The Three Categories I See Often

It’s been a busy week here for me – I’ve got a Kickstarter up and running in order to produce a role-playing game that I’m ridiculously proud of (also, writers, it’s got a whole lot of writing and development advice in there, because I wrote it that way); I’ve had some “interesting” (not my word for it) spikes and drops in blood pressure; I’ve been doing a lot of reading of submissions and queries over at Parvus. This has been one of the busier stretches I’ve had in a while, and though I’m grateful for it, it means I also have to prioritize the energy I have to manage the tasks on the list.

In reading all those submissions, I split them into 3 categories.

a. Those I reject immediately because they aren’t what we produce at Parvus, or what’s submitted is inappropriately submitted (follow the submission guidelines, and don’t assume the sole exception will be made for you).

b. Those I reject due to having a query that does not encourage me to open the MS

c. Those I reject after being intrigued by the query letter, but there are enough issues with the MS (the manuscript) to make me dismiss it after reading between 1-3 pages.

Today, I thought I’d show you some of the checklist I use for each category.

The Immediately Rejected

It is always surprising to me when the submissions are missing these fundamental elements that anyone in any publisher would ask for, yet there remains that expectation those red flags are going to be overlooked, or there’s some lack of awareness that so many other submitting authors are counting on the same possibility.

No, it’s not getting overlooked. This is my job. And no, I’m not the guy to make exceptions. I’m the opposite of that guy.

The Ones Where the Query Doesn’t Help Me Get to “Yes”

I want to stress that I not only make some of my living producing books and helping authors get published, but I also genuinely enjoy seeing people succeed. I always worry this marks me as weird, but I spend a lot of time committing a lot of time and energy to helping people get better, ahead of an easier route where I could sit back and gatekeep and throw my publishing dick around. That’s not who I am and not what I do this for. I want people to be their best creative selves, I want them to reach for dreams, and I want to see them realize those dreams because they worked hard to get there.

  • Is the query too long, as in longer than 1 page?
  • Is this query when a synopsis was asked for, or vice versa? (At Parvus, we like queries. We get a lot of submissions and I think the query is a more interesting lure to the MS than a synopsis)
  • Does the query evoke any sort of interesting emotions? Do those emotions partner with plot elements to create a context?
  • Does this query use hyperbole and desperation like a barfly at last call trying to either get one more drink or a last minute hookup?
  • Does this query just sort of ramble for a few paragraphs and fail to tell me anything interesting / in an interesting way or anything that I haven’t seen in dozens of query letters today, let alone this week or month?
  • Does this query do enough provoking to make me want to find out more, and the best/only place to find out more is to get into the MS?
The MSses with Issues (“The Icebergs”)

The MSses with problems not immediately known are often called icebergs, because their greatest problems are under the surface and aren’t seen until you’re trying to bang Leo DiCaprio and the King of Rohan doesn’t move the ship … or something.

And it’s not like every MS is going to have its problems disclaimed in some italicized paragraph on the top of page 1, but the elements of development become pretty visible over the course of a manuscript’s early pages – character; world-building; little bit of plot; how the author wants the reader to visualize things; pacing; word choice. And when they’re lacking, it’s often just as visible.

  • Has there been a definitive introduction to a character I can presume to be a or the protagonist?
  • Has the author demonstrated an ability to shape language and images as their own, meaning that over the course of the MS there will be a voice and tone?
  • After a few pages, do I get a sense of the atmosphere, character starting point, and maybe plot? Does the story feel motile, or does this read like someone is pushing pudding up a hill in a rainstorm?
  • Has the author demonstrated that they can subvert or challenge cliche, rather than embrace it and re-tread the same ground as so many other MSses that will be read and rejected today or this week?
  • Does this read like the author is trying too hard, either to sound smart or hide the nervousness because sentence structure is long, word choice is stiff and things feel stuttering?
  • How’s the dialogue, does it sound like people talking? Like actual people? Even if they’re using phrasing and idioms specific to their time period or story, does it still sound like two beings communicating and not just a stack of syllables laid out in an allegedly interesting fashion?
  • Is there flagrant POV shifting for little to no substantial reason? Or is the POV change necessary to define the author’s efforts?
  • Is it boring? Do I wish I was reading or doing anything else than trying to keep my attention here?
  • Is the formatting conducive to being read? Is the font consistent? Is the spacing and capitalization appropriate and functional?

These are some, not all, of the questions I run through in my head for every query and every manuscript. I think the benefit of seeing them spelled out rather than just hearing me say, “I get an impression…” or “I poke around the manuscript’s pages” is far more helpful to the person reading this who is about to submit somewhere.

Writers, don’t let this discourage you. Let this give you a chance to use more tools. Let this be a chance to improve. Let this be one more thing you read that’s practical and applicable to your work today.

Keep your head up.

Happy creating, we’ll talk soon.

Building A Better Marketing Strategy

Good morning, sorry for the delay in blog posts … lots of things have been happening since we last spoke. But today, fewer things have happened so far, so let’s have some blog, shall we?

We’re going to look today at a fictional “company”, though you can easily make this about yourself as a writer, or you and your friends making a game or just you making widget cozies out in your garage. I’m not using the word company as to encourage a discussion of various LLC or S-corp models, in fact, I’d prefer to stay the hell away from that stuff (it’s confusing and people are quick to claim superiority, and really this post isn’t about which bureaucracy you’re engaging).

No, we’re creating a person/company so that we can talk about how that person or company tells other people about whatever they’re making – a book, a game, a thing.

This is not to say that a lot of people suck at telling others about what they’re making or have made, but a lot of people suck at telling others about what they’re making or what they’ve made. First, let’s cover three quick points:

It is NOT bad or wrong to talk about something you’ve made. Lately, I’ve heard a lot of people express varying degrees of some idea that discussing accomplishments is somewhere between “bragging” or “selfish”. I’m sure if all you did was talk about the particular accomplishment that might be bragging, but that selfish idea eludes me. Granted I hear that more from people who don’t like to take credit for what they do, the people who get mousy and small in the background, eager to minimize their accomplishments because they feel less deserving … but we’ll get there. For now, just remember it’s not selfish to talk about what you’ve done to someone else.

You have to do more than just talk about the product. Later today, after therapy, I’m going to make enchiladas. I’m looking forward to it. If I keep talking to you about the enchiladas, you’re going to get really tired of me saying enchiladas and really tired of listening to me extol the virtues of enchiladas and either ask me to talk about something other than enchiladas or stop listening to me until I stop talking about enchiladas, and hope that I don’t suddenly start every day with a rousing discussion of how great the enchiladas were back when I last made enchiladas in between hopes that future enchiladas are as good as the enchiladas most recently consumed. See how irritating that is? See how you sort of glazed over while I wrote enchilada over and over again? Do more than talk about your enchiladas.

Social media communication is a two-way communication, not street corner newspaper hawking back at the turn of the 20th century. It can be very tempting and very easy to lead yourself to think that in the social media age, everyone has to scream and draw attention to themselves in order to sell their products or get an audience. A lot of people use social media as their street corner, shouting at people who pass them by, then being angry when no one stops to toss them a nickel and pick up their product. For all the volume they shout with, it’s still a passive way to engage an audience. Also, it’s annoying and tends to be a lot like the enchilada discussion from above. Letting people respond, and then responding to them, you know, the way we have conversations, is going to build you an audience more than just haphazard shouting about where someone can go to sign up for your webinar about the power of a ficus or the book you wrote about how if you sit in your closet an hour a day, your perfect relationship will begin in the kitchen.

Now, bearing those three points in mind, let’s develop a strategy. I’m going to try and keep this plan open and applicable to ANY social media platform (I’m familiar with Twitter, Google+, and Facebook, though I recognize others may exist that I’ve never used or heard of).

1. Make sure you’re using the best way to engage the stream. For some media outlets, there’s an app or a program you can use to make corralling all the information better. For others, there’s only a website. But, there are tools you can get for your browser (like Social Fixer for Facebook, for example), that can help manage the flow. The hard part about social media and discussing your material is knowing where to start, so any tool that you can find easy to use, applicable and adjustable to your needs and something that doesn’t detract from your intended goal is worth at least trying.

2. Make sure your idea is appropriately packaged for the type of media you’re using. Twitter, for example, chops text past 140 characters, including links and people you’re addressing specifically. This has the remarkable affect of making the letters you type (therefore the words you use) very precious and puts a premium on specificity in communicating. If your social media presence involves family, then maybe that’s not the place where talk openly about topics that your family pretends don’t exist or aren’t a problem.

3. Organize your idea. I am a verbose guy. I can talk and talk and talk most days, and ramble pretty effectively, swerving through conversations and through the thickets of ideas. But when it comes to social media, that rambling can often distract from the goal of informing people about what’s going on or what I’m trying to make available to them. So, if I’m tweeting about Noir World, I’m using the hashtag #noirworld and I’m tweeting from the @noirworldrpg name, so that the message has a specific start point and isn’t lost between my personal tweets about cooking or art or burritos or whatever. Even in spaces where I can write and write, organization keeps the reader focused.

4. If you’re intimidated or believing (mistakenly) that you have to stoke these fires everyday, schedule your social media engagements. For many people, the idea of sitting at the computer “doing nothing” or “not taking care of other responsibilities” can be frustrating and intimidated. Excuses fly that people are too busy, not smart enough, that they don’t have anything to say or that they think no one will listen, or insert-your-own-here. What I suggest to people is that you schedule your media. Maybe every Monday, you tweet about the weekend, and what you’re writing. Maybe every Thursday, since you leave your dayjob early, you can write blogposts about how writing scares the snot out of you. You’ll have to have a good sense of your schedule to make this stick, but scheduling this stuff can take a lot of the intimidation factor away.

5. The media isn’t out to get you, it’s a tool you use. Somewhat related to #4, I’ve lately seen a lot of people say that using social media isn’t good because it exposes them to all kinds of fraud or idea-thieves or some kind of evil internet criminal, which I imagine is some creepy guy with a mask on, staring at a computer, waiting for someone to type “cumquat” so half a world a way, the diamond store gets looted. Yes, while there are douchecanoes and dickwagons and all varieties of coochnuggets who will steal or lie or be jerks, that isn’t the majority of people. Not unlike going out in person, most people at your grocery store for example, aren’t planning on infiltrating your hard drive and only taking the manuscript for that faux-memoir about your life as the child of trained assassins. Instead, like a shovel, a broom or that hedge trimming thing you got that one year when you really wanted a Playstation 4, it’s a tool, to be used competently and respectfully, else you’ll hedge trim your toes and face off.

6. You can admit you don’t know what you’re doing. Not everyone knows what they’re doing. I, for example, absolutely suck at gift wrapping, asking my soon-to-be-wife about things I’m embarrassed to talk about, and tying knots in balloons. If you’re following me on Twitter, or reading this blog, you’re well aware that I will talk about what I’m doing wrong just as easily as what I’m doing right. This has two purposes: a) it makes me human and relatable b) it helps me choose my words carefully and curate messages large and small so that when I do have something to say, I know how to produce it and disseminate it. Also, frankly, I’ve become so used to sharing my life in a transparent fashion that I can’t easily go back.

7. Don’t mistake silence for failure. There are millions, if not billions of people on the internet at any given time. Some people are there to look for pictures of naked attractive people, some people are there to move their digital orc from continent to continent, some people are there to tell you all about their new inspiring Google Hangout about how the best teachers for flirting are single people. A lot of what gets said out there is not responded to. Sometimes this is more a function of population and reach than how the message is crafted, but often it’s a combined effect of packaging ideas poorly and not aiming them to interested parties. So when the world does not beat a path to your door, understand that while what you have to said may be exactly what could help them, maybe how they heard it or how you described it or to whom you said it, warded it off. Silence is not failure. Silence is opportunity for retooling and development.

8. Stock your media with who you want. Let’s say your product is a book of some kind. To get support (not sales, just support) for your efforts, it would make sense to have people who write or have written similar things in your social media streams. If you want to get advice on crowdfunding, you should make sure to talk to people who have succeeded at it. If you’re thinking you should just grab all the people in the world and sort of force-build an audience, you’re going to get frustrated quickly. Audience building is a function of investing passion and creative juices into things you make, and then sharing the journey and the results with others, then repeating that in the most transparent ways possible, so that you’re showing yourself to be a person who makes awesome things, not a sales-o-tron 9000. Audience isn’t a number, you don’t “win” if you have X number of friends or followers. Audience is community. Audience is customer and supporter and critic and fan and friend and loved one and some enemies and the disaffected and new people. Audience is grown organically, like Groot.

I hope these ideas help. I know they’re not a step-by-step medium-by-medium breakdown, but I can’t give that to you, because I’m not you, I am never going to be you, and I can’t play to your strengths as well as you can. So tailor this. Jeet Kune Do it, taking what works for you and discarding what doesn’t. Just don’t ONLY sell your book and appear heartless.

 

Happy creating and marketing.

The “Are You Ready To Get Published” Checklist, John-style

There’s been a lot of talk about self-publishing about it being good or it sucking or it being the salvation of stories or the whatever-it-is-to-whomever-needs-it. And because at the moment, it’s a pretty expedient route to getting something published (in this context, I mean getting something into a format or structure where someone else can consume it, sometimes in exchange for money), that means lots of people can write something and put it out for people to come running like thirsty animals at the watering hole.

This also presents an interesting wrinkle in that when people don’t come running, as if you’re Prometheus delivering fire (as opposed to Prometheus delivering a terrible movie), you get to bitch about. Loudly. Frequently. On social media. In public. At workshops. At conventions. To your dog. To any human who lucks into your path.

Further, it gives a tease of pleasure, as if there’s more to come later, when those first sales trickle in. And then like the Muppet, you start counting sales. One, Two, Three (ah ha haa) sales. Maybe you get up to like 40 or 400 over the course of a month or a quarter or however you obsessively slam the refresh on your browser. And that pleasure is narcotic. I can speak about the joys of narcotic rushes. I can tell you just how addictive it is to feel good. I can also tell you that you will do stupid things (like bitch on twitter, or pick fights with authors or editors or agents) to get another hit. I mean, in a publishing sense. I guess you could sell your stuff for book sales, or commit sex acts in alleyways for pageviews. I never really thought about that. (Now I can’t help but think of a sign that says, “Will swallow for blog hits” and expect one of those websites to scoop it up in a hot minute)

All this is divisive and great for fomenting argument and message board chatter. And it obscures the facts:

  1. People are going to write things.
  2. Some of those things are going to exist in stages where the manuscripts are rife with errors, either within the context of the story (cliched characters, plot holes, stuff like that) and also with the words and structure (spelling, grammar and punctuation errors)
  3. People want to get published.
  4. There are lots of ways to get published, or more broadly, get people to pay for things you’ve written.
  5. Some people are going to see one way to get published as superior to another, either because of things involved in getting published that way (agents, labels on books, etc) or because of expedience (upload a file, start “selling it”) or because of some other thing I’m not aware of but I’m sure someone will tell me about once this post goes up on the blog.
  6. If you rush to publication, regardless of route, you may encounter difficulty in the form of rejections or negative feedback because your manuscript may have any/all errors described in #2.
  7. You may get your work(s) published and still require a day job.
  8. You may have to publish several books/things in order to get some sort of income that you can live on consistently without fear of financial dire straits.
  9. Not every thing you write needs to be or is going to be published.
  10. Editors who aren’t you (or aren’t immediately related to you and are therefore biased) are useful to developing your work and your ability to produce that work, even if you’re focusing on a route to publication that puts editing after a submission and acceptance process.
  11. Not many people agree on the “best” course of action.
  12. Lots of people espouse all manner of philosophy, panicked thoughts, emotional reactions and BS statistics to try and persuade or dissuade people from certain actions or avenues in publishing.

Now, I’m sure I’ve forgotten loads of things because I’m writing this late at night when I’m tired, but I think I’ve put down some nice basics there. To that end, here’s a nice checklist you can use to help you produce whatever it is you’re doing.

Question 1

Is your manuscript complete? Before we go anywhere else, the thing you’re writing has to be done. And by “done” I mean the particular manuscript has to be finished, that you’re not adding more to it or fiddling with it. Even it’s a part of a series, this book (whatever number it is) has to be a whole book. Sure, it can end on a cliffhanger. Sure, it can leave some parts of a greater plot unanswered. But by itself, it has to be a complete story. However long that is. However many words. Complete.

Sub-Questions under Question 1

Does your manuscript have a main character that we can easily pick out and follow through the course of the story? A story needs a protagonist. The audience has to have some character we follow more than all the others (yes, even in an ensemble story where you have a group of characters together), so that they can see the plot and the character(s’) response to it. If there’s no clear protagonist (as in The Phantom Menace, several films from the ’70s and anything I wrote while in college), then audience won’t have an easy access point to the story, which means they won’t be as invested as they could be, and that may mean they put the book down to pick up something else. (And that’s not ideal if you want a stable audience or good reviews or repeat sales.)

Are your characters NOT stereotypes, cliches, “Mary Sues”, overpowered unchallenged uber-folk or one-dimensional cardboard? Here we can talk about the character spectrum. If you’ve got characters that are ‘too’ anything (too perfect, too beautiful, too good for the challenge of the plot, too troubled as to be unmotivated, etc), as per above, people aren’t going to have an access point into your story and created world. They don’t need to be super flawed either, it’s more about writing characters that someone somehow and in some way can relate to.

Did you spell-check it? Seriously, in my writing program of choice, spell-check is a pretty accessible, either by a menu or a keystroke. Use it. It shows respect to your readers and helps solidify the impression that you actually give a damn about what you create and didn’t just rush to stick your name on something in the hope that money would soon thereafter follow.

Is there a plot? And are you getting to that plot within the first twenty pages? A story needs a reason or a conflict or a crisis or a problem that the characters can solve. It makes the reader feel things, it creates a sense of “will this work out for our heroes” and generally gives the book a point to being read. The sooner you can introduce the plot and its effects on the protagonist(s), the sooner we can get into following their efforts to do something about it. Bloating the story up front with details because “you need to know this in order to understand stuff later” doesn’t demonstrate that you’ve paced or planned the story out, and in a way tells me that you’re more concerned with your telling the story than my liking it. (Sort of like a party where the person cares more about the praise or attention being paid to their storytelling rather than the story’s reception or the listeners’ enjoyment – are you writing just to show that you can do it?) Lastly, does this plot build to a climax and then resolve? Yes, even if you’re writing a series, each component needs an internal structure and not just act as setup to books later “when you’ll really get into it”. I don’t want to get into it later, four books from now. I bought this book, I want to get into it NOW.

Question 2

Since your manuscript is complete, have you formatted it according the particular requirements of the route it’s going to take in publishing? Just about every way to publish a story requires it be formatted a different way. Some places want it formatted with certain spacing and margins. Others want a particular file format. This isn’t just caprice. Formatting it a certain way shows that not only can you (a) follow directions but also (b) that you give a damn about the thing you’ve created, and you want to give it the best possible shot at getting out into the world. If you don’t know how to format it for your particular publishing method, ask someone affiliated with that method or check online, nearly everywhere has ‘Submission Guidelines’ or an email address where you can talk to someone about it. And when you actually get those guidelines, follow them. Being a rebel here doesn’t do you any favors, and often leads to your work being rejected since you didn’t follow directions. (For example if Company X wants the document formatted a certain way, with inches and spacing, chances are it’s for easier reading and quick printing. Not helping Company X read your thing is not going to help Company X say yes to you.)

Question 3

If you’re going to engage an agent or publisher, have you queried them? And if so, did their response say “Please send us stuff?” Again, we get to the importance of following directions and doing yourself a favor and putting your best foot forward. Imagine for a minute that we’re not talking about books, but something more practical – let’s say you’re making a snack chip. If you want me to buy your chip and tell my friends to buy your chip, are you going to let me test one chip to see if I like it, or are you going to assume that I’ll automatically like it because you (who I don’t know) made it, and you’ve gone ahead and made me a whole giant bag? The query letter is that test chip. It helps set up the dialog and relationship between agent and writer, so that communication (like spice) can flow and deals can be struck. And just like the start of any relationship, coming on too strong is a great way to get yourself rejected. Don’t throw whole bags of chips at people, invite them to make up their own mind with a test chip. Then see where things go.

Question 4

Are you on social media? Are you available somewhere on the Internet, in terms of contact information or some other repository of your thoughts and stuff? I’m not saying you need to be all up on every form of social media. You don’t need to be an Instagram junkie or go crazy with Vines and know the difference between Tinder and Tumblr. But you are going to need some kind of spot on the Internet where people (people interested in talking to you about you and your stuff) can reach you. For me, that’s Twitter and this blog. Yeah, there’s some Facebook too, but not so much anymore. Notice how I didn’t ask about your personal life or about your family or your financial habits or whether or not you’ve got pictures of your kids I can see. Having a presence on social media DOES NOT MEAN you need to show everything to everyone all the time. You choose to show and share what you want, with the caveat that it’s called “social” media and not “I only whore my work and provide links to buy things” media. Social means you can and should expect interactions with other humans, some of whom you’ll agree with and some you won’t, and some of whom will like your work and some who won’t. Growing some thick skin isn’t a bad idea, but it’s applesauce if you think you need to wear plate armor against everyone. The nice thing is that a lot of social media is free (and this blog isn’t all that pricey either, I think it’s like $18 a year or so.)

Question 5

Did you get some people to look at your work? Did “some people” include professionals who can point out errors and issues with your creation? When you write a thing, people are excited. Maybe they’re a little envious. Maybe they just want to see you do well. Who knows. Their reasons are their own. And chances are it’s not hard to find people who want to read your stuff. Friends. Family. Relationships. Co-workers. Maybe you expand by getting librarians or bloggers. Maybe you have a writing group and you take their feedback weekly or monthly. They’re all great resources for encouragement and on-the-spot help. But have you considered getting a professional to help you? Sure, those other people are giving you free advice on some night or an afternoon, and the professional is going to cost you money, but remember how we’ve been talking about doing all you can to put your best foot forward? Getting an editor (and later, beta readers) to apply their expertise (that’s what you’re paying for with professionals) to help your work be the best it can be?

Sub-Question under Question 5

Are you relying too heavily on the editorial process after an expected acceptance? Yes, if you go by some routes in publishing, the editing of your manuscript happens after you sign some paperwork and have been accepted as an author-under-contract. It can really tempting to hold off on editing your manuscript until that part, because it’s going to a pro, and that’s they’re job and it’s out of your hands. Yes, it is out of your hands. But do you think your work is the only thing they’re doing? That they don’t have deadlines or pressure from their bosses to get a certain amount done? And do you think that even at that level they can’t say no to you and say, “This thing is a mess and a nightmare, let’s go back to like square 2”? Publishing in its many incarnations is a marathon, not a windsprint. The better condition your work is in before the race kicks off, the better it’ll hold up to all the rigors your work is going to face.

Question 6

Are you prepared to handle the numbers? I don’t often talk about my own numbers, but I’ll give you some here. I have a series of small monographs available on Smashwords, and to date, they’ve earned me about $34. Thirty-four dollars. Contrast that to my editing income, which is about three thousand times times greater (tax brackets kicked my ass), give or take a percent. Granted, I talk way more about editing novels and games and content than I do about writing my own stuff, and even my own fiction production has slowed since more and more I’m editing to pay bills and live, but thirty-four dollars fills my car up with gas ONCE, or buys me 5 burritos. That’s not a lot, but I’m grateful for it. Writing, in terms of being a writer that produces book upon book, that’s a job, and that means contending with things like sales numbers and expectations and the cost of living or what you’re comfortable owning or not owning.

Question 7

Can you do it more than once? Maybe writing is just something you want to say you tried one time. Maybe it’s to honor a promise or just a goofy thing you started ages ago and now you’re just seeing where it goes. Or maybe it isn’t. Maybe you’re writing things because that’s your retirement. Or because your career is going to put your kids through college. Or because this is what you’ve always wanted to do, so out of your apartment in your city, you write ferociously and still make time to do things like go grocery shopping. Chances are that once you’re published, someone somewhere is going to ask or expect you to do it again. Now if you’re planning a series of books, this is a given. But if you’re just lobbing one word-grenade out there, someone’s going to want you to have extras handy. Which means writing more, possibly faster than you did the first time, and possibly on a schedule and deadline other than your own (especially if you didn’t read that contract you signed too carefully). Ready to do it again?

* * *

I write this not to draw a line in any sand and say “Publish this way and not that way.” I think the “hybrid” model, where you do whatever works best for the project is ideal, even if it means you straddle “fences”. I do think that even work that goes out to agents and publishers can stand to edited, and I do think it’s critical we start pointing out emperors that have no clothes on and talking more about what makes for good writing and not just good sales. I do think sales are a consequence of a well-made product, and I know you can point to tons of material that’s well-made but sold poorly, but I think it’s also time we change our collective thinking about how we perceive writing as art and craft. I think we need to do all we can to produce the best not so that we can demand fat checks, but so that we can bring our stories to people who want them, and we do so with the best polish and construction possible.

I take a lot of heat for saying “You should be writing everyday.” and I’m still going to say it. Because I do think ANYONE can take ten minutes to write down an idea so they don’t forget, then take ten minutes the next day to write a little more, and then a little more the next day. Some people get on my about my privilege, that I’m discounting peoples’ responsibilities. I’m not. I don’t have the same responsibilities, but that doesn’t mean I’m not cognizant of the fact that hours of a person’s day gets consumed by other things. I’m not asking for hours a day. It’d be nice, I think practicing a craft works best when you devote time to it, but even ten minutes regularly counts. 10 minutes. That’s not much. Can you do more? Then do it. Write. Create. A little at a time. If you feel that it deserves more, or that you should be giving it more because 10 minutes is unfair or sounds like I’m yanking your chain, that’s on you. I do think it deserves more. I do think you should do it at least an hour as often as possible. I do think it should be taught more (and better) in schools, and I do think that words can elevate and change minds. I don’t understand how people can ask me “to understand”, when they just tell me I’m being privileged or I don’t know what it’s like. I admit I don’t. Now just tell me how you can say writing or making a thing is as important as you claim when you’re not regularly making time to do it?

Go write things. Produce art. Art hard.

Happy writing.

I Have a Third Book!

Just wanted to let everyone know that my third book … I mean I guess it’s a monograph (finally I get to use my favorite Sherlockian word) is available now.

Pitch 101, Or Writing Effective Pitches And Queries is now available for $4.99 You’ll learn how to deconstruct pitches that don’t work, re-tool them and build queries that make people take notice. You’ll learn the components to a query, and how you can tailor them to suit your needs. It’s a practical guide with hands-on advice, not just a thick book for your shelf that intimidates you or obfuscates the process of querying.

If you’re keeping track, that means I have two ‘101 series’ books available: Character 101, and now Pitch 101. Yes, there are other 101 series books in the pipeline — my in-person and online writing workshops now include what will become Plot 101 and Book Marketing 101. I don’t have a timetable yet for their release, but Plot will be released, then I’ll probably do a compilation volume and put out Book Marketing 101.

If you’ve purchased the book, please consider writing a review.

Happy writing.

John’s Stack of Book Recommendations, Part 1

There are, at last count, about 4000 books in my house. I have two rooms designated as library/office space and half my basement is filled with boxes of things I’ve read or used to teach. My classics, my prized rare books, and my favorites are in a third room that will likely become a third library in the very neat future.

Book bragging, I do it now.

What I present to you today is a list (and links) to books, broken down by category as they might appeal to you.

Books For Pleasure

1. Go to Chuck Wendig’s site. Buy everything he’s written. Budget money to buy everything he will write. Ever. Ever ever.
2. If you’ve not read Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files (the books that made me want to work with game designers), then we probably shouldn’t speak again until you do. Double Bonus: Pick up an audiobook or two – they’re narrated by James Marsters.
3. I came across Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid series while waiting for the most recent Dresden book. I’m glad I gave them a try. Totally worth it.
4. A friend of mine gave me a copy of Mark Hodder’s Burton and Swinburne series. I haven’t returned them yet, and don’t plan to.  (Start with Spring Heeled Jack)

Audiobooks For Pleasure

I do a lot of traveling and audiobooks are great for those downtimes and traffic-times and long hauls from Point A to Point Q. Here are some of the best ones I’ve heard this year.
1. The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton. (I tend to find narrators and stick with them – Macleod Andrews MAKES this book the best audiobook I’ve heard in years.)
2. Johannes Cabal the Necromancer and the Detective are both FANTASTIC listens, even if there are two different narrators.
3. Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim series. (Favorite series of the last few years) Again, you can thank Macleod Andrews when you get the audio versions. (Start with Sandman Slim)
4. Mike Carey’s Felix Castor series. No, I don’t know why more of these aren’t in audio. Oh, I how I wish they were. (Start with The Devil You Know)

Books To Make Your 2012 Better

1. The Nerdist Way. Chris Hardwick is super nice and this book should absolutely be read (or listened to) by anyone who wants to be better next year. Also, this book changed my life more than many humans I know.
2. Spiritual Liberation by Michael Beckwith. Yeah I know, it looks way New Age-y. Give it about 30 pages (or ten minutes if you get the audiobook). It’ll be worth it. I promise.
3. Conversations with God by Neale Donald Walsch. Seriously, get the audiobooks if you’re serious about this purchase. 1. The material is interesting. 2. ED ASNER.

Books to Make You A Better Writer/Designer

1. The Weekend Novelist. Do you have a silly dayjob, so you only write on the weekends? Then you need this book!
2. The Writer’s Compass. Are you trying to figure out what your story is about so that you can write it later? Then you DEFINITELY need this book!
3. Do you suck at grammar? Then have the trifecta: Spunk and Bite; Eats, Shoots and Leaves; and Sin and Syntax.
4. Do you often think about fonts and layout? Then you should read Just My Type.

Books You Can Learn Something From

1. Evil Hat’s Dresden Files RPG – Come look at the confluence of mechanics, story, licensing and characters.
2. Ron Chernow’s Washington: A Life – Take a look at what good research can do for your material.

More to come as I think of them…..