Category Archives: Self-Publishing

Don’t Give Away Your Work for Free

Recently, I started posting an older publication of mine, chapter by chapter, in the hopes that it would let people sample my writing and grow their interest. I wrestled with myself a long time about it because I have strong opinions about not giving away your work for free. After all art is work. Yes, it can be fun but it’s still a job. And there’s nothing that peeves me more than people who expect to get your hard work for free.

After having some long conversations with myself, I decided that I was going to go ahead and post all of my first novella, Laszlo, on this blog, free of charge. However, partway through posting, I had a friend from work tell me that his neighbor had published a book about his time spent in prison.

My co-worker did a fantastic job selling the book (and he hadn’t even read it yet.) Needless to say, my interest was immediately piqued. After all, I like to learn and prison is a place that I’ve never been nor do I ever want to go. So what better way to learn than from a book written by someone who’s actually been there? I was very excited to read it. I went home that day and purchased it for five dollars on Amazon.

According to my Kindle, I got 20% through the book before I stopped. The summary of the piece on Amazon should’ve been a huge red flag that the quality of the writing inside the book wasn’t going to be much better. I hate bashing other artists’ work and I really wanted to give the author the benefit of the doubt. If I don’t care for someone else’s work, I won’t say anything but this piece was so horrible, I felt compelled to warn others.

The following is what I wrote about the piece:

“The Amazon summary of this book was a huge warning sign that the piece itself would be filled with errors but I wanted to give the author the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately, I had to return it for a refund. This piece is filled with typographical errors, incorrect punctuation, run-on sentences, sentence fragments, incorrect verb tenses and mix-ups between plural and singular verbs and nouns. The author claims that this book has been edited (as per the very beginning) but not by anyone with a proper education, comprehension of the English language or the craft of writing. Frankly, it’s insulting to those who both respect and understand the craft of storytelling.

Overall, there is no story structure. It reads like a NaNoWriMo rough draft. There is also no variance between the author’s voice as a narrator and the dialogue of other people/characters. The idea for a story is there but it isn’t organized; one could say it’s a 200+ page rant. Some of the paragraphs are over two pages long. The book was originally published by Infinity Publications which (after going to their website) appears to be a cross between self-publishing and a vanity publisher. While I see nothing wrong with self-publishing, this is one of the many pitfalls. Books like this are why self-published authors receive a bad reputation.”

Not only were there quality issues, but I had some personal issues with the piece that caused me to stop reading. For instance, the author described every woman in the book by her bra size and breast shape. Occasionally there was an ass or thigh mentioned. In the beginning of the book, the author mentions that he doesn’t have a good relationship with his daughter. After seeing how he describes women as walking sex, I can see why. I hope for his daughter’s sake that she stays far away from him until he understands how to properly reintegrate into society.

It’s rare that I leave reviews on books but I’m trying to get better because the Golden Rule states to do unto others what you would want done to you.

Reviews can help sell books, so I’ve been trying to leave reviews on Goodreads or Amazon for every book I read. As stated before, I hate leaving a bad review. If I had written something and published it with that many errors, I would hope that someone would bring it to my attention, so that I could improve.

That was a long-winded explanation but this is ultimately why I stopped posting my work for free. I composed a story that may not be the best story ever written, but I took the time to think about voice and characterization. In taking the time to proofread and edit and get others to look at it, I actually cared about the craft and I think in large part that’s what separates the successful from the unsuccessful. Their passion.

When it comes to writing (and other forms of art), you have to have passion for the craft. A lot of people see writing as a get rich quick scheme. They think it would be easy to be sitting on a beach in Maui by this time next year.

The truth is- if it were easy, everyone would do it.

The other day I saw a meme that said, “Stop trying to skip the struggle.”

It’s easy to get discouraged when you release a book or a couple of books and you feel like you should be an overnight success. The thing about overnight successes is that while it appears to happen overnight from the outside looking in, the person it’s happening to has probably put a lot of work and years of struggle into making their vision a reality.

Going forward, I will continue to post excerpts and chapters from published works with links to the actual product. However, I will not be posting entire works for free. Art is work and if you don’t take yourself seriously, how can you expect anyone else to?

On Cover Art

They say never to judge a book by its cover. However, we all do it. In fact, it’s almost impossible not to. It’s human nature. When we see something we automatically start sizing it up as to whether we think we’re going to like it or not. This goes for more than just books. We do this with many things in our life such as what furniture to put in our homes and with which people we choose to spend our time.

Appearance means something.

When it comes to getting cover art for your work of fiction, it’s important to go the extra mile and get it done by a professional. When I first started publishing, I was guilty of going the cheaper route. I tried designing things myself, but I’m no graphic artist. I tried websites like Fiverr and purchased cheap cover art, but rarely ever was a satisfied that the product. As the saying goes, “you get what you pay for.”

There are many self published books out there with cover art that looks so cheap and poorly done that it makes you wonder about the quality of the book. I once brought this point up to a friend and that friend said to me, “maybe they want their book to look cheap and crappy.” What? I’m pretty sure I was being trolled as he was playing the devil’s advocate because seriously when you’re putting your work out there you’re baring your soul. Do you really want to look cheap and crappy?

I am a big fan of simplicity when it comes to cover art.

I’m not saying the cover art needs to be super fancy with lots of different layers and colors. Sometimes a simple cover is the best cover and holds the best stories. I see a lot of self-published authors making their own cover art. They layer so many things that don’t go together and don’t mix well. You don’t have to put every image or element of your story onto the cover! Leave some mystery. It would behoove them to pay for a professional artist who has experience in creating book cover designs.

It doesn’t take much. With a little research, you’ll be able to find plenty of people who are capable of doing the job. There are a lot of artists out there who are willing to work with you and provide you with a great product. After all, if you put so much of yourself – your blood, sweat, and tears – into your work, doesn’t it deserve to be presented in the best way possible?

Below are a few examples from artists I’ve worked with.

One of many works in progress. Design by FrinaArt.
Second in a series. Design by LaLimaDesign.
A new project that isn’t even fully outlined yet! Design by Sharnel.

Help! I Don’t Understand ‘Target Audience’

Readers, I need your help. I’m always after new ways to try and better my writing. To fine-tune it. But there is one term that comes up a lot when reading about the craft of writing and I can never grasp its purpose. I don’t understand “Target Audience.” I understand what it is, I don’t understand the purpose of it. So many websites and books preach that you must know your target audience to be successful.

I know that there is a different in writing for yourself and writing for the industry. I’m a firm believer in writing for yourself. I think you should write the book that you want to write and if someone isn’t happy about it, screw them! Not every person is going to like every book. I’ve read insanely popular bestsellers and hated them. I’ve always read popular books that I love. I read some Stephen King books that I love and some that I can’t force myself to finish because I found them boring. You can’t make everyone happy. So why have a target audience?

Are target audiences wrong?

I feel like so often they are. The Lord of the Rings had a target audience of 9-year-old boys… do you realize how hard that book is to get through as an adult? Regardless, it took the world by storm anyway. So did Harry Potter which had a similar target audience. So why to authors continue determining their target audience?

Who is my target audience?

Anyone who wants to read…? At least that’s always been my answer.

I would love for everyone to post in the comments below, their thoughts on the term “target audience.” Do you understand it? Are you like me and feel like you’re missing a point? I feel like I’m missing some bigger picture or perhaps I’m just looking at it from the wrong perspective. Please let me know.

-RB

 

The French Scene: How to Break Your Fiction Into Smaller Bites

No. A french scene is not when one character sticks their tongue into another character’s mouth during the scene. It was a term we used in the theater department to break a play into more manageable parts. Allow me to explain.

Having been a theater major in college as opposed to an English major, has given me a different outlook on writing fiction. I’m not sure what all goes on in those fiction-writing classes but I’ve never heard an English major (or any other writer for that matter) talk about French Scenes. Nor have I heard them mention Triggers, Heaps and Beats but that is another blog post! Studying fiction from an acting and directing perspective, has broadened my understanding of storytelling. In the end, I think English majors could learn a thing or two from us theater folk especially when it comes to writing dialogue.

Now I’m not a master of the craft (who is?) But I’ve noticed that when writing a first draft or editing later drafts that larger chunks of work can be overwhelming. It’s daunting – looking at a 7,000 word chapter and knowing you need to break that shit down. So I’d like to introduce to you the concept of a French Scene.

What is a French Scene?

By definition, “A “French scene” is a scene in which the beginning and end are marked by a change in the presence of characters onstage, rather than by the lights going up or down or the set being changed.-Wikipedia

So basically, anytime a character enters or leaves a scene. You may have some french scenes which consist of three lines of dialogue, and some which last more than a page. Granted, this doesn’t work for every work of fiction. In Emma Donoghue’s Room, a large part of the story consists of dialogue between Ma and Jack. The french scenes for this work would be very long. However, there are other ways to break up chunks of fiction.

Some elect to edit page by page or even break their editing up into paragraph by paragraph. I find that when I edit this way, my fiction is clunkier and doesn’t flow as well. Instead, treat each new thought or topic of conversation as a character entering or leaving the scene. This way, you’d still be utilizing the french scene method.

What is the Function of a French Scene?

I first came across the term during a Stage Management class during my sophomore year of college. It was one of the most fascinating and influential classes I took during my college career. The stage manager, much like the author of a novel, is the god of the play’s production. They keep track of EVERYTHING for that production from the stage lighting cues in the script to each actor’s audition papers.

There is even a specific short-hand language and way of writing that we had to learn so that should something happen to the stage manager during a production, someone else can easily replace them. Seriously, we had an entire assignment on the quickest way to hand write (with instructions on how to write every letter of the alphabet, capitalized and lower case) in the least amount of pen strokes.

Please let me know in the comments below how you break down your fiction. You never know when your pearl of wisdom just might help the next greatest writer tackle their work.

Further Reading

If you’re interested in learning more about stage production, Angela Mitchell has a fantastic series of blog posts on the topic. I highly recommend checking out her work.

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I’m Writing a Novella, Damn It!

I’ve had it with people telling me to write a novel instead of a novella. Why do I put up with writing advice from people who aren’t writers?

I’ve spent my writing career trying to stretch my stories into something that they’re not… Going against my own rule. Often, I tell others, “A story is a story. You shouldn’t worry about length. If it’s meant to be a short story, it will be. If it’s meant to be a novel, it will be. Don’t stretch it into something it’s not, and don’t cut it short when there needs to be more.”

But here I’ve been, going against my own mantra, trying to stretch my own novellas into full-length novels. A lot of the guys I know at work (who don’t even read books, mind you, let alone write them), constantly ask me, “Why don’t you just add ten thousand words?” As if it’s the easiest thing in the world…

OR

“Just add stuff. You’re a writer. Make something up! It’s what you do, isn’t it? Make stuff up?” Easier said than done. Sure, I may have a myriad of ideas but that doesn’t mean that any of them belong together. “Why can’t you just make it longer? Why?

OR

And this is my personal favorite…drum roll, please. “What is a novella?” As if that question doesn’t get old…

What is a novella!? Are you kidding me? Have you not graduated high school English? A novella… you know, like those books you read in school…  The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway, Animal Farm by George Orwell, The Time Machine by HG Wells, The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka (F@#$!ng hate that book), Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury… any of these ring a f@#$!ng bell? All of them are novellas! I don’t actually say this to their faces but I’m thinking it in my head while I’m explaining to them what a novella is.

The other night, I took a good hard look at the projects I have in the works. Most of them would make good novellas and with the new platform of being able to self-publish, novellas are making a comeback.


Check out my first novella, Laszlo: The Chronicles of Noelle 1. Don’t have a Kindle and don’t want the paperback version? No sweat! It’s also available on other digital platforms such as the Barnes and Noble Nook, Kobo, iBooks, Scribd and more.


The short novel faded out of popularity for a while. It wasn’t that readers didn’t like them but rather, publishers didn’t like them. They cost too much to make and didn’t earn a high profit. Publishers would much rather print a book and charge $20 than print a novella and only charge $10. A novella makes a profit but it didn’t make as much profit so Publishers stopped taking them. However, now CreateSpace, Amazon and other online publishers run the literary world.

Is there a market out there for novellas? I have no idea. The internet tells me there is, so I’m inclined to believe it is so (but please don’t believe everything you read on the internet!).

I’m writing novellas because it’s what I want to write.

In the hectic 21st century, a lot of people don’t have time to read the big doorstop books. Even I, who am grown fond of reading, don’t like those big ass books. I don’t have time to read a novel that’s going to take me 5 months to get through. And I’m a fast reader. I want something that I can get through in a month or less. Sometimes I read a book and it only takes a day. Sometimes I read a book and it takes two weeks. That’s my kind of pace.

So that’s it. No more negotiating. No more arguing with myself or my friends and co-workers, who know nothing about writing. I’m going to write novellas. I’m going to write a ton of them. And I’m going to be happy about it. One day, when the world gets around to it and realizes that the novella is back, I will have published 20 of them. People will say, “Oh my gosh! Where the hell did this chick come from? She’s got a ton of novellas! And she was publishing them back when it was uncool.”

If I come across a story that wants to be a novel, fine. I have a few that are going to be a series, so in the end, when the series is complete, I may combine them all into one large door-stopping tome. This way the nitpicky readers who need a book that takes five years to read can have it their way.

I wrote this blog post because I realized that this is one of my blocks. This is one of those (or several of those) voices in my head that shout and jeer along with my inner editor (the bastard!) and tell me, “You can’t do this writing thing!” I would say that all writers have that voice but really, all human beings have that voice. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying and for some reason ashamed to admit it.

At first, I thought it was the people I worked around or the area I lived in but as it turns out, there are writers across the globe who receive that kind of unhelpful advice from non-writers. It’s advice that wasn’t even asked for. Even if you’re not artsy in the slightest, we’ve all received that unsolicited advice.

Keep in mind that while it’s important to have a readership and an audience, there is one person you have to write for above all others- one person you truly need to please to find peace- and that person is yourself. If you have no passion for what you’re writing, or you’ve lost the passion, take a step back and a good look at why. For me, this was it. Writing had gone from fun and play to grueling, unsatisfying work. Don’t get me wrong, writing IS hard work! But I had reached a point where I was forcing my projects down holes they weren’t meant to go. Enforcement caused me to lose passion and I had to take a step back.

Think a novella might be right up your alley but not sure where to get started?

There are plenty of books out there on how to structure novels or how to pace a short story but not too many focus on the novella format. However, much like a short story, you CAN write a novella in one day. Yes, I said it. It bears repeating. It is possible to write a novella in as little as a day. Granted, it may take more time to edit. If you’d like guidance, I highly recommend Andrew Mayne’s book How to Write a Novella in 24 Hours: And other questionable & possibly insane advice on creativity for writers. I find that reading about writing and hearing another author’s advice to be uplifting, motivational and inspiring. I hope that you will as well! Otherwise, why are you reading this post?

Lastly, if you enjoy writing, if you have a passion for your story, it makes the craft easier. Don’t let others tell you what your story should or should not be. You, the writer, know best. It may sound contradictory to now add that one should always be open to growth and constructive criticism. Always remember, writing is a craft that no one masters. Language is ever-evolving. Never stop learning.

Happy Writing!

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