"If our water supply were as muddy as much of our pretentious prose, all flavors of Jell-O would look brown."

- Kathryn Lindskoog, Creative Writing: For People Who Can't Not Write
Are You Ready to Write a Book?

Stephen Altrogge, Barnabas Piper, and Ted Kluck have recorded 29 episodes of their Happy Rant Podcasts, talking about stuff, junk, and things, to be specific. Here they chat about when one is ready to write a book and buying your way onto the bestseller list. They introduce proven schemes to move your book forward and reach readers you wouldn't have reached with the subject or quality of your writing. If your book is mediocre, these guys are willing to take your money and move your book. Some may call this selling out. The Happy Rant crew calls it selling up. The bottomline is giving them your money. I'm sure it works. I haven't tried it, but I'm sure it works.

What Do Professional Writers Earn Per Year?

Digital Book World’s new survey of just under 1,900 authors found fairly low annual earnings. Dana Beth Weinberg tells the Guardian, “We see for the third year in a row – even though we made a strong effort to get representation in the survey from successful indie authors – that most authors aren’t making much money and most books sell very few copies. We also find that traditionally published authors and authors who combine traditional and indie publishing have higher annual incomes on average than indie-only authors. Last year, we took a lot of heat for these unpopular findings, especially from the indie community.”

Authors publishing through both traditional and independent methods earned $7,500-$9,999 per year, thousands more than authors who published with either method exclusively.

How Often Should the Indie Author Publish?

Author Mike Duran takes on conventional wisdom for indie publishing success: "write faster and publish often." He says writers should consider the quality of their craft and how fewer, better books will make a stronger career than many adequate books.

In another post, Mike suggests we not discount near-death experiences entirely, but take a cautious approach to them, believing the jury is still out on their validity.

24 Things No One Tells You About Book Publishing

Industry insiders could probably make several lists of twenty-four secrets or misunderstood facts or contentious minutiae about publishing, but here's a good list on the writing life from Curtis Sittenfeld. I like this one most:

10. The goal is not to be a media darling; the goal is to have a career.

The Easy Way to Become a Writer

Neil Gaiman explains one of the easy ways to become a writer. You just wake up one day, after having tasted the fruit of a certain tree. You'll see what I mean.

Doubt: Your Unwelcomed Companion

Nicci Cloke writes about beginning the year as a new novelist.

This time of year is one of the worst for The Doubts, with social media churning out list upon list of books to look out for in 2015. Author Claire King rightly explains here how unnecessarily stressful it can be — especially for a debut novelist — to scan those and not find your book listed. And, let’s be honest — there’s always some handy stick-shaped internet fodder you can find to beat your poor old ego with.
In the post to which Ms. Cloke links, Ms. King observes, "MOST of us are not the most anticipated. But if your pool of debut authors is limited to you and the ones everyone is shouting about on twitter and in the newspapers it’s very easy to feel like the poor relation."

The Lizards of Storytelling

Author Jeff Vandermeer, a three-time Fantasy World Award-winning novelist who co-directs the Shared Worlds teen writing camp, says, "The way we're taught to analyze fiction is to break down and do a kind of autopsy. But I think writers need to be more like naturalists or zoologists when they study story because then you're looking at how all the elements fit together."

See infographics illustrating this idea and more from Wonderbook: The Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction.

Starr endorsement

Author Rachel Starr Thompson takes up valuable space in an interview to say nice things about my work.

I could never do the grit Lars Walker does, but I kind of wish I had written The Year of the Warrior. Wolf Time is amazing too. Actually, I love all of Lars’s books. - See more here

November Is National Novel Writing Month

Men's LacrosseEveryone has a novel in them, they say. And those works of art or escapism should be published for everyone to read. Apparently, millions and millions of books are being published in the US every year. A small percentage of those books are novels (or fiction novels, as some call them). A very small percentage of the novels published over the last three or four years have depicted the world in chaos as Harry Potter and his friends discover they have been left behind in a uniquely British rapture.

A little under 200,000 people profess to be writers in the US. The rest are too ashamed to admit it. The latter are mostly the ones who participate in library-sponsored parties for NaNoWriMo writers, where anyone can gather with other strangers for a few hours to scribble or type at the first of at least 50,000 words. They will be hear great advice, like this from Chris Baty:

  • Jot down the names of your characters to stop a Mike becoming Matt or Mick as you write.
  • Eat peppermints: a Nasa-funded study showed the peppermint plant increased alertness by 30 per cent.
  • Go outdoors with a newspaper, a pen and a notebook. Close your eyes. When you open them spot ‘Your Person’ and write down everything about them. Close your eyes. Open your paper on a random page and let your finger choose a spot. Open your eyes. The thing you’re pointing to has a link to the person you just collected. Work it into your next chapter.

Many will say, "Just get it written." They may insist, "The story must get out of you." But let these stats depress you. And while you're thinking over your plans for next month's exercise, ask yourself whether your story is worth pursuing.

"Nine times out of ten, your idea is really quite mediocre and has been done before, actually a number of times and in a number of different ways," Laurie Scheer states, but you haven't read those stories. You're just invested in your own. What still lies before you is the biggest challenge for all writers today: whether you want to write or to have written.

Go ahead and write 50,000 words next month, and if you love it enough to keep at it, then keep writing. Words are awesome. If you don't love it, maybe you can organize that library party into a community lacrosse team.

Watch the Writer in Action!

Here's an amazing in-the-moment video of an actual writer working his craft!

Must All Sentences Be Short?

Remaining in the deep pockets of the short-sentence lobby for years was enough incentive to prevent Roy Peter Clark from writing this piece in favor of the long-sentence opposition party.

"When I fight this anxiety," he writes, "when I advise writers to 'Fear not the long sentence,' my encouragement inspires looks of alarm from teachers as if I were advocating taking all the garter snakes out of high school terrariums and replacing them with anacondas."

Or a natural fear of powerful, short-sentence lobbyists, who might leave conveniently unedited documents on reporters' desks which could embarrass their former supporters. Clark appears to have no fear, however, spilling the beans with items like this:

By my count, there are three main reasons to cast a long sentence:
  • To take a journey through a physical or emotional landscape.
  • To create a catalogue or inventory.
  • To build a mosaic of logic or evidence.

Writing as Product Development

Barnabas Piper reminds writers that their ideas are their products, so they should work through product development before launching them. "It means that you are probably the worst judge of whether your idea works."

Aaron Armstrong also has a bit of encouragement on writing better.

Why Are Writers Great at Procrastinating?

headstandMegan McArdle, a columnist at Bloomberg View, attempts to explain why writers are great procrastinators. She suggests many, perhaps most, writers haven't failed enough. They have rested on their natural talent for too long and believe that the talent is all they have to offer. They don't see their talent as a muscle that will grow with exercise; rather they see it as a solid that can be tested for purity. If the world discovers they aren't as good as they sometimes appear to be, they will be certifiably, undeniably doomed.

"This fear of being unmasked as the incompetent you 'really' are," McArdle writes, "is so common that it actually has a clinical name: impostor syndrome. A shocking number of successful people (particularly women), believe that they haven’t really earned their spots, and are at risk of being unmasked as frauds at any moment. Many people deliberately seek out easy tests where they can shine, rather than tackling harder material that isn’t as comfortable."

When faced with this fear, people may choose to hamper their own performance. She quotes Alain de Botton, saying, “Work finally begins when the fear of doing nothing exceeds the fear of doing it badly.” "For people with an extremely fixed mind-set," she continues, "that tipping point quite often never happens. They fear nothing so much as finding out that they never had what it takes." (via Lore Ferguson)

The Ghostwriter Speaks

"There's an old saying that you should never judge a book by its cover. Today, perhaps, that conventional wisdom has rarely had more meaning. To a degree that might astonish the reading public, a significant percentage of any current bestseller list will not have been written by the authors whose names appear on the jackets."

Andrew Crofts, "one of Britain's most invisible and yet successful writers," has written out his experiences as a ghostwriter for 40 years. Bestselling ghosted works include a lot of "misery memoirs." (via Prufrock)

A Debut Novelist: 'Subject Matter Matters'

Ted Thompson, author of The Land of Steady Habits, talks about his business in ways that make him uncomfortable. "I feel like I’m bordering on saying something sacrilegious here, but here it goes: There’s a common strain of thinking among writers, particularly literary writers and the institutions that foster them (conference/colonies/workshops), that insists a book is only as good as its writing."

Although he still believes in the preeminence of good writing, he know believes subject is very, very, and also very important. "Once a manuscript leaves your desk, subject matter is the primary (and often only) way it is discussed. So if you haven’t figured out a quick way to answer that cringe-inducing question 'What’s your book about?' in a way that interests other people, somebody else will. And that will be how the book is sold..."

He goes on to say how surprised he was that people in publishing actually want to love your book and that the slowness of the whole process is understandable.

Words at Leisure in Unanchored Intelligence

Essays are a dead form, says author David Hughes. “But today we no longer have access to the state of mind in which such useless but diverting conceptions appear in the unanchored intelligence [another nice phrase]. Our conceptions must be vast or hasty or topical; to ride the storm of the uneasy mind we are in, an idea must be sensational, it must walk on the water or fly faster than sound. A poet manqué does not write essays: he joins the staff of an advertising agency, where one word is an expensive item, or he talks about the films he is going to make.”

Patrick Kurp spells out the joys and perils of Hughes' opinion on essays in today's post. "Good essays," he says, "even the most impersonal, are suffused with the essayist’s sensibility. No one else could have written them."

Horwitz Not Thrilled with Digital Bookselling

Tony Horwitz, author of Confederates in the Attic and Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War, writes about the thrills and spills of being a digital bestseller.

I finished writing in late January, just as the State Department prepared to issue a much anticipated report on the Keystone XL. If I were writing for a traditional publisher, I’d have to wait months to see my work in print. This time, I’d be read within days, right on top of the news!

Exhausted but exhilarated, I headed to the liquor store for a celebratory bottle and returned to an urgent call from my editor in Sydney. “Mate, we’re [bleeped],” she said. The Global Mail’s backer had had a bad financial setback at his firm and evidently decided he could no longer afford a folly like quality journalism. He’d abruptly pulled the plug just hours before I filed my copy, making The Global Mail a dead letter.

Worse still, for me, Byliner hadn’t yet inked its deal with the Aussies. Suddenly I had no platform for a very long story on a subject that was about to be all over the news. And I’d yet to be paid anything beyond my original travel budget (which I’d overrun, in any case).

At this point I called my literary agent, whom I’d foolishly failed to involve in the project. (Another fantasy of the digital world: Writers can do it themselves and dispense with all those middlemen.)
And there's more.

Build Your Writing Career

39 Things to Remember While Struggling to Build Your Writing Career by Kimberly Grabas.

Some good thoughts here, not about incomplete sentences, but stuff like failure, personal manifestos, practice, and simply doing it. "Writing is supposed to be hard work." Yeah. It's not hard work like pulling weeds either. It's hard work like speaking the truth in love when you'd rather throw snark from the corner.

The Writer by petebritney on deviantART

The Ideal Reader, Who Doth Know?

Patrick Kurp talks about writing and discusses the diary of WWI veteran: "The 'ideal reader' is a phantom. The writer who says he writes exclusively to please himself is a solipsist, and one who writes exclusively to please others is a whore. Neither is worth reading. I won’t pander just to pack the house, nor will I resort to fashionable chatter."

J.M. Bertrand on Writing

Thus spake Mark Bertrand:

"Things that don’t matter don’t keep getting done. Things that do become second nature. The key to any discipline, I suppose, is figuring how to make it matter."

So if we want to be writers, we must decide writing is what we actually want to do. And whatever work that must go around the writing too must matter--the research, the market opportunities, and the spiritual nurturing that keeps us closer the Lover of our souls.

"Writers already lead uncomfortably quantified lives, measuring our worth in the number of words written today, in the number of books in print and how well they’ve sold. All of these metrics speak to one kind of quality –– my quality of life –– without addressing another, the quality of my work. The best written books aren’t always the bestselling..."

Far more than any philosophical writing, Bertrand says reading novels exposes and explores him in unexpected ways. "In novels I face up to things I never seem to in other kinds of writing."

Best Apps for Writing

Lifehacker has a list of apps it believes have the chops to help you score no matter what cliché you're throwing their way. Looking for something free of the usual on-screen distractions? Something to help you edit or write a screenplay? They've got it.

Words: They're What's For Breakfast!

  • Previous edited stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald are being released without the content edits. "Before these stories were bowdlerised, they contained antisemitic slurs, sexual innuendo, instances of drug use and drunkenness. They also contained profanity and mild blasphemy. The texts were scrubbed clean at the Post," James West, general editor of the Cambridge edition of Fitzgerald's work, said. He believes the stories make more sense without the tempered language. "One of the commonplaces of Fitzgerald criticism, for decades, has been that he avoided unpleasant topics and realistic language in his magazine fiction. We can see now that this was not altogether his choice."
  • If Eskimos have 50 words for snow and 70 words for ice, do they experience these things more richly than the rest of us? Do their words shape their world? John H. McWhorter says not quite. We can think about concepts for which we have no words, and our world isn't really shaped by our use of language. "...language has only a minor effect on cognition and no effect on a person’s view of the world—that is, in this case, how humans understand time, causality, color, space, and so forth." Reports about studies that supposedly show the opposing view are exaggerated.
  • Crossway Books is throwing a sale in celebration of Crazy Busy winning Book of the Year.
  • The only measure of a writer is that you want to remember his words.

Do Literary Writers Succeed in Digital Publishing?

Do literary writers find readers and make money in digital publishing? Not yet. Porter Anderson writes:

Literary fiction, by contrast, has no content guidelines, makes no promise of one topic or another, varies vastly in style and form. Not surprisingly, then, it’s perennially difficult to define without a fight. Claims of serious intent and/or artistic achievement may be asserted by fans of literary fiction. Its detractors love to charge that it focuses on language over plot; “navel gazing” poetics over entertainment; precious reflection over storytelling.
But Jane Friedman says you can see some successful writing if you look beyond the book length form. She says, "Thoughtful, intelligent 'literary' work is doing quite well digitally if you step away from book-length or novel publishing and into journalism-driven or nonfiction-driven publishing. Most of the following outlets and platforms include some fiction, too, just not a lot." These platforms include: Byliner, Atavist, Medium/Matter, Symbolia, The Magazine, Storybird, and Hi.

In general, she says, people don't want to read short stories or poems on no-name sites like Brandywine Books. Big name sites, like The Poetry Foundation, get readers, but not others. I think the field may still be in flux as more readers read everything onscreen. I also think literary writers should reflect on the poverty of our recent literary traditions and develop a new perspective based more on Shakespeare and Milton than on Freud and Beckett.

Two Authors To Write 30 Days Live On Podcast

Indie Authors Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant have obtained funding for a live writing exposition through their podcast. "'Fiction Unboxed' is a publishing experiment. Platt and Truant are full-time authors, determined to prove with their Kickstarter project that well-told stories can bloom from excitement and inspiration, rather than from a 'true artist's' tortured soul."

They are doing this, naturally, by torturing themselves for a month.

Apropos of nothing, here's an audio skit.

Two Authors To Write 30 Days Live On Podcast

Indie Authors Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant have obtained funding for a live writing exposition. "'Fiction Unboxed' is a publishing experiment. Platt and Truant are full-time authors, determined to prove with their Kickstarter project that well-told stories can bloom from excitement and inspiration, rather than from a "true artist's" tortured soul."

Just Stop It, Writers

Barnabas Piper tells us to stop writing about writing, because we don't really have anything to say.

"When Stephen King writes a book about writing I read it cover to cover and then start over. And it is marvelous. When a thirty-something, barely published, Internet composer of public journal entries does so, it’s uppity."

Yeah. Sorry about that.

Pixar's Ed Catmull on Creativity

In his new book, Creativity, Inc., Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar, talks about how to keep a creative team running. He says he noticed many creative companies, even Disney, dying off a bit at some point. They couldn't keep their creativity going. Catmull wanted to know the reason and whether it could be avoided. Now, with co-writer Amy Wallace, he has given us his conclusions.

"If you're doing something new, you will make mistakes," he says. "In fact, if you're not making mistakes, you're probably just copying other things. The way you avoid mistakes is to be super safe. Well, we can't be safe. That means somebody will make mistakes, and we have to say let's learn from it."

He says he learned from Disney the technique of putting your storyboard on video to see it works the way you think it will. And it never does at first. In fact, the original storyboarded video isn't good at all, but artists and writers lose their objectivity at that point and fail to see the problems. Catmull tries to work through the problems with an atmosphere that builds everyone up and allows them to take risks in pursuit of a stronger story.

You can read an excerpt from Catmull and Wallace's book through NoiseTrade and your eReader before you buy.

I Am Pursuing Freelancing Writing, Editing

Let me write about myself for a minute. For the past several months, I've been pursuing a new line of work and I spent part of that time wondering what that line should be. I'm still looking for work in various ways, but my main thrust this year will be freelance writing and editing.

I am bidding on projects through Elance.com and Writer.ly (some interesting stuff on these site). I haven't gotten to other freelance venues yet, and I like the testing options available through Elance. They verify your skills to a degree. If you have work that could be hired out, you can post a job with Elance and invite me to bid on it. Naturally, I would do my best writing ever, and the project would be more profitable than your wildest dreams, and we would sing each other's praises for months. The regulars at the pub would love us for at least a day. Maybe two! Feel free to look at my Writer.ly profile too. It's still in beta mode, but some people are finding work there.

I am happy to have made new connections with a couple editing services. There are two other organizations who have me on their writing roster also. Of course, there's LinkedIn for general networking. With all of these connections, I am not at all busy. I'd like to try being busy, for a change of pace.

I started this blog in 2004. Lars joined me several months later. Since we're an established lit-blog, we are asked to review various independent books. Every time I agree to receive a book for review, I hope to love it. I usually don't, and I wish I could reply with an offer to edit this already published book. It would be rude to make such an offer, but the need bleeds upon the page. Through these new services, perhaps I can field editing requests from authors who have a good story and need help making it great.

Writing Rules and Mistakes

Aaron Armstrong talks about the word heresy and how a popular author is probably misusing it. Heresy is a serious matter. To use the word to mean rebel, outsider, or maverick doesn't help when we have to talk about actual heresy.

Several days ago, Nick Harrison listed five points of writing advice he labeled heresy. Ok, he didn't, but he did not like them. Now he offers five things he likes. For example, he says, "If you write fiction, please remember that you’re not just telling a story or passing along information. Your goal is to emotionally move your reader."

For more writing fun, Chip Macgregor describes several things editors love (by which I mean hate) when they read a manuscript. Multiple fonts? Excess commas? Great stuff. Also this: 'For some reason, Number-Impaired People will make an outline that reads, “First,” followed by “Two,” then “C,” and then “4.” (Or, occasionally, “13.”)'

Five Writing Rules You Can't Live Without Breaking

Editor Nick Harrison talks about the writing advice he dislikes, such as writing what you know and never using passive voice.

“Write even if you know you’ll never be published.” Apparently the idea is that a writer writes because he has to (which I agree with) and that writing is somehow its own reward (which I disagree with). I don’t know about you, but I’m writing to be published. I’m glad I don’t know whether or not I will have more books published in the future because if I knew my writing would never see the light of day, I’d probably be tempted to quit.

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