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Author Topic: What one writer learned
Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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from both traditional publishing and self-publishing:

10 Things I Wish I Knew About Being an Author That I Learned the Hard Way by Deborah Plummer.

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Denevius
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The professional editor I think is the best point. To be honest, though, good editors seem far and in-between in publishing today in its many forms. E-publishing may be the wave of the future, but so much writing on established sites with advertising and probably significant budgets are still riddled with easy to catch mistakes. Even traditional books I read seemed to have more mistakes in them after the 2000s. I don't know if in the 80s and 90s, I just never noticed the errors, or if publishers just no longer felt it necessary to spend the cost on really good editing. I've been told, though, that major publishers shrank the editing department of their businesses.

But for self-published authors, actual professional editing is extremely expensive. Self-published authors have always been criticized for their sloppy writing, and I've been one of those doing so. But when I self-published back in 2002, I tried to find a good editor, but when one of the more respected ones coming out of Idaho quoted me a price of about 2000 dollars, I went with an English professor at a local university and got subpar editing. You get what you pay for, though. She charged me 500, and and I got a 500 dollar editing job.

I think for editing, the best *and* cheapest way to go about it is to join every workshopping website out there, and constantly have your fiction submitted. Most critiques tend to focus on macro issues like character, plot, narrative, voice; but you always get those grammar nazis who will mark every incorrect sentence in some obsessive compulsive need to make neat what they see as messy. And those people are a treasure.

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rcmann
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I went over my book with a fine tooth comb. Then a spell check and a grammar check. Then I had multiple people look at it. Then I went over it again. Then I laid it aside for a day. Then I went over it again. Just before I published it, I made one last check and found two more small errors that the spell checker had so helpfully stuck in there.

But I am a big advocate that the quality of the finished product is in direct proportion to the number of people trying to find something wrong with it. At least when it comes to copyediting.

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extrinsic
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Number 11: How to target and market to an audience. Ideally, the ideal audience is an audience of one: the writer as spokesperson for a folk group.

A folk group is a community of individuals who make, do, say, believe, know, share reasonably similar identity criteria: age, gender, ethnicity, financial, occupational, and social standing, lifestyle, and cultural expression; in other words, demographics. Any individual may belong separately to many folk communities in this digitally, physically, culturally, and socially mobile age.

Marketing to a target audience borrows from marketing principles, its four corners: packaging, advertising, promotion, and publicity. One promotional activity past writers both benefited from professionally and socially was writing reviews of their folk cohort's work.

These reviews aren't the garden variety newspaper lifestyle reviews which express the reviewer's sentiments. They are serious critical interpretation and analysis, for intent and meaning or method and message, all the while being objective and keeping personal sentiments out of the piece. The only negative review worthy of a critical review writer is to just not comment. Simply put, review another's work and be taken seriously for one's own work, not to mention making a meaningful social and professional connection.

Editing one's own work. Yes, as many eyes as practical makes for a best practice; however, mechanical style's aesthetics cannot be learned from grammar handbooks or grammar schooling. Reading widely and deeply is but one path of many a Poet embarks upon to fulfill an appreciation for language. Dictionaries of language usage, style manuals, rhetoric, linguistics, semiotics, and semantics studies are also paths a writer may choose to embark upon. However, for the fullest appreciation, just immersing in the folk group dialogue of one's target audience is the ultimate path to language arts' aesthetics; in other words, listening and careful observing.

Yes, one can edit one's own work proficiently, but regardless, as many eyes on the work as are practical remains an editing principle of the highest regard. Call these eyes focus group surveyors and they become marketing practicums rather than grueling or cruel criticism.

For me, Deborah Plummer's comment about many marvelous stories are out there in the world that don't sell, ultimately, I believe this is because the writers haven't taken a target audience into account. Low appeal, limited audience, low sales, if any. Appeal sells itself by generating word-of-mouth buzz that trumps all other marketing. Each and every blockbuster narrative became so because it accessibly appealed to its target audience, as much because the writer hit upon an inspiration that mattered deeply to the target audience as because the writer delivered a well-executed narrative.

[ March 20, 2013, 10:47 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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I thought of you, extrinsic, when I read this post. Thank you for continuing to remind us that audience is important.
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History
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I don't buy it, but then I am an anti-conformist--one who invariably takes the path less traveled by.

While there may be herd audiences for literary fads, for example, Twilighters, Potterists, and Shades of Greyers, I believe a good story is a good story and that human concerns are human concerns regardless of "demographics".

How many adults have loved The Hobbit, Narnia, and the Harry Potter books? How many non African-American's have loved/admired Roots, The Color Purple, Uncle Tom's Cabin? Fiddler on the Roof, anyone? A Passage to India? The Kite Runner?

Any story that touches the human heart and the human sense of wonder, I submit, has "mass appeal."

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

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MattLeo
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Well, Dr. Bob, every great story must somehow find its audience, and I suspect many a fine story has languished because it is before or behind its time, or simply had no route to an audience.

As you well know, every wise maxim has its limitations; ways that it can be taken foolishly. It is perhaps wise to target an audience when you write, but it's very easy to abuse that advice by reducing your target audience to a simplistic, one-dimensional stereotype. You won't capture the *Twilight* audience by disrespecting them as individuals.

And targeting and audience is not in the least creatively restrictive, because you can target any audience you want -- a different audience every time if you please.

I think you may be reading too much into targeting an audience. I think it can be as simple as choosing appropriate language and story length for a middle-grade audience, or scrupulously following the expected genre rules if you're writing a country house murder mystery.

Literary writers are often guilty of this kind of reader disrespect when they slum around in genre literature. Gore Vidal wrote several mystery novels under a pseudonym, and while they were brilliant in their way they were rubbish as mysteries. *Yes*, you can make it hard for the reader by piling up red herrings, but the trick is to make it hard for the reader without making it *boring*.

Note that the Hobbit was written for two audiences; children, and the professor himself. He started by coining the word "Hobbit" and satisfying his curiosity about what it might mean. He then elaborated that into a story for his children, which subsequently was passed around and ended up in the hands of Stanley Unwin's 10 year-old son, Rayner, and the rest is history.

Just as a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step, the path to a million hearts may start with a handful of readers.

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History
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Matt, "mass appeal" is never static nor singular.

Romance readers may like comedy or fantasy or even horror. Cosider the overlap between mystery and science fiction (Asimovs' Elijah Bailey), mystery and fantasy (Randall Garrett's Lord Darcy, Butcher's Harry Dresden), mystery and horror (William Hope Hodgdon's Carnaki, Brian Lumley's Titus Crow), etc.

Nu? There is even some fella whose golden age space opera 1940's triangle romantic comedy is doing well in Amazon's breakthrough novel contest, if you can believe it.

People who read literary fiction, even nonfiction can equally enjoy genre fiction, and vice versa. I submit the common element is that the story be "good"--well-crafted, entertaining, and leaving the reader feeling his/her time reading was well-spent.

What one person defines as having "mass appeal" another will consider as drek. How is then one to define the term objectively?
Number of books sold, perhaps?
Success measured in quantity but not necessarily quality?

Something new and unique (e.g. like your The Keystone) that may start the next "mass appeal" fad is preferrable to seeing what is selling and rushing to write a clone of boy wizard, teen-loves-vampire, my-father-is-zeus, etc.

In the end, I idealistically believe fiction writers need write what we love. What we enjoy. What moves us.
Otherwise, go into journalism or make encyclopedia entries.

Just my humble opinion, of course.

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

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extrinsic
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I believe the defining and objective criteria for artistic success is staying power. When a dramatic narrative is timeless and relevant across generations, it contributes to the human conversation and the opus of literature that documents human culture. When a narrative is ephemeral, it might appeal to a narrow span, though enjoy wide popular appeal for a brief time, and be lost to antiquity before its time.
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rcmann
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Much of this is, quite frankly, moot. We all write the same stories. Only the characters, settings, time periods, and specific circumstances change. The archetypes are eternal. Love, hate, jealously, murder, justice, revenge, divine retribution, fear of the supernatural. These are the same stories our ancestors told in their caverns, as they huddled around the fires that offered them a fortress against the terrors of night. Only the names and places change.
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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by History:
I am an anti-conformist--one who invariably takes the path less traveled by.
Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

Wonderful use of allegory for expression.

Robert Frost "The Road Not Taken," its final two lines:

"I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."

Frost's "The Road Not Taken" poem and Emily Dickinson's poem number 1129 "Tell All the Truth" are among my favorites for their implied meanings about writing with implied, intangible, figurative meaning.

"Tell all the Truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise

As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —"

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MattLeo
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Indeed, Dr. Bob; we may be talking past each other. I never talked about "mass appeal"; I'm more of the school that *specific appeal* is the immediate target and mass appeal is a happy side-effect of nailing that.

As for that fellow in ABNA, I happen to know the strengths and weaknesses of his entry very well. Weaknesses mostly center around plotting: a middle section of the novel that dragsm and an over-hasty ending. The strengths of the entry boil down to this: readers *love* the protagonist. They adore her, identify with her, and when her hopes are dashed they react with surprising fury.

That level of emotional attachment isn't the product of writing genius; it comes from cold, calculating, practical story engineering any competent writer could follow. It started with research into what characteristics the target audience for romantic comedy responded to, but it's not paint-by-the-numbers; you have to take what you learn and so something creative with it.

There's a kind of false dichotomy going on here between audience appeal and artistic vision. You *can* choose to write entirely to the presumed tastes of some target audience, and you *can* choose to write entirely to satisfy some kind of personal vision. But you can also orchestrate a kind of conversation between audience appeal and personal vision that leads to surprising places.

I don't think there's a single right way to do this, but I *do* know that appealing to an audience doesn't necessarily mean giving up your personal artistic vision. I see writing as a way to delight others with things that delight me.

Update: in other words, write with Menschlichkeit. One ought to consider the poor fellow who must read one's work.

[ March 21, 2013, 07:36 PM: Message edited by: MattLeo ]

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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by rcmann:
Much of this is, quite frankly, moot. We all write the same stories. Only the characters, settings, time periods, and specific circumstances change. The archetypes are eternal. Love, hate, jealously, murder, justice, revenge, divine retribution, fear of the supernatural. These are the same stories our ancestors told in their caverns, as they huddled around the fires that offered them a fortress against the terrors of night. Only the names and places change.

Maybe, depending on how much you want to abstract things. Take three act structures; nearly every story can be construed according to that structure, because nearly every story has a beginning (act 1), middle (act 2), and end (act 3).

It may be true that we all work with commonplace archetypes, but some writers have a way of making those archetypes *pop*; making them vivid and memorable and *specific*.

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rcmann
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quote:
Originally posted by MattLeo:
quote:
Originally posted by rcmann:
Much of this is, quite frankly, moot. We all write the same stories. Only the characters, settings, time periods, and specific circumstances change. The archetypes are eternal. Love, hate, jealously, murder, justice, revenge, divine retribution, fear of the supernatural. These are the same stories our ancestors told in their caverns, as they huddled around the fires that offered them a fortress against the terrors of night. Only the names and places change.

Maybe, depending on how much you want to abstract things. Take three act structures; nearly every story can be construed according to that structure, because nearly every story has a beginning (act 1), middle (act 2), and end (act 3).

It may be true that we all work with commonplace archetypes, but some writers have a way of making those archetypes *pop*; making them vivid and memorable and *specific*.

Certainly. I never mean to imply otherwise. But every story is the same none the less. Every story is ultimately, "Somebody did something and something happened to them. This is what came of it." Stories are the way we explore other options, live other lives, learn lessons from other people's mistakes.

Everyone knows love, and hunger, and the fear of being lost, and the fear of losing love, and the rage of injustice. These are common to the human experience. Stories are the way we explore these aspects of human existence, and learn about how other people have coped with these universal challenges.

It doesn't matter if you are telling about an ancient oriental farmer whose beloved wife of many years suddenly turns into a fox demon and leaves him bereft, or a modern office worker who comes home to learn that his wife has run off with her old high school boyfriend. The pain is the same.

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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by rcmann:

It doesn't matter if you are telling about an ancient oriental farmer whose beloved wife of many years suddenly turns into a fox demon and leaves him bereft, or a modern office worker who comes home to learn that his wife has run off with her old high school boyfriend. The pain is the same.

This is an interesting example for purposes of this discussion. We can agree that both these stories are versions of the same universal emotional archetype, but it certainly *does* matter which version you tell, because that determines who your audience will be. That in turn tells you how to flesh out your story.
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rcmann
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Your audience will be anyone who might sympathize with the protagonist. You might have to provide background information for orientation, depending on the time and place that the story is presented. but that's always been the case, a story teller adjusts their delivery to fit the listeners. But everyone, everywhere, understands love and loss. Thus, the audience is universal.

The key is to gain mastery of language. A skillful story teller can tell a tale about someone far away, long ago, far away and someday to come, or next door and yesterday with equal effectiveness. The key is to master the tools and weapons of language so that they strike like blades, carving loose the armor we wear over our souls and turning loose the universal human emotions that churn inside us all.

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Brendan
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I tend to agree with MattLeo on this. Yes, most people understand love and loss and other universal themes. But that does not equate to everyone loving a particular story on love, loss etc. no matter how well it is told.

Every person is different, in that their reading history, and therefore tastes are different. Each person's reading history impacts on their expectation of what makes a good story, what they are willing to read, what they are willing to tolerate in style and even how to read stories. Genres have helped corral certain traits together, and to an extent have become self-fulfilling in their distinction by teaching their audience to read in specific ways and expect certain writing features. And some writing features have become almost mutually exclusive from one genre to the next, which makes it hard to walk in both genres. Margaret Atwood is probably the most effective at crossing the divide between science fiction and literary fiction, but I can guarantee you that there are large swathes of science fiction adherents and literary buffs that don't like her work because it doesn't fit their reading instincts - despite any centrality of theme and its associated commonality of experience.

In his defence of Twilight and Harry Potter (and also by implication, Shades of Grey), Dave Wolverton also pointed out that certain experiences are not universal, and that audience targeting can occur by understanding how the mix of experiences (including what has ever been experience by that audience and what is currently at the forefront of their mind) can be determined by non-genre factors, such as the age of the audience. Furthermore, he couldn't write a Twilight, despite his thorough analysis of its audience, because his mix of experience could not produce sufficient authenticity in the work. (His claim, paraphrased, not mine.)

So, no matter how skilful a story teller one can be, the mix of human emotions and expectations place limits on the universality of the story's appeal. Such is the nature of the independence of audience experience.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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You know Margaret Atwood doesn't consider herself a science fiction writer? She was very surprised when A HANDMAID'S TALE was nominated for a Nebula (I suspect, in part, at least, because she has a very narrow view of what constitutes science fiction).
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rcmann
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Audiences vary, indisputably. But I must respectfully disagree that there are inherent limits on what an audience will or won't read. I firmly believe that a properly told story will resonate with anyone, and genre is irrelevant.

Now, having said that, I mean a story that is about something. I am not talking about porn, or an anecdote, or a vignette. I mean a complete story with developed characters, conflict, and resolution.

How many times have you heard someone come out with the equivalent to, "I don't usually read that kind of book, but the story just sucked me in and I couldn't put it down"?

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