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

 

A Call to Action: Free Stories for Reviews

Hello readers! Today’s post will be short and sweet. As a writer, I both have confidence in my ability to write but also think my work is crappy at the same time. As odd and contradictory as that sounds, it seems to be pretty common among writers. In past years I have confidently published short reads to Amazon, only to lose faith quickly and take them down a month later. Luckily, Amazon allowed me the freedom to do that.

Though taking them down may have hindered me more than helped me. Instead of keeping my neck out there, I pulled it back like a turtle, to protect myself. After all, when creating anything and showing it to the public, it’s sort of like baring your soul to the world. It can be embarrassing. It can be unnerving. No one likes to be judged. Yet, that’s what we long for. We long for opinions of our readers to drive us forward, to tell us where we could improve or to tell us they loved it. We even long for them to tell us they hated it as long as they tell us why.

But the world is not always so kind.

A very small percentage of readers actually leave reviews. And many negative reviews can be written in such a way that it keeps the creator from trying to ever create anything every again. In a recent tumblr post I came across, I saw one of the best things I’ve ever read about writing reviews. Here is the screenshot:

As a writer, I have definitely experienced this in the past. I think we all have. Those kinds of reviews give us what I’ve heard referred to as “art scars” or “creativity scars.” However, that is not what I’ve come here to talk to you about today.

A Call to Action

In the past few days I have revisited and revised my dusty GoodReads account. I noticed that two of the short reads that I had published and then unpublished had received ratings. Positive ratings. It was only one or two but it was enough of a push in the right direction to prompt me to re-publish them. I thought, “We are often our own worst critics. I may not think it’s my best work and it probably isn’t…but someone liked it. Someone got value or entertainment from it and that is all that matters.”

Dear readers, I ask of you a favor. This weekend I have three of my short stories taking part in a free book promo with Amazon Kindle which means that they are free to download and read. Two of them will be free from today until Tuesday of next week.

The other will be free from tomorrow (Saturday) until Wednesday of next week. I ask that should you wish to download them for free, that you please leave a review. After all, reviews help writers sell more books and stories.

I will also be publishing a 100% new, never before published short story this weekend. So please be on the lookout for it! You will be able to see it as soon as it’s published from my Author Central Page. Thank you for being readers!

Happy Reading!

-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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