The Author/Reader Contract

In going along with recent previous posts, I thought we would return to what this is all about. At the core of it, it is to write good stories to share.

Which is all fine and good, but how does one quantify ‘good stories’ to begin with? There a many answers, whole entire books worth, but let’s get to the core.

We want to write our stories. We want to share our stories with readers.

And with this comes an unsigned ephemeral ‘contract’ between the producer and the consumer. An Author/Reader contract.

Many of the items in this contract writers know subconsciously, but let’s bring it out of the subconcious and into the conscious mind. This is important, because a writer breaks this contract to their own peril. Break it and risk the reader never coming back.

So, what is this contract?

There are different versions of the Author/Reader contract (Google to find more), but the basic clauses are:

  • The author will respect the intelligence of the reader.
  • The reader will be entertained.
  • The author will not waste the time of the reader. (Some phrase this as “The author will not deceive the reader”)
  • The writing will be clear and understood.
  • What the author puts in the story will have a reason, and MATTER by the end.
  • The author will provide a story and characters to care about.
  • The ending will fulfill the promises made during the course of the story.

Simple and straight-forward, and yet it is amazing how many books I’ve read that do not life up to this contract. Each point is something for us all to aspire to, to even practice.

Finding readers is hard enough. Don’t break the contract and lose the few who take a chance on you.

(Shall I go into why way too many science fiction novels fail this contract? Nah, better not. It would take over.)

__________________________

J.A. Marlow

The Author/Reader ContractWelcome to Salmon Run, Alaska! A place of wild animals, wild land, and wild inhabitants…oh, and native legends come alive and an inter-planetary alien conflict at their backdoor.

Zach Callahan and his father, Hawk, arrive in Alaska to begin a new life. Anxious to arrive at the lodge crazy Uncle George left them, they find the first challenge is just getting to Salmon Run.

While still in Cordova, an old prospector declares the two greenhorns unprepared for the realities of an Alaskan winter. Sasha, a young native girl, attaches herself to Zach, much to his disgust. A failed sled-dog won’t leave Hawk alone, giving rise to an old phobia. They think they have it made once they get to the Solar Express, the unique train that will take them through a dark road-less wilderness to their new home.

The same night a massive display of the Aurora Borealis lights up the sky.

The Solar Express shuts down, stranding its passengers in the middle of nowhere. Hidden beneath the snow and ice, and under the path of the rescuers, an alien spaceship also feels the effects of the light show.

Cut off from the rescuers and trapped inside the spaceship, Zach and Sasha must ally themselves with a pair of aliens before either the malfunctioning security systems or the native Alaskan wildlife kills them.

A 37800 word stand-alone Novella in the Salmon Run series.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Smashwords

Writer Project Files and Production Schedules – SQUIRREL!

Kris Kathryn Rusch wrote a great post called “The Business Rusch: Popcorn Kittens!” about the exciting possibilities of going Indie. That the writer can write to what they and the reader wants, not to what an editor, agent, or publisher wants.

Heady freedom, but it comes at a price. As she mentioned:

“Each time I realized I could write this project, I got distracted. Then a moment later, I realized I could write that project, and I got distracted all over again.  This weekend, a writer who hadn’t heard the popcorn kitten analogy described the experience using her dog as an example:  She’d be working along and then—squirrel!—she’d get distracted like her dog would outside and then — squirrel! — she’d get distracted all over again until her brain became squirrel, squirrel, squirrel.”

This happened to me in early 2010. I might have even mentioned it on this blog.

The possibilities. They’re almost endless! And if a writer isn’t careful they can get caught up in the possibilities SQUIRREL! and not actually write. To become paralyzed because there are so many directions to go.

How does one make a decision on what direction to go? What is a writer to do to tame the squirrels?

That’s right, it’s time to plan a little and take control.

For me the solution was a hybrid project file/production schedule. I started an excel file and put in the following columns:

  • Project Status (planning, outlining, writing, first draft finished, revising, ready to publish, published)
  • Title
  • Series
  • Number in Series
  • Universe
  • Universe Stage
  • Intended Publishing Order
  • Intended Publishing Date

Some may not need columns for Universe, but as I write in 4 different universes, it was a useful reference and filter to have.

Once I had the above put in and started populating the fields I realized what a good quick resource this was. So easy to see information about each story. So, I added the following columns to make it even more informative:

  • Story Length (short story, novella, novel, and so on)
  • Length (finished wordcount only, to be updated once revision is finished.)
  • Genre
  • Subgenre

For a long time the above kept me on track. I looked at the “Intended Publishing Order” and “Intended Publishing Date” and off I went!

Started on project one. Finished. Then started on project 2. SQUIRREL! As each project went through the various stages of completion, the “Project Status” was changed. If needed, I could filter by series or universe and see what other books I had planned and add those to my 1 1/2 year publishing schedule.

Then in February I started publishing and realized this same sheet was just as useful in keeping track of other key data. And so the following columns were added:

  • Date Published
  • Published by? (for those who may work with more than one publisher, as I sometimes do)
  • ISBN assigned

Again, a valuable reference. It is concise, can show at a glance what projects are at what stage, allowing the writer to make good decisions on story project priorities. Such as if a new idea comes out of nowhere SQUIRREL! and is written fast, meaning the production schedule needs to be changed. What other stories are near its completion status? What can be put off so it can be brought forward? What are the intended publishing dates of the other projects?

The project file can help you determine all of it.

It takes a little time to set up for the first time, to gather all the information and bring it together in one spot, but once it is finished it does not take much upkeep.

Has it worked for me? Oh yeah! I always know the next 2-5 projects I’ll be working on. It’s kept me so focuses that with some stories, I was able to publish them 3 months early. I’m having to adjust the production schedule of other works as I now have openings in 2011.

I hope the above will help a few other writers gain back control and avoid writing paralysis.

SQUIRREL!

____________________

J.A. Marlow

Writer Project Files and Production Schedules - SQUIRREL!My latest novel, The String Weavers (The String Weavers – Book 1), is now available at online retailers everywhere.

Kelsey Hale thinks she’s just a typical mixed-up teenager. Everyone feels that way, her teachers assure her. Yet, strange things happen to her, like food disappearing before she can eat it and hearing music no one else hears.

Then a giant flaming bird drops an alien at her feet. Well, good grief, how can you ignore something like that?

Abducted from Earth, the only planet she’s ever known, Kelsey finds herself thrust into the middle of a deadly conflict among alien worlds and parallel universe. She must not only survive herself, but also find a way to rescue her father from a dangerous group with unknown motives.

In the process, she’s confronted by a hidden secret about herself which will shake the very foundation of who and what she thought she was.

And connecting it all are the mysterious Weavers.

A 97,100 word science fiction novel.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Smashwords

Chronic Health Problems and Indie Publishing

I have an undiagnosed fatigue problem, and since the middle of March have been in the midst of a flare-up. The older I get the more flare-ups I get, the worse overall I get. It affects my entire life, including my writing life. I wrote an article about coping mechanisms in Vision: A Resource for Writers a while back called “Writing Despite Health Problems” if anyone is interested.

Of course it was going to affect my Indie efforts, as well. I have limited energy. I do not have the energy normal people have. I never will. This meant I had to prioritize where and how my energy was being spent. I do not have any to waste.

So, what is the most important aspects of the Indie publishing world? Honestly, it’s producing. For me marketing has to be put aside in favor of concentrating on producing more for my virtual bookshelf. There is no choice really. It’s either marketing what I already have out, or write. Doing both is not possible (other than the odd blog post and tweet).

Sales might be slow for me right now as a result, but I figure:

1. I just started in the middle of February and readers haven’t really started to find me yet. But, the more I have out there, the better chance I have of catching attention.
2. By continuing to concentrate on producing when a reader does find me I will have lots of items on my virtual bookshelf that a new fan can buy immediately.
3. Having goals within my abilities will not only help me business-wise in the long-term, but also keep the depression at bay about my limitations in the short-term.
4. The Indie publishing business is a marathon, not a sprint. Thank goodness, because some days I can hardly get out of a chair. By thinking long-term I’m setting myself up well for that marathon viewpoint. With Indie publishing, time is on MY side.
5. Writing good stories and publishing them immediately into all distribution channels I can find are the only part of this business I have true control over, anyway.
6. More and more evidence is rising showing that a lot of promotion is pretty much worthless anyway.

Goals? Write, and write more. Make the stories as good as I can. Have fun producing those stories. Doing so will come across to the reader who later finds them.

All of the above is within my ability. One of the hardest things to do is to let go of all the things I cannot do. But it must be done. I work hard to stop the feelings of guilt that come from all the things I cannot do. Guilt also leeches energy from a person. Kill the guilt-monster! ;D

Since starting in mid-February I have a total of 9 items up for sale, with about 9 more in the pipeline for the year. That’s a huge accomplishment. An accomplishment many who do not have these kinds of health problems cannot do. But I did, because I understood the nature of my disability, adjusted for it, prioritized, set goals, and then attacked!

To all those out there who are struggling against their own health problems, let me just say: Prioritize, and then do it. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t. Including yourself.

____________________

J.A. Marlow

Chronic Health Problems and Indie PublishingMy latest novel, The String Weavers (The String Weavers – Book 1), is now available at online retailers everywhere.

Kelsey Hale thinks she’s just a typical mixed-up teenager. Everyone feels that way, her teachers assure her. Yet, strange things happen to her, like food disappearing before she can eat it and hearing music no one else hears.

Then a giant flaming bird drops an alien at her feet. Well, good grief, how can you ignore something like that?

Abducted from Earth, the only planet she’s ever known, Kelsey finds herself thrust into the middle of a deadly conflict among alien worlds and parallel universe. She must not only survive herself, but also find a way to rescue her father from a dangerous group with unknown motives.

In the process, she’s confronted by a hidden secret about herself which will shake the very foundation of who and what she thought she was.

And connecting it all are the mysterious Weavers.

A 97,100 word science fiction novel.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Smashwords

 

The Despair of Writing…

There are many thoughts and emotions surrounding the changes in the publishing business.

One of them is despair.

It’s a feeling that is rising among those writing for the big publishing companies. Looking around and finding the ample opportunities they once had gone. Finding themselves dropped. Told they don’t write as well as they once did. Or, their numbers are good and rising on a series, but not enough, so they are cut. That it is all their fault.

Romance writers being told their romances don’t sell any longer, and maybe they should try mystery. Mystery writers being told their mysteries don’t sell any longer, and maybe they should try thrillers.

Writers giving up on writing. Sometimes even thinking of giving up on life itself.

Wow.

Kris Kathryn Rusch wrote a post to these writers who have over the years made a living at the big publishers and find themselves bewildered at the changes happening to them. And feeling the despair.

But it’s also a post for those who have already chosen to go Indie, even if they’ve never published traditionally.

Read it. Get rid of the despair. Take control.

Write and be happy.

June Sales And New Release

February: 5 Sales (First partial month) – Published 1 short story, 1 novelette
March: 21 Sales – Added 1 novel and 1 novella
April: 18 Sales – Added 1 novella and 1 novelette
May: 24 Sales – Added 1 short story
June: 25 Sales – Added 1 short story

And the build continues, even if it’s only a 1-sale expansion of the previous month. For the beginning of the summer slump in ebook sales I think it’s fantastic.

I have seen something interesting. In April I released book 2 in my Alaskan SF Salmon Run series. Since then the sales of the two have outpaced my novel, even though they are shorter. I’m very interesting to see what happens when I release book 3 in about a month. Will it boost sales even more? I’m not sure, but I’m excited to find out.

Amazon sales stank for all of June, but Smashwords made up for it. 8 sales on Amazon, 12 for Smashwords, and I got a better royalty from selling the units directily from Smashwords (Barnes & Noble sales aren’t worth mentioning). And no, I am not promoting Smashwords more than Amazon. In fact, I’m not promoting at all. Just writing more and releasing as soon as editing and cover art is finished. I view producing more material as the best promotion I can do right now.

June Sales And New ReleaseSpeaking of which: June had one new release. The short story, “Mop Jockeys and Fighter Pilots” which is my very first science fiction romance. I like having something out in a different subgenre. It was a fun story to write, written during Forward Motion’s May Story-A-Day challenge. The cover is also a departure from my typical cover art. And I like it. 🙂

Another thing new for June was adding Omnilit and All Romance to my distribution channels. My work has not been up with them for all of the month, but already there have been two sales. Yay for distribution channels with sales!