Month: June 2017 Page 1 of 2

You’re Only One Bad Assumption away from an Elegant Plot Twist

Some plots are simple.  Plots based on a Joseph Campbell structure are simple.  Each step follows directly from the last.  “Once upon a time, there was a dude who was wrong about something.  He went on an epic journey to teach him humility, which made him right—and being right made him strong.”  There is one bad assumption (the one that made the main character wrong in the first place and that started the story off).  Most romances are based on this structure.  “Once upon a time, there was a chick who was wrong above love, who loved a guy who was also wrong about love.  After they ate their pride about each other, they were also able to resolve the other problems in their lives, and they lived happily ever after, the end.”

Other plots are complex.  The ones that are too complex die a lonely, unread death; there are too many bad assumptions on the characters’ part for the readers’ minds to sort through.  The ones that survive have something to tie them together—theme, a single family across generations, a single war, a single setting.  In the case of Ulysses, a single day (which is structured as if it were Homer’s Odyssey, both of which serve to ground us).

Others have twists that reverse the characters’ fortunes with one or even multiple bad assumptions, usually one right after the other,30 so we’re on the edges of our seats.  (Dean Koontz’s Intensity.)

A few plots are elegant.  They produce the illusion of complexity while using one, and only one, bad assumption, which is carried out in multiple ways, on multiple levels.  Not only are the characters misled—but we are caught in the same types of traps as the characters, often because of our assumptions about stories themselves.  (Les Diaboliques—The Sixth Sense—Fight Club—Murder on the Orient Express.)

I’m going to be at Denver ComicCon today, talking about The Best Plot Twists Ever!  WHEEEEEE!!!!

Yet Another Freelancing Pitfall: The Sludge Client

If you freelance, you know the really bad clients: the ones who don’t pay, the ones who want free work, the ones who don’t want to pay by a lesser order of magnitude of what your work is worth, the ones who want you to prioritize their work in front of other clients (without paying extra for it), the ones who constantly change their minds and demand extra work on a flat-fee project, the ones who constantly change their minds and are outraged when you charge them for your time on an hourly project, etc., etc.

And then there are the sludge clients.

The ones who:

  • Aren’t clear about their requirements but are happy to tell you that you didn’t meet them.
  • Give vague feedback that you can’t actually follow, but that you can be guilt-tripped over later.
  • Don’t respond in a timely fashion.
  • Who insist on deadlines that take up all your time–necessitating an unspoken exclusive agreement–disappear for weeks, then become upset when you don’t have time to meet their deadlines anymore.
  • Seem polite but don’t address your concerns.
  • Scope-creep or misrepresent their project, often accompanied by the phrase, “This shouldn’t take long for a professional…”
  • Ghost out of jobs.  “I’ll have something for you in two weeks…” And then you never hear from them again.
  • Feed you a stream of excuses for why they can’t pay yet.

I’ve been having enough trouble weeding out a constant stream of bad clients that I hadn’t realized how much the sludge clients were costing me:  far more than the bad ones.  I’m dealing with one now who’s very polite but was unclear about his requirements, how he was going to pay, and his feedback; didn’t listen to my concerns; and has delayed getting my project back to me for weeks–all while insisting that he’ll keep me employed full-time.

I’ve lost $3000 on this project on just the amount of time that he’s not paying for me because he’s sitting on edits.  This doesn’t count the extra work I’ve put in to try to address unclear feedback and/or requirements, or the shell game that suddenly means I’m only getting paid half of what I should be until I jump through yet more hoops–which involve more work that I somehow am not getting paid for.

Sludge clients–ones who can’t or won’t communicate–are even less worth one’s time than the bad ones.

An Ugly Marketing Question

I have an ugly question that’s not terribly hypothetical.  Ugly because it will require some writers to a) change their minds, or b) fail. Because the question precludes the magical talent fairy:  “I just want to write,” which means, “I’m so good that my marketing/promotions basically takes care of itself.”  Nice gig if you can get it…

So let’s say your admission to a fiction small-press or indie anthology (paying royalties, not a flat, per-word fee) will dependent on certain marketing requirements. What should those requirements be?


  • Most of the promotions that happen for any given indie or small-press endeavor are via the authors and editors.  Kickstarters are driven by the authors and editors: they don’t just coalesce out of nothing.
  • The anthology will succeed (i.e., make a profit for its contributors and add to their reputation and reach) only inasmuch as each author carries their own weight.

Writing a good story, of course, contributes to the marketing–it’s easier to sell a good product–but most of the people who want into any given anthology aren’t top-notch writers (yet) and don’t have the kind of names built up yet that can justify including them in the anthology if they aren’t going to pull their weight on the sales side of the equation.

You’re the editor.  What do you require as a marketing threshold to get into the anthology?

Bonus points if you figure out a way that both increases the quality of the product and prevents well-off authors from buying their way in by offering to purchase ads, etc.

If you liked this post, please check this out Zombified! 24 slightly off-kilter tales with a twist of slightly ridiculous lemon and/or bowling alley.

Anxiety and Depression: Two Loopholes.

I think I’ve found an answer (for now) for the pair of questions that’s been bothering me over the last year.  I’ve been chipping away at both of them; depression worked itself loose much more easily than anxiety.

The questions:

What to do/take advantage of when I’m depressed? (What is the min/max approach to dealing with my depressed days?)

What to do/take advantage of when I’m anxious? (What is the min/max approach to dealing with my anxious days?)

My answers:

Depression is a lowering of the ego.  Study and practice self-care (hydrate, eat healthfully, exercise, personal hygiene, journal, etc.).

Anxiety is an opening of the possibilities (which are often terrifying).  Solvitur ambulando and go on a wool-gathering mission while walking.  Also, self-care and coffee (when I’m anxious, it slows me down).

These may not be your answers; these may not even be your questions.  But they are mine; they soothe my inner two-year-old and make her feel like she’s been listened to, no need to make things worse.  And that’s all I need: a loophole that lets me keep functioning.

Like this blog?  Check this out: Redheaded witches whose words make magic—as long as they don’t wear it out cussin’. An urban fantasy short story.

Full Nerd: Finding current, defined markets

So I have enough confidence in  my stories now that I feel like it’s “okay” to market and promote them.  (For some reason, I got over the hangup of publishing them long ago.)  I’m learning that with marketing the stories, it’s useful to make sure that they a) have a current, defined market, and b) the cover, description, and story match that market’s current trends (and outshine them when possible).  More on promotions later.

So how am I finding that current, defined market?  I started with some advice from Chris Fox in Write to Market.  I think he’s correct in the assumption that indies should start with Amazon in order to find their market, but I could be wrong.  I am, however, starting with that assumption because I have to start somewhere.  I can’t know what I don’t know (and I can’t trust other people’s advice) unless I start somewhere and see what works for me and what doesn’t.

(Warning:  full nerd to follow.   And keep in mind that I wrote this a few days before I posted it, and the sales rankings numbers and positions may have changed.)

Go onto a book’s Amazon page. Let’s use Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140 as a jumping off point (it’s a bestseller on the Locus Bestseller List that I looked up for a different reason). Scroll down to find “Product Details.” (Check out the line “Sold by.” If it says “Amazon Services LLC,” then it’s indie OR published by an Amazon publishing division, like 47 North; look here for a list of Amazon publishing divisions.)

At the bottom of the Product Details block is the “Amazon Best Sellers Rank.” The first line will say, “#7,142 in the Kindle Store” or similar (print books and audio books have different ranking numbers and different labels; make sure you’re looking at the Kindle edition and not the print/audio one).

Anyway, that number is the Amazon sales rank. Low is good (#1); high is bad (#bajillions). There are sites where you can guesstimate what kind of sales that’s equivalent to.  Here’s one.

Let’s look at New York 2140’s rankings. #7,142 overall; #62 in Hard Science Fiction/Kindle; #90 in Hard Science Fiction/Books; #162 in Space Opera.

Click on Hard Science Fiction on the Kindle bestseller list. You should see the top 100 bestseller list for Hard Science Fiction on Kindle. To the left is a list of other categories you can look through.

Let’s take a look at the current #1 on the list, Split Second by Douglas E. Richards. It’s in Kindle Unlimited (aka Kindle Direct Publishing Select), which means it’s exclusive to Amazon; you can tell by the words “Kindle Unlimited” at the top of the book cover on the list. It has 3,954 reviews and costs $2.99.

Click on the picture to open the book’s Amazon page and scroll down to the sales ranking. It is #9 in the paid Kindle store, and #1 in a bunch of categories that do not include Hard Science Fiction. Yes, you can be ranked in a BUNCH of categories, but Amazon won’t list them all, just what it believes the top 3 to be.

Hit the back button to go to the top 100 Hard Science Fiction list again.

Scroll down to #20, Starship Liberator, and click that. The overall rank is #1,891.

Go back to the top 100 list.

Underneath the bottom row of ranked books is a series of links, 1-20, 21-40, etc. Click on 81-100, then scroll down and click on the #100 book, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. It is currenty ranked #11,320.

To sum up:

In Hard Science Fiction, the top seller is ranked pretty low. This tells me that it’s selling a lot of books. Yay! People like Hard Science Fiction as a category. The #20 seller is #1,891, or lower than the 4-8K range. Boo! This means it’ll be hard to break into the top 20 in that category, which is where you can pick up a lot of sales (because it’s on the first page for that category). The #100 seller is #11,320, which is under the 25K limit. Kinda yay? That means that there’s probably money to be made along the “long tail” of the Hard Science Fiction genre, but it’s still going to be hard to get into that top 20.

Sales translations:

The #1 book can be guesstimated at 3682 books per day (using the calculator I linked to earlier, which, admittedly, might be way off; Amazon’s not saying). The book price is $2.99, which translates (at 70% profit) to 2.09 to the author per book, or about $7700 per day in profit to the author.

#20 is selling ~92 books per day at $3.99, or $2.79 to the author per book, making $256 per day.

#100 is selling 15 books per day at 11.99 (over 9.99, or the cutoff for the 70% profit level). Now, if that were an indie book, that would be making the author 3.59 per book, or $54 per day. However, it’s published by Random House, so who the heck knows what the Phil K Dick estate gets out of it.

Other factors: #1 and #20 are both indie published and on Kindle Unlimited, which means that page reads are a factor, and I haven’t found any guidelines for that. They are also, by definition, only making money via Amazon for their ebook versions (where Random House has fingers in all major ebook markets, as far as I know). #1 is also going through CreateSpace (Amazon company) for its print version; #20 is going through a small press (look at the publisher line for the print versions). The audio and CD versions are both through Audible (look at the publisher line; also an Amazon company).

The sales ranking on all three books may be affected by print and audio sales as well as KU reads; we don’t know. But this is my best guesstimate at this time.

What I did was to find a cluster of categories that a) most resembled the books I was planning to write, and b) fell into the guidelines of being not-too-hard-to-break-into, and not-too-easy.  While I was doing this, I looked at all the books in the top 20 and established that there were a few authors who were doing great financially, at least according to the sales calculator I used (making hundreds to thousands a day).  I’ve followed those authors and am studying their covers, descriptions, books, marketing, and promotions–even their release schedules–to get a better sense of what may be positively affecting their sales.

In any boostrapping process, you’re looking for loopholes.  This is how I’m currently (and iteratively) looking for loopholes in how to find “my” niche.  Although I doubt I’ll stick with just one.

Like this blog?  Check this out:  Seventeen tales of monsters, cannibals, zombies, goddesses, crows, witches, supernatural mayhem, and just plain evil.

Bootstrapping is hacking a vicious circle

One type of vicious circle is when you can’t do X unless you first do Y, but in order to do Y, you have to first do X.  Which is impossible.

And yet anyone who figures out a way to do X is bootstrapping.  Which is admirable.  On a computer, the process of booting is bootstrapping:  a computer can’t process information until the computer has been programmed how to process information; you can’t program the computer to process information until it has been programmed to process information.

The solution is that a few instructions have to be hardwired into the computer and triggered by clock ticks–electrical pulses–which handle the transition from a computer following physical laws to programmed laws.  Once the computer can start programming itself (in however minor a fashion), it can so with increasing levels of sophistication based on the programs that each successively smaller and less sophisticated program feeds to it. Bootstrapping, then, depends on finding one very small loophole and exploiting it.

Sometimes you can reason your way to that loophole.  Sometimes you can’t.  Reasoning your way to a loophole faster and more efficiently, though, seems to be a skill that it’s possible to pick up.  We all know that one person who seems to be able to do everything perfectly the first time.  They don’t try to brute-force bootstrapping, finding that loophole by chance.  They know how to look for loopholes–and some methods on how to exploit them.  That’s their secret, I think.

Like this blog?  Check this out:  “Something borrowed, something blue, something terrible will happen to you.” Is it supernatural?  Or has Bud’s paranoia finally won? A supernatural suspense novelette.




Options for Impossible Dilemmas

Dilemmas usually defined as when you have to decide between two impossible choices.  Mine are almost always between “I can’t do this” and “I must do this.”

Some options:

  • Avoid the situation (and thus cognitive dissonance related to it), but incur a heavy personal cost of lost or damaged trust and relationships.  Ghosting.
  • Tell the people involved that you’re out of the situation (using a plausible excuse or no excuse).  More difficult in stress and confrontation, but cheaper in relationship costs:  at least you told someone.
  • Tell everyone involved about the dilemma you’re in, being honest about it; this has variable costs.  Sometimes this costs more than ghosting, because this is where bridges get well and truly burned.  “I love you but I can’t stay because you’re a fucking racist.”  Sometimes it’s better to “grow apart.”
  • Try to force yourself into compliance through the can’t-do aspects, honoring only the must-do.  Variable costs:  sometimes resistance is just stupid ego stuff (“But I don’t waaaaant to try sushi!  It’s raw fish!”) and sometimes it’s preventing you from destroying your personality, a la Get Out.
  • Try to renegotiate the situation openly.  “I have claustrophobia and can’t deal with elevators; can we meet somewhere else other than the top of the Empire State Building?”
  • Subvert/ignore the requirements (a.k.a. cheating).
  • Go around/redefine the requirements.  “I know we’re supposed to be on a diet tonight, but I won a free coupon for pizza off the radio today and…”
  • Break the can’t-do, must-do area into its smallest possible issue, the crux of the problem, stripping off as many assumptions as possible, to see if it’s really a can’t-do/must do situation.

This last one works surprisingly well, when I can find the discipline to do it.  Jumping to conclusions happens more often than I think:  often a dilemma is just anxiety in rationalized clothing.

Like this blog?  Check this out:  Victorian orphans, strange taxidermists, detective-heiresses, run-ins with the Peelers, oh my! #historical #crime


The Eisenhower Principle: a simple system for an anxiety attack

That grid that has “urgent” along one axis and “important” along the other axis (the Eisenhower Principle) is driven by fear.  It takes an overwhelming mass of all the things and turns them into “yes, but these two things are the only ones you actually need to panic about today.”

The problem is, what do you do with the rest of the stuff?

I know there are guidelines.  If it’s urgent but not important, you’re supposed to reschedule it or delegate.  If it’s not urgent or important, just avoid it.  If it’s important but not urgent, do it when you have time.

But in the real world, urgent but not important tasks take willpower to blow off, and sometimes the tact required is more effort than actually doing the task requires.  What then?  Where’s the social, long-term axis in this grid anyway?  And if I move all the urgent but not important items over to urgent and important items (tell me you never do this to make a boss or a loved one happy, just try), then what?  In what order should the important but not urgent items be done?  By deadline?  What if the deadline items aren’t as important, over the long term, and you sacrifice your dreams because someone else knew how to game the system?

“Just get rid of some of the stuff you do.  Starting with the unimportant and not-urgent.”

What if I’ve already done that and I’m still overwhelmed?

It’s a bullshit grid.  It’s an oversimplification by people who don’t have issues prioritizing on a daily basis in the first place.

Where is, “I’m scared to get started on this important thing that I’ve been putting off for so long that it’s urgent now, and I want to learn how to stop doing that and this @#$%^& grid isn’t helping.  At all”?

Strategies, Tactics, Long-Term Planning

Most of us don’t have conscious end-goals for our lives.  We don’t have principles that we can state.  We don’t know ourselves all that well.  Sometimes we think we have these things and we don’t:  the things we deeply, truly believe in are often beyond our grasp.

So maybe starting off with long-term planning as a writer with “Where do you see yourself in five years?” is maybe not the best approach, because it presupposes that you know those things.

What then?

“I don’t know who I am, but I know that whenever I hit an obstacle and deal with it successfully, I do it by X.” (Mine is, “I analyze it to death.”)

At least find the hammer you’re holding to which everything else looks like a nail, maybe.  Other people have a variety of tools in their toolbox…but maybe you have to start with just one.


Marketing Unicorn

Marketing:  how much effort does this technique take; how durable is the effect of the technique; what is the impact of the technique?  Three axes for a graph: effort, durability, impact.

A book review is high effort, high durability, high impact.  A single tweet is low effort, low durability, low impact.  A well-coordinated social media campaign is high effort, low durability, high impact (although it could be made much more efficient over time).

A good cover is high effort, high durability, high impact.

Writing in a series is high effort, high durability, high impact.

Writing to market trends is high effort, low durability, variable impact (it’ll depend on how well  you write).  Writing to your own personal drummer is high effort, high durability, low impact (but that may change over time, as people find the books they love without the boost of having alsoboughts behind them).

The high effort techniques can probably be made more efficient over time; you can search around for a minimum effort/maximum impact solution and go for medium effort for medium impact with medium durability (writing a pulp series in a popular category that you love already, setting up catchy covers/blurbs/advertising materials for a repeatable social media campaign, etc.).

The ideal would be low effort, high durability, high impact.  Have I come up with anything that fits those criteria, even a hypothetical example?  Nope.  Even the ideal BookBub ad would be low effort, low durability, and high impact.

But now I know that if I ever see such a unicorn, I should get on and ride.

Page 1 of 2

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén