Rewriting is the key to success

Writing, most of the time, is easy. At least for me. Rewriting is the hard part. And before I get a million virtual tomatoes aimed at my head, let me explain.

My background and training is print journalism. When your story has to be written in eight minutes so the press will start on time, you get it done. It won’t win the Pulitzer, and you might think lining bird cages is too good a fate for it, but it’s written. So when I’m switching gears to fiction, that’s the bar I try to clear – getting words on paper. Preferably in a coherent order, but in a pinch, I’ll let that slide. Sometimes the writing is good. Most often it’s OK. And every once in a while, Kyrie reads a piece and tells me she can’t start to edit because she can’t tell what the heck the point is.

That’s when the hard part kicks in — rewriting. One of my professors early on in j-school warned me about taking the easy way out. He said I had enough talent to skate through but I’d be shortchanging my opportunities to become really good if I didn’t always try to write and report better than I had before. He was right — and I did do a little bit of skating to get through because I just wanted to be in a real newsroom. Sometimes when I write fiction, I want to do the same thing. The temptation to say a story is good enough is always there. Fortunately, Kyrie doesn’t (usually) let me settle for that. On Thrown Out, the biggest story in my upcoming book, she added 2,500 words of comments, questions and suggestions to the 7,300 word version I gave her. That was after I’d done two passes of revisions and had some beta readers look at part or all of it. I’ve spent about 10 hours during the past two days rewriting the story to incorporate her comments. It’s now more than 10,000 words. And it’s a million times better than the draft I gave her Friday. (I also feel like my brain’s been put through the wringer — rewriting is definitely harder than writing.)

Once you have something on the page, you can work with it. Expand some sections, cut others. Carry an image or phrase through the piece. Refine language to create clear voices for all the characters. But you’ve got to get the words on the page first.

Why I’m going indie

This is not a surprise if you’ve been reading my blog, but I’m going indie — starting next week, I hope. Research, combined with my experiences in the newspaper industry’s transformation during the past decade have convinced me that at this point in my career, and at this point in the publishing industry’s transformation, that it’s the smartest option.

I made the decision a while ago, but I’m announcing it now because I plan to have my first e-book — a short-story collection — available late next week. I’m into final edits on the stories, and the cover is ready to go. It will be $2.99 at Smashwords, available in all formats — Kindle, Nook, PDF, etc. I’m planning to make it available at Amazon as well, but that might take a few extra days.

 The other reason I’m announcing it to share a little of my thought process behind this, especially since it wasn’t all that many months ago I was saying to Kyrie, my editor extraordinaire, that I couldn’t imagine self-publishing and considering myself an author. I’ve got some crow cooking on the stove as I type.

Why I’m going indie

– The industry is in the middle of upheaval and nobody knows what’s coming. With everything changing rapidly, giving up a right that seems innocuous now could cause big problems down the line. And agreeing to a certain percentage of revenue from a format could put a big dent in future income.

– Along those lines, the finances are changing. Publishing advances are getting ever-smaller. With more bricks-and-mortar stores closing, the chances to earn out advances and get royalties are getting lower. And the share of revenue from e-books is tiny under traditional contracts — 14.9 percent vs. 70 percent if I go indie. Even after giving Kyrie (over her vehement objections) a much-deserved portion of that for all of her editing magic, it’s still a better deal.

– Publishers are doing less and less. To have a chance of getting picked up by a traditional publisher, the book would have to be pretty much ready to publish when I submitted it — which means I’d still need Kyrie’s expertise. Not to mention I’d have to still do all my marketing and publicity. I’m not sure the additional credibility of having a Big Six publisher behind me is worth what I would give up. Assuming I could even find one.

– Fewer and fewer new authors can break in. There are fewer spaces on bookstore shelves, and more are taken up by big-name bestsellers. The chances of a debut novel to break in are not great. Not when agents and publishers can look at indie books out there and offer contracts to those writers who do well to try and capitalize on that. Before they rack up all the expenses, they want a guarantee a book will sell.

– As part of that, more companies are looking to indie authors to sign. Anne R. Allen had a blog post a few weeks back asking if e-books were the new query letter, and that seems a likely trend, at least until the publishing industry figures out where it’s going. And possibly in the future. I’d rather build an audience and find readers on my terms, then figure out if I’d rather stay indie or try to go traditional. Some authors have turned their back on the traditional publishers; others have used indie success to become prized properties among publishers.

– I have something of a fan base already. Because I’ve been writing NCIS fanfiction for several months, I have a base of readers who like my writing. Some won’t make the leap, but several have been reading my Story Cubes Challenge entries and asking when I’m going to publish some Exeter work. It’s not a big base, but it is a start.

– I write a lot. More than 500,000 words last year. I don’t know that I can do that every year — I have a lot of pieces to my schedule to juggle — but with that kind of output, I would do better to start out indie and get several novels, short stories and novellas out there. A traditional publishing pace would be a book a year — it would take forever to get all the stories I want to tell in Exeter published at that rate.

Those are my reasons. I don’t know how this will turn out, but it’s an experiment I think is worth trying. And for those of you who have been following along as I get started, when the book comes out next week, I’ll have a discount code for blog readers as a thank you.

More writing geekery coming

Live Journal’s been having so many issues the past few days with DNS attacks and other server issues than it’s become pretty unreliable. So as I can get into my site there, I’ll be grabbing several of my old writing process posts and bringing them over here in some form or another. I wanted to bring over one today, but I haven’t been able to get in to copy it. Hopefully it will come up soon…

Writing a series — the endless cast of characters

I spent three hours last night wrestling the first draft of a short story into the ground. The story only really took flight after I realized that rather than creating a random character for the POV character to interact with, I just had to drop in an existing series character who hadn’t shown up in this story, but plausibly could. She showed up and the story entered that magical realm where I feel like I’m not writing, I’m just sitting back and transcribing as the characters play out the situation.

This is the main reason I like writing series fiction. By creating an entire world, and a fairly big cast of characters, I have lots of options for storytelling. This character wasn’t supposed to be in this story — it was more a look at the younger generation at a time well before the first novel. But she was just what the story needed to push the POV character past his fears. The story needs a fair amount of work, but it’s smaller things — language, tweaks to set up later developments, that sort of thing. I have a whole list of those changes ready to dig into tonight.

Chugging toward publication

I’ve been quiet over here, but writing away behind the scenes. I’m hoping by late next week or early the following week to publish a short-story collection I’ve been working on. It will be e-book only, but I’m going through Smashwords, so all versions, including PDF, will be supported. A couple of the stories are drawn from Story Cubes Challenge entries I liked, but the longest is one I haven’t mentioned yet. I should know more in a few days about timing — stay tuned!

#WorkshopWeekend – the non Google+ version

It’s the first Google+ #WorkshopWeekend where we post pieces (<1,000 words) on Saturday for people to critique. Bruce had asked if there was a way people not yet on G+ could join in, so I’m also posting mine here for people to comment. If you’d like me to return the favor, just leave a link to your #WorkshopWeekend piece in comments. I have to work this afternoon and evening, so depending on volume, I might not get to commenting on some until late tonight or tomorrow morning.

My #WW piece is the first 1,000 words of a longer short story in the Exeter series. It’s set about 10 years before Fate’s Arrow.

Thrown Out

The day’s heat lay thick over the field, even as orange dust responded to the slightest movement in the basepaths. The sun was low in the sky, but still cast plenty of light. Chris adjusted his sunglasses and stood outside the chain-link fence by the entrance. He could see Dan shagging ground balls at third base, his faded, battered Red Sox cap dark with sweat around the edges.

Chris took a deep breath and forced himself to step through the gate, walk across the patchy grass behind the dugout. They were on the first-base side, their backs to the elementary school. The small metal bleachers had a handful of people, mostly familiar faces. He scanned again, hoping to see Colleen or another one of the Reillys, but no luck. Chris hesitated before making his way over. The back row was most crowded, if you could call three people a crowd. It wasn’t exactly safe anyway — no place to run. Instead, he sat on the corner of the bleachers closest to right field, where he could see everybody else and still watch the game. He stretched out his long legs, heels of his battered leather sandals scuffing up dust between the patches of grass. The field itself wasn’t bad, but the town had skimped on watering everywhere else. Keep Reading

Hey, Norm! (aka living in a small town)

My friend Stacey was in town this week, and her reaction when I described my favorite coffee shop, which I visit daily, was “So you walk in and it’s all ‘Hey, Norm!’?” It’s an analogy I hadn’t thought of, but it’s spot-on. That community is one of the things I love about small towns. Sometimes, it really seems like everybody *does* know your name.

I see it in my hometown, though it’s grown over the years and doesn’t fit any classic definition of a small town. But wandering around at the downtown association’s Strawberry Stroll last month, seeing high school classmates, family friends and others, reminded me how much of a small town it really is.

And I see it in my current town, when I walk to work and know most people I run into. Or when the various segments of my life cross and overlap in ways I never expected. A year or two ago, a coworker new to town and I realized we had connections through three or four different parts of our lives. That community, that connection, is what I love about small towns. It’s why I’ve had Exeter in my brain almost as long as Ellie’s existed there, why all the stories I’m working on connect and interweave. The town is setting, but it’s also a character of sorts in the series. That richness of small towns, the complex fabric of relationships and history, of grudges and good deeds, provides a great base for compelling storytelling.

Google+ and writing workshops

Since I got on Google+ in its second week, the thing I’ve liked the best is how many writers I’ve connected with. I’ve been so swamped, I haven’t had a chance to really look at each and what their specialties are. But having all the writing chatter in my feed has helped me keep focus during a crazy few weeks.

The newest bit is an upcoming writer’s workshop, something the group is trying for the first time this weekend. The idea is we each post a piece that’s less than 1,000 words (or portion of a piece). We comment on what other writers have posted; they comment on our work. We’re not supposed to respond to our own posts for 24 hours, probably to make sure we take time to absorb the feedback, and let each post get critical mass.

It’s a great idea, one that can harness the good points of this new social network so we can help each other. This afternoon before work, I’m taking a step back from my various WIPs in Exeter to read, revise, assess and decide which one makes sense to workshop. It’s a good chance to get some feedback on the pieces from other writers, and to take some time to read and critique other people’s writing.

Are you on G+ and participating in the workshop this weekend? What do you think about the idea?

Rory’s Story Cubes Challenge – Week 5

Prompts: L/corner/alphabet block, keyhole, castle/tower, snoring/sleeping, ghost/trick-or-treat/Halloween/shadow, sad face, magic wand, scales (of justice), airplane

Lockstep

Will checked his watch. Just another 15 minutes — if they were on time — and then he could be free of this hellhole. Even with headphones on, he could hear the man next to him snoring away. He tried to block out the noise, bent on finishing the crossword. It was a simple one really. Clues any halfway-intelligent person could solve. He shook his head as he read adjoining clues, filling in A-L-P-H-A and O-M-E-G-A in the appropriate squares.

At least he wouldn’t have to deal with Eleanor at the airport. She’d planned to meet him; he’d convinced her otherwise. Professor Marsden — no, he’d insisted Will call him Bob — would ask the same damned question he’d been deflecting for years — why didn’t Will marry her already?

Keep Reading…

Beyond the Big Six Publishers

While I was reading the Time piece last week, the WSJ had a story bemoaning the decline of traditional publishing, arguing that we’ll miss those gatekeepers when they’re gone because they filter out the lousy books. As I said the other day, I think there are mechanisms that will arise to replace that gatekeeping role, based on my experiences in the fanfiction world. But I’ve also seen a couple of other writers make good points on the subject and wanted to share their thoughts:

Anne R. Allen makes a pretty good case that the switch to indie publishing will do away with artificial barriers to certain genres — bring back market forces that determine demand, to steal the economist’s perspective. Callie Kingston follows up with a point about how this makes books buying/selling an example of democracy in action.

Thoughts?