The humorous story may be spun out to great length, and may wander around as much as it pleases, and arrive nowhere in particular; but the comic and witty stories must be brief and end with a point. The humorous story bubbles gently along, the others burst. –Mark Twain
I once asked a Southern gothic luminary (who is no longer among the living but shall yet remain nameless) about the publishing process. It was the early 90s. I was barely an adult. I naively intimated that I had a burgeoning collection of short stories that I wanted to submit for publication somewhere. I wanted his advice on how to go about it.
The tall fellow at first smiled, then laughed out loud. He was not laughing with me.
"Write a novel," he said. "Sorry."
I was also sorry. Because he was right.
Collections of fictional shorts have been traditionally frowned upon as a means of breaking into the business of represented, renowned, and respectable book authorship. If your work was first published and critically raved about in the world of magazines, you might have a shot at publishing a collection. Otherwise, you’d better get cranking on your 100,000-word Great American Novel and leave the shorts to the side until people are willing to plunk down cash for anything that has your name on it.
Now comes the eBook. It has no physical heft, for it is comprised of data bits. It requires no name recognition to publish, although such recognition does help sales. It is typically low cost to produce and, depending on the author/publisher, can be low cost for a reader to obtain. So why should a story published as an eBook require a word count greater than 75,000 to be a popular, enjoyable read?
It shouldn’t. More, I don’t think it does.
The most wonderful thing I’ve discovered about eBooks is the diversity of style and length. I can escape for a short time from the daily grind by downloading and reading a satisfying work of short fiction. Or, I can completely engross myself in a long-haul novel. There’s no reason to choose a novel over a shorter work–novella, novelette, or short story–other than my own interest in the story that unfolds within.
If you’ve followed this blog for any amount of time, you know that I am currently working on the second draft of my own novel. Therefore, I am not going to claim that the novel has no place in the eBook revolution. It most certainly does. I have no evidence, but I would venture a guess that the majority of indie author literature being released in eBook form is of novel length.
Still, I can’t help but wonder if the eBook revolution might also bring about a resurgence of interest in shorter literary forms. Why not? Some of the greatest works of literature have been less than novel length. For example, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is approximately 26,000 words long, a third of what is considered modern novel length. Likewise, Edgar Allan Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue clocks in around 120 pages.
The fact that the eBook format is less restrictive about the length of a work is one of the reasons I decided to go ahead and put my time travel novelette, Timecast, out there. I’m glad I did. The feedback so far has been encouraging, and that gives me further incentive to finish the novel. I also plan to release other shorter works in the coming months.
Maybe I’ll even do a collection.
And not be sorry.
A fortune teller in the French Quarter once told me that I would never make a good politician. "You’re too honest, brother," he said.
He explained that in order to politick, you must be able to spin. In order to spin, you must be able to put yourself out in front of people, smile in their faces, and convince them to buy what you’re selling without sounding like you’re trying to convince them to buy what you’re selling. I assume the same abilities are required for sales and marketing folks, who make a living convincing us consumers to plunk down money for things we don’t really need and reasons we never entirely understand.
I’m not criticizing the practice. In fact, I’m rather envious. When I worked in newspaper, I sometimes made a point of expressing my appreciation to the sales and marketing folks for the jobs they do. Anyone who can beat the drum for the product day after day and not want to go home and crawl under the bed at night has my utmost, undying respect.
Last week, I finally released my time travel novelette Timecast (which I wrote about in my last post) to the world via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Google eBooks, iTunes, and Goodreads. My confidence was boosted almost immediately when my first sale and first customer review appeared on Amazon.com. It was an unsolicited 5-star rave: "really enjoyable, well written, and nicely paced" the reviewer wrote. It was music to my ears.
That said, I can tell you that I’ll never expect sales of Timecast to reach stellar heights. Not because of any fault with the story or its crafting. It’s a unique short work of time travel fiction, if I do say so myself. The problem is that I’m an introvert, awkward at socializing in both real life and online. I can tweet about Timecast all I want, but unless I can sell you on it (establish it as something you want or need to read) you’ll easily pass on it no matter how great I think it is.
What to do, then?
The only thing I can figure is that I need to find some way to play the extraverts’ marketing game without creating undue stress and risk to my introverted nature. Although extraverts might think differently, introverts are most of the time quite happy being introverts. We are not broken extraverts. However, there are times such as these–when you’re trying to market a book– that being an introvert is darned inconvenient.
For now, I’m still figuring things out. Meanwhile, if you happen across this post, look me up on Twitter or Goodreads. Friend/follow/fan me and I’ll friend/follow/fan you back if I can or should. Purchase a copy of Timecast for your favorite reading device (Kindle, Nook, Kobo, iPhone/iPad, PC, Mac) and provide a review, if you’re moved to do so. I’ll do my best to support your work as well.
I know there are many of us introverted, reclusive storytellers out there struggling to be heard. And the only way we’ll get heard is if we stick together and learn the promotional ropes because most of us will never, ever get a book deal that comes with successful marketing all gift-wrapped in a pretty box with a bow.
Five years ago, I set out to publish an eBook. The so-called eBook revolution was still a distant speck on the horizon. At the time, the Kindle had barely sparked. There was no Nook, Kobo, Sony Reader, or iRiver. I’m not entirely sure why I embarked on the journey, except that I had the idea for the story and it was burning a hole in my head.
I wrote and copyrighted the 10,000-word story. Upon completion, I discovered that I was uncertain of the exact type of work I had created. I originally called it a novella. Then I decided that it was much too short to be called a novella, so I called it a short story. Now I’m calling it a novelette based on the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) guidelines for manuscript sizes.
With great anticipation, I "designed" the eBook (only to find out much later that what I created was an absolute abomination in terms of the true meaning of the word "design"). I generated a PDF and circulated it among a few close friends. Then I let it die undistributed.
At the time, self-publishing and distributing an eBook didn’t really seem all that easy to me. I researched it a little and gave up, choosing instead to submit the manuscript to a variety of traditionally published science fiction magazines. Inevitably, the manuscript either didn’t fit into the publication’s guidelines or was simply not what the editor was "looking for."
This Christmas, I was gifted with my first e-reader device (unless you count the e-Reader apps I had previously installed on my laptop and my phone). I love it. It caused me to immediately purchase and download the newest Stephen King work. Additionally, it inspired me to revisit my long dormant novelette.
The process of self-publishing an eBook as been much simplified recently. It is as simple as uploading the book to the various eBook distribution channels (or using a service that does that for you). You can even upload your book if it is a design abomination. However, I chose to have my original manuscript professionally designed instead. Although an eBook is not the same as a print book, I still think it should be pleasing to and easy on the eyes.
Therefore, I am pleased to announce that my novelette will soon be available for download in Kindle and ePub formats from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, the Apple iBookstore, Kobo, and the Google eBookstore. I am also pleased to announce that the process (plus a little prodding from some friends and loved ones) has inspired me to renew my efforts to finish the second draft of my novel.
So, Happy New Year to all you budding authors out there. I’m going to spend 2012 writing. I hope you do as well.
Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy. –Stephen King (On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft)
I recently took my family out to dinner at a local pizza establishment that I hadn’t visited in many years. After we sat down, I drew in a breath and took a moment to familiarize myself with the environment.
On the front wall of the establishment, mounted high above the entrance, was the requisite widescreen television, just as requisitely tuned to what looked like ESPN. On the wall to my left were show posters from some entertainment establishment in New Orleans I’d never heard of. Along the rear wall were the cashier’s stand, the kitchen, and the restrooms.
Then there was the wall to my right.
I scanned it last, beginning with the corner connected to the entrance wall and ending…well, I never really ended that scan because I was stopped in my tracks by that vague sense of familiarity one sees sometimes in the faces of apparent strangers in a crowd. You know, those faces your eyes keep wandering back to despite your best efforts to steer them otherwise because there’s something familiar about them. You think you might know them from somewhere, or they remind you of someone you do know.
It wasn’t a face I saw that hit the pause button on my surroundings scanner. It was a font; letters on a framed newspaper masthead hanging on the wall. I couldn’t see for certain because of the distance, but it looked like a framed copy of an article from a newspaper I worked for way back in the mid-1990s.
I’m shy, so I sent my wife and step-daughter to investigate. "I think that might be my article on the wall over there," I whispered to them.
A couple of minutes later, my step-daughter ran excitedly back to me from the other side of the restaurant, the eyes of every other patron there on her, and loudly proclaimed that "it is your article!"
Fourteen years prior to that evening’s dinner, almost to the day, I had written a feature about this particular pizza establishment for the Business section of the local paper. It was simply a day in the life of a young reporter back then; a single story among dozens that I wrote in my time there. I hadn’t really thought about it since.
It warmed my heart, though, seeing that piece of my history so many years later, hanging on the wall of an establishment I hadn’t visited in ages. I felt like I’d found a small time portal, a wormhole, or some other means of traveling back to a time in my life that was filled with the day-to-day uncertainty of a news beat and the fast-food lifestyle of a man in his 20s.
At home later that night, I could not help but crack open the tomes and tomes of three-ring binders I used to store clips of my work from those days. I was reminded of the character of Sam Beckett from Quantum Leap, one of my all-time favorite television series.
In the show, Sam can leap into the lives of other people in other times, as long as the date and lives he leaps into existed within the frame of his own lifetime. Similarly, I found myself leaping into the lives of different people and places on a daily basis in the years that I wrote for that publication. And I was a little surprised after my dinner at the pizza establishment to find myself somewhat nostalgic for those days.
But I am a different person now, an older man with different ideas, opinions, energy, and a different lifestyle. In Quantum Leap, Dr. Beckett’s primary objective, his singular longing, is to find a way to stop traveling in time, to leap home.
I’ve already done that. These days I have a beautiful wife, a wonderful step-daughter, a cantankerous dog, and a vegetable garden outside a house on a hill.
I wouldn’t trade it.
ALA’s Top 10 list of "challenged" books of 2008 (AP) – AP – Here is the American Library Association’s list of top 10 most frequently challenged books of 2008, their author and the cited reasons: [Yahoo! Books and Publishing News]
I was floored to discover Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark among the titles on the American Library Association’s 2008 Banned/Challenged Books list. The book was the first in a folklore series first published in 1981. I happened to purchase it and its sequel, More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, at a library fund-raising book sale a month ago. According to Wikipedia, Scary Stories is a frequent addition to the list.
Discovered via Victoria Strauss:
When Dan Brown’s "The Lost Symbol" was released on Sept. 15, Amazon’s rankings revealed that Kindle sales outstripped sales of the hardcover. This led some ebook enthusiasts to herald the dawning of a new era. FastCompany asked, "Could Dan Brown’s new book be heralding the e-book age?" CNet wrote: "The possibility that the Kindle version of ‘The Lost Symbol’ — which follows Brown’s wildly popular ‘Da Vinci Code’ and ‘Angels & Demons’ — is outselling hard copies on Amazon could be a monumental moment in the e-book industry."
Sept. 26-Oct. 3 is Banned Book Week, which celebrates the First Amendment and freedom of expression while highlighting the harm in censorship. From the American Library Association‘s post on the subject:
The books featured during Banned Books Week have been targets of attempted bannings. Fortunately, while some books were banned or restricted, in a majority of cases the books were not banned, all thanks to the efforts of librarians, teachers, booksellers, and members of the community to retain the books in the library collections. Imagine how many more books might be challenged—and possibly banned or restricted—if librarians, teachers, and booksellers across the country did not use Banned Books Week each year to teach the importance of our First Amendment rights and the power of literature, and to draw attention to the danger that exists when restraints are imposed on the availability of information in a free society.
Kassia Krozser at Booksquare ruminates on the age-old problem of readability in the layout and design of books. Her solution? Read the work in ebook format instead.
With print books, there are definite limitations to what you can do to make the actual reading easier. It is amazing how hard people will work to read, despite the challenges. Ebooks are different. Here is how it works in ebooks. I’m going to mess up your book. After you spend all that time on formatting and typesetting and getting the kerning just right, I’m going to mess with it. Not out of malice, of course, but there you have it.
“We hope that Google and its partners learn the right lessons from this fiasco and start over in an open and transparent manner. They must create a robust process that includes input from all stakeholders, including authors, libraries, independent publishers, consumer advocates, state Attorneys General, the Justice Department, and Congress. This opportunity cannot turn into another negotiation behind closed doors.
“The promise of the mass digitization of books is too important to be left to another round of secret negotiations, and that promise must be realized through an open and transparent process.”
This is a huge victory for the many people and organizations who raised significant concerns that this settlement did not serve the public interest, stifled innovation, and restricted competition. It’s also an enormous loss for Google, which had been saying for months that no changes were necessary to the settlement. Now, that settlement, as we know it, is dead. [Open Book Alliance]