Friday, July 27, 2012


At a recent writers' meeting I was asked how many stories I'd written.  Since the questioner was a novelist I assumed that he wanted to know the total number so I said, "Just under five hundred, but only five of those were novels."  I was startled by his gasp of astonishment and quickly amended what I said and tried to explain.

You see, a writer writes, and writes, and writes.  Much of a writer's production is cast aside as the idea fails to coalese into a story or, if it survives the initial blush of creativity, then during the long editing process.  For each five thousand word short story perhaps ten or twelve thousand words have been considered, tried, written, found wanting, and cut out.  A writer should not count those words any more than a woodworker should consider their shavings or a mason the shards of brick left behind.

Which leaves us with those works that reach what the writer considers completion.  Only a few of the completed stories are ever accepted and published, the rest doomed for the trunk or to cycle through editorial in boxes forever.
Conversations with other known writers indicate that any lifetime sales ratio above 0.25 should be considered a raving success!  My own ratio is much lover than that (0.20) as indicated in the first paragraph: of the five hundred I've sold only one hundred.

Except that number's misleading as well since any published (and retained rights) story can be resold by the writer to other markets such as foreign and domestic press, audio books, podcasts, etc.  Today, a writer can even put their works out in eBook form and produce a modest, but continuing income.

So the proper question that should have been asked is: "Of all the stories how many saw first publication?"  Which would also produce a misleading answer since writers sometimes selll stories that never see print.

But that's the subject of another blog.

Saturday, July 21, 2012


Oh brave new world of writing where experiments in bridging the gap from writer to reader proliferate. Before us lies the writers' hundred-fold path to the future. Will we emulate photons and chose which slit to enter or do we, wave-like, follow multiple paths to the goal? Which of the many options will succeed? Which will lead to the best outcome? Is there a "best" path to produce income, another path to follow for critical acclaim, or a broad highway  to expanded readership?

So far the paths seem to be strewn with false leads. Traditional publishers, who must focus on massive sales recover their massive overhead costs from print operations, no longer seems a viable option. Publishing giants are so invested in their complex infrastructure that the chance of decent returns to support their enterprise for the vast majority of writers to  is not high enough to chance. Instead they plan their future on the hope that traditional books are not likely to disappear and trim costs to weather the transition.

 The shame surrounding self-publishing is rapidly disappearing as well-known authors push their backlist into eBook formats and sometimes venture new works as well. Some might employ copy editors to clean up the text and hope that the income from sales will be sufficient to cover that cost.
Income from personal publishing is marginal at best.  The primary problem is enticing readers to discover your works. The best strategy is to publish on as many platforms as possible and employ the time-consuming method of using social networks to get the word out.  Since this so easy any individual's attempt is drowned out by the noise of competing enticements.

A more time consuming path is to have a professional epublisher handle your work, relieving you of the effort to edit it into final form, obtain cover art, translate it into marketable form and provide it with the imprinure of a professional effort.

Putting a work out for "free"  is another option that produces modest results.  Donations are an immediate form of feedback and the lack of them can guide the writer away from failed experiments.  Placing a work on the web for "free" and asking readers for a donation revives the practice of patronage. Although many will take advantage of this others feel an obligation to throw a dollar or two your way.  Donations can vary widely as readers express the value they place on the work.  Others may simply donate as a way to encourage you to produce even more.

A combination of epublishing and print-on-demand can reach both those preferring traditional books and the readers of electronic versions. The advantage of following this path is that an ereaders' words of mouth recommendations to their unenlightened brethren might promote sales of the print on demand editions.  This might be a reciprocal arrangement, but there is little evidence of it.

Another path is for writers to turn themselves into a miocrocasm of the industry by becoming writer, editor, publisher, and publicist. This path is steep, requiring the writer to spend time mastering unfamiliar skills, all of which detract from time available for writing and productivity suffers.  On the positive side, none of the resulting proceeds need be shared.

So how does the writer place  his or her bet?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Third and Fourth Walls of Writing

Way back in my early writing days (1994) I had fun composing a little story that depended not only on some characters and a classic SF situation but also was about the editing process, uses of font and formatting, and poking a little fun at conventions.  I should mention that is also tears down the third and fourth walls of writing.

The responses I got to this --when I got anything more than a form rejection from magazine editors-- included "formatting this would drive my typesetter insane" and "we don't like experimental fiction." Only one editor liked it, but not enough to publish it.

But that was when print magazines ruled the world.  Then the Internet became ubiquitous and the possibilities (of which I will say more in the next blog post) opened a new route to publication.

At a writers' meeting a few weeks ago I mentioned the difficult formatting issue and Paul Legasse of Channel 37 said "We could format that any way we want on the web," which led to a beer-fueled discussion at our m monthly writers'  craft meeting, and, finally, we've got the "experimental" story on the web, unshackled by the restrictions of print formatting, and capable of being read for absolutely nothing (unless you want to throw a buck or two into my donate button.)

I hope you enjoy Quoth I

Friday, July 13, 2012

Is it "Done" yet?

A question that keeps me awake at nights is that there never seems to be a finish in writing. Always there is something more that needs to be said, or a better, more precise phrasing, perhaps a more vibrant description, a more compelling scenario, or yet another bit of colorful detail that I hope will enhance the reader experience.

There's always something, damn it!

Sleeping on it after I think it's finished is a good idea.  A better one is leaving a completed story alone for a few weeks before submitting. This latter strategy does little to avert my nagging desire to improve this story but it does provide an excuse to submit it.

When the rejection arrives, as it surely will most of the time, the question rises again to haunt me - should I simply send it out again as is or make a few adjustments?  Perhaps a little tweak here or there wouldn't hurt and ....    No, no, no; I've too many other stories under weigh.  I shouldn't waste even more time than I already have so I must send it out and let the dice fall where they may.

Is a story ever completed or is this continual embellishment of a tale driven by the storyteller gene that infects all writers and commits us to a life of endless doubt?  I've been told innumerable times that a story is never finished; it is only abandoned. If true, that means my writer's past is strewn with aborted stories that never had the chance to be "finished."  Then there were the miscarriages when a plot or character failed to achieve resolution.  Or the defectives, spoiled from the outset.  Only very rarely is there something that has a spark that can be cherished to completion.

But then the doubts begin: will excessive attention smother the spirit of the piece?  Would any additions be mere ormolu, burying a wonderful idea  under layers of adornment that add nothing of value?

These are the questions I ponder as yet another piece approaches its finish and it becomes time to take a few out of their hold status for submission, or should I deal with (i.e. "improve") the current rejections? Do I or don't I?

Perhaps I should sleep on it.

Friday, July 6, 2012


As you may know I got hit by the derecho last week which sort of messed up the eastern seaboard of the US with massive power and communications outages that we have yet to recover from. Coupled with the extremes of temperatures (90+ degrees most days and a few over 100!) it has been miserable.
But now I am back on line and able to pick up the threads of my rambling dialogue, that is, once I manage to clear the backlog of other things that keep me from my writing.

That's an interesting turn of phrase: "keeping me from my writing" as if life was going to put itself on hold while I share my fantasies with the keyboard.  But "life" always interferes, there's always shopping to be done, car repairs that demand attention, washing to be done, meals to be prepared, and, oh my God, you have to get out of bed and get dressed EVERY morning!

All this stuff leaves me hardly enough time for dealing with the business side of writing - like keeping my work in circulation in the hope that it finds a buyer, keeping records of writing expenses, and ensuring that the family doesn't starve of become homeless.

Worse, it barely leaves any time at all for writing, that is, if I don't give up reading the paper, the latest book, watching television, listening to the radio, talking to friends and family, and being otherwise a member of society.

It's a wonder that i get any writing done at all!