Saturday, February 15, 2014

How tempting is it to take "The Pantser Pill"? Plotting vs Pantsing: Part Two

I badly needed to revisit this topic ...

I've hit that proverbial brick wall with both the spin-off to The Land of Betrovia trilogy and the prequels.

And why have things stalled?

While working on those things related to the Betrovia trilogy, I'm also hammering away on an entirely different project (the novel I started the winter of 1984). I also do not have a complete outline to tell me how to bring the story to an end.

Why can't I just plod on without thinking about how these things should end?

Might it have something to do with being the first-born from a dysfunctional family? Just another one of those control-freaks struggling off and on with obsessive-compulsive disorder?

I know I need to plot/outline to somehow keep tabs on loose ends ... it's in my DNA! 
Oh yes, I detest loose ends! 

After publishing the trilogy, I decided to create an Excel-based timeline to help me decide where to go next. Or course, if I was a tried-and-true die-hard plotter like I think I am I would have set up that Betrovia universe spreadsheet years ago!

But there it is ... with over 300 years of "Betrovia history" delineated in a nice, neat timeline ... in multi-colored complexity to boot!

The goal is to kick out three Betrovia-related novels by December: the full set of the Nether Valley Tales, The Proselytes (still a working title for the spin-off featuring Kristof and Dalten), and Into the Desert (the working title for the continuing story of Edelin and Galena). But which one will be first? Does it matter?

Oh, and then there's the Life in Beatty book ... which is already at 60K 
but feels like it's only 2/3 done!

Plotting vs. panstering ... I think I'm somewhere in between. No, I haven't ingested the "blue pill of pansterology", but I have not been true to my outlining genetics.

Anyway, here's the continuation of what the fine folk of The Writers' Cafe 
have been thinking lately about this thought-provoking topic.

"Okay, I bet everyone will tell me that I'm wrong, but here's my theory:
First, a little background on how I formulated this theory. Last night I saw a promo for the new CW show called Star-Crossed, and it made me think of the prologue from Romeo and Juliet. (You know... 'from the forth the loins of these two foes, a pair of star-crossed lovers take their life.') And I was thinking about the prologue gives the ending away, (and also that loins is a funny word) but that must not have been much of a surprise, because with Shakespeare's tragedies, you could tell the end of all of them from the title. (In Hamlet, Hamlet dies. In Othello, Othello dies. In King Lear... well, anyway.) And I was also thinking about how there's this appetite for endless remakes of things, which is kind of silly, because I mean, I'm watching the new Carrie, and I already know how it's going to turn out. Anyway, so that got me thinking about how some stories are enjoyable because you don't know what's going to happen. Like Fight Club. With the ending ruined, that story would have been way less cool. And other stories are enjoyable even if you already know the ending, because you want to know how it happens. Same kind of thing for a remake. I wanted to see how the remake handled the story of Carrie. (And actually, since Shakespeare's plays were all based on well-known stories, maybe that was the allure of them as well.) So, I started thinking that some stories are what-happens stories and other stories are how-it-happens stories. For instance, twisty-turny thrillers are about what happens. But a mystery story is about how it happens, because you know the detective's going to catch the killer. Similarly, romance stories are about how it happens. You know they're going to fall in love. And I wondered if people who pants tend to enjoy finding out what happens and if people who plot are more likely to enjoy how it happens. For me, the fun of writing is often the nitty-gritty details. Writing the conversations, the emotional fall out, the punches and the explosions. But I often get sort of annoyed with trying to figure out what happens, like the overarching plot, because that's hard and no fun. So I often like to get the plotting business out of the way so that I can get to the fun stuff. I wonder, however, for dyed-in-the-wool pantsers, if the whole joy of writing comes from discovering what happens next, and that's why plotting takes all the joy out of writing."

"Pantsing is just so inefficient. I find it to be so, at any rate -- I end up rewriting and rewriting and rewriting. Getting my second book done has taken %&*)@#$! forever. My problem with plotting is not characters acting weirdly (I end up with that pantsing, too, LOL). It's more that I stare at my blank outline and can't think of anything to have happen. I can't seem to generate plot outside the act of writing. Apparently, when Morpheus offered me the choice, I took the pantser pill, and now there's no going back!"

"The style differences between Brian DePalma's CARRIE via the 1970s, versus the Kimberly Pierce version via the 2010s, are matters of director style, not the storyline itself. King's text remains largely unchanged from when it was first published until today. And he pantsed that plot. Both DePalma and Pierce took that plot and added their own style to it, but the basic story beats are all the same, because the story was already written by King. So... I'm not sure the example fits the theory. Comparing movie director styles to book reading is not a plot vs. pants thing. Although I will say CARRIE had one of King's better endings. (His endings are a weakness, and that sometimes proves to be true of pantsers, though not exclusively.)"

"As an aside (kind of), I'd love to see a breakdown of planners/pantsers and how-it-happens/what-happens people alongside a Meyers-Briggs breakdown
I'd bet the planners are J-types and the pantsers are P-types!"  

"Plotter here, and I agree that I fit into this pattern exactly. It's the journey, not the destination, and all that. Knowing the end of a movie or book NEVER makes me want to see/read it less. Sometimes, when I'm watching a movie at home, I'll just google the ending because I can't stand the suspense and it helps me 'enjoy the ride' better, haha. Plus, I find I'm really good at predicting what will happen in a story -- like I usually have a sense, very early, of how things will turn out. So, I'm very rarely watching or reading to find out 'what happens' -- I'm usually in it to find out 'how it happens.' I'm weird, I know. But I think this is pretty insightful. ETA: Thinking about this more -- I'm also someone who can watch the same movies, or TV reruns, OVER AND OVER. Case in point: I saw the last Hunger Games movie five times in the theater. I've seen Grey's Anatomy (all 9 seasons) start to finish about 5 times. Lol, so knowing what happens reeeeally doesn't bother me. Perhaps I am an extreme case."

"As a writer, I've always been caught up in the 'what happens next' aspect. I've been stingy with reveals and loathe to hint at events for fear of dropping a spoiler. And yet ... now I'm just finishing up the last episode in a retelling of a well-loved classic. EVERYBODY knows what happens! I'm finding people enjoy two things about a retelling - seeing how it happens in this version, and also reliving their own idea of the story in the way it knocks against mine. In other words, it's all about the ride, not the destination. Both are valid focal points, the ride and the destination. Actually, that might explain why people like genre conventions and get mad when the conventions aren't respected. They want the ride they bought the ticket for."

"I'm a little of both, I think. I am 80 percent pantser and 20 percent plotter. I have several landmarks in my head of what I'm writing towards, but those landmarks are ALWAYS subject to change. For me most of the joy of writing is finding out what happens next, which would be in line with your theory. But with several major points in the arc of my series that I know my characters are going to get to, I often wonder how as well."

"When I'm on the receiving end as a reader or TV/movie watcher, I'm totally a 'how it happens' kind of person. I drive my husband INSANE because I will read all the spoilers and wiki entries on TV shows/movies, and I've been known to flip to the end of the book while I'm reading it to know the ending. But I always enjoy the journey regardless of whether I know what's going to happen or not. Knowing the end doesn't take one iota away from my enjoyment. As a pantster writer through and through I should know by now (22 books and counting) that my characters dictate my story as I go along. I can try to plot, but when they make the story come alive they go where they want to go, and they often surprise me. That does make it fun for me. Stressful sometimes because I don't know where I'm going, but as long as I trust that they do, it always seems to work out."

"If my interest is flagging in a book, I'll flip to the last chapter. If it is compelling, I'll go back to find out how the author got there. I'm so glad I'm not alone."

"I'm a pantser, but there is a bit of plotting involved. It fits my philosophy of when things go sideways, embrace the sideways."

"I definitely discover what happens next by pantsing my way along. But I don't pants because it would take the joy out of things to outline; I pants because I simply can't figure out what happens next if I'm not actually writing it. It's actually sort of annoying. I wish I could be a plotter."

"I panted the first two parts of my current serial. It was so fun discovering as I went along. But as I came to the middle of the last installment, I hit a wall. I thought, 'How am I going to tie up all these loose ends?' So... I ended up outlining the rest. It will need a lot of editing to tighten the story. I don't think I'll pants again. While finding what happens is fun, it can lead down a confusing, disjointed path."

"I try to be a plotter, because I think I'll be more efficient in my word count, but when I plot, it feels like the characters are acting in certain ways to serve that plot and it feels like my writer's 'strings' are showing. When I get tired of that and finally say 'chuck it,' (or something similar) then the characters manage to resolve things on their own. 
I wish I was a plotter, but it's a battle."

I used to think I was a pantser, but reading this thread makes me feel I'm actually a hybrid pantser (80% pantser/20% plotter sounds about right). I have been accosted in bookstores by little old ladies who tell me I shouldn't read the last page of a book. But I'm reading it to find out the 'what' so I can better enjoy the 'how.' I adore spoilers of all sorts, but they only add to my enjoyment not take away from it. I always tell people that it's impossible to spoil a plot for me. There are hundreds of movies and books that I enjoy over and over. When I write, my characters usually take me on their journey. I simply record it. But I usually have a main arc in mind.

"I'm an absolute pantser but I don't think that there's any more to it than that happens to be my writing process.  I feel like I get into the head of my characters, they 'speak' to me and I'm the scribe.  When I try to nudge them into things, they push back (and on one occasion stopped talking to me at all for 3 days!), so I need to listen to the story they tell me and write it down. For the record, I love both what happens stories and how they happen stories, it's just that mine happen by pantsing."

"I still haven't written enough to think I've settled into a permanent writing groove, but so far I've mostly pantsed.  Getting sucked into my own imagination, and letting that dictate where the story goes as I'm writing it, is a lot of fun for me... at least, it's fun when things are flowing.  But I tend to spend a lot of time tapping into that flow, and sometimes I feel more immersed than others. I've been thinking about plotting a story out, to see if it's less laborious for me to do the writing.  Maybe I'll try it soon."

"Perhaps it also depends on the genre? It seems thrillers, with their intricate plots and plenty of twists and turns, require more outlining than other genres. I've tried both outlining and pantsing, but have discovered that for some odd reason my outlining brain and my writing brain seem disconnected. The outlining-me doesn't seem to know what the writing-me is capable of, and therefore I've sometimes spent weeks outlining, only to discover once I started writing, that I couldn't write that story. It just didn't fit my writing chops and sensibilities. And vice versa, once I start writing, I tend to come up with plots and stories that I would never have been able to conceive in the outlining stage."

"I've been trying to outline to Blake Snyder's beat sheet, and I get pretty good outlines. After that I really kind of let loose, but I like to have that direction early. Plus I like to know where my reversals are coming. These can come to you when you're working on the fly, and the spontaneous aspect of them is great, but that outline is nice to have. Really though, I seem to make it then not look at it much except for a reference list when I need a character's last name, a building name, address, or some other small detail I try to have on that cheat sheet."

"I used to plot intensely, to the extent of having a couple of lines detailing events in each and every chapter of my novels before even switching on my computer to write the first draft. It worked very well, but ... now I only do about a third as much plotting, so that I have a series of major points I know I have to get to in order for the story to flow coherently. Other than that, I have become something of a pantster. I've discovered that new twists and character traits emerge more naturally for me by doing things that way. However, I must always have a beginning, middle and end firmly in my mind before starting the first draft, so the idea that the journey is the key to the enjoyment doesn't quite work for me yet ( as an author, not a reader ). Having an ending makes sure I'm always moving toward that ending, and not wandering aimlessly as I write. Maybe I'm both a plotter and a pantster now: a plonster ... ?"

"This is the problem with this discussion. You've assumed that plotting = structure, and no plotting = no structure, and that's false. It's just as easy to meander when you are plotting as it is when you are pantsing, and you can both learn to structure as a pantser (or have an innate sense of it), as well edit to a balanced finished product. I can name several devout plotters who are meanderers or who had serious structure problems. Just because you've put something in an outline doesn't mean the reader needs it or will care about it. It happens on both sides. The real problem with many writers is killing their darlings, not whether that book was plotted. And some big authors get to a point where editors either don't challenge them, or the publishing company just doesn't care (I'm really not sure, probably both happen). Both sides have to cut the fat in places."

"I switch between pantsing and plotting between whatever genre I'm writing, but I have pantsed thrillers. I guess I'm a weirdo. I have a pretty good memory though, so I tend to tie up everything (sometimes without realizing it at first). It's harder for me when switching POVs, especially 3+ POVs, to pants, so that's when I tend to plot. I definitely have way more fun pantsing. I am setting up my next series in one POV, and in a more episodic style, just so I can pants it."

"Pantsers don't have to write in order. They also can edit afterward. I don't even bother writing my first chapter first when I'm plotting. It makes much more sense to me to write that last or close to last."

"I'm a bit of a hybrid. I don't start writing before I know the end of the story. I also know the major turns. I write nothing down, but maybe that still counts as plotting. What happens in between the major turns, and how they happen, I sort of discover while writing. In that respect I'm a pantser maybe. In short: I plot the what and I'm a pantser in as far as the how is concerned."

"I enjoy dreaming the stuff up. Thinking of some creepy thing that happens to someone, and then thinking of some way to work that into the story. I also enjoy setting a character loose and following along for a while, though, I find I end up cutting a lot of stuff that way. 
I guess I'm a hybrid."

"I've turned into a Micro-plotter, meaning that every day before I start to write I work out with pen and paper what a scene is about, what HAS to happen and what CANNOT happen. Also, I know from the beginning how a story will end. I need that."

"The above theory comports with why I'm a pantser and, more so, why I became a writer and significantly reduced the amount of reading I do for enjoyment (seemed like everything I was reading, I knew the end before I was a third in -- and TV is so much worse when you can guess whodunnit based on the guest actors cast on some shows). I don't like knowing how it turns out until I finish -- then I go back and add a few lines here or there so it doesn't feel like it's coming completely out of left field to the reader. I have to learn to become a 'how it happens' writer, though, because I need to write longer and not get block the minute I decide how to end it."

"I'm one of those people that will end friendships if you spoil the ending of a movie for me.  I don't want to know what happens before I experience it!  I want to have all the joy of discovery all to myself! And I consider my best works to be the ones I have pants.  I have fallen on plotting times due to the need for speed and oversight and such.  But when I'm at the top of my game, it is when I just sit down at the keyboard and type, discovering twists and turns I couldn't possibly have figured out ahead of time."

"Like someone already said, pansters can revise, so there's absolutely no reason one of their books couldn't open with a passage that requires knowledge of the entire plot. Pantsing vs. plotting is just one's mechanism for coming up with a first draft. Not very many of us can publish unrevised first drafts and have them be anything but a steaming pile of poo. I certainly can't. Since I come up with the plot as I draft, I revise very heavily. The "cuts" file for my WIP stands at about 25K words, and the manuscript itself is only 116K."

"I believe the events of a story should add up to something. That involves planning and structure. Otherwise it's just a lot of stuff happening that may or may not have any underlying meaning. Some of that pants'd writing is great and entertaining - especially short stories - but longer novels that are pants'd often seem unfocused and meandering with tacked on conclusions 
(yeah, I'm talking about you, Stephen King and George Martin.)"

"The more I read pantser/plotter discussions, the more I think there aren't two separate camps, that we all fall somewhere on a continuum. There are pantsers who say they go into things knowing only a few plot points, but there are outliners who describe their outlines as that sketchy too. I read a book on her writing by Elizabeth George, and her outlines are so detailed she all but writes the book twice. On the other extreme are pantsers who simply start writing with nothing but a character or two or a starting scene. Most of us fall somewhere in between. As to the original theory of the thread, as an outliner I'd be a data point in favor. Until Kindle made it too difficult, I always read the last page or two of any book I was considering. That was my reaction to Gone With the Wind. However, as someone else said, I'm writing romance, so of course generally speaking the outcome is known from the start."

Monday, February 10, 2014

How do you handle a negative review?

As a writer, who's our biggest fan? Our spouse? Our best friend? Our favorite beta-reader? 

Up until that nasty alzheimer's disease kicked it, my biggest fan was my mom. A week after giving her a copy of Betrovia, she wanted to know when the movie based on it was going to be made. Not long after that, she persuaded the person in charge of setting up her church's monthly newsletter to include a blurb for the book.

She's not read many medieval fantasies, so it would not be logical to label her a valid critic of the genre. But she was a prolific reader and was even the leader of a readers' group at her church a few years ago.

So what should a writer expect from his loving mother? 

The first negative review of any of my novels/stories posted on was a 2-star. This was awarded to one of my short stories after running it "free" the first time. Basically, the reviewer confessed she "didn't get it."

And "didn't get it" justifies giving the story 2 stars.

About a year later, someone posted this interesting 1-star review of Betrovia: "Sorry to say I gave up on this one only a few pages in. I found Patrik to be way (sic) to strange. He reminded me of someone who is mentally off. He became distracted over the smallest thing. One minute he is asking his daughter why she is so hard on Kristof, the stable boy, and the next minute he is distracted by how the sunshine highlighted a cleaning rag on the table. His daughter never answered by the way and it took him a full minute to realize this. The entire time you are in Patrik's head you see him distracted more times than he seems in 'the moment.' Too odd for me."

Maybe I should be thankful the reviewer didn't say "I don't get it"? 

Another thing to think about is how are negative reviews like rejection letters?

I never got around to sending my manuscripts to agents/publishers, so I don't have any letters sent to me to use as examples. But here are a few interesting ones:

The Diary of Anne Frank was rejected 16 times. After reading the manuscript, one publisher wrote, “The girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the ‘curiosity’ level.”

Joseph Heller, author of Catch-22, received this message from one publisher: “I haven’t the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say. Apparently the author intends it to be funny – possibly even satire – but it is really not funny on any intellectual level.”

One publisher said this about Stephen King’s Carrie, “We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.”

Yuppers ... negative reviews and rejection letters look pretty similar.

Now let's take a look at what those who patronize The Writers' Cafe think about 
negative reviews ... particularly the 1-star variety.

"Both of my books have a combined 43 reviews, 35 five star, 6 four star and 1 three star. Then out of nowhere I get a 1 star review. No mention of poor character development, poor grammar, poor punctuation, poor spelling, or unbelievable plot and characters. No, he thought it didn't have enough action in the first three chapters he read before returning it."

"How do I handle it? Usually, I laugh, especially my last one, "Progressive agenda wrapped in zombie blanket". I immediately shared it with friends. Gave me a good 24 hours of spontaneous chuckling."

"I think reviews are fair game. I want readers to express their opinions of my books so other readers can decide whether or not they're for them. Of course, I dislike ever hearing that someone did not enjoy reading one of my books. But that comes with the territory. In my case, I've had readers one star my books because they didn't like my character's hair color all the way to the fact that I used testimonials in the opening pages of my sample. As I said, it's all fair game and I'd rather hear from readers, than not. I won't always like what they have to say, but I want to hear from them nonetheless."

"You read it, decide if the criticisms are valid.  If they are, you try to consider them next time.  If they are not, you ignore them. I can't stress strongly enough that you have to detach emotionally from things like this if you want to do this as a career.  I see people say they don't read reviews, but a lot of negative (or middling) reviews have good points about how you can improve your work.  Good reviews are far less valuable (though more fun). If you let reviews depress you, you're going to have a hard time.  A quick little wave of unhappiness is one thing, but then let it go. I have a one star review that gushes about the book (an obvious mistake on the star rating), another one star that lists an old book and basically says, 'I didn't read this book, but I can't imagine how anyone can write on the topic better that XXX,' and still another that is a ten paragraph rant about how she couldn't download the thing.  You can't let this stuff get to you."

"I just quote The Big Lebowski: 'Yeah, well, that's just, like, your OPINION, man.;'"

"I usually kill some one off in my WIP... jk... I usually share it with my husband so I can vent about it then I can let my anger out. I just don't get it. I am so sorry that you had to get something like that. Some people out there try to bring other writers down just because they are intimidated. I have received one star reviews say things like I hate this genre and that's why I hated this book. I am just baffled by people choosing to read a book in a genre they hate or they only read a few chapters like you were talking about and then leave a review stating it was awful and how they could not get through even 2 chapters."

"It may help to tell yourself that, in a year, you'll have more perspective, and to forgive yourself for not having it now. I think I should have 'Don't overreact' tattooed across my forehead. Wait, across my thigh, where I could see it while I sat at my computer. But like any other emotionally triggering event, that's a whole lot easier to say than to do. Give yourself a break, let yourself be upset, and know that it'll get easier."

"I don't even read the good reviews. Forget about the bad ones. As long as they bought my book, they're free to say whatever they want. It's their right post-purchase. (Which is why I don't plan to make any of my books free until it has at least 200 5-star reviews or something to blunt nonsense reviews like this.)"

"Haters gonna hate. Just repeat that one hundred times, because it's true. Haters gonna hate."

"One of the awesome things about negative reviews (and why I like them) is because the very same reasons your reviewer laid out why they didn't like the book, will be the exact thing that excites the next reader to buy your book. I had a reader one star one of my books because she didn't like that the heroine had a girlfriend and that the makeout scenes were too descriptive for her taste. No sooner than her review went up, so did sales of my book. There's always a silver lining if you look for it."

"1) I sulk. For at least half an hour.
2) I find someone who loves me and whine to them about it, but within reason.
3) Chocolate.
4) Watch something adorable, like Tom Hiddleston meeting Cookie Monster, or kittens playing in the snow.
5) Find one piece of my writing that I really, really like and read it and assure myself that I am not a plague upon the writing world.
6) Repeat Steps 1-5 as needed. Then I'm over it.
Bad reviews suck. A lot. But it's the name of the game. There is a universal rule in writing: no matter what it is, someone will love it and someone will hate it. At least it means you're engaging them, if that helps. But hey, you also have a buttload of good reviews and some of us pray for that day, so don't sweat it. We got your back."

"I laugh. Life's too short to get upset by it.  Poop happens.  And way more people like my books than hate them, so I'm doing something right. To be honest, I love a good in-depth, scathing review.  If I made a reader feel ANYTHING strongly, I figure I did my job well."

"Upon receiving a bad review I crochet a little voodoo doll and write the reviewer's username on it with beige crayon. Then I paste it to the wall with glitter glue and stand before it, hurling invectives at it (completely ignoring correct grammar) and cursing their entire family tree and ancestors yet to come. Then I bury the doll in the backyard while quietly giggling to myself. I have a bit of a backlog, seeing how my backyard is currently under four feet of snow. But the time will come. Oh yes, it will..."

"I think we are hardwired to pay more attention to bad news than to good news. I think it's an inbuilt survival mechanism. Even to the point where we are inclined to give bad reviews more credence than they deserve. Your bad review doesn't appear to have any validity, and you know you shouldn't be grieving over it and giving it more emotional thought than it deserves. But you do, or you wouldn't have posted here. A practical way I have of countering this negative tendency is to extract the best key adjectives from the majority of my reviews and post them on the wall next to my right shoulder as I sit typing, to remind me of what the majority of my readers think of my books. Those people are after all the people we should keep in our minds, not the 10%-20% of people we will never please. Whenever I have a tendency to feel down about my work, I look over at the list and see words and phrases like: Awesome! Innovative! Compelling approach! Really cool idea! Brilliant! Enjoyed the format! Very readable, etc. I'm sure your many 5-star reviews have similar phrases. Type some of them out and stick them on your wall next to where you sit when writing."

"I raised teenagers. I already know how stupid I am. 
A one-star review? I consider it a compliment."

"The first time I got a 1* review I was very upset. Now I make a point of analyzing it a bit. Are they right? Sometimes they are and in this day and age it could be an easy fix (typos etc). If they fundamentally dislike the book because it's not to their taste rather than because it's badly written, as in your case, then it's best to accept that you can't please everyone all the time. The important point is that you love what you've written and so do a lot of other people. Alternatively you could write a rollercoaster ride of a story where action is followed by more action without any opportunity for the reader to take breath until they are gasping with exhaustion as the stakes are wracked higher and higher until it all culminates in a huge explosion of death and mayhem. And dedicate it to the reviewer. It's probably best not to hit the publish button on that one though."

"Try laughing. Or rolling your eyes. Or poking fun at it in a *private* group. But coming here to then put down said review? Not the path I'd recommend. Someone didn't like your book, and they don't need to meet your specifications of what is fair for them to rank it low, only theirs. If it's a few slow intro chapters, then so be it, man. You clearly have plenty more good reviews to balance it out."

"Negative reviews always carry a little sting but after awhile you learn to shrug, tell yourself 'different strokes', and move on. The only comments that don't roll off my back easily are the rare sort that get personal or confrontational. After those, I sometimes need to read a couple of my 5 stars to balance the negative feelings, so I don't go through the next half hour feeling sucky. But basically, it's best not to get too emotionally invested in reviews, or you'll spend your writing career on a never-ending rollercoaster. Some writers find it works best for them not to read their reviews at all. Me, I read mine. I try to distance myself from the creative part me, look at reviews with a coldly analytical eye, and see what (if any) consistent points I can find in the reviews. If you can do that, reviews are a useful opportunity to pick up on the reading habits, the likes, and dislikes of your audience."

"Seriously, any time you want to get upset by a 1 star review, go look at any big name author's books. Da Vinci Code has over 700 1 stars. You are in a business that has critics."

"There are 'bad' reviews and 'negative' reviews. Neither are handled (at least, not by me). Reviews are for readers, not feedback for authors. Of course you can treat them as feedback, in which case the 'bad' review should be ignored. The 'negative' review might give clues why your book seems to miss the mark with this particular reviewer. If several reviewers hint at the same issue, you might want to look at your book with dispassionate eyes, but that's all the 'handling' I do."

"The worst review I ever got was a 1-star that said my story was boring."

"It’s really hard to get a negative review, but remember that sometimes these reviews are written by jealous competitors. On the other hand, there are many cruel people in this world. I don't think that a reasonable person would post a very negative review, even if they hated the book. A reasonable person would show understanding and give you at least 3 stars. Those who are cruel usually have many psychological problems. They are not sensible."

"My feeling is that reviews are one reader's way of telling another reader 'Hey! This was a ___ book and here's why...' It has never occurred to me to think the reader was addressing the author with feedback. I don't see Amazon as a platform where readers and authors pow-wow. Because of this, I don't read (my) reviews. I just assume they were not intended for me, so why bother with them? On the other hand, I'm very active on Facebook and Twitter, and my regular readers know this and know that if they want to give me feedback on a book, all they have to do is post on my wall and I WILL respond. I've got a very good open line between my readers via Facebook and Twitter, and they are constantly telling me what they think and I'm constantly responding. If they are posting it on my FB wall they are directing it to me the author, but if they are posting it on Amazon than they are directing it to other readers. Plus I know when I'm reading Amazon reviews, it always rubs me the wrong way, when I as a reader, see an author commenting on the reviews, and it really ticks me off when I see an author arguing with a reader. My thoughts are: the readers are your fans, not every reader is going to become a fan, but arguing with one reader, is going to prevent other readers from wanting to be your fan, out of the fear that you'll lash out at them next. So my policy is don't read the reviews at all, they were not written for my benefit to begin with."

"It is everybody's right not to like a book for whatever reason. I feel terribly peeved sometimes, but what can I do? I'm about the only person in Germany who does not like potatoes. Ok, I don't review potatoes but I'd always suggest to take the pasta. You get the weirdest reviews but if your stuff is good, you will overcome."

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Looking for a good read? Check out some indie authors!

During my senior year in high school, I signed up for my first creative writing class.

Oh sure, I was forced to take language arts/English classes all the way through junior high into high school and was given the opportunity off and on to be "creative" in those classes.

But this was different.

Here it was, my first opportunity to write basically what I wanted to write: science fiction. My creative writing teacher, now that I think about it, was surely a new member of the Topeka High School faculty. I mean, she didn't look much older than me. But I'm sure she must have impressed someone in the THS English department to be awarded the privilege of administering that department's "creative writing" class.

As far as I can remember, she told us that she would love it if we'd "hone" our skills in one particular area/genre. If someone wanted to focus only on poetry, so be it. What about focusing on "free verse" poetry? Could we do that? Why of course we could!

It's a "creative writing" class!

When I told her I'd like to focus primarily on sci-fi, her response could have been something like:

"Well, I am a woman, David, and women traditionally don't care much for science fiction." But she must have phrased it such a way that said she would be as objective about it as possible -- for a woman, of course.

Even before "graduating" from 6th grade, I devoured science fiction: Burroughs, Heinlein, etc. and for the most part the only comic books I enjoyed were of the sci-fi variety. So, needless to even mention, my brain was definitely full of science fiction plots/characters/settings and even themes (especially what is now referred to as "dystopian sci-fi").

Even though the first draft of our stories/poems weren't due until Friday, I purposely handed in my "post-nuclear holocaust" short story on Thursday.

The next day, I couldn't believe it: she had made enough copies of my story for everyone in the class and spent nearly all of that class period using my story as her text for that day's "creative writing" instruction. I was more than stoked: I thought I had been transformed ... re-created ... initiated into another world. I had "made it."

A few weeks later, she assigned the class a "character study" in which we were to describe using as much metaphorical language as possible someone we admired ... or at least liked a lot.

And I chose to focus on my current girl friend. And I thought the assignment was pretty easy. And I thought the best person to first share my descriptive paragraph with was that beautiful young lady.

Boy, was I wrong ... so very, very wrong.

Not only was she humiliated by my metaphoric/allusive description of her, I firmly believe this seemingly-harmless collection of sentences led to the demise of our relationship. (She was so "impressed" with my description of her that she drew -- with colored pencils even! -- a pictorial representation of it and threw it at me before that school day was over.)

Audience ... that's what "creative writing" is all about. And there we have it ... my introduction to "The quality of indie books."

Now how about we move on to the meat of this blogpost: 
the highly-insightful and sometimes even humorous comments 
from the those who populate The Writers' Cafe.

"It occurred to me today that we as indies have been fighting a losing battle by trying to argue that indie books are of the same quality as trade published books. Certainly many are, but at the same time a great many aren't. Which means that the quality of an indie book on average is less than that of a trade published book. This is basic statistics, and as long as many indie authors produce poor quality work, there's nothing we can do about it. And readers will know this - let's be honest. They aren't dumb. And if they've been browsing as I do and checked out a lot of books, indie as well as trade, they will have come across some poor indie works. Those invested in the trade publishing world have of course seized on this quality gap and used it as a club to beat us over the head with. Again, this is their bread and butter we're threatening, so there's not much we can do about that either. And so we as indies will always be labelled with the stigma of poor quality. But, and here's where things get turned around, the underlying reason for this difference is the presence or absence of gatekeepers. In the trade publishing world books of substandard quality simply aren't produced - or shouldn't be. But the gatekeepers have been knocking out books for other reasons than quality. And as all of us know, often the reason for their rejections has been commercial success. In short if a book didn't fit in a commercial genre or follow a particular commercial trope, it was unlikely to be picked up. That means if you want original, fresh work, you're much more likely to find it among indie books than the trade published. So maybe instead of trying to argue a losing cause and to claim that indie books are of the same quality on average as trade published, we should instead be arguing a winning one. That indie books are fresher, more original, more creative etc. And if those invested in trade publishing claim we produce poor quality work that they would never publish, we as those invested in the indie publishing world argue that they produce formulaic, derivative, generic and unoriginal work. This is in debating a thing called framing the argument. Showing the true costs of choices etc. So everybody wants better health care but no one wants to pay higher taxes. You can't have both. So maybe readers want higher quality books, but they don't want boring, repetitive stuff that they've read a hundred times before."

"I don't honestly ever find myself having this argument--not with family, or with friends, or with strangers, or with trad publishing colleagues. I think the work I put out myself is on par with what I get with publishers. Better in content in many cases. Less flashy with art."

"It's true that most of the indie content is below par, both in quality of stories and quality of workmanship. But we writers should look at this as an opportunity, not an obstacle.  Because it's presenting us with a clear way to stand out from the crowd.  We must make sure our work rises above that level, and readers will notice.  They may still complain about indie books in general, but they'll also know which authors to turn to in order to find better than the typical indie book." 

"I honestly don't care what anyone thinks. I'm selling books, I'm having a blast doing it, and people who are reading my books love them and demand I write faster! Then again, when I decided to write, I never once considered tradpub. I know it's hard to believe, but NOT ONCE. The lousy terms, the idea of putting my career in someone's hands and hoping they do right by me, was never something that appealed to me. I understand that a lot of other self-publishers don't come at it from this angle, which I assume is behind the desperation to be seen as 'legitimate.' I personally don't care. When I was devouring books like a maniac, I never ONCE turned to the copyright page to see who published that book. NOT ONCE. My advice is to stop trying to win the argument. It's never ending and it will never really make you feel better. Just ... write. If you're having fun, and people are loving and buying your book, what does it matter what some jackass in New York thinks?"

"I see the argument differently than most. For starters, I don't buy into the whole Team Indie thing. I don't recall ever signing up to be part of some conglomerate of self-published authors. If you put out a professional product that's been professionally edited, has a professional cover, with an excellent blurb, readers shouldn't be able to tell the difference between a traditionally published book and a self-published one. So maybe the reason readers are critical of indie books is because some authors are presenting their books as being something that's substandard from the get go, as in 'I'm indie, so I'm going to be different and not spend money on my books or learn how to do the production work properly'. Me? I'm an author. The method of my publication is inconsequential. What matters is that I put out a quality book. I'll leave the rhetorical debate of why some readers dislike indie books for others who have more free time on their hands than I do. I choose to spend that time writing more 'quality' books."

"IMO, the biggest pro-indie case, and the reason most readers buy indie, is price. Indie books, on average, are cheaper. That, first and foremost, is what makes them attractive. Indie writers have more flexibility over price (including free) than trad writers and publisher with overheads and specialists to pay for. Some people may complain about Indie quality, but everyone loves a bargain, and lots sign up to Bookbub to get exactly that."

"With my reader hat on: The average quality of independent books vs tradpub would only matter to me if I were planning on reading all 2 million (or whatever the number is) books currently published. Even in the genres I mostly read there are approx 100000 books listed on Amazon. At an average of one book a week, if I live to a typical age I *might* manage another ::counts on fingers:: 2000 books. Since the market opened up in the last few years I'm buying good books faster than I can read them, and I guess approx 70% are indie (I seldom bother checking). Proportionately I find as many duds in the tradpub books (derivative formula). Honestly I'm not seeing a quality problem. If I don't like a book it goes into the DNF folder and onto the next. Happy days."

"Back in the 90s, I earned my living as a freelance writer for about three years, one book published, one in progress, lots of articles. I did okay, but when I really looked at the numbers, I said, yeah, no, I'm not insane. Got myself a job as an acquisitions editor and spent a pleasant ten years earning good money doing a job I was good at. When I started writing again, I never once considered tradpub. Not once. My first book has 99 five-star reviews on Amazon. No traditional publisher would ever have picked it up. It's a genre book that doesn't have a genre, it breaks rules right and left, it's simple and not, it's decidedly quirky in every possible way. I wrote it and if I'd been the acquisitions editor who got the manuscript I would have said, 'Not a chance, loved the read, but I can't sell a book that doesn't fit on a specific shelf, and by the way, do you know that there are rules about how plots work?' I don't feel the need to defend indie publishing. For me, that would be like defending indie music. Sure, there's a lot of crap out there. But it's also where a lot of interesting stuff is happening. If you're the kind of person who needs to know exactly what you're getting, stick with the top 40. But those of us who are listening to the crap in order to find the interesting stuff, we don't need to defend ourselves to you. We get to smile quietly and keep listening."

"Something I learned in business a LONG time ago is that trying to compete on price isn't usually the best strategy. I believe that most consumers seek out quality and will pay for quality, as long as the price isn't too far out of line. I hate to see indie authors underpricing quality work because they feel like their only advantage is price. It isn't. I think that the more stories that come out in the mainstream media about indie authors having success, the less common will be the impression that indie works are of poorer quality or worth less money than traditionally published works. I encourage indies to not give in to the thought that "I have to sell my hard work for cheap" and price their work what they think its really worth."

"I call this 'The Originality Trap', a belief that being 'original' from the ground up is the single most important thing, even if story or even mere comprehensibility 
(not a word, but it should be) must suffer. I've read so many freaking books 
that are so wrapped up in being 'spayshul' that they make absolutely no sense."

"Maybe ten to twenty years ago, there was a lot more credibility to the 'gatekeepers' argument filtering out the cruft and serving the best of the best to the reading public. However, while the media and certain corporate moguls are trying to sell the quality point in the news, the numbers aren't supporting that argument. Titles by self-published authors are now showing up routinely in the bestsellers lists. Even the New York Times which was openly hostile to self-published writers in the past, finally gave in and now includes self-published titles in their reviews. A significant percentage of the top books listed are self-published. If the quality wasn't there, then why are these books flying off the shelves?"

"Serial fiction is another big thing that self-pub is turning somewhat mainstream, I think. Not that it didn't exist before, but H.M. Ward is making bank on a VERY addictive NA romantic suspense serial. Sure, her work is fun entertainment -- but I think bringing that form to the ravenous romance community is pretty original. So, if we're talking about, like, experimental literary fiction, I totally agree -- not much of these writers are taking advantage of self-pub. I think that's partly because the self-pub stigma is especially strong in literary circles (I say this coming from academia): I think lit-fic is still pretty attached to the traditional publishing model. But indies are providing readers with fresh, original content: or at least content big pub refused to try out." 

"It doesn't matter how you frame the argument, there are people who simply aren't going to change their minds. I see no point in wasting valuable writing time on something that won't change by blabbing at people. Do your best work. Always strive to improve yourself. When possible, advise and even mentor new writers to do their best work. Set a good example -- standards, if you will -- by being a professional writer and publisher. Price books the way you feel benefits your career. Write a series if you want. Or don't. Write in the genre you like. Or the one that you can make money from. Pay for covers and editing. Or don't. Respect the fact that others won't agree with you. Accept that some people won't like what you write, and won't hesitate to tell you, in excruciating detail, why. Write with your heart, and publish with your head."

"People confuse originality with creativity or even talent. I believe it was Mark Twain that said 'All ideas are second-hand.' We all start out wanting to be 'original.'  But originality is not the goal of storytelling. The goal of storytelling is to speak on the human condition. 
Readers read not to see something original per se. 
They read to engage in the human experience. 
They read to be entertained. The read for comfort and familiarity. They read to escape. 
I watched Henry IV pt 1 last night (with Jeremy Irons and Tom Hiddleston). 
It was the most beautiful production of the play I've ever seen. But it wasn't original. 
They didn't change the play or the characters 
or turn Percy into a vampire or Prince Hal into a fairy. 
Ye gods, Henry IV wasn't even original when Shakespeare wrote it! Everyone knew the basics of the story. But what made it great was the interpretation of the story. The ability to take an old story and make it mean something to a modern viewer."

"My first career for the last 20 years has been as an indie artist. That community has had this argument in one form or another over and over and over. It's moot. Here's why: Some people don't care if a book is indie published or not. (great, don't worry about these people, you just keep being you) Some people do care. Some people will decide to judge all indie books by a bad experience they've had with one or a few titles. Those people are narrow minded. Their minds cannot be changed except by their own persuasion. If that happens at all, it will be over a long time, after many + experiences that slowly chip away at their initial impressions. These kinds of people exist as consumers of every creative market and you just cannot fashion your practices to indulge them. The only things you could possibly do in an effort to change their mind is to put out the best possible work product you can at every stage of your career and continue to do this repeatedly. The good news is that is what we should all be doing anyway. We should all be doing our best to put out our best work all the time. And I'd say most people do. The disconnect lies in subjectiveness. The logic flaw that exists in a lot of these "indie writers don't care about quality" arguments is the CARE part. I've never met an indie that didn't care. I've never met an indie that didn't think that they were putting out their best work. But there's no accounting for taste. Just as some people are tone deaf, some have no idea their cover is bad or that their writing is stale. I've met many artists like this in the art world, artists who think they are incredibly talented and are ready for a professional career. LIFE separates the wheat from the chaff. Bad work, doesn't sell. Some people will explore the reasons why, solicit objective opinions, and then take steps to improve. Some won't. This natural selection exists in every creative pursuit. It works on it's own. So we need do nothing. Now from time to time people point to a book they don't like that is selling well and they say 'The system doesn't work, this shouldn't be making money because I think it sucks.' That's just sour grapes. In the end all we can do is keep our head down, and swim in our own lane."

"The only way I know an indie from a trad is if the indie screams it.  Now do not get me started on indies that use others.  Oh and I learned something this week.  If you want to write about a real person even fictionally, you had best get that person's permission or the estate's permission."

"You know, Woody Guthrie said something about music that this conversation reminded me of: 'I hate a song that makes you think that you are not any good. I hate a song that makes you think that you are just born to lose. Bound to lose. No good to nobody. No good for nothing. Because you are too old or too young or too fat or too slim too ugly or too this or too that. Songs that run you down or poke fun at you on account of your bad luck or hard traveling.' Well, the entire literary industry spend decades convincing authors that they were too ... something to be published. I suppose in a way I am proud to be a part of the change that has put that behind us. Hugh Howey said something in another thread that he was happy to be part of allowing a twelve your old girl to put her NaNoWriMo novel up for sale (sorry if I misquote him slightly since I'm not sure exactly which thread he posted that in). Anyway, I agree with him on that. I hate an industry that told us (still tries to tell us) that we aren't any good and I'm not fond of people like Franzen who tell us we have to have the literati's permission to put our stories out there. So I'll put out the best stories I can and to the devil with the rest."

"I've read twenty books this month. (Twenty! Amazing what you can get done with a vacation and a well-stocked Kindle.) Some were tradpubbed, most were indie, 90% of them were wonderful. Thinking back on them now, I can't tell you which ones were published by indies and which ones weren't. They were all edited, formatted, and presented about equally well. I feel like there might have been a lot more trouble with quality when ebook self-publishing was still getting its feet, but I don't even see this subject as relevant anymore. Most author-publishers have their [crap] together. I pick up a lot of books by browsing alsobots, reading samples, and purchasing whatever looks cool - I can't remember the last time I DNF'd because of a quality problem. (Though it probably was a trad book with fixed font size, which drives me crazy and seems to be prevalent in older trad titles.) I'm not saying that there are no low-quality books. I'm just saying they're not visible or numerous enough to be worth worrying about. Also, if there's any perception that self-pubbed books are of lower quality, then it hasn't hurt my business, so I don't care. Y'all know what they say about ze haters."

"I don't think the average consumer even knows they are reading indie books. They buy from an Amazon list or an also-bought or from a Bookbub email and never check to see who the publisher is. Even then the self-publisher can be obfuscated through a small pub house or custom imprint. Now, if they read a poorly edited book and check out the publisher, it can reaffirm their bias -- 'Of course it was bad, it was self-published' -- while not realizing many other good books they have read were indies. I don't think 'Indie Book' can be a brand. Just like 'American car' is not a brand. There are good ones and bad ones in both groups."

"An intelligent buyer choose a product based on the merits of the product, not all similar products by makers ranging from known companies to unknown ones. 
If a reader believes that quality books only come from traditional publishing companies, I would prefer not to have them as a customer. 
I'd rather have readers who like my work for what it is, a self-published book, 
and not because I led them to believe 
that it was something more akin to a traditionally published book. 
To me, it's as simple as that."