Every month in this space, author Jeff Bowles offers advice for young and struggling writers. No one ever said becoming a world-famous storyteller is easy. This is the Pep Talk.
Everyone needs a pep talk now and then. I could use one at least once a week. I know a lot of damn fine writers who’re having challenging times right now. Maybe it’s just the year 2017, a surge of new energy which has left us feeling stifled and worn down. I think drive comes in waves. Easy to manifest when you’re young and hungry, also easy when you’re working for paychecks. An unexamined life is not worth living. What makes you tick, my friends? Why do you feel the need to work hard for your dream?
For me, a famous song lyric says it all: “Time inspires me like a dog inspires a rabbit.”
There’s a certain creative disposition that fuels productivity by way of dread for the brevity of life. I am of that disposition. When I get into a writing slump, I wake up in the middle of the night feeling unfulfilled and guilty. I’ve got so much to say, so many stories to tell. Maybe it’s more important to create as if nothing can harm us, as if the whole universe is waiting for our next works of art. It can feel like that sometimes, can’t it? Thank God.
Do you have big dreams for your writing career? I certainly do. There’s kind of a junction between what we want and what reality is willing to give us. What keeps us writing even when no publishers are interested in our work and readers are few and far between?
I think the answer is more universal than people realize. If you’ve been doing this long enough, no doubt you know a few people who’ve climbed further faster than you. Now this can be a really painful experience, and I think it’s okay to admit it. Is it petty to resent those who’ve accumulated more success than us? It is, but to a large extent it’s also unavoidable.
It’d take a very balanced personality indeed to shrug off adversity 100% of the time. There’s something within us, perhaps culled from our hunter-gatherer days, that endows us with an astonishing capacity for jealousy.
“How’d he publish that book? Mine is so much better!”
“And she won an award for it? Meanwhile I’m sitting here in obscurity, twiddling my thumbs.”
Comments like these are a sure sign of a bad attitude, but tell me you’ve never thought something similar. It’s normal, right? Even if we don’t want it to be. But I’d also like to remind you it’s corrosive to the mind and spirit.
Publishing is a tricky business because we’re all vying for limited resources. Only so many pub spots, book deals, and readers worldwide. Add to it the fact readership across the globe is on the decline, and holy cow! The competition is on. Some people are fueled by competition. In a perfect world we’d all hold hands and celebrate each other’s work and tell ourselves we can be happy, healthy and sane no matter how many copies of our latest masterworks we sell (or fail to sell).
In the end, jealousy tends to destroy people who cling to it. I do believe jealousy also serves a higher function. You can watch everyone around you meet with success and learn a great deal from it. Watch the successful ones, pay attention to their habits and practices. Are they better writers than you? Doubtful. Perhaps they’re just more keyed in to what sells. I have to admit I’m not very good at this. I have to do everything the hard way. Don’t be like me. Many people will tell you success is a game of luck. I’m not so sure I believe in luck anymore.…
That which we define as luck, I think, can be greatly enhanced by focus and productivity. You can beat the odds by maintaining a steady workflow and making sure you’re constantly revising, submitting, rewriting, doing the dance. Belief is more important than luck. I think you’ve got to take charge of who you perceive yourself to be.
Quit telling yourself you’re a failure nobody wants to read. Stop it! Do your best to boost your ego. Nothing flawed or vain about it. Isn’t there enough in this world that tears us down? So build yourself up. Focus on the end goal, the dream day, a fresh contract, your pen set to the signature line. A few months later, another dream day, signing fresh copies of your latest best seller, a huge line piled up at your table, running out the bookstore (I always imagine a nice cozy Barns & Noble).
Everyone needs friends and allies, too. People who appreciate what you do. Now I’ve got to admit that if you’re just starting out or are not yet as successful as you’d like to be, finding individuals to believe in you might be a challenge. Who knows why people behave this way, but there’s something about a nascent writing dream that drives the skeptics crazy. I’ve met a million of them, and I know you have, too. Just keep working, focus on where you want to be rather than where you are in this present moment.
I’ll just go ahead and say it. I think it pays to be delusional. You’ve got to be the emperor with no clothes on. When people tell you, “Yeah but you aren’t this. I’ve known you for years. What you really are is this.” You’ve got to show them your fine purple robes, assure them they’re more than thin air, and then parade around like you aren’t naked.
Someone someday will clothe you in something more real. Better yet, you’ll manage to get hold of some nice clothes yourself. But you can’t be a victim of other people’s circumstances. You’ll feel what you’ll feel, but don’t let envy control your world. Because it will try, again and again. We’re not monks on high mountains practicing infinite patience and unbridled universal centeredness. We are at best creative people willing to bleed for our work. And what are you going to do as a result? Quit? Ha! You’re no quitter. You are everything literature and great minds have praised for eons. To write and succeed is a blessing. To endure even as we struggle, that is divine. See you next time, everyone!
Interested in Jeff’s writing? Check out his latest short story collection, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces: https://www.amazon.com/Fear-Loathing-Las-Cruces-Stories-ebook/dp/B06XH2774F
YouTube’s Jeff Bowles Central: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC6uMxedp3VxxUCS4zn3ulgQ
Every month in this space, author Jeff Bowles offers advice for young and struggling writers. No one ever said becoming a world-famous storyteller is easy. This is the Pep Talk.
First an admission. It’s much easier for me to be upbeat about the writing careers of others than my own. It is a damn hard slog going from obscurity to success story. Most upstarts never make it, and even when they do, they often find it a double-edged sword. This game of ours, this writing thing, it’s full of ups and downs, zigs and zags, bad decisions and tribulations that’d make most normal people run and hide. Except we aren’t normal people, are we? We’re the ones who risk everything and spend long sleepless nights worried about fictional people and places that will never exist. What drives us to do it? What drives you?
Here’s a little bit of math a mentor once imparted to me: a billion people in the world want to become writers. Of that billion, a million make it past their first story and a thousand actually get something published. A hundred in that thousand make a career of it, and only ten become best-sellers. Are these odds in any way accurate? Probably not, but they are illustrative, don’t you think? When it comes down to it, becoming a successful writer is a marathon, not a sprint. You’ve got to outlast the next guy (or gal), work your tail off until your competitors are little black specks in the rear-view. May take ten years, may take you fifty, and hell, you may not make it at all. But you’ve got to have goals, direction, purpose. You must see yourself as that bestseller, because if you can’t travel there in the mind, you’ll never travel there in the body.
Practice makes perfect, but perfection, talent, natural ability, they only account for a fraction of what it takes to get what you really want. Aim high. Start small but think big. Dreams are absolutely free, and the only people who’ll try to take them away from you will be those who doubt your ability. Prove them wrong. Don’t delay. It’s a long road, so you’d better start now. It’s been said by much better writers than I that in effect, one needs two of three of the following to succeed: luck, talent, and hard work. Luck and hard work will get you there, but so too will talent and persistence. Never discount the old Edison standby: one part inspiration to nine parts perspiration. It never fails. Those who start from nothing—and honestly, we all do—but never stop pushing often become the strongest and most adept.
You don’t need an expensive education or writing workshops and seminars to get started, though certainly those things can help. Pick a book, any book. Read it cover to cover and then sit down and write something better. You know you’re capable, and so do I. What the hell have they got that you haven’t? Most common answers? Luck, patience, and/or years of experience. It’s easy to feel jealousy when stacked against the ones who’ve already achieved. Believe me, I know. But you’ve got to hand it to those folks. They went after what they really wanted and fate smiled upon them. No mess, no fuss, they achieved, which is exactly what you want to do.
So here’s the thing. I don’t care who you are or where you come from, if you’re looking for the quick cash-in you WILL be disappointed. Like you, I began writing my own stories with the notion it wouldn’t be long until I was earning enough I could quit my job and in earnest, begin my ascent up the bestsellers’ list. I’ve been doing this for a decade now, and I can honestly say the most frustrating part has been in accepting the world hasn’t been waiting to throw critical and commercial laurels at my feet. I’m just a poor schlub like you. And like you, I’ve got places to go, people to see, but no damn money for a cab or in the very least, a cheap cross-town Uber.
But I don’t quit. I can’t. If I ever did, it’d be the biggest mistake of my life. It’s common knowledge, or maybe it’s some kind of hominid genetic heritage, that the longer we chase after something, the harder it is for us to give it up. When we think about a goal all day long, choose to pursue it, become it, to sometimes ignore all other obligations, we are in fact daring fate to send it our way. Sooner or later, it dawns on us the end goal is not nearly so engrossing as the work required to reach it. In other words, may I humbly suggest it makes no difference whatsoever if you become a millionaire bestseller or not. The reason you’ll keep going is passion, love, desire. Even on the days you hate this gig—especially on the days you hate it. There’s no shame in breaking down sometimes and allowing yourself a bit of remorse. Disappointment and rejection sting 100% of the time. Trust me on this.
Only don’t despair too long. If there is one universal truth to our existence it is this: thoughts become things. Consider yourself a failure with a bit too much intent and deliberation, and you may just find yourself failing every time. But if you can see past the downturns, those times you’d like nothing better than to torch your manuscripts and run screaming back to reality, know this: you cannot chart a path to joy in one hour, one night, or one year. Never underestimate the value of a positive mental attitude. If there’s only a single difference between you and every other upstart, let it be your mindset. In my experience, you’ll burn most of your frustrating years right at the outset. As you struggle to learn your craft, yours will seem like the stupidest, least worthy goal in existence. But it’s not. And as the years go by, you’ll start to realize that desire and predestination look the same in hindsight.
Here’s what I want from you until we hook up for another Pep Talk, reader. I want you to write your butt off and take no prisoners. Yes, it’s a long haul, and yes, it will not come easily. But there’s one truth to all of this most people won’t count on. Happiness today engenders happiness tomorrow. Engage with your writing like it’s an old friend, a family member you’ve not seen in years or a new love you’re eager to spend every waking moment with. The passion comes through, and so does the bright spark of your soul. Don’t give an inch and never look back. You keep focused on the road ahead, and when the time comes to pull over and take a pit stop, open your eyes, view the scenery, and then get back in the car and apply pedal to metal. It isn’t the worst thing in the world. You are a writer. Say it again for me. You ARE a writer. Now get back to work, my friends, and show us all what you’ve got.
Interested in Jeff’s writing? Check out his latest short story collection, Godling and Other Paint Stories: https://www.amazon.com/Godling-Other-Paint-Stories-Bowles-ebook/dp/B01LDUJYHU
YouTube’s Jeff Bowles Central: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC6uMxedp3VxxUCS4zn3ulgQ
I started Writing to be Read to promote my own writing and to help other authors, through writing reflections and reviews. We’re all in the same situation. Marketing and promotion are a big part of writing these days, and authors are expected to self-promote to some extent, even if they are traditionally published. The way that books are being rated now, in many places, including Amazon, by the reviews they receive. I post partial reviews on both Amazon and Goodreads for this reason, and have even taken the time to post on Smashwords and Barnes and Nobles upon request from the author.
But, what is a reviewer to do when a book she’s reviewing falls short of all expect a film, like my review of Angel Falls Texas on Friday? Every review I publish has an end note at the bottom which reads like this:
“Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs at no charge. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.”
I don’t believe in charging for a review because I don’t believe in paying for a review. And I don’t believe in that because I don’t think you can get an honest review when it is paid for. And I do believe a review should be honest. While I amin favor of promoting other authors with my reviews, I don’t believe in hyping up a work when it is not deserved.
Too many authors get their books on the best sellers list simply by having great reviews posted by those who love the author, but don’t honestly reflect the quality of their book. It’s sad but true. (To learn more about what that best seller label really means, check out this article by Brent Underwood.)
As I shared my post for my review of Angel Falls Texas last Friday, I reacted with a sad on each one, because I hated having to publish such a negative review. It’s certainly not going to help the author sell books, which is usually my goal. In this case, to post a review to encourage sales would have made me feel dishonest to my own readers.
I do both solicited and unsolicited reviews. Those that are unsolicited are from books I purchased on my own and I use them as fill in posts when I don’t have any solicited reviews to publish. With reviews that have been solicited by the author or I have requested an ARC from the author, which don’t rate at least three quills, I usually contact the author, tell them my assessment, and offer them the chance to not have the review published. Most authors, like my author friend Chris Tucker, opt to publish the review and take their licks, but there have been a few who have requested that I hold off publication. These authors, hopefully, then go and make revisions to improve their book and then have me give it another chance. I’d rather do that than post a review that may hurt sales.
I try to be fair in my reviews. If a book is one of a genre that is not one of my favorites, I will state that in the review, being upfront about anything that may have influenced the my opinion. But honestly, as authors who are putting their work out there, we all take the chance that someone out there will not like our work, for whatever reason, and will post an unfavorable review. After all, we are only human, and we are never going to please everyone.
As a reviewer, I know I’m not going to love every book that I review. There will be times when my reviews will be less than shining, but I have to be true to myself and to you, my readers, and publish how I honestly feel. All I can do is try and be specific about what I didn’t like in the hope that the author will take it like a critique and find something useful from my feedback to help to improve their writing or the value of the product they put out.
I think the number one thing we, as writers, can do is remember what one of my Creative Writing professors, Russell Davis, said when talking about receiving critiques from our cohorts,
“Remember, it’s not about you. It’s not personal. It’s all about the writing.”
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As almost every writer knows, anywhere you go to discuss writing will always have someone proclaiming their tried and true rules for writing that you MUST follow. Post on any writing forum whether it be for screenwriting or fiction and you’ll find dozens, if not hundreds, of eager “expert” or “professional” writers ready to tell you exactly which rules matter and which are hogwash. Yes, many of these writers have published novels or sold scripts and are professionals in the industry, but does that mean their rules are THE rules to follow?
Let me say that again – Absolutely not. Just because someone has sold a script or published a novel or piece of writing doesn’t mean that they will be able to give you rules to writing that will be guaranteed to work on your story. If you put every writer who ever sold something in a room and asked them to come up with a master list of writing rules it’d be impossible. There’d be factions who think you can never write in present tense and others who think a description of the weather should never start a novel.
There’d be groups who think the epitome of literary or cinematic genius is one specific piece of work, and others who think that same work is a crock of shit. If the people who are actually selling works of writing cannot agree on what makes good writing, and which writing rules are always true, then how on earth can a newbie writer even dream of making it in the industry, let alone be brave enough to even try to put words on the page?
Ultimately, all of this boils down to one single fact about writing: There are hundreds of rules for writing, but one of those rules is that there are no rules. Now before you dip out of this article, because that’s a useless piece of advice in the previous sentence, give me a chance to elaborate.
Writing is a subjective thing. Every story is going to require following a different mix of rules to make it work. That’s why whenever I write a post about the “rules” of writing, I try to explain which situations the rule applies to, and where it might not apply. Also, every writer is going to have different opinions about what makes a good story, and every publisher/studio/audience is going to have a different opinion about what they find marketable and worth buying. If this is true, which based on the evidence presented through comparing a wide range of published and produced pieces of writing it is, then the one and only real rule for writing is that you have to know the “What” and the “Why” of your story.
Essentially, knowing the What’s and Why’s of your story is all about researching the genre or style of writing you want to write by studying the existing works in that genre, and being conscious about your story and your writing choices so that you can answer the following questions on each project you work on:
- What writing “rules” do you have to follow for this particular story? In general, writing rules are not actually rules at all, but rather they’re typical or common guidelines of storytelling that work or don’t work based on previously existing works. So knowing what “rules” you have to follow just means you know which “rules” actually apply to what you’re writing, and which don’t. If you’ve done your due diligence and prep work before writing by studying other works that are similar to what you want to write, then you should have a general idea of what the common rules of that style or genre of story are, and which might apply to your story.
- Why are you following or ignoring these rules? Every time someone tells you a “rule” for writing, it’s important to understand why the rule exists, and where it applies. For your own work, always be able to justify why you’re breaking one set of rules, and why you’re following other rules. You may not have to follow all the “rules” in your writing, but people come up with these various rules for a reason, so understanding why they exist will help you understand why you need to follow certain ones and ignore others in your work.
- What is your setting, characters, plot, etc.? If you don’t know this when you’re writing, then your writing will probably be all over the place. Some people can free-write and discover a lot of these details as they go, but it is almost universally true that having these elements solidly in mind before writing will make your writing stronger.
- Why are you choosing these characters, this setting, that plot, etc.? Ultimately, the core of writing is to make deliberate choices and to be able to justify those choices as being ones that serve the story. Every character, setting, plot device, and elements of your story down to word choice can have a major impact on your writing. The more deliberate and conscious you can be in your choices, the more your writing should come together to tell a successful story.
As you can see, this one and only writing rule really boils down to being conscious about each choice you make in your writing and constantly asking yourself why whenever you are presented with a “rule” that someone thinks is universally true. All of these “rules” people come up with regarding writing are the results of people looking for the magic formula to a guaranteed sale on a piece of work, and they find it by looking for common elements across sold pieces of writing. While it is often true that these elements do exist, there are also just as many pieces of writing out there that break these trends.
Every story is its own thing and has its own identity, and I’m a firm believer that if you focus on serving the story rather than trying to force it to fit pre-existing rules or expectations, then your story will be better for it. I’m not saying you’re guaranteed to sell it, no one can guarantee that, but I am saying if you stay true to your story even if it means breaking the rules, your story will be stronger.
The important thing is to know what “rules” exist and to be able to justify why you broke these preconceived rules that people have and to show that you did so consciously. Ultimately, people aren’t going to focus on whether you broke the “rules” or not with your writing when deciding to buy it, they’re going to focus on whether you’ve put in the work to construct a compelling story that people want to read. If you do that, nothing else matters.
Robin Conley offers great writing advice once a month on Writing to be Read. If you just can’t wait until next month to find out more, you can pop into her blog, Author the World, for more tips, or a weekly writing prompt.
This will be the last reflective post of the year. Next Monday’s post will find us in 2017. For my writing career it has been a slow take off, but I’ve seen progress. In July, I completed my Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing. With emphasis in both genre fiction and screenwriting, and two completed novels, Delilah and Playground for the Gods Book 1: In the Beginning, two full feature film scripts and one comedy series pilot script in hand, I eagerly jumped right in to get my feet wet in either the publishing and/or screenwriting industry. I began submitting my work to agents, publishers, and competitions like crazy. I received mostly rejections, as expected, and although I still haven’t found a home for either novels or scripts, I did manage to find a home for two poems and two short stories. Not too bad. While the poems, Aspen Tree and Yucca! Yucca! Yucca!, appeared in print, (in Colorado Life (Sept.-Oct. 2016) and Manifest West Anthology #5 – Serenity and Severity, respectively), my short story, I Had to Do It was published on Zetetic: A Record of Unusual Inquiry, and my not so short, short story, Hidden Secrets was published on Across the Margin.
2016 has been a pretty good year for Writing to be Read. The revamping of the blog site was completed in March, I’ve managed post things on a fairly regular basis, we were honored with guest posts by my friend Robin Conley, and my visits and page views have risen, with almost 2000 visitors and over 2,500 page views. Looking at this, makes me feel pretty good about the blog, as a whole. Another good change is the addition of screenwriting content, which I believe has drawn a larger audience by widening the scope of the content.
The top post of 2016 was my book review of Simplified Writing 101, by Erin Brown Conroy, which is an excellent tutorial on academic writing, including writing advice that every writing student should know. After that, the reflective post Writing Horror is Scary Business would be second in line. Other popular posts include my four part Making of a Screenplay series,( Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4), my Tribute to My Son, and What Amazon’s New Review Policies Mean for Writing to be Read. More recently, my ten part series on publishing, Pros and Cons of Traditional vs. Independent vs. Self-Publishing gave me the opportunity to interview some awesome names in the publishing industry: self-published authors, Jeff Bowels, Tim Baker and Art Rosch; traditionally published authors Stacia Deutsch and Mark Shaw; independently published author Jordan Elizabeth; and children’s author Nancy Oswald, who has published under all three models; as well as Caleb Seeling, owner of Conundrum Press and Curiosity Quills Press – with the final installment summarizing the conclusions made from those interviews.
Many of my posts were reflections of my own writing experience. These included: Why Writing is a Labor of Love; Fear is a Writer’s Best Friend; I’ve Come A Long Way, Baby; Writing the Way That Works For You; Creating Story Equals Problem Solving; What’s A Nice Girl Like Me Doing Writing in a Genre Like This?; Acceptance or Rejection – Which Do You Prefer?; A Writer’s Life is No Bowel of Cherries; Write What You Know; Discouragement or Motivation?; What Ever Happened to Heather Hummingbird?; How You Can Help Build a Writer’s Platform; and Why Fiction is Better Than Fact.
Sadly, I only attended two events that were reported on, on Writing to be Read in 2016 – the 2016 Ice Festival in Cripple Creek, and the 2016 Writing the Rockies Conference in Gunnison, Colorado. What can I say? I’m a starving writer. This is something I hope to improve on in 2017 by attending more events to report on. One possible addition to the 2017 list that I’m very excited to think about is the Crested Butte Film Festival. The details are not ironed out yet, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
Screenwriting content included this past year seemed to be popular. In addition to my Making of a Screenplay series and Writing Horror is Scary Business, Writing to be Read also featured Writing Comedy for Screen is a Risky Proposition, and a book review for Hollywood Game Plan, by Carole Kirshner, which I can’t recommend highly enough for anyone desiring to break into the screenwriting trade. Robin’s Weekly Writing Memo also included several writing tips that could be applied equally to literature or screenwriting.
Another project I’m particularly proud of is my ten part series on publishing, Pros and Cons of Traditional vs. Independent vs. Self-Publishing, which I just finished up last week. In this series I interviewed nine professionals from within the industry to get the low down on the three different publishing models. My interviews included self-published authors Jeff Bowels, Tim Baker and Art Rosch, traditionally published authors Stacia Deutsch (children’s books) and Mark Shaw (nonfiction), and independently published YA author Jordan Elizabeth. To balance things out a bit, I also interviewed children’s author Nancy Oswald, who has published with all three models, Clare Dugmore of Curiosity Quills Press and Caleb Seeling, owner and publisher at Conundrum Press.
One of the great things about doing book reviews is that you get to read a lot of great books, in with the okay and not so great ones. In addition Simplified Writing 101, my five quill reviews in 2016 included Jordan Elizabeth’s Runners & Riders, Mark Shaw’s The Reporter Who Knew Too Much, Nancy Oswald’s Trouble Returns, Carol Riggs’ Bottled, Jeff Bowles’ Godling and Other Paint Stories, Janet Garber’s Dream Job, Art Rosch’s Confessions of an Honest Man, and Mark Todd and Kim Todd O’Connell’s Wild West Ghosts. I don’t give out five quills lightly and every one of these books are totally worthwhile reads.
Of course, not all books get a five quill rating. Other books I reviewed that I recommended with three quills or more include three short story anthologies: Chronology, Under a Brass Moon, and Cast No Shadows; two poetry collections: Suicide Hotline Hold Music by Jessy Randall and Walks Along the Ditch by Bill Trembley; Escape From Witchwood Hollow, Cogling, Treasure Darkly, The Goat Children, and Victorian by Jordan Elizabeth; Dark Places by Linda Ladd; Chosen to Die by Lisa Jackson; Wrinkles by Mian Mohsin Zia; Full Circle by Tim Baker; The 5820 Diaries by Chris Tucker; The Road Has Eyes: An RV, a Relationship, and a Wild Ride by Art Rosch; Hollywood Game Plan by Carol Kirschner; Keepers of the Forest by James McNally; 100 Ghost Soup by , and A Shot in the Dark by K.A. Stewart. I also did two movie reviews: Dead Pool and Point Break.
I feel very fortunate to have had Robin Conley join us with her Weekly Writing Memo and her guest movie reviews. The useful writing tips in her Weekly Writing Memos covered a wide range of topics including critiquing, using feedback, ways to increase tension, Relatability or Likeability?, 3 Types of Plot, story research, what to write, making your audience care, world building, handling feedback, writing relationships, establishing tone, editing, word choice, How to Start Writing, endings, queries, Parts of a Scene, making emotional connections, the influence of setting, Building a Story, Inciting Your Story, movement and dialog, Writing Truth, time, Overcoming the Blank Page, Networking, character names, theme, set up, cliches, parentheticals in screenwriting, horror inspiration, and Learning to Write. Robin’s guest post movie reviews included Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Batman vs. Superman, Miss Perigrin’s Home for Peculiar Children, and The Neon Demon.
I am thankful for Robin’s valuable content and am glad that she will still be contributing Memos on a monthly, rather than a weekly basis. Although I was sad to lose her weekly content, I am happy for her as she moves forward in her own writing career and I wish her well in her writing endeavors. For those of you who looked forward to her weekly posts, you can catch more of her content on her own blog, Author the World.
2016 was a great year for Writing to be Read, even if it was kind of rough for the author behind the blog. You readers helped to make it a good year and I thank you. Now it’s time to look ahead and see what’s in store for 2017 Writing to be Read. I mentioned some of the things I hope to achieve above: more posts pertaining to the screenwriting industry, and coverage of more events throughout the year are two of the goals I have set for my blog. I also plan to add some author, and hopefully, screenwriter profiles into the mix. I had good luck with author profiles during my Examiner days, and I think they will be well received here, as well.
I also hope to bring in some guests posts by various authors or bloggers, or maybe screenwriters, just to give you all a break from listening to me all the time. I believe Robin plans to continue with Monthly Writing Memos, which will be great, too.
I look forward to all the great books that I know are coming my way in 2017, too. The first reviews you have to look forward to are a short memoir, Banker Without Portfolio by Phillip Gbormittah, a YA paranormal romance, Don’t Wake Me Up by M.E.Rhines, a Rock Star romance, Bullet by Jade C. Jamison and a short story, How Smoke Got out of the Chimneys by DeAnna Knippling.
I hope all of you will join me here in the coming year. Follow me on WordPress, or subscribe to e-mail for notifications of new posts delivered to your inbox. Have a great 2017 and HAPPY WRITING!
This series on publishing has been a lot of fun to create, and I hope maybe there are some of you who have read all of parts 1-9. I started it because I found that while those in my academic career seemed to be in favor of traditional publishing, with many instructors providing information about self-publishing as an option only reluctantly, while authors all around me were getting their work out there by self-publishing their books.
As I looked into the topic more, I found that some folks used the terms independently published and self-published as if they were interchangeable, while independent publishers are really smaller independent publishing houses that are not among the “big five” traditional publishers. As stated in Part 2, for the purposes of this series that is how I will refer to and view independent publishers.
One of the reasons I enjoyed writing this publishing series was that I am fortunate to know many authors, from all three publishing models, and I was able to gather many different viewpoints, examining it from all sides. Overall, I was able to obtain a pretty healthy balance between the three models. I interviewed self-published authors Jeff Bowles, Tim Baker and Arthur Rosch. In the traditional publishing arena, I talked with children’s author, Stacia Deutsch and historical and biographical author, Mark Shaw. I was only able to interview one independently published author, YA author Jordan Elizabeth, but to even it out, I also interviewed two independent publishers, Curiosity Quills Press and Caleb Seeling, owner of Conundrum Press. And for a nice rounded point of view, I spoke with my friend and children’s author, Nancy Oswald, who has published under all three models.
Now is the time to look at the series as a whole and see what conclusions can be drawn. While I think all authors secretly long for a traditional publishing deal, because being picked up by a major publishing house is ingrained in us as a symbol of success, I see independent publishing houses as a feasible alternative to holding out for the big boys, which can take a long time and for some of us, may never pay off. In some instances, debut authors have a better chance of being picked up by a smaller independent press. With both these options identifying markets which would be a good fit for your work, preparing submissions, writing cover letters and queries, synopsis and outlines will take up a lot of time which might be better spent on writing stories. Once accepted by either a major or a smaller publishing house, the author may be expected to do a good portion of the marketing and promotion, as well, although services such as editing and illustration may be provided.
The upside to signing with a traditional publisher is that the major publishing houses pay out an advance on projected royalties, so major money can be seen in your near future. Independent houses may also pay out advances, but they won’t be nearly as big, and some do pay out a higher percentage of royalties. Of course, as Tim Baker pointed out in Part 2, the flip side to collecting a sizeable royalty is if your book flops. It would be a drag to have to pay it all back. Independent houses may also pay out advances, but they won’t be nearly as big, and some do pay out a higher percentage of royalties.
For self-published authors, there are no advances, but they keep a higher portion of their royalties than with traditional or independent publishing houses. Still, there is no big money now, and no guarantee that there ever will be. Authors may be waiting a long time for their writing to pay off.
As Stacia Deutsch mentioned in Part 4 of the series, traditional publishers provide professional editing and illustrators, to be sure your final product is of good quality. I believe this is true of independent publishing houses, as well, but you won’t find it available through the self-publishing process; one reason self-publishing carries with it such stigma. Gatekeepers insure the book you put out will be the absolute best it can be.
Despite the stigma surrounding self-published authors, due in part to a few self-publishers who like to take short cuts in lieu of putting out a quality product, there are some very good self-published authors out there. As Jordan Elizabeth pointed out in Part 6, self-publishing has a lot to offer. Self-published authors have a lot more control over their work than traditionally published authors, who do not chose their own cover art, and may not even get to keep their own title.
As Jeff Bowles pointed out in Part 1, another possible advantage to self-publishing is the ease and relative inexpense for today’s authors. You can publish a book with Amazon almost for free, and collect either 35% or 70% of your royalties, depending on the price you place on your book. I can attest to this as it is what I did with my short story, Last Call, and it didn’t cost me one cent. At least that way, if my story doesn’t rise to the top of the best sellers lists, (which it hasn’t), I really haven’t lost anything. The important thing to remember when self-publishing is that you need to put out a quality product. It is worth it to find a good editor, and for all of us starving writers out there, an editor can be employed for a minimal expense. I also suggest utilizing a good critique partner when funds are low, but be sure to have some type of editing done, by someone other than yourself, before publishing your book.
Although Amazon has made publishing extremely easy and inexpensive for authors, they have also monopolized the industry and are making it more difficult for independent publishers, as Caleb Seeling explained in Part 8. Learn more about the negative effects Amazon has had on the publishing industry in the Institute for Local Self Reliance’s report, which emphasizes, from a consumer standpoint, the need to buy local and battle monopolization. If readers heed this warning and buy their books from local independent, or chain, bookstores right down the block, the publishing industry may change yet again.
Amazon’s monopolization affects authors and reviewers as well, as is discussed in What Amazon’s New Review Policies Mean for “Writing to be Read”. As much as Amazon’s review policies effect the reviewer, they also effect the authors who are depending on those reviews to get their books sold.
Author Mark Shaw gave us a heads up about vanity, or subsidy publishers, charging unsuspecting authors exorbitant fees to publish their work as Mark Shaw warns in Part 5. They prey on authors who desire to get their work published so bad that they are willing to empty their coffers to do so. These publishers can get outrageously expensive for authors, so don’t be drawn in. The kicker is that even if you publish on Amazon or Create Space in order to fit your budget, you still may need to spend quite a bit of time and/or money on marketing as Art Rosch tells us in Part 3.
Independent publishing houses, also referred to as small or medium-sized presses, work along the same lines as traditional publishers, but they don’t publish as many books each year as the big five do. In addition, they tend to be more specific in what they are looking for, with most having very specialized niches that your book must fit into to be published. Although all independent publishers may not follow this practice, publisher Caleb Seeling says he actually seeks out authors whose work fits into his niche. In any case, authors should be familiar with submission guidelines of the publishing house they are submitting to, whether large or small. In her article, How to Smartly Evaluate a Small Publisher, Jane Friedman, of The Hot Sheet, (the publishing industry’s news letter for authors), offers some great tips on what to look for.
In Part 7, Nancy Oswald points out one of the big advantages to publishing with a small press is the more personal relationship between author and publisher. Whereas a traditional publishing house may not be able to put a name with a face, independent publishers work closely with their authors because they only have a few at any one time. Independent publishers may also have a shorter wait time for publication than traditional houses, which can be quite lengthy.
And then there are the new kids on the block, like Curiosity Quills Press, which are hybrid publishers, offering various combinations of traditional percs with self-publishing author responsibilities. These small independent presses may charge authors for some services, like subsidy publishing, but they also provide a certain amount of author copies at no cost, provide author support, and the services they do charge for are optional. You can find out more about this new model of publishing in my post, Hybrid Publishers: What are they all about?
After hearing from the experts, it seems no matter which model you choose to publish under, there is still a lot of non-writing activities required of authors, including marketing and promotion, resulting in the need for Today’s Authors to Wear Many Different Hats. Of course, you can also do as author Jeff Lyons suggests in his interview with Arwen Chandler, and hire a third party to handle such tasks, so we, as authors can get down to the business of writing. The only problem I see with this is that you must make money before you can spend money, paying someone else to do the tasks that don’t come as naturally as writing does.
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I’m not someone who is particularly a fan of movies that are more about being artistically beautiful than having a solid plot, but after seeing The Neon Demon claimed to be horror, and several friends recommending it to me, I knew I had to see it. A great movie to me is one you can get lost in, either because of the plot, or the characters, or the setting/world, or even because it’s so visually stunning that you just want to stare and don’t care what’s happening. I wasn’t sure about The Neon Demon from the few trailers I saw beforehand, but it looked like it had potential so I decided to check it out despite it not being my typical choice of movie.
The Neon Demon is a movie that has so much about it that is so brilliantly, beautifully, and boldly done that it’s impressive. I could go on for a long while about some of the amazing craftsmanship that went into this movie (and I will below), but I felt like the movie also had one amazingly large fault—its plot. As I said above, a great movie for me is one I can get lost in, and while I can appreciate a lot of the talent, craftsmanship, and just pure artistic awesomeness of this movie, I couldn’t get lost in it for several reasons. I know I am not the target audience for this style of movie so I don’t fault it in the least, but I do want to discuss the things that I loved individually, as well as the things that kept me from loving the movie as a whole.
Cinematography and Sound
I am pretty sure that at least 90% of the shots in this film could be captured into a still frame picture and hung on a wall somewhere as art without question. It’s beautiful, and scene by scene. It’s captivating in that you want to look at it. The balance of colors and costumes, makeup and posing, works so well throughout that it really is enticing to look at even amidst the gore and violence. The opening shot of Elle Fanning as Jessie laying “dead” on the couch immediately has you intrigued because of the surprising prettiness of it all. You don’t know whether it’s real or a photo shoot and you can’t look away. The trend of that alluring beauty carries throughout the film, and it fits well given The Neon Demon’s themes of narcissism and vanity.
Right along with the cinematography was the sound throughout the film. The music used worked incredibly well to create these intense moments during scenes, but what I loved just as much was the use of silence. There are these intense moments where the silence is distinct, and it makes you focus even more on what you’re seeing. Many films or shows don’t use silence in a noticeable way and there’s always some kind of sound going on, but The Neon Demon embraced it at times to heighten moments such as the scene where Elle Fanning is at her first “real” photo shoot. I also appreciated the silences between characters in dialogue because, while they were long at times, I felt like they were used at appropriate moments for emphasis on specific elements or events.
The other major thing I have to say I enjoyed in this film is that I felt like every actor was captivating in their own way. The characters themselves may have had some flaws in their development (or lack of), but the actors who played them were amazing. Elle Fanning managed to walk that mysterious line of whether her character was predator or prey perfectly, and Jena Malone as Ruby was simultaneously disturbing yet sympathetic. Surprisingly, though, was the fact that Keanu Reeves almost stole the show. It’s not surprising because of who he is—he’s had plenty of great performances—but it’s surprising because of his minimal amount of screen time. Maybe it was just me, but every time he was on screen I felt like he stole the show. Some of it could be that his character was the most physically expressive of them all, and the most distinct personality-wise of all the characters, but I think a huge portion of it just has to be Keanu Reeves as an actor and his abilities.
As shown above, so much about this movie was great and worked incredibly well. I think the first area things really faltered for me was the flow. As I said before, if I’m going to get lost in a movie I have to have something to get lost in. For The Neon Demon, the most likely element for that would have been the pure beauty of it all, but the flow kept that from happening for me. While almost every shot was stunning and perfectly crafted, the flow between shots wasn’t always coherent of consistent. Just as I was being lured in by the imagery and about to stop caring about the plot, the tone or the story thread would abruptly shift and throw me out, leaving me wondering what the heck was going on. A great example of this is when Keanu Reeves’ character breaks into Elle’s room during the dream/vision sequence. At that point, the film’s tone and pacing shifted abruptly changing everything. We are in this vain and edgy world of modeling for 2/3rds of the movie and then suddenly we have potential rapes, necrophilia, murder, and cannibalism.
This is the real area that is the main flaw of the film. There isn’t much of a plot built up other than the idea of a young, new girl in town getting into the modeling industry and being preyed upon by others in LA who want something from her. I could handle that as a plot if that’s all it was, but there are so many elements in it that seem to lead somewhere only to be dropped away and forgotten, never explained, or not fully utilized. Because there are all these little threads and elements that are thrown in for either artistic pizzazz or random impulse, and because the main plot is so sparse, things get muddled.
An example of the random plot elements are things like the mountain lion appearing in Elle Fanning’s room. It is really used as an excuse to give Keanu Reeves’ character more screen time and to give her “boyfriend” and excuse to go pay off her debt and be her lapdog. In general, though, the whole set-up of the mountain lion randomly getting into her bedroom just seems weird, and like it’s going to be some kind of plot line later that is explained but never is. I did get the sense that it was supposed to sort of be symbolic that there are predators everywhere she looks lurking in the shadows for her, but that was obvious from the moment Jena Malone’s character laid eyes on Elle Fanning in the first scene and the film didn’t need an actual mountain lion to nail the point home. If the film just had the straight simple plot without the random side unexplained elements, like the mountain lion scene or the scene where Jena Malone’s character seemingly gives birth after eating Elle (which was also never really explained or returned to), then I think it would have been much better off.
Overall, while there was so much brilliance to The Neon Demon and some truly amazing craftsmanship that made me want to love it, it was hard to do so when I was kept from being immersed in it. I could go on for a long while about different aspects of this film, but instead, I’ll end with a final thought I had when thinking about what to write here. The Neon Demon is primarily about beauty, vanity, and narcissism, and the film itself manages to be narcissistic. The film is so focused on being beautiful in every moment that it forgot to add real depth. Some could argue that the metaphor and symbolism of the film could be considered depth in place of a plot, but I’m not so sure because so much of that symbolism was not subtle.
Ultimately, whatever I think about the plot or flow, the film is definitely worth watching for anyone who appreciates cinematography, unusual art, or the just plain odd. I can almost guarantee you’ll be asking yourself “What the **** is going on?” at least once during the film, but I can also almost guarantee you’ll find yourself entranced by the beauty of some of the camera shots and scenes. Just keep in mind it does get pretty dark, and as mentioned above there are scenes of murder, necrophilia, and cannibalism, so it’s definitely not for everyone.
Robin Conley offers great writing advice most Wednesdays and shares an occasional guest review on Writing to be Read. If you just can’t wait until next week to find out more, you can pop into her blog, Author the World, for more tips, or a weekly writing prompt.