When to leave a review

I’ve got a question for all the authors out there, is it alright to leave a less than stellar review?  I’ll explain.

Over the last year I’ve met and followed a lot of different authors on WordPress.  I try to be a good part of the network by picking up their books and other recommendations, supporting indie authors.  Some of these books are fantastic and I make sure to leave a good reviews, some… aren’t.

Since I started writing seriously I found that I’ve gotten a lot more critical over my own writing and what I read.  I’ve also gotten a lot better at identifying problems, in my own writing and others’.

There have been several times that I’ve seen glowing reviews for a new indie book, on multiple sites, then picked it up myself and had a hard time even finishing it.  That’s not to say I’m an editorial genius, I’m not, some of those needed a lot of work but others were just not to my taste.

When I do finish one of those books I face a dilemma, do I leave a three-star (or less) review or do I just stay silent?  It might be better for them even if I left something less than positive with the way Amazon does their rankings, I don’t know.  And what if I know the writer (on WP, anyway)?  Should I email the writer if I had problems with the story, or just say nothing?  If it was me I’d want to know, but some people are protective over their baby and might not like unasked for criticism, even if it’s intended as constructive.

Writing Humor

Some stories are easier to write than others, the most difficult I’ve found so far is humor.  I love a funny story but I’m also picky, probably like most readers.  Humor is such a subjective thing.

The last few stories I’ve written for NaNo were light-hearted.  I chose those stories very specifically because they wouldn’t be too heavy, they’d be fast and fairly easy to keep up the word count.

Geeks, Greens, and Guns was more situational humor, crazy stuff happening to fairly normal people.  It’s humorous without really being funny, if that makes any sense.  There wasn’t pressure to make jokes or have good one-liners, it was more about coming up with weird situations to stick the characters into.

The Apocalypse Gazette was almost the opposite, less crazy situational stuff and more funny stuff.  That wasn’t intentional, per se, it was just how the story turned out.  The main character goes through this boredom inspired insanity that leads to him writing the gazette.  In essence, he’s finding ways to amuse himself and humor played a large role.  Not a lot actually happens in the story, the humor has to carry a lot of the burden, which had me nervous at times.  If the reader doesn’t get the jokes they’re going to put down the story pretty fast.

Well, I can’t speak for other readers, but as I was perusing some of the chapters of The Apocalypse Gazette this evening I found myself chuckling over jokes that I’d forgotten.  I’m taking that as a positive sign.  Whether or not anybody else is amused, well, at least I’ve amused myself.  Life imitating art.

NaNo!

Camp-Winner-2015-Web-BannerWoohoo!  It took a big push the last week but I managed to make the 50K count for the month.  Whew.  Awesome.  Now I just need to finish the draft, probably still need at least 5-10k more words.  Then it’s editing and rewriting.  A writer’s work is never done.

But at least I survived the month and got most of the way through The Apocalypse Gazette.  It took some interesting turns, led me on a merry chase, but in the end I got a hold of it and didn’t let go.

And once I wrap up the last few chapters I need to start throwing around ideas for November.

NaNo Update

Whew, wow.  Yeah.  This month has been crazy.  I signed up for my third NaNo at the beginning of the July (full Nano last November, then April and July for camp), and this was the first time so far that I actually thought I wouldn’t finish on time.

This month has been busy all around, work, personal, and everything in between.  I was struggling to even make progress on The Apocalypse Gazette, which is why I haven’t taken the time to post here much.  Work work work.

At the beginning of this week I was barely at 35k with only five days to go.  Not insurmountable but way farther back than I wanted to be at that point.  But over the last three days I managed to pull together another 10k.  Which means I have to only get down another 5k by midnight Friday.

That I can do.  I might even finish a day early at this rate.

While I think I can make the goal for the month the story itself is far from done.  I’ve already come up with some major changes I need to make and 50k will get me close to done but I’ll probably need another 5-10 thousand words to wrap up the first draft.  It’s looking good though, I’m enjoying the story.  It’s a lot bigger and crazier and wilder than I thought it would be.  It’s been fun.

Like I did for the last Camp project, I put up sections of The Apocalypse Gazette on Wattpad as I was writing it.  If you’re interested you can pop over and see how it’s going.

And good luck to all of us participating this month!  Home stretch!

https://www.wattpad.com/story/41391002

Camp NaNo

Woohoo, Camp NaNo started!  I’m on track with my word count so far, not that that’s saying much.  Just like last time I’ve decided to post the story to Wattpad as I’m writing it so interested readers and writers can follow along.  As an experiment it hasn’t yielded much in the way of results but it amuses me.

I put up the first couple chapters yesterday.

(Yes, I messed with the cover.  Again.)

The Apocalypse Gazette

How does the world end? Plague, calamity, aliens, solar flares? Maybe a combination of all the above? One morning Wally Mason woke up to find he was the last surviving person in his small town, maybe the last man on Earth. There’s plenty of food and water, he doesn’t lack for anything except entertainment. No social media, no TV, no internet, no Twitter. After a few months with only the company of his cat Spalding, Wally might just be going crazy. But just because he can’t blog or tweet anymore doesn’t mean he can’t write. In fact, why not document his apocalypse experiences in style? Why not write the one and only Apocalypse Gazette?

http://www.wattpad.com/story/41391002-the-apocalypse-gazette

New Review for an Old Favorite

I recently found myself between books and decided to re-read an old favorite, Phule’s Company by Robert Asprin.

Originally published in 1990, I discovered this book during Middle School and fell in love with it.

The back cover:

The Few. The Proud.  The Stupid.  The Inept.

Meet the soldiers of Phule’s Company.

They do more damage before 9:00 A.M. than most people do all day…

And they’re mankind’s last hope.

It’s about a charismatic young Space Legion Lieutenant who breaks a few rules but also happens to be the rich son of a mega-billionaire.  The Legion can’t really punish him so they promote him and give him command over a “hopeless” company full of losers, criminals, and pacifists.  Much hilarity ensues.

I just have to say that Robert Asprin is a brilliant writer and that’s most evident in Phule’s Company.  His other books are good but this one is fantastic.  It’s smart, it’s funny, and he hits all the right points, and his descriptions are awesome.  He even breaks a few of my reader rules without losing me, like head jumping and switching perspectives, which is very uncommon.  It just works so well the way it’s written.

Even reading it now, some twenty years later, I still love the book and highly recommend it to others.  Other great series by Asprin include the Myth series, Time Scout, and Thieves World.

And as a writer, there are some other things that are interesting about Robert Asprin and Phule’s Company that don’t involve his skills.  In many ways, as fantastic of a writer as he was, there are several aspects of his life that could stand as lessons to the rest of us.

You see, Phule’s Company is one of the few books published by Robert Asprin without a co-author.

This went well until the late 1990’s, when RLA’s (Robert Lynn Asprin) career was disrupted by a converging set of circumstances. Firstly, Mr. Asprin ended up in extremely serious trouble with the American federal tax agency, the Internal Revenue Service, over the supposed non-payment of income taxes, specifically in relation to his appearances at various science fiction conventions. The IRS is reported to have garnished RLA’s income, meaning that, while the garishment was in place, any income RLA made would go directly to the IRS. If he were to write and publish a book under these conditions, any and all profits would be automatically claimed by the IRS.

A way around this, evidently, was for RLA to sign off on officially ‘co-authored’ books. This is presumably one reason why the Phule and Time Scout series have continued to appear under co-authored bylines (Peter J. Heck and Linda Evans, respectively.) License Invoked (with Jody Lynn Nye) used the same scheme.

According to RLA’s own introduction to Myth-ion Improbable, as of April 2000, this dispute was finally “resolved.”

Another reason for the co-authoring as well as for the lack of new Myth books is that it appears RLA’s writer’s block, as discussed below, became terminal for several years. As noted elsewhere in this FAQ (Section 9.4), RLA has admitted for the record that he contributed very little to the writing of Wagers of Sin. The same is likely true of A Phule and His Money, Ripping Time, et al, although there has been no official confirmation of this. (Although the tax-agency subplots running through A Phule and His Money and Myth-Taken Identity must have been inspired by RLA’s real-life experiences in this area.)

Thirdly, there was the situation with Donning. While Mr. Asprin was still under contract, Donning’s “Starblaze” line, which published the original hardcover versions of the MythAdventure books, was shut down. Donning as a whole is now (more or less) defunct, having been bought out by another publishing company. The company went under amidst a storm of accusations of legal and financial chicanery, and so, for several years, if RLA was still under any contract to write Myth books, it was with this zombie of a company, an entity with whom he had no desire to conduct further business.

IRS and publisher issues almost derailed Robert Asprin’s career.  Around the same time these issues were first cropped up, writer’s block stopped him from writing for SEVEN YEARS.  That’s the official story at least.  I’m sure he did some writing during that time but was either unable or unwilling to publish because of those issues.  Thankfully, the disputes were eventually resolved and he went on to put out many more books before he passed away in 2008.

It’s a fascinating story all around, both the author and his work.  I highly recommend anyone who hasn’t read Phule’s Company to go out and pick up a copy.  The rest of Robert Asprins work, especially Time Scout, are awesome too but Phule’s Company has a special place for me.

The Future of Publishing

I read a fascinating post today about the difficulties all of us indie, or self published authors face.  If you just take the basic facts, how many books are being put out, how few copies sell well, how few authors are making a decent income, it looks really depressing.

However, and this was the comment I left on the post, it’s also a really exciting time.  We’re seeing the old system fail to evolve fast enough, unable to find a way to make money in this new landscape and struggle to maintain the status quo.  But all of us looking at them can see the writing on the wall, if they don’t adapt fast they’re going to lose all relevancy.

Right now, publishing is going through a massive shift.  Anyone who has ever wanted to write a book can do so and put it out.  Thousands of books are being published every single day, many of questionable quality, which means that while we’re able to put out books easily the supply far outweighs the demand and it’s only getting worse.

In some ways that’s scary, but in other ways this is the growing pains of all of us trying to figure out a new system.  That means there’s a lot of opportunity right now for all of us to try new things and the ideas that are successful will shape the future of publishing.

What I think is going to happen:

1. Traditional publishers will shrink.  Period.  Even those that can adapt, they’ll never be what they were before.  The self publishing age has come.

2. Working with a different model, new publishing companies will be very successful.  Enterprising, talented people will get together and form new publishing companies that operate in new ways.  They’ll take networking to a new level.  They’ll take lessons from what the traditional publishing companies used to do well, services that indie authors still require, like editing and promotion, and base themselves on providing those services.

3. Talented indies will band together.  Maybe they form a company like in #2, or maybe they just come up with a guild, whatever, but they’ll come together.  Mutual marketing, mutual promotion, advice and networking.  They’ll build a huge platform together out of their combined bases.  Instead of a million authors clamoring for a limited audience, those that band together will have a louder voice and as long as their work is solid the readers will follow them.

4. People complain about the lack of quality in some self published books.  Those authors will either join one of the guilds and improve their work, or they’ll be a solitary voice competing with the groups/guilds of solid writers.  Their books will not succeed in comparison.  The cream will rise to the top.

So, while traditional publishing will never be the same, there is tremendous opportunity right now.  Try new things, get together with other writers, we’re all in this together.  And personally, I’m excited to see how things evolve.

Choices, choices

This morning I asked for some feedback about a cover I’d been playing with.  I had some time today so I made up a second one.  I’m not sure if I like it better or not.  Huh.  So, I figured I’d put them up side by side and see if anyone has a preference, or different ideas I could try.

The Apocalypse Gazette 2             The apocalypse gazette 4.2

I think the reason I’m having trouble with these is that it’s like the camera is zoomed back too far, there’s too much to look at, not enough focus.  They’ll be even worse when shrunk down to thumbnail size.  Probably the simplest thing to do would just have the cover be the front page of the paper but that almost seems like a cop out.  So, feedback or ideas would be awesome.

The Apocalypse Gazette 2The apocalypse gazette 4.2

Something simple that sizes down well would probably be better.  Something like this, that is far less interesting -or complex.

cover_sepai_3

Even more choices.

Cover Advice

Those of you that have been reading for a bit know how much fun I have coming up with covers.  Yesterday, I spent about eight hours coming up with something for my next project (I’m thinking ahead to Camp NaNo in July).  I had a lot of fun but I’m not satisfied with the result.  I showed it to a friend and she liked it a lot but there’s something off about it.  I think it might be too busy, not focused enough, but I’m not sure if that’s what’s bugging me.

A quick plot summary: A young man survives a myriad of apocalyptic situations and finds himself the sole survivor in a remote small town.  He soon starts going a little crazy and decides to write an Onion-style, end of the world newspaper call The Apocalypse Gazette.  It will hopefully be a funny story.

The Apocalypse Gazette 2It’s a fairly simple premise that shouldn’t be too difficult to get across.  My idea for the above image was a guy selling papers in an empty, post-apocalyptic town… but if you don’t already know that’s what the story’s about, I don’t think that’s obvious from the image.  I like it, I wouldn’t have spent eight hours on it otherwise, but I’m not sure if it works.  Maybe it doesn’t need to change, maybe it’s amusing enough to make people curious and click… or maybe I need to start over again.  I’m not sure.

So, I’m putting it to all of you.  What do you think?  Is it good enough as is (for now anyway)?  If not, should I start over or is there something that could be done to improve it?  Any feedback would be appreciated.

Back to my Roots

When I was growing up I loved to read.  I’d read anything and I’d tear through a thousand page book in a week.  It would go everywhere with me until it was finished.  As much as I enjoyed reading, it wasn’t until I was thirteen that I discovered how much I loved to write.

When I was a Freshman in High School my friends and I used to have an hour long bus-ride home from school.  We were all avid horror and fantasy readers, one day we decided to use that time to write a short story on whatever topic we wanted, at the end of the ride we’d vote on who’s was best.

I wrote a short horror story about the four of us, my three friends and I.  We went camping, told scary stories around the fire, and one by one started to disappear.  We figured that one of the urban legends from the stories was actually real… but in the end found out that one of us was a werewolf (before they were trendy) and had invited everyone out to make meals of us.

It was scary, the descriptions were gory, like the horror flicks we loved, blood everywhere.

I won the little contest and discovered the joy I got from their reactions as we traded pages.  It was a blast to write something like all those stories that I enjoyed and have other people get a kick out of reading it.  Those little story contests became a regular part of our rides from then on.

Fast forward two decades.

This week I’m working on a new project.  As I was writing I realized I had a little hole in my plot, the characters were going to have to spend the night out in this hazardous place.  That wasn’t supposed to happen originally but it was just the way it worked out.  Thinking about that scene I figured I could just gloss over it, “they found an abandoned cabin to stay the night and nothing happened”…  but that’s not what I ended up happening

Instead, I spent the last two days writing over a dozen pages about the characters being haunted all night by creepy visions and monsters.  It just kind of evolved on the page into this huge, scary situation that I had so much fun creating.

In thinking about the project and the last two days it all kind of reminded me of writing those stories on the bus.  Those creepy, gruesome, edge-of-the-seat tales were what got me started writing to begin with because they were so much fun.  Even as a little kid, those R.L. Stein books were my favorites.  As I got older I transitioned into Stephen King and Dean Koontz, as well as a plethora of fantasy writers like Robert Jordan (RIP).

So I’m taking some time today to enjoy the process and remember what makes writing and reading enjoyable for me.  My last few projects have been pretty tame on the scare-o-meter, maybe my next one (or this one) will end up a few marks higher.  And if you find yourself hitting a slump, maybe thinking back to what you first loved about reading and writing will help get those juices flowing again.