Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Writing Wednesdays: Strong Prose

So I got a really awesome question through Facebook (follow me! It's cool!) about prose, and since this is a subject I don't believe I've ever touched on here at Pretentious Title, I thought it would make a great Writing Wednesday!

Here's the question in question:

Tom Shreeve asks,
"Hi Rachel, I've been enjoying your blog for a while. What are your tips on writing strong prose? As much as I plan the content of what I'm writing on a scene by scene basis (plot, exposition, character, flavour etc) when it comes to the actual writing - at a paragraph level - I wing it, hoping everything I want to happen in the scene just happens intuitively.

At a granular, nuts and bolts level, do your paragraphs follow a particular structure? Do you break down scenes into smaller pieces? How reductive do you go? 

And how often do you find yourself rereading what you just wrote to make sure the next bit follows naturally? I do that way too often!"
I love getting questions like this because, quite frankly, I'd never really thought about this aspect of writing in quite this way before I read your question. But I've thought about it a good bit since, and I think I have an answer. Or, at least, my version of an answer.

(And Tom, I hope you don't mind that I'm answering you on the blog!)

Onward!

Writing Wednesdays: Strong Prose


I've never considered myself to be a lyrical writer. This isn't to say I think my prose is weak, but I freely admit there are authors and poets who can evoke more emotion in four sentences than I manage over an entire novel. I mean, just read this:


That is beautiful. That is writing that makes me want to write books. It's also a sort of writing that, to my eternal despair, I've never managed to create myself.

I've long since made peace with the fact that I will never join Margaret Atwood or Ursula LeGuin or any of the other great writers who elevate words to eternal artforms. But while it makes me sad to know there's something I love but can't do (I feel the same way about drawing, which I love but utterly suck at), I don't consider my inability to write deathless prose a failing.

Being able to turn a good phrase is an inescapable element of writing, but there are more paths to being a good author than just creating beautiful prose. Every writer brings their own strengths to their stories. Some are great plotters, others write amazing tension, some create characters we'd gladly read doing anything, some are just flat out hilarious, and some write beautifully, but no writer is fantastic at every single element of storytelling. We all have our "areas of growth," and part of being a mature, professional artist is understanding where our weaknesses lie and coming up with our own ways to address them.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Let's Talk (Someone Else's) Numbers! Is $500,000 the New Midlist?

Guys, this is going to be a crazy huge and awesome post. But first and quickly, some old business:
  1. Nice Dragons Finish Last was the Audible Daily Deal last Saturday, and I hit #1 on all of Audible! I even out sold The Martian for, like, 5 hours, and it's all thanks to you guys. Thank you SO MUCH for being my readers/listeners! The sequel, One Good Dragon Deserves Another comes out in audio in October and is up for pre-order now. (Spoiler: I talked with the NDFL voice-actor Vikas Adam on the phone this weekend about all the voices and it's going to be awesome!) 

  2. I wrote a guest post for Fantasy Book Critic about Julius and the entire point of writing a Nice Dragon! I talk a lot about the inner workings of the books, so if you're a fan of my Heartstriker series, you definitely don't want to miss out. Go read it!
Okay, announcements over. Let's get on with the show!

Let's Talk (Someone Else's) Numbers! Is $500,000 the New Mid-list?


Forgive the click-baity title. I tried really hard to think of something less sensationalistic, but I'm going to talk about today actually is pretty sensational, so I decided to go for broke!

So as someone who's in the book business up to her neck these days, I'm a semi-regular on KBoards, an old school message board for self-publishing writers to talk shop and share numbers on promotions and so forth. This last part is really why I go there. One of the things I've always loved about the indie community is how open its authors are to sharing their numbers--bad, good, and amazing--for the benefit of everyone. 

This last week, though, an author posted a detailed thread about her monthly earnings over the last three years that blew my mind called "How I Made $500,000.00 Self-Publishing Romance eBooks."

I'll admit, I was skeptical. I've seen a lot of "How I Made $X Self-Publishing!" threads that were nothing but pyramid scams using farmed-out writers from overseas to produce mountains of schlock. When I actually read the post, though, I didn't find a scam or even a new trick. I found a classic success story of an author who wrote what she loved and made smart business choices while thoroughly documenting her experiences so she and others in the community could learn from them.

That, my friends, is impressive, as were her numbers! So, naturally, I sent her a frantic message asking if she'd let me interview her about her success and how she achieved it on my blog, and she agreed! Before we get to the questions, though, here is her original numbers post in all its glory, (reposted from Kboards with her permission).

(Note: The author of these numbers has requested to remain anonymous since posting success is a fast way to get a lot of negative reviews. This is a very real and sad phenomenon in the Indie world, and it needs to stop. Authors posting numbers is for ALL our benefit, and the fact that so many feel they share their sales under their real names without bringing down the ire of the hater brigade is sad and shameful. We are better than this.

For now, though, it is how it is, so until this problem is fixed, I will respect the author's request and refer to her through this post by her KBoards handle "Sela.")

So, without further ado, here's Sela!

How I Made $500,000.00 Self-Publishing Romance eBooks


In the spirit of Annie B's post showing us the tale of two approaches to writing, I thought I'd share my story. I will likely pass the $500,000.00 in career income next month, unless Amazon implodes or an asteroid strikes. ;) (And I'm not really a big seller or big name author in my genre)

Here's my chart, chronicling my income from the start of my self publishing career in June 2012 (data for 2012 and 2013 are combined in the first row, with December 2013 average for comparison, because I didn't start keeping monthly income records until 2014):

(Click to enlarge)
How I did it:


Saturday, August 29, 2015

NDFL is today's Audible Daily Deal!!

You know you want to hear Bob in all his glory!
Until midnight tonight, you can get the (incredibly well done) audio edition of NICE DRAGONS FINISH LAST for a mere $3.95! At 13+ hours of audio, that's less than half a penny per minute. Can't beat that!

So if you haven't given the audio edition a try, go check it out. I love it, and I think you will, too!

Thanks, and I'll be back with a real blog post next week!


Rachel

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Writing Wednesdays: The Turtle Method for Faster, Better, More Fun Writing

I talk a lot about writing efficiency on this blog. Writing fast is kinda my thing. I'm always looking for ways to speed up, write more, and write better because more books = more awesome.

But while I'm always tweaking my fast writing method to be better, more efficient, and more suited to my needs as I progress as an author, there's another aspect to my writing efficiency boosts that I haven't actually talked about on the blog yet. This oversight wasn't intentional. I just never really thought about it until my husband joked about how I liked to "turtle" in my chair while I wrote, snapping at anyone who came near.

Once I got over the fact that he was telling me this while I was writing (grrrrrrrrr), I thought it was pretty funny. The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that what I'd been instinctively doing for years (hunkering down in my chair and disappearing into my writing) actually played a huge role in how much I wrote in a day.

It was like I'd stumbled across an entirely new variable in the fast writing problem! So, like any good min-maxer, I decided to push the idea to its limits, and the results were even better than I'd hoped.

Writing Wednesdays: The Turtle Method for Faster, Better, More Fun Writing


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Writing Wednesdays: What to Do When You Hate Your Book

Today's Writing Wednesday isn't technically a craft post, but it is something I think every writer struggles with at some point in their career. Before we dive into the heavy stuff, though, I'd like to show you this interview I did with Mihir of Fantasy Book Critic!

Mihir is one of my favorite people to do interviews with because he always asks the BEST questions, and this time was no different. He got some super big Heartstriker secrets out of me! So if you're a fan of Nice Dragons, you'll definitely want to check it out.

Now, on with the show!

Writing Wednesdays: What to Do When You Hate Your Book

Writer Circle of Woe from the amazing Ilona Andrews!! She is awesomesauce! Read everything she writes!


Ever since I published my fast writing book 2k to 10k back in 2012, I've gotten a steady stream of mail through my contact page from authors asking for help with their books. 

I really love getting these kind of emails. First, it just feels good to help my fellow writers (author power!), and second, it gives me a great insight into the kind of problems writers who aren't me are struggling with. 

Over three years and thousands of emails, though, certain patterns have begin to emerge. Every writer approaches writing differently, but get enough of us together and you start to see certain commonalities. The same questions show up in my inbox over and over, showing that, for writers who email me at least, certain elements of fiction appear to be inherently more troublesome than others.

Answering these common questions was a big part of why I started doing this Writing Wednesday feature. I figured that for every writer who was emailing me to ask this stuff, there were thousands more out there struggling with the same problems alone, and that makes me sad. Writing is a solitary art, but that doesn't mean we all have reinvent the wheel independently. 

If I've solved a problem which I later find out is something many writers struggle with, then I'm going to share my solution. Not because I think everyone should do things my way--again, everyone writes differently, and what works great for me might make no sense at all to you--but because I already did the work. The solution is already there, and if my knowledge can save someone else even a fraction of the blood, sweat, and tears that comes from an unhappy stint in the wordmines, then it's my duty as a writer and a member of the writing community to share what I know. 

Even if it wasn't, even if I felt no obligation at all, I'd still share anything I discovered, because I think writing a book is one of the best experiences a human can have. I want everyone to feel the joy of being a god in their own story, and I'd prefer if they could do so without getting dragged down by problems I've already gone through the trouble of working through. Share the knowledge, share the love!

But as glorious and joyful as I know writing can be, it isn't always so nice. Answering craft questions is easy and fun, but the number one email I get in my box isn't about plot or characters or story structure. It's a simple cry for help from authors at the end of their rope.

"I hate my book. What do I do?"  

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Let's Talk Numbers: It's official! If you write novels, the new KU is AWESOME!



Apparently it's number numbers niz-umbers week here at Pretentious Title!! Yesterday we took a look at the top of the world by going over NY bestseller John Scalzi's numbers, and today (thanks to the Amazon announcement) we're back with a report on my own numbers for Amazon's "Netflix for books" reading service, Kindle Unlimited!

As you might remember, two months ago Amazon announced that, to try and stop the rampant abuse going on in the KU system, it was changing the way it paid authors whose books were borrowed as part of the Kindle Unlimited program. I actually did an entire post on the changes, Amazon's reasoning, and what it could all mean for us authors back when it was first announced in June.

But while it was clear Amazon would now be paying per page read instead of a flat rate per borrow for KU titles, due to Kindle Unlimited's "you don't know what you're getting paid until we pay you" system, no one actually knew what the payment per page would be until Amazon announced it on August 15, which is today!!

So how's the money in the new KU?


Pretty damn good.


Friday, August 14, 2015

Let's Talk (John Scalzi's) Numbers! The State of the Genre Title 2015

Travis here with another business post! (Warning, tables and spreadsheets ahoy!)

The other day, best selling SF author John Scalzi posted an article called "The State of the Genre Title in 2015" in which he revealed some fascinating sales data for his latest release, Lock In.

The fact that this got posted at all is extraordinary. You almost never see traditionally published authors posting real sales numbers of any sort, especially not a big bestseller like Scalzi. He's giving us a rare glimpse of what the top of the trad/NY world looks like here, and for that reason alone you should definitely check the post out.

But fascinating as all the numbers are, Scalzi uses them to draw some conclusions about modern book selling that we, with all respect to John Scalzi, don't think are correct for the majority of authors. Specifically, when he's talking about the percent of his sales that came from hardcover and audio, he says:
"This continues to be my major concern with digital-only self-publishing, incidentally: there’s money being left on the table if you can’t address all these sales channels. Most self-publishers (or micro publishers) don’t have access to bookstores, nearly all of which continue to operate on a “returns” basis. This is not about the ability to create a physical copy of a book; at this point that can easily be done with print-on-demand options. It’s about having the book already on the shelves, attractively packaged and ready to buy, when the customer walks into the store. If you don’t have that, you’ve largely lost out in that sales avenue. Likewise audio if you’re not there."  
(emphasis mine)
What Scalzi is essentially saying here is that, by not having their book in bookstores, the self-published author is leaving money on the table. But I professionally think that he has left a lot more money on the table by signing with a NY publishing house, and that's what I'd like to talk about today.

Let's Talk (John Scalzi's) Numbers: Which Table is More Money Being Left On?


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Writing Wednesdays: How To Plot A Series Without Driving Yourself Insane (Part 3)

First up, thank you all for your patience with my impromptu vacation last week (it's not my fault! My husband kidnapped me and dragged me to the mountains!).

Also, thank you everyone for making the launch of One Good Dragon Deserves Another such a huge success!! It's already got 67 reviews on Amazon with a 4.7 star rating and 329 ratings on Goodreads with a 4.46 in twelve days. That is insane, and I owe it all to you wonderful people!! Thank you all so so soooooo much for reading and reviewing!! (And if you haven't read my dragon books, why not? Go try them now!)

On to business. Today we're finishing up our craft series on How to Plot a Series Without Driving Yourself Insane (see Part 1 about actual plotting steps here and Part 2 on how to craft a great and effective meta plot here) with probably the most important part of any sequential writing: internal consistency!

Writing Wednesdays: How To Plot A Series Without Driving Yourself Insane (Part 3) - Harnessing Internal Consistency to Create Flexible, Tightly-Woven Stories



When authors talk about "internal consistency," they're usually talking about details--keeping the characters' eye color and height consistent across multiple books, or not saying a plant is poisonous in book one only to have the characters eat a salad made out of it in book five. This kind of internal consistency is very important, but it's not actually what I'm talking about here. When I talk about using internal consistency in plotting, I'm talking about creating an internally consistent and persistent world.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Knife Test (or, What ONE PIECE Taught Me About Writing)

Years and years ago (five to be exact), I did a two part blog series on the sadly defunct author group blog The Magic District called "The Author Toolbox." These two posts contain some of my most fundamental writing beliefs, and while one, The Three Hooks got its own repost on this blog and a mention in 2k to 10k, the Knife Test got sadly left behind.

This must be remedied. For 12 novels now, the Knife Test has been a fundamental part of every character I've written. It's the first and last test for every character arc I create, and it's also a ton of fun to do. So, without further ado, I give you the (freshly updated!) Knife Test, my ultimate trial for any character who wants a place in my books.

The Knife Test



The Knife Test is something I put to all my characters. Nerd that I am, the idea comes from an anime called One Piece, which is just about the greatest show ever. If you can get past its cartoony nature and corny humor, there is an amazing story there. (And if you read my Eli Monpress books, you'll probably recognize a lot of themes. What can I say? Steal from the best!!)

In the show, there’s a character named Zoro whose dream is to be the greatest swordsman in the world. Around the end of season one, he comes across the actual greatest swordsman in the world, a man named Mihawk. Now, Zoro KNOWS he is too short for this ride, but he also knows that he might never get this chance again, so he challenges Mihawk to a duel. (Because, of course, the only way to be the greatest swordsman in the world is to beat the guy who’s already at the top.)

Mihawk refuses. He knows Zoro is way below him in skill. Dueling him would be a waste of everyone's time and most likely Zoro's life. When he sees how determined Zoro is, though, he agrees to fight him, but only with a small dagger.

Zoro is insulted. He has three swords, how you fight that with just a tiny dagger? Mihawk counters that the dagger is all he needs. Seeing that he's not going to get his duel any other way, Zoro reluctantly agrees and the fight begins. Zoro (who has been undefeated in the series up to this point) goes all out, but is still defeated in one stroke. The fight ends with Mihawk holding his tiny dagger lodged in Zoro’s chest. 

But even with a dagger in his chest, Zoro doesn't retreat. He just stands there, staring at his opponent. Confused, Mihawk says, “This dagger is an inch from your heart. Why don’t you step back? Do you want to die?”

Zoro looks him straight in the eye and says, “If I were to take even one step back, I’d never be able to stand before you again.”

“Yes," Mihawk says. "It’s called losing.”

And Zoro answers, “That’s why I can’t step back.”


Still probably my favorite fight of all time.

And that, that right there, is the knife test. When the knife is scraping your heart, what do you do? Do you play it safe, step back, and live? Or do you refuse to give up on your goals? Do you keep moving forward, even knowing you'll probably die? 

This is the ultimate test of conviction. All of my main characters have to pass it, and I have to understand (and more importantly, make the reader understand) why. I put my characters through this test in the initial world building stages, and then again over and over throughout the novel. It's the epitome of show versus tell. It’s not enough for Miranda to say she is dutiful. She has to prove over and over again in a dozen different ways that she will put herself on the line for her duty. She has to face that dagger every time, over and over, and never turn away.

I admire conviction in all people (who doesn't?), but I think it's especially important for characters, both the ones I write and the ones I look for in my pleasure reading. The Knife Test gives me a vehicle to show off that conviction. I don’t just say “Character X cares about Y more than his life”,  I make her prove it again and again. (Though, of course, I try not to actually kill the character, because then the story would be over!) 

Really, though, the mortality aspect of the test is immaterial. We all know the hero most likely isn’t going to actually die, but we love seeing how close he or she cuts it, and, even better, how on earth they’re ever going to get out of this mess. The Knife Test is just a tool for creating circumstances that test a character's mettle, a mental construct to help me wrap my brain around the tension and conflict needed for great character development. It's my way of asking "What does this character really stand for? What would they die for?" Because once you know what circumstance or person your character would walk into a knife for without regret, then you know that person inside and out. Once I've got that, all I have to do is put that character into my story and get out of their way.

Every writer has their own tricks, and this is one of my favorites. I hope you find it useful, or at least interesting. Thank you as always for reading, and I'll be back tomorrow with a brand new Writing Wednesday!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Writing Wednesday: VACATION!

First up: OMG WHAT A GREAT LAUNCH!


awww yeaaaaaaaah
The launch of One Good Dragon Deserves Another is officially the best I've ever had! I actually got all the way to #112 in the Kindle Store, but I don't have a screen shot of that one :(. Still, this is higher than I've ever gotten on a launch day, and I owe it all to YOU! Thank you SO MUCH to everyone who bought the book!! You guys make all of this possible, and I really can't thank you enough!

And speaking of launch, the run up to this one has been crazy! Now, though, everything is finished and my kiddo is with his grandparents this week, so the powers that be here at Casa de Aaron/Bach have decreed that I need to take some time off. (AKA: Husband prying my fingers off my laptop and carting me away for fresh air and sunshine in the mountains).

Alas, this means there will be no new Writing Wednesday post this week, but that doesn't mean there's nothing to read! I've been doing this writing thing for a long time now, and I have years of content saved up just for your reading pleasure. I also sometimes write posts for other people that might have slipped under the radar.

So, to help tide you over until next week, here's a list of Rachel writing/authorship/ruminations on the genre posts that you won't find my blog:

5 Rachel Guest Posts You Won't Find on Pretentious Title


Guest Post for Magical Words - Loving Your Novel: a post about falling in love with your book again, even when you're mad at it.

IndieReCon Post - Words are Cheap: My original follow-up post from 2k to 10k about how writing faster completely changed my outlook on the creative process.

Guest Post for The Book Smugglers' SFF in Conversation Series - Upsetting the Default: I don my Rachel Bach SF hat and talk about writing a badass lady in a genre where "badass" is usually male.

Orbit Books Post - Elizabeth Moon interviews Rachel Aaron: Probably the coolest thing I have ever done! My publisher, Orbit Books, arranged for me to do an interview swap with my hero and SFF legend, Elizabeth Moon! (My half where I interview her is here. I am still squeeing!)

Guest Post for Kalayna Price - The New Golden Age: My awesome friend (and awesome writer) Kalayna Price invited me to talk on her blog. I respond with a post about how we're living in a golden age of genre!

Hopefully there's something you haven't read in that list! Thank you all again for stopping by, and I'll be back next week rested and refreshed and ready to talk the final parts of plotting a series!

Until then, keep writing (and reading!)

Yours,
Rachel