DNA Podcast 033 – Writing Formulas

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Lester Dent

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In this episode, Rob and Don sit down to discuss story structure. They explore the origins of the 3-act structure, discuss Chris Fox’s Write to Market strategy, and break down the Lester Dent Master Pulp Writing Formula and Michael Moorcock’s How to Write a Book in Three Days method. All this, and why Buffy the Vampire Slayer is really a ninja, are waiting for you in this episode of the Department of Nerdly Affairs!

Good Advice from Author Scott Sigler about Writing Your First Novel

Parkinson’s Law for Writers- Introduction

Although he was not entirely serious at the time, Cyril Northcote Parkinson once declared one of life’s truisms- “The demand upon a resource tends to expand to match the supply of the resource.”

What does this mean?

Well, let me give two examples:

1) If you only have $10 for food that week, you will find a way to make do with $10 worth of food, but if you have $100 you will spend $100 on food that week even if you could have made do with $10.
2) If you say you have one day to get a project done, it will get done in one day. If you say the same project will take a week, it will take you a week to get it done.

Because of many factors, be it laziness, practicality, or procrastination, it’s just human nature to make maximum use of resources like money or time for our own convenience, even if using them more wisely might bring us long-term benefits. Maybe it’s a side-effect of short-term thinking, or our selfish natures, but this is a problem that keeps popping up again and again, and often we let this side of ourselves keep us from doing what we want to do. This is what’s known as Parkinson’s Law.

I’ll give you an example (the one which got me thinking about this topic)- National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo) is a month where would-be writers are encouraged to pump out a 50,000 word novel (or 50,000 words of a novel) in an effort to force themselves to write. It creates a time limit, sets a clear goal, and forces writers (who are horrible procrastinators) to actually commit to using that month to produce the book they’ve always wanted to write. The idea is that 1,667 words a day (50,000 roughly divided by 31) is an easily achievable goal for almost any writer, even one with a day job, and if they just reach that goal consistently for 31 days they’ve got their book finished!

It’s a great idea, and for many people it works. It gets butts in seats and words on the screen, and overcomes many of the hurdles that writers tend to find themselves facing in an effort to make their dreams into reality. But, what really made me think was what writer Matt Ahlschlager did- he finished NaNoWriMo in 1 day! In fact, he did it in less than a day, while bogging about it as he went, and this November he did it 3 times!

So why does it take other writers 31 days? Yes, Matt is a fast typer, but couldn’t most people carve out a weekend (2 whole days) and produce a book, especially if they wrote “Chinese Style”?

Isn’t this just an example of Parkinson’s Law in effect? Writers give themselves 31 days, so it takes 31 days, but it doesn’t HAVE to. Writer Michael Moorcock wrote an essay called “How to Write a Book in 3 Days“, and it outlines exactly how to write a book in one weekend. Even most professional writers (the prolific ones) often talk about writing a novel in 2-3 weeks at most, and author Rachel Aaron discusses how to do it in one week by writing 10,000 words a day. It can be done.

Think about it- if you had 2 days to write a 50,000 word novel or pay a $100,000 penalty, could you do it? I bet you could. I bet most people with at least some writing talent could, especially if given a bit of preparation.

So why don’t you?

Every book you write is a potential “lottery ticket” which could actually make you $100,000 (in the long run, if it sells well) and the more stories you write, the better your chances are of writing that winning book. So why are you capable of that kind of productivity only if it’s penalty? Why can’t you do it as a reward? (Yes, I know, one is certain, and one is a gamble, but if you don’t write anything you’re guaranteed to make nothing from it.)

It’s this thinking that got me wondering about how writers could find ways to use Parkinson’s Law to their advantage. If this is a part of human nature, how can we “hack” it to benefit ourselves as writers and make ourselves more productive and profitable in the process?

So let’s explore this “law” and see what it can do for our creativity. When I have time, I’m going to write a series of posts on this topic, and my thoughts on how we can benefit from it.

First up- TIME!

Rob

The ePublishing Scammers come out to play…

Author David Gaughran has posted an article over on his blog warning about the growing minefield of people out there looking to sell overpriced services to self-publishing authors under the pretense of being real publishing houses. The sad thing is that the real publishing houses have smelled money and are now also trying to get into the game!

Most of this is being done by Author’s Solutions, a modern Vanity Press company David gives these stats about:

1. 150,000 customers have only published 190,000 books, meaning there’s very little repeat business – esp. when you factor in all the authors publishing multiple titles right off the bat. For comparison, the average Smashwords author has published over four titles with them.

2. The average Author Solutions customer spends $5,000 publishing their book, and only sells 150 copies.

3. Only one-third of Author Solutions’ income comes from book sales royalties. Two thirds comes from author services – their whole model is based on making money from you, not with you.

These are leeches preying on people’s hope and dreams, and not giving anywhere near back what they take. Note #2, how they charge $5000 on average to “help” you get your book ready to market. Do you know how much most self-pubbed authors pay reputable services for editing and a cover? $300-$500 for the whole package! (It can get up around $1000 if you want more extensive work done and you hire a high-end artist for the cover.) And actually, many pay ZERO dollars if they have friends and family who can help them do it, since the actual publishing side is free for eBooks (and costs around $40 to set up Print-on-Demand services through Amazon or Lulu).

And no matter how much you pay to whom, you still have to do all your own marketing!

All for average sales of 150 copies. (Lifetime.)

So do your homework.

Real publishers ask for ZERO money upfront, because they pay you to publish your work, not the other way around.

Reputable editors and services don’t charge you thousands of dollars to get your book ready.

Read the linked article, ask around, explore your options, and beware the traps! For there are many, and you will get screwed if you pick the wrong one!

Rob

Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing: Writing Fast

Dean Wesley Smith wrote a good piece on his blog about writing speed, quality, and productivity. I definitely recommend reading it if you have the time.

Writing Slow Equals Writing Better is a complete myth, a nasty sacred cow of publishing that hurts and stops writers who believe it.

— The truth is that no two writers work the same and no book is the same as the previous book or the next book.

— The truth is that writing fast is nothing more than spending more time every day writing.

— The truth is that there should be no rule about speed relating to quality.

— The truth is there should be no rule that lumps all writers into one big class. There should only be your way of writing.

via Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing: Writing Fast |.

My Advice to Aspiring Authors | Hugh Howey

Since some who read this blog are aspiring writers in the prose field, I thought I’d pass along this excellent blog article written by successful independent author Hugh Howey.

http://www.hughhowey.com/my-advice-to-aspiring-authors/

He really hits a lot of important points on being a writer in the new e-book focussed market. I also think he is spot-on about how the best thing a writer can do is write, get the product out, and keep writing, the marketing can come later.

For me the most interesting was the following:

“Know your gatekeepers. Appealing to readers is the endgame. They want story over prose, so concentrate on that aim for both, but concentrate on story. Agents and slush-pile readers are often the opposite, which is why they bemoan the absence of literary fiction hits and cringe at the sale of Twilight, Dan Brown, and 50 Shades. You are writing for the reader, who is your ultimate gatekeeper. Get your work in front of them, even if it’s one at a time, one reader a month or year.”

He really has an excellent point with this one. The truth is, if your core story is strong, then the average reader will forgive a lot in the area of style. Simple, clear prose without spelling or grammar mistakes is all most readers require to enjoy a story, and that isn’t all that difficult to achieve. It’s the characters and story that will bring them in and keep them reading, not the prose, as the authors he’s mentioned have proved.

Of course, the opposite is also true- you can polish a turd of a story all you want, and it will still be a turd!

via My Advice to Aspiring Authors | Hugh Howey.

Amazon Purging Reviews?

I happened to wander over to Joe Konrath’s blog today and noticed the top story was about Amazon purging reviews. It seems in response to a recent cry by independent authors for Amazon to police their reviews, they’ve begun using a heavy-handed algorithm which hunts for reviews by people that might be linked to the author and removes them.

This is pretty disturbing, and it gets even worse, check out the blog article below for more details…

So I just emerged from my editing cave (my second draft of book 2 for the PERSEF0NE trilogy is done- whew) to some disturbing news. Digging through a backlog of emails, I came across a few from fans that were extremely troubling. Apparently these fans tried to submit reviews of my book on Amazon, and their reviews either a) never appeared, or b) were abruptly taken down.

via The Kill Zone: Et Tu, Amazon?.

Free eBook: The Cat and The Whaler

I’ve just released my newest Little Gou adventure, and to celebrate I’m offering it for free for the next two weeks! Until June 7th, if you go to Smashwords and enter the coupon code NQ67B you can get it in the format of your choice absolutely free! All I ask is that if you enjoy it you leave a rating on Amazon, Smashwords or Goodreads to help me promote the story. This is a special Gou story, in that it’s illustrated as well, with art by Yi Weng! Check it out!

Rob

Smashwords Releases eBook Sales Data!

 As someone who publishes on Smashwords, I got an update today about their company blog, which has made public a powerpoint the owner recently gave on ebook sales.

Ignoring the advertising speak, it’s some really interesting stuff. Apparently longer ebooks (100k+ words) sell better (unless you’re selling Romance or Erotica) and $2.99 to $5.99 is the optimal price point. If you’re thinking of Indie publishing, I highly recommend you take the time to skim through this powerpoint as it’s great to finally have some real data about what’s working and what isn’t.

Rob

 

The Roundtable Podcast (on Writing)

This week I started listening to The Roundtable Podcast after hearing about it on the Dead Robots’ Society writer’s podcast. The premise is simple enough: each the two hosts and one successful writer help an aspiriing guest writer brainstorm their current project to improve it as best they can.

I’ve listened to the first two roundtables (J. Daniel Sawyer and Nathan Lowell), and I have to say that I haven’t gotten much from the actual roundtables themselves- in both cases the guest aspiring writer really hadn’t thought through their story enough before coming on the show, so things lacked focus. They ended up spending most of the time trying to find a story and not much on getting into the actual creative side of things.

On the other hand, the “Twenty Minutes With…” sessions they do with the published writers are author gold! The two hosts spend twenty minutes grilling the writers on their approaches to writing, and it’s fascinating to hear them talk about what works for them and how they go about crafting their novels. We learn what works for them, and what doesn’t work, and why they write the way they do. I would definitely recommend any aspiring writer to give these a listen.

I plan to continue to listen to both parts, and hopefully they’ll get a couple of writers on with more solid ideas in the next couple shows.