Jack Woe

Writer of horror, fantasy and steampunk.

One Night: Þ & РVersion

Ðe night after her ninþ birþday, wearing a white nightgown, she tiptoed into her parents’ bedroom. Her bare feet moved noiselessly over ðe floor. In her right hand she clutched a plush cþulhu doll.

Her parents slept calmly, ðeir rhyþmic breaðing ðe only sound in ðe room. Careful not to wake her faðer, she pulled ðe cover off him. She watched him breaðe for a while, smiling brightly.

She raised ðe kitchen knife in her left hand and stabbed him in ðe þroat. Ðe blood spurted into her face and she laughed out silently.

Her moðer was next.

Dialogue Tags

I’ve read quite a few blogs about the evilness of dialogue tags.  For example, Joe Moore wrote in The Kill Zone how new authors are overusing the alternatives of said.

They go to: exclaimed, murmured, screamed, whispered, pleaded, shrieked, demanded, ordered, cried, shouted, and my all-time favorite, muttered.

Thing is, I as a reader, don’t care.  I just don’t read dialogue tags — at all.

For example, in The Crimson League, I almost missed an action following the the dialogue tag because I automatically skipped past the paragraph.

“Describe it,” Neslan prodded.  Kora obliged.

Here, I backed up and reread the above because something was missing.  I had skipped everything past the name; maybe even the name too.

I have noticed myself skipping whole paragraphs while reading dialogues.  Most of the time the action is just superfluous to the story; character emphasis or other parts I just don’t care about.  A fictional example:

“What?  You mean to tell me, “ he rose from the chair and strode towards the boy and grabbed a hold of his ear, “that someone else stole the chalice?”

“Yes, yes,” the boy cried out.

In these situations, I typically don’t read the overstricken parts.  My eyes simply skip to the next quote and I continue to read from there.

This is probably the reason I hate continued paragraphs, where the final symbol isn’t a close-quote but the next paragraph starts with an open-quote to signify the speaker is continuing.

As a writer, I believe it’s important to separate dialogue from the important action with paragraphs, because I’m surely not the only one who does this.  I just don’t know how successful I am.

How much do you read around the dialogue?

Contacting Bloggers

I was just reading a blog where I noticed a typo.  This was a business oriented blog and the typo struck me as unprofessional.  I immediately went to the About page to look for contact information to inform the owner privately.  After all, typographical corrections don’t belong in public comments, in my opinion.

There was none.  No email, no contact form, nothing.  Instead I was given options to “press”, “tweet” and “publish on facebook.”  There is also a huge button to “follow the owner on G+.”

No apparent private contact information.  So I immediately went to my own About page, and discovered that my email address was also missing.  I have now rectified that and hope the spam will not outweigh the value my readers get from an easily discoverable contact option.

To other bloggers.  Do you allow your readers to contact you privately?  Why, or why not?

When Cultural Backgrounds Clash

I’m working on a short story called Copyright Infringement. The current draft starts with the following two paragraphs:

The envelope was clearly labelled Christopher T. Henderson — yet he had been dead for over twenty years. The man pretending to be Christopher picked it up with trepidation.

Dead men don’t receive letters.

It is currently set nowhere, it’s up to the reader to supply the location. Basically, the idea was for the reader to be able to picture my protagonist living in the same city, town or wherever.

However, this setting doesn’t really work in the USA. On the peer review site Writer’s Carnival, I got the following comment from Matt Gomez:

Probably the biggest question would be why someone pretending to be Christopher would be surprised to receive a letter addressed to him. After all, if you take over the identity of a dead person and have been otherwise using it, it would prehaps [sic] be more surprising if no junk mail was received at all.

Here, Matt has a point. It used to be the case in the US that every mail had to have a name, or at least an address. This has only recently changed. Companies used to sell addresses from warranty return cards and other correspondence to mailing lists for exactly this reason; maybe they still do.

In other countries, the post office has for years provided bulk mail service where every address on a route will be given some promotional leaflet. This is the situation in Iceland, and from casual conversations seems the same in Australia, Brazil and Slovakia. If the Wall Street Journal is any indication, this has only been offered since 2011 in the US.

The point is, in probably every other country than the US, bulk mail is never addressed to an individual person. That is, without ticking or unticking the right box on some correspondence with an organisation, a person is quite unlikely to land on someone’s mailing list.

Unlike the USA.

In Iceland, I just tell the post office not to send me any bulk mail, and they’ll give me a sticker to put on my mailbox to reinforce it. I suspect it’s the same over most of Europe if not the rest of the world.

In the US, I have to talk to talk to the credit bureau’s to make sure I’m not on a list for unsolicited credit cards and insurance offers. I have to talk to the Direct Marketing Association to get my name off their lists, which according to the Native Forest Network, is about 75% of all bulk mail. There is the National Demographics & Lifestyles for addresses collected from warranty cards, and a few publishing houses for national sweepstakes. Everyone else has to be contacted individually.

When all of this is considered, it is quite unlikely that a person using a stolen identity never gets any junk mail with that name.

The question is, can readers in the US accept that a person is careful not to get on any of those mailing lists? Will they believe it if it’s not explained?

If I do explain it somehow in the story, chances are it will no longer work elsewhere, such as England and Australia; or wherever the reader is, such as Sweden — though it is a stretch given the language it’s written in and the legalese, I never intended it to be impossible for a reader to envision it happening in a non-English speaking country.

This is my current dilemma, do I fix it somehow, or just allow American readers to be surprised?

Twitter and How I Use It

Inspired by Amber Skye Forbes’ blog The Misuse of Twitter.

I’m Doing It Wrong

Even before I started writing, I read a lot about publishing and what it takes to be a successful writer.  Everything I read mentioned building a platform, whatever that was, for an author to be successful.

Essentially, a platform for an author are three things: a blog, twitter and facebook.  There are other social media sites relevant, but those are the universally accepted three things that a successful author must have.  I’m not sure I agree, but for the heck of it, I decided to start with twitter.  It seemed the most straightforward thing to start with, given the 140 character limit of tweets.

The story I’m working on involves a copyright troll, inspired by blog posts at fightcopyrighttrolls.com and dietrolldie.com so I started to follow them on twitter; @fightcopytrolls and @DieTrollDie among others related — and @Epica, my favourite band.

I also searched twitter for the keyword #writing and followed people I found interesting.  This was because I read quite a lot of articles about twitter, and it’s listed as one of the essential keywords writers need to know about.  Some people use #amwriting, #write, or all three but I chose to stick to #writing.

In my earliest days of using twitter, new stuff kept turning up on my feed; either related to copyright trolls and therefore related to my story or the craft of writing — stuff that I was interested in and read thoroughly.

I got people following me, possibly related to my use of keywords — and still do — and I would go over their feeds to see if anything they said would be of value to me.  If I thought I’d like to know what the person was tweeting about I’d follow back.  This meant, and still means, that I wouldn’t follow purely advertising accounts unless I thought I’d like the service at some point.

Of course, many, if not all, of those accounts stopped following me within a few days when I wouldn’t follow back.  I didn’t care and still don’t.  Using twitter has always been about value for me, personally; not some sort of race of how many followers I can get.

Right now I have 46 followers, and am following 70 accounts.

Then, I read about the 10% rule that hits when people follow two thousand accounts.  I don’t know, nor care, how the 10% rule works or what it means.  I am not going start to play a game with tools like justunfollow — something I don’t really know what is — I’ll continue to use twitter in a way that provides value to me, and hope that my tweets provide value to my followers.

Chances are that I’ll have published something by the time I’ve reached two thousand accounts to follow and that readers will start to follow me in droves.  I’m not worried.

Enter the Chronic Self-Promoter

At some point an author started following me and I followed back, though with some trepidation.  The only things he ever seemed to tweet were review quotes for his book and blogs about it.  Even his blog had nothing but articles about his book.

I told him I’d unfollow if he didn’t fix his signal-to-noise ratio and gave him two links to articles about how to tweet effectively, 50 tips for using twitter effectively and Twitter: Friend or Foe?  From the former:

26.  Stop following anyone who constantly tweets sales and promotional messages.

Even though I’m not taking all of the tips to heart, for example I’m still an egg, I do pay attention.

When I wanted to send him a direct message about the blog which inspired me to write this, I found out he’d stopped following me.  At that time I had no compunction to stop following him.  Even though I had by now semi-interest in his book, I kept thinking:

“After reading the book, what then?”

There was nothing of value in his tweets apart from the self-promotion.  So after reading the book, I would have no need or want to keep following him.  I believe authors on twitter need to keep this in mind.  Your readers want to follow you, to know about what you’re up to, when your next book is coming out and so forth.  If everything you tweet is all about a book they’ve already read, what’s the point?

Self Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing: The Reader’s Perspective

The merits of self-publishing vs. traditional-publishing has been discussed at great length in various blogs from the point of view of authors.  Never, or very rarely has this been discussed from the point of view of readers; the people that ultimately buy the books.  This is my attempt to correct that.

This blog is inspired by The Trials of Self-Publishing: Why I Consider It a Last Resort and Eisler on Digital Denial.

Publication Snobbery

When I buy a book, I don’t consider the publisher at all.  Whoever published the book doesn’t matter.  This also means I don’t care if it’s been self-published.  Not one bit.  It does matter how well it’s written and edited — and that there aren’t so glaring grammatical errors I’m not sure what’s being said.

To dispel a myth, traditional publishers offer little protection from any of those points.  True, I can be reasonably sure the entire book is legible, but at the sentence and paragraph level I have no such “protection.”  Anyone with a reasonable reading experience should be able to come up with examples.

What matters most to me, when I’m reading a novel, is that I’m having fun.  Anyone missing that point needs to get out of the industry.

Here I come to an issue that has plagued me for years, when I read paper books.  When the book ends I’m not always having fun.  This is due to what I choose to call we’ve run out of paper syndrome.  Very often, the author will hurry up and finish a book as if the publisher said “we don’t have room for more pages, you need to finish this now” and the book suffers for it.

I have to admit that I haven’t read enough self-published e-books to determine if this syndrome plagues them too, but it never has to; there is no paper to run out of, nor deadlines.

What I am sure of, almost always, is that traditionally published books are written with a minimum of storytelling proficiency.  A notable counter-example might be Magician by Raymond E. Feist which reads more like an autobiography than a novel.  I’m not sure I read the original shortened version (by the publisher) but the longer one is more refreshing than boring.

Here I’ll stress minimum.  I can point out storytelling issues in books by world1 famous authors.  There is essentially no difference in quality between traditionally published works and a lot of stories available for free on the internet.  I know authors who publish their work on the ‘net, for free, and surpass many a published book in the quality of the writing.

So what does that mean?  It means I don’t have to buy books if I only want to read a well written story.  The downside is that if I limit myself to the free stuff on the ‘net, I have to read all the drivel too, to find the jewels.

And what does that have to do with self-publishing?  Nothing so far, but what I’m trying to say is that traditional publishing isn’t the quality control it’s hyped to be.  Nor is it a required prerequisite.

Publication snobbery will get you nowhere.

Gatekeeping

It’s been repeated on blog sites and comments over and over that the people in the publishing industry act as gatekeepers that protect readers from slush.  However, they do more gatekeeping than just that.

The Human Wave Science Fiction blog by Sarah A. Hoyt is a fine example.  Check out the comments if you’re not convinced.

A publisher’s job is to sell books.  It’s safer to choose books that fit into the current trend than to take a chance, even though the chances tend to create trends when they’re successful.  I should not need to point out examples for the experienced readers.

This means I can pretty much walk past the shelves of supernatural fiction because the trend isn’t what I’m looking for.  I can say the same about other genres too.

I don’t want to read the same story over and over and over again, only written by different authors.  I want something new.

And to find something new I look on the internet where everyone is equal.  While I’m reasonably sure I won’t find what I’m looking for through the big publishers, I see no reason to ignore them.

I will now confess that I have never spent money on ebooks at Amazon.  Instead I’ve bought them DRM free at Baen and Smashwords, in multiple formats.  Being tied to a specific platform like Kindle doesn’t appeal to me.  The only e-books I’ve gotten on Amazon have been free promotional copies.

That means I’ve accidentally stayed clear of the slush whose authors publish exclusively on Amazon.  Lucky me.

Price

I’ve seen comments from one of the top reviewers on Amazon, who joked about novels for $2.99.  As if all of them were horribly written and unedited drivel.  This is not true, but does underline that people do use the price as an indication of quality.

Personally, I feel that is a false promise.  Mark Coker writes, in Ebook Publishing Success, that authors can earn the same income with books at $2.99 and $5.99; and points out that with the lower price the author is reaching more readers than the higher — obviously.

Considering the people who try to avoid self published slush by looking at the price, they may not be reaching the same readers, but definitely more of them.  Also, there is nothing that prevents authors from pricing their books high, like traditional publishers do.

Covers

A cover is a promise.  When I’m drawn to a cover I expect the story to follow through on that promise.  Sometimes the the blurb on the back makes it clear the story won’t, and sometimes the blurb promises even more.  Yet not all stories come through.

A romance novel with a silhouette of a naked woman holding a whip better have a naked woman holding a whip at some point in the story.  If not, the story isn’t following through on the promise.  It’s disappointing and unfortunately, is more likely to steer first time readers away from that author, rather than the publishing house that ultimately is responsible for the lie.

Self published authors also have to deliver this promise.  No graphic is better than a terrible cover that promises a terrible story, or at least terribly written or edited story.

Basically, if the cover is terrible it takes a dedicated word of mouth campaign, an outright peer pressure, to get me to read a book.  This happened to me with Terry Pratchett’s Discworld stories.  I’ve always been repelled by the covers.  Not as much now as 15 years ago when I first came across them, then I hated the artwork.  Now it’s just a minor annoyance because the books themselves are terrific.

Self published authors who don’t take the cover seriously — or seriously enough — are promising boredom or drivel.  Don’t do that.  The promise has to be there for the first time readers to pick up the book, or click on the link.  The blurb also has to follow through on the cover, though the event depicted doesn’t have to be mentioned on the back.

The publishing industry has established some conventions for the covers of the genres.  And while it may work for genre specific novels, it does pose some challenges for a genre crossing self publisher.  In this case — for the broadest audience — the cover may need expert graphic design that blends two or more cover conventions together.  That’s not a task for a newbie designer.

Readers Aren’t Picky

Readers are not as picky as writers and editors.  The average reader doesn’t care about passive vs. active voice, showing vs. telling nor POV hopping.  People who are looking for entertainment don’t care how the story is told, as long as the writing is good enough to convey the tale.

They certainly aren’t going to care about dangling modifiers — as long as the sentences are understood.

Mike Wells touches upon this in his his blog Brit Writers spoke to Mike Wells where he advises new and unpublished writers to get feedback from readers.  He says:

“At the end of the day, it’s only READERS who matter, ordinary readers who buy books and borrow them from libraries.”

What matters to readers is that the detective finds the killer in the murder mystery, the kid survives the monster under the bed and that the heroine finds her prince charming at the end of the story — or in the case of antiheroes, that the supervillain gains world domination.

Plot holes like the murderer couldn’t possibly do it because at the time he was in the library and not the drawing room are more likely to set off readers than superficially bad grammar2 or other storytelling snobbery.

This means that in the traditional publishing world those stories never reach the eyes of readers and remain unenjoyed.

Yet, New York Times best sellers can have side plots that lead nowhere and storytelling that leaves much to be desired.  Something I’m quite tired of.

To Authors

It is important to pay attention to the details of the craft.  Know when the story is in passive voice and realise that too many instances of “had had” — which is perfectly good grammatically —- may scare away some readers.  Consider every POV hop and determine if it’s necessary or a sign of laziness.  Make an effort to find and eliminate dangling modifiers.

Show the story, don’t tell it.  Not all readers care, but I want to see the action, feel emotions and smell the graveyard.  I don’t want the story explained; I just get bored.

Pay attention to character creation.  If all your characters are carbon copies, you have some work to do.  Stories with too similar characters tend to be boring.

Questions

  • Can you name a case of we’ve run out of paper syndrome?
  • Is there a trend you don’t like in your favourite genre?
  • Have you been disappointed by the storytelling in a New York Times bestseller?  Which one?
  • Have you come across books you don’t like, but almost everyone else is raving about?
  • Have you been disappointed by a book whose cover was attractive?  Did it make you boycott that author?

1 If you’re not clear on it, it means outside the USA too.

2 I mean only grammar elitists will even notice.

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