Size Matters

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You are a writer. You put words on paper to satisfy that inexorable need burning within your soul. Guess what: nobody cares.

I know, that sounds crass and even rude—but there are some hard truths to the publishing industry. Mostly gone are the days of high-falutin literary fiction novels meant to examine the human condition in painfully drawn-out purple prose. I have mixed feelings about that, but one thing is true: this is a business and businesses are concerned with what they can make a profit off of. You might have the best novel ever written with words that pierce the heart and sunder the soul. If it won’t sell, there’s no point and you may have been better off becoming a preacher than a writer.

Because of the nature of business wanting to maximize its profits, you might have a book that sells reasonably well, but it still gets no respect from the shelves of bookstores, or even from publishers and agents. It is more economical for publishers, book buyers/distributers, and bookstores to produce, assemble, and store for resale shorter books rather than longer ones. Think about it: it costs more to pay for editors for a 400 page book instead of a 200 page one—the same goes for ink and paper used to create the paperback.

Business economics rules the bookstore. If you have a 6×9 $19.99 600 page book for sale and it sits on a sales shelf two deep and sell both copies in a day, that’s $40. If that same title is competing for an equally popular 6×9 $12.99 200 page book, that shelf space can now gross $78 and not require constant restocking. These are the little details that writers don’t usually think about and often fail to understand. Bookstores don’t care if your writing is superior or if you’re the next big thing: what matters most is the price per square inch your titles can make them at the end of the fiscal quarter. It’s callous and cruel—but there is very little room for art in business… but if you know this sort of fact going into your formatting and book-writing, you can mitigate the potential fall-out from this sort of issue.

I made the mistake of writing a 200,000 word epic out of the gates. It’s a real rookie mistake and one common to people who write because they have stories burning within them and more gumption to write what they know rather than do the initial research and look at market norms and understand the publishing world. It shows a level of professionalism when writers know and understand the generally recognized market guidelines.

Because consumers have generally accepted market norms based on different genres, the type of book you write will dictate the acceptable word length. Nobody wants a 40,000 word fantasy epic. That doesn’t work, but it’s perfect for a corset-ripping romance or a YA book.

Typically, the maximum word count of ANY book caps out at 150,000. Rules can be broken (especially if your name is King, Martin, Rowling, etc. and you have a proven track record of topping the bestsellers chart. My advice is to be the rule, rather than the exception. Play by the rules—it will save you much frustration in the long run). Following is a list of a generally acceptable minimum/maximum word count to use as a guide (plus or minus 5,000-10,000 words is generally acceptable.)

 

Literary, Commercial, Women’s fiction: 80,000 to 110,000 – larger is typically better.

Crime Fiction: 90,000 to 100,000

Mysteries, Thrillers, Suspense: 70,000 to 90,000 – Cozy Mysteries are on the shorter end of the spectrum, more serious ones should steer towards the deeper end.

Romance: 40,000 to 100,000 – The sweet spot is in the middle… also the title I will use if I ever decide to write a bodice-ripping romance story.

Fantasy: 90,000 to 140,000 – about 100,000 is a good place to start. Readers expect a thick read and anything less than 90,000 might not get a second look.

Paranormal: 75,000 to 95,000

Horror: 80,000 to 100,000

Science-Fiction: 90,000 to 125,000

Historical: 100,000 to 120,000

Young Adult Fiction (YA): 50,000 to 80,000

New Adult Fiction: 60,000 to 85,000

Middle Grade: 25,000 to 40,000

Picture Books: 500 to 700

Because of the fact that this is a business, I would be careful to balance my formatting against whitespace and the layout/line spacing of the printed book. If you can shrink the spacing down without causing eyestrain for a reader or without running sentences right up to the edge of the paper, it’s worth looking into. From a purely economical perspective, shrinking line spacing from 1.5 to 1.15 can prevent waste and still produce an impressive book.

 

Review: Humanity’s Hope

61xgk4YJOsLI enjoy zombies in games and in movies, but very seldom in books. Far too many people fail to understand what makes a good zombie story—good zombie stories are about humanity… people. A lot of writers either rip off Walking Dead, making a superb story just a cheap copy, or they write about zombies, making a story just as lifeless and soulless as the subject matter. Humanity’s Hope, by Pembroke Sinclair  suffered neither of those trappings.

Not only did the protagonist, a 17 year old boy named Caleb, have heart and character, but he was thoroughly human. The story telling was tight with great editing and dialogue. As young Caleb tries to navigate a world rebuilding following the zombie crisis (a difficult order even in our current, nonzombified world,) it gets even harrier as certain mysteries unfold at Zomtech—both about the world and about himself.

If you like Warm Bodies (which I thought was superb) then this is the sort of book for you. It has heat and soul… and braaaaaiiiinnss… Go check it out by clicking here.

State of Writing

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Of course I’d have to go ahead and write another book this year! That’s the big project announcement that I’ve been waiting to make. I have so many people asking me questions about the form and process of writing (and I’ve even booked to speak about this on a few occasions) and so I decided to start compiling many of the things that I’ve learned into a nonfiction book–it’s something like 90 articles long and will be titled The Indie Author’s Bible. On a sidenote, I have my writing advice column now written and scheduled for every wednesday through the rest of the year.

Back to fiction, I got my chapter edited and also got my comic book done! Wolves of the Tesseract: Taking of the Prime should be available soon!

The Best Way to Get Better

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Congratulations. You wrote a book. Now the actual work begins… and not just the editing—but everything else, too. For writers, the storytelling is the easiest part (usually—at least it’s the most driven part.)

The next thing I’m about to say may be difficult to hear for some people: if this is your first book, the overwhelming odds are that it’s not very good. I say that from looking at numbers and statistics as well as my own experiences (including my first novel!) Nobody is an Olympic lifter after a week in the weight room (even if you’re the strongest person at your gym—you’re still not ready.) Writing is a craft and a skill that develops with time and practice. But there’s some good news: it’s easy to get better… the best way to be a better writer is to write. And then write some more.

If you want make the step from “writer” to “good writer,” I’d recommend following what I did.

After completing my fantasy epic that nobody read called “The Kakos Realm, Book 1,” I joined a writers circle. I quickly learned that I’d done everything wrong—even though I’d somehow managed to sell my book to a small traditional press (which is no longer in business.) I learned that my book was 50,000 words longer than books were allowed to be. I also learned that my writing was not all that great (even if my storytelling was decent—there’s a difference.)

In that time, I also discovered a fairly active online community for short fiction, critiques, magazine submissions, etc. and I began writing shorter pieces. And the criticism kept pouring in. I wrote more, and still stumbled over some of the same issues in my writing (typically, the same issues that plague newer writers such as passive verbs, as-you-know-bob/info-dumps, and excessive descriptions. My writers group cared enough to tell me and point out my flaws. Luckily, I also learned where I was good: plot twists, devices, and dialogue. But criticism hurts. A lot. Criticism sucks, but it helped refine my art and craft to something that I’m happy with.

After more than three years of writing nothing other than short fiction I felt like I’d arrived at a better place. I learned a few important things in that era (and published like 30 stories and wrote many others.) I learned how to start a story and set a hook. I learned to be succinct and how to cut extraneous material by writing with hard word-count limits. I learned how develop characters and how to end a story. I learned how to tighten sentences so that they read with a cadence and flow. I learned how to edit, redraft, summarize, and submit stories. The editing alone is huge!

If you want to be a better writer, go small. Focus in on a few short-fiction projects, even if just for the sake of improving your craft (write a few pieces for contests—find a secondary purpose if you need one—but you really ought to write some short pieces…it will improve your writing.)

Here are the next follow-up steps after you feel as if you’ve become proficient in learning to start a story, handle the plot elements, eliminate passive verbs, hook readers, write tight dialogue, and end the tale.

  1. Go to writers conferences. There are many other things other than writing a story (but also story elements) that you can pick up at a convention or conference… even if it’s just to network you should try going to one a year. Invest in yourself. Your writing will be better for it.
  2. Get involved in a writer’s circle. You need objective feedback and peers who both know your struggle and can help you with crucial aspects of writing like beta reading, etc.

Review: The Magician’s Workshop Vol. 1

51nkAO8J0zL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_It was quite clear from page one that this book was somewhere on the spectrum of YA/Middle Grade… probably more on the upper middle-grade side of things, in my opinion, and it drew fond memories of the kind of books I read at a younger age. Right away in the first chapter we meet the protagonist, Layauna, and discover the difficulties that she deals with (including expectations, parents, and little brothers.) The family dynamic and imagination of it all reminds me, in fact, of one of my favorite classics for this age group, A Wrinkle in Time (though this book is more perhaps more magical than Madeleine L’Engle’s brand of adventure,) and The Magician’s Workshop has that same kind of staying wonder as L’Engle, making it a keen read for any age.

I read it during a fundraising/work weekend that frequently called my attention to other things for short whiles. I kept thinking of the story, however, after I’d put it down. I don’t have many criticisms of the book; I was surprised, though, that the nature of magic was quite unlike the expected norms and had more psychological ramifications than real-world implications. In O’Ceea, magic impacts the mind, rather than reality. Of course, films like Total Recall and The Matrix inform us that the mind’s power over reality can still have intense (and lethal) implication… but it took me a few pages to wrap my head around the nuanced change.

This might just be one of the best books I’ve reviewed in 2017. You’d be missing out if you didn’t pick up a copy. Get yours here!

I did receive a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

State of Writing

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Blitz mode! I have some vacation days I used last week and I got 2 new pages done for the WotT comic, edited to the 1/3 mark on TKR3, got a ton of blog things written and scheduled, and made serious headway on my nonfiction project. I have a few more days coming this week and my art team is hoping to get me three pages; I’m going to shoot for two more chapters edited this week–maybe even get to the halfway mark (my chapters are long if you’re familiar with the Kakos Realm series.) I might also get to fixing the next round of edits from WotT2 which have been on my to do list as well.

13 Point Roadmap to Becoming an Indie

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I have the privilege of meeting lots of young/up and coming writers when I do booths at conventions. They often look at my table with a large number of paperbacks bearing my name and ask with wide eyes, “You did all this?”

It’s a perfect open door for me to share with authors about the form, craft, nuts and bolts, etc. of writing. It’s a big world, and so there is no sense getting bent out of shape or jealous when another writer wants to break in. Wishing for others to fail (even secretly) is not a strategy for success… and so I’ve tried to be as much of an encourager and guide as possible to other authors (even when criticism is needed.)

One thing often asked by those wide-eyed writers is, “How?” When you hold a paperback in your hand, there are so many things that will have gone into it in order to make it a reality, and so I’ve created a handy-dandy roadmap for those with fierce DIY inclinations… the best part is that this checklist/guide is a potentially FREE route to having that book in print, available for purchase in all 3 major formats, and on bookstore shelves (provided you have the network/skills to get art and editing done without a cost.) Something I tell almost every person who asks me about writing/self-publishing: “If someone’s trying to sell you a ‘publishing package,’ run away. It’s either a scam or they’re making money off of authors, not books.”

  1. write book
  2. edit book to high quality and properly format
  3. secure cover art
  4. write back cover text including bio
  5. decide on book pricing
  6. upload all files to Createspace and Ingramspark
  7. push novel to kindle for ebook version
  8. add bio to amazon author profile
  9. put book into distribution through both Createspace and Ingramspark (search for and utilize an Ingram coupon code to avoid fees. I’ve never been able to not find a code).
  10. mirror ebook version to Smashwords so that it is pushed to all major retailers (itunes, BN, kobo, etc.)
  11. partner with producer on ACX and have book converted to audio
  12. work to build a platform (social media, website, and email campaign service).
  13. begin adverts utilizing amazon associates

Of course, this roadmap is only really relevant if you have already decided to go the independent route, as many people do. Even many traditional authors (even well-known ones) choose to engage in both sides of the business, letting publishing houses handle much of their work, but also dabbling with some indie/self-pub stuff, too.

There’s many ways to do it, and the order doesn’t need to be followed in a truly linear fashion (I often do steps 3 and 4 during my 3rd draft, for example.) If you choose to follow these 13 steps, you should have all the major pieces in place to begin your journey as an indie (from here, the only one who can stop you from succeeding is you! Don’t wax apathetic or release the book into the wild and “hope for the best.” You’ve got to keep a steady hand on it, but you’ve got this.) You’re an author, so do author stuff!

Review: Darkwater by d.w.Johnson

41OM7gN6hyL.jpgI was pretty intrigued by the premise of this book. It promises to be book 1 in the Xenkur chronicles and I always love a fresh take on familiar tropes. My wife saw the cover and went “meh.” But I loved the cover. It was simple, clean, and the symbol that dominated the front flap looked like an homage to the Quake logo.

The cover does need some work (there was no spine text and it had a very “beta copy” feel to it. A quick read of the back cover matter had a few errors on it—too much to be a stylistic choice. Opened the cover of this seriously thick book (over 400 pages but I estimate an approximate word count of 85,000,) and spotted lots of white space. Broad margins, double spaced text (not that there is anything wrong with that, and I love the feel of a thick book, but it makes for an unnecessarily expensive book with a new formatting scheme more in keeping with market norms.)

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The Original Version

I promise you, I really did like this book. I thought the story felt like a brilliant blend of Forgotten Realms and Shannara. Johnson did not waste time beating a dead horse with unnecessary descriptions or info-dump character backstory (it felt like our plane was diving that direction a few times, but Johnson pulled up at the right time and avoided those pitfalls.) However… it was first person POV. Those who follow my reviews understand that it’s the bane of my existence. I’d pledged to refuse reading any more 1st Person POV this year—and probably next year too, at this rate… but I think I agreed to read Darkwater before I made that moratorium.

Onto the story—I really did love it. It felt immersive because of the environment and the familiar tropes (not because of the POV—which the author actually let slip on many occasions… even breaking completely away from it and having long sections of 3rd person omniscient POV. Other little inconsistencies needled me through the text, like the adjective orcan instead of orcish.)

All in all, I think the book is fun, especially if you aren’t reading it with a critical forethought… and while it doesn’t have an over the top YA feel to it, I got the sense that teenage fantasy fans might really enjoy this one. Maybe even an old grouch like me, too. I think this book needs stronger editing and is about two drafts from being a 5/5 rating, but I’d give it a solid 4/5 (after all, there’s more to story-telling than following rules—but I do like those rules.)

Go purchase your own copy by clicking this link!