July 23, 2014

Edit hell

When I wrote for traditional publishers, I had deadlines in order to comply with their production schedules. As an indie author, I try to do the same thing, although I do relax it a little...let's face it, the sky isn't going to fall if I don't have it done by X date when I'm my own publisher, but trying to adhere with a schedule helps keep me on track.

After I finish the basics of the story, I print it out and the "fun" starts (yes, I'm being sarcastic). By "fun," I mean doing pre-editor self-edits, which is more than just searching for typos. It's revising and polishing the story, which includes:

  • Eliminating any conflicting information, you know, when the heroine first has short hair and then long or when the hero first drives an SUV and later has a motorcycle.
  • Adding in physical characteristics of the major characters so the readers can visualize them as they read.
  • Making sure the story flows smoothly.
  • Looking for any unexplained or out-of-character actions on the part of my characters. Readers should have a good understanding of what the characters' motivations are.
  • Inserting a sense of setting.  For sections beginning with a conversation, readers have to know where it's taking place...on the phone, at someone's house, at a restaurant, in a car, etc.
  • Making sure character movements are smooth and natural. Ever read a book where the character is in one room and then mysteriously changes location to another room, in the same scene?  I find myself still thinking about a scene I just edited, which was particularly tricky. The heroine wasn't fond of the hero, whom she regarded as insensitive because of the way they butted heads at their first two encounters (other than an annoying, continuous observation of how handsome he is) and then he does her a huge favor, at which time she started looking at him through new eyes. To thank him, she invites him to join her and her son for dinner at their home (because the hero is a police detective, she feels confident he's not a serial killer). It occurred to me that I didn't include enough about his appearance. As a detective, he would be wearing a suit and tie. I had him removing his coat while the heroine excuses herself to change clothes, but what about his suit jacket? What about the holster he undoubtedly carries? I'll be going back and showing him removing both when he offers to assist the heroine with food preparation, and while I'm at it I'll have him loosen his tie and unbutton his collar, because those are both natural actions for a man to take.
  • Inserting all five senses. There's more to telling a story than visualizing it. Sounds, smells, textures, and tastes make the story come alive and should be mentioned.
  • Eliminate the nonsensical. I usually do this when I'm outlining the story (you can't have a secret baby story set in a small town where no one suspects, even the baby daddy's own mother), but sometimes thing slip through that need complete rewriting.
  • Timelines. I feel cheated whenever I read a book in which a timeline error renders the entire story impossible, or leads me down the wrong path if it's a mystery or suspense. I recently finished a novel in which friends of the heroine who are a few years her senior were in eighth grade in 2004. There's no way she, two or three years younger, could possibly be 29 years old in 2014, or that her friends could be in their early 30s in 2014. Remarkably, I seem to be the only one out of hundreds of reviewers who noticed this. 
  • Filling in the information I glossed over with a note to myself (which usually requires research I didn't want to stop writing to do).
  • Word repetition. It's amazing how many times I can use a single word within the same sentence.
  • Making sure loose ends are tied. All questions should be answered by the end of the book.

I call these "ruthless red pen edits," because I use a red pen to mark the manuscript and also add extra pages when necessary (I'm cheap, so I print on both sides of the paper, and since I format for eBook rather than traditional manuscript style, there's not a lot of extra space on the page). When I do all this, I guarantee that I'm submitting my best work to my editor, which in turn makes her job easier (and her fee less, since many editors charge based on the amount of work a manuscript needs)...but it's tedious work and often slow going. Nor will the manuscript be in perfect shape; my editor will still find plenty of things that need fixing (albeit small items like using the wrong character name--a particular weakness of mine that I can never seem to catch every time--or the wrong word or repairing my punctuation, not major plot holes). This is not being obsessive; these are the necessary steps to produce a book. Writing isn't always fun.

What do you do when you finish a manuscript? Do you do self-edits, do a quick read-through, or just submit it directly to your editor?
July 22, 2014

Kindle Unlimited:  One Writer's Take

The writing world was thrown into an uproar last week with the announcement by Amazon of a new eBook subscription service called Kindle Unlimited. Social media lit up with thoughts from worried writers and both readers and writers asking each other, "Do you plan to enroll?"

Subscription plans are nothing new.  Think Book-of-the-Month club or the about-to-be-dismantled Black Expressions (African-American titles in special hardcover editions will now be available strictly through its parent company, the Doubleday Book Club, where it first began).  The same things existed for music, dating back to the days of the LP.  The big difference is that Kindle Unlimited, for a monthly membership fee of $9.99, allows its members to borrow (it is my understanding that books will be returned after reading rather than remain on members' Kindles--which I've heard are the only devices accepted on this plan; no apps allowed) an unlimited number of books, hence its name.

There are two catches for authors that I see immediately.  One, their book has to be enrolled in KDP Select, requiring it be sold only on Amazon and nowhere else. Indie authors with huge followings are given the option of enrolling in Kindle Unlimited without being on Select, obviously because of name value. Let's face it, no one back in the day would want tickets to a Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes concert if Teddy Pendergrass wasn't going to be performing with them, and the same concept holds true today. Amazon needs big names to draw in readers. 

The other catch for indie authors is that they only get paid when/if 10% of their book is read. The amount paid to indies per borrow is the same as the amount received for books borrowed through the Prime plan (a discount plan on all types of merchandise Amazon sells, which includes the ability to borrow one book per month), which is currently in the $2 range. The effect of this new plan on the KDP Select Global Plan remains to be determined. Amazon has added an additional $800,000 to the fund, but if the plan catches on big, the possibility exists that the author's share of the pie can be significantly reduced unless Amazon substantially increases the funding.

I've heard it said (I haven't been able to substantiate this, but I feel I can trust Hugh Howey) that the payments differ for books published by traditional publishers, with each borrow being paid at the full 70% royalty, as if it had been purchased (I'm unsure whether or not there is a reader obligation to complete a portion of the book for the writer to be compensated). This strikes me as a back-of-the-bus type of attitude that frankly makes me uncomfortable. (In the interest of full disclosure, I see that three of my traditionally published titles are enrolled.)   

I recently had one of my eBooks (Isn't She Lovely?) enrolled in Select to run a Countdown deal celebrating five years as an indie author. Unfortunately, I forgot to un-check the box to prevent automatic re-enrollment at the end of 90 days, and it rolled over for another 90-day term. I have since learned that Amazon is offering writers the option of removing their book(s) from Kindle Select, effective "right away." I don't know a) if this works, or b) if it is as quick as they claim, but I did submit a request form. Amazon simply asks writers to include the book's ASIN with your request. (Update: It took about 15 hours for this book to be removed. Once I confirmed its removal I added a lower-priced book, A Love of Her Own, to the program. That went into effect in just about 1 hour, so I presume there's somewhat of a backlog for removals.)

This action on my part might give you the impression that I'm against Kindle Unlimited, but that's not true. I just don't happen to feel that Isn't She Lovely? is the right title for the program. At over 100k words, it's (reasonably, in my opinion) priced at $4.99. I would be taking a loss on borrows that pay about $2.  It makes more sense to me to enroll a book priced in the $2.99 range (or even less than that, since I don't believe Amazon has minimum word counts for participation, meaning that a 99-cent, 50-page tome can be enrolled and possibly earn the author double the cover price per borrow).

Everyone's experience as an author is different...some sell well on Amazon but not in other places, others sell well at Amazon and at other retailers as well, while still others sell better at Barnes & Noble than at other retailers. Because of this, everyone's experience with Kindle Unlimited will be different. There is no right or wrong; there is only what is right for you as an individual author.

That said, I've also noticed that these newfangled ideas regarding publishing have bred many a success story for those who get rolling with it right away...people whose careers got jump-started by enrolling books in Kindle Select upon its introduction...people who advertised on Bookbub in its early days who made five figures from a single ad...people who sold one of their books at 99 cents and made tons of money on their other titles before Amazon changed their algorithms. I'm not much for jumping on bandwagons, but nor do I see a need for prolonged hesitation. I feel that if it's not a lengthy commitment (each Select enrollment lasts for 90 days) and it isn't something illegal or underhanded, what can it hurt by giving it a try, preferably while other authors are sitting on the fence (or waiting for indie publishing guru Joe Konrath to weigh in)?

I've seen many authors objecting to taking their "books" (plural) off the cybershelves of other retailers to give Amazon exclusivity, but this is not an all-or-nothing deal. To date I have indie published 12 full-length novels and two short prequels, and I don't see the harm in taking one of those full-length novels and enrolling it in Select, and therefore in Unlimited, and leaving the others where they are. Yes, there are still unanswered questions, among the most pressing being what will happen to the program after all those 30-day trial periods people are currently signing up for expire...will it thrive, or will people decide not to continue past the trial; and also how this will work out financially for indie authors. The way I see it, the sooner I get in, the sooner I can get out if I decide it's not working for me.

That's my opinion. I'd love to hear yours!
July 18, 2014

Speaking of movies...

Yesterday I talked about the Forgotten First Wife Syndrome, using The Godfather as an example.  This morning, I caught the tail end of the Al Pacino remake of Scarface, and while my first thought was that it was a pure high keeping him standing during that hail of bullets, it occurred to me...shouldn't he have bled to death, considering how many bullets actually struck him?

Shutting down my writer's mind for a minute, I also saw a commercial for the new James Brown biopic.  Chadwick Boseman nails James, right down to his speech pattern.  Also in the cast are both Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer.  August 1st, y'all!

Anybody else planning on seeing this one in the theaters?
July 17, 2014

Forgotten First Wife Syndrome

As many of you know, I love movies, especially old ones.  The first two movies in The Godfather trilogy are pretty close to perfection, in my opinion.  The Godfather Part III wasn't a bad movie, but to me and many others, it's not anywhere near the almost flawless first two, although I still find the final scene (the death of Michael Corleone) haunting.

Last week I watched a documentary about the making of the three films in the series, and as always, I'm blown away by the subtly masterful reactions of Robert Duvall as Tom Hagen, and of Al Pacino's metamorphosis from personable World War II hero to the ruthless, trust-no-one head of the criminal organization founded by his father (played, of course, by Marlon Brando).

Sure, there are a few continuity errors in part I (Vito asking Michael if he was happy with his "wife and children," when they only have a son; Tom warning Sonny that "All the Five Families will come after you" when the Corleones are supposed to be one of those Five, and that is definitely not the George Washington Bridge they are crossing when Michael asks Sollozzo if they are going to New Jersey); and part II (Kay slides out of bed on her own in the scene where her and Michael's bedroom is shot up, but by the time Michael reaches her she's back up in bed and he pulls her down to safety; Tessio's declaration that "30,000 men enlisted this morning" when most of the country wouldn't have learned of the morning attack in Hawaii until the afternoon, due to Honolulu time being 3 and 6 hours behind the East and West Coasts (plus recruiting centers had to be manned and opened on a Sunday), but there was one glaring error.  Hint:  It's mentioned in the title of this post.

The murder of Michael's Sicilian wife, Apollonia, in a car bomb meant for Michael, was never avenged, at least not in the theatrical release.  Anyone who saw the combination of the first two Godfather movies, marketed under the subtitle A Complete Novel for Television, will probably remember a scene inserted during Anthony Corleone's splashy first communion celebration (during which Michael took meetings) in which he was given a photograph of Fabrizio, his former bodyguard who betrayed him to one of the rival crime families.  It was intimated that Michael had been searching for Fabrizio for years before finally finding him in Buffalo, of all places (no wonder it took so long to find him; they were probably searching the Sunbelt).  In the next scene Fabrizio is shown locking up his pizza parlor and getting into his car, which blows up the moment it starts.  

At 3 hours 20 minutes, The Godfather Part II ran about 30 minutes longer than the first movie, and this was one of the scenes cut before theatrical release, but unlike some of the other cut scenes (like Michael giving his blessing to his late brother Sonny's daughter and her fiancĂ©), I believe this scene was necessary.  Eliminating it put a hole in the story, but I'm not surprised that the producers decided to cut it.

In movies, and in books as well, deceased first wives (and husbands) are usually forgotten. In The Godfather, Michael's first marriage occurred after he had to leave the country without any word to Kay, his first, "true" love, with whom he later reunites and marries, with the dead wife relegated to a distant memory who isn't seen or mentioned again until Michael's life flashes before him as he dies in The Godfather Part III. That bomb turning Apollonia into a rag doll is all the more horrible because she was in the first trimester of pregnancy (a detail only mentioned in the book, not in the movie), yet it appears that Michael never even told Kay, his original love who he later married, about her. Yes, by the time Michael and Kay married, Michael was well on his way to shutting himself off, so there were quite a few things Kay didn't know, but shucks, a first wife is a pretty important detail. The feeling I got was that Michael wasn't just looking for some booty but genuinely loved Apollonia. Had she lived, Kay would have either married someone else or become a spinster. But Apollonia didn't live, and the producers most likely figured it wasn't important that anyone be made accountable for her murder, even when payback was sought for every other family victim, whether they survived or not.

This type of thing drives me nuts, as does its reverse, also often-used subplot in movies and books: The second spouse who is conveniently killed off (sometimes even sacrificing themselves or after saving the lives of the spouse and stepkids) so the formerly married husband and wife can rekindle their love for each other...which they usually do while the body is still at room temperature.

Do you have an opinion about this type of storytelling? Does it bother you, or have you not noticed it?