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Dumb Books

Posted by Ali on February 27, 2013 at 6:45 PM Comments comments (2)

I live by the principle that life is too short to waste time with books I don't like. I'm quick to abandon books after readying a chapter or two because the tone doesn't work for me, I'm not invested in the characters, it's just too easy to put down, or, as in the case of a recent book, it's getting on my nerves.

Recently, I stumbled on a book while I was searching for another and read the synopsis out of curiosity. I'm not going to name the book or author, because that would be mean, but here's the overview: Historical fiction. A woman who's heartbroken after a broken engagement becomes a mail-order-bride and goes off to marry a widower and look after his kids. The marriage is supposed to be symbolic rather than romantic, but then they grow to care for each other. But, what about the bad secret in the woman's past? Will it threaten their burgeoning affection?

Based on the synopsis, I thought, "Sure, it could be interesting." After a few pages, my impression quickly changed to, "What? That's obnoxious. This book is dumb." I read two whole chapters, then tossed it aside with a feeling like I'd accidentally put my hand in something wet and sticky. I mean, seriously, ick. So, here's what went wrong.

1. Flashbacks.

Chapter one starts with two paragraphs in the "present" then leaps backwards in time. Two paragraphs is too little time to actually get anchored in the first scene before getting tossed around. The trend continues throughout the chapter, a few paragraphs here, a few paragraphs here, and by the time I read three pages, I had whiplash. Done right, flashbacks can be wonderful, but in this book, they were melodramatic, irrelevant, and distracting. I jump from the heroine on a train to her fighting with her parents, to back on the train, to back home again, to back on the train, to... Flashbacks are not an adequate substitute for good writing. In this case, I was annoyed, not intrigued.



2. Incoherent/nonsensical motivation.

Our heroine had her heart broken by some cad, so she answers a wife advertisement and immediately heads off to marry a stranger. During the flashback argument with mom and dad, it is revealed that our heroine comes from a moneyed family and is dropping out of university to become a mail-order-bride because of the security the marriage offers. Um, what? Since when do rich girls marry poor farmers for "security"?  Puh-lease.

She also tells her parents that, even though she has never met this man's children, she already loves them and must go be their hero-mommy! Ugh, gag me with a spoon. So, at this point, instead of thinking the heroine to be a noble gal who's following through with a hard decision because she's honorable, I just think she's an over-emotional idiot. I mean, clearly, she did not think this through. Maybe, if she was marrying the guy because she had fallen in love with hiim through his letters, I'd buy it. But, the author explicitly points out that love is NOT the point of this union. The point is that he needs help and she wants to get away from her heartbreak. Okay, but why does that require marriage? Have these people never heard of people hiring other people to help on the farm? Why does she have to go off and be his wife when she could just be his housekeeper? The more the author/character tries to justify the action, the more alienated I became.

3. Artificial conflict.

Our heroine gets off the train to meet her betrothed. She has purposely never asked him for a photo (didn't want to be superficial and find out if she actually thought the man she swore to marry was good looking), and he has never asked her for one. So, now they have to find each other without knowing who they're looking for. I was unimpressed by this contrivance, and grew less amused as the author tries to milk it for drama. Could that be him? No! He's not coming over to her. That guy sure is cute, though. But, who cares, her betrothed clearly isn't here. He's abandoned her. She must buy a ticket back. Oh no! The ticket guy was mildly rude to her. Ack! The world is ending! Oh dear, the cute guy is coming over here. Uh oh, awkward moment. Oh, wait, this hottie is really her intended! What a revelation!

Come on all of this nonsense when all she had to do was keep an eye out for a single guy, and say, "Hey, are you Bob?" People do this on blind dates all the time. It's not a crisis, really. Or, you know, the characters could have had half a brain between them and one of them figure out that it's easier to meet someone at the train if you have an inkling of what they actually look like. Yeesh. The characters are dumb and the conflict is prolonged to the point of eye rolling.

4. The Mary Sue effect.

Our rich, noble, and smart (well, she's supposed to be, even if her actions convince me of the opposite) heroine thinks to herself how she's never thought herself pretty, despite the way men are interested in her. Because, surely, having men flirt with her can't possibly mean she's pretty, because she has to be humble, right? Of course, as soon as we get a second in the POV of her betrothed, all he can think of is how gorgeous she is. Another gag me moment. So, our heroine is clearly Miss Perfect in every way. She's a victim of unfortunate consequences that are not her fault at all. Now, here she is, having made a poorly thought-out decision, but she's landed a total hottie who's also very sweet.

Put it all together and you end up with a book I had to write a whole blog post about because I honestly think it is just that awful. I'll skip the part where I wonder how this book even got published, because I think this saccharine stuff definitely has a niche, and go straight to the point where I tell you that it's okay to abandon books. Some published books are bad. Some books that sell a ton of copies are bad. Some books, my friend, just aren't worth your time. So, please remember: Life is too short for bad books.

Now, please tell me - have you abandoned any books lately? What writing crimes have made you abandon books in the past?

The Truth About Rejection Letters

Posted by Ali on January 11, 2013 at 6:40 PM Comments comments (0)

In a timely happy accident, I just stumbled on a fun piece about rejection letters over at Shimmer magazine. Tagline: "All rejection letters are written by badgers." Now, go read it.

Happy Friday!

Cowboy Up

Posted by Ali on October 3, 2012 at 9:35 AM Comments comments (0)

I recently came across a cool article by Joel Gascoigne titled 5 Realizations That Helped Me Write Regularly. He's talking about ways to stop stalling and start writing and he makes some good points about how, and why, to JUST DO IT.


I'm still pondering the point:


3. We should fear not publishing articles, rather than fearing the bad outcomes of putting something out there


It sticks in my head especially given the timing and my goal to get three rejections before the end of the year. I've been wasting time trying to figure out what perfect story to submit, what to write new to submit, etc. etc. and I haven't been spending enough time actually submitting. Why? Because, for all that it's my goal to get rejected, I'm experiencing some fear.



But, maybe I'm looking at it all wrong. Instead of fearing rejection (fearing not being good enough), I should fear not making the attempt. What does it say about the quality of my writing if I don't think I'm good enough to risk rejection for the sake of getting it out there? Hrm... Time to cowboy up, for sure.


New goal: By the end of this week, I will have submitted to at least three markets.

Duotrope: Story Inspirations

Posted by Ali on September 27, 2012 at 9:50 AM Comments comments (0)

You already know Duotrope is a handy place to find markets for submitting your work.  What you might not know is that it's also a treasure trove of story ideas.  One of the fun things about writing is playing with perspectives.  You look at something and think, "How can I look at it in a little bit different way?"  It's kind of like macro photography, you zoom in at a unique angle and even though you're showing something people have seen before, it looks a little different.

If you go to Duotrope and look at the Calendar, you'll see lists of ideas that markets are looking for.  Some are pretty standard, like "Dragons."  Others are more interesting blends:

Cthulhu and Fairy Tales

Alternate Zombie History

"And You Think Razor Wire Will Keep Me Out?"

Interestingly, there seem to be a lot of markets looking for a combination of fairy tales and horror themes.  Go figure.

So, the next time you're trying to  figure out something to write about, cruise the Calendar and see what strikes you.  Lots of writing prompts floating around there, and you know for a fact there's a market looking for precisely what you're about to write.

Thanks, But This Isn't For Us

Posted by Ali on September 19, 2012 at 8:00 PM Comments comments (0)

Jessica Page Morrell's book, Thanks, But This Isn't For Us: A (Sort of) Compassionate Guide to Why Your Writing Is Rejected, had me interested as soon as I saw the title.  Tough love writing advice?  Sign me up.

The overall tone is part compassionate, bigger part rant.  Morell is primarily an editor by trade and I can envision her sitting at her computer, typing emphatically and with a frown, occassionally pausing to mutter, "Ugh, I hate it when they do that."

Scattered throughout are comments you just know come from repeated experience dealing with other people's egos, like, "You need to see yoursef as a skilled laborer, not an artiste who awakes each morning wondering how best to flirt with your muse.  This means you write with a fully loaded toolbox of craft and habits and understanding" (34-35).

And, in keeping with the tough tone, it seems that toolbox should include a pair of pliers:  "Thus your first job as a fiction writer is to imagine yourself as a sadist, a torturer par excellence who dreams up ways to taunt, torment, test, and ruin your protagonist" (63). Here she's talking about writers who are reluctant to make their character face hardship and why that's bad.  Hello!  Conflict drives stories!

I found myself nodding in a number of places.  I also found myself skimming a few, too.  There are definitely good bits in the book, like the sections titled "Deal Breakers" where she makes it clear that if an editor sees this in your submission, it's highly likely to get tossed.  Do not pass GO, do not collect $200.

However, there are times where she doesn't fully explain her thoughts, expecting that the reader will intuit what she means.  If you're a practiced writer (and reader of rough drafts), you'll get it.  If you're not, you may be left scratching your head.

On the whole, it's an alright book.  I found myself making notes as I went, jotting things I should tighten/tweak in my novel draft.  It didn't change my life, but I'm finding it a useful tool and it appeals to my snarky side.

Have any of you read a writing book lately?  How'd that go?  Do any of you refer to writing books as a revision tool?

M is for Marketing, and P is for a bunch of other things.

Posted by John Ridge on September 8, 2012 at 12:10 AM Comments comments (3)

Earlier this week, Jenny talked about marketing. Scroll down if you haven't read it.

Everything she said was right. Yes, numbers are important, really important. Yes, there are plenty of great and awesome products out there that sit in obscurity because no one is talking about them. Yes, it can be a big pain in the tush to make the switch from the creative grind of writing a book to the grind of getting people interested in your book through increasing the chatter on the social media networks. Yes, if you're an annoying person, you reduce the chances of people picking up your work for the first time without recommendation from someone they trust.

Here's the thing: It can be a bigger pain in the tush than that.

Many marketing philosophies contain a set of "P"s. Depending on who you ask, there are four, seven, six, fifty-million (this is usually espoused by the hyperbolic and Nth-degree deconstructionist.)

Let's start with the classic four: Product, Promotion, Price, and Place.

Product: The thing you have created that solves a problem for your customer, i.e. your potential reader is bored and uninspired and they need something to spark their imagination.

Promotion: The process of informing the public of where and how they can get their hands on the solution you provide, i.e. how you advertise, where you do your book signings.

Price: How much value you place on your solution compared against the value the public wants to get from it, i.e. depending on your method of publishing, you ask the reader for a certain amount of money for the right to read your story.

Place: The method of actually procuring your solution, i.e. ordering from Amazon, walking into a bookstore, downloading through your e-reader infrastructure.

There are some schools of thought that have added a few more.

Packaging: How the product is physically presented to the public, to include websites, brochures, in addition to the cover (which is in fact where a book is judged by the most people).

Positioning: What kind of reader would love your book? What kind of reader would you be wasting your time trying to sell to? How does your product compare to its competition? How do your biggest supporters feel about it? How do your biggest detractors feel about it?

People: There are a multitude of people involved in getting a book from the writer's desk to the reader's lap. Can you name them all? Can you name what stake they have in getting the book there?

Here's why all of this is important. The most effective way to new generate a new customer comes from something you have near the least control over: The Referral. How many books have you read because someone whose opinion you trusted said, "Oh, I think you're going to LOVE this one!" In order to have referrals on your side, you have to create one of the best books they've ever read. The decision to refer it to a friend has to come from the reader, and from a place free from a sense of coercion or reluctant obligation.

The Ps mentioned above are means to speed up the process of referral. You have to convince complete strangers that your book is worth reading, and becoming part of their library of books that changed their lives. The more you can convince, the bigger your referral pool becomes, and the rate of referral turnover increases.

A lot of how you get your book sold depends on the ever-growing number of book distribution models that have arisen in the last fifteen years. If you can go with a publishing house, they likely will have a department dedicated to the marketing of books. This does NOT mean that you should sit back and wait for them to do their thing. It is still your product, and you need to be cognizant of what they're doing. This is still your baby they've got their hands all over, you need to be able to assess that your baby isn't being mistreated.

If you go the self-publishing route, or release an e-book, it's all on you how quickly the buzz develops and how quickly new readers come to your product. Also, if you have a traditional publishing contract, there may still be quite a bit of responsibility on your shoulders in doing marketing work for your book. Some houses spend as little money as necessary on unproven names and talent. This does not make them heartless, they just can't risk dumptrucks of money on every new author they sign, otherwise they'd go bankrupt very quickly.

Which comes back to Jenny's original point: Great products virtually sell themselves. Great products generate loads of referrals. Great products stimulate multitudes of ideas when the Ps are applied. But, great products don't do much more than sit on the shelf and wait to be read. It's up to you how quickly new sets of eyeballs come to it.

Now, quit reading this and go write something.


R is for Rejection

Posted by Ali on September 6, 2012 at 9:10 AM Comments comments (5)

Believe it or not, this is a happy post.  In past years, Jenny has put out a challenge to the group.  It's a simple challenge:

Rule 1: Get three rejections from publishers.

Rule 2: One acceptance = two rejections.

Rule 3: If you get your three, Jenny bakes you cookies :)  If you don't, no cookies :(

In the past, when this challenge was announced, some people didn't get it.  To paraphrase one person: "Why try to get rejections?  That's dumb.  You should only count acceptances."

Nope, counting rejections is AWESOME.  Look, you can write a fantabulous story.  It's wonderful.  It's your masterpiece.  You can send that story out.  You can't make somebody publish it.  The acceptance part is beyond your control.  Submitting is within your control.  So, counting rejections is basically counting submissions.  Counting rejections is saying, "You're doing what you can to get that piece published."  It's counting the part of the process you have direct control over. 

This year, the challenge isn't officially on.  However, the other day I made the decision to go for it anyway.  I've been a slacker and haven't submitted anything in longer than I care to say.  That should change.  Thus, between now and the end of the year, it's my goal to get three rejections.

I know there's not much of 2012 left, but anybody up for joining me?

M is for Marketing

Posted by Jenny Maloney on September 3, 2012 at 8:55 AM Comments comments (3)

During meetings,our group doesn't focus on marketing or platform building - the current call-words of publishing - because we're more about getting our work in the best shape possible. The philosophy is: if our product sucks, what do we have to market?

But, let's face it, there is HUGE focus on numbers in publishing and if we want to be published authors, we should have some marketing ideas tickling in the back of our heads. In a world where it's incredibly difficult to get noticed, editors want to have something along with (read: not instead of) a great product. Mainly, they want numbers: how many blog followers? How many Twitter followers? How many Facbook friends/likes/etc?


It's a huge pain in the tush.


My friend F.T. Bradley - author of the upcoming book Double Vision - pointed me toward a website called Klout. Prior to that, I'd heard of this website on Rachelle Gardner's blog, when she posted about marketing. Basically, Kout is a website that measures your online influence.


If you don't have an online platform, of if you don't have any clue what to do to build one, Klout is a good place to start because it points out when/where/why/how you make an impact online. It is an incredibly useful tool. Once you have a good base and you know where you stand, you can build from there.


But here's the thing about marketing and platform building in general - it's about relationships not selling. If people think you're nothing but a pushy salesman, they will hate you. They will hate your product (your book). They will think you have ugly children.


For Example:

On my twitter feed - @JennyEMaloney - I get all kinds of tweets from authors that go like this:

"Amazon five star review for BOOK TITLE."

followed by:

"BOOK TITLE available on Kindle for $.99!! Get it now!!"

followed by:

"Review of BOOK TITLE on Goodreads."

and so on.


This kind of bombarding is A.) Obnoxious and B.) Ineffective. All it has ever done, for me, is put those books on my Do Not Read pile.


However, if you make funny jokes, post inspiring quotes that speak to me, and otherwise behave in an engaging, not-jerkish fashion, I'll be more inclined to look at your work. Especially if you put in your Twitter bio that you're the author of BOOK TITLE.

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