On this blog every Tuesday and Friday I write about story techniques, structure, and/or publishing. Comments and questions are welcome. I also have a personal blog, Amy Deardon, on which I write about a variety of topics purely as they catch my fancy.

I've written one novel, A Lever Long Enough, that I'm honored to say has won two awards. In my life BC (before children) I was a scientist who did bench research.

My book, The Story Template: Conquer Writer's Block Using the Universal Structure of Story, is now available in both hard-copy and e-book formats. I also coach would-be novelists and screenwriters to develop their story. YOU CAN CONTACT ME at amydeardon at yahoo dot com.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

My Hero, the Newbie

I was a guest speaker at a writing conference this weekend, talking about how to e-publish a book. One of the best parts of a conference is that I also get to meet Newbies one-on-one for 15 minutes or so to talk about their writing. I love to hear the writers' life stories, and to encourage them, give them some direction, and help them avoid common pitfalls.

Newbies are brave. Newbies are stubborn (in a good sense), and demonstrate FAITH: trusting that they will finish and publish their book, despite no encouragement, no time, and feeling as if they have no talent. Newbies are unselfish people who work hard taking care of spouses, children and elderly parents, working a job or multiple jobs to financially support their loved ones, spending time cleaning and cooking and running errands and doing yard work and the millions of other things it takes to be a responsible person. Often the Newbie has a physical limitation or emotional loss that can seem unbearable, yet the Newbie works through these things to complete his duties.

And yet, despite all these things, and perhaps without even telling anyone else, the Newbie finds the courage to aspire to one more thing: being a WRITER. Newbies are driven by a dream, the dream to communicate their thoughts to others. They know that no one else sees the world exactly as they do, and that what they know, and do, and are, is valuable and precious. Often the Newbie says that it isn't THEIR dream, but simply a sense that God is leading them to write. This is the epitome of faith: "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." (Hebrews 11:1, NIV)

Newbies are my heroes.

It's humbling to sit across from these hopeful, quiet people as they hesitantly offer up pages of carefully formatted text that they've labored over.

I ask how I can help, listen to loglines, glance through pages, discuss a question they ask, and pray that I can give them good guidance. Most of what I see is a long way from being publishable. I must be gentle as I point out problems. I usually see the same problems over and over: too long manuscript (which is almost a guarantee of wordiness), lack of tension, or unclear/stereotyped writing when the story is crying for specifics. These are big problems, and they can't be solved in a 15 minute conference. Furthermore, since I'm the e-pubbing person, many who talk to me feel they're ready to put the book up for the Kindle.


These manuscripts are babies: dreamed-about, nurtured, cherished, worthy of endless time and attention. I tell the Newbie that it would be so sad for them to push their baby out of the nest before it's ready to fly. The manuscript needs another draft. Then, try for a traditional publisher first: these publishing houses are going to be much better at marketing. Most of the Newbies I meet don't do Facebook, and don't relish the social marketing necessary for selling a self-published book.

Occasionally, if the Newbie is desperate to publish because they need money I recommend they write a few nonfiction e-books of about 50 pages each on some of their favorite topics. They can e-publish THESE on Kindle. Even if each book only makes, say, $20 or $50 or whatever a month, it's something. But don't put their precious book manuscript out there until it's ready.

My sister once told me it takes about 10,000 hours of practice before someone becomes good at something. Newbies are blind in a way: they haven't put in even close to 10,000, and don't see how far they're going to have to go before they can move to the next stage of having shapely prose. They are under the illusion that what they write is already shapely, because the story in their head is so vibrant. Despite the absent or even negative feedback they still keep working, they still stay up an extra hour when they're dog-tired, or stay inside even though it's a beautiful day, so they can nurture their dream. This is courage.

Yes, Newbies are my heroes.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Future Me

What would it be like to talk to your future self? This could be the seed for a great story, but it also happens to be possible.

The site, futureme.org, makes this even easier. You can write an email to yourself, and the site will send it to you on the date you decide.

The possibilities are interesting... I keep an idea file, and this website immediately went into it for *future* reference.

What will you say to yourself?

And this isn't possible, but wouldn't it be cool if your future self could talk to you now?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Subsidy Publishing

Subsidy publishing is different from self publishing.

In self publishing you take care of the details yourself. If you have trouble making good covers, or editing, or typesetting, then you hire people to do this work for you. You give them the money, they give you the files, and you're both square. You take the files to the printer, list your book on amazon, and if you're smart you also produce an ebook version and load that up onto amazon and B&N as well.

Subsidy publishing is when you take your manuscript to a company that publishes it for you. There are countless subsidy publishing companies: these are the ones that put the ads in Writer's Digest and alumni magazines and anywhere else that the readers are likely to have written a book, but don't have the knowledge or inclination to pursue traditional publishing (or hone their craft until they are competitive for traditional publishing). These subsidy companies look really good to people like this. The company promises a gorgeous book, and usually offers several package levels that entice with their mouthwatering features. Some companies play on the rags-to-riches myth: Bolles' What Color is Your Parachute, Canfield's Chicken Soup for the Soul, Evans' The Christmas Box, and Paolini's Eragon are all bestsellers that were first self-published.

I have a real problem with subsidy publishing. The only company I know that will not rip you off belongs to my friend Chris at http://authors.interestingwriting.com/. He takes great pride in giving an honest deal to authors because he himself has had many problems over the years with predatory business arrangements and doesn't wish to return the favor. There may be other subsidy companies that are reasonable, but I don't know of them.

Subsidy companies in general do several things that I find objectionable:

1. They make it sound like producing the book is the final stage of publishing. Believe me, producing the book is only the start. Doing a good-looking book is not difficult, and there are MANY ways to reach this point. The hard part is marketing -- getting the word out, and then selling it. Sure, the company makes a big deal of all the places they're going to list your book -- amazon and their special little sites -- but this is no big deal to do. Just because the book is available doesn't mean that it'll sell.

2. The companies overcharge for what they do, sometimes disgracefully asking for twice or five times what these services are worth. Often the quality is not as good as it could or should be. The companies continue overcharging for any changes or special things that the author wishes to do. For example, when a woman in my writing group wanted to add a subtitle a week after she'd submitted her title, before the cover had been started, the company (a well known and reputable one) charged her $150. Come on, guys.

3. The companies generally also overcharge for printing. For comparison, to print one of my books (6x9 paperback) I am charged 1.5 cents per page plus 90 cents for the cover. For a 250 page book I would be charged $4.65. Compare that cost to $8 or $10 printing costs per book that a subsidy company might charge.

4. The companies often insist on setting the book price, and these prices are usually over the moon. Would anyone besides your mother really pay $22.95 for a 150 page paperback? Doubtful.

5. Not only do the companies take a lot of money to produce your book, but they also often take rights to the book that belong to you. For example, you may not be able to put out your own ebook version, but have to go through them and pay lots more money for the privilege. You may not be able to sever your contract with them to get your book back, or you may have to pay hundreds of dollars for this honor. Even if you do get the rights back, you're probably not going to get the cover and interior files that you paid a lot of money to have done, and will have to get them redone.

6. Many companies take even more money: for every book sale they take an inflated cut, and pay you a minuscule proportion of what you would get if you self-published.

7. Once the work is done, the company keeps charging you: a "listing fee" every year that might run about $20 or $30 per book What is this "listing fee" for? The company will say it's for keeping the book in print. Give me a break. The files are already done and fed into the computer; there's nothing that needs to be done here. It's like hiring a carpenter to build a deck: he finishes it, but then every year he sends you a bill for a "deck use fee."

8. And the saddest part: once your book is published by a subsidy company, it almost certainly represents the death of a dream. No traditional press will ever touch this book. You will never be able to generate decent returns on the book. The self-published books that break out are rare, and when they do break out it's because the author was able to amazingly market the book. These books are SELF PUBLISHED. They are not subsidy published.

I'm sure I'm forgetting some reasons why I discourage subsidy publishing, but hopefully I've given you enough. Here is my advice if you're considering a subsidy publisher:

1. NO MONEY. Do not pay money until you know exactly what you're getting.
2. Read Mark Levine's book The Fine Print of Self Publishing. As an attorney he goes over many typical subsidy publisher contracts.
3. If you want to self publish because you're getting too many rejections from agents, take the hint. Work on your craft.
4. If you are determined to put your book out there yourself, then self publish it instead of using a subsidy publisher. Read the books and websites, and LEARN THE BIZ. Buy your own ISBN numbers, hire the editor, and get the typesetting program. Don't do anything cheap for your cover -- believe me, it's critical to get this right. If you don't want to do the files yourself, then find work-for-hire contractors. The company I've used with great success for getting my books ready is Archer Ellison. They are not cheap, but they are meticulous and produce beautiful, perfect work. There are other companies also.

Before you start, though, this is critical: YOU MUST MAKE SURE YOUR BOOK IS AS GOOD AS ANYTHING TRADITIONALLY PUBLISHED. My experience is that 100% of writers think they're ready to go before they are. Get feedback, hire an editor, and polish for months or years. If your product isn't good, nothing else you do for it will matter.

Almost always I recommend that you try for traditional publishing before you go the independent route. Literary agent Noah Lukeman has written good books, some free, that map out a game plan to do this. Check him out.

If you have questions, please feel free to write to me for a nickel's worth of free advice.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Types of Publishing

I ran into two people this week with an issue of subsidy publishing, so am ready to give my soapbox speech about it again. I'm seriously thinking of just making a recording and playing it back any time someone asks me about this, because it keeps popping up.

Quick review: there are three kinds of publishing: traditional, self, and subsidy. Traditional publishing is what lay-people normally think of for publishing: you find an agent, sell your manuscript to a company like Random House or Thomas Nelson, and then see your book appear 18 months later in bookstores and so forth. You the writer are paid an advance for the manuscript, and once that money is paid off through book sales, you receive royalties, or a certain percentage of the selling price for each book sold. This is a good way to go, but extremely difficult to make the cut in the first place. Since the traditional publisher is paying all the costs to produce your book, it wants to make very sure you have a good book for them to produce.

The second way to publish is self-publishing. With this method you the author do all the work: edit to a fare-thee-well, make a cover, typeset the text, acquire an ISBN, produce the PDF files for the printer, and contract for the books to be printed and sold through amazon or out of the trunk of your car. You the author take all the risk, and keep all the reward. It's not a bad way to go provided you know what you're doing and why you're doing it. I've self published two books myself. There are many tasks to do but it's not hard, just that you have to keep up with things. The biggest problem I find is marketing: getting the word out about the book. There are many marketing-type materials available (books, internet courses, and so forth) but I haven't gone into these that much. I hate facebook and twitter, sigh.

The third type of publishing is subsidy publishing. Since this blog entry is already long and I have much to say about this, I'll carry this discussion over until Friday.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Coming Up With Ideas

Writers Write. If you're a writer this is easy to neglect, but must be your cardinal rule.

It's so easy to get bogged down in the inconsequential stuff: the e-mails or small articles, even blog entries :-), rather than focusing on WRITING YOUR BOOK. The time does pass, though. Focus on the important stuff even though the other things are inviting and give a quick sense of accomplishment.

I am struggling with this issue myself now. I've tried to be honest with myself to determine what, exactly, is stopping the words. It's this: I've been distracted with talks, editing, emails, running writing groups, and family stuff rather than actually writing my own book. This other stuff is so much easier to do. My *newest* fiction writing is two years old -- I got sidetracked writing The Story Template last year, but still haven't moved back onto the track.

OK, I'm ready to write (Rocky music in the background). What can I do?

The magical solution for me in my obsessive-compulsive tendencies, has always been to keep a log with my daily and weekly word counts. It's distressing for me to not hit my targets, and if I go so far as to make the sheet and put it on the refrigerator I'm golden. I have so much resistance with making this though because I know I'm going to HAVE to keep up with it. Sigh.

Once the log is written, the words must come. Two things that have always been helpful for me when starting from scratch are lists and free writing.

Lists are straightforward. I simply state what I want to make a list of, figure out how many items will satisfy, usually at least ten, and go ahead. For example, if I need to figure out why my new character Jason might be afraid of the house on the corner, I'll think of anything: the spiders jump on him, or the little girl who lives there always throws her grape juice at him when he walks by. These are silly, but maybe I can spin them: Jason may have a particular chemical in his blood that causes the spiders to go crazy and specifically target him, or the little girl may be a ghost who has lived there fifty years ago and no one can see her but him, and she gets mad at that. (Why?) These are still cliched ideas but if I keep working on them I might be able to come up with something fresh.

Freewriting is an extension of lists, and simply means I write to myself about questions and thoughts. I'm a fast typist so don't have problems keeping up, and recording my ideas means they don't get lost. I usually start with a particular question, say, why do I want to write a story about a guy named Jason anyway? Or maybe I'm trying to solve a problem -- how can I get Jason to witness a scene taking place in Virginia when he's in Baltimore? And so forth. The good thing about freewriting is that the words pile up quickly for my quota sheet, which if nothing else satisfies my obsessive-compulsive tendencies as I do a nice tall graph of the day's words.

The nice thing about the story template algorithm is that I'm pretty good now for shaping ideas into stories. Heck, I do this enough for other people. My next step might be to write loglines, lots and lots of them. Loglines are 15-20 words that encapsulate the story idea and intrigue the listener.

And once I have a bang-on logline, I may start to expand it into my story pillars, freewriting all the way (with those high word quotas for my log that make me so happy :-)  ). And hopefully by that time, I'll be caught up in the wave of fiction writing. I've been there before. I can do it again. Right?

Anyone else have this problem of getting started?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Jeff Bezos' Email Address

(Jeff's email addy is at the bottom of this blog entry)

Here is my update on Amazon's book pricing of THE STORY TEMPLATE.

You can read my first column about it HERE.

I found JEFF BEZOS' email address and wrote him the following letter:

Dear Mr Bezos:

I am a small publisher with two books for sale on your website. I am also very frustrated with amazon's pricing of my latest book, the print format of THE STORY TEMPLATE: CONQUER WRITER'S BLOCK USING THE UNIVERSAL STRUCTURE OF STORY by Amy Deardon.

Despite a publisher discount of 55%, and my book being listed at a lower price elsewhere on the internet, Amazon charges the full retail price of $15.95. I have spent some time talking with multiple Amazon representatives by telephone without receiving a clear answer as to how book prices are determined or whether the publisher discount on my book could be passed on to buyers as happens for most other books.

When first listed Template WAS discounted to $12.44, but the price pushed up a few months later. This price hike has killed my print sales.

I know I am not a big retailer on your site, but I hope you might be able to help me with this. What can I do for Amazon to discount my book?

I speak at writers conferences (1-3 per year) about self publishing, and also do fiction coaching. I might talk directly through classes or consults with about 100-200 writers per year who are eager to self publish. When I talk about self publishing, I discuss the wonderful opportunities on Amazon but then must always add a "but" to caution that Amazon does not seem to discount self-published print titles despite the standard publisher discount, and doesn't seem to be responsive to self publishers' concerns.

I am sorry that I have to be negative about Amazon because, as a customer, I love it. I have owned a Kindle since May 2010 and have many books in my Archived items. I have purchased Kindles for several older relatives and shown them how to use them. I have also bought several appliances and many print books from your company over the years, and have always been pleased with your low prices, fast delivery, and customer service.

Frankly, I'm surprised that your company isn't more accessible to small publishers. Can you help?

Here is the response I received:

From: Amazon.com Executive Customer Relations <ecr-replies@amazon.com>
Subject: Your Email to Jeff Bezos - Re: Frustrated Pricing: Can You Help?

I'm Deborah Hankins of Amazon.com's Executive Customer Relations team. Jeff Bezos received your email and asked me to respond on his behalf.

Thanks for your enthusiastic support of Amazon.com.  We're glad you've enjoyed shopping with us and shared this with others.

I can certainly understand you're interested in selling as many of your physical books as possible and we appreciate that you feel Amazon is a key player in this endeavor.  However, the information you've received from customer service is correct.

Our decision to discount books is based on a number of strategic considerations, which can vary over time. We cannot confirm when, if ever, a title will be discounted or for how long.

We have a team of people working to consistently improve our pricing model. We continue to do a significant amount of work in the area of pricing and are relentlessly focused on driving down prices.

It's possible that a future change in policy will result in a discount for your title. However, we're not going to discount your title at this time.

I hope this information is helpful. Please feel free to reply to this email if I can be of further assistance.


Deborah Hankins
Executive Customer Relations


Amazon is giving me a platform to make this book available for sale, and of course has the right to make any rules it wishes (I don't have to participate), but still this reply frustrates me. I'm wondering if this pricing policy for small publishers is from pressure from traditional publishers? Who knows?

There's not a whole lot I can do. You know what they say about the 800 pound gorilla. Still, in my small way I am letting people know about this by publishing our correspondence and the email addy's:

Jeff Bezos
CEO of Amazon

Deborah Hankins
Executive Customer Relations of Amazon

If you want to purchase THE STORY TEMPLATE, please go to http://www.interestingwriting.com/page41/page42/page42.html. It's $12 plus $2.67 S/H, cheaper than the full price of $15.95 that Amazon is charging. Furthermore, this particular seller is passing on a reasonable discount to the book buyer (you).