Sometimes the Grass Isn’t Actually Greener…

Speaking of “lawn care” (which I mentioned had taken a small bite out of writing time this last week) I thought it not entirely inappropriate to post about this random bit of life that has recently intruded, since I’ve already previously talked about it.

So yeah… Back in May Dear Wife and I embarked on a mission to rehabilitate our sad lawn.  We saw early success, which I blogged about.  But today… what I see on my front lawn is an unmitigated disaster.

Grass is dying

The vast swath of brown that is now my front yard

What happened?

Well… drought.  And record heat in June.  And a few missed days of watering.

With those factors taking a whack at the lawn, the tender new shoots of fescue that we’d planted really didn’t stand a chance.  Added to that: we completely underestimated the aggressiveness of several particularly ugly varieties of crab grass.  now, what little green we have left comes in these scraggly, ragged, ugly clumps.

Le sigh

We are even now contemplating options for what we can do to fix this or reverse course.  But nothing more in the summer, while the temperatures are still high and the drought still in full swing.

Writing Progress: Week Ending August 27, 2011

It sure looks like someone dropped the ball… but what’s the real story?

Story of G:

  • New Draft Wordcount: 0 net new words 
  • Other Notes Wordcount: 0 words

Book of M:

  • Background Notes Wordcount: 321 words

Grand Total: 321 words

Well.  This was not the most incredibly prolifically stupendous writing week ever.  Ironic in a week when I post a massive block of text about long, doorstopper fantasies and the folks who write them.  But there is a little more than meets the eye, here.

On “Book of M”, I started experimenting with shifting into an “outline” format with the histories I’m writing.  I think it’s doable, but I’m going to have to adjust the methodology a little.  I covered a lot more ground in a lot fewer words… but interestingly it took me almost as long to write those words as it would’ve to write considerably more.  On the upside, yes it took me longer to write fewer words, but those fewer words covered a lot more ground than what I’d been doing with three times that number in wordcount. Continue reading

Books of a Certain Length

Author’s Note: This is a topic near and dear to my heart.  Thinking about yesterday’s post about the rise of YA fiction as a force majeure in the SF&F publishing world, it wasn’t far for me to start thinking about book length.  Also, to be entirely honest, Dear Wife suggested both topics.  I’ll also note: this is a very meaty (i.e. wordy) and at times contentious topic.  For that reason, I am going to do something I rarely ever do on my blog: I’m implementing sectional subtitles.  Why?  Because this turned out to be a real, long, in-depth, even semi-scholarly article on the topic of wordcount length, with quite a bit of data and market analysis.  Your conclusions will be your own, but I’ve tried to synthesize a lot of information for this article.  I considered splitting the article into several posts, as I often do when a single post grows this long, but I felt that it would weaken the analysis to have the disparate elements separated onto different pages.  So, instead: one long post with sectional subtitles.  Finally, you’ll find I prefer the compound word “wordcount” as opposed to splitting the word into two: “word count”, which is the more common usage.  The reason for this is that when I refer to “wordcount” I’m referring to a single, distinct idea: that is, the total number of words in a manuscript.  Splitting the word into two diffuses this unified notion. 

~

Books of a Certain Length

If you look around on the internet, it won’t be hard to come up with some solid advice for how long your book should be – depending on which genre and market you are writing for.  I encountered advice on the issue in this post on the Magical Words blog – where you’ll find me entering the fray in the comments.  There’s also this post on The Swivet.  I won’t quote all the genre length guidelines these two posts suggest (which are mostly in accord).  But if you’re either a fan of meaty Epic Fantasies or books like the Harry Potter series, and write in anything approaching a similar vein and genre, you might find some of these guidelines a trifle… strange.  Epic Fantasy is given a high-end wordcount length suggestion of around 120,000 words.  For YA it is suggested you stay under 80,000 words with some flexibility up to 100,000 in special circumstances.

For those of you unfamiliar with relative wordcount lengths, you may consider that and say to yourself: “Okay, so, what’s the big deal?”

The Challenge of a Verbose Writer

Let me first start by offering this full disclosure: my writing style tends toward the robustly wordful.  For example, I’ve participated in several “Flash Fiction” challenges during the history of this blog (with most results posted  here) with the goal of turning out a super-short story under 1,000 words in length.  I rarely reached that goal.  My first attempt at a novel, “Project SOA”, had reached the two-thirds complete mark at approximately 140,000 words before I abandoned that version of the story.  I’m planning on my current novel project, “The Book of M”, to be about 125,000 words… but I fully expect it to be closer to 175,000 (based on my experience of planned length versus actual final length for other, shorter works).

Of course, I’m no professional, as yet. Continue reading

The YA Revolution

Some ten years ago, as a young man still in college, I could proudly claim that I hadn’t read any children’s books since I was, in fact, still a child – largely excepting my personal pet favorite, “The Chronicles of Prydain”.  I was an adult, and throughout my teen years and into my early twenties I was reading adult fiction. 

But by that point in time, a publishing phenomenon had begun.  The Harry Potter books were taking the reading world by storm, and a new movie adaptation of the first book in the series was soon due.  I hemmed and hawed and pooh-poohed.  I didn’t read children’s books.  I was an adult.  Other adults might read children’s books, but they were quite beneath me.  Such is the folly of a young man straining to be something more than he yet was.  (And, I suppose, still yet is.)

And then I saw the movie.  And I relented, and I read all the books then extent.  And they were fabulous, and I looked back at my amateurish self and cursed him for not relenting sooner, for what sort of childish sop is so elitist and snobbish that they look down their noses at good books just because of how they are marketed?

Since then, the craze has continued, and it has boiled over.  I’m not talking about the Harry Potter craze.  I’m talking about the YA craze. Continue reading

Jim C. Hines’ “Baby Got Books”

A little something to brighten your Monday evening: Jim C. Hines has written what is quite probably the greatest song parody ever in the history of song parodies.

At least, from the perspective of an Epic Fantasy fan.

Sung, obviously, to the tune of Sir Mix-a-lot’s “Baby Got Back”.

Now we all await the inevitable (and inevitably awesome) youtube video.  I give it a week, tops.

Writing Progress: Week Ending August 20, 2011

An interesting week, writing-wise:

Story of G:

  • New Draft Wordcount: 93 words 
  • Other Notes Wordcount: 717 words

Book of M:

  • Background Notes Wordcount: 1,335 words

Grand Total: 2,145 words

Back to something more like an “average” week of writing productivity, for me.  Of course, I’m trying to shift that “average” up a bit.  This week was a bit different, though, because I started the editing process on “Story of G”.  My wordcount there consists of notes I made to myself on changes I’m going to make to the story.  There’s a lot more work going on at this stage than what can be measured in the words I’ve written.  I’ve got some ideas, thanks especially to the feedback I’ve gotten already, on a few fairly significant changes to the structure of the story.  I’m excited about the new direction I’ll be taking it.  The “New Draft Wordcount” refers to the net add of words to the story this week – there were some new things added and some small bits taken out.  

Although I’ve worked out my plan for revising the story, however, I haven’t yet actually gotten to the largest part of the work I’ll be doing.  At least two major sections of the story will be undergoing heavy revisions – and most of those sections will likely end up the cutting-room floor.  In their place, however, will be several new parts of the story.  Net, I expect to add a good number of words, but it’s hard to gauge exactly how long the story will end up, at this point.  I’ll just have to get my hands dirty and do the work, and then we’ll see. Continue reading

Rational Numbers

One of my biggest beefs with all the alarmism and loud voices shouting about this and that and the other thing relating to the changes in the publishing industry is the lack of available, actual data.

In one corner you’ve got Joe Konrath and his henchman spreading the specious claim that you too can make a six-figure income in digital self-publishing.  (In three easy steps, I’m sure.  Step 1: Write.  Step 2: ???? Step 3: Profit.)  Their cheerleading efforts for the new world order of disintermediated publishing always bothers me because the big names on this side of the fence are largely pro writers who previously were published in the traditional model, benefited from the marketing efforts of traditional publishers, developed a platform and capitalized on that publicity, and now are making more by eschewing those publishers and going it alone.  Well yeah you’re doing fine self-pubbing.  You have a built-in audience.  Congratulations.

I mean, sure, it’s an astute business decision to dump publishers when the numbers are more favorable if you self-publish.  When you’ve got a branded author name, that’s a strategic decision you can afford to make.  But for an unpublished and undiscovered author, this a whole different ballgame.

And then along comes Amanda Hocking.  And now we’ve got living proof, tangible evidence that an unknown really can make it big.  Only wait, now that Hocking is doing fine with the digital self-pub regime, she switches sides and takes a traditional deal.  And then John Locke, he of the first digital self-pubbed author to cross the million-sales on Kindle threshold.  Last I heard he was sticking with his Kindle platform.  No traditional deal for him, no thank you.

But these are what we call statistical outliers.  We get those in the traditional publishing industry, too.  J.K. Rowling?  Stephanie Meyer?  Outliers happen.  There should be a big fat “Your Mileage May Vary” label on this bill-of-sale.  Because it will vary.  A lot.

And then you’ve got the other corner, filled mostly with traditionally published authors and their teams who are quite happy with their current deals.  They’re usually those that are making a living.  They recognize the value that traditional publishers bring to the table, and how that value has filtered to their own bottom lines.  A lot of them don’t like the new paradigm of digital self-pubbing.  It threatens their comfortable status quo, and challenges the long-standing industry prejudice against self-published work.  It’s not a stance wholly without merit, but it does seem to ignore the reality of the changes that are occurring in the industry – whether they like those changes or not.

Neither side has often been terribly keen in referring to actual, objective, and verifiable data.  But you do have a few gems: a few good souls who, like me, believe in good data.

So, all that said I’ve been keenly interested when those good souls share their data so the rest of us can see, and judge for ourselves.  In that vein, I thought I’d share some data recently made available by a digitally self-pubbed speculative fiction (sci fi, specifically) author by name of Ken McConnell on a year’s worth of his digital sales.  Link here.  (And a small update here.)

You can compare and contrast that with data like the sort provided by Tobias S. Buckell (here and here) and Jim C. Hines (here and here).

The upshot? While Ken’s figures aren’t magically phenomenal or anything, they help provide a clear view that cuts through the clutter of marketing hype.

Enjoy.

ETA (09/12/2011):

Another Digital Self-published author posts her speculative-fiction sales numbers: http://overactive.wordpress.com/2011/08/11/one-year-of-indie-publishing/

Finding What to Read (Part 2)

Last time I talked about my “To Read” list, but I didn’t get to the gist of what I wanted to talk about, which is: How do you decide what goes on your reading list?  How do you find books you want to read?  How do you learn about new authors?

For myself, the books on my list have ended up there through any number of circuitous paths.  The George R. R. Martin books, for instance, I’d been hearing good things about for years before I finally bought a copy of the first four at a used book store.  I think I first heard about them on a forum I used to frequent at an RPG community site, where those books came up often in favorites lists.  Brandon Sanderson, meanwhile, I became aware of when he was chosen to finish “The Wheel of Time” after Robert Jordan’s untimely passing.  (Jordan’s books, on the other hand, entered my consciousness mainly because my parents bought them when I was younger). 

Most of the books on my list, however, came to this list over the last couple years, and especially after I started this blog.  I started collecting links to the websites and blogs of different authors.  Continue reading

Finding What to Read (Part 1)…

Being Part the First:

In Which I Declare My Official “To Read” List

During the past three years of grad school, I did very little writing and very little reading.  I finished one novelette-length short story.  I read two novels (both “Wheel of Time” books, and actually only half of the second), half of another novel and a few small volumes of short stories.

Since graduating a few months ago, I’ve upped the amps on my writing.  But my reading is still continuing at roughly the same pace.  Largely, I’d felt so deprived of writing while I worked on grad school that I wanted to focus my free time on writing, at least until I was in the thick of my novel and making solid progress (i.e. at least until I had actual draft wordcount on the novel, and not just background stuff).  But my slow reading these past few years hasn’t stopped a tsunami of excellent fiction from exploding into my consciousness.  It’s for that reason that my “To Read” list has grown into something of an unmanageable behemoth, and an unstoppable juggernaut.  To make anything like a dent in that list I’d have to take a few months off from work and dedicate a lot of time exclusively to reading.  Which… ain’t gonna happen.

At some point, I’m going to pivot some of my time to reading a little more again.  Because it’s not like other writers are going to stop writing awesome books just because I haven’t had time to read them.  And if I don’t read those awesome books, I might die unfulfilled.

Right now, my “To Read” list is broken into four parts, and looks like this:

I. Books I Own

A Clash of Kings* by George R. R. Martin

Mistborn: The Final Empire¹ by Brandon Sanderson

Elantris by Brandon Sanderson

The Way of Kings¹ (signed) by Brandon Sanderson

The Children of Amarid¹ (signed) by David B. Coe

The Name of the Wind¹ by Patrick Rothfuss

A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin

A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin

The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction by Philip Athans with introduction by R. A. Salvatore

The Writer’s Digest Guide to Science Fiction & Fantasy by Orson Scott Card and the Editors of Writer’s Digest with introduction by Terry Brooks (this is a combo volume of Orson Scott Card’s How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy and Writer’s Digest’s The Writer’s Complete Fantasy Reference) Continue reading

Writing Progress: Week Ending August 13, 2011

Not a bad week for wordcount.  Nope, not bad at all:

Story of G:

  • New Draft Wordcount: 0 words 
  • Background Notes Wordcount: 0 words

Book of M:

  • Background Notes Wordcount: 3,973 words

Grand Total: 3,973 words

I lost one writing day this week to one of those occassional thunderstorms we’ve been getting hit with periodically this summer – and the attendant power outage.  The storms never seem to give us enough water – we’re still in a drought – but it seems like every one of them knocks out the power this year.  It wasn’t like that the last couple years.

Regardless, days actually spent writing were fairly productive.  Not quite as productive as the one day last week, individually, but collectively moreso. 

I’m grateful for that, but it’s still not enough.  I realize I’m too deep in the hole to catch up, now.  I’ve set a deadline of the first week after Labor Day to switch from mostly background writing to mostly first draft writing.  But at the pace I’m going, even if I’m going faster, there’s just no way I can have everything done that I want done. Continue reading