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.

Interesting conversation with my Mom

I haven’t been good at posting over the last two months, as I’m sure happens with everyone life tends to get in the way, especially over the holidays.  Hiccups and roller coasters, it’s life.

Anyway, this morning I got a text from my mother.  It was a picture of her kindle, blown up far enough that I could read the text.

At first I was confused, what was she showing me?  I read the page and was amazed at how poor the writing was.  It was grammatically correct but stylistically a mess.

“He walked to the table.  He picked up the items, a book and two bowls.  He placed them on the counter.  He picked up a rag and wiped off the table top.  He took a yard of butcher paper off the role in the corner and gently placed it on the table.”

At first I thought the author was using this style deliberately but it just kept going.  Almost every sentence on the page started with “He”, it was really difficult to read more than a paragraph.

Then my mom sent a second text.  She explained that this was a book that a friend of hers had just put out and she suspected it was “self published”.  She’d wanted to support him, paid four dollars for her copy and wasn’t very happy with the quality.  I couldn’t blame her.  I’m certainly not an expert writer, or without my own issues, but I felt like I could have done a better editing job than whoever he hired, if he hired anyone.

Now, I could go on about how these kinds of books tend to give self published authors a bad name but we’ve all heard that before and, honestly, whether his book sells doesn’t really matter to me.  He wrote it, he was happy with it, and he published it.  Good for him.

What I can take away from this situation is that I don’t want anything I publish to turn off readers like that.  Is she going to be excited to buy his next book?  I doubt it.  I told my mom that that’s exactly why I’m not rushing to publish anything, I never want someone to pay good money and come away feeling like it wasn’t worth it.

Pantser Slump

The greatest pleasure I derive from writing is also my greatest curse.

There are two general types of writers; plotters and pantsers.

Plotters are kind of the Type-A personalities of the writing world.  They have an idea, they plan out the characters, and lay out the plot line in great detail.  Then when they write all they have to do is connect the dots.

Pantsers are those who write “by the seat of their pants”.  They start with an interesting idea, a character, and they just write.  It’s a very organic process, they just see where the characters take them.  Planning is usually limited to a couple chapters ahead.

I am an unashamed pantser.  What drives me to write is curiosity.  Usually I start with a hook and I’m genuinely curious where the story is going to go.  How is the manly man going to react when he has to direct his daughter’s play?  I don’t know but I really want to find out.  Every story is a puzzle that I really want to solve.

As much fun as that is, it’s also my biggest hurdle towards becoming a novelist.

You see, as long as I don’t know what’s going to happen I’m hooked by my own story, but there’s always a point (around 80% done) when I figure out how it’s going to end.  I can see how the last little bit plays out.  The puzzle is solved but the draft isn’t finished.  Suddenly, I don’t have any motivation at all to finish the last 20% or so.  It’s work, it’s trudging, it’s painfully boring.

When I get bored, my attention starts to wander toward other story ideas, until I drop the original project and start something new.  The new project gets to about 80%, puzzle solved, and my attention starts to wander again.

Right now, I’ve got two books 80% finished and I’m struggling to maintain my focus on them instead of the flashier, new ideas that have been cropping up.  I really, really want to be a published author but there are so many difficulties that I never anticipated, this being one of many.

So, I desperately need to work on my writing discipline.  Not just in hours/words per day but in finishing what I start.  Even then, I can only imagine how painful it’s going to be to do the multiple cycles of revision to make the story readable.

I keep telling myself, “if it was easy, everyone would do it.”   Pantser or not, I’m working on it.

 

Writers reading

A while ago, I read a post on how a person’s reading changes after they become a writer.  The post said that being a writer has almost ruined their ability to read a good book.  Instead of simply reading the book and enjoying it, all the sudden they were breaking down how the scene was constructed, word choice, and style.  It took them out of the story.

I thought that had to be an exaggeration.  We’ve been reading for decades, why would that change just because we started writing?

Well, I thought it was an exaggeration until it happened to me.

I was at work and heading to lunch by myself.  I decided that I should swing by the convenience store and seeing if they had any good books on the rack.  This was a little out of the ordinary, it’s been a while since I’d bought a paperback, I do most of my reading on my Kindle these days, but wanted something to read while I was at lunch.

ash s

So, I picked up James Hebert’s “Ash”.  I wasn’t familiar with his work but it looked interesting and figured it would be worth checking.

I got my plate of Chinese food, sat down, and cracked the book.  Then something strange happened, I started analyzing every sentence.  I couldn’t help it.   Sentence structure, word choice, etc.

Wow, that’s a great way to incorporate dialogue in the scene.  That’s an interesting character description.  Ooh, he’s good at switching between scenes.  These chapter lengths are interesting.  Hmmm, he uses a lot of adverbs.

It was really interesting.  Having read a lot of ebooks recently with questionable… quality, it was educational to open a book that has been so thoroughly vetted, edited, and produced.  I don’t think I’ve read any major books since I started really writing.  I real a ton but mostly on my kindle and usually indie authors, so this was a total change.  So, seeing something professionally produced was a drastic reminded of what a high quality book should look like.

Pen and paper

edited-paper

I’m a little over 200 pages into my sci-fi adventure story and I’m already looking ahead to the daunting task of making it readable.  By making it readable I mean editing, because it’s going to need a lot of work.  I purposefully didn’t do much in the way of editing while I was writing because I wanted to get the whole story down before I started going through it.  Knowing myself, I probably would have gotten so bogged down by the revising that I would have gotten fed up with the project and never finished it (I’ve made that mistake before).

The longer the story gets the longer the process of making it readable will be.  For as long as it takes to write a page, editing and shaping that page will probably take twice as long.  At least.

As I’m thinking through this process, one thing keeps coming to mind: there’s no way I’m going to be able to edit this on a computer.

For the most part, I’m a Luddite when it comes to technology.  I’m interested in it only so far as it can improve my life, no further.  For example, writing on a computer is far faster for me than writing with a pen and paper, so I write on the computer.  It’s also far easier to edit and produce short works on a computer, like blog posts.  However, with longer pieces in the past I’ve always printed them out to edit them.

I’ve always edited on paper because being able to flip through the pages, make notations in the margins, put sticky notes on the important scenes, and physically hold the papers has been a vital part of the editing process.  So, I can’t imagine trying to edit this 200+ page story on a computer screen.  There’s no way.

Yet, printing out 200+ pages and going through them by hand -only to make the corrections on the computer and have to reprint the entire manuscript for the second phase of editing- seems incredibly wasteful and inefficient.

So, where’s the middle ground?  I’m thinking that I will end up doing as much of the editing as possible on the computer, spell check, grammar, etc.  Then when I’m through with the minor things, printing the manuscript and looking for the bigger changes.  It still doesn’t seem very efficient but I’m not sure how else to do it.

Is this something that other authors have faced?  If so, I would love to hear suggestions because I’m still very new to this and I’m already feeling a little intimidated.

 

**Photo from Curriculum Design for ELL**

How to create a Kindle ebook with Scrivener

There are a lot of tutorials online that go over using Scrivener to format to .mobi, the problem with most of them is they’re written for Mac, not Windows.  Scrivener was originally a Mac-only program, so a lot of the support and information isn’t applicable to Windows users.  I wrote a little bit about this in the previous post, The coolest thing I’ve ever seen.  Eventually, I figured it out and put a draft of Larry’s Dead onto my Kindle.

The process isn’t difficult but it was tricky, so I thought I would write out specific instructions.  If you have any issues, contact me and I’ll walk you through it. Continue reading “How to create a Kindle ebook with Scrivener”

The coolest thing I’ve ever seen

I had another post I was working on but this was just too cool to put off.  Seriously, probably the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.  It might not be all that big of a deal to anyone else, but it’s definitely high on my list.

Alright, I’ll start at the beginning.  A couple days ago I read a post about how Scrivener (the writing program I use) can format to different ebook types.  I started playing around with it and got really frustrated.  To format for Kindle you have to download the KindleGen program from Amazon, then go back and link Scrivener to the program before it’ll work right.  I’ll probably do another post specifically on that process later, it was kind of a pain.

So, I got all that set up and went back to trying to compile the manuscript for Kindle.  It asked what I wanted to put for the cover, so I messed around for a while and made up a draft cover.  I did the drawing by hand, edited it on the computer and did the formatting (1:1.6.  Best for Kindle is 2820 x 4500 according to their site, that’s what I used). Continue reading “The coolest thing I’ve ever seen”

Amazon’s Unlimited program

I just read the newest post on the Smashwords blog, Is Kindle Unlimited Bad for Authors?  As it mentions in the title, the post is all about Amazon’s new program and potential effects on indie authors.  In case you’ve been under a rock for the last week and haven’t heard, Amazon has just started “Kindle Unlimited”.  It’s a subscription program where readers pay a flat rate and read as much as they want for the month.

The catch for authors is that if you want your book to be in the lending pool you have to be part of Kindle Select.  Kindle Select is fairly controversial in writing circles because to be in the program, and have access to the benefits, that book has to be exclusive to Amazon, you can’t put the book up anywhere else.  If you’re in the program you get access to promotional tools and benefits, and will be included in the lending library and the new Kindle Unlimited.  One of the most powerful promotional tools included is 5 “free” days every 90 days, where you can give away ebooks to draw in new readers.  Being included in the Unlimited program would be beneficial too, giving readers a chance to access your works without paying anything (yet the author will still be compensated for it). Continue reading “Amazon’s Unlimited program”

Welcome!

It’s been an interesting few months leading up to me starting this blog.

I’ve been a voracious reader and writer for many years now.  It started in High School when friends and I would exchange stories, usually horror stories that involved gory death scenes.

Since then, my problem has been that I get really excited about a project for a few weeks but then I get another idea.  The first idea gets shelved and I start working on the new one.  And repeat.  None of them ever made it past a couple dozen pages before another project came up or life got in the way.

Recently though, I started writing a story for my daughter.  She loves to read, so I thought it would be something fun to do.  She’s been the motivation that got me to dig into a single story and not let go.

It’s been a whole lot of fun and it’s really inspired me to get more serious with my writing.  There is so much more I want to learn about writing, publishing, and developing as a person and a writer.

J. M. Payer