Writer Wednesday


Another POD post! 😉 I finally got all my POD books, so here goes the third instalment of Lulu vs. CreateSpace – sort of. Like I said last week, I won’t do a new CS version for the old titles, but I’ll be using CS for the new ones. First – old ones! Here you have the version I did last year vs the revised version of this year (new interior formatting as well). Which covers look better?

Lulu2012_2013You can find them all on Lulu (including the BoI that still have the old covers). Links are available also on the Smashwords pages of the single ebooks. By the way, I have adjusted CVE 2 & 3 so now they look like this (should have left more margin around the frames first thing, but well… I was doing too many at the same time, and those were the last two!):

newCVEAnd then here you have the CS books – Star Minds and sneak peek of Star Minds Snippets! 😀 CS2013Again, only Star Minds is available at this time (hey, the paperback is even on B&N! ;)), the Snippets will come out in a couple of weeks. When I come back from London, I’ll put out Half-blood and two weeks later the whole anthology.

Now, to writerly links: David Farland on turning inspiration into habit. Like I’ve said before, I never did NaNoWriMo since I’ve been in the habit of writing all year long well before the internet days. But if you’re starting now and are not in the habit yet, follow the master’s advice! 😉

For indie authors out there – 8 cover design secrets and 11 things if you want to run a successful business. Unfortunately doesn’t apply much in this backward country with its own laws and rules. But the cover design one applies to me as well! 😉 And I agree with David Gaughran that publishing is easy! 😉

That’s all for this week – still off DayJob, but still traveling… normal blogging resumes next week (although you probably can’t tell the difference since I schedule all posts in advance, LOL)! Have a wonderful week! 🙂

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Writer Wednesday


Hope you had a great weekend. The Kindle event is over – I bought 6 books and sold none. Even if people didn’t purchase on this occasion, I still have increased the visibility of my name and books, so let’s hope it leads to future sales. The Event page had a total of 665 views with a total of 1,333 clicks on the books, whoot! 🙂 Waiting to hear from Tim Flanagan about the competition winner…

Don’t forget the other sale, everything 50% off on Smashwords until the end of the month – except the brand new book, Star Minds omnibus! 🙂

Star_Minds_Cover_for_KindleYes, it’s out, at the moment on Barnes&Noble, Smashwords, Kindle, Kobo and Createspace. Wait for more e-book distributors and the combination of printed and e-book on Amazon – I’ll give all the new links next week. Reading the proof copy, I found and fixed some typos (nothing better than paper to do that), so apart from the wonderful cover by Phoenixlu, this is a “cleaner” and complete edition of the whole series.

Saturday I rewatched L’étudiante, since it’s the inspiration for Chantal (in 1982 I was back in Rome, so the movie is my only insight into La Sorbonne in the 1980s) and then I wrote a couple of new scenes for Shooting Star (Kol-ian’s stay on Earth) that are basically what happens in Technological Angel, but from another point of view. I thought it closed better the novelette – that still needs a major rewrite, but I’ll work on it this week along with the other Snippets that are already written, before getting to the new ones.

Also, I submitted 2/3 of Conall’s Sons to the Smashwords anthology, since the Snippets don’t really fit the guidelines – “to aim for the general SF/F market, so no erotica, bad language, etc.” . I admit I never submitted to general SF/F markets, although I did write a query letter for my first indie-published novel (that I ended up putting on Smashwords once I realized it was too short for fantasy standards, too unconventional and had even the F-word in it, so Daw Books would have rejected it anyway), so I didn’t realize I was going against the rules. I’ve been reading mostly indies in the genre, lately, and we don’t always stick to “rules” – I myself write adult unconventional fantasy (it’s not erotica, but it does mention sex and violence – I don’t always put the “adult filter on” in my stories, though).

So, I reread Conall’s Sons, took out part 1 and sent Giordano/Jordan’s story only. It sold only 9 copies since 2011, so I guess it’s as new to readers as any Snippet could be. And it’s a good introduction to Silvery Earth and its Magical Races, so… there you go. I also did some cover attempts for that anthology, which gave me ideas for the next generation of Star Minds, so on Sunday I started planning next year’s release. The Snippets will come out in the fall, the Next Generation in the first half of 2014 – so I’ll have a lot of stuff at Loncon (since it’s more sci-fi than fantasy geared)! 🙂 If all my attempts are discarded, I’ll post one of the drawings here, and you can write your own story based on what you see…

Now, if you’re online reading this, you’ve also heard of J.K.Rawling’s latest exploit – how she wrote under a male pseudonym (Robert Galbraith) and then came out. That’s what traditional publishers ask you to do when you brand yourself – J.K. writes YA, how dare she write in another genre? Glad the truth is out. I’ll keep both pseudonyms for now (it’s not a secret that Barbara G.Tarn and B.G. Hope are the same person anyway), and keep looking for my readers. I’m not greedy, 5000 True Fans are enough! 🙂

Now, a few writerly links for you. Kris Rusch on the global view – here’s to my growing little grove and readers finding it. Like I said, I’m not greedy. I can find 5000 kind souls among the 7 billion walking on this planet, right? 5000 English-speaking readers (don’t have to be native, I’m not either! ;)) who enjoy this brand new genre of “unconventional fantasy for adults who still like to dream”…

David Farland on showing, telling, making – sorry, I’m a cinematic writer, no amount of suggestions like this will make me add more specific descriptions… I write what I want to read, and descriptions clutter my “sight” – I skip them in other people’s books, so I don’t put them in mine (although a few beta-readers – who happen to be also writers… – beg for more setting in my stories. I’ve never heard from a real reader begging for more setting, though, so who knows). Go check the other writing tips from Dave – or subscribe to his newsletter! 🙂

That’s all for now! Have a great week! 😀

Writer Wednesday


As promised a CreateSpace update. First let me tell you, if you’re coming from Goodreads, that I just switched to CreateSpace after 3 years with Lulu. Last week I tried both for my upcoming Star Minds Omnibus and here are the results:

LuluVScreatespace_resizeSo, for Lulu I used the digest template I’ve used until last year. For CreateSpace I took the “most popular” and since I’m bad at turning inches into centimeters, I thought it was also a Digest size – turned out it’s bigger. The cover looks better on CS, but it took some tweaking and as you can see in the last pic, the spine wasn’t perfect, because I couldn’t find a “spine calculator” (included in the Lulu cover wizard) on CS. Both covers were saved as RGB and not CMYK as suggested by CS, so that’s probably why when I uploaded to CS it said that it was less than 300dpi – my friend Cristina, the half-wizard of Photoshop, said that might have been the reason.

Then Saturday I spent 2 hours on CreateSpace to redo the cover and the whole book in Digest format (might be a few cents more expensive, but the other format is too big, at least for the 2 people I asked for feedback). This time I did find a template with spine size and everything, but whenever I uploaded the image to CS it was either too low-res or didn’t fit in the frame (again I forgot to save as CMYK, so we’ll see what comes out! ;)). So it took more tweaking and trying. I like this version more, since I can put the little “stamp” (the cover art without writing) on the spine, which isn’t possible with Lulu, but at the same time… man, it’s complicated! I guess I only need to get used to it! 🙂

Anyway, I’ve now ordered another proof copy (after I spent all Saturday reading one of my proofs and then correcting typos and adjusting the formatting for a final manuscript version), and I even have a .doc ready to upload on KDP (and then Smashwords, Kobo, D2D and DriveThru, hehe). I took CreateSpace’s free ISBN that should let me into the libraries system and will buy the expanded distribution when I make the title go live. I guess I only need to get used to the new interface or figure out how to work with those cover templates, and then I’ll probably stop using Lulu (although I’ll leave what’s already there out – will have to do a CreateSpace edition with ISBN!) since DriveThru uses Lightning Source and whenever I manage to finish SKYBAND, I’ll do the final printed volume with them.

Now, if you’re new to this blog and have landed here from GR, you might want to check those posts about Lulu and Author’s Solutions or Dean Wesley Smith on this brand new world of publishing. I relented and tried it, because I know that if I want to do another workshop with him (I did a publishers’ workshop back in October 2011) he won’t let me in the class if I tell him I still print with Lulu, haha! 🙂 If you’re American, you can even send your books to bookstores with CreateSpace, following Dean’s advice. From Italy… it’s complicated! 🙂 Anyway, it’s also cheaper than Lulu (the “digest” costed a few cents more than the 6×9, but still less than the Lulu version, and it had more pages (470 vs. 450), since I ordered it after I ordered Lulu’s copy, so I adjusted chapters better in the CS version…)! 😀

And while I’m at it, I’ll keep sharing writers’ links, in no particular order. Why you should stop submitting manuscripts to traditional publishers – something I stopped considering in 2011 when I went indie, but now scares me even more. I’m even a foreigner, they can screw me with their law-babble even more than any of you! 😦 So unless a traditional publisher comes to me, I won’t submit anything, not even send them a printed version of my books, since the mailing expenses would kill me. And I’m already in the red paying editors and sometimes cover artists, and nowhere near to quit DayJob that pays all those writing bills. But I’m investing on myself, and I know that sooner or later, I’ll be able to quit and live off writing! 🙂

I’m not sure I see myself in any of the stages of an indie writer, but then, I’m not American, so I face different challenges from whoever is lucky enough to live in the same country as Dean and Kris! 🙂 I have slowed down production, since I’m also working on new titles besides translating my unpublished backlist, but I am still experimenting with everything, that’s why I haven’t written my non-fiction guide for foreign indie authors yet. I can tell you that I know of an Italian writer who thinks Amazon is the biggest market when Amazon opened in Italy precisely because otherwise Kobo and Apple would have stolen that share of the market. Even if I manage to convince him Amazon is not the only game in town, especially not in Italian, he’s probably going to be one of those KDP Select authors.

As long as he doesn’t undersell himself. See how you can write an eloquent F* Off to an indecent offer (again, like Dean says, no begging). We shouldn’t work for free, or give away our novels for free. A short story, yes. A novella, why not. But a whole novel? Maybe if it’s the start of a series, but in my case, Technological Angel is also longer that its sequels, so I’d rather give away a Snippet or a longer prequel instead. And you’ll get one in the Smashwords Anthology, so stay tuned. Maybe another I’ll put it on this blog – if I get enough requests, that is. I still don’t know who’s reading or why, so I’m going to improvise. Schedule, but improvise, LOL!

Last but not least, if you’d like to be a guest on Joe Konrath’s blog, you need to donate at least 100$ to this cause. Since I don’t really want to do that, if you’re a writer, we can split like he suggests, and interview each other. Let me know with a comment or an e-mail, and we’ll do it! 🙂 Have a great week!

Writer Wednesday


Spam comments on writing:

SpamCommentsRe: comment 1 – yeah, you can become a millionaire also if you buy lots of lottery tickets. Eventually, you’ll win. Same there: lots of books on Kindle, eventually you can become a millionaire! 😉 In case you forgot, even Amanda Hocking had 6 or 7 books on Kindle and had to wait one year before she joined the Kindle Millionaires Club… So it’s really not instant riches – or you better be off buying that lottery ticket! 😉

Re: comment 2 – I already mentioned I can’t teach you how I write. I have many male protagonists in my stories, I don’t really care the sex of my characters, I assume I have enough imagination to write credible people. That’s why I prefer fantasy anyway, and when I tackle reality, I ask beta-readers of the opposite sex to make sure I portrayed men in a realistic way. But don’t bother to criticize my Silvery Earth men or even the Star Minds – I made them up, and I made them like I wish they were! 😀 I guess they all have something of myself anyway, no matter the external genitalia or appearance I bestow on them (I have virtual casts anyway), and I need to try very hard when I portray people who are very different from me! 😉

I also think we’re all unique, so what might sound “crazy” or “surreal” to you might be exactly how I feel. I’ve noticed that I got a low star rating on a book – on the part that was precisely me, I was writing what I knew (that’s another BS myth, “Write what you know” – especially for genre writers), and the reader couldn’t understand what I was saying or how I was feeling. So, see, for someone you can be “weird” even if you’re just being yourself. Never mind, you can’t please everyone! 🙂

If you don’t want to order the print version, Happiness is… is now in e-book format, trilingual, so if you want a taste of Italian and French with the English, go get it on Amazon or B&N, and soon Kobo and Apple, or you can get an e-pub from XinXii or DriveThruComics. I will do more of these later on, maybe divided into “writer’s happiness” and more general happinesses.

Now, let me tell you why you don’t want Dreamspinner to be your publisher. Even if you write the genre they seek, you’re better off on your own. Why? They can’t even bother to find you a personalized cover!

DreamspinnerCoversI’ve noticed on World of Diversity Fiction – 3 reviews of 3 books from this publisher, all with the same cover picture! 😦 Do you really think this will make you stand out in a crowd? I’ve heard of other small publishers who don’t bother hiring an editor and a book cover designer – with these kind of companies, you’re better off on your own. They won’t do anything for you that you can’t do yourself.

So yeah, it’s not easy to find the proper stock photo (that’s something that happens a lot with romance books – they seem to use always the same stock photos…) or shoot it yourself or find a cover artist or what not, but this is really worse than a cover drawn by your 8-year-old offspring, really! Have the exact same cover as someone else – how’s that for branding?! If you really don’t know where to start from, I can do your cover for 50 bucks – at least it will be original! 🙂

By the way, I’ve added some book trailers on some DriveThru titles – the Star Minds series, SKYBAND omnibus, and Happiness is… we’ll see if they really draw in sales (they didn’t on Smashwords when I uploaded the BoI book trailers, but I’ve put on the Star Minds trailer there as well, just in case…)! 🙂

Writing World’s newsletter gave a link to funny Pitch Generators – I like this one very much, and might play with it before my next upload! 😉 And in case you missed it (I sure did), Moira Allen wrote an excellent article on What is a writer? – so what’s your idea? Did you look in the mirror and ask “so… what is it going to be? Indie or Trad? And why?”? Do you want to write a lot? For fun? Again, if you hope to live off your Kindle sales, you might as well buy a lottery ticket. See also how Ruth Ann Nordin destroys some myths – done? Good, now get back to writing! 🙂

And if you really feel you need pampering and representation, or simply help, think twice – or better, research who you hire. You don’t want to end up with Idiot Lawyer, do you? If you’re one of those Shattered Authors that got their heart broken by traditional publishing, please step up. We’re here, we’re ready to help. We’ll stand behind you and will help you to resurrect your writing career. Don’t put away your dream – it’s a scary brand new world of publishing and you can conquer it and live happily ever after! 🙂 We can teach you to do it yourself, even if you don’t have a natural business sense (I sure don’t) or you can find a little help from places like Lucky Bat Books or “indie advice” on Self-published Authors.

And beware of the long tentacles of Author Solutions – David Gaughran summarizes it well in his latest post. Yes, I still use Lulu for POD, but only the free services, not the other awful “deals”. They still have the A5 format (preferred for me), which I haven’t seen on CreateSpace yet (although my first attempt was for a prose book, so the “digest” template was just fine – and identical, even if CS said the PDF wasn’t the expected size).

Anyway, I’ve spent Monday afternoon on CreateSpace – same but different from Lulu. At least 3 hours and a half of attempts to create the perfect cover and interior – the templates aren’t as good as Lulu’s, or maybe I only need to get used to a new dashboard/interface. Sigh. Anyway, I’ve ordered proof copies of Star Minds on both PODs, then I’ll decide which I like best (or maybe I’ll keep both, who knows! ;)). And since they have slightly different interiors, I’ll ask you guys which looks better to you, so be ready to vote.

I know lots of readers still read only on paper, but I doubt I can send my printed books to American bookstores from Italy, and not sure about how it could work with Italian bookstores, so it will probably just be an internet store for now. I can add the print link on most online retailers anyway… CS seems cheaper, but the mailing expenses (for expedited service) are higher. I’ll decide when I have both books in my hands and can compare paper and printing and all that stuff.

Yesterday I wrote the Amazons story, finished this post, redid the cover for CS and beta-read. Today I have the offline writers group, so I’m getting the Star Minds Snippets from Dear Beta (see Sunday’s post) and then I’ll probably ask one editor to go through the two stories I plan on submitting to the Smashwords Authors Anthology on Goodreads, to proofread and get rid of those grammar mistakes. Tomorrow more writing and reading – and then the first week off will be over…

Have a great week! 🙂

Saturday links – mostly on Borders


OK, Saturday again. Time is really flying! Eek! 😦

From the Blood-Red Pencil ladies, here’s how to pull yourself back from the cliff. Don’t jump yet, there is still hope if you follow this excellent advice! 😉

Clarion defines different kinds of readers – I guess historical fiction caters to the same audience of SF/F (according to them at least), but I’ll keep a different pen-name anyway! 😉

Discussions on POD: Lightning Source vs. CreateSpace. Robin Sullivan (pro-CS) vs. Zoe Winters (pro-LS)! Humble international me went with Lulu because it’s… international! Lightning Source had only US or UK address deliveries at the time (I see it’s become international since), CreateSpace was just starting (from the ashes of BookSurge, if I remember correctly the former POD by Amazon) when I decided to go POD. Hence Lulu seemed the best alternative. Their support team is more efficient than Smashwords even with all those neat little forms even foreign citizens must fill for the IRS, and if I should recommend a POD, it would definitely be Lulu. Also, what I love about Lulu, is the cost calculator that allows you to have an idea of how much your printed book would cost… 😉

One more great post from Zoe Winters about this indie publishing second gold rush. Like she says:  “My goal is to BECOME the best and the brightest, not the person standing on the right street corner at the right time. The latter isn’t repeatable”.

And finally, what is on everybody’s mouth – Borders filing for bankruptcy. As Dean Wesley Smith puts it – “Basically, we’re screwed.” And here are David Farland’s wise words on the topic, his newsletter posted in full.

David Farland’s Daily Kick in the Pants—Changing TimesAs I’ve been forecasting since last April, we’ve seen some huge changes in the publishing industry this year. 

In the latest news, Borders has filed for bankruptcy here in the United States. Borders of course is the second largest bookstore chain in the United States, but they failed miserably at keeping touch with the changing times. The mistake? They didn’t respond to the online threat from Amazon.com, and they didn’t put together a program to sell electronic books.

As a result, in the fourth quarter of last year, the busiest season for bookstores, Borders group saw sales drop by a whopping 18 percent. So they’re filing for bankruptcy and will be selling about 200-250 stores. Since Borders stores are built, usually, near a Barnes and Noble, one must assume that customers will migrate to the competition.

Meanwhile, Borders doesn’t seem to have a viable plan to stay in business. Instead, some goofball decided to help wannabe authors self-publish their books electronically through a program called BookBrewer. Stay away from Borders’ stock, and stay away from their self-publishing model. Both are poison, in my opinion, and I’m not the only one to think that dealing with them is gonzo.

Borders has a plan to restructure which will pay only about 20 cents on the dollar to its debtors. This is going to hurt a lot of publishers and distributors—to the point that Ingrams, the nation’s largest book distribution company, has ceased providing them with books.

Meanwhile, we’re seeing similar news around the world. A day after Borders announced that it would go into bankruptcy, a major bookstore chain in Australia announced that they were going bankrupt, too. Last week in Canada, a bookstore chain tied to a major distribution company announced that both were filing for bankruptcy, while we see the same happening in England with one of their major chains on its way out.

In short, we’re seeing the dinosaurs all die off. Those businessmen who haven’t adjusted to the way that books are being sold will soon be gone. Whether they’re small private bookstores, major chains, book distribution companies, or publishers, those who don’t adjust will die.

Meanwhile, many publishers are actually showing higher profits right now. With electronic book sales up by 118% for the last year, publishers that take a chunk of electronic rights are actually seeing higher revenues with less in costs, thus increasing their profit margins. So the publishers are healthy. Barnes and Noble is feeling giddy over its sales of e-readers and the accompanying surge in electronic sales. Simon and Schuster, along with a number of other publishers, are seeing a big rise in profitability.

But this leads to a new problem for authors. Those same publishers are finding that the hardcover book market for bestsellers is shrinking. Many of the most active readers, the people who read ten or twenty novels per year, are now reading them on Kindles or iPads. As a result, some authors who were selling three hundred thousand copies in hardcover are finding that more than half of their sales are now made electronically—and that under current contracts, the publishers actually get to keep a larger percent of the author’s income. Thus, an author who might have made a million dollars on a novel last year is finding that he’s losing a couple hundred thousand dollars of that money to the publishers this year.

So now we’re coming to the next big battle. How much of the money on a new release should go to the author? I think that we’ll see some heavy contention—with agents and writers groups lining up to battle the publishers this coming year.

The real battle, perhaps, might re-shape the industry. The argument should be whether “electronic publishing” is really “publishing” at all. Under old-fashioned copyright law, when a publisher buys the right to publish a novel, he’s buying the right to make a physical copy and distribute it.

But with electronic publishing, there is no physical book being created and shipped. The book exists only as an electronic file, in the same way that music files are being downloaded and sold. So the question arises: is the selling of electronic copies in violation with the intent of the copyright law?

At least one judge has ruled that “electronic publishing” should be handled as “electronic licensing.” There is a huge distinction here as far as the author is concerned.

For example, a publisher in today’s world can publish your book, and then hold onto it indefinitely by claiming that he’s still publishing it electronically a hundred years from now, even though he has no other interest in it. The rights to the property would never revert, and the old contracts that are in the books in some cases give very little of the money from those sales to the authors. It creates a perpetual windfall for the publishers, and makes the writer wish that he’d never published the books in the first place.

So authors under the current system basically handle control of their work over to publishers for eternity. Savvy authors don’t want to do that, and if you understand that we see the emergence of a major new market over the next few years, where the control of electronic rights are all-important, it makes you as an author wonder if publishing a book right now is ultimately a mistake. In the long run, an author might make far more by self-publishing his works electronically.

A year ago I would have told you that you should stick with the traditional publishing route. Right now, as we move into a new age, I’m still going to tell you to stick with the traditional route. But here’s the thing: self-publishing electronically looks like a better alternative every day, even to someone like me who is a New York Times bestseller.

So when do you give up on the old system? So much depends upon you as an author. I’m an old guy in my fifties. For me, the old system still makes a lot of sense. But if I were eighteen or twenty, and I was looking at giving up thirty percent of my income on a book for life, just to have it published by some sloppy New York Publishing company that probably wouldn’t do anything to push my books anyway, I’d be giving New York the evil eye right about now.

Think about it: is an extra $20,000 in your pocket right now worth a loss of 30% in income on the sales of your book for the next fifty years? That’s the gamble you’re taking on publishing, and increasingly new authors are saying “No. I’m not getting enough of a push from existing publishers to make up for the long-term losses.” They may be right.

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sidebar and links


I think I’ll have to stick to this theme, as the old one didn’t allow certain things. You might have noticed I added my Facebook badge – the previous theme hadn’t allowed me, because the widget was only for text and not HTML. It was probably an “old” theme with less Apps or whatever.

I also joined my very first web-ring. I saw it on Mickey‘s side-bar, and decided to join too. I saw there are many other web-rings for writers, but as I haven’t really figured out what this is for yet, I’ll just leave it there for the moment. Might be something to do for the next year. I know what a web-ring is, but I don’t know how it can help the blogs or sites on it. You never stop learning, so I have something new for the new year! 😉

Also, I opened a shop on Zazzle. I have made some specific Happiness is… cards and am considering making also a calendar. Would anybody be interested? Help me choose the size and the 12 vignettes? Also, as I put myself in those Happiness is…, I’m aware it’s good for girls/women, but boys/men are probably not interested… so I could do (specifically for the cards) also a male face, and maybe a couple for Valentine Day. What do you think? (the male face will be my Muse, of course, as I’m used to drawing him! ;-))

New year will probably see me open also an Author’s page on Smashwords and Amazon – I haven’t decided yet about the printed version, Lulu again or Create Space? The e-book will certainly be first, both on Smashwords and Kindle. I’m thinking around April, giving time to my editor and my illustrator to work for me.

In the meantime please check Kristan Hoffman’s “special offer“. She’s not giving her e-book for free, but

for the month of December, I’m going to donate all proceeds from my online sales to the It Gets Better Project. That means 100% of the money that would normally go to me? Will go to suicide prevention services and anti-bullying efforts instead.

So hop off to Smashwords or Amazon. I downloaded it from Smashwords (because I already have an account there, and don’t own a Kindle) and hope to read it soon. The offer is valid only until the end of the year – and we can all join in a “review ring” of her work in January! 😀

Speaking of Smashwords authors, please check the interview with Brian S.Pratt – my new hero, so to speak. He wrote what he wanted to read (as I do), put it bravely out there (as I will do next year, if I don’t, you can bash me on the head) and is now earning decently from indy publishing.

Speaking of independent authors, J.A.Konrath mentions Amanda Hockey and speaks of the best seller shift. I think it’s a good time to be an indy author today. Just remember to kill the sacred cow of publishing “You have made it when” with the help of Dean Wesley Smith. And remember no matter how you decide to get published, it’s hard work. And you have to keep writing and writing and not quit after the first book. And it will never be easy, for anyone.

Blood-red Pencil mentions the 6 questions NOT to ask a writer (which, with blog serendipity, goes well with Melissa’s post as 7th question). And Self-published Autho’rs lounge has a new contributor who considers herself an Historian before a writer (which goes well with me considering myself a storyteller, self-taught in writing). Check her Being and Historian and POV post which goes very well with a David Farland’s Daily Kick that compares Graham Greene and Tolkien’s way of writing – or narrative voice. Could be a whole post of its own, though… so here I’m going to copy and paste it, as it also announce a conference call with… you read on.

Daily Kick – Narrative Voice Dec.12.2010

Next Conference Call with Kevin J. Anderson and Wife Rebecca Moesta

They will be talking to us on December 14th, about collaborating on a novel or story. The conference call will be at 9:00 PM, Eastern Standard Time. Call 1-218-862-7200. When the system picks up, enter the code 245657. There will probably be a Q & A after the call.

Then, only two days later, we will talk to The Six: a Utah writer’s group that boasts three published authors. Be sure to tune in to both calls.

Please help us publicize these event by sharing it on your facebook and Twitter pages, as well as your blog and any forums you visit or writing groups to which you belong. Go the extra mile and post it at bookstores, libraries, etc. We appreciate any way you will help us spread the word. Thank you.

David Farland’s Daily Kick in the Pants—Narrative Voice

So today I got a question from Bryan Steifel , a rather long one, but pardon me if I edit it down to the following: “Tolkien often would tell you about a character’s traits, rather than show you. Now, I own a book by Gene Wolfe where he gives writing advice, and he says that nothing separates a novice writer from a pro more obviously than when an author tells you about things rather than shows you. I’ve always been told to “show.”

“However, this is Tolkien we’re talking about. As far as I’m concerned, he wrote the book on western epic/fantasy.

“He did really cool things like… One of my favorite stories (possibly favorite) is in the Book of Lost Tales. The whole tale of Turin Turumbar is written with a strong narrator’s voice in the third person, yet the character has many vocal lines and thoughts. The character’s thoughts however are more the narrator than the inner thoughts of the character, as if we are inside his head. Example: “And Jarrod slew him with his knife, but he felt dismayed, and a shadow crept near his heart and he feared that he was becoming a slayer of men. But the strife he felt now would not equal that bitter sorrow his heart would know only at the journey’s end.”

“Is it all right in today’s world to make references to the future or past to the audience like Tolkien did without the character’s knowing it?

“It gave the story an epic feel, as if very removed from the story in a sort of mythical way by narrating the emotions and thoughts/feelings a character has or will have often before the character experiences them. I suppose that the narrator’s voice is stronger or sort of “comes into” the story for a moment to give us a “better look” at the situation.”

Long question, and it deserves a long answer, particularly since you have to get into the minds of two great writers in order to come to grips with this.

Now, Gene Wolfe is one of the great writers of the twentieth century. His novelette “The Fifth Head of Cerberus” is perhaps my favorite novelette of all time, and I could go on about many other fine works that he’s written that are underappreciated, but let me say this: Gene Wolfe is a master at creating a vivid illusion of a world and of characters. He inserts the reader into his fictive universes beautifully, so well that you as a reader actually feel that you are transported into them. That’s his goal as a writer, and if you can pull off this trick, then you will do well.

On the other hand, and I’m going to paraphrase some thoughts here, Tolkien often spoke of the importance of a writer trying to dislodge a reader from the here and now, of using techniques to help him enter into your dream world. In particular, Tolkien suggests that you should fracture the timeline of your story—tell us what is happening now, but also give us related tales from the past and hints about the future—in order to create a dreamlike feel. The easiest way to do this, of course is through the use of narrative voice, by giving us a strong narrator who tells a story.

This strong narrator may remain unnamed, or you can tell us who it is. It’s a tradition that goes back for centuries, of course. If you look at Homer, we see tales being told in oral tradition thousands of years ago.

If you’re an oral storyteller sitting around a fire, telling tales to children, you’re very much present. Your talent for storytelling may depend upon dozens of factors—you’re ability to mimic voices, your use of facial and hand expressions, your ability to act out parts, and so on.

So a narrator who is present while telling a story will often use a variety of devices that we don’t quite use the same way when we’re writing. For example, the narrator might give deep penetration into a character’s thoughts in one sentence, then hint at the character’s tragic ending in the next (in order to provide a hook), and so on.

Your question is, can it still be done? Sure, authors do it all of the time. In THE PRINCESS BRIDE, by William Goldman, a grandfather reads a story to his grandson, providing commentary on what will happen, sometimes repeating just what has happened, and so on. In Orson Scott Card’s TALES OF ALVIN MAKER, we have a character named Taleswapper who narrates the action. In Patrick Rothfuss’s NAME OF THE WIND, we have Kvothe, a trained storyteller, relating his own history.

Now, you will note that for each of the authors above, the narrator’s voice typically frames the story. The narrator is introduced early, tells you that this is an important tale, makes hints as to the outcome, and then disappears until the end.

But Tolkien liked to insinuate the narrator more deeply into the story, as if he were relating epic tales around a campfire. I believe that he would have told you that, once again, his use of narrative voice was necessary in order to help induce readers into his fictive universe.

The real question that you should be asking is, Which technique works best? Was Tolkien right in his assessment, or is Gene Wolfe right.

The answer, I suspect, is the difference between vanilla and chocolate. Both approaches can work in the hands of a master storyteller. Having a narrator allows you to fracture the timeline of your story, and fracture the point of view, so that you can gently lead a reader into your tale. It allows you to interrupt the internal dialogs, make commentary on the tale, and so on.

For some readers, this may be helpful. But I want you to think about something. When Tolkien was born in 1892, we didn’t have television. During the early part of his life, he didn’t even get to listen to stories on the radio. In other words, he was trained to receive stories differently from how we do now. Children would sit on their mother’s laps and have stories told to them. Nowadays, a toddler will be plopped onto a sofa while mom plays a DVD.

Because of the modern approach, I don’t believe that children today need as much coaxing into a story as they did in Tolkien’s time. We’ve been trained to jump into a fictive universe on a whim, but in Tolkien’s day, people were much more locked into their own private version of reality.

So Tolkien comes from an era where stories were narrated, and the narrative act itself has tremendous resonance. For me, this resonance is a very powerful thing. I can still remember the days when I sat in my mother’s lap while she told me about “Jack and the Beanstalk.” I remember the smell of her perfume, and how I leaned into her for comfort as the terrible giant chased Jack through the clouds. I felt safe having a narrator. I felt loved.

That’s what Tolkien was after—the subconscious resonance that comes from having a great storyteller. That’s also what Goldman, Card, and Rothfuss are offering in part, but a great narrator can also offer some other benefits. He or she can also offer commentary on the tale, tear it apart, examine it not as a series of events, but as a tale in and of itself. A strong narrator can adopt a beautiful poetic voice that would seem . . . overly ornate for a common storyteller, or perhaps the narrator’s voice might seem familiar and colloquial. A strong narrator can make deprecating comments about a hero, laugh with us, and so on.

Still, it’s a hit-and-miss kind of thing. Obviously, I love Tolkien, but for me, his use of narrative voice in many of his works didn’t work well for me. THE SILMARILLION felt slight and under-developed. Sure, it had a lot of great moments, but it didn’t get into my subconscious and make me feel as if I’d LIVED through the story. On the other hand, Gene Wolfe did make me feel it in a number of his works.

Given all this, I think that you need to look at the “strong narrative voice” not as something that you must have or must not have, but as something that you might use as a storytelling tool, just one of dozens of devices in your arsenal.

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I’m setting up a new writing workshop on How to Rewrite Your Novel. If you’ve got a book that you think has great potential—either to make a first sale or to go to auction—this workshop is designed to help you get it ready. In the workshop, not only will we critique the novel, we’ll teach you several editing techniques to help improve all of your work. For more information, go to http://www.davidfarland.com and select “Writing Workshops.”

For the first half of next year, we have the following workshops:

Superstars of Writing—Jan 13-15, Salt Lake City, Utah (with Brandon Sanderson, Kevin J. Anderson, Rebecca Moesta, and Eric Flint). Focuses on the business aspects of writing. For more information, go to http://www.superstarswritingseminars.com/.

Million Dollar Outlines—March 7-12, Saint George, Utah. Focuses on outlining your novel in a way that will help maximize your audience.

Write that Novel—April 8-9, Ramada, Salt Lake City, Utah. An introduction to the writing craft for anyone who is interested in writing as a career.

Novel Editing Workshop—April 18-22, Saint George, Utah. A workshop for those who wish to learn better how to edit their novel to greatness.

Professional Writer’s Workshop—June 6-10, Saint George, Utah. A workshop that focuses strongly on how to write and sell a breakout novel.

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