One of the most cited axioms in writing is to “write what you know”.
Now of course, if all you know is amphibious bicycle repair and you’re trying hard to write an action-adventure book, then you’re going to need to spread your wings a bit. This isn’t to say your heroes can’t come to the rescue on an amphibious bicycle, but if you plan on writing chapter after chapter of them repairing and maintaining their awesome ride…well, suffice to say, it’s unlikely that fame and fortune will visit you.
I’m a little fortunate in that I tend to know a lot about many different things that are easy to incorporate into a novel. The United States Army, helicopters and airplanes and aviation in general, weapons, boating, high technology, a little bit of biology and medicine, East and Southeast Asia, the Middle East (also known as Southwest Asia, for those who like to be pedantic about things), littoral operations, special operations…hell, unlike bestselling author Vince Flynn, I even know that U.S. Navy SEALs aren’t called Special Forces, that’s the official designation of Army Green Berets. So that’s a goodly amount of knowledge to bring to the table, and since I’m not currently enamored of writing romance stories where this kind of stuff might seem out of place, I’ve got a lot of stories to tell.
But what if you have a hankering to write about things you don’t have direct experience with? What if you just have to write a detailed police procedural, and don’t know jack-diddly about the techniques and procedures a police department would array to solve a crime? Lazy (or extremely talented!) writers would just make stuff up, package it, and fire for effect. Those of us who want to bring more verity to our works beyond whispering “realism” once or twice during the writing process can actually do something else. And I do this all the time, since I’m a far cry from being a brainiac.
It’s called “research”.
Research can be annoying and dreary work, but it is something of a necessary evil. I was surprised to read in a Patricia Cornwall Scarpetta novel that one of her characters actually got most of the startup procedures for a Eurocopter A-Star down pretty pat. (One would think Cornwall would dispense with such details, but apparently she still believes in research.) While this didn’t mean very much in the context of the entire novel, it still conferred a fair amount of credibility to the work, and even non-aviators might have found it an interesting set of circumstances.
Research helps open doors for us as writers, and incorporating the fruits of that research into our works can give readers a glimpse into a life they might otherwise remain ignorant of. I’m not advocating using your fiction as a teaching tool, as too much emphasis on fact can make for some very dry reading, but it most assuredly does add another dimension to the reading experience. But if real-world data doesn’t easily fit into your fiction, or if it derails the story you want to tell, then be creative. I was one of a handful of people who was incensed when reading Tom Clancy’s Clear and Present Danger, as it was rife with inaccuracies about U.S. special operations forces–U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) had just been established, and for sure that component would have been calling the operational shots, not the CIA’s Directorate of Operations. And why would a composite team be assembled to jump into Colombia? 7th Special Forces Group had a ton of guys with all the training necessary. And Air Force special operations providing tactical transport? Keep it streamlined and us the then-Task Force 160, an organic Army special operations aviation unit! These inaccuracies pulled me out of the story, and that’s not usually a good thing.
But full disclosure: I still finished the book. even after finding these transgressions borne from lazy research. And the book went on to become a successful movie. And even better, the 160th’s 3rd Battalion was featured inserting Benjamin Bratt’s troops–and I found it ironic the suits in Hollywood almost got it right where Clancy failed.
So research away, folks. Add some realistic grit to your endeavors. Don’t just describe how black the smoke is, add something to make the reader feel he or she can almost smell it and feel the blistering heat from the raging fire.
And oh yes…Happy Memorial Day. Take a second to hug a vet, because they made sacrifices so you don’t have to.
Ah, I so love it when good cover art comes in!
Today, I want to go over two items. One might be important to you, and the second is definitely important to me. So, without further ado, I’ll jump on item one with both boots:
Don’t Write Shit.
Yes, yes, I used profanity, so cover your eyes and run screaming like a frightened schoolgirl if you must. But for all of us in the self-publishing business, this is an incredibly important point. Perhaps moreso than anything else we can do–covers, descriptions, price monkeying, blogging, seeking out interviews and reviews–all of those things pale in comparison to not writing shit.
That’s the biggest weapon our traditionally-published peers use against those of us who have struck out on our own. Every typo, every line of insipid dialog, every clunky narrative passage, even such usually mundane slights such as slipping into passive voice every now and then or ham-fisting a POV count against us. In some quarters, you might find that splitting infinitives has as much significance as splitting atoms, or is at least as reprehensible as lighting your farts while dining at a fancy five-star restaurant. We have to pay special attention to the mechanics of what we do, because without a solid, reliably-engineered foundation, our best attempts will list to one side and eventually collapse.
And then there are the questions of plots, characters, story-driven books versus character-driven works…many of us do these things as well if not better than our traditionally-published pals, but most of us do not. It’s not because we’re not as talented, as attentive to detail, as caring as they are–far from it. But we are denied the casual resources of an army of folks inside the traditional publishing industry who have years of experience taking a written work and translating it into a marketable work. (Note I did not say publishable; there’s more than some small debate behind the notion that traditional publishing would know a publishable work from a hole in the ground.) Traditional publishing is alternately bouyed and constrained by its ability to market a piece of fiction. They have the people to do it, the collective intelligence to see it through, and most times, the fiscal capability to pay for it.
Most of us don’t.
So we’re back to my initial statement: Don’t Write Shit. Have your work read by trusted beta readers, then have it read by casual folks who don’t know jack about putting together a good story, but who know everything about buying a book and why they enjoy it. Pay an editor or proofreader to comb through your revised work so they can search and destroy the spelling errors, the kludgy prose, the faulty mechanics. This is easier said than done; in an earlier post, I lamented on how after good money had changed hands, my work was still released into the wild with spelling errors. I can only blame myself for this at the end of the day, since the buck stops here. I may not be able to make everyone love my work, but damn it, I’m absolutely accountable if typos and the like disrupt their reading experience.
So here it is again, in case you weren’t paying attention:
Don’t Write Shit.
Because if you do, you make it tougher for the rest of us in the self-publishing world. And hiding behind the discovery of a typo or two in the latest Stuart Woods book and saying “Aha!” isn’t going to help anyone. Man up, get some objective reads, and fix what’s broken in your work before you put it out for sale.
Next item on the agenda…
Time To Raise The Prices!
I released The Gathering Dead at that oh-so-buyable 99¢ price point to generate some market penetration and get my name bandied about. The low, low price was the quickest way to get people to read my work and decide if I’m worth it or not. I get some emails from folks who have read the book, and the lion’s share is very positive. While actual reviews on Amazon are still a bit Spartan, only two of the 13 currently posted are negative (complete with the obligatory “this book is so bad I couldn’t even finish it, but decided to review it anyway” assessment). And after 2,500 units sold, I think it’s time for The Gathering Deadto grow up and step into the $2.99 range. I don’t think this is an onerous price, and while there’s some risk to this, the underlying motivation is not monetary. What compels me to do this is that the 99¢ bracket is increasingly considered to be the price of amateurs.
I don’t think I’m an amateur.
Now, I may be delusional about this, but it’s getting time to put this theory to the test. I have no doubt I’ll lose sales; in fact, I expect it. But I’ll only plus-up The Gathering Dead, and to remove some risk to that title, I’ll be releasing the “bridge” novella, currently titled Left With The Dead, at the 99¢ price point. I don’t think a novella should be priced at $2.99 anyway, so the dot double-nine should be appropriate to most folks. And if folks dig it (and I’m talking new customers here, not ones who have already pulled the trigger on TGD), it could be a hook to get folks to buy the original novel…and if not, it should motivate them to buy the sequel, The Rising Horde.
Good plan or just plain ol’ tomfoolery? Time will tell, and if everything tanks, I can always go back to 99¢ and wait for new readers to discover the product. For the moment, time is on my side.
A very happy Mother’s Day to all! Moms are the best, and make sure you give yours something nice today.
One a related note, the loving folks over at Daily Cheap Reads are having a 99 cent extravaganza for the next week or so, giving us authors with works on sale for 99 cents some extra lovin’. I’ll be featured on Tuesday night, but a whole slew of bigger and better authors will get their own cyber shout-out during the rest of the week, so stop by and browse the titles. I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts you’ll find something fantastic.
Good news! The Gathering Dead will be available in paperback at the end of this month, courtesy of the fine folks at Severed Press. So for those of you who still love paper, click, buy, and join the battle against the horde!
And in related news, I anticipate releasing a “Gathering Dead” novella at the end of this month on Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords. All I can say about it is that it picks up where The Gathering Dead left off, and will serve as a bridge to the upcoming full-on sequel, tentatively titled The Rising Horde. Ace cover artist Jared Rackler has already given me a stellar mock-up of the novella’s cover, and it’s fantastic. If you guys liked the first book, you’ll love the novella!
Stay tuned, and thanks for all your support!
…The Gathering Dead takes the #3 spot on Amazon’s Occult list and the #5 spot on Horror. Man. What a day, and what a groove!
And in more great The Gathering Dead news, the book has surged up the lists: #4 on the Amazon Occult list, and a remarkable #7 on the Horror list. Even better: the title eclipsed the vaunted #500 mark today, cresting at #391, currently at #405.
Wow! Am I utterly thankful! It’s amazing to be moving up and up like this, especially after I keep telling myself I’ve hit a plateau and this is as good as it’s ever going to get. And then? Another bump, and now that I’ve moved–albeit temporarily–north of the 500 mark, I’m almost deleriously happy. And again, it’s very, very validating to hear that people actually enjoyed the book. You just can’t get any better press than that. While crap does occasionally rise to the top along with the cream, it’s not an everyday occurrence, and it’s very difficult to sustain. So I’m going to go out on a limb here and say… The Gathering Dead ain’t crap.
And just to prove the book made it to these stratospheric heights, here are the pics! (After all, no pics, it never happened…)
Nothing writing related, but as most of the world knows, the United States has killed Osama bin Laden. This is a great day, especially for those of us who are in the NYC area. Good-bye, Osama. I hope you’re getting all jiggy with it in Hell.
As of midnight Eastern Daylight Time, The Gathering Dead has sold almost 1,500 units on Kindle. This is very validating from a writing perspective, and just plain cool from a human viewpoint. Thanks, guys. I appreciate the support, and hope you liked the book.