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.

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?

Regarding Avalon – reloaded

I think it’s time to start taking this self-publishing lark a little more seriously. I’ve got a book out, but to be honest, I don’t think I’ve done very much with it. Before I disappear completely into my next work, there are a couple of things I need to fix:

  • The cover
  • The price

Okay, let’s start with the cover. This was created for me by a very talented artist who, in a shockingly short space of time, delivered exactly what I asked for.

To be honest, I’m still a little bit in love with it, which is probably why I’ve hung onto it for longer than I should have. I think the Manga-cartoon quality is wonderful, and I love the darkness of the city beneath her. The other thing I like about it is that the whole story is pretty much there, right on the front. The woman in the wheelchair is the main character and the way she is dressed and the fact she’s holding a taser (assuming that you realise it is a taser she’s holding a taser) tells you  a lot about her character before you even read the first page.

The problem is that when shown on a website at smaller sizes, it’s a little bit unclear: a lot of the really great detail is simply lost.

The other problem is the tone of the artwork, which actually presents three problems:

  1. A lot of people have mistaken the book for a graphic novel. Nope, that never occurred to me until I started getting feedback.
  2. The ‘stationary’ nature is not really in keeping with the actual book: Regarding Avalon is a fast-moving thriller, and I think it needs a cover to reflect that.
  3. The title and author name doesn’t show up on smaller thumbnails.

So my lovely Manga-like cover had to go. 🙁

I decided that to get around the ‘Oh, so it’s not actually a comic book’ problem I would go for a photographed cover rather than an illustration. Fortunately there are a fair number of really cover designers plying their trade on the web, so after a quick Google search, I picked out Joie Simmons and tried him with a short list of contradictory aims for my new book cover:

  • It must be exciting, yet understated
  • Raunchy and tasteful
  • It must highlight the technology nature of the book, but, like the book, should be accessible to thriller readers who hate computers.

‘Sure, no problem,’ Joie said, and came up with this:

Regarding Avalon (new cover)It took us a few tries to get it right (Joie has the patience of a saint), but this is exactly what I was looking for. It’s colourful while retaining the darkness of the original and adds that element of action and movement. The two parts represent the two worlds the novel is set in, and the girl trapped in the digital realm could be either of two of the main characters in the book.

In a word, fantastic.

So, I’m relaunching the book with a brand new cover and a lower price, which I’ll talk about next time.

Thanks for reading … 🙂