Price and Profit

So I learned something rather embarrassing a week ago.

Since the release of Colony, one of the more common questions I’ve received from fans about it has been “How should I purchase your book in order to make sure you get the largest cut of money?” Which is actually a pretty valid—and thoughtfully appreciated—question. This question comes from a reader who isn’t just concerned that they read a book, but that the author of said book is able to support themselves to the next one. Some of you may be scratching your heads even so, though, thinking to yourselves “Wait, I thought it was just an ebook?” Well it is, but there are two ways you can acquire it.

The first is to simply impart money to Amazon.com ($7.99 in this case, unless there’s a sale going) for a digital, DRM-Free copy of Colony. And for many readers, that’s what they do. However, I’m also a fan of putting my books up on Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited Program, which is kind of like a Netflix for books, and that means that it’s also available to those paying for the KU program to read whenever they want. Now, KU pays authors, but the question from these readers is “Which way pays you more?”

And it turns out, in giving my answer, I screwed up.

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Being a Better Reader: Leaving a Good Review

I’m going to file this one under Being a Better Writer, but as most of you can tell from the title, I consider it more in line with the act of being a good reader than a writer. Though I suppose as a reviewer, you’re going to leave a written review … but by the terminology of what I usually refer to when I say “writing” it is a little different.

Nevertheless, this topic has been one that’s been requested of me not just before, but on multiple occasions, so it’s about time that I got to it on the list of future topics (which, yes, is an actual list that sits on my desk, I’m up to note-paper #8 now). Plus, this topic has the added bonus of coming at a fortunes time: Right on the heels of the release of Colony! Which, having been out for exactly ten days starting today, is just moving into the realm where many of you who acquired it first thing have recently finished it and are now wondering what to do with yourselves now that it’s done. Well, let this post be your not-so-subtle guide.

So, leaving a review. Scratch that, leaving a good review.

We’ll tackle the basics first: What’s the point of leaving a review? Why do so many authors (myself included) stress them as often as possible? Why do so many institutions? Crud, turn to the back of any Kindle ebook, and the last “page” of every book, no matter where it came from, is a reminder page that invites the reader to, now that they’ve finished said book, tweet about it, share it, or leave a review for it on Amazon.com.

Now, the cynical among you might think “Well of course they want you to leave a review on Amazon. After all, they own the site.”

Sure. That’s entirely true. But at the same time, by admitting such, you’re also admitting that there must be a reason to it. Amazon wouldn’t bother doing it if there wasn’t a net gain for them in the process, would they?

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Being a Better Writer: Playing Out Your Puzzle Pieces

Welcome back, readers, to a Monday post that’s actually on a Monday! BaBW is back to its proper day once more! So, to commemorate the occasion, what’s today’s writing topic?

Puzzle pieces.

I can see the curious, questioning looks even from here in the past, so let me explain a little further.

One of the questions I get asked from readers—especially those who are about to make the transition to new writers—is how I’m able to fill my books with such complicated plots and keep everything moving at a steady pace at the same time.

This is a legitimate question. I want to stress that up front. As a new writer, nothing is more daunting than looking at someone else’s book with all it’s intersecting plot threads and carefully doled out clues and thinking “How on earth do I do that?” To a new writer, it seems like an almost insurmountable task: There are all these different parts of the story, and all of it seems to be fitting together just so the guide to reader to figure things out or move along with the story at the same pace as the characters … And once you stand back and look at it, that’s quite a bit of work!

And, to be fair, the average English class that many are going to have gone through in their high-school years has very low odds of touching on this, which only compounds the problem. For new writers, it just seems like something that writers do, but no one is explaining how. Again, this is why I encourage taking creative writing classes if they’re available to you—they’ll teach this kind of stuff and more.

But, that aside, point is, most young writers see a full, complex story and wonder how on earth an author was ever able to keep everything straight. Crud, some don’t. Read through a Sci-Fi book the other day (giving an author I’d read before another shot because the premise of the book was very unique, even if I’d been disappointed in an earlier work of theirs) where the author didn’t dole out their complex story well—at all. Here’s how it ending up playing out: You got the opening chapters, introducing the characters, and giving you roughly 80% of the information you needed to know for the conclusion of the story. Then, following that was most of the book, roughly two dozen chapters of the characters just making their way to the conclusion while talking but never really doing much for the story other than “We go from here to the their, this ending is stressful.” Near the end of that bit, which was most of the book and pretty dull, we got another 10%, and then the conclusion happened almost immediately, bringing with it the last 10%.

Do you see the problem? The book had a great premise and an interesting idea, but the author didn’t know how to dole the information out. The result was a massive dump of exposition at the beginning, and a small one at the end with the final bits the reader needed … and then everything in-between was just sort of  … there. It could have been summed up in two or three chapters rather than twenty.

Or the story could have doled out its puzzle pieces better, distributed them evenly across those intervening  chapters, and given them some purpose to the overall plot (as opposed to the “And we’re traveling … and we’re traveling … and we’re traveling …” that the story became). Something that would have given them impact on the story, rather than just being happenstance.

Right, so that’s the second time (not counting the title) that I’ve used that term, so it’s high time I explained what I mean when I write it.

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Discussion: What’s the Book You Enjoyed the Most in 2015?

Thought I’d try something new as we come to the end of the year, something special to replace the usual repost of an older Being a Better Writer.Today I want to see if I can get a discussion going in the comments. A discussion circling around one simple question: what is the book you’ve enjoyed the most in 2015?

Now, I don’t mean by this that you need to confine yourself to just books. Short stories count too, as does fanfiction, and well, anything really, as long as it’s a written text, long-form that you received some enjoyment of that you read in the year of 2015 (preferably one that was written with the express purpose of being read by a number of other people, rather than a personal letter).

It’s all subjective here, I just want to see what everyone comes up with. What were we reading this year, and looking back, what did we think of it? Let us know what you loved about it, why it mattered so much, and what you took away from it! Let’s see what we were reading!

For myself, the best book I’ve read this year is easily Terry Pratchett’s Raising Steam.

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Random Thoughts: Think You Know English?

Don’t worry, neither do I. At least, not in the way I thought I did.

That’s my initial reaction after having just made it through the first hundred and fifty pages of Bill Bryson’s Made in America, a fascinating look at the history, growth, and development of the American English language. I’m not nearly as familiar with the roots and etymologies of certain words as I thought. For instance, I wasn’t aware at all at how modern the term “Hobo” was (1891). Nor was I familiar with the origins of the word “Yankee” (the jury is out on whether it was an accented, slang form of the name “Johnny” or an insult-name that began with calling someone a “John Cheese). Crud, I wasn’t even aware that the oft-contested word “ain’t” has been in the English lexicon for almost three hundred years, having been steadily rejected from American dictionaries for centuries.

Actually, it can go one step further. Did you know that dictionaries disagree on the spellings of over 1200 (and in some volumes as high as 1700) different words? Kind of puts an old sting on all those days when your teacher would tell you to go look up a word in the dictionary, doesn’t it?

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Op-Ed: Dealing with Detractors

I’m not filing this one under Being a Better Writer for the simple reason that it isn’t as much about improving your own writing as it is a tip for dealing with what may come when you do write. It’s definitely a writing tip, but a guide to make you a better writer? Well, it’ll touch on that, but this article isn’t entirely concerned with it.

So, detractors. For those of you scratching your heads right about now, what am I talking about.

Well, let’s make one thing clear. I’m not talking about critics. At least, not genuine, honest ones. Critics—good ones—are not detractors. Critics are critical, yes, but a good critic is also an individual who balances the good with the bad. They draw the creator’s attention to both the strong and the weak, giving those who view their criticism a balanced, aware presentation of the good and the bad.

A detractor, thusly, is not a real critic. A detractor is an individual who, for whatever reason, will never be satisfied nor happy with anything you create.

And once you put your writing out there, you can rest assured that the detractors will come. You will find them in writing groups. You will find them in comment threads. You’ll find them leaving “reviews” that serve only to savage. You can even find them in conversation about whatever medium their chosen target happens to fall in, bringing it up only to spread venom about it. No matter what your creation is, the detractors will come, and they will despise whatever you work, no matter the cause.

Why? Well, who can say? Some are simply trolls, the kind of individual who enjoys tearing others down for their own enjoyment. It doesn’t matter who, or what, if they sense a target, they’ll be there to tear into something or someone smug in the knowledge that even if the person on the other end of their words is going to have a day less sunny than it was before they spoke. They just enjoy making someone feel lousy.

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Being a Better Writer: Being a Better Reader

This post was originally written and posted July 24th, 2014, and has been touched up and reposted here for archival purposes.

So, being a better reader.

As we might guess from the title, this topic doesn’t just have to apply to writers. Being a better reader is something that most of us just take for granted, or hold to a flat, level interpretation—that interpretation being what our elementary-school educators would have called it: additional reading comprehension, moving up the grade levels, etc.

But learning to be a better reader in the context I wish to talk about isn’t about comprehension of words or whether the book you’re reading has chapters. And it isn’t in the context of looking for themes and using various classes of criticism, either—though such things are certainly helpful. No, what I’m referring to is the kind of reader that works with what they are reading and learns to approach the book from the author’s own angle.

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