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Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages.  Geoffrey Chaucer said that about 600 years ago as part of the prologue to the Canterbury Tales, the first writing we would recognize as English.  I believe it.  What would life be worth if it weren’t a pilgrimage?  Every day.  I hope you will join my pilgrimage.  I’m writing a book … well, several.  Writing is pilgrimage, and I’ll need sustenance along the way.  I hope you will follow along, comment, help lead me.  C’mon, it will be an adventure …

Amazon!

When I started this blog, my purpose was to keep a diary of my writing. So far, I have resisted the temptation to attach pictures of kittens doing very cute things, commentary on politicians doing very stupid things or screeds on the degradation of the moral fiber of the world.

I bet you’re relieved.  OK, just one kitten picture.Kittens

Now, I beg your indulgence.

Writing has two parts: the creative journey that I set out to document, and the part about getting someone to read the end result, aka Publishing.

The part of me that spent a number of years in business analyzing companies like Amazon is nervous.

Right now, Amazon is eviscerating its competition the old-fashioned way, by offering great service at low cost in order to gain market share. As former executives say proudly in a documentary (CNBC’s Amazon Rising), Amazon targets the already weak, because they’re easiest to knock off. A very 19th Century business strategy. (Think Teddy Roosevelt, J.P Morgan and the Trust Busters.)

If you don’t think Amazon’s products aAmazon logore cheap at the price, look at their financials: strong growth at the sales line and tiny, tiny profit. 2/3 of a percent, way below subsistence. The market should punish Amazon, denying them capital and thus snuffing their growth.

Guess what? The market is willing to pay 500 times current earnings for Amazon shares when most retailers’ stock prices are 15-20 times earnings. Is the market crazy? (Stock analysts disagree with each other, as usual.) Maybe. More likely, the market looks at Amazon’s very successful operations and stated business plan and believes that Amazon will be able to raise profits substantially in the future. Which brings us to books, where Amazon started.

I can see why a business wanting to chart new ground in retail distribution would start with books: The technology that has changed music and newspapers is threatening publishing, and it looks as if publishing is not handling the challenge very well … so, it’s a good place to start, particularly if your strategy is to knock off the weaker players. To date, Amazon has extinguished a big piece of the publishers’ retail distribution system, starting with the local stores we loved, then Borders. Is Barnes and Noble next?

When Amazon owns the whole distribution system, there will be pressure to raise profits. The market won’t give anyone a pass forever. There are two ways to do that: Raise prices or reduce costs. Those of us in the writing business are part of the cost side of the ledger. Based on the predatory nature of Amazon’s business plan, it’s not too hard to see that costs will be squeezed.  And prices? Well, you already know that Amazon pricing for books is partly your call and partly Amazon’s.

Maybe we’d better pray for another trust buster.

(The Economist for June 21-27 discusses Amazon in some depth. CNBC’s documentary Amazon Rising was broadcast recently and may be available on Internet/TV reruns.)

First Draft Finished

Finished the first draft of Skins and Bone. Now on to the dread rewrite. This time, I’m going to be a little better organized than I was for Hack the Yak. This time, I have 120+ critiques. Better yet, this time I have the mistakes I made before. I hope the new ones (mistakes, that is) will be fewer this time!

Publishing, a Disturbing Article, and The Maginot Line

This morning, I’ve been thinking about platform (oops … Platform), the Maginot Line and an article I just read by Michael Wolff, “How book biz dug its own Amazon grave.”

If you’re a writer like I am, you probably fall into one of two camps: (1) Published, or at least agented; or (2) still hopeful. I am in the still hopeful group, and I am watching the evolution of the publishing industry closely. Of course, I’m on the outside, guessing at what’s going on, trying to decide whether to continue to bust my hump trying for representation or just self-publish. The scary part is that it’s clear that publishing is changing, but it’s not clear how a writer is going survive and prosper in the brave new world of heightened technology.

Business strategists intone the phrase ‘creative destruction’ to describe radical change to an industry, often driven by technology. They say it with such relish and optimism. Fine, if you’re a business strategist … but as a person at the nexus of the destruction wondering what to do, not so much fun.

Wolff’s article reminded me, a former coattail member of the community of business strategists, of Michael Porter, who began writing brilliantly about competitive strategy thirty years ago. In a competitive environment (this is loosely paraphrasing Porter from memory, always dangerous), businesses attempt to erect barriers to entry … tools of the trade and well-kept trucks for tradesmen, patents and software for tech companies, the enormous capital investment in a power plant for utilities … to compete effectively and protect their bottom line. A corollary is that the bigger the barriers to entry a business erects, the more invested it gets in maintaining those barriers.

Even a few years ago, publishing businesses controlled the production and distribution of books, pretty much from inception through production to the retail seller. That control has been taken away at both ends of the chain of production and distribution … many retail sellers have been driven out of business, and the publishing mechanics that formerly meant only publishers could print the end product have changed dramatically. It would take brilliant perspicacity and firm resolve to drive out of the ditch the industry is in. With that thought in The Maginot linemind, consider the Maginot Line, that WWII barrier erected by France to make absolutely sure Germans would never march onto French soil again. That was the line the Luftwaffe flew over. The scary takeaway for the publishing industry is that the noise in the sky is Amazon and Print on Demand technology flying over (soon, apparently, with drones). My question is: What happens to the lowly writer drudge? Yes, I hear the warm air being blown on The New Internet Marketing, but it’s not clear to me what a writer is to do the reach his potential readers.

I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on this.

Quieting the Mind, Digital Flotsam and the Beach

I had my knee scoped back in January, and my plot for Skins and Bone went to hell. At the time, I didn’t associate the two. In fact, I didn’t figure it all out until the knee improved and I got to the beach. Where I could walk. Where I did not have to check my e-mail, look at Twitter, get drawn into the abyss of looking at YouTube videos or bathe in the statistics the elliptical trainer spits out (320 calories <blip> 134 bpm <blip> 18 minutes left <blip>).

Beach walkingWalking on the beach (I race walk, look funny and sweat) allows me to quiet my mind and speculate on plot. The current novel is a thriller, so plot’s important, but I am not one to write an outline and stick to it. My characters don’t always follow outlines very well … they’re human, after all. Instead, I float ideas, then let the characters marinate in them.

I guess I just relearned what wise men always knew: Quiet the mind to let creativity flow.

Rewriting, Editing, R.U.E. and the two-by-four

About a week ago, I reblogged (yecch … are we brutalizing the language or just being creative?) — I reblogged a list of books on writing from Carly Watters.  I noticed one I wasn’t familiar with, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers (Renni Browne and Dave King).  It promised to speak to the challenge just ahead for my second nself-editing-for-fiction-writers1ovel:  Rewrite.  I ordered the book.

I’m pretty familiar with Rewrite.  I’m on the seventh pass through my first novel.  I think I’m getting better at it — at least, I know that I’d do the first two or three rewrites of novel #1 differently.

If you’re reading this because you’re a writer, get this book.  It’s short, practical and is almost sure to give you insight on what makes writing work, regardless of your level of sophistication.

For me, the two-by-four upside the head is B&K’s margin note R.U.E. (“Resist the Urge to Elaborate”).  So I guess the discussion of Hans Prohoffer’s improbably success in sabre fencing inserted in the middle of a fight scene in which he uses a parry two (that goes, too) when Le Pic lunges is out.  I do like to elaborate.

Anyway, I consumed the book in a day.  Consumed is like a dog consumes a beefsteak.  Big bites, not chewing much.  But, like that dog and that steak, I loved the process.  Now, to read it carefully.  Then rewrite.

Rejection and Failure: A Blog for Success!

John Rogers:

This is well … and painfully … put.

Originally posted on Eric Schlehlein, Author/Freelance writer:

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Well looky here… I’m a blogging machine.

The publishing industry says I should put my name out there via websites and blogs, so that’s what I’ve been doing.  I’ve written more over the last year and a half than I’d written in the previous twenty years.  Funny thing is:  Most of what I’m writing has nothing to do with my manuscript, my search for literary agents, or my quest to get myself and my work published.

Yeah, I know.  I KNOW.  It doesn’t matter what I’m writing.  The publishing industry says I need to put my name out there so as to have a following ahead of time.  I also need to build a nest so that I have a warm, dry place to nourish my work once I get it published.  I understand that most of my current work — this type of sidebar — is necessary to the…

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Top 8 Books About Writing

John Rogers:

Here’s a reblog from an agent. Don’t know why E.M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel doesn’t make the list. I suppose one has to stop somewhere.

Originally posted on Carly Watters, Literary Agent:

self-editing-for-fiction-writers1 Need some extra writing advice? Love highlighting and taking notes? These are some of the resources I recommend the most. Enjoy!

Self Editing For Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King

This is one of THE most important things writers can teach themselves. Put this one at the top of your list if you are revising right now.

On Writing by Stephen King

Everyone knows (or should know!) this one. It’s the best guide out there, unsurprisingly, from one of the best in the biz. You’ve probably already taken some of this book in; there are quotes are everywhere on Twitter and Tumblr.

Writing The Breakout Novel by Donald Maass (& workbook)

This book is so good for learning how to take your work from ‘good’ to ‘great.’ Who doesn’t want that? Written from the perspective of a literary agent, too.

The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca…

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With a Little Help From My Friends

Join a writing group, they said when I was starting out.

I was skeptical.

Now, here I am a year and a half into writing groups.  My friend Karl, himself an exciting writer, has helped me restructure the beginning of my first novel and suggested an important twist that will carry into my second.  Miranda, an editor, has ever-so-nicely restructured my query letter to be shorter and better.

Those are the obvious and wonderful advantages.  The more subtle part is that I have heard many different voices speaking from different points of view … short story, YA, romance, science fiction. I have sampled good (and, as valuable, bad) examples of the craft of writing.  I have seen other people’s characters jump off the page.  I have become a better writer with a lot of help from my friends.

 

The Cloud … and a Resource

Ahh, the Cloud.  You know, all thCloudsat data that’s searchable, that enables creativity to flourish.  That brings transparency to politics everywhere.  That data that allows ads for Minnesota ear-muff hats to pop up in the Huffington Post when it’s 30 below outside.  That cloud.

Not to be a curmudgeon, but it seems to me that the amount of IMPORTANT data is growing at a fairly regular rate.  Higgs boson, sure.  Good music, sure.  But that other stuff … the miasma of misleading ads, multiple sources contending for each and every niche … that’s growing exponentially.

I don’t know about you, but the Internet is both an irresistible source and a frustration for me as a writer.  There’s so much out there, and so much dreck obscuring the good stuff.  As a result of trying to sift through some of it, I have put up a page, Resources, that lists out what I use.  If you would like a more readable spreadsheet, contact me.  If you can add to it, contact me.

The Fine Print of Self-Publishing

Shouting PersonTo self-publish or not?  It’s a question every writer faces these days, and it’s a hard one to answer.  Like the American West in the heady days of the great land rush, there’s promise, great promise.  It’s just that there are so many organizations promising so much that it’s hard to sort the wheat from the … let’s be polite … chaff.

If you write and you’re like me (which is to say, a writer with a book often cited as, ‘Wow!  Really good.’ and thirty or so rejections from agents), you’re going to have to answer that question.

I’ve mentioned several books I like on writing.  Here’s one I really like on self-publishing:  The Fine Print of Self-Publishing, by Mark Levine.  It’s a nuts-and-bolts guide to the practical issues you will need to deal with if you self publish.