Seems that e-books are the talk of internetville. But doesn’t all this talk sound familiar? Stop me if you’ve heard this one:
Sales are down! Piracy is destroying the industry! Lawsuits! Copyright!! DRM!!!
Oh yes, that’s right. We DID hear all this before. From the music industry. We heard it when the cassette tape format was invented. We heard it again when CD burners became a household item. And we got to hear it again when Napster + broadband internet connections made it possible to download an entire library of audio in minutes. And now that books are on the block, we get to hear it again from the publishing industry.
Until recently, artistic works such as music, video, pictures and stories required a medium to contain the art and transfer it from one person to another. That medium (Tape, DVD, CD, Book, etc…) had a production cost, a fixed physical expense that someone had to pay because that THING had to be manufactured, packaged, shipped, received, warehoused, and stocked.
For decades, we’ve been told how much it costs to make THINGS and to ship THINGS and to stock THINGS. And the cost of the THINGS keeps going up because of [fill in the blank].
But consumers were never buying the THING. People don’t really want a cassette tape. Or a book. Or a computer file for that matter. Consumers want the art that the medium carries. They want the story about Frodo and Sam. They want the song by Jagged Spiral. They want the picture of the pirate flag.
With the internet, the medium is all but removed from the product, leaving an intangible stream of ones and zeros. At long last, the products of art have been un-THING-ified. Virtualized.
One of the reasons consumers never wanted the medium in the first place was that it adds unnecessary cost to the art. Well, now the medium is almost completely gone, but where are the savings? We should be seeing prices dive for the virtual products, but the industries still try to justify the old prices.
This is a problem.
Why are e-books selling for $9 when the hardcover version is $13? Why in the Hells do they both list at $29?
Seriously. Twenty Nine American Dollars is the Publisher’s Suggested Retail Price for an E-Book? Is that supposed to make you think that $9 is a good deal?
I’m not the only one calling the publishing industry out on it’s bullshit. New York Times Bestselling Author Michael Stackpole lists plenty of other reasons publishers can’t justify their e-book pricing.
The industry holds the price up, because they won’t let go of the THING-ness of their product. They see every sale of a virtual product as a direct equivalent of the sale of a physical product. They think that every e-book sold is a physical book not sold.
Reality Check: Virtual products are not Physical products.
Truth is, the publishing industry should be thrilled to death about internet distribution. E-books may have a lower cost, but they have a far higher margin than their physical counterparts. If you don’t know what that means, ask an accountant. If you can’t make your business work with this new math, then hire a fucking accountant, and change your business to become profitable. The last thing you’d want to do is waste money on lawyers to fight the system. Ask the recording industry.
Why is the industry is down? Why aren’t people buying? Its simple. The product is virtualized, but the price is not.
Hey, it’s a free market, and it’s not against the law for businesses or even the entire industry to use business practices leading to their own obsolescence. It also isn’t against the law for them to starve to death because they refuse to adapt to the new technology.
But it looks like instead of taking advantage of the new technology they have available, the publishing industry has decided to try to force a square peg into a round hole. When that doesn’t work, they sulk and stare at the dwindling sales and blame…
Before you break out the flamethrowers, understand that I’m not endorsing piracy. Piracy is unlawful and unethical. Google is evil for doing it, and so is everyone else who does it.
But I am telling you that it is entirely true that (music/movie/ebook) piracy is NOT “killing” the (recording/motion-picture/publishing) industry. It wasn’t back when cassette tapes came out. It wasn’t back when the VCR was released to consumers. Author’s careers are not being destroyed because their books are available for free at the library, or borrowed from friends, or sold in used bookstores. Musicians aren’t going broke because their songs are played on terrestrial radio, spotify, and pandora at no cost to consumers.
The publishing industry is down because of many factors, but piracy is the last one to worry about. Wasting time on it is like rearranging deck chairs on a sinking ship. Keelhauling every pirate in the universe won’t fix what’s wrong with the publishing industry, the music industry, or any other industry, because Pirates are not a problem; they are a symptom.
Let’s look at the problem that causes piracy to become popular:
Free as in “E-Books”
Price a product high enough and two things will happen.
Sales of that product will decrease.
Some customers will find other ways to get the product for less.
The music industry already learned this, but let’s look at how it pertains to the publishing industry, by examining these ‘other ways’ to get the product for less than the listed price:
You can get every Dean Koontz book ever written for free… at the public library.
You can get every Stephanie Meyer book for free… by borrowing them from your niece.
You can buy the latest Stephen King novel for One Dollar… on Craigslist. (In hardcover.)
You can buy Scott Sigler’s latest for just a couple bucks… at the used bookstore.
And you can get the latest of pretty much any e-book for free… by pirating it via bittorrent.
Care to wager that library usage is way up? Borrowing/lending? But you won’t hear about the publishing industry claiming that libraries are “Destroying the industry” or trying pass laws banning the sharing of books. That would be just as laughable as saying that pirates are destroying the industry. It’s just one more way customers can get the product if they don’t think it’s worth the list price.
Am I suggesting that publishers are causing an increase in piracy by setting their prices too high? Yes. Just like they are “causing” people to check books out at the library, or borrowing them instead of purchasing them at the bookstore. Just like they are causing consumers to obtain the product through other methods, or pass on the product altogether.
Of course publishers have to fight piracy, or people will think they’re OK with it. But to declare that piracy is destroying the publishing industry is simply not true. Illegal? Yes. On the rise? No doubt. But look at the cause:
Your business plan sucks.
Here’s where you should be focusing. Not on pirates. Solve this problem, and piracy will diminish, along with borrowing/lending and library usage.
But, we doesn’t understand business or teh Interwebs!
I can already hear the publishing industry screaming at me that it can’t make a profit off what people are willing to pay for e-books. What’s more likely is that they’ve been lying to the world for years about the costs attributable to the media (packing, shipping, storage, etc
You can price your product whereever you like, but products are never worth more than people are willing to pay for them. It doesn’t matter how much they cost to make. Like I said, price it too high and people won’t buy it or they will find cheaper alternatives. Yes, including piracy.
This is the spot where I’d make a “buggy whip manufacturer” reference, but q.e.d. right?
The solution starts by acknowledging the real problem.
The solution starts with letting go of the paradigm of treating ones and zeros on the web as a physical product. Virtual products are not Physical products.
The solution starts when people stop crying that change is bad, fighting against the new tech, and trying to cover up bad business models by blaming pirates.
I suspect the solution requires a generation of post-internet people growing up with virtualized products; people who weren’t born into a system of 100% THINGS and then had to suffer the paradigm shift to the virtual. These people will have a more intimate understanding of this “problem”, and perhaps when they grow up to take over for the current regime, they will arrive at a more elegant solution – one that works to Everyone’s advantage.
While researching different authors perspectives on e-book piracy, I tripped over a blog post by a New York Times Bestselling Author. Let’s call her Jenn. (Not her real name) Jenn’s blog post explains how piracy affects people she knows in the music industry, and her own career as an author. She experiences the direct impact of piracy firsthand, and she is clearly against the theft of intellectual property.
Yet the irony is that Jenn, herself, is a pirate.
That’s right. A New York Times Bestselling Author… a person who is directly affected by pirates stealing electronic versions of her work… a person who knows and understands piracy, and fears that it may be destroying the publishing industry…
Free Media (Images, Sounds, Video, etc…)
http://search.creativecommons.org/ – A search engine for media released under Creative Commons licensing. This does a sub-search of several other sites, including Flickr and Google Image Search.
But here is all you really need to know, from the website:
The distinction between fair use and infringement may be unclear and not easily defined.
The safest course is always to get permission from the copyright owner before using copyrighted material.
Besides, you don’t really want to argue over the definition of “Fair Use” in court, right? It isn’t worth it.
One thing you can do to help avoid issues from the start is…
Attribution of Your Sources
Some “free” media require you to attribute the author/source/owner of the media. Attribution is simply mentioning the copyright holder. This could be as simple as putting their name near a quote like this:
Twitter is about as useful as a wet-nap is to a scuba diver.
Or it could be listing the copyright holder in the tag of an mp3 file or movie credits.
Seems like every copyright holder has a different definition of “attribution” which makes it a pain in the ass to seem compliant. I imagine that’s probably why very few websites actually do it. And even proper attribution to the copyright holder is no protection from accusation of unfair use. But providing attribution (even if it isn’t a requirement of use) certainly makes you look better, both online and in a court of law.
Much of the “free” media is only free for non-commercial use. As you can imagine, the definition of “Commercial Use” has become a slippery topic. If you have Google Adwords running on your personal blog, is that “Commercial”? What if you use your blog as a focal point for adding readers to an e-mail list where you send out ‘exclusive offers’? What if you have a Paypal ‘Donate’ button at the bottom of your site?
Again, I recommend erring on the side of caution. If you are making money, then you should use media that allows for commercial use.
Editing, Remixing and Derivative Works
If you plan on editing a graphic, pic, sound file or video, make sure the usage license allows for derivative works, otherwise contact the media’s copyright holder for permission.
What do these people have in common? They are all Bestselling Authors. But lately, there have been a plethora of authors claiming “Bestseller” status. The problem is that they are bestsellers – technically. I’m here to point out that some authors are using a new-and-improved definition of the term that might not match up with what you think of when you use the term “Bestseller.”
There’s little argument that a Bestselling Author is the Author of at least one Bestselling Book. Once upon a time, a Bestselling Book was defined as a book that had made it onto the New York Times Best-sellers List. But the more generic definition is – “a book that sells the best out of a specific category in a specific time.”
With this more generic definition in mind, a little technical help from online booksellers like amazon.com, and a little ethical flexibility, we can manipulate the category and the time period to raise almost ANY book (and its author) to bestseller status.
The more generic definition of “bestseller” is a book that sells the most out of a specific category in a specific time… we can manipulate the category and the time period to raise almost ANY book (and its author) to “bestseller” status.
Ever since the birth of Consumer Reports, marketing people realized that the ubiquitous title of “Best” had a high impact with consumers. (Especially American consumers.) Car companies realized that a midsized car with average fuel mileage and average price couldn’t really be considered “best” at anything except being a “midsized car with average fuel mileage and average price.”
Add a dash of Evil Marketing Genius and the problem is solved. They narrowed down the specs to weed out their competition until their car was the ‘best’ within the specified sub-section. The term for this status is “Best in Class,” a phrase likely to be found in any car commercial.
This same approach can be taken regarding published works. If you break the market down to a sub-sub-subsection where your book is the best out of those remaining…then you’re the best! Best of Class, of course, but you’re still the best. It’s like being King of your own tree-fort. You get all the bragging rights of being “Best” but there’s a big disclaimer that comes with that definition of Best-ness.
The values are recalculated Every Hour, which leads us to the next piece of best-seller-ness, Timing.
Timing The Bum Rush
Because sites like Amazon measure sales instantaneously and the Bestseller lists are recalculated every hour, it isn’t hard to get your book moved to the top of the list by gathering your friends, and leveraging your social media connections (with added gifts, discounts and other time-limited offers) and launching a timed, all-out purchasing assault in an attempt to “best-ify” books or music.
This activity is nicknamed a “Bum Rush.”
Bum Rush the Charts Logo
A famous Bum Rush was performed on 22 Mar 2007. A website called Bum Rush The Charts planned the large-scale push of the independent band Black Lab up onto music charts worldwide. It worked. The band peaked at #11 on the American I-Tunes charts and in the top 100 of most other countries. An UNSIGNED band broke the charts using nothing more than a strategically timed social media event.
The theory behind a Bum Rush is simple. Get a large number of people to purchase your book on a particular hour of a particular day. It won’t take a lot to get your book moved to the “Best” of your selected category for that one hour. Collect your title and brag forevermore that you are indeed a Bestseller.
Sneaky? No doubt. But there’s also no doubt that the Bum Rush works. In fact, certain book publishers expect their authors to participate in a Bum Rush, (probably called a “Release Event” or some other legal-speak) and will even add a clause requiring author participation into their “Book Deal” contracts.
The beauty is that once achieved, the Bestseller title stays with the author for the rest of his/her lifetime, as though they had achieved a doctorate or a Nobel Peace Prize. All the author’s marketing materials will have the words “…by the Bestselling Author of…” and whether the new material is “Bestselling” quality or not, it still says “Bestselling” on it.
Like I said, Evil Marketing Genius.
Because of the glut “Bestselling Authors” out there, you will see authors who became Bestsellers using the traditional method refer to themselves as “New York Times Bestselling Author” and their books as “New York Times Bestseller” or possibly other, more specified titles which gives more detail about where their pedigree comes from and how they differentiate themselves from the rank-and-file “Bestsellers.”
I didn’t write this article so you could run out and become a Bestselling Author. My goal was to inform you that the term “Bestseller” doesn’t hold the same meaning it did before online booksellers came into play. And nothing against those who have achieved their bestseller status the old-fashioned way. Unfortunately, the new definition of Bestseller does water down the prestige of the title.
From now on, you know to be wary of the term “Bestselling” Anything. When you see an author or book listed as “Bestselling” the first thought in your mind should be “Best What out of Which, exactly?”
-Conrad Zero, Bestselling Author (of all published dark fiction authors over 30 years of age, with a last name beginning with the letter “Z,” and living in Minneapolis metro area)
I’m noticing a trend that fewer and fewer works of Monster fiction are being classified as “Horror.” Stories containing non-humans characters such as Demons, Vampires, Ghosts, Werewolves, Aliens, and anything with Tentacles, used to be clear-cut Horror. Now they’re about as frightening as getting a flat tire.
Have we gotten used to the idea of monsters? Have they been watered down until they just aren’t scary anymore? “Diet Horror”? “Horror Lite”?
Of course, media geared toward kids have always brought monsters down to an un-scary level; nothing new there, and Disney certainly isn’t helping things. [easyazon_link identifier=”B00BHU9CCO” locale=”US” tag=”zero00b-20″]Monsters, Inc.[/easyazon_link] turned monsters into cute, cuddly creatures who were Frightened Of Kids! And now [easyazon_link identifier=”B005MKZW6U” locale=”US” tag=”zero00b-20″]Monsters vs. Aliens[/easyazon_link] turns monsters into our allies!
Monsters for Kids are nothing new…
But that’s all kids stuff. What I’m talking about is more than simple cartoonification of monsters. Media across the board have sucked the horror right out of the monster market.
Before I get started, just a disclaimer that I don’t believe that all horror stories must contain a monster. I bet the majority of horror stories written don’t have a “monster” in them. I’m just suggesting that the modern monster has lost some – if not most – of its bite.
How far have the horrific fallen? Let’s take a look:
#1 – The Fanpire Shift
You know you’re in trouble when Underworld makes fun of you.
I’m going to single out Vampires for two reasons. They really weren’t that scary to begin with, and they have become more popular than all the other monsters combined. These two points perpetuate each other in what I’m going to call the Fanpire Shift.
Think Vampires are scary? Guess again. If there was a list of “Pleasant Ways to Die” then getting your blood sucked out of your neck in the embrace of a hot vamp would be at the top of it. If you think [easyazon_link identifier=”B001T5D6LK” locale=”US” tag=”zero00b-20″]Twilight[/easyazon_link] or [easyazon_link identifier=”B0046XG48O” locale=”US” tag=”zero00b-20″]Buffy the Vampire Slayer[/easyazon_link], or any of the [easyazon_link identifier=”B001VLFE7G” locale=”US” tag=”zero00b-20″]Underworld[/easyazon_link] movies depict vampires as scary, try watching [easyazon_link identifier=”B00111YM5Q” locale=”US” tag=”zero00b-20″]30 Days of Night[/easyazon_link]. Then you will understand why I think the way modern vampires are depicted, they barely classify as monsters at all.
Keep in mind the original [easyazon_link identifier=”0486411095″ locale=”US” tag=”zero00b-20″]Dracula by Bram Stoker[/easyazon_link] was more Gothic than Horrific. Simply the idea of someone drinking the blood of others to prolong their own life was horrific enough. But Dracula-Done-Right had a sense of inhumanness about the vampire character that was at least unnerving if not flat-out frightening. 30 Days of Night was able to capture the alien feel of vampires, but the majority of books and movies today portray vampires as regal, bureaucratic, pompous socialites. Well-dressed dandies with pointy teeth who drink blood from wine glasses with their pinkys out while listening to Bach. In other words, about as frightening as 70’s fashion.
Because of (or in spite of) this, the popularity of the vampire genre cannot be contained. From the massive success of [easyazon_link identifier=”B004AM5R20″ locale=”US” tag=”zero00b-20″]Anne Rice’s series of vampire books[/easyazon_link], and the Buffy franchise which took the vampire genre out of Horror and into the Throap (Part Thriller, Part Soap Opera) vampires are IN. People can’t get enough, or water them down enough. Stephanie Meyer is doing her best to continue this trend, placing vampires in the least frightening genre ever created; heartfelt, awkward, teenage relationship stories.
Adding the popularity of the Vampire genre to the fact that they’re barely tall enough to make it into the monster pool without a parent or guardian, means the entire monster pool gets watered down.
Hey, if it gets kids to read, I’m all for it. But even if the surge in interest of Vampires actually Raises the number of monster books across the board, if sure feels like there’s less and less media focused on the particularly horrible horror monsters when the market is drowned in Horror-Lite.
#2 – The Paranormal Romance
A smooch from beyond the grave…
Proof that Romance will sleep with anything, Paranormal Romance is the bastard offspring of Horror and Romance genres that extends on the notion of ‘Love Conquers Death’ – the belief that Love persists beyond the demise of one or both partners. Paranormal Romance takes ‘love from beyond the grave’ to its extreme. Ghosts and spirits used to be something that you AVOIDED. But Paranormal Romance bravely stepped from the shadows to explore the ATTRACTION to the (un)dead!
Borderline necrophilia. Spirituophilia? But there’s more than just ghosts to love here. Romance knows no bounds, especially in the Para-normal.
It should be no surprise that Vampire Romance is growing in popularity. Of the 66,722 Vampire books listed at Amazon today, 1,491 of them are listed as Vampire Romance.
One would have expected that werewolves might have escaped being dehorrified, (with the exception of Teen Wolf, natch) A quick search of ‘werewolves’ on Amazon.com will show you the truth. Out of the 1529 Werewolf books, 279 are Werewolf Romance.
Borderline bestiality. Lycanthrophilia? Like I said, love knows no bounds. Even Sharks are finding themselves subject to loving de-horrification:
What’s next? Borderline Tentacle Porn? Chuthluphilia? A search for ‘chuthulu romance’ returned no hits. Thank the gods. Maybe someday when the stars are right…
I don’t dislike Paranormal Romance stories any more than I dislike Romance stories. But turning monsters into love interests wrings the horror right out of them. The rise in popularity of Paranormal Romance alone is enough to un-horrify the monster market.
#3 – The Zombidy and Horror/Comedy
Scene from “Fido”
Zombies have always been funny. Undead, true, but they’re slow; both physically and mentally, which makes them more disturbing than frightening. That is, until you add in the fact that they generally come in large numbers, and the whole “Eat Your Brains” thing (crossed with poor table manners) gives them a more secure seat on the horror bus than Vampires nipping daintily at your Jugular vein.
There’s nothing new about horror/comedy, but the success of well-done films like [easyazon_link identifier=”B000TJ6PB0″ locale=”US” tag=”zero00b-20″]Black Sheep[/easyazon_link] and “Zombidys” like [easyazon_link identifier=”B0018OIK0E” locale=”US” tag=”zero00b-20″]Shaun of the Dead[/easyazon_link] and [easyazon_link identifier=”B000V4UH08″ locale=”US” tag=”zero00b-20″]Fido[/easyazon_link], which raised the bar and ushered in a new wave of films and books that weren’t just laughably bad low-budget B-movies like [easyazon_link identifier=”B0002DB5PO” locale=”US” tag=”zero00b-20″]Chopping Mall[/easyazon_link] or [easyazon_link identifier=”B00008AOVG” locale=”US” tag=”zero00b-20″]Jack Frost[/easyazon_link].
Even people who don’t like Horror can appreciate a Horror/Comedy, making that market larger, and simultaneously eroding the pure Horror market; which includes our Scary Zombie and Monster friends.
#4 – Chasing the Horror-Lite Market
Seriously bro, this movie is like so totally scary, its sick! I think it’s Rated PG-8!
[easyazon_link keywords=”Dark Fantasy” locale=”US” tag=”zero00b-20″]Dark Fantasy[/easyazon_link] is the kissing cousin of Horror. It appeals to a wider audience, and it’s growing.
Part of the rise in this trend comes from the explosion of the Young Adult book market. Ever since the success of the Harry Potter series, the publishing and movie industries have launched a massive assault on the teen market. In this market, it seems that monsters are less of a main course and more of a side dish adding flavor to a plot, and not a plot in and of themselves. For example, each book of the Harry Potter series contains some kind of monster or terrifying creature, but the books are labeled ‘Fantasy-Adventure’ not ‘Horror’.
Because of the larger market for Dark Fiction, Horror authors and other artists looking for a bigger audience might tone down the Horror and play up the Dark Fantasy aspect in order to give their work a broader appeal. The results are stories like [easyazon_link identifier=”0060530944″ locale=”US” tag=”zero00b-20″]The Graveyard Book[/easyazon_link], and [easyazon_link identifier=”B001T5D6LK” locale=”US” tag=”zero00b-20″]Twilight[/easyazon_link], books that were inspired by, but never intended for, the horror section.
So where are the scary monsters?
I want to reassert here that I’m not opposed to any of the genres or movements listed above. Mostly. But I like my monsters scary damnit, and I’m on the verge of calling scary monsters an endangered species.
While horrific horror monsters might not be extinct, there’s no question that the points listed above have conspired to shove the monster market back under the bed. The increase in Vampires, Paranormal Romances, Horror/Comedy and the growth of the Young Adult market may have increased interest in works of darker fiction, but it certainly seems to have drowned out the small slice of authors and filmmakers creating frightening Monsters.
But like the things hiding under your bed, just because you don’t see them doesn’t mean they aren’t there, lurking in the dark and forgotten corners of the bookstore… Stories about creatures that could kill you just by stepping into broad daylight, their very wrongness would rip your sanity asunder.
They might even lurk in the minds of dark fiction authors such as myself. You might come back here and find some one day… if you are brave enough.
If you know of any scary monster stories, please share!
Four Hundred and some-odd slices of dead tree stood stacked up on the desk. Nearly One-Hundred-Thousand words that have taken me years to choose and arrange…
…and I was looking for lighter fluid and my lucky Zippo lighter.
I’d just read a Real book from a Real author, then I looked back at my own work, something I had the audacity to actually print out. I felt bad for the tree that was killed so I could redline the latest version of the Evil Looks Good manuscript. Turns out a red pen wasn’t enough. I was going to need a 12″ wide red paint roller. It would have been easier to highlight the sections that weren’t complete garbage. There wouldn’t be many.
There’s lots of names for this phenomenon, Burnout, Inner Critic, Self-Doubt, and more, but I call it “Hitting the Wall”.
What is “The Wall”?
You Are Here.
Some who discuss this anomaly are quick to label it as a form of Writer’s Block. This gives them immediate access to the wealth of books, advice and ready-made solutions for that particular problem.
Unfortunately, hitting the wall is not writers block. It’s motivation block. I’ve had both, and believe me, they are two different animals. Their only similarity is that when you have either of them, you don’t get anything written.
Hitting the wall isn’t writers block. It’s motivation block.
Writers block is when you are Stuck For Something To Write. When you hit the wall, You Don’t Want To Write Anything At All.
With writers block you stare at a blank page, desperate for some spark of creativity, or some muse to come flirt with your brain. You want to write.
When you hit the wall, you don’t stare at a blank page. You stare at the television, or a video game, or another book, or perhaps (ironically) a wall, because even that is preferable to wasting your time trying to be a writer when you know you are a hack who won’t ever amount to anything and this delusion of being a writer, this temporary insanity that anything you write will ever be read or is even worthy of being read saps all your motivation away, and not only do you not want to write ever again, but you’re compelled to cut your own hands off with a bandsaw as a public service….
Sorry, I digress.
Let’s take a look at some likely de-motivators that can create a wall between you and completion:
Brick in the Wall (part 1) – Burnout or Overexposure
I think the reason I hit the wall with my story is because I spent too much time on it. It isn’t hard to do. Musicians do this all the time. You can keep working on a song or book forever, supposedly making it “Better”. But after working on the same thing for an extended period you will eventually get sick of it, like eating the same meal for lunch every day. Some people call this phenomenon “Burnout”.
If you run into Burnout or Overexposure, the cure is to minimize contact with your own work. Limit the amount of time that you allow yourself to work on a piece. (Especially the duration measured in weeks/months.) Put it away for a while and work on another section or better yet, another story. Lock it away for a while, and come back to it later with a clearer mind and fresher eyes. Then, give yourself a deadline for completion. If you are your own publisher, start acting like it and make some deadlines and hold your author (yourself) accountable.
Brick in the Wall (part 2) – Unhealthy Comparisons
What really lit my fuse was reading another author’s work that was an example of really good and inspiring writing. Then I read my own work…yikes! Nothing will taint your own work like comparing it to someone else’s professionally edited (and proofread, and published, and bestselling… you get the idea) book.
To avoid this scenario, avoid comparing the perceived ‘quality’ of your work to the work of other authors. This is the ‘grass is always greener on the other side of the fence’ dilemma. It may be better than yours, it may not, but the fact that you’ll never write like someone else also implies that no one else can write like you. No one else can write your story but you.
Know that when you’re done, someone else is going to look at your story and feel bad about their own. But this won’t happen if you don’t finish it!
Brick in the Wall (part 3) – The Fear of Completion
One type of wall you might hit is the Fear of Failure disguised as Fear of Completion. This can make you doubt if not outright sabotage your own efforts, especially if it happens when your story is nearly finished. If you never complete the book, then it never gets judged. If you pre-emptively judge it as ‘sucky’ and never release it, it spares you the possibility that anyone else might judge it as ‘sucky’. It’s the same philosophy of people who don’t enter contests. They don’t want to lose, and if they don’t play, then they don’t lose, right?
To overcome this version of the wall, you have to change the definition of failure, and make it work in your favor.
Realize that failure = You Not releasing the best book that you can at this time and place in your writing career.
Re-writing the same book over and over won’t help you to become a better writer. At some point, you are simply changing the book, and not making it better, you’re just wasting your time. You won’t get better if you don’t finish your work and get it out there. If you don’t complete it, you Lose.
Better yet – you’re a Loser until you complete it.
Success isn’t releasing the best book ev-ar, it’s releasing your book as the author you are now. Don’t worry about making this book better than it is, make it the best you can right now, and get it behind you so you can grow. Then you can worry about making your next book better than this one.
Continuing to release better and better books is how you progress as a writer. If you can get this mindset, it will help you to overcome the fear of failure and motivate you to completion.
Tear Down The Wall!
The way out is through.
It was a huge relief for me to recognize The Wall for what it is. Both a fantastic album by Pink Floyd, and a step in the writing process.
Just the knowledge that others go through this phase (often enough that there’s a name for it) makes it more tolerable. It isn’t just this story you’re working on, and it isn’t just you.
The Wall is a test. There’s ten thousand things that will get in the way of you writing a book. This is just one of those ten thousand things. A conflict for you to overcome the same way the hero in your story overcomes their conflict. One of the very first conflicts is getting started, and some people never get past that point. If you’re up to the point where you are having problems like hitting the wall and motivational block, be thankful because you have actually made it further than most people.
Remember, to breach the wall of motivation block you don’t need jump starts to your creativity, you don’t need to tickle the muse, what you need is motivation. There’s ten thousand places you can get it. Here’s just one.
Outside the Wall
My lighter didn’t work (lucky, eh?), and so my manuscript is safe. For now.
Realizing that others have this problem is a big help, and I hope I’ve helped other writers recognize this problem for what it is. If you have other suggestions on how to avoid, circumvent, pierce, penetrate, or otherwise ‘tear down the wall’, drop them in the comments section. Best of luck, and I’ll see you on the other side…
[easyazon_image align=”right” height=”500″ identifier=”1439157790″ locale=”US” src=”https://conradzero.com/wp-content/uploads/514pWlBv2BoL.jpg” tag=”zero00b-20″ width=”320″][easyazon_link identifier=”1439157790″ locale=”US” tag=”zero00b-20″]Blood Hollow[/easyazon_link] came as a recommendation from an employee at Rebild and Romain Booksellers (Formerly JJ O’donoghue Books) in Anoka. The helpful person working there suggested that William Kent Krueger is one of the best crime fiction writers in Minnesota. That’s high praise from someone who works at a bookstore, so I gave Blood Hollow a shot.
Mr. Krueger’s pedigree looks really good. (If he were a dog, he’d be worth a lot.) He’s a local guy with plenty of novels under his belt, and enough awards to make me puke jealous. He’s also a member of Minnesota Crime Wave.
I won’t lie to you. Crime Fiction ain’t really my genre. This would be me taking a distinct break from Horror/Fantasy. So I went into this book quite cold to partly, with a high chance of low expectations. From the cover copy, I was taken more by the location (of both the story and the author) than the genre. I was also interested in reading a book which won an Anthony Award, was nominated for Minnesota Book Award and got tons of great reviews in the press.
Blood Hollow – Cover Copy
When the corpse of a teenage girl is discovered on a hillside three months after her disappearance on New Year’s Eve, all evidence points to her boyfriend, Solemn Winter Moon. Despite Solemn’s self-incriminating decision to go into hiding, Cork O’Connor, Aurora’s part-Irish, part-Ojibwe former sheriff, isn’t about to hang the crime on the kid, whom O’Connor is convinced is innocent. In an uphill battle to clear Solemn’s name, Cork encounters no shortage of adversity. Some he knows all too well small-town bigotry and bureaucracy foremost among them. What Cork isn’t prepared for is the emergence of a long-held resentment hailing from his own childhood. And when Solemn reappears, claiming to have seen a vision of Jesus Christ in Blood Hollow, the mystery becomes thornier than Cork could ever have anticipated. And that’s when the miracles start happening…
Blood Hollow – The Good
The writing was very good. Enough description to get you into the story, but not so much that it slows the story down. Good pacing. Great phrases like a sky “…the color of an old nickel.” Read the first two chapters and you will be able to feel the cold of a Minnesota snowstorm.
The location was perfect. For those who enjoyed the movie Fargo, this story has the same ‘small town’ feel to it. Everybody knows everybody. The characters, scenery descriptions and little details (McCullough Chain Saw, Sorel Boots, Minnetonka Moccasins, etc…) made me realize that William Kent Krueger isn’t just a visitor here. He knows this place, and he does a good job of transporting the reader there.
He also does a great job with his portrayal of the Ojibwe culture. Blood Hollow includes plenty of the Ojibwe language and customs. I can vouch for his accuracy, as I have family who are Ojibwe and live on the rez in Minnesota . Very well done. I wanted more!
Mr. Krueger has a knack for names. There were plenty of characters, but I never got them mixed up (Hey, JRR Tolkien, are you listening? Sauron/Saruman ring a bell? Oh wait, he’s dead. Sorry.) The protagonist’s name is “Cork” and there’s a “Solemn Winter Moon” and “Dot”… the list goes on. The last names of the townsfolk were particularly Minn-ee-soh-ten. “Soderberg”? I went to school with some Soderbergs…
The dynamics of the character relations were well done. The underlying tone of mistrust and prejudice between the townsfolk and the Ojibwe was a nice flavor. The miracles that occur and the problems they cause for the town add plenty of spice to the story.
Blood Hollow – The Bad
The plot was C.S.I. Aurora, MN. By that I mean linear, with the most meager of subplots. The entire storyline is a series of introducing new evidence pointing at a character as a potential suspect, then further investigation eliminates them as a suspect, and repeat until you swear that everyone in the whole town was involved and has some secret to hide.
This isn’t a mystery you will be figuring out on your own, the clues simply aren’t there. I read it passively, and tried not to guess where the story would go. I was just along for the ride, which I think you’ll find more enjoyable than the frustration of trying to solve the mystery before Cork does. Those looking for a Northwoods Sherlock Holmes story will be disappointed.
Cork O’Connor isn’t particular memorable for a main character. He has NO distinctive traits, and his family life is pretty emotionally sterile. He’s a bit like Sam Spade, only “over medium” instead of “hard boiled” and without the internal monologue. Cork is stoic, hard to read, and he goes light on the action. He’s an all-around-good-guy, and I mean that in a bad way. He needs a bad habit, or a patch over one eye, or a mysterious past that haunts him, or something to give him some depth.
Blood Hollow – The Upshot
Blood Hollow is a well-written, fast-paced crime story that takes place in a small mining range town in the northwoods of Minnesota. The story is flavored with small-town prejudice, miracles, and Ojibwe Culture. Light on the action and heavy on the investigation. Cross “Fargo” with “CSI” and you’re on the trail of a good read from a well-read author.
The group met last Sunday and I was one of five authors on the critique hot-seat. If I learned one thing, it’s that getting honest criticism of your work is awkward. And sifting out good criticism from bad is difficult.
Wait, that’s two things I learned.
Actually, I learned a lot.
A Kick in the Balls… or not?
Opinions differed about many aspects of my story, but none as interesting as the division of opinions about our hero Nix kicking some jerk in the balls. There seemed to be no middle ground on this one. Half the group felt it was cliche and trite. The other half thought it was completely understandable and in-character.
My reasoning behind writing the kick-in-the-balls scene:
I needed to disable the jerk character, and make sure he didn’t leave the scene, or put up resistance.
It helps define the hero’s attitude.
The hero needed a vehicle to make a hasty getaway. After kicking said jerk in the balls, the hero takes his keys.
Kicking him in the balls accomplishes these goals swimmingly, and has the following added bonus features:
Most people know the effects of kicking someone in the balls (even those who haven’t experienced it firsthand) making it a very efficient narrative. One sentence conveys it all.
It adds a touch of comic relief.
It insinuates some sexual domination of the hero over the jerk.
The major drawback is that enough people (almost 50%) felt it was cliche enough to mention so in the critique. The majority of those who thought kicking a guy in the balls was cliche were women. Then again, the majority of the members of the MNSpec critique group were women. I’ll let you make your own inferences.
I’ve decided that I’ll see if I can write up an action that disables the jerk, defines the hero, and doesn’t take up much real estate in the story… without the cliche kick to the scrotum.
Inject the Venom… or not?
Another discussion that ensued was about our Hero ending an argument with her friend by injecting him with a drug that makes him pass out. Some found this action impossible to justify, and some had no problem with it.
The argument was very similar to the argument about the hero kicking someone in the balls. Those against the action said that it was unnecessary – the hero could simply leave of her own accord. She’s an adult and doesn’t need to knock out this other character and run away. It was labeled ‘aggressively passive-aggressive’ behavior. Although like I said, some people thought it worked just fine.
In this case, I’d have to agree with voting it off the island. It was quick and easy to write. Simpler and faster to dodge the issue than talk about it at length. I’ll change it, but I’m not exactly thrilled. Why? Because I’m writing an action/adventure story, not a fucking Throap like…
…Buffy The Vampire Slayer
It’s bound to happen. Write a story about a kick-ass heroine, and the comparisons spew out like beer at a Nascar rally:
Alright, no one really compared my story to V.I. Warshawski. But I learned that I dislike my work being compared to hack TV shows that I’ve never seen. I guess if the genre is popular enough to be lumped into, then there must be a hell of a market.
I suspect that no matter what genre you write in (or what art you create for that matter) there will always be those who have to lump it in with all similar works. Guess I just need to get used to it.
There were some things that everyone agreed on. They liked the pacing. They liked the fight scenes, even people who admitted they didn’t ordinarily like fight scenes, which I took as high praise. They all liked the description of the abandoned medical facility. Everyone liked the main character, Nix.
There were unanimous #EpicFails. Not searching characters for weapons once they are captured is a faux pas. Having weapons easily accessible; ditto. Handily-placed-syringes-labeled-in-the-Queen’s-English is frowned upon.
I don’t agree with all the critiques. Someone said that in a short story I should only have one thing blowing up in a fiery ball of fire and probably not at the start of the story. Obviously, this person has never seen a Michael Bay film.
Someone mockingly pointed out my instances of “Purple Prose” meaning phrases that are, “sensually evocative beyond the requirements of its context”. Point taken, and I appreciate the observation, if not the tone, which was a bit purple itself. I’m trying to take all criticism with a pound of salt, but my editor Sue might be right – she tells me that writers are cursed with terribly thin skin.
One suggestion was for me to ditch the fight scene at the beginning and start several pages into the existing story, with our main character in motion. I might do just that because it makes good sense for the work by itself. I have to remember that it’s detached from the full work. Once the short story becomes integrated into the full work (possibly in a later edition) I’ll likely add the fight scene back in. It means I have to rework the motivation for our hero to leave home.
The biggest praise came from the group organizer Hillary, who said I should try to sell the story before releasing it on the internet for free. I was surprised that anyone thought it worthy of publication. Another person said it had a “pulp sensibility” which I’ll take as a complement.
All in all, there’s plenty of resource in the massive stack of sequoia-killing redlined manuscripts I brought home from the group critique. I’ll rewrite “Yellow King” and pass it along to an editor, then release it for FREE either later this year or early in 2010. Those who are interested in reading it should sign up for the newsletter, or keep checking back here on the blog – you’ll be the first to know.
In part one of this series on Audience Entitlement, we discovered that the author does not work for the audience.
In part two, I pointed out that the audience doesn’t have to take any crap from the author. (That’s what I’m here for. My amazing perception of the obvious.)
Watch closely, as I put these two parts together.
The Golden Rule
I listed “Honesty” and “Respect” as two things the audience can reasonably expect from an author. These are fluffy terms, and difficult to measure. In some cases, only the author knows if they are being honest or not. And there’s always someone who has to push the envelope. Who’s to say that intentionally leaving the third book out of a five book series couldn’t be Honestly and Respectfully done, if that’s the artist’s intention?
Plenty of gray area for us to all fight over, but the concept boils down to this:
Regarding the Audience/Author relationship, the best rule is The Golden Rule, which works in both directions. The author should respect the audience, and the audience should respect the author.
The Solution to Incomplete Series Malaise
Taking this discussion back to the original post by Neil Gaiman, the issue of audience entitlement was brought up regarding the phenomenon I titled “Incomplete Series Malaise” – the audience wants the next book in the series but the author isn’t working on it, or isn’t working on it as quickly as members of the audience would like.
For the author to simply say “I’m not your bitch” and leave it at that is disrespectful. The audience will say, “I’m not your bitch either,” and then see how many curses about you they can fit into a 140-character twitter post. Sadly this is where Mr. Gaiman left the matter hang, when I believe he is only half right. I say that because the solution to Incomplete Series Malaise comes in two parts:
If the audience respects the author, they won’t make demands.
When a member of the audience begins reading a series, they should not have any expectation of due dates or even of completion, except for what the author communicates. The audience can be as excited and enthusiastic as they want, and while they have every right to ask when the next book is expected, they have NO RIGHT to demand the next book in a series, or to get angry if it isn’t getting done when they’d like.
Audiences, if you can’t handle this, then don’t read a series until it’s complete. The author is not your bitch.
If the author respects his/her audience, he/she will tell them when the next book in the series is expected to be finished, and if it isn’t done by then, explain why not and renew the expected date.
This is the part that I think Mr. Gaiman missed. True, the author may not be the audience’s bitch, but an author who does not at least have some respect for their audience doesn’t deserve one.
The wise author (or the author’s publisher) would have information about expected book release dates at a webpage/FAQ/blog post where excited fans can be directed. This is the official “I know, I got it, I already answered that, and you can find the official answer here…”
Authors, if you can’t handle this, then don’t write a series. Its disrespectful to the audience, and they are not your bitch.
Examples abound here. From personal experience, I’ll point at Stephen King who lost me as a loyal reader when he stopped working on the Dark Tower series to work on other things and gave no reason why or estimation of when (or if!) the Dark Tower series might be finished. While Stephen King eventually came back and finished the series, I never did. In fact, I never read another of Stephen King’s books after being treated that way.
And So On…
We can extend this simple solution out to ten-thousand other areas of the author/audience relationship: social media responsiveness, web presence, the author’s right to privacy…
When I boil the whole thing down like this, it sounds like the “Can’t we all just get along?” solution. And it is. You’d think we wouldn’t need this bit of common sense pointed out to us, but all it takes is one dickhead with a twitter account (author or audience) to ruin it for the rest of us.
So, when the inevitable happens, and you see authors/audiences getting into a pissing contest and disrespecting each other, feel free to link them here for a dose of common sense.
However, a career in writing wouldn’t be possible without an audience. So we can also say that an author who doesn’t work for an audience… probably won’t have one. So let’s play Devil’s Advocate, turn this discussion on its head, and say the following is also true:
The audience is not the author’s bitch.
Think about it – the audience doesn’t have to put up with an author who doesn’t give them what they want.
So am I playing both sides by saying the author doesn’t work for the audience, but still owes them something? Not necessarily. I’m saying the author doesn’t work for the audience, but if they want to have an audience, they can’t really tell them to go screw themselves. We could call this ‘good business sense’ or ‘common courtesy’, but for sake of this article, lets call it a ‘voluntary obligation’. It’s also a conditional obligation: IF the author wants to grow/keep an audience, THEN they have some obligations to the audience, but what are they?
What obligations should an author have to their audience? What can an audience reasonably expect from an author?
We could list a million things, and six billion people would still disagree. You can’t please everyone. Everything the author does is going to piss some people off. (This includes doing nothing at all!) But I think the essence of what the author owes to the audience can be nicely summed up in two words: Honesty and Respect.
The first element the author owes to their audience, their publishers, and themselves, is Honesty. Being true to the story. This could be harder than it sounds, and overlaps the terrain known as “artistic integrity”, a topic I’ll post on later.
Honesty is easier to point out when it’s missing, so I’ve compiled a list of dishonest practices I see from authors and their publishers.
Contractual Obligation: You know of what I speak – books that smack of ‘time and money are running out, so I better get this done’. Authors who sign a multi-book contract and lose heart in the middle of the series. (You know who you are, and so do we). The result? Lame plots and wooden characters in cookie-cutter situations that the readers think they could have written better themselves. They’re probably right. Preposterous Leaps of Faith that don’t require you to simply suspend your disbelief, you actually have to tie it up in the woodshed.
Of course, it could just be shitty writing. Sometimes it’s hard to tell, but you won’t have to read much to find obvious cases of Contractual Obligation Writing. Especially when the author squawks online about their jaded experience. (Here’s a hint: Don’t ever do this.)
Bestseller Knock-Offs: Anyone else sick of all the Twilight book cover knock-offs? It’s sad and obvious when authors try to cash in on the latest bestseller. “If you liked Harry Potter, then you’ll Love this!!!” I doubt it because I’m not likely to read your cut-n-paste adventure.
Misleading Covers and Cover Copy: Similar to the Bestseller knockoffs, there’s books with covers and copy text that has NOTHING to do with the story inside, which makes you think the printer got the book covers mixed up.
Genre Stretching: How about people stretching the limits of the story’s genre just so they can get into the Genre Of The Month Club? Imagine picking up a Paranormal Romance, and discovering that the “Romance” is the kiss the hero gave his wife on page 3 before going off to battle demons for the next 397 blood-soaked pages?
Given, some of these problems are choices made by the publisher, but they reflect back on the author, coloring him/her dishonest.
There’s more examples of dishonesty I could throw out there (and feel free to add your favorites in the comments below) but I think I’ve made my point. Even if authors don’t care about their audience, their writing will be better overall, and their writing careers will be more substantial if they remain honest and true to the story, themselves, and their audience. Please don’t fake it, the audience isn’t stupid and they aren’t your bitch.
If Honesty is a fluffy term, then defining Respect is as difficult as nailing down cigarette smoke. Respect has less to do with the writing itself and more to do with the way the author conducts him/her self in public and in communications with others. I’d say Honesty relates more to what is said, and Respect relates more to how it’s said.
Once again, the effects are easier to see if they are lacking, so let’s take a look at some authors methods of being disrespectful to their audience.
Lateness: I don’t get to badger anyone about this one, since I was born two hours late and never caught up to the rest of the world. Turning in a manuscript late to the publisher, showing up late for meetings, interviews, webchats, etc. is disrespectful. Nuff’ said.
Rudeness: Examples of author rudeness abound, but most are seen on the social networks, where replies aren’t as likely to be thought out before they are sent. Twitter, bulletin boards, comments, and e-mail replies are all fertile ground for snarky rebuttals and flaming.
Another example of rudeness is No Reply At All. I can’t tell you how many e-mails I’ve sent to midlist authors (that’s right, writers whose very paychecks are dependent on word of mouth) and I never received a reply. If you’ve got so much e-mail that you can’t keep up with it, then you have a problem that a LOT of authors wish they had. Get an assistant.
Combatting Disrespect with Disrespect: This is a variant of Rudeness and I bring it up only because I’ve seen it happen firsthand. This could be an area where Honesty and Respect are mutually exclusive. If you Honestly feel justified in disrespecting someone then to be Respectful would be Dishonest… That’s a no-win situation, and I guess you just have to pick one and live with it. (Like cell phone providers.)
If Trent Reznor wants to tell his fans to fuck off that’s his prerogative, but it isn’t terribly respectful. Trent chose to be honest to himself and disrepectful to certain members of his audience. This isn’t the best choice for everyone, but it’s the choice I’ve made before (in case you think I’m disrespectful for having swear words in my blog post.)
The Story So Far (for those too busy to read this ungodly-long blog post)
1 -The audience is not the authors bitch.
2- The author is not the audience’s bitch.
3 – Authors don’t HAVE to be Honest or Respectful to their audience. If they want to Lie, Cheat, Deceive and Swindle their audience they certainly can. But if they were any good at these things, running for political office pays better, and is a lot less work than being an author.
4- Authors who want to grow and keep an audience would do well to practice some Honesty and Respect.
The third (and last) post in this series on Audience Entitlement will reconcile these points into a Harmonic Convergence of Utopian Author/Audience Relationship Nirvana. I will become the Author/Audience Relationship Guru and go on Oprah. So, stay tuned…