publishing

POD?

There is a discussion on Scribophile about Print On Demand, specifically, can you make money with it? Here are some of the comments:

> One entry says:

I formatted and uploaded my book to Amazon paperback format today. I went to price the book.  Amazon informed me that the print cost as about $7 bucks.  I chose 60% royalties.  And the lowest Amazon would let me price is $13.  And at the $13 price point, I make exactly $0 dollars.

Ok, I figured that the missing $6 would go to shipping. I went to order a few copies for myself, and Amazon is charging shipping on top of the base price. Also, I have heard something about “author copies” that cost less.  (Is this a real thing?)

> Re: CreateSpace.

It’s really ridiculous how much they charge for POD. At first it seems very reasonable – they get 40% and the author gets 60% BUT added to their 40% is a “flat charge” of $.85 on books 180+ pages and a per page charge of $.012 per page for 180+ pages. After all is said and done the author only get less than 15% – after US taxes it’s less than 10% – UGH. All of this was based on a price point of US $8.99.

Also I believe the author copies are $4 and change – but I’m sure that people that are more “in the know” can answer better.

> I don’t actually . . .

self pub through Amazon. I use Lulu.com, once you approve your book then they link it to Amazon and couple of bookstores. If you order your copies and sell yourself you can make quite a lot of money.

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Does anyone here do POD? It occurs to me that to set up at a sidewalk/school arts/craft fair with copies of your book would at least have your thing seen by a lot of people. Best would be to get yourself written up in your local paper and blow it up into a poster.

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> Here are some words of wisdom from Jay, formerly of Book Country:

As someone who has a work available in POD you will be in that great fraternity of the self-published. No one on planet Earth will be aware that you have a book available for sale, other than because you sent them to that Internet sales page. Does my telling you that I have one of my novels available free on Smashwords motivate you to rush over there to read it? Probably not, and that’s free.

Would it make you rush were I to tell you it’s really good (just as every self published novel’s blurb does)? Again, probably not.

How about if I tell you that you can buy a printed copy for twelve dollars, plus shipping? Not much of a plus, when you can buy an award winning author for a lot less in your local bookstore, and pay no shipping fee.

I don’t mean to be discouraging, but my view is that if we can write well enough to be worth the money—professional level writing—we can sell our work to a publisher. And if not…

Well, I disagree with that. Trad publishers are looking for work that is commercial, highly salable, according to their idea of that elusive quality. That method bypasses a lot of good stuff.

> And, a rebuttal: 

That’s a pretty gloomy outlook and incorrect IMHO. I have a friend who has written a series of 6 novellas, no more than 30 minute reads each that sell for $1.99 for digital copies and $9.99 for print, she’s making a cool $60k/yr. Self Published and POD. It just takes a little work. If you’re a midgrade author with a “normal” publisher you’re not going to do any better than that and still have to do 90% of your own advertising and promotions.

Several people on Scrib say that small publishers use POD, CreateSpace, whoever. Is this true? Atthys, you should know the answer to this. I have imagined that POD must have a giveaway lesser quality of materials. But if a legitimate small publisher uses it, that can’t be true.

> Finally, another rebuttal . . .

to the first rebuttal to Jay’s gloomy words: Jay’s post is the cold, hard truth. Sad but true and what aspiring writers need to know.

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I want to know if POD is a waste of time or not. Who’s dipped a toe into this fountain? Somebody thinks it useful. I begin to see POD jobs move through our compositor process at work. All but first-run titles are followed by a description, pbk (paperback), rerun, enlargement, create final file (for fully illustrated books set up by the publisher’s designer, tricky text wraps and the like), etc. I see, not often, but more and more: POD.

I suppose these jobs must be from small publishers. Next time I get hold of one, I am going to look at the info to see who the client is. Here’s an interesting thought: can it be that even large publishers are going this route, small runs, to manage inventory and returns?

Why do we label them POD? Is there some technical difference between the set up of  a traditional print run and POD? Are costs trimmed/shortcuts taken in one way or another? Are hawking-their-wares authors the main market for POD? Is this the new generation of vanity press? It seems to me more valuable as a sales tool than anything else. I’m going to pay more attention to our POD jobs, try to figure this out.

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> A final Scrib post sums it up for us:

Q: How is a writer supposed to make any money?

A: Day job.

 

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Uncategorized, writing technique

Mary Anne Evans

The love of my life, M, is reading George Eliot. She enjoys Eliot’s incredible vocabulary. On Kindle, M just taps a word to see its meaning and then sometimes throws the word at me. I didn’t know “casuist” is a word for one given to casuistry, or, excessively subtle reasoning intended to mislead. The casuists I know are all newsreaders but I didn’t know there was a polite term for describing them.

It made me wonder. In a world where news is spun and we tend to believe what we want to hear, I wonder if the words we no longer use don’t tell us as much about ourselves as do the words we use. My favorite example is the shifted meaning of the word, “alienation.” I once looked that up in a dictionary printed in the 1800s just to see if it was in there. It was but it was described as a form of insanity. Not now.

There must be a word for things we don’t want to see but who remembers that?

Hopefully, the more erudite among you can help me out here.
What words are no longer in use even though what they stand for still exists?

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book sales, Uncategorized

Does Amazon Help You Sell Books?

Other than being the largest warehouse of books in the history of literate societies, does Amazon actually help writers sell books? Or are Amazon algorithms designed to maximize their profits regardless of the effect on individual authors and publishers?

I hear both from other authors. And there’s nothing wrong with maximizing profits. That’s how Amazon gets the cash to provide its services.
But, how well do they serve authors?

One author says, “The DAY I launched both titles there was someone selling paperback new and used copies of my books below my price. I had not sold or printed a copy (other than my own proof copies … which are still in my possession). There were simply no copies in existence.”
Now, how does that happen? Seems to me that copying and selling an author’s new book without paying the author is or should be illegal.

Other authors love Amazon. What has been your experience?

[Disclaimer. My own book, still available at retailers linked from ThePhoenixDiary.com, was on Amazon until they quarreled with my publisher.]

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About Writers, reading, writing technique

Firsts: Fists, Flirtations and Befuddlement

This could, I hope, become an ongoing series, but not all written by me. Anyone can take a turn, and it will be more interesting for the variety. It springs from Mimi’s recent suggestion that someone should post  some first paragraphs from novels or short stories.  Discussion, consideration, ratings and arguments could follow after in the comments section. It sounded like fun to me.  As an extra-added attraction, I’m not going to name the author or the book. Of course, some you (or some of you) will know instantly. Others may puzzle. They all come from books I enjoy or admire. Some are rather plain, others audaciously unconventional.

The title of the post is just me goofing around.  After all, a good first paragraphs can knock us on our ass.  It can seduce into opening an unknown door.  It can dazzle and baffle in a way that makes going forward our only choice.

Those are, of course, only three possibilities.

 

1:

to wound the autumnal city.

So howled out the world to give him a name.

The in-dark answered with wind.

All you know I know: careening astronauts and bank clerks glancing at the clock before lunch; actresses cowling at light-ringed mirrors and freight elevator operators grinding a thumbful of grease on a steel handle; student riots; know that dark women in bodegas shook their heads last week because in six months prices have risen outlandishly; how coffee tastes after you’ve held it in your mouth, cold, a whole minute.

(break)

I begin with an unbeginning. Or maybe with an unfinished ending. The confusion of the first three lines could seem to some as mere artsiness for its own sake, just fancy word-flinging, but that’s too easy a dismissal. This massive books creeps in from the mist and the smoke, entering our consciousness like some misshapen beast. During its 800 pages, it will find and lose solid footing in reality a dozen times.  The “All I know, you know” paragraph lays out themes and images that echo throughout the rest of the text. The semantic twists of this obscure list knock us off stride before we even begin, but that is only too appropriate for a novel that will never stop lurching and turning (careening and grinding) all the way through to the

2:

First the colors.
Then the humans.
That’s usually how I see things. Or at least, how I try.

HERE IS A SMALL FACT.  You are going to die.

I am in all truthfulness attempting to be cheerful about this whole topic, though most people find themselves hindered in believing me, no matter my protestations. Please, trust me. I most definitely can be cheerful. I can be amiable. Agreeable. Affable. And that’s only the A’s. Just don’t ask me to be nice. Nice has nothing to do with me.

(break)

Another appealingly unconventional beginning. This was actually a very popular novel a few years ago, which only goes to show that you can begin a novel any way at all and still succeed in engaging the reader’s attention, as long as you know and trust your craft.

3:

Imagine a ruin so strange it must never have happened.

First, picture a forest. I want you to be its conscience, the eyes in the trees. The trees are columns of slick, brindled bark like muscular animals overgrown beyond all reason. Every space is filled with life: delicate, poisonous frogs war-painted like skeletons, clutched in copulation, secreting their precious eggs onto dripping leaves. Vines strangling their own kin in the everlasting wrestle for sunlight. The breathing of monkeys. A glide of snake belly on branch. A single-file army of ants biting a mammoth tree into uniform grains and hauling it down to the dark for their ravenous queen. And, in reply, a choir of seedlings arching their necks out of rotted tree stumps, sucking life out of death. This forest eats itself and lives forever.

(break)

Such juicy writing!  They say don’t begin with description. This book rarely stops describing things. There’s very little dialogue. The story is told from multiple points of view, but the main character is the one seen here at the beginning—the forest itself. The last sentence could be a motto for the whole novel.

 

4:

See the child. He is pale and thin, he wears a thin and ragged linen shirt. He stokes the scullery fire. Outside lie dark turned fields with rags of snow and darker woods beyond that harbor yet a few last wolves. His folk are know for hewers of wood and drawers of water but in truth his father has been a schoolmaster. He lies in drink, he quotes from poets whose names are now lost. The boy crouches by the fire and watches him. 

(break)

So quiet. So simple. So ominous.  In very few lines, two characters have already been given weight, contour, and personality.  I particularly like the language, which is at once idiosyncratic, arcane and lovely.

 

5:

I had been sick for a long time. When the day came for me to leave the hospital, I barely knew how to walk anymore, could barely remember who I was supposed to be. Make an effort, the doctor said, and in three of four months you’ll be back in the swing of things. I didn’t believe him, but I followed his advice anyway. They had given me up for dead, and now that I had confounded their predictions and mysteriously failed to die, what choice did I have but to live as though a future life were waiting for me?

(break)

I particularly like the notion of failing to die, almost as if something monstrous had happened.  This was a quirky and troubling little novel. I think the opening does a nice job of setting the reader ill at ease.  (Question: Why “were waiting for me” instead of “was waiting for me”? Some foreshadowing that his future life is somehow plural?)

6:

I was the shadow of the waxwing slain
By the false azure in the windowpane
I was the smudge of ashen fluff–and I
Lived on, flew on, in the reflected sky,
And from the inside, too, I’d duplicate
Myself, my lamp, an apple on a plate:
Uncurtaining the night, I’d let dark glass
Hang all the furniture above the grass,
And how delightful when a fall of snow
Covered my glimpse of lawn and reached up so
As to make chair and bed exactly stand
Upon that snow, out in that crystal land!

(break)

Yes, this a novel—a novel that happens to begin with 99 lines worth of heroic couplets.  The rest of the novel is several hundred pages of commentary by one of the least reliable narrators you will ever meet. The poem itself is marvelous, playful, and heart rending. The commentary is a whacky tale of political intrigue by a madman who uses an academic exercise as an excuse to tell his own (perhaps) delusional tale.

All right. Enough from me.  Can anyone identify the openings? More to the point, how do these work for you? What thoughts do they inspire?

 

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About Writers, writing technique

First Paragraphs/ Damn Those Torpedoes.

51nNw+HN4VL.jpg“It isn’t the most striking beginning to a novel. It won’t ever be anthologised alongside Orwell’s clocks striking 13, or Anthony Burgess’ catamite and archbishop. But the fact that it is unshowy doesn’t mean it isn’t impressive writing. That assured understatement is a sign of an author in control. And an author who is going to mess you around in most delightful and unsettling ways.

The Bottle Factory Outing more than delivers on that initial promise. Its sentences remain so masterfully restrained that you barely notice the barb until you’ve taken a few steps on – and find yourself hooked back.”

– Sam Jordison (I think. Hard to pin it down.)

Sam (or whoever) also said: “Tell me again why she hasn’t won the Booker . . .” Well, she has won it, finally.

“The tobacco overtook her, when they gave her the Booker she was dead in her grave.”

Mark Knopfler, from his song Beryl. Which is where I first heard the name, and said to myself, who is this person? I have to check her out.

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The advice these days for an opening paragraph is along the lines of: jump straight into an active scene, personality, conflict, dialogue, drama.

The Art and Craft of Fiction, A Writer’s Guide, gives us an encouraging step-by-step.

Inform and convince / Spark curiosity / Set the stakes

This is in reference to a first chapter. It’s a tall order for a first paragraph, in which you need to choose a direction. I appreciate, in recreational reading, lush scene setting. (In Sly, I save that for chapter two, having heeded (or tried to heed) that go-active advice.

I prefer old style foundational description, including, yes, including the amazing opener to The Princess Casamassima by Henry James, which will leave many a today reader behind fast. This quirky ramble says to me, this story will poke its nose into every corner of life on the flimsiest of excuses and will deal with every stray matter to an extreme degree. And so, though this scene is not grab-me-by-the-throat, I foresee great fun ahead. I have lessons here in punctuation, and in language (a fluttered wish, love it) and I find permission to ramble in my own thing. For me, it’s an all-round good time. Here we go:

“Oh yes, I daresay I can find the child, if you would like to see him,” Miss Punsent said; she had a fluttered wish to assent to every suggestion made by her visitor, whom she regarded as a high and rather terrible personage. To look for the little boy she came out of her small parlour, which she had been ashamed to exhibit is so untidy a state, with paper “patterns” lying about on the furniture and snippings of stuff scattered over the carpet – she came out of this somewhat stuffy sanctuary, dedicated at once to social intercourse and to the ingenious art to which her life had been devoted, and, opening the house-door, turned her eyes up and down the little street. It would presently be tea-time, and she knew that at that solemn hour Hyacinth narrowed the circle of his wanderings. She was anxious and impatient and in a fever of excitement and complacency, and not wanting to keep Mrs. Bowerbank waiting, though she sat there, heavily and consideringly, as if she meant to stay; and wondering not a little whether the object of her quest would have a dirty face. Mr. Bowerbank had intimated so definitely that she thought it remarkable on Miss Pynsent’s part to have taken care of him gratuitously for so many years, that the humble dressmaker, whose imagination took flights about every one but herself and who had never been conscious of an exemplary benevolence, suddenly aspired to appear, throughout, as devoted to the child as she had truck her large, grave guest as being, and felt how much she should like him to come in fresh and frank and looking as pretty as he sometimes did.

This is less than half of the paragraph. (!) I see, thumbing through the book, that James is given to very long paragraphs. I like long paragraphs. You can say interesting things, in interesting ways, in long paragraphs. (Not so terribly catchy here, but that’s the theology I live by.) Henry James is my kind of guy.

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First person is by definition more immediate. I see first person as a leg up in any story. Richard Henry Dana, in Two Years Before the Mast, covers all bases, story to style, in an economical, thoroughly enjoyable manner:

The fourteenth of August was the day fixed upon for the sailing of the brig Pilgrim, on her voyage from Boston, round Cape Horn, to the western coast of North America. As she was to get underway early in the afternoon, I made my appearance on board at twelve o’clock, in full sea-rig, with my shest containing an outfit for a two or three years’ voyage, which I had undertaken from a determination to cure, if possible, by an entire change of life, and by a long absence from books, with plenty of hard work, plain food, and open air, a weakness in the eyes, which had obliged me to give up my studies, and which no medical aid seemed likely to remedy.

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Cormac McCarthy, The Crossing, also gives us an overview, in an easier, more contemporary vein, also with lovely flow:

When they came south out of Grant County Boyd was not much more than a baby and the newly formed county they’d named Hidalgo was itself little older than the child. In the country they’d quit lay the bones of a sister and the bones of his maternal grandmother. The new country was rich and wild. You could ride clear to Mexico and not strike a crossfence. He’d carried Boyd before him in the bow of the saddle and named to him features of the landscape and birds and animals in both Spanish and English. In the new house they slept in the room off the kitchen and he would lie awake at night and listen to his brother’s breathing in the dark and he would whisper half aloud to him as he slept his plans for them and the life they would have.

Again, the reputation drives my interest, but there is enough style here to tempt me and I already understand a good bit about who this fellow is.

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Let’s sample A Confederacy of Dunces:

A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head. The green earflaps, full of large ears and uncut hair and the fine bristles that grow in the ears themselves, stuck out on either side like turn signals indicating two directions at once. Full, pursed lips protruded beneath the bushy black mustache and, at their corners, sank into little folds filled with disapproval and potato chip crumbs. In the shadow under the green visor of the cap Ignatius J. Reilly’s supercilious blue and yellow eyes looked down upon the other people waiting under the clock at the D. H. Holmes department store, studying the crowd of people for signs of bad taste in dress. Several of the outfits, Ignatius noticed, were new enough and expensive enough to be properly considered offenses against taste and decency. Possession of anything new or expensive only reflected a person’s lack of theology and geometry; it could even cast doubts upon one’s soul.

Whoa! Glorious, humorous complexity, a real delight. We’re in for a rollicking good time. I’m in on this one, wholeheartedly. (Until I’m not, of course. It’s only one paragraph. And it may become too much of a good thing.) But, maybe not. It won something big. Was it the Pulitzer?

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What do all these examples have in Common? A touch of the poetic, some of it over-the-rainbow, some of it try-our-patience, some of it common-man.

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Maltese Falcon? Broad, but lovely, setting a definite tone:

Samuel Spade’s jaw was long and bony, his chin a jutting v under the more flexible v of his mouth. His nostrils curved back to make another, smaller, v. His yellow-grey eyes were horizontal. The v motif was picked up again by thickish brows rising outward from twin creases above a hooked nose, and his pale brown hair grew down-from high flat temples-in a point on his forehead. He looked rather pleasantly like a bond satan.

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This is interesting. Beryl Bainbridge, from The Bottle Factory Outing:

The hearse stood outside the block of flats, waiting for the old lady. Freda was crying. There were some children and a dog running in and out of the line of bare black trees planted in the pavement.

“I don’t know why you’re crying, said Brenda. “You didn’t know her.”

This is very Beryl. The story comes at you on little cat feet. We don’t learn much here except that we are probably in a shabby, transient  neighborhood in which neighbors don’t know each other. And it’s told plain-Jane, no verbal hijinks.

I said to myself, this stuff won her the Booker Prize? But loopy detail upon loopy detail finally reached a critical mass. Half way in I surrendered to her charm. From her reputation, I was looking to be knocked off my feet. Something flashy. Beryl is not flashy. Don’t look for it, you won’t find it.

One reviewer wrote: “Beryl Bainbridge manages plots of escalating comedy and grotesqueness with consummate skill. She is brilliant at scattering humour over seemingly gruesome terrain”. Key word here, escalating. Absolutely!

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Then (sigh) there’s Danielle Steele, The Sins of the Mother:

Olivia Grayson sat in the chairman’s seat at the board meeting, listening intently to the presentations, her intense blue eyes taking in each member of the board. Her eyes were quick and sharp. She was totally still, wearing a well-cut navy blue pantsuit, and a string of pearls around her neck. Her hair was a sleek bob, cut to the level of her jawbone just below the ear. It was the same snow-white color it had been since her early thirties. She was one of those striking women you would notice in any room. She was timeless, ageless, with high cheekbones and an angular face, and elegant hands as she held a pen poised above her notepad. She always took notes at the meetings, and had a flawless memory of what went on, in what order, and everything that was said. Her keen mind and sharp business sense had won her the reputation for being brilliant, but more than anything she was practical and had an innate, unfailing sense of what was right for her company. She had turned the profitable hardware store her mother had inherited years before into a model for international operations on a mammoth scale.

This is as unappealing a passage as I have ever read. This woman is a million-plus best seller? This is pap. It tells us nothing that makes us interested in this creature, the characterization is stale (and tasteless) as day-old French bread, and it repeats ideas. I might be wrong but, isn’t an international operation by definition on a mammoth scale?

A woman chairman. Of when? Let me check. Copyright 2012. Amazing. The approach feels so Jacqueline Susann/retro. Not that I’ve read any Jacqueline Susann. That’s my no-evidence-to-back-it-up half-assed pronouncement. Somebody clue me in.

I don’t give a damn about timeless/ageless/pearls/pantsuits. Any one of us could draw a thumbnail sketch in a far tastier fashion. For me, this is off to a very bad start. I doubtless bought this thing for research, to see how the other half writes. Probably paid fifty cents at a library sale. Into the trash with it.

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This is like eating potato chips. I can’t stop.

Summertime, and the living is sleazy: Tobacco Road. I love this book. I’m looking for it, can’t find it. I’ll add it in later.

Babbitt, by Sinclair Lewis. “The towers of Zenith aspired above the morning mist . . .” This first line grabs me because it sounds very Amanda McKittrick Ros. (He’s not at all A-McK-R, of course, but the thought tickles me nonetheless.)

From an excerpt (which is all I have of it) of her Irene Iddesleigh:

“The month preceding Irene’s wedding was one of merriment at Dilworth Castle, Lord and Lady Dilworth extending the social hand of fashionable folly on four different occasions. They seemed drunk with delight that Irene, whom they looked upon as their own daughter, should carry off the palm of purity, whilst affluence, position, and title were for years waiting with restless pride to triumph at its grasp.”

This bit is great fun, but a whole book of it wears you down fast. What keeps you reading? To discover a gem, like southern necessary, her term for a pair of pants. Priceless! This is why she’s still read (by looney-tunes like me) a century later.

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What does all this tell us? Not a lot, but I had fun writing it.

My conclusion: After a level of competence has been reached, we must please ourselves. Dig deep, find your authentic voice, and tell a story that you would enjoy reading. Don’t second-guess the market, that’s a fool’s errand.

I think the job of a first paragraph is to establish a personality. It’s the personality that pulls me in. Not the plot. Never the plot. (Beryl Bainbridge being the exception, with her you get no plot, and no personality. You persist on a wing and a prayer until her brilliance begins to sink in.) OK, Mark Knopfler has given her a powerful recommendation. Anyone Marks likes, I give extra time for the audition. He knows a thing or two about words.

What’s my point here?

Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. I’ll meet you at the bottom of the cold, cruel sea that is Amazon. Yo-ho, kids. Bring plenty of rum. My gut tells me we’re gonna need it.

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book promotion

Giveaway Gamble

loto

I’m running a giveaway. I never thought I would, so I’m rather surprised. But I’ve reached a point in my writing where I want to put it to the test. Which means I’m going to pay to build a mailing list in the hope that enough people will like what they read to make it worth my while. Eventually.

Here’s the deal. I’m giving away 12 paperbacks in a raffle. To enter, you simply need to give me your email address. Then you’ll be on my mailing list, from which you can of course unsubscribe at any moment. The winner gets the grand prize but all entrants get a free ebook of One Green Bottle. In a forthcoming newsletter, I’ll be announcing the release of the sequel, Perfume Island, in September. So then I’ll see how many people liked the first book enough to want the second.

I could do this without the giveaway, via my blog. But after a couple of years, my mailing list stands at 67, which means it’ll get to a thousand around the time of my 112th birthday. Blogging is good for all sorts of things but not for getting readers.

The giveaway will be up soon on giveawaypromote.com. That costs me just $5 (or $10 for a featured promotion). If I don’t do that, only my blog readers would find it, which kind of defeats the purpose. So if I get n people signing up, it’ll be money well spent . How big is n? Some giveaways draw more than 1000 entrants, but I’m not getting my hopes up – let’s say 300. I’d be quite happy with that. Less than 200? Mweh. The cost of the prize plus postage will be around $200: given that some of the entrants will (a) unsubscribe from the newsletter, (b) either not read or not like One Green Bottle, (c) read and enjoy it but not go on to Perfume Island, there needs to be a large number of entrants for this gamble to come off.

The raffle winner will be chosen by an online random name picker, into which I’ll feed the names of the entrants myself. There are services which can do this for you, along with a host of other frills. The best, apparently, is KingSumo, which costs $200 (one-off payment – it’s yours then for life), but it only works on wordpress.org sites, not wordpress.com. The other main two are Rafflecopter and Gleam. There are free versions to both of these, but if you want them to collect emails (which after all is the point of the whole exercise), they cost respectively $43 and $39 a month. You can run your giveaway for just a month, then downgrade again to free, but still it’s another expense, so for this first bash I’m not using them. Maybe next time – if there ever is one. This time I’ll get the emails by having entrants sign up on a landing page.

So that’s the background. I’ll report back on results when the giveaway ends. Meanwhile, would you like to head over here and tell me what you think? Have I done it right? Any blunders you can see? If you do, I’d be grateful if you could let me know before I post it on givewaypromote. And of course, don’t hesitate to enter yourself – you might even win.

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Uncategorized

So You Want To Be A Writer – Prof. Colum McCann

So you want to be a writer? Attend, then, to creative writing professor Colum McCann!

………………………………………

Nobody can advise you and help you, nobody,” said Rainer Maria Rilke Letters To A Young Poet more than a century ago. “There is only one way. Go into yourself.”

“This most of all,” he says. “Ask yourself in the most silent hour of night: must I write?”

…….

To hell with grammar, but only if you know the grammar first. To hell with formality, but only if you have learned what it means to be formal. To hell with plot, but you had better at some stage make something happen. To hell with structure, but only if you have thought it through so thoroughly that you can safely walk through your work with your eyes closed.

…….

A first line should open up your rib cage. It should reach in and twist your heart backward. It should suggest that the world will never be the same again.

…….

Don’t write what you know, write towards what you want to know.

…….

You have to put in the time. If you are not there, the words will not appear. Simple as that.

A writer is not someone who thinks obsessively about writing, or talks about it, or plans it, or dissects it, or even reveres it: a writer is the one who puts his arse in the chair when the last thing he wants to do is have his arse in the chair.

Good writing will knock the living daylights out of you. Very few people talk about it, but writers have to have the stamina of world-class athletes. The exhaustion of sitting in the one place. The errors. The retrieval. The mental taxation. The dropping of the bucket down into the near-empty well over and over again.

…….

Nabokov says that his characters are just his galley slaves – but he’s Nabokov, and he’s allowed to say things like that. Let me respectfully disagree. Your characters deserve your respect. Some reverence. Some life of their own. You must thank them for surprising you, and for ringing the doorbell of your imagination.

…….

And always remember that what we don’t say is as important as, if not more so than, what we do. So study the silences too, and have them working on the page. You soon find out how loud the silence really is. Everything unsaid leads eventually to what is said.

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Structure should grow out of character and plot, which essentially means that it grows out of language. In other words, the structure is forever in the process of being shaped. You find it as you go along. Chapter by chapter. Voice by voice. Ask yourself if it feels right to tell the story in one fell swoop, or if it should be divided into sections, or if it should have multiple voices, or even multiple styles. You stumble on through the dark, trying new things all the time.

Sometimes, in fact, you don’t find the structure until halfway through, or even when you’re close to being finished. That’s OK. You have to trust that it will eventually appear and that it will make sense.

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Plot matters, of course it matters, but it is always subservient to language. Plot takes the backseat in a good story because what happens is never as interesting as how it happens. And how it happens occurs in the way language captures it and the way our imaginations transfer that language into action.

So give me music then, young maestro, please. Make it occur the way nobody ever made it occur before. Stop time. Celebrate it. Demolish it. Slow the clock down so that the tick of each and every second lasts an hour or more. Take leaps into the past. Put backspin on your memory. Be in two or three places at one time. Destroy speed and position. Make just about anything happen.

Maybe in this day and age we are diseased by plot. Let’s face it, plots are good for movies, but when over-considered they tend to make books creak. So, unbloat your plot. Listen for the quiet line. Anyone can tell a big story, yes, but not everyone can whisper something beautiful in your ear.

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It’s not a throwaway thing to tell you the truth. It’s not a throwaway thing, to tell you the truth.

Punctuation matters. In fact, sometimes it’s the life or death of a sentence. Hyphens. Full stops. Colons. Semicolons. Ellipses. Parentheses. They’re the containers of a sentence. They scaffold your words. Should a writer know her grammar? Yes, she should. Don’t overuse the semicolon; it is a muscular comma when used correctly. Parentheses in fiction draw far too much attention to themselves. Learn how to use the possessive correctly as in most good writer’s work. (Oops.) Never finish a sentence with an at. (Sorry.) Avoid too many ellipses, especially at the end of a passage, they’re just a little too dramatic … (See?)

Grammar changes down through the years: just ask Shakespeare or Beckett or the good folks at the New Yorker. The language of the street eventually becomes the language of the schoolhouse. It’s the difference between the prescriptive and the descriptive. So much depends, as William Carlos Williams might have said, upon the red wheelbarrow – especially if the barrow itself stands solitary at the end of the line.

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Research is the bedrock of nearly all good writing, even poetry. We have to know the world beyond our own known world. We have to be able to make a leap into a life or a time or a geography that is not immediately ours. Often we will want to write out of gender, race, time. This requires deep research.

Yes, Google helps, but the world is so much deeper than Google. A search engine can’t hold a candle to all the libraries in the world where the books actually exist, live, breathe, and argue with one another. So go down to the library. Check out the catalogues. Go to the map division. Unlock the boxes of photographs. If you want to know a life different from your own, you better try to meet it at least halfway. Get out in the street.

Talk to people. Show interest. Learn how to listen. You must find the divine detail: and the more specific the detail, the better. William Gass . . . [is an] American author who says quite beautifully that a writer finds himself alone with all that might happen . . .

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. . . In the end there’s only one real failure – and that’s the failure to be able to fail. Having tried is the true bravery.

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Sometimes . . . you just have to have the cojones to wipe the whole slate clean. Occasionally you know – deep in your gut – that it’s not good enough. Or you’ve been chasing the wrong story. Or you’ve been waiting for another moment of inspiration.

Often the true voice is not heard until long into the story. It might be a year of work, hundreds of pages, or even more. . . But something in you knows – it just knows – that everything you have written so far has just been preparation for what you are now about to write. You have finally found your north, your east, your west. No south, no going back.

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Gogol said that the last line of every story was: “And nothing would ever be the same again.” Nothing in life ever really begins in one single place, and nothing ever truly ends. But stories have at least to pretend to finish. Don’t tie it up too neatly. Don’t try too much. Often the story can end several paragraphs before, so find the place to use your red pencil. Print out several versions of the last sentence and sit with them. Read each version over and over. Go with the one that you feel to be true and a little bit mysterious. Don’t tack on the story’s meaning. Don’t moralise at the end. Don’t preach that final hallelujah. Have faith that your reader has already gone with you on a long journey. They know where they have been. They know what they have learned. They know already that life is dark. You don’t have to flood it with last-minute light.

You want the reader to remember. You want her to be changed. Or better still, to want to change.

Try, if possible, to finish in the concrete, with an action, a movement, to carry the reader forward. Never forget that a story begins long before you start it and ends long after you end it. Allow your reader to walk out from your last line and into her own imagination. Find some last-line grace. This is the true gift of writing. It is not yours anymore. It belongs in the elsewhere. It is the place you have created. Your last line is the first line for everybody else.

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(The following quotes taken from the full article found here: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/may/13/so-you-want-to-be-a-writer-colum-mccanns-tips-for-young-novelists?utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=Bookmarks+base&utm_term=225927&subid=22099271&CMP=EMCBKSEML3964 )

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