Tuesday, April 8, 2014

In the self-pub trenches: timing a series

I chatted with Will Hahn recently about a collection of issues related to publishing a multi-book series like my Disciple. He asked great questions and it seemed like a good basis for a blog post.

The first four books [of Disciple] have come out on a fairly regular schedule, about five months apart, yes? Did you follow some established wisdom regarding that schedule? Was it related to the size or price of the books?
The spacing is mostly related to the production costs, and partly to the idea that keeping them coming regularly but not too quickly will keep attention on them.

There's also the factor of how publishing breaks up your writing schedule. I'm monogamous when it comes to writing projects, so you can see the hit that my writing output has taken since I started self-pubbing (2012: 289k, 2013: 162.6k). When I've got something on my editor's desk, I don't want to dig into a major project and have to put it down to revise my manuscript.

Spacing them out a bit gives me time to grind out another story in between. So far, it's been working out.

I note you priced the first book way down, as I intend to do. Was that from the start and will it be permanent, or did you put it on sale as the later issues came out?
Part I's initial price was $4.99, which in hindsight was probably too high. $2.99 would have been better, IMO.

Currently, it's 99 cents with occasional free promotions. I took it down to that price around when Part III came out. If you can price it in the impulse-buy range (currently 99 cents, sure to change with time) you'll balance cheapness with people who will actually read it.

Because free stuff gets snapped up because it's free. Not necessarily because it's interesting. When I gave away Part I for free around New Year's, I gave away a bit short of two thousand copies. That resulted in about 25 sales of Part II. Maybe there will be later sales due to people getting around to that freebie they downloaded months ago... maybe not. My follow-up rate for sold copies of Part I has been much better.

I also think it's not entirely wise to price a first book too low and here's why: it's a reflection of what you think the series worth, when that book's sitting alone on the shelf. Once it's not a "free-standing" book anymore, then its price becomes less important. Part I is a loss leader now, and its job is to hook readers.

If it's not prying, do you have the entire Disciple story locked and loaded from the first book, or are you continuing to write as you go?
I had the first draft of Part VI (the ending) written before I published Part II. I wrote the series straight through with minor breaks in between the parts. Yes, I jokingly say that it's because I didn't want to be like GRRM and string my readers along... truth is, I can't afford to do that. If I drop the ball, there's no forgiveness in self-pubbing land.

So I wrote Disciple straight through and I intend to publish it straight through -- continuity of energy both ways.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Flashbacks in the story structure

I've been blog touring for two months and neglected this blog... my intent is to get back to my once a week habit. 

Flashbacks are something of unknown territory for me. They've turned up on occasion but mostly as isolated incidents. Those are simple to handle: they're like info-dumps. My science fiction stories (there are three of them) involve a lot more flashbacks and uses them for character development and backfilling earlier plot points.

What function does the flashback have?
No scene should have only one function. That applies to flashback scenes too.

Plot elements: Since you don't have to start telling your story at the beginning of the traditional plot structure (the inciting incident), it's entirely possible that a flashback scene contains an earlier plot point. Why not start the story there? Maybe it wasn't all that dramatic of an event (and stories should always start with dramatic events, as we know.) Maybe the reader needs the context of later events to see the significance of this earlier one. Maybe it wasn't a good scene to introduce the reader to the story's world.

Character development: Flashbacks are a chance to show-not-tell the reader about important aspects of a character's personality.

Info-dumping: Chunks of world-building can be worked into flashbacks, of course. The entire scene can serve to explain how things came to be in a particular situation, in your story.

When does the reader need to know this?
Connected to "current" events: Flashbacks are like info-dumps in that they always need to be relevant to the story. The best advice I have on when to info-dump is "just after the reader absolutely needed to know this." So the same goes for flashbacks.

Taking a break: If your story has been running hard and fast for a while, you can let it coast a bit while you flashback to something relevant but slower paced. Since flashbacks are in the story's past, they tend to reduce the tension -- the reader already has some sense of what might have happened and you're just filling in the particulars. (That's not to say you can't pack in some surprises, of course.)

When in doubt...
...keep writing, because once you reach the end of the story everything will be much clearer. And you can always fix it in revisions.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

What I did this weekend...

Blew off stress on a too-crowded dance floor Saturday night, then came home to two days of ebook coding and paperback layout. But it's done!

Disciple, Part IV now on sale! 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Top 5 Grammar Mistakes, supposedly

I got an email from Grammarly.com recently about the "top writing mistakes that even the most seasoned novelists make in their work." Now, their methods did not particularly impress me and they haven't even attempted to prove that the writers sampled were seasoned novelists... but their list incited a few thoughts because I'm putting the final polish on Disciple, Part IV.
  1. Missing comma
  2. Run-on sentences
  3. Comma splice
  4. Comma misuse
  5. Definite vs. Indefinite article use
This list was generated by their auto-proofreading software, so another grain of salt is in order. Still, there are some interesting points. 

#1 and #4 -- in my opinion, commas can be argued about. They're a matter of personal style, to some degree. I view them as a pacing mechanism in a sentence and I use them to indicate a very slight pause in a thought or in dialogue. That's on top of their mechanical functions in separating out lists and parceling clauses. For example: 

The corner store opened on time that morning, which was a first, and I bought a six-pack of beer.

Commas in that sentence enclose a clause which could drop out of the sentence without impacting its readability at all. "Which was a first" is an aside, an editorial comment, and when I read it I hear a slight pause as the narrator turns to look me in the eye and snark for a moment. If you drop the clause out...

The corner store opened on time that morning and I bought a six-pack of beer. 

...you don't need a comma, but I'm not nit-picky enough to complain of someone put one before "and." 

#2 and #3 are two manifestations of the same problem: badly built sentences. Of all the bad ways to build sentences, run-ons and comma splices seem the most obvious and clunky to me so either Grammarly's software can't reliably detect the rest or first drafts are messier than I thought. 

That store never opens on time, the owner's out drunk every night and too hung-over to get up. 
His beer selection is good though he gets that much right. 

Both of those sentences are so easy to fix that I had some trouble writing them incorrectly. Are these really so common? 

Which leaves #5: "a" and "an" vs. "the." This one is actually a good point because there's a power in the definite article "the." It assumes foreknowledge. Insinuates importance.

He was the knight for the job. 

Conversely, "a/an" de-emphasizes. It can completely shift the meaning of the sentence.

He was a knight for a job.

These are very subtle, too, since they're tiny words and very common.

I've put text into Grammarly a few times and yes, it's much better than Word's auto-correct. It certainly has the impartiality that can be helpful when you've been staring at a story for too long.

Whether it's good enough to sift out the finer points of definite and indefinite articles... mmm, I'd have to try it out some more. Has anyone here used Grammarly? What was your impression?
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