The 29th of February: Anomaly & Inspiration

Happy 29th of February! Enjoy it while you can since it won’t be around for another 4 years. The actual day, that is. But leap year or February 29th could be in your book.

Leap Year is one of those weird true stories that is so ingrained into our culture that we accept it without really thinking about it. Yes, there are 365 days in a year except on leap year when there are 366. And millennial years are another exception (it gets confusing). Anyway, this sort of detail is exactly the type of worldbuilding that makes a world start to feel real.

Our world isn’t perfect, especially society-wise (understatement), so we associate reality with a flawed system. Little quirks like this add a sense of reality to the system, and they can be used in a variety of ways – beyond setting.

  • prophecy: the day could be added every 400 years. Prophecy’s love crap like that.
  • plot conflict: have you ever screwed up something because you forgot it was leap year? It happens, believe me.
  • characterization: people with birthdays on February 29th only have birthdays every 4 years. That means at the actual age of 96, you would turn 24 on your birthday. Your great-grandkids could be older than you (put that together with prophecy, and you have a lot of potential.).

Actually, if you combined those three in a unique world, you could have a whole story. I can see it now: the main character can’t go off to school because you have to have x number of birthdays first, the higher ups had dismissed her as fodder for the prophecy because she’s too old, and the combination leads to an adventure where she ends up saving the world. Oh, it’ll be beautiful.

Or you could write something else and have February 29th come up in a bit of banter on page 172. You know, whatever floats your boat.

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Traditional Publishing vs. Indie Publishing: How Should I Sell My Book?

Traditional publishing vs. indie publishing is another “why are you asking me?” question. It’s also a question you’re going to have to answer for yourself; however, I can give you some information that may help inform your decision.

Answering this question generally comes down to a combination of 4 factors: prestige, control, money, and time/energy (they’re the same factor in this case – we’ll get to that).

Prestige

It used to be that self-publishing was a career-breaker for writers. Not only was it really hard to make a profit (most self-publishing companies were too expensive for that), but also once  you did it, you’d effectively have marked yourself with a scarlet letter so that regular publishers wouldn’t want you anymore (not without major incentives).

Well, ebook sales have completely changed that. Writers can now sell their books with little-to-no upfront costs, and any residual negative connotations with self-publishing are rapidly disappearing.

The prestige of going through a publisher, on the other hand, is not fading quite as quickly. In many circles, there is still thrill and acclaim associated with being picked up by a publisher. It’s like a stamp of approval saying that your book made the cut. Indie publishing has about the same prestige as having your own blog (Yeah, it’s nice, but anyone can do it.).

If your main goal in publishing is to get that recognition, you don’t need to read further. You want traditional publishing (although I will say # of sales and making the charts on Amazon is starting to be its own stamp of approval, so this may change over time).

Control

Ceding any control over your book can be hard. Scratch that. It can be insanely, drastically impossible (or it can seem that way). Changing your book simply because some editor (and what do they know?) said to? Excuse me?

I understand the emotion; however, I have mixed feelings about choosing self-publishing to get full control over your book. If you’re an experienced writer, and the book is still going through a thorough editing process, then I’m all for it. Sounds great. If you’re a first-time writer, you may or may not be doing yourself (and your book) a disservice.

Assuming that the editor is completely off base and that your book is perfect as it is… well, that’s problematic. While it’s possible, more often than not, the editor is right – if not about how to fix the problems, then at least about the fact that there are problems and what the problems are (alas, no book is perfect).

So getting full control is fine as long as that doesn’t become an excuse for ignoring major problems. Remember: making the book better means it will probably sell better (which means more money for you).

Money

As much as writers are artists, we are also adults who (generally) need to make money to pay for important things (like food, rent, books – you know, the essentials). I’m not enough of an expert to tell you exact price points. What I want to talk about is perspective and strategy.

Are you more concerned with long-term payoff or a fast, guaranteed return?

If you need money to spend now, you’re going to get more upfront from traditional publishing than from indie publishing. With an advance against royalties contract, you get a big fat check upfront followed by royalties after you sell enough (which can take a while). Most of the figures I’ve seen for advances are quoted in the thousands (for more information, here’s “11 Frequently Asked Questions About Book Royalties, Advances and Money” by Chuck Sambuchino), so it can take a while for ebook sales to match that.

For example, to match a $3,000 advance, you’d have to sell between 700 and 8,600 copies of your ebook, depending on how you decide to price it. And that was one of the lower advances I saw.

Can you make more than that? Absolutely. If your book is good (or simply popularly appealing), and you get it out where people can see it, you can definitely sell a lot more than that. And the plus of getting to set your price is that you determine how high your royalties are – and when you compare royalties, ebooks almost always win out. With higher royalties, you definitely have the opportunity to make that much and more in the long-term.

The odds of it happening overnight are not so good.

If you’re confident that you can market to sell, and you don’t need the extra influx of cash, indie publishing could be a bigger payoff in the long-term. If you need some money now, you have a better chance of getting more with traditional publishing.

Time/Energy

The last factor to consider is your time and energy. And I might add knowledge of marketing. Ideally, you’ll be doing some promoting either way; however, the amount is going to change based on whether you have help from a publisher or not.

Do you have the time, energy, and knowledge to do all your own marketing? More importantly, do you have the time, energy, and knowledge to do it well?

People can’t buy your book if they don’t know it’s there. That goes for printed books as well as ebooks. And that’s the point of marketing. The job of marketing is to make people know that the book is there and (we hope) make it sound worth buying. There’s a lot that goes into it – remember that businesses have a person or even a whole team of people whose full-time jobs are doing the marketing for that business.

If you go with indie publishing, you are responsible for your own marketing. Period. End of story. Unless your best friend is a marketing expert who’s willing to put in some hours as a gift, you are on your own. That means that all the time and energy spent researching, making marketing materials, and setting up ads or accounts are all coming from you (and the money that goes into  it does, too).

If you don’t think you can do that, indie publishing might not be the option for you.

With traditional publishing, at least some marketing is included. So while you should do some promotions yourself, you will not be completely on your own. The cover at least will be done for you, and most likely, there will be some deal to get the books printed and in stores. With copies of your books in bookstores, you also have the option of the impulse buy from browsing that is generally harder online.

Traditional Publishing vs. Indie Publishing

Prestige, control, money, time/energy – each of these factors can be huge, and they can vary dramatically from person to person. Or even from moment to moment and book to book. You can use traditional publishing for 1 book and indie publishing for another. People starting their careers might need a very different strategy from someone who’s well established.

So what’s your strategy? How will you sell your book?

How Long Will It Take You to Write a Novel?

I don’t know. What’re you asking me for?

Seriously though, the answer is “it depends.” It depends on how often you’re writing. It depends on how much you write when you do write. It depends on if/how often you re-write. It even depends on the type of novel (some genres’ books are longer than others).

I can’t give you an exact length of time without knowing all those variables. Still, I suppose I could estimate based on certain assumptions.

Let’s say you’re writing an average adult novel with a goal of @ 80,000 words. If you write 1,000 words every day and never re-write, you should have a rough draft in 80 days, right? It’s simple division. 80,000 divided by 1,000 is 80.

That’s a little under 3 months.

According to math, you could write a rough draft of a full novel in just under 3 months if you write 1,000 words a day. And a lot of people claim to write 1,000 words a day. So why aren’t more people churning out new novels every 3 months?

Well, there’s a couple of other factors. Add in plotting and research, and you’re probably over 3 months. Maybe over 4. Add in re-writing, even if you only do it every couple of months, and you could easily tack on another month. Possibly 2. Or 3. (That’s why everyone tells you to avoid re-writing too much!)

Oh, and are you writing full-time? Or are you squeezing in your writing while working a full-time job?

If writing that novel isn’t your full-time job, writing 1,000 words a day gets a lot harder. You might be able to do it writing an hour a day, and you might not. Some days, you might write 1,300. Other days, you might only write 300. They tend to average out eventually, but those 300-word days are going to affect your overall time. And if you date, have friends, or have kids (etc., etc.), those daily counts are going to fluctuate even more.

So how long will it take you to write a novel?

It all depends on you. If you’re dedicated and willing to tug and shove and slice your schedule to make the time every single day, you could do it in 3 months. It may be crap – that depends on you, too.

Since it depends on you, forget how fast or slow anyone tells you it should go (you know, unless you have a deadline). Go as fast or as slow as you need to. Push yourself but know your own limitations. The biggest goal is to finish it. Make sure you’re moving forward. Writing your novel will take as long as it takes.

You won’t know for sure until you actually sit down and write it.

The Kind of Budgeting I Like to Encourage

How I Spend Money from Sarah's Scribbles

Sarah Anderson hit this nail on the head.

When I’m budgeting, I have to avoid going to bookstores – I have no will power. Only then, I feel guilty about not supporting my local bookstore, and I end up going anyway.

Fun fact: If you have filled bookshelves on all the exterior walls of your house, your heating bill will be lower.1

 

 1. At least it should be. In theory.

Baby Naming Resources for Expectant Authors

Any time someone walks into my office, there’s a 9/10 chance that they’ll take a look at my bookshelf, see a baby naming book, and say, “Something you want to tell me?” (The other 1 out of 10 times, the person walking in isn’t a smart aleck.)

Yes, I have a baby naming book on my shelf. Actually, it’s the same one my parents used way back when. I picked it up in high school to name a character for a story, and it’s been on my shelf ever since (with permission). It’s a great resource for male and female names from various cultures. You can get one at any book store to add to your personal writing library (support your local bookstore!).

Or you can look online.

There are all kinds of baby name sites. In fact, there are so many that there’s no point in me listing them here for you. I don’t even use the same one each time. Instead, I google the type of name I want (for example, “name meaning trickster”). Then, I look at however many websites I have to until I find what I need.

I’ve found that when I’m searching for a name with a certain meaning, different sites pop up than when I want to explore names from a specific culture. There are even sites that list the most popular names from different years (which can be useful if you want to set a story in a specific period). Starting with a search engine rather than a single site keeps me from missing potential names – it even pulls up forums where other people have asked for and gotten suggestions for names for characters.

Long story short, baby naming books and websites aren’t just for expectant mothers. They’re extremely useful for writers out to name characters – or worlds or devices. Whatever you want, really. Not just babies.

A Character by Any Other Name Wouldn’t Be an Excuse

It’s amazing what excuses people will come up with when they’re trying to avoid starting a story, but having trouble naming the character shouldn’t be one.

A student tried that one on me the other day. He said that he was supposed to write a story that was 2 pages long (the horror!). With a put-upon sigh, he explained how he spent 15 minutes trying to think of a name for the character.

To be honest, my first response was “Fifteen minutes? That’s it?”

Don’t worry – I held it in. I know that 2 pages and 15 minutes are both a lot bigger deals in middle school than they are as an adult. Especially compared to a writer’s perspective. I’ve spent more than 5 times that amount of time figuring out the names for a character. And not as an excuse not to write (which, truthfully, is what he was doing). Nope. I just love names. I love exploring different meanings and spellings. I could read name lists for hours.

Unless I had writing to do.

As important as names are, saying you can’t write until you think of the perfect name is nothing but an excuse. If you’ve got a story in mind and aren’t in love with any of the names you’re finding, use a placeholder (really, people). Pick a name that’s ok. Make up a name with a unique spelling. Use XLRT. You don’t have to marry it – you can change it at any point. Heck, with the find/replace tool, you can change a character’s name throughout an entire story with a single click.

‘Course, you’re not gonna have a story to change if you don’t start writing.

If you’re wondering, that’s exactly what I told the student to do next time. Pick a name any name and start writing. You know what he said?

“I didn’t think of that!”

A Louis L’ Amour-Style Metaphor for Writing

“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” -- Louis L'Amour quote

Even if you get a motion activated one, you still have to wave.

Turn on that faucet. Flood the world with words, submerge it with stories, and immerse it in ideas. It’s ready. It’s full of minds ready to soak up every single drop.

Don’t make us wait. Start now.

Double Meaning & Truth(s): How to Lie without Lying

If you need to hide a truth in a truth, double-meaning is your best friend. I know that doesn’t sound like it makes sense, but I promise it actually does.

A double meaning (also known as a double entendre) has a pretty accurate name – it’s when a statement or action has multiple meanings (or truths). The only part of the name that’s misleading is “double”: you don’t have to stop at 2. And you probably won’t want to – but we’ll get to that.

Now, let’s say you have a scene in a book where a character has to tell the truth, but you need that truth to serve multiple tasks. First, it needs to have an interpretation that the reader (and possibly the characters) can believe in. The sort of truth that gives them an understanding of what’s going on and what’s going to happen. Let’s call that Truth A. Truth A could easily be a plot option that you might’ve considered and decided not to go with (They’re often more predictable or obvious, but they don’t have to be.).

Then, you need that same statement or action to tell a truth that can lead to a whole different interpretation of the plot. Truth B. That truth (or possibly even Truth G) is what is really happening. By giving the reader a more obvious truth to focus on, you can keep their attention off what’s really going on – lead them astray without actually lying. Most of the time, you don’t want to straight-out lie to the readers: you simply want them to interpret the facts differently than you intend to at the end.

Think about how theologians can argue about interpretation – if this word actually means that, it changes the entire meaning! That’s the sort of opportunity you want to set up. But it’s not enough to set it up. You also have to set it up in a way that emphasizes certain truths over others.

Like a stage magician, it’s all about misdirection. In film and television, for example, they do a lot of misdirection with camera shots. The audience puts emphasis on different characters and actions by the amount of camera time they get (and the angle, focus, etc.). A great example of that is the pilot episode of Firefly. By emphasizing certain characters over others, they make you think  you know who leaked the information simply because that’s how most series would have slipped you clues beforehand (Important characters get more camera time. Duh.). By breaking those rules, Joss Whedon misled the audience and surprised a lot of people who aren’t used to being surprised by tv anymore (admit it).

In writing, you can swing the interpretation the direction you want with the same basic technique of shifting the focus. Some authors even have their characters dismiss Truth A to reveal Truth B beneath – and to disguise the fact that Truth C is concealed under that. It can get very complicated, and it takes a very sneaky brain to trick someone with a truth. Luckily, we have a very sneaky language (rife with double meaning) to help us out.