Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Story Comes First

Katie at Creepy Query Girl and I must have been on the same page this weekend. Or in the same book. Or maybe not, since there are a lot of published books that could be counted in our thoughts. What are those thoughts?

That story comes first, then comes the writing. Katie says premise. Same diff, in this case.

I was reading a book this weekend by a major author who's been published several times. TV programs have been made from her books. This is no small-time, self-published author. And there are phrases such as:
He whispered  in an urgent voice.

'Any questions?' Heads were shaken.

And the drawing--the drawing was even more horrible. It was...grotesque.

What a wonderful place. [Not dialogue or thought, but prose, followed by nothing showing how it's wonderful.]

On one page, I counted 7 "was"s and 4 "very"s. While describing a Rottweiler, its shoulders sank, its muzzle drooped and its tail tucked between its legs (Rotts don't have tails). There's an adverb on nearly every dialogue tag (and just about every line has a tag).

Another book I read nearly a year ago that became a NYT Bestseller, includes countless phrases such as "I could hear...", "I could feel...", "I saw...", "I decided..." and "I realized..." Lots of showing rather than telling and even more "was"s and "that"s. In fact, "was" and "that" make numerous unnecessary appearances in almost every book I read.

I've read the first of bestselling Amanda Hocking's self-published books and there are more than a few typos. She's said she hired an editor, but, sadly, she didn't get her money's worth. But the story was still good. And when Hocking signed on with St. Martin's, one of the publishers said they wanted her work because she was an excellent story teller.

In other words, story comes first. Then comes writing and everything else.

I haven't finished the book in my first example, but I can vouch for this in the second example and Hocking's. And I'm not saying any of these books were poorly written. In fact, two of them were very well written. They just needed some polishing.

Others, however, are absolutely awful enough that they detract from the reading experience. As in Katie's example, you just can't stand to finish it. And in that case, who cares if the story is even good? You've read those, right? And wonder how on earth those books even got published?

The moral here is to keep weeding out those "was"s and "very"s and "that"s, but remember that story is most important. It doesn't matter if your book doesn't have a single "was" or "that." If the story's lame, it won't sell. But if you have a strong story, you can be forgiven for the little things.

Monday, August 8, 2011

A Couple Thoughts on Writing and Publishing

I know it's been a while since I've posted here. You might have seen on my main blog that July was a heck of a month. I'm starting to catch up...but I don't think I can ever be fully caught up. I'm sure you know how that is...

I just have a couple thoughts to share today. First, Karen at Coming Down the Mountain posted what I've decided to call The Writer's Ten Commandments. They may not be your ten top commandments, but they certainly are things I need to keep in mind. I've printed and posted a copy to keep in front of me as a reminder.

Secondly, Diane Wolfe at Spunk on a Stick's Tips wrote about John Locke's How I Sold 1 Million Ebooks in 5 Months. She made two great points, one that I wrote about, too, and one that I forgot to include in my own review of the book. And it's a very important point:

The business world is comprised of people who take a huge risk and invest in themselves - in their products  they've invented, in the services they can provide like no other, in their new businesses. This includes everyone from Sam Walton to the indie bookstore owner and everyone - and every business - in between. These people are commended for their passion and belief in themselves, regardless of how big or small their venture grows. As they well should be.

But, as Locke points out, it doesn't work this way in the publishing industry. In fact, it's just the opposite. At least until very recently, writers who believed in themselves and in their work, who were passionate about their books and their abilities were looked down on for taking a risk and investing in themselves. To paraphrase Locke, if the creator doesn't hold enough passion for their own work and doesn't believe in it enough to invest in themselves, why should anyone else?

I like how Diane said it, so go check out her post. But first, here's something else that recently occurred to me. Something for writers to think about:

For commercial/traditional/legendary/whatever-you-want-to-call-them publishers, there is always another author. In fact, there are thousands up on thousands of authors to move onto. Yes, they want to see a return on their investment in an author they take on. But if they don't see that desired return, there are others who can take that author's place in their catalog.

It ain't so when you're indie. *wink*