Joe Konrath is a thriller writer, a genuinely good guy, and a very successful ebook seller for the Kindle. He’s blogged about the surprising value of e-rights. Yesterday, he hosted an incredibly valuable chat on Twitter about ebooks while saving an average midwestern city from a meteor that was about to destroy it (I know, amazing right?). Anyway, he handed down some hard-won tips about publishing to Kindle that I collected for you and yours. Before I list his tips, here’s a larger, overriding point that he made:

“Bottom Line: Ebooks aren’t the future. They’re the now. Exploit your erights, keep the $$$.”

Self-Publishing Kindle Mistakes

#1: Pricing too high. People don’t want to pay more than $5 for an ebook.

#2: Amateur cover. Unless you have crazy mad Photoshop skills, get a pro to do it.

#3: Expecting instant success. You’re 1 book out of 500,000. Help people find you.

#4: Spelling/grammar errors in book description. Duh!

#5: Not checking your preview. You have to proof read it, make sure it is perfect.

#6: Forgetting about it. Once your book is live, it requires occasional attention from you.

Kindle Ebook Success Tips

#1: A good book. Well written, no formatting errors, no grammar/spelling problems.

#2: Good product description. It should read like back jacket copy.

#3: The more ebooks listed, the easier you are to find, the more you’ll sell.

#4: Add teaser chapters for your other books in the back matter of your ebooks.

#5: Trade chapters with other authors to include in back matter for cross pollination of fans.

#6: Post links to your ebook on your website, blog, and www.kindleboards.com

#7: Price it between 99 cents and $3.99. This is the most important tip of all.

#8: Experiment. Change covers, prices, promo techniques, descriptions, and track sales.

Ebook cover art tips

#1: Hire a pro. Expect to pay between $200 and $1000 per cover

#2: Make sure it is readable as a thumbnail–most covers are seen when tiny

#3: Don’t make it too “busy.” Clean and simple is better.

#4: Brand yourself. Your covers should look similar, or have a common theme.

Thanks for stopping by. I hope you’ll considering following my blog, or adding it to your own blogroll.

-Moses Siregar III

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13
Apr

Passion for Writing: April 13th, 2010

   Posted by: Moses Siregar III   in Passion for Writing

“Genius is the recovery of childhood at will.” –Arthur Rimbaud
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“I can do anything I put my mind to–except put my mind to anything.” -Nicholas Vesiri
Thanks Atsiko.
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This is an excellent, short piece from @SoniaSimone. Seriously, if you write, read it. 5 Editors Secrets to Help You Write Like a Pro. Better to be safe than sorry. 😉
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Malone Editorial Services discusses where new writers fail. Excerpt: “Here’s the kicker: Though you may sell a lot of copies of the first book, and therefore think it was good, those readers if not truly entertained won’t buy the second. And your career as an author has just tanked. Only the iceberg you hit was you.”
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Mette Ivie Harrison has a number of good articles on Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show. I like her comments on dialogue: “They say that the eyes are the windows of the soul, but that’s not in a novel. In a novel, dialog is the window of the soul, and all the descriptions of eyes shining, glowing, or burning will not make up for bad dialog.”
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A list of “50 best book people to follow on Twitter,” from Huffington Post. Only, they forgot to mention @MosesSiregar.
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The Complete Flake’s Guide to Getting Things Done, also from Sonia Simone. A funny, self-help flavored piece: “You, my friend, are a flake. Congratulations. We are a worldwide force. If we could all get ourselves moving in the same direction, we would change the world. However, that will never happen.”
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And if you’re not following Joe Konrath’s blog where he’s talking about his experience with ebooks, here’s a powerful new one from him where he wonders if print is a subsidiary right and he discusses his crisis of faith in traditional publishing.
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Courtney Johnson, aspiring writer, is running a contest on her blog. Enter for a chance to win a free 10,000 word critique.

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9
Apr

Cinderella Man: The Matter of the Too Perfect Character

   Posted by: Moses Siregar III   in Craft of Storytelling

I finally got around to watching Cinderella Man (directed by Ron Howard). For me, the movie highlights one major writing issue: the dilemma of the “perfect” character.

In this real-life story, Russell Crowe plays James J Braddock, a professional boxer who wore the heavyweight championship belt from June, 1935 to June, 1937 (he lost the title to Joe Louis). All in all, I thought it was a very effective film, but what’s most interesting to me is how the writers and director chose to portray James Braddock.

Russell Crowe had to play Braddock like an unequivocally good guy. He works hard, and he fights hard. He loves his kids. He passes every moral test. He never raises his voice to his wife, even when she’s provoking him. He even gives some extra money back to the US government once he can afford to pay back some of the assistance money he needed to pay his electricity bill in the middle of winter.

Sounds like a pretty boring character, huh? Sounds like someone almost annoying, because none of us will ever be that good. I will admit, I wished he had been a little less perfect, and if he was, the movie would’ve been 4 stars for me instead of 3 1/2.

However, there are some reasons why this “perfect” character either works, or almost works.

1) The movie is based on a real-life story.

This is double-edged, though. On the one hand, knowing that the movie is based on reality ought to be all the more reason to give a character some flaws, right? But on the flip side, it also means that Braddock isn’t all made up. There is a little credence we can give to the movie, knowing it’s based on a man who actually lived, and knowing that he was considered by many to be a good man. Great, inspiring people do exist. Nonetheless, perfect people don’t exist, so we need something else. The main thing is …

2) Though the character is too good to be true, his struggles aren’t.

The Great Depression hit Braddock and his family hard. Without revealing too many spoilers, his family struggled during those years and this was thoroughly believable. Also, Braddock dealt with realistic injuries and problems in his career as a boxer.

Ah, now we see why his character is starting to work. One benefit to having the “perfect” character is that he’s easy to like. But that’s not the problem here. We like James Braddock, no problem. He’s a good guy. The problem is with not believing him because he’s too good. So where’s the sleight of hand? Simply, he suffers. Maybe the best way to drum up emotional interest in a character is to have him or her suffer.

(a character we like) + (that character suffering) = (reader/viewer interest in that character)

That’s a formula that works.

3) Russell Crowe.

Crowe must have been challenged by this role. Still, he found a way to make Mr. Perfect gritty. Bravo.

I could also add things like the wonderful depression-era costumes, cinematography, sound, etc. It was a classy production.

4) Ron Howard’s artistic play.

Howard had to have known what he was up against. He was trying to sell all of us on a character who is, let’s face it, better than us. Boring! Or, annoying! But here’s what I respect about Howard’s artistic vision:

He wanted us inspire us.

Forget 100% gritty realism. Forget the conventional wisdom about not making characters too perfect. Howard must’ve said to himself, I want to tell a story that makes people want to be better and more moral people by giving them someone to look up to, but I want to do it well.

And one can argue that that’s exactly what he did. He found A. a true story, B. a story full of gritty hardship, C. a great actor to portray him, and then D. gave us a man to look up to in the middle of it all.

Though I still would’ve liked the story better if Braddock had at least one major flaw, I can also respect Howard’s vision (also, credit the writer of the story, Cliff Hollingsworth, and the co-writers of the screenplay, Hollingsworth and Akiva Goldsman). His vision is optimistic, and it speaks to our better angels.

In the end, Howard decided he wanted to transform and uplift his audience, even though he knew his story was a little less believable because of how he approached his goal. Still, it either worked anyway, or it pretty much worked. The positive response, then, is to be inspired by James J Braddock. To play by the rules, be kind to those around us, and work a little harder for what we love. That, I can believe in.

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7
Apr

Harlan Ellison: Dreams with Sharp Teeth (a Review)

   Posted by: Moses Siregar III   in On Authors

“Just shoot the fucking thing, so I can go back to my life,” Harlan Ellison says, opening Harlan Ellison: Dreams with Sharp Teeth, a 2008 documentary about the irascible, prolific writer.

Though controversial, Harlan Ellison is a legendary science fiction writer. As a recognized Grand Master by the Science Fiction Writers of America, he belongs to an elite group of (currently) twenty-five that includes the likes of Heinlein, Asimov, and Bradbury. He’s amassed a pile of other trophies, too, including eight and a half Nebula awards and three Hugo awards (source: wiki).

First things first. I absolutely recommend the documentary to anyone with interest in biographies, writers, or speculative fiction. Appropriate to the man himself, it’s brutally honest and even more brutally funny.

Ellison’s doubled-edged reputation is that of a masterful, but abrasive and confrontational, writer. One of his own book jackets describes him as “possibly the most contentious person on Earth.” As an example, he relates in the film that while being asked a stupid question by a fan beside him at a urinal, he turned and peed on the fan’s foot as he answered.

In a 1976 interview with Ellison, he defends the value of being vengeful: “I think revenge is a very terrific, good thing for everybody.” He said so honestly, it appeared to me, but with underlying humor. The topic came up after he explains how he responded to a writing professor that told him he had no talent. Harlan sent him voluminous evidence of his later success for many years, a copy of every single thing he got published.

Two things struck me most: his difficult youth, and his feelings about his own personality.

He recounts his childhood, as a diminutive Jewish boy who grew up in a “very anti-Semitic town” in Ohio. He was beaten up “every day” by groups of bullies. He says, “When you’ve been made an outsider, you are always angry. You respond to it in a lot of different ways. A lot of people get surly, a lot of people get mean, some people turn into serial killers. I got so smart that I could just kill ‘em with logic, or their own mouths.”

Ellison watched his father die suddenly at the age of 14. He becomes emotional while looking at the only surviving video of his father, and it’s plain that however angry and ornery a man he may or may not have been without the traumas of his childhood, the painful events of his youth are sufficient to explain his nature.

His most interesting comment, for me, was when talking about his personality:

“… Yeah, everything makes me angry. And they say, well you should be a little mellow, get a little mellow. And I say, oh really? Gee, I had never thought of that. Get a little mellow. Woo! What an epiphany. Like I enjoy this? Do you think I enjoy getting up angry every morning, going to bed angrier every night to go through the day with the veins standing out, the bolts unscrewing in my neck. Jesus Christ, I would give anything to be as mellow and cool as most people. I’d be one of those slaves [laughing], the walking dead, but it would be a relief. Give me six months as a walking dead, and I’ll never say anything angry again.”

We have a man, who whether through nature or nurture (well, it’s always some of both, isn’t it?) is exactly what he is. To me, that’s someone hilariously candid, passionate, and determined far more than most to live his life “exactly” as he wishes to. He admits that lifestyle comes with a price, mentioning Hunter S. Thompson, who spoke of knowing “the dead-end loneliness of a person who makes his own rules.”

Whether or not that price is worth it is something Harlan Ellison’s story left me thinking about.

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Below are two videos. The first is an epic rant from Harlan Ellison about wanting to be paid for a long film interview if Warner Brothers includes it on a DVD (“I should do a freebie for Warner Brothers? What is Warner Brothers, out with an eye patch and a tin cup out on the street?”), and the other is a trailer for the documentary.

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1
Apr

Passion for Writing: April 1st, 2010

   Posted by: Moses Siregar III   in Passion for Writing

“Writing takes over your life. If you’re lucky, it takes over your soul.” –Kit Ehrman

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RT noveldoctor Errant comma in new printing of Moby-Dick unexpectedly changes book’s genre to romance. “Call me, Ishmael.”

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RT noveldoctor As of today, literary agents are no longer accepting submissions from people who can’t write.

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RT noveldoctorJames Cameron combines Titanic sequel with second Avatar film. Turns out that diamond was actually Unobtanium.

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On Jeff VanderMeer’s BookLifeNow blog, 15 authors are asked: “What is the best piece of general writing advice you’ve ever received?”

Victoria Blake: “The best piece of writing advice? Keep writing. Don’t settle for what comes out on the first draft. Investigate what’s on the page. And remember that fiction writing has more in common with ditch digging than it does with painting. There’s just a lot of dirt to move out of  the way.”

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From Jane Friedman’s blog on perfectionism vs progress: “It’s like what Ira Glass has said: There is the excellence (or quality) you can see and appreciate—and then there is what you’re actually capable of.

This can cause paralysis.”

The Ira Glass video (5:20) talks about how excellence takes years of work, and what it’s like to start out and know this.

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Vonda N McIntyre has a nice little list of 12 Pitfalls for Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy (though most of the items are applicable to any genre). My favorite is one of my own pet peeves, the misuse of the word, “literally:”
Pitfall #11: Literal v. Figurative, or “His Head Literally Exploded!”

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An article from Cheryl Morgan suggests how to improve attendance at WorldCon.

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Here are pics from the Superstars Writing Seminar that I attended recently, on Kevin J Anderson’s blog.

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30
Mar

Passion for Writing: March 30th, 2010

   Posted by: Moses Siregar III   in Passion for Writing

Tom Clancy: “The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense.” (Quote borrowed from Plot to Punctuation blog)
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“Writing well means never having to say, ‘I guess you had to be there.’” — Jef Mallett (ditto)

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[On fantasy writing:] “It’s not enough to create magic. You have to create a price for magic, too. You have to create rules.” — Eric A. Burns (ditto)

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N.K. Jemisin wrote a liberating blog post about how writing exactly what she wanted to write propelled her to success: “I think The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms became my “breakout” novel (i.e., the one that actually got published, as opposed to the ones still sitting in my harddrive) because I stopped caring about what the market wanted … [conclusion] The lesson here is obvious: trying to write what the market wanted didn’t work for me. Writing what I wanted, did. Now, this is not to say that every writer should throw convention to the winds and expect success …”
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RT WritersDigest Pronoun Problems: “He/She,” “He or She,” or Just Plain “He”? http://ow.ly/16VLU4

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The AgencyGatekeeper blog has a nice couple of posts on the problem of overusing your protagonist’s name and/or pronouns for your protag. The problem. The solution given. My opinion? Moderation.

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Steven Erikson describes some of his approach to writing on A Dribble of Ink blog. The quotes were pulled from a series of blogs Erikson is writing at Life as a Human.

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Quick Book Learning blog on: New vs Mid-Career vs Senior Literary Agents: Which is right for you?

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Patricia Stoltey on the GLA Blog: 3. Networking is the most important reason to attend writers’ conferences. Volunteer to help with registration, moderate a panel, conduct a workshop in your area of expertise, or stuff goodie bags. Make friends. Also hang out with the authors, editors, and agents during cocktail hour. Don’t be afraid to talk to them. They (at least most of them) won’t bite.

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Moses: Tell me, who should I be following?

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Another stick of dynamite just went “boom” in the brave new world of ebooks (actually, this link is more detailed than the previous one).

Self-publishing authors will be able to offer their titles on Apple’s iBookstore for the iPad at almost no cost, potentially breaking down the barriers for independent writers who want to sell their work across the globe.

According to DigitalBeat, the self-publishing service Smashwords has signed a distribution deal with Apple to put books on the iBookstore, which will be a part of the iBooks application, available as a free download on the iPad through the App Store …

The e-mail from Coker also revealed Apple’s pricing rules for the iBookstore. Each title’s price must end in 99 cents (i.e. $12.99), and books can be priced as low as 99 cents. The price of the book must also be less than its print counterpart.

Author Dean Takahashi said users can submit their work to Smashwords through a simple process that involves uploading a Microsoft Word file, setting the price and deciding where the book is to be published …

Through the service [Smashwords], authors receive 85 percent of net sale proceeds from titles, or 70.5 percent of affiliate sales. The report said the cost to distribute a book on the iPad is free …

Apple’s iBooks application is compatible with the ePub format. Apple will also sell content from some of the largest publishers in the world, including HarperCollins, Hachette, Penguin, Macmillan, and Simon & Shuster.

Independent writers–that’s anyone who can type on a computer and upload a Word file–will be able to sell their books through the iBookstore and iBooks app via Smashwords, which will offer an overall 60% royalty rate to authors (normally Smashwords offers 85%, but that’s only directly through their own site). I’m not suggesting that everyone should start publishing junk and trying to make money that way, I’m only saying that at this time, it is very easy to get your works onto the Kindle store, iBookstore, etc.

Amazon made waves by offering a 70% royalty rate to indie authors starting on June 30th, 2010. As long as indie authors price their ebooks between $2.99 and $9.99, that’s the swell deal Amazon is offering. And without a doubt, the deal is really swell, considering that there are indie authors already selling thousands of books a month via the Kindle store. For more on that, follow JA Konrath’s blog.

Joe Konrath is doing quite well with his ebooks in the Kindle store (he expects to be making $10K/month come July), but there are also unheard-of new authors selling thousands of ebooks a month there, too. Look for stories like John Rector’s and Boyd Morrison’s, who parlayed Kindle success into traditional publishing contracts. Rector and Morrison are somewhat unusual stories, but those stories are also becoming more common. Konrath’s blog has featured others as well (especially in the comments).

Now Apple and its new homeboy Smashwords is luring authors, not with a higher royalty rate (60% vs 70% with Amazon), but by allowing authors to price their books at $0.99 or $1.99, which many authors have done on Kindle in order to generate more downloads and find more readers.

Oh, by the way: Authors don’t have to choose one or the other. They can easily be on Smashwords/iBookstore, as well as Amazon/Kindle.

The conventional wisdom remains that aspiring authors are best served by trying to publish traditionally, but the independent alternative to the conventional approach keeps getting more and more interesting, and without a doubt that trend is rapidly strengthening. Owning the e-rights to your books forever, while more and more people are buying ereaders like Kindle, Sony, and iPad (and Kindle books can be read on any computer, anyway), does have its allure.

It’s also worth noting that Joe Konrath has discouraged aspiring authors from going indie right off the bat [EDIT: See April 7 Update, below] and encouraged new writers to seek a literary agent first, but at the same time Joe has mentioned that he’s unsure of whether or not he wants to give up the erights to his future books because he knows from experience how valuable they are, and how valuable they will be.

If you want to hear from someone who argues well for the future of indie publishing and walks her talk, check out Zoe Winters.

So tell me, what do you make of all of this?
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UPDATE (April 7th, 2010): Joe Konrath has, to some degree, changed his point of view on self-publishing ebooks. On his blog today, he makes a strong case for authors retaining their e-rights. In practical terms, this likely means holding onto all rights, since publishers are (to put it mildly) reluctant to give up those rights. Yes, this would mean that dreaded thing which shall not be spoken of in serious writing circles: “self-publishing.” You may want to wash your hands now.

I asked him the following in the comments area on his blog:

What kind of advice should an unpublished author draw from your recent posts, Joe? Get an agent, publish traditionally, get your name out there, and then (based on today’s post) go indie with ebooks and POD once you think you can sell enough books that way?

Joe Konrath’s response:

I’m hesitant to give advice on this. A month ago I’d say get an agent and traditionally publish. But I was just on the phone today with a friend who has been traditionally published, and I warily cautioned him to look at the numbers before accepting any new offers, because he could potentially make more money on his own.

This blows my mind, BTW. I did NOT expect to ever be a cheerleader for self-publishing.

But numbers are numbers, and my predictions for the future of ebooks have 1 full year of data to support them.

So, hell, I don’t know what to tell you, Moses. I do know this for sure:

Everyone needs to make up their own mind. You need to follow your own path, based on your experience and experiments.

Experts are fine to listen to, but no expert (me included) should be considered Gospel.

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UPDATE April 9th, 2010. Sounds like Joe Konrath is probably going all-in with self-publishing his future novels as ebooks. Check out his post.

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29
Mar

Passion for Writing: March 29th, 2010

   Posted by: Moses Siregar III   in Passion for Writing

Neil Gaiman, from The Guardian: “The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like.”
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RT AdvicetoWriters “Carefully examined, a good–an interesting–style will be found to consist in a constant succession of tiny, unobservable surprises.” -FORD MADDOX FORD
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RT @agentgame Okay, I’m just going to say it: I find romances between teenage girls and men who are hundreds of years old to be creepy
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RT @agentrobert Writers. Do you know how many of your published titles libraries buy? Great customers, those libraries. We need to fight to keep them sound.
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5 Commonly Misunderstood Things on Twitter (I learned a couple of things from this)
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From Kirsten Hubbard: A nice blog post on the art of just enough character description–also the art of doing so in first person)
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A while back, Nathan Bransford posted a nice top ten list called “Ten Commandments for the Happy Writer” (as a Moses, I am rather fond top ten lists, even moreso in this case for obvious reasons):

4. Don’t neglect your friends and family. No book is worth losing a friend, losing a spouse, losing crucial time with your children. Hear me? NO book is worth it. Not one. Not a bestseller, not a passion project, nothing. Friends and family first. THEN writing. Writing is not an excuse to neglect your friends and family. Unless you don’t like them very much.
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Because of increasingly common self-publishing success stories, Nathan Bransford has one of the best assessments I’ve read about whether or not to self-publish. Should You Self-Publish? Ten Questions to Ask Yourself. His take is quite fair overall, but here’s my favorite line from him, taken out of context: “Much like pimpin’: self-publishing ain’t easy.”
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Stolen from Nathan Bransford: “Take it away, Coach Taylor!!!”

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28
Mar

Passion for Writing: March 28th, 2010

   Posted by: Moses Siregar III   in Passion for Writing

Larry Brooks: “Make sure your story comes from a place of passion, that it deals with something important to you, that you have something meaningful to say about it through your characters, and that isn’t remotely a storytelling-by-the-numbers proposition that allows you to meet a critique group deadline.

Ask yourself if you could write only one more story before the plug is pulled, what would it be? Why is this important to you? If you can’t answer that question, go into search mode for that answer.

A clever story idea isn’t enough. Even when well executed. The weight of your story, on multiple fronts, is what will elevate it toward greatness. ”
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RT @agentgame If you really don’t care which agent you get, you’re doing it wrong.
_____________________________________________________________________________ Elana Johnson writes about where to spend her social networking time as an aspiring writer, and which types of blogs make the most productive use of her time.
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Victoria Strauss on the Writer Beware Blog (“First Novel Sales: The Data”): “Writers dreaming of overnight success should get set for a long haul. The time it took respondents to sell their first novels ranged from 0 to 41 (!) years, but the average was just over 11 years. (It took me 8).”
_____________________________________________________________________________RT @agentrobert Trend seems to be male leads in some paranormal romance and romantic suspense novels. New writers should stay trad. however
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RT @RonHogan “Great thing about having an acclaimed 1st book is the quality of your rejection letters gets so much better.” http://is.gd/b4kyx
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RT AdviceToWriters You can’t make a living being a poet, but you can make something of a living traveling around the country talking about poetry. -MAXINE KUMIN
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Another from Victoria Strauss on the Writer Beware Blog:

Three things publishers don’t know about the digital future (which platform will win? How many people will actually read ebooks? What impact will piracy have?)

Four things publishers do know about the digital future
(yes, people will read from screens. Yes, change will happen; the race is on, even if we can’t know how it will turn out. Yes, other content industries have been “knocked sideways” by the Internet, so there’s no reason to assume publishing will manage better. Yes, digital is the future of book marketing.)
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Moses: Tell me folks, who should I be following on Twitter? Which blogs should I be reading?

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27
Mar

Passion for Writing: March 27th, 2010

   Posted by: Moses Siregar III   in Passion for Writing

RT AdviceToWriters “Find out what your hero or heroine wants, and when he or she wakes up in the morning, just follow him or her all day.” -RAY BRADBURY

Moses: Have you read Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing? It’s the most inspirational book I’ve read on writing, with the possible exception of … On Writing, by Stephen King. My heart goes all mushy when I start thinking about Ray Bradbury. Zen in the Art of Writing isn’t the kind of book that makes you want to write to be a success story, it’s the kind of book that just makes you want to write because you LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the creative process of storytelling.
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Laura Resnick wrote a guest blog post on some of the things  authors can control, and some of the things they can’t: “Few aspiring writers realize it, but talent is surprisingly common. What separates professional writers from the pack isn’t talent, but instead qualities that are more unusual: perseverance, skill, and brains.

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Agent Anne Hawkins says: “ If I could give unpublished authors one piece of advice, it would be this: Learn as much as you can about the publishing industry, how it works, and who the players are before beginning the query process. Publishing is a quirky business, and things often happen in a nonlinear fashion. The author who adopts a learn-as-you-go philosophy runs the risk of making costly, even disastrous mistakes.”
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RT GrammarGirl is thinking that most fiction sounds pretty silly or formulaic when you describe it in just one or two sentences.

RT BrandonSandrson @GrammarGirl That’s especially true with fantasy. Try describing Lord of the Rings in one sentence and not make it sound silly!
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Moses: Tell me folks, who should I be following on Twitter? Which blogs should I be reading?

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