Month: January 2012 Page 1 of 3

Interview: Deb Logan, author of Thunderbird

I reviewed Thunderbird by Deb Logan earlier, and liked it quite a bit.  It turns out when you have a blog, that other writers will let you interview them, if they have time, and Deb did!  I emailed her the questions, and she sent me back the answers, so I didn’t get to hold a microphone in front of her or anything, even though there’s one on my cell phone, but it was still fun.  I hope you enjoy her answers as much as I did.

1.  You’re a mother of twins, just like Justin and Janine in Thunderbird.  How strange is it to have twins?  What is the weirdest twin-thing they’ve ever done?  Like, did you ever confuse them when they were babies–that kind of thing?

Uhm…nope. Never confused them. Boys and girls are pretty easy to tell apart, even when they’re twins *lol* Boy-girl twins, like Justin and Janine in Thunderbird, or like my own kids, are just a normal brother and sister who happened to be born at the same time. No bizarre psychic bonds or anything! Though once, when my twins had been away from each other for a while, my son greeted his twin sister by saying, “Hi! You remember me. We were womb-mates.” Silly boy!

When the twins were toddlers, it could be tough keeping track of them as they zoomed off in opposite directions! My husband used to tease about hiring them out to folks who had little kids coming to visit and wondered if their houses were baby-proof. We figured what the twins couldn’t find in 10 minutes, a single kid wouldn’t get into in an entire visit *lol*

2.  What made you write about a story about characters with Native American background?  Where does the story of the thunderbird come from?

I grew up in Oklahoma surrounded by the history and legends of many Native American peoples. Their culture always fascinated me. Wherever I’ve lived, I’ve explored the legends of the tribes who were native to that area. Thunderbird is actually a mish-mash of legends of the Crow (Montana) and the Lakota (Colorado and the Dakotas). When I write the next book, some of the background mythology may stray even further afield, but it’ll still be Native American.

I chose the thunderbird because of my other love: European mythology. My favorite mythological creature is a dragon. Lots of my stories center on dragons, and for Native American legends, the thunderbird is as close to a dragon as I could get!

Since Justin and Janine’s dad is a paleontologist, I based my thunderbird on an actual dinosaur fossil–a pterosaur called Quetzalcoatlus. A cool egg to be found near a dinosaur dig, don’t you think? And to mix the mythology and the science up really well, I placed my dinosaur dig in Montana’s Absaroka Mountains. The Absarokas (or ‘Sorkees’ as Montanans say)  are named for a Crow tribe, and the name means “children of the large-beaked bird.” Doesn’t that sound like a thunderbird/pterosaur to you?

3.  What is the worst mischief you ever got into, as a kid, that you weren’t caught at…and don’t mind telling us about?  (I’d hate to get you in trouble, even at such a late date.)  I see you have five older brothers and that your mom thought she had kids all figured out before she had you…if you got caught at everything (eventually), what’s the thing that you did that most surprised her?

Yep. I’m the youngest of 6 and the only girl! Everyone automatically assumes I was spoiled rotten as a kid, but actually, the opposite was true! I heard a lot of, “We have enough boys in this family! Act like a girl!” *sigh*

My mom was an accomplished parent by the time I came along, but I was also a very easy kid. (My dad used to say I was “perfect,” but that was probably just in comparison to all those boys!) I didn’t actually get into much trouble. BUT I’m making up for it now by imagining all sorts of mischief for my characters to get into. *lol*

4.  When you were a kid playing pretend, what was your favorite kind of pretend?  What kind of person did you pretend to be most often, and what kind of stories did you tell?  Do you have any pretend characters now that you keep for yourself and don’t put into stories?

Well, remember that I’m a mom of twins? I think I jinxed myself! When I was little, I was kind of lonely. My brothers ranged from 9 to 18 when I was born, so I was really an only child…with five brothers! Anyway, like a lot of lonely kids, I had an imaginary friend, a TWIN sister. Pretty strange that when I grew up, my first baby was twins, don’t you think?

Now days, all the imaginary friends that pop into my head eventually end up in stories. Some stories are short. Some are long. Some are written as an adult, but my favorites are written by the kid who still lives inside me! After all, as my husband will tell you, I still sleep with a teddy bear! I may look like a grown-up, but my inner child is alive and well. *g*

5.  When you write stories for kids, do you find yourself writing the stories that you would most want to read as a kid or stories for other kids in your life?  Is there a kid you wish you could write a story for (for them to read), but you think that probably they’d never read it if you did?  If so, why?

Honestly? I’m not thinking about who will read my stories when I write them. Most often, I’ve got this really insistent character inside my head saying, “Tell my story! Write it down now. It all started when…”

That’s how I write. I have an idea, sit down at the computer, and discover the story as I type. That’s really my favorite part…finding out what happens next!

I do hope that someday my grandkids will enjoy meeting Justin and Janine, but it’s enough that I have enjoyed meeting them…and telling their story!

6.  What is the most magical, weirdest, or adventurous thing that’s ever happened to you?

My most magical moment came during a car trip to California. My husband and I drove from Washington state, though Oregon, and along the coast of northern California. We stopped to visit a grove of Coastal Redwoods, and I was entranced. The huge trees were alive, and connected, and almost speaking to me. I could imagine dryads and faeries living in their branches and dancing through the wood sorrel that grew around their roots. I loved that place.

A few days later, we visited a Giant Sequoia grove in Yosemite National Park. Wow! What a difference. That place was also magical, but it was a sad magic. A dying magic, and I wanted to escape. It was as if these ancient giants were crying. Too much pavement. Too much car exhaust. Too many people. They were like caged lions. Magnificent beasts who deserved better…who deserved to be free.

I don’t want to insult Yosemite, but I felt so sorry for those Sequoias, especially when I remembered the joy and laughter of the Coastal Redwoods.

Because of that experience, a Sidhe Draoi (faery druid) has taken up residence in my brain. One of these days, Nimue’s story will bubble out through my fingertips. I can’t wait to find out what she has to say…

7.  And finally, is there anything else you’d like to add?  Like other books for kids that you’re writing or other good stuff?

I do have another kid-friendly book out there: Faery Unexpected. In Faery, Claire, a typical American teen-ager, inherits a dragon, discovers she’s a faery princess, and fights the King of Faery for control of her life…and the continued existence of her dragon! (I warned you about dragons, now didn’t I?)

In the realm of possible books, I have three kids’ stories that are currently competing for writing time: a new Prentiss Twins adventure, this time focusing on Justin and Coyote; the tale of a teen-age demon hunter (the seventh child and only girl–sound familiar?); and Nimue: Confessions of a Teen-age Tree Sprite!

[I wonder what she’s going to have to confess…getting a tree tattoo?  Throwing squirrels at people?  Tipping over hedges?–De]

Which one will win the wrestling match for control of my fingers on the keyboard? Only time will tell!

Thanks for having me here, De! It’s been fun telling you about my life and my writing…wait a minute! They’re the same thing, aren’t they?

Happy Reading, everyone!

You can find Thunderbird  and other Deb Logan stories at her publisher, WDM Publishing.  Her website is here.

Twitter for Writers.

I sometimes take it for granted that everyone who writes has one foot in the geek world. Of course all writers use Facebook and Twitter. Of course all writers know how to blog. Of course all writers have played MMORPGs and tabletop RPGs. Ofcourse all writers are big Joss Wedon fans, have Sandman memorized and can discuss manga intelligently, and have ereaders. So imagine my surprise when I find out they don’t. It’s like finding sci fi fans who haven’t read anything past Heinlein and Asimov. Where have you been?

But seriously, I understand the urge to let other people beta-test new technology first, to figure out what works and what doesn’t. “I don’t have time!” “I just don’t see the benefit!”

The benefit of all social networking comes more from the networking and less from the promotion. And whatever you think about social networking specifically, as a small business owner (which is what you are, as a writer), it’s essential to learn how to network. Networking is how you pick up clients, jobs, babysitters, editors, book blurbs, bookseller advocates, and, in short, everything that can give you a behind-the-scenes edge in selling your books.

So here’s a short Q/A on how I use Twitter, to greater or lesser success. Please feel free to jump in and add your own responses in comments; I’m hardly the expert, just an enthusiast.

–Do you like Twitter?
Yes. Of Facebook, Google+, and Twitter, which I use on a regular basis, I like Twitter best, because it’s easier to babble. Google+ seems to trigger the most interesting conversations, though.

–Do you know how to get followers? If so, how?
Yes. Follow people who aren’t famous and are in the field(s) you’re interested in (use a search on some terms in those fields to find them). Some of them will follow you back; others will add you to lists. If you see good lists, follow everyone on the lists. You can follow 2000 people until you get about 2000 followers, and then you can follow more.

–Do you follow back?
Yes, unless it’s obvious spam. Even people selling furniture for a living like to read books. And you never know when you’re making a valuable contact or a good friend.

–Do you use lists? If so, why?
I have several lists, one of which is private. I use the lists to promote certain people that I follow–writers, for example–amongst each other. I use my private list for when I want to read other people’s stuff on Twitter, and I only have time to read the people I have met or talk to regularly.

–Do you feel Twitter helps you sell books?
Yes, but indirectly. I think I have to see an interesting book 4-5 times before I’m convinced to buy it or check it out from the library; I’m sure at least some other people are like that, too.  On the other hand, I’ve bought books that I’ve seen constantly promoted, then stopped reading the author on a regular basis–it’s like, “I’ve read the book, so shut up about it already!”

–Do you feel Twitter helps you network?
Absolutely. However, I seem to have more luck picking up freelance work from Google+. Twitter is more of a writer support group/networking source for me.

–Twitter can be overwhelming. What ways have you found to make it less so?
I use my private list to filter out the great flood and cut it down to a stream for when I just don’t have time; also, if someone says something that annoys me, I try to make it a rule not to respond: it probably wasn’t meant for me, after all; it was just something they had to get off their chests at that moment.

–What do you think about hashtags in general, and #WW (Writer Wednesday), #FF (Follow Friday), #amwriting, etc.?
I generally don’t use them; I tend to avoid the people who make lists and lists of hashtags. For example–some people who are otherwise charming suddenly put up 50+ Tweets of people they follow that they want you to follow, too, on Fridays: that’s Follow Friday (#FF) for you. Annoying. They generally don’t make it onto my lists, either public or private.

–Who are your favorite tweeters, and why?
@DavidBrin1 (David Brin) – all kinds of geeky yet comprehensible and non-dry science stuff.
@pourmecoffee – Sarcastic comments about politics.
@ilovecharts (Jason Oberholtzer) – He loves funny charts. What can I say?
@bittman (Mark Bittman) – foodie news.
@PassiveVoiceBlg (Passive Voice Blog) – IP lawyer with an indie-writer wife. They fight crime!
@MrsTad (Deborah Beale) – Tad William’s wife (I’m a TW fan). He on there, too, but his wife is much more charming…

All of them are pithy, link to interesting blog things of their own and other people, and don’t monopolize the conversations going on around them. I think in order to hold followers, you want to tweet with similar guidelines–even if you’re tweeting about breakfast, be amusing about it; spend time being enthusiastic about other things and people (networking is not all about you, after all); and join in ongoing conversations.

–How much self-promotion is too much (this is the one I’m worried about right now)?
I think if you tweet more than 4-5 tweets in a row, you’re going to risk people skimming past your tweets. I know I do, unless it’s something incredibly gripping, and “buy my book” isn’t interesting enough to read. One of the very interesting parts of social media is that you can’t force people to smile and nod while you drone on boringly: they just ignore you. So you have to learn how to get people to pay attention without being able to guilt them into pretending they do. I think we all really do that more than we’re aware.

–Do you have more than one Twitter account? If so, why?
Yes; I have an account for my kids’ pen name and an account for my small press, and my main account. I wanted to be able to promote the pen name and small press separately, but they just don’t seem to have taken off, probably because I don’t spend as much time on them.

–Do you retweet? If so, do you hit the Retweet link or do you manually retweet (by typing RT before copy/pasting a tweet)?
I do both, but if you hit the retween link at the bottom of the post, it won’t show up on the lists that people make–for example, my private list. So I use the link as a “like” button and do the manual RT if I want people who may be reading off a private list to actually read the link.

–What do you think about searches–specifically, what do you think about doing a search relevant to your book, then sending a tweet to everyone who comes up on the search? Is it spamming?
I am incredibly uncomfortable with the idea of doing it and I feel like it’s spamming. But I know some authors have had success with it.

–What is something that other people do that makes you drop them from your followers?
I very rarely drop anyone as a follower unless they send me spam or let their account get hacked and don’t fix it. (e.g., They send me direct messages saying, “Have you see what this person is saying about you?” and the link goes to a sex site.) I move people off the private list if they’re a) boring, b) do a lot of #FF or #WW posts that take up too much of my time, or c) say negative things directly to me repeatedly. Life’s too short for haters.

–Do you know how to unfollow people who aren’t following you? Do you know how to follow people who are following you? If so, how do you do it?
I use Twitter Karma, a free service that lets you do both without having to search for them manually. I do it if every once in a while.

–Do you know how to get your tweets to go to your blog and vice versa? If so, how?
I use a WordPress Plugin from my blog, Twitter Tools, to handle that in both directions.

–Do you know how to get your Facebook posts to turn into tweets and vice versa? If so, how?
Yes, there are a number of programs. However, I ended up getting on a couple of feedback loops going from Facebook to Twitter and Twitter to Facebook (one was 80 posts long), so now I just stick with Facebook to Twitter.

–What’s the best way to attract people to go from Twitter to your blog? (I want more than one if you have it!)
I try out different (and often silly) blog titles throughout the day; the more people retweet it, the more successful I consider a particular title.

–What are the best times of day to tweet?
With Facebook/Google+, it seems like people read your stuff whenever they read it; no need to say it again and again. With Twitter, most people don’t read everything every day, so you kind of have to do more than one if you want to catch people at different times during the day. I tweet blog posts once in the morning when they go up, once around noonish for people in the UK (it goes up about 8 p.m. or so) and for people who aren’t up early in the morning, and then once the next day when I think of it. (I try to post 3x a week.)

–Should you tweet something multiple times?
Yes. People won’t always see it if you don’t, and I think people tend not to buy a book unless they’re reminded/exposed to it a couple of times, anyway.  However, I am creeped out by it.  I am, for some reason, perfectly okay with telling people what I ate for lunch and other TMI items, but uncomfortable telling people about my books.    Still working on it.

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2012-01-29

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How much is your indie short fiction worth?

Note: Forgive me, I have checked and rechecked my math, but I made so many errors the first time through that I can’t be sure I’ve caught them all. Sheesh.

All right.  This is another tense topic for me, because I suspect I’ve been doing something that makes me happy in the short term but is not going to lead me any closer to my goals:  selling stories for too little.

I think a lot of writers are doing this.  We go, “Oh, well, I have to get the readers before I get the money, and selling things for low amounts of money will get me more readers.”  And it is a seductive thought, because then you can get the validation:  lots of readers = lots of validation.  Lots of readers who are willing to pay nothing = still lots of validation!  Validation doesn’t seem to change with the amount of money the readers are paying, for me, AT ALL.  However, whenever I sell a paper book for which I, as the publisher, have paid a few bucks for, and people pay like $10 for, I feel like I’m cheating or scamming people.  I’m making like 75% profit!  (Well, because I’m buying it for author rates, to which bookstore and distributor discounts do not apply.  The profit is a lot less, like a dollar, on books that go through the distributor.)

Except, of course, I’m not really cheating people; I had to write the thing.  It didn’t just magically appear.  I am not doing this as a hobby; I want to make a living at it.  So if I repeatedly undercharge I’m just digging myself a hole.  The goal here is to get enough work selling that I can pay for my time at minimum, dammit.  And I don’t want to wait 60 years to pay for that time, either.  I want them paid for in five years or less, selling at humbly reasonable rates.  Why five years?  One, it sounded reasonable in considering how long it takes to pay off a traditional advance, and two, I want the stories to more than pay for my time, eventually.  Even writers need a rainy-day fund.  Five years sounded good on that, too.

I’m using the most of the same bases of guesstimation as last week:

Number of words/hour on average first draft: 1000.
Words edited per hour for cleanup (NOT including client changes/revisions/copyedits/etc.): 2500.
Time taken to write/edit 10K:  10 hours writing + 4 hours cleanup = 14 hours (if everything goes smoothly, and not including submission time, and not including research/brainstorming time).
Time for copyediting/proofreading: 15 minutes minimum on a short story.
Time to build cover: about 1 hour on short stories.
Time to format: 1 hour short stories (ebook).

And I’m assuming that you do it all yourself AND do it reasonably well AND do it quickly AND do no promotions…or at least treat time spent promoting as an investment that may or may not pay off.  Also that you have not sold or will not sell your story elsewhere (which is foolish; you should go for it).

For self-employed people, you have to take the hourly wages x 2 to get about the same take-home pay, due to taxes and hours spent doing non-production tasks, like managing your business.  Working for the man means you get paid to answer emails from your employer.  Working for yourself means you don’t.

Minimum wage in Colorado: $7.36/hr.  Self employed: $14.82  Skill level:  can’t spell, cardboard characters, unbelievable plot, could be outsourced to a monkey.

Average wage of HS graduate*: $25,000 women/$32,900 men ($50K women/$65.8K men–$25/hr women, $32.90/hr men).  Skill level: can spell but can’t handle grammar, has read a few of the greats in HS English, has one or two decent strengths, has no idea why things work or don’t.

Average wage of college graduate: $40,100 women/$51,000 men ($80.1K women/$101K men–$40.10/hr women, $51/hr men).  Skill level: spelling/grammar proficient, can think analytically about a text and is aware of genre requirements, is decent at all areas of writing with a few real strengths, is starting to recognize personal style and audience.

Indie sales cuts (based on Amazon rates, because I make more sales on Amazon than anywhere else, and they tend to be slightly lower than anywhere else, and when in doubt, I try to lowball):
$.35 for a $.99 story.
$.70 for a $1.99 story.
$2.09 for a $2.99 story.
$2.79 for a $3.99 story.
$3.49 for a $4.99 story.
$4.19 for a $5.99 story.
$4.89 for a $6.99 story.
$5.59 for a $7.99 story.
$6.29 for a $8.99 story.
$6.99 for a $9.99 story.

I won’t go above that, because I refuse to buy ebooks over $9.99. However, I don’t buy textbooks or other generally higher-priced books as ebooks, so I don’t want to say that a book that would normally go for $50 as a print book shouldn’t go for more than $9.99 as an ebook. I buy fiction; I mostly write fiction; I’m talking fiction.

Note: we still haven’t hit the skill level (or pay grade) of a professional writer yet.

I’m going to guesstimate my average short story length as 4K.  This is short story week, because the combined post was so long I didn’t want to read it.

Short story (4K):

Time to write: 4 hours; time to edit: 1.6 hours; copy/proof .25 minutes; cover 1 hour; formatting 1 hour. Total: 7.85 hours.
Minimum wage: $116.37
HS graduate: $196.25 women/$258.27 men
College graduate: $314.76 women/$400.35 men.
I’m using 2 copies/month (beginner sales) and 5 copies/month (average sales) as my numbers. Five is the number that Dean Wesley Smith gives as a good average. (Not for him; he’s doing 7, I think. For his students.)

To make minimum wage on a $.99 short story, I need to sell 333 copies; to make HS graduate level, I need to sell 738 copies; to make college graduate level, I need to sell 1143 copies.
$1.99 = 167; 369;572.
$2.99 = 56; 94; 151.

Let’s say I sell about 2 copies/month. that will take me:
$.99, 13.9 years to make minimum wage, 30.8 years to make HS grad level, and 48 years to make college grad level money.  Sheesh.
$1.99 = 7 years; 15.4 years; 24 years.
$2.99 = 2.3 years; 3.9 years; 6.3 years.  Still over 5 years.

Let’s say I sell 5 copies/month.
$.99 = 5.6 years; 12.3 years; 19.1 years.
$1.99 = 2.8 years; 6.2 years; 9.5 years.
$2.99 = .9 years; 1.57 years; 2.52 years.

So: If I sell my stories at $.99 cents each and sell five copies a month, It’s still going to take me three times as long to make about the same money as I would selling 2 copies a month at $2.99 each.  However, I have convinced myself that I would never buy a short story for $2.99, so…I doubt I’ll get many takers at $2.99. I am going to have to work myself up to trying it sometime to see. If it’s given that getting that 70% royalty at $2.99 is the sweet spot, and that I wouldn’t buy a short story for more than $.99, what’s the answer?

Here are the numbers on selling $2.99 bundles of five short stories AND the same, freestanding short stories:
2 copies/month on short stories AND on bundles:
–$4.18 on bundles (2 copies total)
–$.35 on each story sale (2 copies for each of five stories, 10 total), or $3.50 total
–Grand total $7.68/month
–Hours on stories: 39.25
–Additional hours for bundle (with new cover): 1.5 editing (yes, I redo it), 1 hour cover, 1.5 hours formatting–4 hours additional.
–Total hours: 43.25
–Need to make: $640.97 minimum wage/$1422.93 HS level/$2205.75 college level.
–Pay for time at: 7 years/15.4 years/24 years (vs. 13.9 years/30.8 years/48 years)
5 copies/month on short stories AND on bundles:
–$10.45 on bundles (5 copies total)
–$.35 on each short story sale (5 copies for each of five stories, 25 total), or $8.75 total.
–Grand total $19.20/month.
–Pay for time at 2.8 years/6.2 years/9.5 years (vs. 5.6 years/12.3 years/19.1 years)

Here are the numbers on a 10-story collection: the short story collection (something of a length that I can turn into a book).
–10 short stories, $.99 each when purchased separately.
–1 ebook of 10 stories for $4.99 each (I’m not pricing them at this point at the moment, but I’m going to say that two $2.99 bundles of stories is a bargain at $4.99).
–1 POD of 10 stories for $9.99 each ($3.20 profit when Creatspace sold through Amazon)
2 copies/month on short stories AND ebook collection AND POD:
–$6.98 on collections (2 copies total)
–$6.40 on PODs sold via Amazon.com (2 copies total on a $9.99 POD with $3.20 profit each)
–$.35 on each short story sale (2 copies each of 10 stories, 20 total), or $7.00
–Grand total $20.38/month
–Hours: 70.85 for short stories alone, 11 hours for ebook, additional 4 hours for POD (1 hour wrap-cover formatting [back and spine], 3 formatting interior POD), total 85.85
–$1272.30min/$2824.47HS/$4378.35college
–Pay for time at 5.2 years/11.5 years/18 years.
5 copies/month on short stories AND ebook collection AND POD:
–$17.45 on collections (5 copies total)
–$16 on PODs sold via Amazon.com
–$.35 on each short story sale (5 copies of 10 stories, 50 total), or $17.50
–Grand total $50.95
–Pay for time at 2.1 years/4.6 years/7.2 years.

Conclusion: The only way I can afford to sell short stories for $.99 each is to either sell short stories at $.99 with 2 5-story bundles or with a 10-story collection and a POD. The only way to make a short story pay off at college level in under five years (on average) is to sell ~2.5 copies a month at $2.99 each or to write significantly shorter stories.  They probably aren’t worth the time, except I love writing them.


Roadmap to Indie Publishing

If you’re interested, the handout I passed out at the January Write Brain is over at the Pikes Peak Writers Blog.  It’s “Roadmap to Indie Publishing,” and can help you grasp what kinds of things you need to consider for indie publishing, from a practical standpoint, like where to get info on setting up a business, where to epublish at, and where to find free software to do what you need to do.

Editing for Indie Writers: Is Your First Draft Ready? (Chapter 2, Part 1)

I woke up this morning and felt like an utter and complete idiot…about nothing and everything. “Hello, my name is DeAnna, and today I feel like a loser.”  “Hi, loser.”  ***Dave explained what I was really doing wrong, though: “I think it was the cursed tiki idol you took from that cave. Maybe you just need to put it back.”  Look, I will, okay?  Just as soon as I finish this blog post…

Chapter 2, Part 1:

One of the things I hear come up over and over with beginning writers is, “Is my manuscript ready to publish?”  It’s a tough call, and that’s one reason that a lot of people would rather have someone else publish their work: it implies that the work has been judged worthy and the writer validated.  But that begs the question…how does the publisher or editor know?

I think the method that most people who pick manuscripts use is, “Did I like it?” This isn’t the best method for a writer trying to judge their own work:  we tend to swing between ecstatic and despondent or even suicidal when trying to judge our own work, when really, our work deserves neither extreme of emotion.  Another problem is that while publishers can hone their taste, they can’t really predict what will sell beyond looking at comparable books.  If publishers were good at this kind of thing, then they would know exactly which new authors would break in, and which wouldn’t, and they’d hire the right writer to write exactly that book.  This is not to say that publishers are stupid, just that the problem is too complex.

A third problem is that indie books can be fundamentally different than traditionally published books, and we haven’t even scratched the surface of what that means yet.   I have read all kinds of indie books that I would have no idea of what to do with them in a Barnes and Noble store.  What shelf would it go on?  Would it even have a shelf?  I’ve read indie books that break all kinds of rules: memoirs with fantastical elements to them (and without uplifting endings), kids’ books where the kids don’t get punished for disobeying their non-evil parents, spiritual books about post-apocalyptic worlds that feature more f-bombs than a Dennis Leary comedy routine.  How do you even judge that kind of book?

For indie writers, there are two ways to tell if the first draft of your manuscript is ready:  the logical way and the practical way. You may have to pick up a few techniques from each way in order to satisfy yourself; they’re both valuable, and, really, you have to do both in order to get the manuscript out the door.

The logical way: You analyze your manuscript using a checklist or other techniques to determine whether it’s ready.

The practical way: You’re paralyzed by fear, so it doesn’t matter how logically ready or unready the manuscript is–you just have to hurdle the fear and send out the manuscript.

What I have seen happen over and over again, in my manuscripts and in talking to others, is that we really want to think of ourselves as logical, but once you pare away everything on the “logical” checklists, you start finding all kinds of excuses to not send out the manuscript, and it becomes evident that no, you weren’t being logical–you were terrified and using “logic” to prevent yourself from having to send out the manuscript, either to self-publish it or to send it to a market.  Or even to send it to your critique group.  (Yes, the idea of sending something to a critique group can be terrifying; no need to be ashamed of it.)

Personally, the further along I get in my quest to make a living at what I love, the more I see that acknowledging the fear–which is made up of all kinds of sub-fears–is one of the first things that separates people who will get work out and people who won’t.  I was talking to a group of writers about getting negative comments on a blog post, and what I really wanted to say to respond to the criticism was, “Stop looking at me.”  I didn’t really care what they were saying; I didn’t care whether it was complimentary or critical.  I was just tired of having to know that people were…paying attention, which is exactly what a writer should want.  The fear doesn’t have to be rational or reasonable or logical.  You just have to acknowledge it.

On the other hand, there are the people who seem utterly confident in themselves and their work, even though it’s crap.  I think folks like that are just starting out or have been in a rut for some time, and don’t know enough to know what they don’t know.  Those people obviously should use a logical way to assess their manuscript’s readiness–however, it’s almost impossible, when you’re that person, to tell when you are that person, because of the way our minds work.  Competent people tend to doubt themselves and incompetent people tend not to, statistically.  So really, a checklist is no bad thing, either way.

However, now that I have you convinced (more or less) that these methods are the best ways to approach the problem, let me mention that there’s a third way that’s better than either a checklist or shoving something out the door unquestioned, and you probably won’t want to hear it.

The third way is writing a synopsis.

Okay, question–did you just shut down and say, “Forget it.  Give me the @#$%^& checklist”?

That’s fear.

Yes, I’m going to give you a checklist.  However, I’m also going to recommend that you write a synopsis–actually, several different forms of summing up your manuscript, of which a synopsis is one.  Is it necessary?  Yes.  Because, in the end, if you don’t understand why anyone should read your story, then your story is probably not worth reading.  Oh, your writing may be good.  You may have removed all your adjectives and made your dialogue realistic.  You might have compelling conflict, wacky characters, and uplifting sentiments…and no story.

Nonfiction writers have a good grasp on this.  They have to write up all kinds of summaries and outlines in order to convince a publisher that what they have will sell–and don’t think for a second that what nonfiction writers do doesn’t tell a story, because it does.  Biographies tell the story of a life, and so do memoirs and histories.  Cookbooks tell the story of a meal.  (Why do you think the dessert section usually comes last?)  Instruction manuals tell the story of going from not-knowing something to knowing something, and even providing the story of how to find out more (in the bibliography or recommended reading section).  And so on.  Humans learn through stories.  If-then is a story.  So is why-because.  So is how-like this.

Fiction writers sometimes like to think that all they have to do is write the story.  But story sometimes gets buried under words.

Some fiction writers only have to write the story.  These writers tend to fall in two main camps:  the ones who won’t sell, and the ones who have written so many different summaries and synopses and log lines and blurbs that they breathe them.  If you find yourself not writing the quality of plots you want, then write synopses and blurbs and log lines and more, because it will give you a better grasp of story, stripped of almost any other consideration.

So here’s my advice:

  1. Set yourself a deadline, beyond which the story goes out, ready or not.  You might even send a draft to a friend that they will send out for you–barring any changes they receive before the deadline.
  2. Write a synopsis in order to look at the big picture.  If necessary, write the synopsis the way you wish you had written the book. (You can even write the synopsis before you write the book.)
  3. Go through the checklist to look at the granular details.
  4. Hustle.  That deadline is coming.

Next time: How to Write a Synopsis (Hint: Torture Can Work Wonders for You, Too!)

Alice in Wonderland as Instruction Manual

I went to a lovely 12th-night party this weekend at some friends’ house where we exchanged Christmas gifts, and the person who drew me (Dave Newman!) gifted me with a bunch of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland-themed books, one of which is Alice in Wonderland and Philosophy: Curiouser and Curiouser. The first essay was a feminist interpretation of the Alice books.

I was reading it, and the writer praised the character Alice but didn’t seem to grasp that she wasn’t a person, but a character written by a male writer.

Personally, I think  Alice isn’t a feminist book so much as an Alice book, a book meant to show a particular girl how to make it through life–how to think logically, how to question common knowledge, how to navigate lies and hypocrisy, and how to have fun doing it.  I ran into the idea that the Alice books were there to instruct after rereading The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson.  I started thinking, “If I were to write an illustrated primer like that, what are some of the traits it would have?” And I kept running back into the Alice books: the world is the adult world, as a kid might see it at the time–threatening, yet she (brattily) navigates it.

If you were going to write some kind of work instructing a particular kid in some of the things that they need for survival (perhaps that you suspect they aren’t getting from their immediate family), how would you do it?  I try not to think like that too much; I don’t want to come across as preachy.  And try as I might, I seem to keep coming back to themes in my work for kids: bullies don’t get to say who you are, sometimes grownups can’t be relied upon, people will try to get you to do what they want you to do, not what’s right for you.  But mostly when I sit down to write, I want to show kids doing stuff.

And as far as the idea that Charles Dodgson was reliving his past to some extent in the Alice books, well, why not?  Don’t we all have things that we learned in childhood (or mis-learned) that we want to pass on?

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2012-01-22

  • Book review of Curses! A F***ed Up Fairy Tale…now with links 🙂 http://t.co/g45wUGVV #
  • When a girl's mom disappears, she's supposed to do something about it. http://t.co/hr6WU2Ba Stories for kids with attitude. Exotics #1 #
  • Plotting another Theornin story…involving a pun about mountains. #
  • Theornin story drafted. No songs included. #
  • Editing for Indie Writers: First Draft to Final Product (Roadmap) http://t.co/thRZblZo #amwriting #
  • My kids' short story, Tigerlilly, just went free! Pick it up – I dare adults not to like it 🙂 http://t.co/qyuw7LZP #
  • Writers, are you even making *minimum wage* with your writing? http://t.co/mloANNnh #

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How much is your fiction worth?

When you write a story, how much should you sell it for?  Whatever the market will bear, right?  It’s a capitalistic society, so we can make a ton of money!  Huzzah!

Well, it turns out that a lot of writers (including me) will sell a story for whatever the market will give us, not what it’s worth by any reasonable standard of the work we put into it.  Take a look at standard royalty rates: anywhere from 7-12.5% gross, right?

Why is it that low?  Because as writers, we all know that what publishers do is at least seven times more important than what we do:  without publishers, there would be no product!  And we all know that most of us won’t make the publisher any money–we won’t earn out our advances.  Poor, poor publishers, doing all this for…well, what turns out to be nice profits in 2010, and will probably be better in 2011.  They’re so noble, giving us the chance to get published–not!

I’m not saying that it’s a bad idea to try to get published rather than doing it yourself.  That’s a decision you have to make yourself; there’s a lot of cachet in getting published, and it does build a resume that will help with other freelance work.  So I can’t say that I won’t be tempted by a low advance and crappy rates; I have been before, and I will be again.  However, know that when you’re considering a publisher, even a big publisher, you may not be getting paid minimum wage to write.

My guesstimated numbers:

Number of words/hour on average first draft: 1000.
Words edited per hour for cleanup (NOT including client changes/revisions/copyedits/etc.): 2500.
Time taken to write/edit 10K:  10 hours writing + 4 hours cleanup = 14 hours (if everything goes smoothly, and not including submission time, and not including research/brainstorming time).

For self-employed people, you have to take the hourly wages x 2 to get about the same take-home pay, due to taxes and hours spent doing non-production tasks, like managing your business.  Working for the man means you get paid to answer emails from your employer.  Working for yourself means you don’t.

Minimum wage in Colorado: $7.36/hr.  Self employed: $14.82  Skill level:  can’t spell, cardboard characters, unbelievable plot, could be outsourced to a monkey.

Average wage of HS graduate*: $25,000 women/$32,900 men ($50K women/$65.8K men–$25/hr women, $32.90/hr men).  Skill level: can spell but can’t handle grammar, has read a few of the greats in HS English, has one or two decent strengths, has no idea why things work or don’t.

Average wage of college graduate: $40,100 women/$51,000 men ($80.1K women/$101K men–$40.10/hr women, $51/hr men).  Skill level: spelling/grammar proficient, can think analytically about a text and is aware of genre requirements, is decent at all areas of writing with a few real strengths, is starting to recognize personal style and audience.

Note: we still haven’t hit the skill level (or pay grade) of a professional writer yet.

I’m going to guesstimate my average book length as about 85K, and my average story length as 4K.

Short story (4K):

Time to write: 4 hours; time to edit: 1.6 hours.  Total: 5.6 hours.
Minimum wage: $82.42 (just over 2 cents/word)
HS graduate: $140 women (3.5c/w)/$184.24 men (4.6c/w).
College graduate: $224.56 women (5.6c/w)/$285.60 men (7.1c/w).
Note:  still not to pro writer skill level yet.

Conclusion: assuming that writers are fast and work cheap, and the editors ask for no changes or help with promotions, semi-pro rates should be 7.1 cents/word.

Pro rates should be more than that; the fact that pro rates are generally defined at 5c/word implies that pro writers are more skilled than a monkey but are only writing at the same level as a high-school graduate.

Novel (85K):
Time to write: 85 hours; time to edit: 34.  Total: 119.
Minimum wage: $1751.68
HS graduate: $2975/$3915.10
College graduate: $4771.90/$6069
Again, not to pro writer level yet.

Conclusion: assuming that writers are fast and work cheap, and the editors ask for no changes or help with promotions, an advance at a smaller publishing house should be $6K.  Advances at large publishing houses should be proportionately larger.  Advances for books requiring research should be proportionately larger.

But wait! The publishers are taking all the risk, right? No.

The writers are taking the risk that the publisher will ask for edits (and they will); they are taking the risk that the publisher will ask us to do promotions (and they will).  If the publisher is taking all the risks, the writer should be paid hourly for those tasks–at $101/hour, for smaller publishing houses and more for larger houses.

If that work is worth nothing, then writers with platforms (or track records) are not worth more than writers without platforms or track records, and that is clearly not the case.  The writers are also taking the risk that the publisher will screw up somehow on the book.  The writer is investing in the publisher as well: if the publisher isn’t making money for the writer, why?  Is the publisher incompetent?  The publisher thought the book was good enough to make them money, or they wouldn’t have bought it.  Or shouldn’t have bought it.

How important is the writer to a book?

Is the writer more or less important than the publisher when it comes to a project?

Let’s (generously) say that the publisher and writer each contribute about half the value of a book, that what they do is equally important to the success of a book.  Then why aren’t writers making 50% net, with net being “retail minus the physical cost of the book, if any, and bookseller discount”?

Because the publishers will pay us whatever we will put up with; that’s capitalism for you.  They can make a ton of money!  Huzzah!

I mean, I can’t blame them:  wouldn’t you?

*Numbers taken from U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2011). The Condition of Education 2011 (NCES 2011–033),Indicator 17.  Latest data for 2009.

Book Review: Thunderbird, by Deb Logan

**** Excellent.

The book has two narrators, a boy and a girl, both with fun stories.

Abut 150 pages.

 

Thunderbird

by Deb Logan

In short: Twins Janine and Justin are stuck at their father’s dinosaur-digging camp for the summer.  While most kids would be thrilled, they’ve seen it all before.  However, when Janine is called to find a mysterious egg for a mythological creature (the thunderbird), they’re both drawn on a quest through the regular world and the spirit world in order to save the creature from dying.

When I read like a kid (I’m actually a grown up, despite what my daughter might say), I think differently than I do as an adult.  Some kids’ books you can read as an adult (like Harry Potter), but some kids’ books you have to read like a kid (like Goosebumps).  This book is a book you should really read as a kid, and that’s a good thing.  When twins Janine and Justin take off without their father knowing where they’re going to follow a magical quest, my adult brain wanted to go, “No!  Bad bad!  Kids shouldn’t take off without their parents!” but it’s a book.  So I turned off that part of my brain and just enjoyed the book for what it is, which is an adventure story.  You know, a story in which people do stuff that they wouldn’t normally do, which, you know, most kids can figure out that they shouldn’t take off on magical quests without at least leaving their parents a note first.

One thing my adult brain really got into–Justin and Janine end up making part of their lengthy journey through the spirit world.  As an adult, I’ve read a lot of stuff about traveling through various spirit worlds that just leaves me bored, but the adult side of me found the spirit world described here just as interesting as my kid brain did.  I really enjoyed the fact that it changes depending on who your guide is?  Loved it.

Fast action, not a lot of blah blah blah, good characters, interesting plot and locations:  this book receives my kid-brain seal of approval.

Book Description (from WDM Publishing):

Janine Prentiss, a twelve-year-old Native American girl, is tired of spending her summers digging up dinosaur bones with her single-parent father, an eminent paleontologist. But neither does she want to spend her summer vacation listening to her shaman grandfather’s lame tales of spirit quests and totem creatures who talk. Instead of messing about with dead bones or fairy tales, Janine wants to go to cheerleading camp with her best friend. She wants to be a normal girl! Unfortunately, Dad doesn’t consider cheerleading a legitimate use of her time or his money. Bummer.

Justin Prentiss thinks his twin sister is nuts. What kid in their right mind wouldn’t love field camp? The wild beauty of Montana mountains, fresh air, and adults too busy to pay attention to what a guy is doing as long as he shows up for meals and bedtime. Field camp rocks!

However, it isn’t Justin who is drawn to the mysterious rock. It’s Janine, and the idiot girl is convinced that the chunk of granite–a fossil at best–is a real, live egg and that she’s got to protect it while it hatches. Girls!

The discovery of the thunderbird egg sweeps Janine and Justin off on the adventure of a lifetime. Not only will they discover that thunderbirds exist, but they’ll come face to face with malicious evil in the form of Unktehi, a spirit of disruption straight out of their grandfather’s legends.

About the Author (from the author’s website):

Deb Logan specializes in fantasy tales for the young at heart. She loves mythology and is especially fond of Celtic and Native American lore. She writes about faeries, dragons, and other fantasy creatures for the younger set with a light touch. Deb’s stories touch on the core of what it is to be young without the darkness prevalent in so many of today’s YA works.

You can find Thunderbird  and other Deb Logan stories at her publisher, WDM Publishing.  Her website is here.

Update: Deb put up a short article on…having twins.  She’s the mom of actual twins 🙂

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