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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Can Gordon Ramsay Make You A Better Author?

I've watched everything Gordon Ramsay has done, with the exception of a romantic comedy he appears in. If you're not familiar with Hell's Kitchen and Kitchen Nightmares, do yourself a favor and check them out on Netflix or something. He's a world-renowned chef with a string of high-end restaurants to his credit. He has very high standards, and loves to yell and curse at people. Mainly people who deserve it.

But, watching Kitchen Nightmares, I began to see how applying what he does to writing, or any aspect of your life, might make you more successful in the long run.

The formula for the show is simple. He takes a failing restaurant, analyzes it, and relaunches it in the hopes of turning the business around and making it a success. The problems are usually found in three areas: cleanliness, quality, and service.

The first seems very basic, but you'd be surprised at how many high-end restaurants have atrocious records when it comes to hygiene. Say what you will about fast food, very few chains would allow the conditions I've seen on this show to exist in their restaurants.

When it comes to the food, it's almost always bad, or at best, boring. I don't have to point out that food is why people go out to eat, and bad food is a reason never to return to an eating establishment.

This is usually accompanied by poor service. Inattentive or rude waitstaff, slow delivery, and poor presentation seem to go hand-in-hand with the other problems. Overall, it's a lack of caring on the part of the owners and employees.

When you apply these three things to writing and publishing, you can begin to improve your books the Gordon Ramsay way, which is, pardon me, a recipe for success.

Cleanliness - I would liken this to editing and covers. If your writing is sloppy, plagued with grammatical errors and dizzying changes in point-of-view, many readers will never get past previewing your work. With good reason. Reading should be a pleasure, not a chore. There's no board of health for writers, but sometimes I wish there was. The more I write, the more difficult it is for me to get through the first few pages of many ebooks. The inattention to mechanics makes it nearly impossible for me to just enjoy the story. Likewise, a lackluster cover is like driving by an ugly, empty restaurant. Most people are not going to stop by for a closer look.

Bad, Boring Food - I was recently run out on a rail from a writing forum (on, of all places), for daring to suggest that writing should be about ideas. Yes, there are supposedly only something like fourteen story types in existence, but that still leaves plenty of room for new ideas. You don't need to create a new genre to write a great book, but you definitely want to add something new to it. Otherwise you're just rehashing existing stories, and probably not doing it as well as what's already out there. It's also possible to tell the same old stories, boy meets girl, zombies eat people, etc. in a fresh and exciting manner. I posit that if you cannot do this, your work will never stand out.

Service - This would be how the writer interacts with readers and other authors. I realize that some of us are reclusive and not necessarily people-persons. That's why we're writers, sometimes. It doesn't involve a lot of interaction with other people. But the best way to gain new readers is to engage them as people. Spamming out links instead of talking to people directly is as impersonal as a billboard. Very few readers are going to tell a friend, "Hey, I saw this advertisement, you should check it out." Conversely, "Hey, I met this writer on Facebook, or Twitter, or a blog, and he or she is really cool, or nice, or funny," is a great way to encourage a readership, and for your work to spread by word-of-mouth. Word of mouth is what makes or breaks both restaurants and writers.

The most damning aspect of the show is how many react to Gordon's criticisms. He's by all accounts wildly successful. The people he addresses are running failing businesses, sure to be bankrupt in a matter of months. Almost every time, however, the restaurant owner and chefs react very badly to his efforts to get them to improve. They're hostile, resistant to change, and usually respond with, "Well, that's just your opinion."

Don't disregard the opinions of your readers or other writers. No, not everyone is going to like everything you do. A certain amount of negative reviews are to be expected in the writing field. But if other capable writers tell you that you're overusing adverbs, your sentence structures need work, that your covers or blurbs are bad, you need to put your ego aside and think hard about what they're saying.

The difference between you, the indie writer, and the restaurant owners in question is that they are in debt for hundreds of thousands of dollars. As a writer, you can improve your work by investing only your time. It's never too late to go back over your existing books and see if you can make them better. Doing so could mean the difference between success and failure.

If you're interested in knowing what people really think, I suggest you submit one of your books to It's a favorite of mine, where other authors will tell you in no uncertain terms what they think is wrong with your ebooks. It can be painful, but it provides a real opportunity for growth on your part. They are the Gordon Ramsay of indie writing.

Friday, April 26, 2013

How to Prepare for an Audiobook on ACX

Releasing an audiobook is right up there with going to paperback, in terms of excitement for an author. But be warned, it's a long, sometimes agonizing process. It takes almost as much time to bring an audiobook to market as it does to write a novel in the first place. Here are a few things I've learned that can make the process easier.

1. Listen to your book first.

You can read your work out loud, and you should, when revising your draft. It might be even better to have someone else read it to you, if you can pull that off. As an author, you know every detail of how things should be read. It may not be as obvious to someone else. Alternately, there are many pieces of software that will read your book to you. I find that there is no substitute for the human mind and voice, myself.

2. Make sure you've exhausted all editing possibilities.

Things are pretty much set in stone by the time you reach the audiobook stage of development. At that point, it's too late to make changes. A good narrator will work around a typo or two, but technically, their job is to read what you have in your draft. You don't want errors in your text anyway, but having them makes it more difficult for the narrator. If you didn't listen to your work before, and you hear sentences or phrasings that fall flat, it's beyond rude to expect your narrator to make those sort of edits for you.

3. Make a pronunciation list.

You would be surprised at how many words in your text are difficult or ambiguous to pronounce. Assume nothing. Even it's a polysyllabic word from the dictionary, if you think there might be a question, your best bet is to send the narrator a list of pronunciations in advance. This goes double for important things like character names, places, and words you've invented. You know what they should sound like, but that doesn't mean anyone else does.

4. Find a great narrator.

Common sense, right? I say this because it's possible to like the first fifteen minutes of someone's work, and then find out that the other three hours and forty-five minutes aren't up to par. Working with someone of a known quality can alleviate this greatly. There is a tendency for indie authors starting out to go with a relatively unknown narrator, because they are more likely to accept your proposal, and they work for royalties. I'm not saying this is a recipe for disaster, but it does increase the likelihood that
the end product will be less than stellar.

5. Pay your narrator.

This is a tough one. Indie writers tend to work with little or no budget, and, honestly, aren't necessarily going to make their money back. But at $400-$800 per audiobook, it's still a smart decision. For one thing, it insures you're get top-notch talent narrating your story. Beyond that, you'll also get to keep all of the profits from sales, and the margins on audiobooks are slim. When you divide slim by two, you're getting next to nothing for a sale. I submit that you're more likely to actually generate significant profits if you pay for the narration.

6. Research

Before you rush into audiobook production, read all you can about the process. There are many articles like this on the web, and reading them will help you avoid the pitfalls and gotchas inherent in the process.

Good luck, and have fun...

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Top Five Reasons Nobody Likes Indie Authors (Including Other Indie Authors)

The self-publishing revolution is a revolution no one asked for, except for frustrated writers. It's not like we had a shortage of books in the past. Now, anyone who can scrape Wikipedia has the ability to get an ebook in front of an audience, and maybe even sell a copy.

Amazon alone has released what seems like 1,000,000 new ebooks last year. That includes over 100 good ones. Ereaders like the Kindle and Nook have turned the reading experience from something tangible and meaningful into the world's largest slush pile. Imagine a bookstore full of rejected manuscripts. Yeah, I don't want to shop there, either.

But don't blame the hardware. Just because you can publish a book doesn't necessarily mean you should. Indie authors have become the new spammers of the electronic age, and their own worst enemies. Here are five reasons why.

1. The endless self-promotion. We get it. You wrote a novel. Yippee! Once you've announced this to your family and friends on Facebook, they really don't need to hear it again. Instead, they can expect to hear about it every day, for the rest of their now miserable lives. Twitter feeds for most authors have become wastelands of promotional links, with nothing interesting to contribute beyond that. Failing to find a larger market, most self-publishers are reduced to cannibalism, trying to sell books to other self-published authors. Junk mail and spam are not effective business models. Perhaps indie authors should read a book on the subject.

2. A lack of gatekeepers. Yes, writing a decent novel makes you pretty bad-assed. Do you know who's even more bad-assed? The man or woman who can read your novel, and tell you how much it sucks, where, and how. They're called editors. Many amateur authors seem to have decided that they don't need no stinking editing. Or spell-checking. Or formatting. An entire cottage industry has sprung up with websites pointing out how bad some of these book covers and stories are. For the first time, books are being read ironically. Say what you will about New York, but at least they knew the difference between 'their' and 'there'.

3. The scamming. When you get a glimpse inside the indie publishing world, you learn that it is a seething snakepit of competition. Your book's not selling? Give everyone else in your genre a snarky, one-star review. That'll teach 'em. In the past year, Amazon has removed tags, the 'Like' button, dropped erotica from most searches, and set new minimum word counts for releases, all due to abuse by indie writers. That just might be an indicator that someone is doing something wrong somewhere. It's now common for one 'entrepreneur' to download an ebook, change the title, and re-release it. You don't see anything this awful happening on Etsy. A lot of awful stuff, sure, but not blatant theft.

4. Writing as a business. Remember the romantic concept of writing as an art form? It's dead. As soon as you release an ebook, and often before, you turn into a marketer. Once upon a time, those issues were handled by companies with marketing budgets and strategies, leaving the writer to, well, write. The truth is, many ebooks written today are based on what's selling. Vampires are hot? No, but for the sake of argument, we'll say they are. I'm going to write a vampire novel! Who cares if I have nothing new or original to add to the topic? The end result is thousands of sub-Twilight ebooks. Read that again. Sub. Twilight. Ebooks.

5. The successes. The exceptions to all of this that prove the rules are some truly great pieces of fiction. Wool by Hugh Howey, for example, is by all accounts a startlingly fresh and original sci-fi novel, currently a best-seller, and optioned for film by Ridley Scott, of all people. Amanda Hocking (I don't know anyone who's ever read an Amanda Hocking book) sold something like 600,000 ebooks in 2012. These one-in-a-million success stories only serve to spawn a sea of imitators. Everyone wants to get rich quick and retire, even though that never seems to happen, even for traditionally published authors. Well, perhaps J. D. Salinger. Trust me, you're no J. D. Salinger.

So, damn. What are you waiting for? Get out there and crap out a novel. You can't do any worse than what's already on the market. Just be prepared for a lot of failure and alienation as you annoy everyone on the planet into ignoring you. Forever.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Should We Become Publishing Companies?

Trying to look ahead, it seems that writers might need to ultimately build a publishing brand, as opposed to a mere author brand. That would alleviate some of these pen name/genre problems that become apparent when you have a number of books out.

It also opens the door to the rather alluring idea of eventually publishing other authors as well. Not to mention more complicated tax issues. Is this where indie writing is headed, ultimately? Indie publishing houses could serve as, ha, gatekeepers, insuring a known level of quality.

It's apparent that traditional publishing companies are going to get more aggressive toward the ebook market, as evidenced by recent price cuts. We may soon be facing a day when your book is put head-to-head with publishers instead of individual titles. Having an identifiable publishing brand might soften that a little bit.

I know the argument that readers don't buy from publishers, they buy authors and stories. But they recognize publishers, nevertheless. It's likely that having a publishing company, any publishing company, will help indie writers in the long run. A hedge against changing markets, if you will.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Every Girl is Like a Snowflake

Every girl is like a snowflake
Beautiful and unique
They melt on the tip of your tongue
Every girl is like a snowflake
Eventually they fade away...

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Two Free eBooks on Amazon

Self-Publishing Tips & Tricks -  A collection of columns dealing with my experiences in writing and publishing.

An Ultimate Hustle Primer - An intro to my Ultimate Hustle series.

These should be free forever. Enjoy. If you like them, I'd love reviews on Amazon, of course. If you want them in another format, you can also find them at Kobo, Smashwords and B & N. Links in the sidebar to the right. 

Profiles in Success: Shayna Gier

Who says you can't be successful with one book? Shayna, to my knowledge, has *one* published novel, Stuck in Estrogen's Funhouse. It's available on several sites and formats. I consider her a huge success. She's put a lot of energy and focus into promoting her title, and doubtlessly building up anticipation for future releases. 

I got eighty-six visits from her website to my blog today. That's sort of above average, but I get most of my blog traffic from Shayna. 

How does she do it? A simple formula of reviews and author interviews. It almost seems too simple. Shayna reads and reviews books. Shayna regularly interviews authors. Shayna drives traffic to her site and others. Unlike some authors with a combative mindset, she works with other indie writers with a "rising tide carries all" attitude. And it works. She's brilliant.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Indie Book of the Day - Radar Love

I was delighted to find out that Radar Love was named indie book of the day today. I'd like to thank whoever nominated and voted for me. I sincerely appreciate it.