get all chappy-assed about it. I could recommend (read: demand) that people write a review when they finish the book. But here’s the thing about that, kids:

The vast majority of people, even people who really loved your novel, aren’t going to leave a review at all.

And there’s nothing you can do about it.

I mean, think about it for a few seconds. Before you got all involved with indie authorship, when was the last time you left a review for something on Amazon? If you’re like me at all, the answer to that is, well, never. Even books you really liked, products you really used. It never occurred to me to do it. I would see the reviews up there, read a few of them maybe, buy or not buy (usually regardless of reviews). In fact, I was more likely to consider writing a review if I was dissatisfied with something–because, in my mind, a review existed to let other buyers know what sort of experience I’d had. I couldn’t tell you at this point whether or not I realized the maker of the product might actually see that review, and it certainly never occurred to me to take their feelings into account when I wrote it. The internet, after all, is a very big place–bigger, in some ways, than the physical world–and I’m a very small person in the scheme of things.

People see your book. They don’t see the praise-hungry author hunched over a keyboard behind it, dreaming of row after row of five solid stars. They don’t see your desire for validation, your need for emotional support, the bragging rights (or causes for shame!) inherent in your Amazon rankings. They don’t know what it’s like, being an indie author with no publishing support system or nice fat advance to live on. Most of them don’t know about your Twitter or your blog or where you’ll be next signing books, and they don’t care. If your editing’s decent, they might not even know you’re indie. They might not even remember your name.

Your book was something to read at the beach, something to read at the dentist’s office, something gotten for free, something lent out by a friend. It wasn’t graven in gold and presented by a burning bush on a mountaintop. In the 100,000 or so words of your story, if you’ve got any sort of pride and decency, your hunger for approval and tacit support wasn’t mentioned once. The support of your readers comes to you in the form of money, which gets you things like cheeseburgers and another month of power, and is about as tacit as support gets, unless you’re the government.

Much as small pub might feel like a validation game sometimes–especially when you aren’t making the millions you anticipated–you made a product and now you’re selling it. Praise isn’t the endgame–it’s more like a happy side effect. You want to make people happy, and you probably have. The written proof of respect your ego so desperately craves is optional stuff.

And, hard as it is to swallow, dealing with that is your business, not the reader’s. You sold your damn book, and that’s what you’ve got to worry about. Somewhere out there, a buyer you don’t know is either happy or sad about it. How happy or sad they are, and whether or not they choose to inform you through the Great Equalizer of Amazon, is their deal. Not yours.

So let’s get Nixonic about this. There is a silent majority of readers–silent, at least, on the interwebs–who probably loved what you have to say. You’ll never hear from them, unless your guys happens to know a guy who knows a guy. But they’re out there.

I’m NOT encouraging you to badger people harder about leaving reviews. That’s not what this post is about, and, frankly, I’ve always found it a little off-putting when people do that to me. Too much of your voice, especially your desperate, pleading voice, detracts from the story you have to tell.

What I’m trying to say–even though you don’t know for sure what these people think, be grateful for them. After all, they bought your book.

And there’s all sorts of life going on in this world that isn’t reflected through the internet or Amazon reviews. You might be famous somewhere in Guatemala right now, where a teacher just loaned a thrift store copy of your book to a kid and made his day. You might never know–but you still, indirectly, made that kid’s day.

So step back, smile, and thank your readers. Not just your reviewers.

Why I Won’t Buy Your Novel

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Five Reasons I Won’t Buy Your Novel

I give you guys a lot of writing advice. It’s heartfelt. Some of it might even be good (hell if I know, right?).

But it occurred to me the other day, as I was out buying YET ANOTHER bookshelf, since my most recent one was slowly sagging under the weight of three different layers of trade paperbacks–it occurred to me that, you know, some of the best advice I can give you has very little to do with me putting my pen to paper.

It has a lot to do with the fact that I read. An assload. Possibly, if the academy will pardon my French, a metric fuckton. If my library were leatherbound and perched on mahogany shelves, Garden and Gun would do a four page spread on it and toss me a free whiskey decanter into the bargain. (As it is, it’s in a two bedroom apartment, piled ass-deep on the cheapest shelving units Target can mass-manufacture. Maybe if I tape a cutout of Hemingway to it and poop out a few Audubon prints…how about that, Garden and Gun? Eh? EH?)

At any rate, I think I know a lot about writing, but the messy fact of the matter is, I know even more about reading. Why would that interest you, you ask? Eh?

Well, let’s fill in the blank. Work with me here:

I am a writer, and I want people to ____ my book.
A) slather whipped cream on
B) read
C) ,in zero G, have a lot of difficulty closing
D) All of the above.

Much as I like to imagine you’re creative and the answer is D, it’s probably B, right?

Well. As a reader–who also knows a little bit about indie pub and What You’re Going Through–I am going to straight up no frills TELL you the reasons I don’t buy books. Because I can’t imagine I’m so different from the mainstream reader that most of these don’t apply across the board.

1) YOU PASTE IT 24/7 ACROSS MY TWITTER FEED.

You know what this behavior is? It’s motherfucking ANNOYING. It is SO, SO annoying. And if my feed is drowning in your book advertisements–if I can’t see one person’s two-part tweet because your fifteen mass-released twitbominations come between the two parts–I will go to desperate, unheard-of lengths to NOT purchase your product. I won’t mute you, because I want to REMEMBER YOUR NAME. I want to remember it so, when the book comes up in my list of Amazon recommendations, I’ll go ‘oh, that asshole’, and IGNORE IT. And I do buy books. Indie books. Just not yours.

A note–posting about it once or twice a day won’t bother me. After all, you wrote something and you’re proud of it. I’ve picked up a few books after seeing seemly and interesting tweets about them. The writer Twitter accounts I follow and remember aren’t spammy or even advertisey, but teach me a little bit about the writer in question or the craft. So please, for the love of JESUS, stop spamming up my goddamn feed with posts like this:

**FREE**TODAY**
#mustread#fantasy#romance#amazon#advertise#advertise#advertise
YOU’LL LOVE IT!!!!
REALLY!!!
**AMAZONBESTSELLEROMG**
(Include picture of unreadable book cover with half-naked girl on front, with or without vampire.)

If you must spam on Twitter–if you absolutely must–have the tact to pay someone else to do it for you. Go through one of the multi-tweet accounts that offer this service (and good luck with that, by the fucking way). Or join IAN, or use #iartg. Because if I follow you, in the naive idea that you sound like a real person and not a mindless spam-spewing automaton, and you spurt your advertisements all over my feed, I will personally become VERY unfond of you, and this lack of fondness will be expressed by not buying your product.

Got it? Good.

2) YOUR BLURB IS POORLY WRITTEN.

This, after tweetspam, is my number two turnoff. Seriously, you couldn’t get through two hundred words without slathering crap all over your own project? After this behavior, I have no hope whatsoever for the 90,000 or so words that make up your novel.

Please, when you hit that publish button, make sure your blurb is typo-free, the grammar is good, and you’ve considered your words carefully. I don’t know how important your first sentence is, but your blurb is literally the FIRST TASTE people get of your writing, with no commitment whatsoever already made, so make it count. Most of the books I buy, I buy because the blurb itself sounds like a cut above the rest.

3) PRICE.

I’m sorry, but this is just too true. If I’ve never heard of you and you’re charging $9.99 for an e-book, I better love that sample so much I name my firstborn after it.

People are less willing to pay ‘big’ money for something virtual, folks. After all, they get no physical object to look at, hang on to, pet covetously, etc. Much as I’d like to pretend I’m loaded, there are times I simply can’t afford to pay the five bucks you’re asking for. Or, more accurately–would rather use it for lunch one day. Does this make me a traitor to bookdom? Maybe. But unless you can sell me on it, convince me in a blurb, cover, and sample that I’m about to discover my new favorite book, I’m spending that fiver on a cheeseburger.

I think just about everyone’s heard this by now, but you should probably looking at $2.99 or under for pricing your self-pubbed novel. I stick with the $2.99, myself–anything less feels like giving my work away (which, I may add, I’m not too proud to do semi-frequently), and anything more is unlikely to find an impulse buyer.

And that’s another thing. Your $2.99 indie novel on Amazon? That’s someone’s impulse buy. No one’s plotting that purchase out, saving up the money for it. So keep that in mind as well, when pricing and advertising–what makes this book worth three bucks right the hell now?

4) NOT IN MY GENRE.

Admittedly, there’s not a lot a writer can do about this–but for the record, I’m a pretty dedicated genre reader, and someone working outside of F/SF or the occasional historical fiction is going to have trouble getting my attention.

So make it easy on your readers to classify you. If your book is fantasy, it should look like a fantasy novel. If it’s SF, it should look SF. If it has romance tinges, give me a girl in a corset or whatever sells romance novels. Same with your blurb.

A quick note about covers–contrary to popular wisdom, a bad cover won’t necessarily keep me from reading something–not like a bad blurb will. So, while I recommend a nice looking cover, as should be blatantly obvious to you anyway, I’d pay more attention to the fact that your cover needs to encapsulate what your book is about. Got it? Pretty half-naked people won’t necessarily sell your fantasy novel to someone not looking for a romance read, and the nicest castle at sunset in the world won’t sell it to someone who is.

5) TITLE.

I share a vital fact with you: there are times when I can tell, just from the title, whether or not I’m going to like something. Am I occasionally wrong? Sure. But by that point, the purchase has already been made or not made, and unless that book comes up in my aimless internet wanderings again, I’m unlikely to think twice about it.

The titles that grab my attention most, actually, are short and original, but still understandable– J. Zachary Pike’s Orconomics (which is an awesome book, by the way, and one you should read if you’re a fan of fantasy satire) got me on title alone. I mean, what a great title. It suggests the fantasy nature of the book, hints at humor, lets me know up front that this author can at least come up with some on point compound words.

A title should, in VERY few words, let me know what it is I’m going to read. Think about that, when naming your work–is the very TITLE of your book advertising to the people you want reading it?

So there you go. A brief look at what makes me buy things. Really, the long and short of this post is: is the small amount of explanation you’re allowed to do on your book’s Amazon page reaching out to the people you want to buy that book? Maybe that’s people like me–I hope it is, I need some new reads–and maybe it’s not. At any rate, market it to your intended audience. Don’t just blather it out into the ether.

Writing: The Life Illiterate

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Writing: The Life Illiterate

Hello. My name is Emily. Occasionally, I do things other than write.

Shocking, I know! Even when I don’t have to do these things. Even when they’re not particularly tempting things.

Sometimes, I would rather play Piano Keys than write. Sometimes, I would rather stare at my Facebook news feed with my eyes unfocused than write. Sometimes, I would rather look at long lists of vapid celebrity gossip (27 Ways You’ve Never Seen Taylor Swift’s Hair Look Before! 19 Glorious Golden-Skinned Teenaged Actresses to Judge Yourself Against!) than write. And I hate celebrity gossip. Unless it’s about me. Which it never is.

Sometimes I come home from work–a day that, plus travel time, often runs twelve hours–and I am so brain-numb, so skull-fucked, so thought-fried, that the only thing I want to do is lie down in bed, pick out constellations in the popcorn ceiling, and never think about anything ever again. I frequently get less than five hours of sleep at night. Do you know what it’s like to be away from the house for twelve hours, come home at eight, clean up last night’s mess AND cook tonight’s dinner, with the full knowledge you’re going to lather/rinse/repeat this cycle five days this week, and fit some other stuff in there too?

You probably do know. You probably do it too. My story isn’t self-pity sob-sob, it’s classic Americana at this point in the economy.

Why am I telling you this?

Because it happens to everybody. And, while I am firmly of the sit your ass down and write school of literary craftsmanship, the fact remains–sometimes, you just don’t feel like it.

And I think we need to talk about this, too. Because, if you believed every blog you read, it would look like most of us were writing automatons, able to ignore the pressures of day to day life and ART CONSTANTLY, dammit.

And it isn’t true. It just isn’t. Sometimes, you don’t want to write. You don’t want to read. You don’t want to do something particularly literary and constructive with your time, even though you usually enjoy literary and constructive things. I’ve had entire days–days–where I did nothing, accomplished nothing, wrote nothing, talked to no one, ordered pizza for dinner.

They were awesome. Fucking. Days.

My point is: everyone needs some time off. Not just from work, but from writing. From being the upper-class literary butterfly we all know you are. And on those days, cutesily though you might protest, you’re glad you didn’t get anything done. You might tweet about it the next day with dramatic sadness (‘totes unproductive today!!! #frownyface #writerslife’), but deep down inside, you know you needed that time and you’re fucking glad. You enjoyed yourself.

I’m a fairly prolific writer. I usually write two to three thousand words a day, though this number is hard to judge, as I never look at my word count. I flatter myself I’m fairly good. I’ve read all the right literary books and hold with all the proper literary opinions.

But fuck that. Because, sometimes, you need a break.

Does my 2-3 K wordcount make me any more of a writer than someone who gets down eighty words a day? No, it doesn’t. Hell no. Let’s face it, ain’t none of us doing this for a living.

Does it make me more of a writer than someone who hasn’t picked up a pen in two years?

This is where people get shirty. Because I say yes, it does.

I’ve made it a priority. It’s slightly more groundshaking on the Richter scale of my existence than getting eight hours of sleep, but less than getting six hours (we fight for those six hours, baby). I squeeze it in. I’ve made sacrifices for it. It’s part of me, and a part that matters enough to make time for.

But even I, like I said, need a break every once in a while.

Enough with this fabricated pre-packaged pablum that is ‘the literary life’. Enough with trying to sell ourselves the story of our own greatness, our own literary involvement, our own Byronic wit. Enough with the self-branding, the Portrait of the Artist as a Young Woman bullshit, the idea that anybody, anybody, takes a writer without a six-figure book deal seriously as a literary fountainhead.

You’re a person who likes to write sometimes. You do it well, or poorly, or some combination of both.

And then, sometimes, you go out to a club, drink something pink called a Fuck It Bucket, and shake your ass to some Pitbull. Sometimes you buy groceries with coupons and haggle with the cashier over clearance gravy mix, prefer James Patterson to James Joyce, pick up a glossy magazine, paint your toenails. Sometimes your anniversary dinner disagrees with you and you spend what should have been a love-filled night in the bathroom, your husband holding your hair while you vomit whole kernels of corn into the toilet bowl. Sometimes you get fired, and it’s totally because you did something stupid. And you never learn your lesson. In fact, you never even figure out it was your fault.

You do, in short, unliterary things. ‘Unworthy’ things. You do things which are unwriteable, things which just don’t jive with your view of yourself as a coffee-drinking, hardcover book loving, mahogany-desk owning character in the story you’ve carefully composed about your author-self.

Keep doing them.

Keep doing them because they’re you, and you need a break from the Hemingwayesque hell you’ve made for yourself.

Keep doing them because you’re a person, not a writer-character in a story.

Should you write, devote time and care to writing and getting better at writing?

God. Yes. If you haven’t gotten that by now, the answer is YES. And you should enjoy doing it. Otherwise, why are you?

But you have to do other things too, to remain sane. And, if you’re wise, you won’t be ashamed of them, because they’re a part of who you are, and a part of your writing.

WRITING: Why I Curse

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Writing: A Brief But Most Impassioned Missive on the Subject of Vulgarity

A NOTE: If you have a problem with strong language in novels, that’s just fine. It’s your right to feel the way you feel, just like it’s my right to say fuck a lot in my story. My anger here isn’t directed at you. Unless, of course, you’ve felt the need to get all up in arms with me about it. In which case: fudge off.

Dear Sir or Madam,

I hope this epistolary concoction of mine, now commonly called a ‘weblog’ or ‘blog’, finds you and your spouse exceedingly well. I hope weather in the place you currently reside is good, and your friends and family have suffered no misfortune since we last had one of these strangely public private chats.

My health is good, and my family is very well, and the weather is delightful, thank you for wondering.

You may have begun to wonder, with suspicion I fear is common to all my readers, what fantastic and whimsical Turn this missive is about to take. Why, you may ask, eyes round, is this sovereign Person, previous empress of the word F-, writing in a fashion which suggests longhand, fountain pens and inkwells, and swirling my own farts in a vintage brandy glass before inhaling deeply?

Because I’m making a point, sweethearts. Life without vulgarity–it sounds different to me. It sounds like a Victorian novel, without the occasional ‘damn’ thrown in there. The lengths a writer can go to to avoid vulgarity can ruin a novel–nothing pulls you out of a world quite as fast, after all, as a group of tough soldiers standing on a battlefield around their recently dismembered comrade, whispering ‘oh sugar’ in shocked tones.

I see this question asked a lot around the Interwebs: ‘should I use cursing/vulgarity in my book’? And my answer is, and always will be:

I don’t know. Why don’t you want to?

If the answer to that question is ‘because I’m not sure it belongs in this story/coming out of this character’s mouth’, then no. No, you probably shouldn’t. Because it doesn’t belong in the story.

If the answer is ‘because Aunt Mabel would unfriend me on Facebook/I’m worried I’d lose readers/it’s not appropriate to the age group I’m trying to reach/someone might be offended if I say ‘damn’ in it/etc.’, pull your head out of your ass and do it.

I curse. A lot. I’m not proud of this fact or ashamed of it, it’s just part of who I am. The curse words in my linguistic flow are like the exfoliating beads in my morning cleanser. A brief, momentary brightness. A typographical em-dash. Mix metaphors as you will.

As I’m the sort of person who cusses, a lot of my characters are also the sort of people who cuss. They’re ordinary people, common people, people of small means and low circumstances. Soldiers, innkeepers, convenience store clerks, fifteen year old kids (who cuss more than the rest of us. Sorry, moms.). Prostitutes. Magicians.

People who don’t, by and large, say ‘sugar’.

Of course, when one of my characters is the type of person who says sugar, or doesn’t curse at all, then they’re portrayed that way. Because story.

My language is, when in novel form, not uniformly bad. I drop an f bomb or two and, okay, sling more shits than a plumber’s supersoaker. But my vulgarity is fairly limited, and, outside of language, there’s little that keeps my book from being pretty clean. Here are some comments I’ve gotten (always in private, tch tch!) on my usage of the mother tongue:

1) ‘Vulgarity just makes you look less intelligent.’
What?

Did you not bother to read the rest of the words? ‘Cause I have a pretty big vocabulary. And I use those words too. When they’re the right word. (I’m sitting on a post about archaic words I’ve learned from my recent dive into Dickens. I am excited as fuck and you should be too. You’ll learn what a pettifogger is, and more on the best word ever: megrims.)

2) ‘It makes you look so common.’
So what. Nice attempt at shifting the blame onto ‘society’, that elusive bugbear, however.

This is the unisex companion to one girls used to get a lot: ‘it makes you look like less of a lady’. Hang on, let me check something–yep, vagina still there. However, oh my goody gumdrops goober goodness. You mean I’ll never be presented into society?

You couldn’t figure that one out earlier, like when I was born?

3) ‘People won’t like you as much if you’re vulgar.’
And there it is again! Not you, the commenter, but people. All of them out there. You know, them. The same people who, I assume, shot JFK, and rigged 9/11.

Here’s the thing, person who certainly isn’t people. As far as my novel goes, I don’t care. If someone’s shallow enough to like or dislike me based on my language choices in a novel, let ’em. It’s not like they were close friends of mine to begin with.

You read the book. You either like it or you don’t. Don’t get me wrong: I love my fans, and I respect all my readers. If someone reads my book, sees the f word, gets offended, and puts it down, well, I’m sorry we didn’t get along better. This person is making a choice for themselves and not complaining to me about a choice I made for myself, and I can respect that.

But for the person who whinges about my language to me, as though I’m a customer service department fielding complaints: I don’t take requests. You get what I give you.

4) ‘People won’t trust/respect you as much if you’re vulgar.’
Again with the people. These people. So judging, so limiting. Especially when expressing an opinion you don’t want to tell me you also hold.

And, again, the same reply: if you don’t trust or respect me, a person you barely know, because of my language choices, and you feel the need to tell me this out of some misguided sense of earthly duty, you’re a few steps higher on the ladder of pseudo-literary shame than the Grammar Nazi. You’re like the Goebbels of the English Language. And that’s your right. No one’s saying you can’t make your choice that way. Yep indeedy. Jawohl.

Also, when you’re in jail and you need to make that one phone call to someone who you absolutely know will bail you out, I’m willing to bet your first worry isn’t whether or not he says fuck a lot.

5) ‘You’re damaging your career options by being vulgar in public.’
This is the one I’ll give some credence to, because it’s true. You won’t ever be able to work somewhere superconservative if you, like I, have a filth-smearing online presence that, in addition to expressing intelligence and good communication skills through a written medium, says fuck sometimes. (And how nice of you, person who isn’t in any way people, to be so concerned).

However–how much money is it worth to you to substitute ‘sugar’ every time someone says ‘shit’ in your novel?

Answer carefully. Your sellout point is a good thing to know, just like your safeword.

I’m mentioning all this because, yes, I get a little tired of fielding it, but also as a word of wisdom for you kids who aren’t sure if ‘sugar’ is the word you’re looking for.

These people who’re telling you it’s ‘disgraceful’ to use a naughty word. These people who’re telling you it’s not what ‘well bred’ people do. These people who, in the least vulgar way possible, are implying that you’re a vulgar piece of shit, and certainly don’t deserve induction into whatever passes for proper society these days:

These people are censors, bigots, and bullies, just the same as the dickhole who cut you off in traffic and called you a cunt. They’re just keeping a G-rating on it, which doesn’t mean it’s any less bullying or censorious. It’s the same ugly thing in a prettier and more self-righteous wrapper. And, again–perhaps it doesn’t deserve to be in such a shiny wrapper when, you know, out and out telling somebody they’re worth less because of their language choices is such an ugly fucking thing.

The choice as to whether you should use shit or sugar is up to you. It is your choice, and yours alone. And it has nothing to do with you, or the Neighbors for a Purer Tomorrow who’re lurking out there, waiting for something new to be outraged by.  You’re not shouting it out to the rooftops, where everyone can hear it–you’re writing it down in a book, where people can choose whether or not they’re exposed.

No. This choice has to do with your story.

Does your long haul trucker say fuck, or fudge? If he says fudge, why? Because, let’s be honest–we all kind of expect a long distance trucker to say fuck. The opposite for a grade school teacher, a pastor, Aunt Agnes with her knitting needles and coke bottle glasses. And again, if they do say fuck: why?

If there isn’t a reason for it, it pulls us out of your story. It reminds us that there’s some little person at the typewriter, plugging away, praying like hell she isn’t (or is!) going to offend anybody. It reminds us that those pious braggarts, those constant offendees, those people whose quavering constitutions are so delicate they can’t even bear the knowledge that someone, somewhere, is saying fuck, are out there.

And they call enough attention to themselves without your help.

So cuss at will, soldiers. Cuss laissez-faire. Because if it’s the right word for your story, it’s the right word, and fuck everybody else. Anything else–any adaption, modification–would make it a lesser story.

And that’s a bigger sin than saying damn every once in a while.

Writing: Dealing With Criticism

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Writing: Dealing With Criticism

I want to be honest up front here: I have never had anyone out and out tell me I was a shitty writer. I’ve never gotten a one star review: or, for that matter, a less than four star review.

This isn’t, much as I want to believe it is, because I’m just that good. It simply hasn’t happened yet. And, judging from the reviews I’ve seen writers just as good as I am get, it WILL happen.

It’s just a matter of time. And, as a self-pubber, I don’t have the advantage of a publishing company between me and the reviewer. It’s just me, five Amazonian stars, and some stranger who’s read my book.

There’s the opportunity here, especially for a delicate multi-feelings’d cupcake such as myself, to get bruised. There’s the opportunity, for a grammargating, mouth-frothing, itinerant fragile flower such as myself, to get pretty butthurt. There’s the opportunity, I might even dare say, for a bright-eyed, artistically souled, chirpy chirpy baby bird such as moi to get downright pissed.

But here’s the thing: I’m not just writing for my grandmother and my cat any more. My book is going places other than my dad’s office or the storage compartment on my boyfriend’s bike. I voluntarily underwent the process of publication: put myself through it, actually. I did this because I deemed my own story fit for public consumption.

And that’s the thing about the public–not everyone likes the same things. Not everyone’s going to like my book as much as I liked it. And of the people who do–well, who’s going to be as enthusiastic about it as I am? Almost nobody.

Lemme tell you, I’m a sensitive, sensitive little shit. I take everything personally. I take the kindest and most well-intentioned criticism deeply personally. I take the way people look at me personally. I probably have self esteem issues, or something boring like that. Luckily, I’m also egotistical, so I mostly ignore them.

But here’s the thing: I signed on that ‘for public consumption’ dotted line. And this means my work–and myself–exist, in these public spaces, as a public entity.

And the folks who’re kind enough to give me reviews–they’re existing in a public space as well. They’re taking the same risks, albeit with a less lengthy piece of writing, that I am. For all a one-star reviewer knows, I’m actually a crazy hacker lady with a butcher knife and access to their private address and family phone numbers. And what you said about my main character being boring and horrible to read about–rawr. It makes me and my forty-seven cat army very angry.

Therefore: I do them the same favor they do me. What they’re offering isn’t criticism, or praise, of me–hell, they don’t even know me.

So I don’t take it personally.

Yes, you might be a shy wounded flower in private. But in public, you’re the guy or girl who wrote that book somebody may or may not have liked. That’s all.

It’s irritating sometimes, sure. Again, you’re an individual snowflake and whatnot. But it’s also freeing.

You are, to repeat, the individual, artistic little snowflake who signed your work off as ready for publication. There are no special allowances for you because you’re indie, because you’re a single dad, because you’re homo/heterosexual, because you’re very young, because you’re very old, etc. To your readers, it’s just a book. It isn’t you.

You can decrease your number of negative reviews by making it a damned good book. But that’s about all you can do, and you’ll still get some.

Whenever something makes the shuddering snowflake side of me rear its ugly multifaceted little head, I just think of this:

One of my favorite writers amongst the bestselling indies is Hugh Howey. He’s a very kind man, very supportive of other startup writers, and his first Wool novella was pure genius, a la classic sci fi. It was a story you might’ve expected to see in Playboy circa 1970, next to Ray Bradbury or Richard Matheson. The twist was perfect, the ending left you gasping. The writing was terse, elegant, emotionally charged. (Are you one of the four people left on earth who hasn’t read it? Here it is, do yourself a favor and read it.)

The first Wool story has, to date, 2,020 reviews. That number’s probably changed since I wrote it down five minutes ago, but there you go. It’s a lovely piece of writing. There’s little to dislike about it, if you’re a sci-fi fan.

And yet. And yet.

Out of those 2,020 reviews, sixty-four of them are one star. Eighty of them are two. Which means that, out of 2,020 people bold enough to leave a review, one hundred and forty-four of them–somewhere around seven percent, I think–found it unacceptable.

One hundred and forty-four. That’s over ten times the number of reviews I have, total.

So logically–even with a great piece of writing–somewhere around five percent of people just won’t like it, and won’t like it enough to tell the world just how much they didn’t like it. Respect these people. Respect their opinions. They cared enough to tell the rest of the world how they felt–care enough about them, and the time they took to read and purchase your book, to let it stand in silence.

As far as I know, Mr. Howey didn’t bitch. He might not have liked it–I don’t know the man, I don’t presume to speak for him–but I’ve never heard anyone complain about the way he treats reviewers. If I were him, I would have looked at that 1,876 figure–the people who DID like it and find it acceptable–and patted myself on the back.

So just know: whatever it is you’ve written, even if it’s the goddamn Mona Lisa of speculative fiction, someone, somewhere, isn’t going to like it.

And that has nothing to do with you.

So button it up.

EFR

PS–And, of course, what would this post be without a dangerous and passive-aggressive plug? Give me five stars and make my heart go gummy, or give me one and imagine me silently and respectfully going batshit while I say nothing. Those’re odds everybody feels comfortable with, I know. 😛 Booky booky, looky looky.

Writing: 5 Things I Want More of In Fantasy Romance Subplots

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Writing Wednesday: Five Things I Want More of In Romance Subplots

I’d like to make a note: this is NOT one of those ‘twenty tropes I as a self-published and inexperienced writer totes mcgoats think we could do without lolz’ types of posts.

I’m tired of those. I wrote a whole post about them a while ago: here it is. For now, suffice it to say that I think our bad-mouthing of common genre archetypes, especially poor Campbell and his Hero’s Journey, is the HEIGHT of self-published self-indulgence. Picasso might’ve preferred cubism, but you can bet he could draw pretty well realistically when given the chance: on the same note, if you want to say you don’t ‘believe’ in the Hero’s Journey, you might want to try dealing with it a little first. You know, just to see what all the fuss is about. ‘ZOMG I so hate Joseph Campbell’ isn’t an argument. It’s a statement.

And, frankly, when we think those sort of statements count as guidelines and arguments–‘I’m tired of this, I don’t like this, I’m offended by that’–that’s when we lose our ability to write, and argue, effectively. Because I can tell you a million things I don’t like. Eggplant, for one–I really don’t like eggplant.

But you might LOVE eggplant. You might think eggplants are tiny purple angels on tiny purple wings. You’re not wrong. I’m not right. And vice versa. We just have differing opinions. (Actually, you ARE wrong. Eggplant is the aubergine spawn of Satan.)

Anyway, that out of the way:

Here are five things, specifically related to the fantasy genre and romance therein, that I’d like to see MORE. Because I read a lot of fantasy, and here lately, I haven’t seen them much. And I miss them. And–for the trillionth time–that’s just my opinion.

1) Happily married couples.
None of these great fantasy heroes have wives or husbands. At least: not living. A husband or wife may’ve had to die tragically to MAKE a hero, but c’mon. I’d like to see more stories about hero husband and hero wife working as a team. More or less happily. I mean, I get that it’s kind of tough to be Tall Dark and Handsome when you’re married, but, well. Maybe we could do with a little less Tall Dark and Handsome.

This is the point where I plug: my novel features this. Or, well, sort of. It’s, erm. Definitely nontraditional. But if you want to read it, here it is. Pluggity plug plug plug.

Or:

2) Falling Out of Love.
Y’ever notice all these people seem to find The One and then stay with him or her? To which I say: huh? I’ve been through a few boyfriends. I’ve seen no evidence it’s that easy. I’d like to see a story where the heroine finds her One and Only, has a great relationship for a few months or years, and then–gasp!–just like the rest of us, it just stops being the same, and she’s off looking for a new One and Only.

I don’t think, for most of us, there were any SIGNS at the beginning of our last failed relationship that this might not wind up being Twoo Wuv. We probably believed in it pretty hard for a while. And then, that moment came–he yelled at a bus driver, or got really pissing drunk and threw up on your cat, or you saw him propped up in bed in his underwear laughing at his own farts one too many times, or whatever it was. He wasn’t an asshole, he just wasn’t right. Your illusions were shattered. And it just wasn’t Twoo Wuv any longer. So you broke up.

Got it? No fires, no masked assassins, no cheating, no beating. It just–didn’t work. Why, in fantasy, does this happen so rarely?

3) Nontraditional Relationships.
Always found it interesting that, in all these well imagined fantasy worlds with different pantheons of gods and codes of behavior and whatnot, a relationship is still predominantly one man and one woman having sex and usually getting hitched. Where are all my gay societies? My polygamous societies? My man-harems, my surrogate mothers, my wife-or-fives? This can be tough to do well, I think–as a person in the Western world, I know I take cishet relationships for granted as the baseline standard.

But in a fantasy world, they don’t have to be. Remember: the baseline in your own imaginary paradise is whatever you want it to be. Just stick to it throughout the story.

4) The Impure Maid/Man
This has gotten a little less common in the past ten years, and that’s great, but it’s still there, and I have to tell you. Unless your character is eleven, this latest girl he’s seen at the water fountain probably isn’t the first girl he’s ever felt this way about. Your thirty year old main character had probably felt this way about a COUPLE of people, depending upon availability and circumstances. Even a seventeen year old kid, while she’ll maybe not have a dating history, will have had crushes, feelings, THOUGHTS on the matter of love. She will notice when a man is attractive. It may or may not mean they’ll date later, because I sure as hell haven’t dated everyone I’ve ever found attractive, and a lot of them for damned sensible reasons.

Again: this isn’t about actual VIRGINITY, per se. Depending on how you’ve written your world, it may or may not be weird for a thirty year old person to still be a physical virgin. But as far as feelings go? No. That IS weird. Because we’re not made of stone, and we don’t come alive only for one person.

And number 5. I hate that I’m even having to write number five down, but here we go:

5) Women Having Consensual Sex.
See why I hated having to write that down, now?

I’ll put it plainly for you: I think rape gets overwritten. I think it gets sensationalized, trussed up in lurid colors, even, though no one in their right minds will admit it, romanticized.

Here’s the thing. It’s not romantic. It’s the opposite. And it certainly isn’t a plot device. And the fact that it’s common enough in spec fic for me to think of it as a trope is SCARY.

I read a book recently that could have worked, I think, with about a FIFTH of the rape that was in it. Jesus. I understand that it’s a very tragic happening, and it’s ruined many a life, but that doesn’t mean you should resort to it every time you need to come up with something negative to happen to a female character. This is ugly. It’s ugly, and sick, and just a little demeaning. There are times when your story will involve it. There are times when you HAVE to have that happen. And that’s all well and good. But overdoing it is tasteless in the extreme.

Girls can get robbed too. Girls can get murdered, too. Just because your character is a woman doesn’t mean rape is automatically the worst thing that could happen to her so it SHOULD happen. Christ.

And, on a similar note: fascinating how men and boys are almost never represented in this particular statistic. I’ve seen it a little more here lately, again, but before ten years ago or so, you’d think women were the only people with non-willing orifices in fantasy. This is not the case. Men can get raped too, and it’s just as tragic.

So there you go. Again: my opinion. Romance is usually a subplot in fantasy–very much not the main attraction–but that doesn’t mean it needs to get reduced to a few easily-taken-for-granted bobbly bits. Your fantasy relationships should be just as rich and varied as relationships can be in real life.

If you need help with this, just think about yourself. Did you remain alone and aloof until you saw that one boy at the Summer Dance, who started off as a good friend but you-both-knew-how-it-was-going-to-go-by-chapter-ten? Did you fight through Many Hardships just so you could Be Together, eventually getting married and living Happily Ever After (At Least Until The Sequel?) No. Fuck no. Before THAT guy there was Travis, Ted, Devin, Ryan, Zorvak the Enrapturer (boy, was THAT a mistake). You saw cute guys in bars, maybe even divorced a cute guy you saw in a bar.

Or maybe you have a girlfriend AND a boyfriend. Or you’re a girl with a girlfriend. Or you’ve got the sister-wives joining together to make a turkey dinner at home. Whatever. You get my point.

There’s nothing wrong with the story of A Boy and A Girl, Together Forever. It’s a good story.

But other things happen too. Don’t forget them.

Cheers,
EFR

WW: KDP Select for Rank Amateurs Like Myself

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WW: KDP Select for Rank Amateurs

Just a quick blog here. I’d like to do a not-so-quick one, but that requires time.

I’ve seen a lot of internets either way about KDP Select free giveaways, and their uses for authors. Some people say their sales numbers surge after a giveaway, some people don’t. Some people find the (admittedly) vast number of people who download the book while it’s free, versus the not-at-all-so-vast number who won’t pay the one or two dollars when it isn’t, fascinating.

I’m among the pro-giveaway faction on Amazon. It might have to do with my status in life, or my lack of money sense, but there you are.

I did a giveaway on Superbowl Sunday. While the Patriots were playing the Seahawks, I was watching my numbers climb with unabashed amazement. I ‘sold’ well over a thousand copies. I topped charts, dammit. Didn’t quite break into the Top 100 Free–I think my highest ranking there was #139–but still. Hell.

And, of course, I got money for none of it.

Here’s the thing, though. I’m a young writer, mostly unpublished. Certainly unpublished in the genre I want to work in. I don’t have an agent to ship me about, or a publicity team to paste pictures all over Barnes and Noble.

Nor do I have a ton of money. I am, in fact, close to broke as we speak (payday is Friday. It’s homemade salads and bits of lunch meat for dinner until then). And I’m not a writer/marketing guru. No, no. I got stuck with a surplus of artistic talent, which, sadly, means I got all the business sense of a brain-damaged llama in a snowstorm.

What those free giveaways do for me–what I desperately need them to do–is offer ADVERTISING.

I wrote a good book. I know it, and I know if the right people read it they’ll love it. But in the glut of similar offerings on Amazon, who’s going to find it? You can’t tell from a blurb–at least, not when folks aren’t being supremely lazy–who can write and who can’t. And with the advent of indie publishing, readers no longer have that comforting middle man, the publishing company, to offer the crudest and most basic form of quality control. It’s a free-for-all in the world of cheap ebooks.

And, like in any free-for-all, the people who come out on top aren’t always the cream. Plenty of other things float, aside from cream.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve spent good money, money I possibly shouldn’t have spent, on paid advertising. It’s done nothing. Not a damn bit of difference. Maybe I’m not using the right places–I’m almost certainly not spending enough money–but the fact is, I don’t HAVE enough money to advertise well.

Review swaps and requests on Goodreads have also, by and large, been useless. I’ve given away several copies of my book, in the course of the past month. One person–one exceptionally kind and thoughtful person–was good enough to actually do the review. I know patience is probably key here, but I only have so much money, and no real way of giving the book away without spending some of it.

Long and short of it–the ONLY thing that’s worked, the only thing that’s boosted my sales and gotten my name out there enough to make a difference in the search listings, is free giveaways.

Yes, I’ve defied conventional wisdom and done the giveaways without having a second book out. No, I don’t much care. I’m not after the money–I’ve got a damn job.

I’m after the recognition.

Here are a few other blog posts about the nature of the KDP Select beast, and why you should or should not put your head in the Amazon Lion’s mouth:

Ben Zackheim–I don’t agree with him on a few things here: namely, he subscribes to the traditional ‘more than one book’ idea–but there’s a lot of useful crunchy information here.
M. Louisa Locke–One of the more level-headed explanations of what KDP Select can (and can’t) do for you. Damn, I wish I sold twenty copies a day.
Joanna Penn–Mostly just because Joanna Penn is a lady worth listening to.
Hugh Howey–Because Hugh Howey. Hugh Howey’s first WOOL story is a post-apocalyptic dystopian masterpiece, and don’t let anyone tell you different.

A LAST NOTE–

I’d like to see more of these blogs–what works/what doesn’t–from people like me, who’re just starting out at this and have very little money to put behind it. Not everyone’s an expert, and not everyone is ready to turn up their noses at 20 books a day in sales.

I’m certainly not an expert. I’d LOVE to sell twenty copies a day.

And I think more people are in my boat than the ‘successful professional’ boat. And, honestly–that’s marketing from two very different perspectives. I don’t have a name out there, or a ton of established fans–I work for every damn review I get from the ground up, and that’s frankly just how it is. I’m trying to build a base I can count on, and I’m doing it the hard way: the only way of life, unfortunately, for broke people.
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I see a lot of writing blogs, by ‘bestselling’ indie authors, telling me what I’m ‘doing wrong’: some of which is done, not from choice, but the necessity of having a full time job and very little cash flow. I get a little angry at this, sometimes. I’m sure these folks have great advice to offer for people with all the time and money in the world, but not all of us have these things.

So I’m going to try and post a little more on my experiences with self publishing. And I’m going to be honest. Because, if nothing else, I’m usually that.

Thank you, and good whatever-it-is-where-you-are.

EFR