Blog

Writing Quirks

As writers, we all have quirks. Here are my top 10 (in no particular order):

  • I never put “The End” at the end of a story. I figure if the reader can’t tell, the ending sucked.
  • I never put “A Novel” on the cover of a book. That’s another thing that seems obvious to me, and redundant.
  • I really hate dialogue tags. So, Deep POV is my jam and I try to write that way now.
  • I don’t think adverbs are the devil and that they must all be cast out.
  • I think smell, taste, and touch are under utilized in a lot of books, so I make sure I don’t forget them.
  • I have written under many pen names. And the pen names have different styles than I do. I don’t know why.
  • My favorite place to write is near running water (fountains, streams, waterfalls, oceans, lakes). I have finished three novels sitting near water fountains.
  • I love short stories that give you a powerful glimpse of something in the darkness illuminated by a single lightning strike, so some of mine don’t end in a neat, tiny bow. That’s not an accident. And no, I’m not changing them.
  • I love writing female leads. Not sure I’m good at it, but I ain’t gonna stop trying.
  • I don’t expect any writer to fulfill my expectations of how their story will go, or end. It’s their story. Period. Exclamation Point.

The Mad King

THE MAD KING sat on his throne of bleached bones, his hair spun cotton, sprouting in all directions, stained yellow like his teeth. The bones were of children, tied together with the remains of shredded papers which documented his crimes. He mumbled to himself the same sad lines, and remembered the applause of sycophants echoing through the chamber before the fall. He raised his fists and cursed at his enemies, and the people who remained—the ones he couldn’t kill or drive away. He could hear them shouting in the courtyard outside his broken castle.

The remains of his feeble mind searched for a reason, any reason, that he had fallen from grace. But it found only emptiness, like the vast desert of his soul. He never thought his lies would catch him. He was too fast. Too elusive. Spinning a tapestry of illusion like a black widow harvesting blood. He looked at his hands, red with the pain of mere mortals, stained with the sorrow of those far beneath him. But he felt nothing. He had never felt anything. For them? Who were they to command? Mere animals to be trodden beneath his feet.

The vultures circled far above the shattered tower, waiting, and the sky had a baleful crimson glow. He blamed not himself. Blame was something other people wore, like tattered clothes. The air was thick and smelled of burning skin. His council had at last abandoned him, realizing too late that his disease would follow them to their early graves.

Small, petty, and vindictive, he was. Consumed with his own importance. And when his importance evaporated, so did he, growing smaller and wizened upon his throne, until he was no larger than an ant. He flailed his arms in rage and shouted the four letters that would be carved on his headstone when he was long forgotten.

And then the children who remained, buried him.

Ethics

Recently a number of high-profile authors have demonstrated lapses of judgement and engaged in unethical behavior. Although I know this is nothing new in publishing, I thought it would be a good time to list my own ethical principles when it comes to writing and publishing.

Author Code Of Ethics

  • I will not pay for reviews of my books
  • I will not publish unedited books
  • I will not plagiarize the work of other authors
  • I will not steal images to use for cover art
  • I will not post negative reviews on another author’s books as retribution
  • I will not review any books I haven’t read
  • I will not climb to the top on the bodies of others
  • I will not insult or abuse reviewers no matter what they say about my work
  • I will price my work affordably so readers get a good value
  • I will write the best books I can and work hard at my craft
  • I will reward and interact with my readers whenever possible
  • I will support and help other writers whenever possible

Truths

Over the last few years I have written many stories and made money selling them to readers all over the world. I have also learned a few things. Here’s a short list of what I’ve learned:

  • Great books will not sell themselves.
  • Strong marketing will sell crappy books.
  • No matter how bad you think a book is, many will love it.
  • No matter how good you think a book is, many will hate it.
  • Never underestimate the ability of a reader to enjoy the same plot over and over and over.
  • A particular genre or theme is never “over” when “experts” claim it is.
  • The system is designed to be gamed.
  • There are many authors and publishers with lower ethical standards than you.
  • No one cares if you are broke; raise money and have your book edited.
  • Some people are too nice to tell you your cover sucks ass.
  • Anything other people tell you not to do has already been done… in a best selling book.

Don’t Be A Dick

As a writer it can be tempting to be a dick. There is some evidence to support the idea that “being a dick works.” Maybe you were a dick before you started writing. I have just one thing to say about that. Don’t be a dick. 

The following information details a number of ways that you can avoid being a dick. This is not meant to be an all-inclusive list. I’m sure you can find many ways to be a dick that I haven’t thought of yet.

Twitter

No one wants to see your book link on their twitter feed ten times a day. Not even your mom. Take my word for it. It’s true. Sure you can use twitter to post links, but engage in conversation, tweet about things other than writing, respond to people… be human. If all you use twitter for is promotion, you will be ignored and unfollowed quickly. 

Facebook

Facebook is a great promotional tool. So don’t be a tool when you use it. Don’t engage in fly-by activities where all you ever do is post links to your work in every freakin’ group you are in. Most of your fellow writers and readers are in a lot of those groups too. They don’t need to hear about your shiny new instant classic in every single group. Pick a group; post it; move on. Take the time to engage in conversations with other writers and readers. Showing that you have a sense of humor and some tact can go a long way toward gaining readers. All right, screw the tact. 

Email

If you give out your email address as contact information, be prepared to answer emails. Some of them may be unpleasant. Some of them may be creepy. Some of them may put a smile on your face that lasts for a week. Be responsive. Be nice. Word travels fast.

Signings

Don’t go to a signing feeling like you’re the second coming and expect everyone to kneel down in front of you for a signature. The readers that show up are doing you a favor. Treat them like royalty. Smile. Talk to them. Put them at ease. If they bring twenty copies, sign twenty copies. If they want you to sign their boobs, sign them. You can explain it all to your wife later. 

Interviews

Be prepared. Be awake. Try to sound intelligent without forcing it. Relax. They wouldn’t be interviewing you if they weren’t already interested in your work. Show your enthusiasm for your work and your characters. It’s infectious. Be sincere. I shouldn’t have to say this, but don’t lie. Don’t exaggerate. Tell it like it is. If there is something you don’t want to answer, be diplomatic, but say so. If it’s a written interview, double-check your spelling and grammar. If it’s a phone interview make sure your phone is charged and you have the time right.

Brand

Brand is bland. I don’t remember who coined that phrase, but I agree with it. There’s nothing wrong with having an identity and a writing style and a voice, but don’t go overboard. Not everything you do has to look and sound the same. You don’t have to homogenize your message or dumb it down to get readers. Your work is your brand. Period. Let me repeat that. Your work is your brand. You don’t need to cultivate anything artificial. Brand is for tennis shoes and cars. You are a unique little flower. Try to act like it.

Blogging

Readers like interesting blogs. And readers like learning more about their favorite authors. You don’t always have to talk about writing, or your books. You are a writer. Even when you are telling everyday slice-of-life stories you can and should tell them well. It will keep people coming back. Spell-check and grammar check your blog posts. Be obsessive about it. People will expect a higher level of quality control on your blog—because you are a writer. Live up to it. Blog about other writers. Network. Talk about books you love. Show you are a reader too. Show how you observe life and react to it. You don’t have to be interesting, you already are.

Fellow Writers

Treat fellow writers with respect. Remember that they may just be starting out. Remember how you felt when you were just starting. Help them. And listen to the writers who are more experienced than you. They know stuff. Useful stuff. They know not to use the word stuff. 

Know It All 

Don’t be one. I don’t care if you’ve been writing for one year, five years, or twenty years. You don’t know it all. What works for you doesn’t always work for other people. What works for other people doesn’t always work for you. It’s not your way or the highway. There are many roads to success. There isn’t one way to write or edit. There isn’t one program to write in. Different methods work for different people. And that’s all right. Don’t have tunnel vision. Be open-minded.

Beta Readers

Reward your beta readers. Thank them for everything they find, whether you agree with it or not. They are doing you a favor and reading your work for free. When your book is published give them a signed copy. It’s the least you can do for their efforts. Don’t be offended by what they find. They represent readers. If they get confused by something chances are that someone else will too. Beta readers are a very valuable commodity. Treat them like it.

Bragging

By all means celebrate your successes with your friends, family, and fellow writers! That’s part of the fun of being a writer. But don’t flood the internet with every positive review and every small victory. People will get tired of it. Other writers may not be having the same success, or may feel inferior because their accomplishments pale in comparison. Other writers may not be making their word counts or may have life events sapping their time. Revel in the success of your friends too, not just your own. It’s just as important to encourage other writers as it is to encourage yourself. Being a writer that people can relate to (not afraid to admit faults, concerns, insecurities) can go a long way toward making people interested in your work. 

Review Sites

It can be scary to give your baby to a review site. It takes courage. But you never know if you don’t try. When you do, be patient. Review sites get flooded with submissions. It may take them a long time to get to yours. And when they do, they might not give you the rating you think it deserves. That’s all right. The quality of a book is highly subjective. Opinions vary. Maybe it’s not all that. Take your lumps and move on. If the review points out valid problems that you can fix… fix them. Don’t spew complaints about the review all over the web. It just makes you look like a child. Not everyone will understand or like your book. It’s a big world. One review won’t kill you. Two or three might leave a mark. Move on. 

Responding To Reviews

Step one: don’t respond to bad reviews. Thank people for good reviews when you can. Don’t let great reviews make your ego the size of a planet and don’t let bad reviews knock you down. There will always be someone that loves your book and someone that hates it. That is the way of things. If reviews are getting you down, pick a famous book and read the bad reviews. Then, grasshopper, you will know I speak true. As long as you are sure your work is the best it can be, you can be confident in it. If you have to respond to a bad review, the best possible way is to respond with generosity. Thank them for reading it. Seriously. I’m not kidding. The more magnanimous you are, the more they look like a dick. The more you whine and bitch in public, the more you look like one. Don’t be a dick.

Editors

Editing is hard, time-consuming work. Many writers are under the mistaken notion than an editor can read and edit a book in just a little more time than it would take a reader to read it. Wrong! Depending on the type of editing, the quality of the manuscript, and the length it can many hours to edit. If you are just getting it checked for spelling and grammar—commonly called copy-editing—then it would not take as long as if you were having the whole nine yards done (consistency, plot, character, pacing,…). Editing costs vary greatly depending on the type of editing, the skill of the editor and how long it takes. Your editor is not your enemy. They are trying to help you. Let me say that again. THEY ARE TRYING TO HELP YOU. Yeah, that’s better.

The reason great editors charge a lot is because they are worth it. Sure you could have your roommate edit your novel (because she’s really good at Scrabble). Don’t! Please, for the love of all that’s holy, just don’t. 

Cover Art

Making a cover is not a simple matter of picking a picture off the internet and then slapping some unreadable text on it and calling it good. First off it’s a copyright violation to use an image you don’t own the rights to. There are many artists available that do great cover art. They have years of training, know how to use the tools, know where to get licensed background art, and have a keen sense of what kind of covers work well in the genre you are writing in. It is in your best interest to pay for cover art unless you are an artist yourself with a lot of knowledge in the field. You can find cover artists at many different price points. Look at covers they’ve done before. Talk to satisfied customers. Then work with the artist. They want you to be happy with the final product. But don’t be difficult just to be difficult. Often a writer’s idea of what the cover should look like (perhaps a specific scene in the book) is not going to work as well as what the artist thinks of. Be open to suggestions. Collaborate with the artist until you are happy, but don’t nitpick everything to death. There are reasons they suggest certain things. Good reasons. Once again THEY ARE TRYING TO HELP YOU. Listen to them. Pay them. Thank them. Repeat. 

Please don’t contribute to the endless supply of cover art that sucks ass. You won’t sell books. I don’t care how good the words are. Thank you.

Thin Skin

I don’t care if it kills you to get a bad review. Never let them see you bleed. You’re above all that. Cry in private. Bitch among friends. But do not, under any circumstances, whine and complain in public (yes most places on the internet are public). Harsh criticism hurts. That’s life. But a single critic doesn’t speak for everyone. And it’s not the end of the world to get a bad review. There are a lot of reasons for getting a bad review, and many of them have nothing to do with the words in your book. Suck it up. Move on. 

Conventions

If you attend conventions as a writer, don’t just hide in your room. Readers love writers. Interact. Engage. Chit-chat. Sign-books. Be available. Volunteer for panels. Being entertaining and friendly in public will sell books. People want to like you already, because they like your books. Some might complain about something in a book, or how long it’s taking for the next one. Be gracious. Give them information. Show everyone you are just a normal—well okay, normal is probably a bit of a stretch for most of us—person that they can relate to. Show them that you put your pants on one leg at a time—just like they do. The only difference is that once your pants are on you write like a freakin’ God. (Over the top? Thought so. Apologies to SNL and Christopher Walken.)

Interact with other writers. They are your people. It’s a good idea to know who the other writers attending the convention are, and to familiarize yourself with their work. Writers are readers too. Writers can help spread the word about your work. Let them talk about their work too. It’s not all about you. Part of being a great writer is being a great listener and observer. Other writers will be more than happy to help you. Just don’t be a dick.