Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Why can't I quit you!

My book MIND THIEF has turned into white whale. When I finished it over a year ago, I knew it had a few problems.

I wrote about them here. 

The big problem my main character, Howie, didn't know the full Earth shattering implications of the initial event. Only the bad guys knew about it. I tried every trick in the book to keep the reader interested until Howie found out at the end of the third act. Great writing practice by the way. But I needed to have the readers know the stakes before Howie in a way that didn't make him seem like a total retard for not figuring it out.

Then I realized its just a matter of Point of View. Howie can't know about what is happening to him, but others do. So here is my new opening page:


Dr. Hanson sat in the monitoring room deep under Harriman Hall. He forced himself to look over the idiotic ramblings that his students had the nerve to call term papers. A pioneer in neuroscience reduced to grading Psych 101 papers.

'Only for a few more months. After that I'll have my own private island to retire to.' He reminded himself. He had put it off the entire spring break. Now it's Friday and he had to give them back Monday.

He looked at the paper in front of him, the wording sounded familiar. He checked the Wikipedia entry. The moron hadn't even bothered to change the wording.

He grabbed his red pen, got ready to write a huge “F” on the front page, when the alarms went off. Test subject 54's Adrenaline, Dopamine, and Serotonin levels all shot into the red.

If this were a B-movie he would look up to the overhead camera and raise his arms while screaming, “Noooooo!”

He shook off that image and did the only thing he could. He picked up the phone. “Harriman, we have a problem.”

“I'm not paying you to hear about problems, only solutions.” Harriman's voice could make asking for a glass of water sound like a death threat.

“I'm afraid this problem is as old as mankind. A girl is making --”

“I'm paying you enough to put you in the top 0.1% of wealth earners. Fixing problems as old as mankind is your job.”

“You don't understand. In his current state Howie, I mean test subject 54 --”

“Stop pretending to be the objective scientist, Hanson. Your mess up with Joey proved you don't have the balls for it.”

“I need you to understand, Harriman. This is a problem that people have tried to stop forever. It can't be solved by killing a few people.”

“I started this project when your Grandfather was still wearing skirts. Within days the Gods themselves shall bow to my will,” Harriman's voice deepened. “You will fix this problem. If you need access to government resources, I will get them for you. If you need someone killed I will arrange that. You will do whatever it takes to fix this, legal or not. If this experiment is successful no court in the world can convict you. If it is not, no government, no military, nothing in this world can save you. I will hunt you down and you will wish that you could escape to the bowels of hell rather than face my wrath! Do I make myself clear.”

“Crystal clear. I'll get right on it.” Hanson's hand was trembling as he hung up the phone.

He looked down at the paper he had been about to grade, checked the name of the student and had a glimmer of hope. “This has to work. I'm putting my life, and the fate of the world, in the hands of the dumbest girl in my class.”
* * *
I think this new beginning shows the scale of Howie's little problem.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


A friend of mine just got back from the DFW Writer's Conference. He talked to an agent who threw out a few facts about self-publishing. I don't doubt the facts (although I have not checked them) they need a little context.

#1 99.3% of all self-published books sell fewer than 100 copies.

This number might be true. That reflects how the ebook market works. Self-published books rely on word of mouth. A person stumbles on your book, likes it and tells others. They look for your other books. If they like those they tell others. Most writers on Smashwords have only one book. You have to beg the press and review sites to read it. A couple people like it and might comment on it. Even if a single self-published book gets great reviews it is tough to get critical mass to have enough people talking about it to break 100 copies.

If you have more than one ebook out the math changes. I had two titles for sale when I release my free ebook, I KILLED THE MAN THAT WASN'T THERE on Smashwords and Amazon combined roughly 4,000 people downloaded it. That gave me a nice little spike in people checking out my other books. Which gave me a couple of sales.

The same thing happened when I released REPOSSESSING SANITY I saw a spike of interest in my other books. No sales, it was pretty different than my other works.

Oddly, HOW MUCH HEAD SHOULD A GIRL GIVE IN A DAY made barely a ripple in views of my other books, but visits to PROJECT SAVIOR REBORN jumped by about 50 visits a day.

I've read you need at least six ebooks out before you start seeing any real money. I believe this. You need a critical mass to start really selling ebooks. With six or more books out there when someone enjoys one of your books they check out more. Most people put up one, sell a couple of copies and give up.

Also here is a surprise, the ebook market is different than the print market. I'll get into that later.

#2 The big six publishing houses will not be thrilled (understatement) to buy your novel if your self-publishing history shows less than 10,000 copies sold. (This was the agent's perspective. Many others touted self-pub as the only way to go.)

I don't doubt this, but this is a case of ego gone amok.

Let's look at the numbers.

If your self-published book sold 10,000 copies earning you a little over $2 a piece. That's $20,000.

If you sell your book to one of the big six you will get between $5,000 and $10,000. $10,000 being the high end of advances for a first novel. That means you get between ¼ and ½ in cash what you could get on your own.

Looking at it that way it's horrible, but there are other factors. Your book will be reviewed in newspapers, rather than a blog here and there. You will have the “credibility factor” when you ask for a review of your next book. As well as “street cred” with other writers.

How much is all that worth? It's up to the writer. For a $10,000 advance it's probably worth it, for a $5,000 advance, its a toss up.

Also while the big six might not be thrilled if you've sold less than 10,000 copies, some agents are. Some agents love authors that have sold 2,000 copies on their own. It's simple math. If you've sold 2,000 and earned $4,000, then $5,000 with all the benefits I listed above is a great deal for the author. They only have to worry about the publishers ego, not the writers. If you can sell 2,000 on your own, with the publisher's power you can easily double that earning back your advance so the publisher won't give the agent a black mark. So it's a safe bet for the agent.

An enthusiastic agent will make up for the publisher bias against self-publishers.

#3 First time novelists, keep your word count around 60-80k.

Here is where the ebook market and the print market differ. It's hard to know if print market figures are based on real numbers or just tradition, but I've heard the best length for a print book is between 65k and 95k. Pages cost money and publisher will want to go on the lower end of that scale. Since a first time writers time is free to them, they can (and frankly should) insist the writer spend an extra month cutting every necessary word to get the 100,000 word novel down to 80,000. It will be tighter and read better.

Luckily, Matt Corker of Smashwords is a geek. This means he looks at real hard numbers and analyses them. He has found that the magic number for ebooks is around 40,000 words. That makes sense.

Once I start reading a paper book, it lurks around my favorite reading spot. I've read 20,000 words and it passive aggressively demands I come back for another 20,000 word session. (Damn passive-aggressive books). I try to get away but it looks at me pleading, what about the characters? Are you going to abandon them? So I stick it out for another 20,000 words. Finally I'm ¾ of the way through the book and figure, what the hell? and finish it so I can move on to a new one.

I've read several mediocre books that way.

On my computer it's different. I look at my list of new ebooks. I start reading. I stop 20,000 words later (if the book doesn't totally absorb me). Next session I look at my list and think do I want to finish that one or start a new one? The ebook looks at me like, “Up to you, dude. I'm not going to force you to read me.” If it's 40,000 words I'll probably finish it. If it's 80,000 I'll move on.

Simply put: a good ebook writer can put out twice the amount of books as a print writer.

My take on all of this.

The idea of “Traditional publishing vs. Self-Publishing” shouldn't exist. They can be two different markets.

As ebooks evolve you'll see them becoming very different than print books. They'll be smaller 40,000 words, Written in series, more vulgar (in the old meaning of common) lots of action and sex, and quirky.

Print books will go the opposite way after trying to get smaller to compete with ebooks they will start being longer (slightly), more romance (as in a focus on characters), stand alone, and highly refined.

These markets are like TV vs. Movies. A TV show starts with a teaser, to grab your attention. A movie starts with the characters to give you an emotional investment. A movie builds up to the final showdown that forever changes the lives of the characters. A TV show builds up to the final showdown where the heroes win, leaving everything the same.

TV shows aren't a threat to Movies and Movies aren't threats to TV shows. There is bias among the executives about the other. TV producers aren't guaranteed that their pitches for a movie will be heard and people from the Movie industry aren't guaranteed to get more than a guest slot in a TV show. But the cross-over happens all the time.

What makes a good ebook and what makes a good print book aren't always the same.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Roadhouse Rules for Writing

For some reason I felt like watching some 80s movies. There is nothing more 80s than Patrick Swayze. Who else would combine a haircut that is feathered with a mullet?

The next day I got to work answering one of the motions against me. It appears the opposing attorney thinks they should win because, A) I'm a dick. B) I rewrote their questions in Discovery so that I could understand them.

As far as the first charge, I answered their charges much in the same style as I do in my, “Shut-up Stupid Sunday” posts.

The second charge reminded me of Swayze's speech in Roadhouse:

“If somebody gets in your face and calls you a cocksucker, I want you to be nice. Ask him to walk. Be nice. If he won't walk, walk him. But be nice. If you can't walk him, one of the others will help you, and you'll both be nice. I want you to remember that it's a job. It's nothing personal.”

So as I answered the charges of being an editor, and worked through the barely coherent rant against me, I thought lawyers could benefit from a similar speech:

“If you are filing a complaint. Be clear. If you are asking a question. Be clear. If you need a affidavit, you'll both be clear. I want you to remember writing a clear presentation is your job. It's nothing personal.”

One of the sections he pointed out was this:

5.In the event the Defendant feels that the balance set forth in Plaintiff's accounting is incorrect, set forth,in Defendant's opinion, the balance that is determined due and owing to the Plaintiff herein.

I rewrote this as:

What does the Defendant feel the true balance is?

I first removed the meaningless phrase:

“In the event the Defendant feels that the balance set forth in Plaintiff's accounting is incorrect,”

If I thought they were correct, I would still be able to state the balance and they could easily show it agreed with theirs.

I then removed the contradictory term:

“... opinion...due and owing to the Plaintiff herein.”

As it was written it was unanswerable as he is asking for my opinion within the document.

I removed the redundancy:

“ balance that is determined”

If you have a balance you have to determine it by adding things up.

Removed the “A duh” statement:

“ set forth”

Gee, you want me to write down my answer. I thought you wanted me to ponder it philosophically.

I followed the rule of writing, “Never Use a Large Word When a Diminutive One Will Suffice”

I substituted “In the opinion” with “Feel”.

I had to do all that in order to have a question that I could answer.

Now the attorney is making the case that if he is forced to make a clear presentation of the facts he can't win. In that I couldn't agree with him more.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Stages of Writing a Novel

I've pounded out a few novels now and here are the stages I go through:

Stage One: Flirtation

Word Count: 1 – 10,000

Writing speed: 2,000 words per day

I've just started the novel, I've got new characters to get to know. The idea is so fantastic everyone will love this book.

Stage Two: Love

Word Count 10,000 – 15,000

Writing speed: 800 words per day.

The idea is so fantastic that I have to put careful thought into each word to make sure the concepts come out properly. My characters are perfect with just enough flaws to keep people interested.

Stage Three: Waking up.

Word Count 15,000 – 25,000

Writing speed: 800 words every other day.

The idea is alternately so stupid or so complex that I can't believe I thought I could write a novel around it. My characters are jerks no one can like them.

Stage Four: Hate (the longest)

Word Count: 25,000 – 35,000

Writing speed: You're kidding right?

How the hell am I going to tie all this stuff together? Why is my heroine yelling at me? Do I really need that side character, can't I kill them now?

Stage Five: When will it end?

Word Count: 35,000 – 50,000

Writing speed: 800 to 1,000 words per day

Just hit the plot points, fix it later. If the characters aren't witty and dynamic 100% of the time you can fix it later.

Stage Six: Man, that was easy

Word Count: 50,000 – the end.

Writing speed: 1,500 to 2,000 words a day.

I love how all the plot points come together. I want to sleep with my characters, regardless of gender. The plot was perfect for my skill level. I can't believe writing a novel is so easy.

Stage Seven: Postpartum Depression

Word Count: Done

Writing Speed: 0

It's over, but I love my characters. What will I do without them in my life? I loved every second of writing that book. Okay, not every second. Okay, not even most of the time, but when I did love it it was worth it.

Those are the Seven Stages I go through in writing a novel. How about you? What do you feel when writing.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Perceptions of Others

In an upscale park several people were out walking their dogs. A homeless man walked by with his dog clinging by his side. The dog owners stopped and looked at him thinking, “Poor dog, the guy can't even take care of himself much less a pet.”

The dogs all looked at the homeless guy's dog and thought, “Lucky bastard, I get a twenty minute walk on a good day. That guy has been on a walk for like six months straight. Plus I get yelled at if I get in the trash, his owner joins him.”

Some of the dogs moved away from their humans in embarrassment. Some looked them in the eye to let them know, “You may not be perfect, but I know you're trying.” Some imagined how someday they might have an owner like that.

I really don't mean to, but for some reason I tend to have characters with mental disorders. This might be a reflection of my life as crazy people have always flocked to me. It might be because I look at people a little different than most. Eleven of my last thirteen employers have gone to jail, that does show something about my ability to judge people.

One constant feedback that I got on my novel, MIND THIEF, is wondering why the heroine, who suffers from bipolar schizophrenia and aspergers syndrome, likes my main character. What could a great girl like that see in an honor student in a private college who dreams of setting up multi-trillion dollar industries in space.

The problem was I looked at the heroine through the eyes of my main character. Just like the dogs in the park looked at the homeless guy's dog in the most positive light, I did the same with my heroine.

I did this for a few reasons, only one of which is excusable from a story telling point of view.

First, without her my main character couldn't save the world. So I needed to show all her positive aspects.

Second, Even though she is “bark at the moon” insane, I didn't want her to be a stereotype crazy person.

Third and most unforgivable, I really liked her.

It is like writing a story about the homeless guy's dog from the POV of the dogs in the park. You wouldn't know why the bastard humans are trying to “save” him, or how growing up seeing all every human looking down on him with pity and contempt might fill his little heart with self-doubt.

So now I'm going through and trying to get the narration show her like the dog owners in the park see the homeless guy's dog, while my main character looks at her like the dog's in the park view the same dog. That way the reader can see why she might get defensive as the main character is viewing her as perfect, while everyone else she has ever known looks at her as a social pariah.

If I have the talent to show both views of her (All in third person limited) it will make the book even more powerful.

I'm trying to think of any other book that shows both sides of a socially unacceptable person or group, but I can't. Even in ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKCOO'S NEST you started agreeing with the residents and forgetting that they were in there for a reason.

So, what do you think about showing both views of a character? From friends who only see the positive aspects of them and strangers who only see the negative stereotypes?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


I've been told I have a gift for dialog in my writing. I prefer to think of it as sticking to a few simple rules.

Stick to the point.
Real conversations tend to ramble around, are filled with incomplete sentences and often times incomplete thoughts. This makes up most of the our conversations with people. When we think about what was said later, our mind clears all that up and an hour long conversation turns into three paragraphs.

So I write dialog the same way my mind remembers them, highly condensed so the main points stick out.

Just like having the main points stick out, we tend to remember the funny things people say more than everything else. In real life even the funniest person you know doesn't have you laughing like you where at a comedy club. They might at best give one funny line for every twenty lines they say. But what do you remember about the conversation? That 5% of what they say.

So my characters tend to have a several one liners and funny saying sprinkled throughout their conversations.

Character Revealing
In real life we tend to be chameleons in our dialog, we blend our speech patterns to fit the people we are talking to. I used to call people all around the country. An hour of calling the upper mid-west and you would think I never left Wisconsin. Calling the south you'd think I was born and raised here in Kentucky. The North East people knew I was from New York, even 10 years after I left.

When writing dialog my characters don't unintentionally blend. They don't try to mimic the speech of the other people. That makes for good if unrealistic character reveals.

When these Rules Breakdown

Like most simple rules for complex problems when they break down, they really breakdown.

I tried to apply these rules to an argument that my MC had with his girlfriend.

The situation was they had started to have phone sex earlier, after being interrupted she tells him she'll try and call later. He leaves his phone in his room as he rushes out the door to go study. She calls him for an hour getting more and more frustrated. When she finally reaches him she unleashes all her anger on him. (He already knows she has trouble controlling her emotions.)

I followed my simple rules.

Sticking to the point: She yells at him, he tells her to calm down. She doesn't. So he tells he to call back when she can be calm. Neither character is supposed to be being really mean, it's just a major breakdown in communication.

When reduced to under 400 words it makes both of them sound like jerks. Guys read it and couldn't understand why my main character would take her back. Girls read it and couldn't see why heroine would want a guy who won't even attempt to listen to them.

Reading it after getting that feedback I saw their points.

Witty: In calm situations a character being witty is funny, in an argument it's being demeaning. Both my characters make witty statements constantly throughout the book. So in the argument they do it as well. Instead of relieving tension, it reads like each thinks the others feelings are a joke. Not good.

Character Revealing: The reason we try to blend our speech to people around us is not fool them into thinking we are something we're not. We blend our speech to put other people at ease. They don't have to translate what we are saying. This goes tenfold for an argument. In real life when people get mad they loose this blending ability. It puts up a wall letting the other person know, I care more about my anger right now than what you are saying. In real life if I hear someone's accent breakdown I know the argument is over, they won't hear anything else I say. If its someone I care about I'll ask them if they can take a breath and then say what they have to say. If it is someone I'm negotiating with I'll state my most reasonable terms knowing they will reject them. Then when negotiations resume they'll feel like a jerk.

Having the characters not try and blend with each other in an argument means they are being real jerks to each other and care more about being mad than the other person's feelings.

Rules for writing the Dialog in Arguments

I don't have any right now, I'll play around with my argument for a while until I can get some. Any ideas would be really appreciated.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

My Best Beta

I haven't been blogging this week because something unexpected happened. My wife liked my book.

That might sound strange, but I am blessed/cursed with the greatest beta reader that a writer could ask for. My wife.

In the twenty-three years we have been married my wife has read one book in a single sitting. She reads maybe two to three books from cover to cover a year. It's not that she doesn't read a lot, she does, it's just that a book really needs to grab her for her to continue reading passed the first three chapters. She has probably read the first three chapters of over a million books.

So when she asked to read, MIND THIEF, I didn't even worry about the fact that I had only done a full line edit on the first 10 Chapters, a copy edit on the next 10 and still had missing scenes in the last 5 chapters. I sent her the first 10 Chapters figuring it would take her a week to read them (like she does with most published books). In that week I could line edit the next ten and finish up the remaining scenes. I started line editing for the next two hours and she came into my office and asked for the rest of the book.

I was floored and sent her the next 10 chapters. Two hours later she wanted to finish the book. So on Sunday I spent the day quickly finishing up the last few scenes that were unfinished. I got it done on Monday, and an hour later she finished reading it.

If I had finished it up sooner my book would have been the second book in twenty-three years that she would have read in one sitting.

That is why I say I am both blessed and cursed with her as a beta reader. Most people have betas that read like me, if I can see what the writer is trying to say I keep reading. I've read books that were absolute trash, but clearly written trash. In some ways that helps me critique people's books as I will look for minor things to improve on, but just because I read a book doesn't mean its any good.

With my wife, if she actually reads the book there has to be something there to get her passed the first three chapters. She might give me the benefit of the doubt and push through to chapter 4 or 5 but that is it.

So I've been going through my book making changes with problems spotted by someone who will only fully read one out of a hundred books she picks up, and has only read one in a million books in one sitting.

It makes the other 5 times of getting, “I just couldn't get into it.” Worth it.