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Tuesday, December 8, 2015

History, Indies, and How to Kill a Career

I am a professional writer. And an Indie. 

I arrived at this stage because my small publisher went out of business last spring. At that time, I had to make a decision: research other small publishers to submit my books. Or self-publish. I chose the latter.

I started this journey in 2009 by writing an 110,000-word manuscript called Of Oak and Dragons. I submitted to various agents because THAT was how it was done. It didn't go as planned. After I received fifty rejections, I wrote a second manuscript. I quit counting the no thank you responses after 144. 

My writing career was going nowhere so I took a chance on small press and hit a ground-rule double into the right field. But Musa Publishing closed their doors suddenly and I was out of a home. Unless I made one for myself.

Six years ago, self-publishing was no different from vanity press in the eyes of literary agents and publishers. Small presses met with curled lips and disgust like the popular kids judging a new girl. Definitely a hierarchy with a touch of snobbery. Writers who weren’t published received no interest...because they weren’t published. Submission rules stated unpublished writers need not apply. 

Print was still big. BookSurge and Createspace were in the process of merging. Amazon was just realizing their behemoth status. Out of the roiling sea, E-books were rising and shaking the foam from their hoary crowns.

Then Amanda Hocking hit the scene. In 2010, she self-published My Blood Approves and started a mega-business all her own. It was the right book, the right genre at the right time.

Self-publishing pushed aside the popular kids, ignored their huffing, derogatory comments, and became an industry.

What a great time to be an author, to have the choices we now have.

But many don’t have patience. They see the success of a few examples and ignore the failures. They write a manuscript and publish without betas, critique partners, grammar, and creative writing ability. They want it all. Now.

When I stop reading:

Way Too Much Makeup, aka Adjectives and Adverbs. First-time writers think adjectives are the main event. They pile them on like too much rouge. 

Too Much Information. Backstory. Explaining every detail rather than letting the reader’s imagination fill the picture. Find a way to get the story rolling without laying on the verbiage.

Less is more. Always. 

Little Action. You want the reader drawn into the story from the very start. Scenery, no dialogue—or too much dialogue. A bond must form or the reader quits. Use the exercise from Monday as an example of what excites a reader, in this case yourself.

Really Horrible Book Covers. Individual tastes determine what constitutes professional and what is not. In my case, anime turns me off. Amateurish drawings especially of people. Pink. I know I shouldn’t judge but a good cover is the first marketing tool and it needs to be outstanding for me to take the next step.

Using all the above tips, consider this from Ilona Andrews, Clean Sweep
Brutus was dead. His body lay under an oak on the Hendersons’ lawn. A small group of neighbors had gathered around his corpse, their faces sad and shocked.
Go here to read why the first two pages caught my eye. 

Note how the book opened with:

  • Action
  • A sprinkling of backstory
  • Nailed the MC’s appearance and name 
  • The weather and location 
  • And that Brutus “...hadn’t been what you would call a good dog...But no matter how annoying he’d been, he hadn’t deserved to die...”

An Exercise in Writing Professionally:

Remove all adjectives and adverbs from your first two pages.
Eliminate cliché and ho hum verbs and nouns. Substitute out of the ordinary and see how it tightens the story and creates interest.


Liz A. said...

What always takes me out of a story: the mirror scene. You know the one. Where the main character sees herself in a mirror and proceeds to describe herself to us. Ugh.

Sheena-kay Graham said...

Way too flowery prose. I understand showing instead of telling but five sentences about the moon shining is not the way to go. Worse when it has no hold for the story.

Huntress said...


Unknown said...

Stellar advice. Thanks for this post.

Janie Junebug said...

Yes! When I edit, I always say TOO MANY ADVERBS AND ADJECTIVES--not that I shout at the authors. I also tell them they don't have to write every single detail about what a character does. If the character gets in his car and drives out of the parking lot, you don't need to tell us he started the car. Of course he started the car! You don't need to tell us he backed up to get out of the parking lot--unless he ran over someone.


Karen Baldwin said...

Pondering scenes, looking out windows, thinking, thinking, thinking, or weather, unless weather is HUGE part of a story.