Breaking the Rules

If there is one thing guaranteed to send your submission from the envelope, straight to the ‘shred immediately’ pile, it’ll be a grammar/punctuation mistake in the very first paragraph. There are still so many writers send out this first submission without doing the care and due-diligence that will get them that vital initial read.

Now when I first started workshopping, my first few pieces were not so good. It wasn’t that they were poor stories; the main problem was the punctuation. It seems I’d managed to get through most of my life without really understanding when to use a comma and when to use a semi-colon. Fortunately, my immensely supportive group mentioned this (and it isn’t down to your workshoppers to educate you in the basics of language),  so before writing another chapter, I set about fixing things.

There is a wealth of tutorials and advice, on the web and in books, that can help if you feel you need improvements in style, grammar and punctuation. Personally, I think Trask is a must-read, and the Purdue University has an encyclopaedia of notes and exercises that covers just about every aspect of writing. Not a lot of effort, really, and it would be such a shame to have your work rejected for the sake of a few minutes reading.

So, the next chapter my workshop reviewed was a masterpiece in structured grammar and meticulously placed commas. They went wild for it! Loved it! Applause, flowers, underwear – thrown onstage! A work of literary genius!

Except for one tiny, tiny problem:

‘What?’

‘Well, it’s nothing really…’

‘No, go on.’

‘You seem to have lost some of your flow.’

‘Oh.’

‘You had a lovely poetic flow to your last chapter. This one seems a bit more, you know, rigid.’

‘Rigid.’

‘Yes, rigid. The punctuation’s much better though.’

So now I’d gone completely the other way; applying the rules to such an extent that the piece, while easier to read, had lost much of its spark.

Law-abiding waterfowl

It’s an old analogy, but punctation symbols are like road signs: too few and the reader loses their way; too many and the reader becomes distracted, tripping and stumbling through the prose and losing any sense of flow. So when it comes to punctuation, you need ‘just enough’. Above everything else, you are aiming to guide the reader through the text with as light a touch as possible, and sometimes that means breaking the rules.

Heading for CreateSpace

I’ve had a few people ask if I have any plans to release Regarding Avalon in print.

Well, until they’d asked, the answer was ‘no’. Short runs can be pretty expensive, so I was never too keen on the idea. However, Amazon does have it’s own Print-On-Demand service which sounds much better for both me and the environment. The nature of the service does mean that the books are going to cost more than I’d like to charge folk, which I’m not too happy about either. Then there’s the formatting and prep…

But people still like real books; having paid good money, they like to feel the weight of it in their hands, flip through real pages, and pass it on to their friends when they’re done with it. And since I like to sell books, who am I to deny them?

So yes, I will be releasing a print version, sooner rather than later, hopefully.

🙂

The prickly subject of eBook pricing

Okay, the book’s written, edited, reviewed, edited some more, reviewed again, bit more editing, bit more reviewing, fixed, edited,  reviewed, the cover’s picked and we’re ready to go.

Fantastic.

Now we have to decide on the price.

Tricky.

The magic number for buying anything intangible on the internet these days seems to be 99 cents. I guess the notion is that if it isn’t carved onto a DVD or a printed on paper then it didn’t cost anything to produce (taken from the Internet Piracy Bible).  Now, I agree that eBooks should be priced lower than their printed equivalents; after all, once the book is written there are no real costs for distribution or production, right? But what about the marketing? What about storage, transmission and payment processing?

Every so often an author will rise up and challenge this notion when his readership asks why his eBook costs (gasp!)  the same as the hardback. He’ll sit back, puff sagely on his ornamental clay pipe and say, ‘It’s not about the paper, my young friend; it’s about the words,’ and he may add, ‘written with my own sweat and blood’ – just for good measure. I’ve always thought this was an odd sort of argument because I enjoy writing and never really see it as a yolk I’m slaving under. Anyway, this reasoning is carrying decreasing weight in front of an online public used to buying internet stuff for under a dollar (even if a lot of it is junk).

So is 99 cents a good place to start? For the new author, yes.

Or possibly, no.

At such a low price then the more adventurous reader will pick up a download just to try it out.  If they leave good reviews, then others will buy it and before too long, you have a hit read on your hands.  That’s the thinking that usually accompanies the Amazon bargain bin eBook drop, but unfortunately, this is rarely how it pans out.  In most cases, the book is simply lost in a pile of thousands.  Occasionally, through shrewd marketing, sheer hard work and, yes, writing talent, one or two writers rise to the top, but as I said, these are the exception, not the rule.

Now, I’ve actually bought a sub-dollar eBook. Having read a mountain of five-star reviews I thought it was well worth a shot, especially at that price. As it turned out, the book was awful. Quite possibly the worst example of creative writing I have ever seen. The characters were bland beyond belief, sex scenes were dropped in, it seemed, when the writer needed a break to think what should happen next.  There was no variation in sentence structure so the whole book read like a ‘to do’ list in which an inexhaustible supply of ridiculously pliant women were ‘entered’ by our chiselled one-dimensional hero.   (No spelling mistakes though, which I thought was odd. ) There were three reviews out of about sixty that gave it a single star and said they were baffled as to what the other folk were reading.

So I started to wonder if  prices are unconsciously factored into Amazon reviews: cheaper books will be critiqued less harshly than ones that cost more.  After all, if you buy a book for 99 cents, do you really have a right to expect very much from it? If this is the case then as a budding writer are you really doing yourself any favours by pitching to this market?