What the Web Wrought on Writing

We still live near the dawn of the Internet Age, of course, so it’s perhaps a bit early to assess the web’s impact on writing.  But here goes, anyway…

First, it’s instructive to recall the past technological developments that aided fiction writers, or allowed them to better connect with paying readers.  Here’s a partial list:  libraries, bookbinding, printing presses, mass production of paper, mail delivery, bookstores, dictionaries, typewriters, computer word processors, and eBooks.  Each of these innovations aided storytellers in significant ways.

(By the way, I’m aware of the difference between the ‘Internet’ and the ‘World Wide Web.’  Even so, they’re intertwined enough that I’ll use the terms interchangeably.)

I would argue the Internet’s impact on writing is (and will be) as great as any of those previous technologies.  It’s true, those who created the Internet did not have authors specifically in mind.  But some of the Internet’s attributes have eased the processes involved in the writing business:

  • Span.  The Internet covers the world; and to a greater extent every day, it is spanning all of human history; and encompassing a larger fraction of all human knowledge.
  • Search and Retrieval.  Internet search engines provide a way to sift through the vastness and find desired, specific information, no matter how obscure.
  • Permanence.  To some extent, the Internet represents a permanent record.  I believe the way data is stored and backed up renders far less likely a tragedy such as the destruction of the ancient Alexandrian Library.
  • Speed.  Everything you can do on the Internet, you can do fast, much faster than using the mail, or hunting through a library.
  • Availability.  The Internet is within reach of nearly everyone, and at very low cost.

In short, the web eases the way people connect to information and to other people.  The sudden ease of those connections has been a boon to writers.

Here are some ways the web has improved several steps of the writing process:

  • Research.  It is far easier for writers to research specific topics using the Internet.  There are gaps in the web, of course, and problems with accuracy of information, so trips to the library remain necessary on occasion.
  • Co-authorship.  E-mail makes it easier to collaborate with another writer when both are contributing to a book.
  • Critiquing.  It’s no longer necessary to find other writers in your local area to get your manuscripts critiqued.
  • Market searches.  Websites like Duotrope, Ralan, and Doug Smith’s Foreign Market List make it much easier to compile a prioritized list of ideal markets for each of your stories.
  • Submitting.  Most markets take online submissions, either through e-mail or their own online form.  Much faster and less costly than mailing.
  • Publishing.  As with many other businesses, the Internet has allowed people to quickly form small businesses operating out of their homes.  This has resulted in a proliferation of publishers.
  • Advertising.  The advent of websites, blogging, and social networking has opened up new ways for authors to reach readers.
  • Book-shopping.  For readers, the Internet’s search features and various online booksellers have eased the process of browsing for the next book to read, no matter how obscure the reader’s interests.
  • Reviewing.  Online bookselling sites have made it easy for anyone to post a book review.  These reviews help other readers make their purchasing decisions.

The Internet has helped writers in every way except one.  It won’t write your book for you!  And maybe that’s a good thing.  Still writing my own stories, I’m—

                                                          Poseidon’s Scribe

 

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September 30, 2012Permalink

Writin’ for Nuttin’

Should you always write to be paid, or should you (at least sometimes) write for free?  Here I’m talking about complete fictional stories, not blog articles or story excerpts.

The answer for you will depend on your situation.  I’ll offer some guidance, some basis on which you can make your decision.

There are those who say you should never write for free, and their reasons are compelling.

  • Writing is effort, and you deserve to get paid for it.  In one sense it does look like writers are producing something from nothing, but the product is something, after all.  Considerable effort went into the product, and work should have its compensations.  Of course, payment is more related to value as perceived by the purchaser than to the effort expended by the author.
  • You have to eat.  How much of your life’s precious time do you really have to expend on doing stuff that has no return?
  • Other authors get paid; why shouldn’t you?  Let’s face it—all else being equal, getting paid for your work beats not getting paid.  Since there are readers willing to pay for well-written stories, why shouldn’t you be one to meet that need, and reap the benefits?
  • Readers perceive free fiction must be inferior.  You get what you pay for, the old saying goes.  If you give away your stuff, they’ll think it can’t be any good.  No matter your personal reasons for writing for free, you can’t directly control this aspect, since it’s a reader perception issue.  Perhaps slowly over time you’ll build an audience as readers realize your stories are high quality despite being free, and tell their friends.

Still, there are valid reasons for giving away your stories, and some of these may apply in your case.

  • Name recognition.  Given that today’s readers rarely choose stories from authors they don’t know, you need to give an incentive for them to know you.  From there you can build an audience willing to pay for your work.
  • Writing as a hobby.  Some folks associate income with work, and work with drudgery.  They associate the word ‘hobby’ with fun, and don’t want to contaminate their fun hobby by turning it into a chore.
  • Less chance of rejection.  I think the so-called “for the love” markets are easier to break into.  However, this reason for giving away fiction is starting to become obsolete in an age when writers can skip the editor/publisher route entirely and publish eBooks directly, and charge for them.
  • Writing as a favor.  Perhaps you’ve become friends with an editor or publisher, and perhaps you owe them a favor for some kindness they’ve shown you.  Nothing wrong with sending them a story for which you ask no payment.
  • For charity.  Here the reader still pays to read your stuff but proceeds go to some deserving assistance organization rather than to you.  Nothing wrong with that.

You’ll have to weigh the pros and cons depending on your particular situation.  In my own case, I have written a couple of stories and submitted them to a “for the love” market.  I hope to include them in an anthology that I’ll charge for, so maybe I’ll make some money from them.  I wrote a story intended to go into a different anthology for which proceeds would go to charity.  That anthology fell through, though, so I will attempt to market that one and get paid for it.  Generally, now, I write for money.

Please let me know what you think about writing for free, and what your experiences have been.  Of course, you can always read—for free—the blog entries of—

                                               Poseidon’s Scribe

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September 23, 2012Permalink

A Format for Every Market

You prepared your manuscript with care, followed the market’s submission guidelines, and sent your story along.  Sad to say, it got rejected, but you got over that and decided to send it to the next market on your list.  Now you’ve found the new market requires stories submitted in a different format.  In fact, it appears there are almost as many manuscript formats as there are markets!  What’s the deal?

In truth, there are some standards shared by a few markets.  These include William Shunn’s “Proper Manuscript Format,” Vonda N. McIntyre’s “Manuscript Preparation — Introduction,” and, for ebooks, Mark Coker’s Smashwords Style Guide.  But in general each market has its own quirks and differences.  Some markets (bless ‘em!) don’t really care; they just want to read your story!

In what ways are the formats different?  Some markets like a single space between sentences. Some prefer two.  Some take submissions in MicroSoft Word only, some in Rich Text Format (rtf), and there are still a few taking only mailed submissions (that’s snail-mail, with the stamps and envelopes).  Some want lines double-spaced, others single-spaced.  Then there the various ways to indicate you want a word italicized in the final text; some markets say that underlining indicates italics; some say_underlining before and after_indicates italicizing the words between, and some say italics means italics.

Why so many formats?  Because there are so many editors, each with his or her own pet peeves and preferences.  None of them want to be bothered to reformat most incoming manuscripts to suit their preferences.  Would you?  It’s easier to just mandate that writers do that before submitting.

From a writer’s standpoint, it would be desirable if all markets agreed on one standard format.  What’s keeping that from happening?  After all, we have standards for all kinds of things, from the spacing of railroad tracks to the shape of electrical outlets.  Unlike the cases of train tracks and electric sockets, there’s little incentive for standardizing on a single manuscript format.  In the first place, the only entity in the entire writer-editor-publisher-reader chain who is inconvenienced is the writer.  And writers aren’t the ones paying into the process.  Nor do they tend to complain enough about the problem to band together to take any kind of concerted action.  Moreover, that level of inconvenience to writers has (so far) not exactly resulted in a shortage of submitted manuscripts.

So the problem persists.  What is the solution?  As I see it, there will only be one standard format when the incentives in the system change someday.  A writer shortage would do it, though that seems unlikely.  More probable is the emergence of a dominant standard that gains more and more acceptance until pressure mounts on the few markets that don’t change.  If writers then shunned those non-compliant markets, those markets would have to change to survive.

In the meantime, get used to creating multiple versions of your stories as you send them to various markets.  Sorry, just the way it is.  Remember your Dad telling you life ain’t fair?  He was right.  You can leave a comment and complain about it to me if you want; I’ll sympathize.  In your experience, what’s the market with the strangest format?  Always curious about such things, I’m—

                                                       Poseidon’s Scribe

 

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September 16, 2012Permalink

Gypsy Shadow Publishing – 3rd Anniversay Celebration

You should enter to win the prizes being offered by Gypsy Shadow Publishing as part of the celebration of their 3rd anniversary.  I’ve never promoted something like this on my blog, but I’m very grateful to GSP for publishing five of my stories so far, with possibly more to come.  Also, the prizes are great!  There are two gift baskets being given away.  In addition, they’re offering a whole bunch of free e-books.

Did I say free e-books?  Yes, and they include books written by yours truly.

Are you still reading this?  Stop now and go enter to win!  If you do win, there will be plenty of time later to thank–
                                                     Poseidon’s Scribe

 

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September 9, 2012Permalink

How Well Do You Really Know Your Characters?

In a previous blog post, I wrote about creating characters.  One bullet point I made was that you, as author, should get to know your major characters.  Let me expand on that today.

To review, your goal is to create believable, interesting, and memorable characters.  Also, to some degree, your characters should be representative, or recognizable; readers should be able to identify with at least some aspect of the characters, having that aspect themselves or having witnessed it in other real people.

With that as your goal, you understand why you shouldn’t use stereotypes as your main characters.  You want to convey a degree of complexity or depth, mimicking the complexity of real people.  To achieve that, try to create characters that aren’t entirely consistent; they can’t be described in one word or phrase.  They may be mostly consistent, but they have a quirk or two.

So, why must you, as the author, spend time getting to know your main characters?  Think about it this way—your readers can’t know your characters before you do, or any better than you do.  Phrased positively, after you start loving your characters, and to the degree you do, your readers have a good chance of loving them too.

Every author employs a technique of choice to gain an understanding of his or her characters.  Mine is to use a character chart.  The chart takes me through the following aspects of a character:

  • Biographical.  This includes such things as name, date of birth, back-story, talents or skills, nationality, race, finances, religion, employer and occupation, marital status, etc.
  • Physical.  This category asks questions about age, weight, height, health, body type, eye color, hair color and style, disabilities, illnesses, self-image, etc.
  • Psychological.  In this section I specify the Myers-Briggs personality category, the character’s main motivation, worst fear, biggest regret, etc.

If you send me an e-mail at steven-at-stevenrsouthard-dot-com, I’ll send you the character chart I use.  However, I urge you to modify it so it suits you.

Here’s the interesting and non-intuitive part about using these character charts.  You won’t end up using all that filled-out chart information in your story.  In fact, after filling out the chart, you may never look at it again.  And that’s okay.  The point of filling out the chart wasn’t only (or even mainly) to generate a ready reference.  The point was for you to get introduced to your character, to really understand your character well.

After completing the chart, you should still think of it as dynamic and changeable.  It’s on paper or electronic form, after all, not chiseled on a stone tablet.  If you find some aspect of the character not really working in the story, feel free to change the character.  You’re aiming to have the story and characters intertwined so that only these characters could experience these events and behave in ways that advance that particular plot.

Aside from the chart method, here are two other ways to get to know your characters:

  • You could take some scene or event from your own life (not something in your story), and describe it as your character would.  That helps keep your characters from getting too autobiographical and forces you to see through their eyes.
  • You could write down (or speak aloud) an imaginary dialogue between yourself and your character.  Again, this separates the character from you, highlights how distinct and unique the character is, and helps bring the character “alive” in a way.

Did this blog entry help you, or not?  Either way, feel free to leave a comment and let me know.  Meanwhile, there are several characters waiting to become better known by—

                                                 Poseidon’s Scribe

 

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September 9, 2012Permalink

Novels-in-Verse

If writing prose is getting boring,

If each new tale keeps getting worse,

To send your reader’s thoughts a’soaring,

Just try a novel writ in verse.

Verse novel it is called quite often.

Your muse’s heart you’ll have to soften,

For writing thus will take more time,

To work in meters, feet, and rhyme.

Free verse or Onegin-type stanza,

(Much like the blog you’re reading now.)

Done right, your readers will say “Wow!”

Your novel’s sales, a big bonanza.

Do other authors do it? Yes!

Like Margaret Wild and Karen Hesse.

 

When is Verse Novel form most useful?

When characters are more than few,

And besides—to be quite truthful—

When tale’s got many points of view.

When characters stir up commotion,

And in their heads is much emotion,

When using prose would seem far worst,

Each scene a momentary burst.

It’s quite in style for younger readers;

Verse Novels now are catching on;

For poetry, another dawn?

So, you might join this movement’s leaders,

Craft verse among that happy tribe!

Rhythmically Yours—

                                                 Poseidon’s Scribe

 

 

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September 2, 2012Permalink