Should You Self-Publish or Traditionally Publish?

I wondered for a time whether it was better that I stuck to self-publishing or if I should have gone the traditional route. Now I know why my choice to self-publish was the best choice for me given what my goals were. This is the most insightful and objective post that I’ve run across on the subject of both types of publishing. I recommend this to every new writer who find themselves unsure of the path they want to take.

A Writer's Path

Doors

by A.G. Young

So today we’re talking about if you should Self Publish or Traditionally Publish that baby you have been working on for months or years. This of course is no easy question to answer, and also very highly personal to each writer. So I am going to discuss my opinion on the matter. And a little forewarning, because of the topic of this post, this is going to be a long one.

Before you can answer this main question, you must answer a few others first. Let’s see what those are.

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Biggest Writing Pet Peeves

Pet peeves

Pet peeves.

We all have them. That one thing that gets under our skin and ticks us off. It can be any number of things depending on the person you ask. For some people it can range from bad body odor,  unreliability, slow drivers, fake people, tardiness, just to name a few. When it comes to writing though, most of you reading this have at least one pet peeve in regards to books you’ve read.

If you were to ask a group of people what their pet peeves are I’m sure the responses would vary. Many of them though can be boiled down to three main complaints. This is by no means an exhaustive list but here are some of the top ones I’ve heard many lament about.

Overused cliches – This has to be the biggest and also broadest writing pet peeve. This pet peeve is a collection of popular clichés, from the popular-jock-gets-the-nerdy-girl to the infamous beginning: the alarm clock going off. Granted, it’s extremely difficult for writers to avoid all clichés in their writing. This is especially true in genres such as romance or YA fiction which are the most common offenders in my personal experience. Don’t get me wrong. Clichés are not bad in themselves. I’m guilty of a couple of them. It’s just that some get used so much, that the device becomes predictable and stale. If you do employ clichés, try to mix it up. So for example, the ‘hot guy with the six-pack,’ doesn’t have to be so perfect. Maybe he has insecurities he doesn’t want others to know. Or maybe he’s really smart but tries to fit in with his peers. Whatever you concoct; just changes things up. This leads into the next writing trap.

Mary-Sue – she is synonymous with a one-dimensional character that can do no wrong. For the boy counterpart you can call him be Gary-Stu. What’s wrong with having perfect characters? Simply put they’re boring. To a reader they come off being flat caricatures instead of real people with real emotions, hopes, and faults. Yes they’re fictional characters but you want the reader to feel that they’re real. Because Mary-Sue characters lack actual flaws, they’re harder to relate to. While I may not put down your book if I run into one, I would hope the main character is at least dynamic and interesting if you want me to continue reading past chapter one.

Not surprisingly, the idealistic, dreamy characters in a lot of teen fiction fall into this particular trap. If you want to find examples of this, free story-sharing sites like Wattpad are full of them. One way to counteract this pet peeve is to brainstorm your character’s strengths and weaknesses. This adds a layer of depth to the character that makes them more multi-dimensional.

Spelling/Punctuation/Grammatical mistakes – Most poorly written books suffer from this problem. The mechanics are not used correctly and the book is full of typos. Granted I’m not a “grammar Nazi” nor am I an English major so I will make blunders in this category occasionally. Because of this I try to be forgiving when I see a typo here or there in a book. When I start seeing glaring mistakes appear multiple times throughout the page that’s when the red flags pop in my head. Instead of enjoying the story, I’m now distracted by the errors the author made. As a writer you are personally responsible for editing your works. Rereading your work out loud can help you catch mistakes or awkward sentence structures. Having another pair of eyes to review your works really goes a long way to avoid this pitfall.

Again these writing traps as I like to call them may not necessarily be your pet-peeve. For example, while others may be more lax about typos some people who are coined Grammar Nazi’s may find a single typo or a grammatically incorrect sentence a complete turn-off. For me I fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. Glaring errors are pet peeves because poor punctuation and spelling are not only careless but sucks me out of the story.

Some pet peeves may include those outside the list I mentioned. For example I’m particular about language used in a story, particularly profanity. While others feel it’s no big deal at all, for me a f-bomb is a complete turn off. While I may let some things slide, personally a character with a potty-mouth is crude and off-putting. If you have stories littered with profanity, you can guarantee I will be quick to drop it.

Granted even with my list, I can’t speak for everyone because pet-peeves can and do vary from person to person. And that’s OK. Whether a writing device or blunder irks you depends on a number of factors from your temperament, ethics, belief systems, bad experiences, or simply personal preference. And to make things more interesting your current mood can heighten or defuse how you react to a writing blunder. If you’re a writer you can’t always predict what’s going to turn a reader off. But it’s safe to assume the three main writing traps listed earlier are things you want to avoid as much as possible.

If you’re a writer you don’t want to turn off potential readers. If anything you want to attract potential readers especially your target audience to your story. What can help in that regard? Well that’s a discussion for a future blog post.

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Question to readers: What’s your biggest writing pet-peeve?

 

 

10 Ways to Overcome Writer’s Block

As a writer I’m not immune to the dreaded writer’s block. However Vincent Mars offers 10 secrets to beating writer’s block that every writer should know about.

A Writer's Path

Writer's Block

by Vincent Mars

For us writers, few things are more frustrating than to finally sit down at our desks after taking care of real life chores only to be struck dumb by the blank page or the white screen. Writer’s block can be quite disabling, a form of writerly constipation that the harder we try to overcome, the more it aggravates. It pleases me to say that I have not suffered from this writer’s malady for a long time, which I believe is largely due to the conscious defenses against it I have taken. If you have the time, I would like to share these with you.

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“The End”

One of the things I anticipate the most in a book that I’m invested in is how the story is going to end. Will things end happily with all the loose ends tied up in a neat bow? Or will things end tragically for your beloved characters? Or worse.  What if it leaves you hanging, desperate for answers?

Most all of us can think of books that fall into each of those three main categories. It’s safe to say most people like happy endings and understandably so. We want our main character to come off victorious from the conflict they had to overcome. If you’re emotionally connected to the characters you have an even stronger incentive to see your main character(s) reach their goals and be happy at the end. Who doesn’t? You could argue all books should end happy, but not all books follow that formula. However does ending on a depressing note, ruin the whole book?

Before we answer that question. It’s important to note that the ending is a very important part of your book. While a great beginning is what hooks readers into the story, for many the ending can either make or break your book. And if you are planning on writing a series, it can determine whether the reader will bother to pick up the next book. So considering how a book can be rated poorly just because of the ending  only reinforces the importance of how you end the book.

Genre

Truth is, there is no one way to end your book. There’s various approaches to take and that all depends on multiple factors. One of the main things to take into account is the genre. With the genre comes a certain amount of expectations. What is the general expectation of that genre when it comes to the end? For most romance books, there’s usually a happy ending with the two lovers finally getting together at the end. Most genres favor happy endings but especially this genre. Of course you could break the mode and end things tragically, but you are running a risk of alienating your audience.

While most genres favor happy endings, in some genres it may be boring or even unrealistic to present an ending where everything is wrapped up in a neat little bow. Typically in genres such as thriller and horror where the plot is generally more grittier, readers come to expect twists and turns throughout the story-line, keeping readers guessing right down to the end. Oftentimes you’ll see these types of books end either on a cliffhanger or the 4th option, which is bittersweet: a mixture of good and bad events to culminate the book.

Even within each genre, every book is different. That’s because each writer has their own style and approach to story-writing. So even if a group of writers was given the same writing prompt there’s many different directions you can take the plot. Ultimately as the writer, you have the right to end your book as it suits your story. When it comes to endings there’s no one-size-fit-all approach that will work for every story. However there are a number of key components I expect in an ending and it’s a safe bet that most readers and writers would agree with the following points.

Realism

Along with the rest of the plot, does the ending fit this particular story? Unless you’re writing fantasy (which can give you a creative license to make up fantastical things), the ending needs to be somewhat plausible to readers. Does the ending flow organically with the events just after the climax or does it come off forced or contrived?

Closure

This one can be tricky especially if you’re planning on writing a series. But generally almost all fiction plots have a problem or conflict that’s raised. So naturally readers expect that by the time they get to the end the main conflict is resolved. There could be other smaller conflicts or new questions that arise which can be answered in the next series (if that’s your intent) but the main conflict should have at least been addressed and dealt with. Having the main conflict or any plot points for that matter unaddressed, may leave readers feeling dissatisfied or worse, cheated. This can be challenging especially if your story is a little more complicated with multiple subplots or many characters. But the fewer loose ends your plot has, the better.

Memorable

This one is easy to overlook but in my personal opinion is one of the most important things that makes an ending successful. Just like the beginning hooked you into the story, the ending is what you take away from the story. What was the lesson that the character learned? What is the moral of the story? What was the overall impression the story left you? If you had a particular lesson you wanted your readers to take away, this is the best time to reiterate it in the minds of the readers. No, that doesn’t mean lecturing the reader. It’s much more effective if you show the lesson. For example what are some ways the character grew over the course of the story? Let his/her actions or words speak to that effect.

One of the strongest, lasting impressions a book can leave on a reader is the emotional impact. We may forget the final words the character spoke or his/her last actions but it’s harder to forget how the story made us feel. This is true especially if it was a strong emotion we felt. Did the story make you smile? Or laugh? Gasp? Cry? The fact that you felt something means the writer did something right. Even the negative emotions.

Sometimes readers may find themselves upset at the ending of the book. I’ve seen my share of reviews on Goodreads on books I enjoyed but the reader disliked or outright hated it because of the ending. Is it because the ending was truly bad (poorly written)? Or was it because it didn’t end the way they (the reader) envisioned it should? Usually it’s the latter of the two. We don’t naturally want bad things to happen to our characters unless they’re the villain. Yet whether we admit it or not we want conflict in our stories. Otherwise our stories would be very boring and pointless if everything was perfect. You want a story to engage your senses and emotions. Depending on the nature of the story that may include more painful emotions. However if we took an objective look at our reaction to a book we may find that it’s not so much the ending we didn’t like; we just didn’t like the way it made us feel.

When it comes to the end, you should feel something for the plight of the characters. If your plot and characters weren’t compelling to begin with, there’s a high chance the reader is going to be indifferent about your book as a whole. And when you get to the end of the book and didn’t care anyways what was going to happen, more than likely that book is going to join the forgettable pile. As a writer, I should be more worried about an ending that evokes an indifferent response than something that made me sad. If I can make the characters and scene come alive then I’m doing my job as a writer. If I can pull at your heartstrings then I really got you.

So what about that question I raised earlier: does ending on a depressing note, ruin the whole book?  If you’ve gotten this far, I think you know my answer by now. Even then each person is different so you may find varying responses to that question. In conclusion, we’re not all going to have the same beginnings let alone endings. Each writer has to write an ending that suits their story and feels right to them, not necessarily to please the most people. Happy endings aren’t bad. After all, reading woe upon woe can be exhausting after a while. Sometime you do need a touch of happiness to counteract the bitter and make it sweet. If you’re a writer going for a realistic ending, it requires finding the right balance of good and bad, failures and victories. Seeing the characters make those tough sacrifices and overcome challenges can make a happy ending all the more rewarding.

So while there is no one formula to follow as a writer your end goal is to keep readers thinking about your story long after the last page is turned. So the choice is yours. What’s your ending going to be?

Is This the End of Dystopia?

DenofGreek

Allegiant: Part 1

This was the question that was raised in the back of my mind in the beginning of 2016. It’s no secret the latest Allegiant movie starring Shailene Woodley bombed at the box office. That came in the heels of the weak performance of another Sci-Fi movie: The 5th Wave, debuting at a little over ten million for its opening weekend. Up till last fall, YA books seemed to be all the rage especially from the dystopian sector. Not surprisingly Hollywood picked up on the popularity of books like the Hunger Games, Divergent, Maze Runner and The Giver and began adapting these widely acclaimed novels into the big screen. While most of these book-to-movie adaptions started off strong,  recent under-performances of the latest installments leaves me questioning not only the dystopian movie series they inspired but the market for that genre as a whole.

You could say the Hunger Games was the spark that made dystopian fiction catch fire in pop culture. While it’s safe to conclude it hasn’t dethroned big giants such as romance, many of these YA novels have wisely incorporated romantic subplots, furthering expanding their market-base. And with strong performances from the first two Hunger Games installments at the box office, it was clear dystopian fiction had a solid fan-base. What movies like Hunger Games did though was set the bar high for the movies that would follow such as Divergent which also borrowed the same elements such as intense action, strong female characters against post-apocalyptic backdrops,

Even at its peak, the first tell-tale signs that interest was plateauing was seen in the third installment of Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1. Most fans of the book were mixed with the idea that the last book would be split into two parts considering the third book is not really long when compared to the previous two books let alone other YA fiction books. The decision was largely driven by the studios which in my personal opinion wanted to milk the franchise for what it was worth. From a marketing standpoint it initially seemed like a smart move. Not surprisingly the same marketing ploy was used with the Divergent series.

However while studios hoped that prolonging the series would rake in more cash for them, it marked the beginning of what I called, “dystopian fatigue.” From reading user reviews, it’s clear that elements like love-triangles, the strong kick-butt female heroine —things that were once seen as marketable strong points— were now redundant clichés. Although splitting Mockingjay into two parts didn’t turn me off from watching both movies, I could see why users would opt out of seeing one of the movies to read the book instead. While Mockingjay Part 1 and Part 2 still managed to have a measure of success domestically and abroad the same marketing tactic fared far worse with Allegiant debuting at 38 million in North American in it’s first weekend.

While I never majored in marketing in college, as an indie author I can attest to the challenges when it comes to marketing a book. Markets are ever-changing. What is considered “hot” today could be a bust three months later. At best it’s tricky to determine how well a certain genre will do long-term considering that the market can be fickle.

By no means am I the only person that has questioned the future of these types of movies. But I have yet to hear of discussions of the implications this could have on the book market. While the future of dystopian movies catered to the young adult audience seemed to have reached a bust, it’s premature to say this spells doom for the genre as a whole, at least on the publishing sector. If anything the adaption of book-to-movie adaptions, have fueled sales for those existing books. Months prior to the movie’s release, the book usually jumps on the top of the best sellers list, as was seen in the example of the Hunger Games installments.

At the same time the movies created a surge of new dystopian fiction, creating more choices for young and adult readers. With more choices, the competition can be seen as a two-edged sword depending on who you speak to. More choices lends itself in the favor of the avid and casual fans alike. At the same time I could see this being a negative thing for both self-published and published writers. Both types of writers face the challenge of standing out in a crowded market hoping to deliver a YA novel that doesn’t feel recycled or cliche. However I think for the fans who are buying the books, theirs still plenty of revenue to be made from dystopian fiction considering the final installments of Allegiant and Maze Runner will still be fresh on the minds of millions in the months to come.

So what will be the long-term future of dystopian fiction? Has it cooled off like the movies they inspired?

Only time will tell.

The One-Trick Pony: Characters with Limited Growth

Two excellent examples highlighting the reason why character growth is so important to a story.

A Writer's Path

Growth

by Andrew R. Cameron

It’s the end of another semester of university, which means I’ve been inundated with marking and will likely remain inundated for the next fortnight. But I enjoy marking Creative Writing pieces–the sheer diversity of imagination never fails to impress me. I’ve been teaching Genre Fiction this semester, which means I get to enjoy some good science fiction, crime fiction, and horror. And I love seeing students improve over the course of the semester.

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Do you!

A lot has changed from when I first started self-publishing in 2013 to now. You can say life happens. Priorities shift. You realize things aren’t guaranteed. Not even your health. So one of the biggest things I’ve learned in the past 26 years on this earth is the simple mantra I go by.

Do you.

I accept this mantra. As a writer. A man. A human.

Of course this mantra is not to excuse us from growth. Nor is it an excuse to not work on potentially damaging character flaws. But I’ve come to accept myself (mostly) for my idiosyncrasies, my temperament as an introvert, and my core values that keep me grounded even if others find them odd or “old-fashioned.” I’ve learned not to give too much credence to what others think. That gets tiring after awhile.

But in the context of writing, I’ve come to stay true to the stories I write and the characters that give life to those stories. As I’ve alluded to in previous posts about writing compelling characters, it’s important to write characters that you can connect with as well as your readers. Whether a story is plot-driven, or character-driven, having solid believable characters helps me to stay invested from beginning to end.

Part of what I love about writing is creating worlds and then populating that world with real characters with real hopes and fears. Brainstorming what your character aspires for and then plotting how they overcome obstacles to reach their goals is quite satisfying. From middle school till now, I’ve followed my character, Troy from a precocious 4 year old to an angsty adolescent to a young man who understands what truly matters in life. His story just so happens to take place in an age of antiquity although places and events are fictionalized. Of course as the writer I’m already invested in the character I’ve created. It’s only natural for writers such as myself to hope that readers feel the same level of interest and investment. Of course you can’t tell what readers are thinking about your works except by means of reviews. That’s why authors love reviews.

Early on in my writing career, I never expected to be a best-selling author on the New York Times. I just wanted to write a good book, publish, and make some sells and rack up some reviews on Amazon. While I was able to write and polish the 1st book, Before the Legend, before publishing it, I didn’t get the results I was hoping for in terms of sales and reviews.

Initially I was very disillusioned with the publishing process and even writing in general. Was my book not good enough? Was I not good enough? So I swallowed humble pie, read David Gaughran’s book Let’s Get Visible and focused on putting out a more polished product with a better understanding of how to market a book.

So how did I do the 2nd time I re-released it? I had a renewed sense of optimism in terms of sales. While I did experience a slight bump in sales, it still was not significant enough to make me think that writing would ever be profitable for me. Thoughts crossed my mind that I was writing in the wrong genre and the wrong audience. That if only I stuck more, “romance” or “drama,” that I would draw more people. That if I wanted to appease readers interested in Roman history that I needed to put more emphasis on action and battles fought. Hence that was something that influenced my decisions when writing the last two books, particularly Chasing Blue. The last book is probably the longest of the series but also the most emotional and grittiest thing I’ve ever written. It was quite an emotional roller-coaster but a very satisfying and bittersweet journey.

Even with the more serious direction in latter works, my last book would never be as popular as some of the books that are trending now. Let’s face it, romance, dystopian, and mystery/thrillers are what’s hot right now. And many of these genres are geared towards the Young Adult audience. Considering there’s not many fans of alternative-historical fiction it’s very tempting to switch genre boats when your sales have reached a stalemate. So do I jump ships even though historical fiction is still my first love? Do I write something that strictly suits the historical fiction crowd? Or do I surrender with something more mainstream to appeal to a broader audience?

Let’s fast forward to 2016.

I’ve come to accept and embrace what I’ve already written even if it’s not perfect or my target audience is quite small compared to other audiences. I’ve taken feedback (good and bad) from editors and readers alike to make my existing body of work stronger. Some changes I protested at first, was just what I needed. At the same time if a suggested change doesn’t jive with my overall vision, makes me extremely uncomfortable, or makes me hate my own story, then that’s the time the feedback would not be in my best interests. Even if my stories will never be popular, that’s OK. I’ve made peace with that.

Recently I’ve taken a break from new writing projects and publishing, to strengthen the body of work I already have and to pursue other goals I want to reach in the coming year. Will I explore other genres in the future? Maybe. After all my interests are varied. I never liked being put in a narrow box. I personally like reading books of different genres especially YA/Dystopian in recent times. But whatever I choose to do, I want to do something I will be invested in, and at my own pace. Throughout this whole process I realized you’ll never please everyone. Not even in your own genre. And that’s a fact of life. Even in my personal life, I’ve learned that not putting too much stock on other people’s opinions to feel validated is quite liberating. The only people’s opinions I still want to seek are those that matter. Those that have my best interests at heart.

So I have to stay true to myself and values, even if that means less sales and notoriety. Because at the end of the day I have to do me.