The brouhaha over Amazon book reviews continues. Today the New York Times ran a front page story Giving Mom’s Book Five Stars? Amazon May Cull Your Review. In the latest chapter of the controversy over the validity of reviews which appear on Amazon The Times reports: After several well-publicized cases involving writers buying or manipulating their reviews, Amazon is cracking down. Writers say thousands of reviews have been deleted from the shopping site in recent months. Amazon has not said how many reviews it has killed, nor has it offered any public explanation. So its sweeping but hazy purge has generated an uproar about what it means to review in an era when everyone is an author and everyone is a reviewer. ...What do you think about the controversy? Post a comment.
Well written dialogue in a book does not duplicate the way people really talk. It simulates how a real conversation might sound, but it doesn’t try to recreate one. Have you run across the advice that the way to learn to write dialogue is to listen carefully to people’s random conversations and then to incorporate the elements of what you hear into your dialogue? That’s a good idea because it will help you to reproduce the way speech sounds. Novelist Elmore Leonard, who writes some of the most crisp, witty dialogue around, said, ““I'm very much aware in the writing of dialogue, or even in the narrative too, of a rhythm. There has to be a rhythm with it … Interviewers have said, you like jazz, don’t you? Because we can hear it in your writing. And I thought that was a compliment.” Listening to people talk can help you to get a feel for their rhythms. But don’t try to reproduce the way they actually talk. Real conversation contains a number of things that will kill the dialogue in a book.
I love newspapers, especially the Sunday editions, because you never know what interesting idea or insight you might come across. This weekend San Francisco Chronicle film critic Mick La Salle responded to a reader’s question in an exchange in Sunday Chron: Q: Why are so many movies so long these days? A: Very few movies need to be longer than two hours. Directors should make movies, not take hostages. There’s an important lesson for writers in La Salle’s comment. Most first drafts have a lot in them that doesn’t need to be there.
The conventional route to a book deal is being challenged by a new path into print with a traditional publisher. It’s easy to dismiss Amanda Hocking’s $2 million contract with St. Martin’s Press and E.L. James’ seven-figure deal with Vintage Books as outliers. A closer look will indicate that they are simply the largest and best-known examples of important changes in world of publishing...There’s a new reality. While finding an agent who can successfully place your book with a traditional house is growing increasingly difficult, publishing houses are looking to successful self-published books as a new source of titles.
How can you tell the difference between a Saturday night B-movie on the SiFi Channel and a Hollywood blockbuster like Ridley Scott’s Prometheus? Simple. Production values. The blockbuster has the budget and the special effects wizards to create a world that appears real and plausible. We are drawn into it. The B-movie creates a world that might have provoked us to say, “Man, that’s fakey!” when we were kids at a matinee. It distances us from whatever merit the script might have. Keep that in mind when it comes time to self-publish your book.
How do you grab your reader’s attention with the first chapter and hold onto it all the way through your book? Thriller writer Lee Child offered a method in the New York Times Sunday Review this week with an article titled A Simple Way to Create Suspense. “As novelists, we should ask or imply a question at the beginning of the story, and then we should delay the answer,” said Child. Let’s look at two of my favorite classic movies to see how it works.
In 2011 Guy Kawasaki wrote the best-selling book Enchantment. A large technology company wanted to buy five hundred copies of the ebook version, but the book’s publisher, Penguin, was not able to fulfill the order. So Kawasaki decided to become a self-publishing author with his next book, What the Plus? about Google+. In the process of doing that he learned that for a newbie “…self-publishing is a mystifying, frustrating, and inefficient task.” So he partnered with app developer Shawn Welch who could fill in some technical expertise. Together the two acquired a lot of knowledge of how to navigate this new publishing universe and wrote about it in APE: How to Publish a Book, which they also self-published. Kawasaki’s goal for the book is simple. “I want to create the Chicago Style Manual of Self-Publishing,” he says.
When you set out to write a memoir, keep in mind that your readers’ first question will be, “What’s in it for me?” One of the problems I see among people who set out to write a memoir is that they don’t understand that there are different levels on which they might write about their life.
As the skies get grayer and the daylight hours shorter, do you find yourself growing less productive? I know I do, and a surprising number of people I talk to say they do too. So today, let’s see what we can do to turn that slide around with some ideas to help you get energized and get more writing done. First, the change in how we’re feeling really is physical as well as psychological. Whether you call what you are feeling “winter blues’ or go for a more scientific cachet with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) there is plenty of research on the subject. But, let’s focus about what to do about it.
On October 29, the NY Times reported that, “The book publishing industry is starting to get smaller in order to get stronger.” Two of the giants Penguin owned by Pearson PLC and Random House owned by Bertelsmann had merged in a move that “…will create the largest consumer book publisher in the world, with a global market share of more than 25 percent…” The merger followed a July move by Penguin into the lucrative self-publishing market when it purchased the dominant provider in that market, Author Solutions. At the time, Author Solutions CEO Kevin Weiss said, “That means more opportunity for authors and more choice for readers.” We were, and remain skeptical. The reasons are outlined in our post Writers Beware: Penguin Buys Author Solutions. We were equally skeptical last week when the NY Times reported that Simon and Schuster another of the big-6 (now big 5) publishing houses had signed an agreement with Penguin and Author Solutions to form a self-publishing imprint Archway Publishing.
Who is your audience? How should that shape your writing? Too many nonfiction writers think of neither of these questions as they draft their books. Their focus is strictly on what they want to say. The result may be that when their books are completed they fail to connect with readers. Let’s take a look at how thinking about a books audience might influence the type of book an writer might create.
What makes a book memorable? I think we’d all agree that great characters make great fiction. Unfortunately many writers forget that truism when they are writing what they see as a plot-driven story. I have been reading a number of such manuscripts lately. Usually they are genre fiction – mysteries, thrillers, action adventure and alternate history, but it happens in memoir as well. The authors are caught up in the intricate events of their plot. You can almost hear them asking themselves, “What happened next?”after each plot twist. Often they come up with interesting answers to the question. But when they are finished their story is unsatisfying. The reason is usually the same.
People used to be specialists. But the digital age is making jacks-of-all-trades of more of us every day. The transition isn’t always a smooth one. Nowhere is this more evident than the world of publishing. With the explosion of self-publishing and ebooks more people every day are churning out DIY books. That’s great because it has opened up opportunities to get their work out there. It’s also bad because a lot of the books people produce are not ready to be out there. The reason is that many of the authors who hear the term self-publishing and immediately interpret it to mean that they will complete each step in the process of creating a book themselves. That’s a fundamental misunderstanding of the self-publishing process.
Today is the National Day of Listening. Launched by Story Corps, a national nonprofit organization modeled after the Federal Writers' Project of the Works Progress Administration of the 1930s, in 2008, the National Day of Listening is oral history at the grassroots level. StoryCorps describes the day as, “a day to honor a loved one through listening. It's the least expensive but most meaningful gift you can give this holiday season. You can choose to record a story with anyone you know. This year, StoryCorps has chosen to feature the stories of veterans, active duty military, and their families.” We encourage you to participate. (See our recent blog post A Veterans Day Goal – Preserve Your Veterans Story.)
Here’s one for the top-ten of our Frequently Asked Questions: How do I get started writing a book? First, let’s focus on how to get started with a non-fiction book. (Fiction is a question for another blog.) Consider your reason for writing a non-fiction book. It may be that you have extensive, perhaps professional experience, you’ve acquired a lot of knowledge and insight about a subject, and now you want to share it. How should you share it? There are choices. Do you prefer to be an instructor, to offer advice in a how-to book?