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Can the slow crumbling of Barnes & Noble be stopped?

I don’t often write about the business side of publishing because I don’t feel like I’m an authority on it, but this post was spurred by a conversation I had when I went into my local store to get my weekend coffee and have my little “out of office” writing session.

The barista told me that last Monday Barnes & Noble had had a massive layoff. I think she was glad that she still had a job. I could see the shock of it still in her eyes. Now, she’s a very nice girl (I say girl only because she’s younger than me), and she’s got good people skills, so she’d be able to recover if she did lose her job. I personally hope she doesn’t, and I’m saying that from the point of view that I enjoy our short conversations when I go in there. She’s always cheery and has great recommendations if I’m not in a mood for something particular; she’s never suggested a bad drink.

So, when she told me of the layoffs, I remarked that Barnes & Noble really needed to quit doing business like it was still 1890. I could see the question in her eyes, but she had to go onto the next customer and didn’t have the opportunity to ask what I meant by it.

What did I mean?

I meant that anyone who thinks that traditional publishing isn’t operating like it did a hundred years ago is fooling themselves. Anyone who thinks that a publisher is going to take care of them is fooling themselves. Anyone who thinks that an agent will get them a good deal with a traditional publisher is a damn fool!

If you think I’m talking about only writers in this, you’re wrong.

Barnes & Noble is a company that thinks that traditional publishers are going to take care of them.

Foolish, foolish, foolish.

Let’s expose a dirty little reality that they wish they could keep secret: all of their tables at the front of the store and the end caps are all paid spots. Read that again: Paid spots. Every book that sits there has purchased the right to sit there. Not because they are a best seller as the signs would claim. Nope. A publisher as paid for that spot in the store as advertising for the book.

How long before those books end up in the discount bin? Not long.

Why? Well, because the publisher needs to get the next book out. They literally rotate book stock as if it were fruit or meat. If it doesn’t get sold, it gets discounted.

Now, it’s no secret that the publishing industry has suffered a major blow with the changes in technology. Worse, they are still sitting around on their hands wondering what to do about it. They are losing money and more and more authors are moving to indie or getting smart about hybrid careers. A hybrid author is one who is an indie publisher and also continues to publish with traditional publishers. So if publishers are losing money and they buy advertising spots within Barnes & Noble, doesn’t it seem logical that of course Barnes & Noble is taking a loss too?

I’ve seen so much advise that says that people trying to “make it big” in whatever they are doing, just need to publish a book. These days, that doesn’t even have to be through a publisher, who use to be a gatekeeper keeping the garbage out. Now, anyone can figure out how to publish their own book. It’s not a hard process.

But that’s crappy advice.

Why? Hello, look at Barnes & Noble. Selling books is hard. Why? Awareness. It’s hard in this whole big churning that is selling books, with indies, hybrids, traditional, all kicking out books all the time. There is just so much and so many other things to divert people’s attention: Facebook, Twitter, superhero movies, sports games, so-called news, bad politics, even more terrible laws being created, Netflix originals, gotta-have gadgets, new makeup removers, etc. Life comes fast.  Reading is a luxury a lot of people don’t find time for.

Yet, reading is what most people need to do. Take a moment. Slow down. Let your imagination breathe.

There are stories out there for everyone.

But our schools insist on what our children MUST read. Instead of letting children explore stuff they might like and just letting them enjoy it, we force them to read something deathly boring and then “find meaning” in it. No wonder no one can find meaning in their own lives. No wonder no one respects the lives of others.

Boy, I could really go down a rabbit hole there, but I have this little voice inside me that says to keep in my fiction. Another dystopian story anyone?

So what is the answer for Barnes & Noble?

I have been pondering that question the whole time I’ve been in the Barnes & Noble cafe, eating my Toffee Almond Bar and enjoying my hot, venti White Chocolate Mocha. Not a single person has a book in front of them. One woman might be reading on her device, but there’s another party sitting at a table talking quietly. I can see one man reading magazines – he’s the closest. And, some people behind me did take about a novel, but I don’t think they have a book out either. And, I’m writing this blog and wondering if I should really hit the post button on this or not. Do I really want to take on this monster?

I don’t even have my own answer, but I do remember when I would bring my Nook to Barnes and Noble because I could read any book in their system for free for an hour. I bought a lot of books that I started that way.

I would certainly hate to lose the Barnes & Noble cafe. It’s one of the best things going for the store. My children and I have spent considerable time here. I miss our Hastings store terribly and I don’t want to lose Barnes & Noble.

So what’s the answer?

I use to be a Barnes & Noble stockholder. I sold all of it because they were being stupid about company operations. I saw this coming back then.

I hate the fact that they don’t support indie authors, even local ones. Oh, there’s ways to hack into the system, but I don’t like playing games, nor am I ready for some of the other things that come with being a small press publisher. I like being a solo publisher right now. I’m working on perfecting my game here before I move up. But, it would be nice if I could sell books on consignment through my local/regional Barnes & Noble stores like I did at Hastings. Hmm, there’s part of an answer, plus it supports local — wouldn’t you be more interested in local authors than someone a faceless company has told you that you SHOULD read or your a nobody?

Okay, not every indie author is going to be wonderful. I’ve read a lot of people that need to practice their craft for a few more years. But we don’t live in that world (and the painter/illustrator in me is glad for that). Everybody has a chance. But trust me, the books that aren’t quality are going to sink to the bottom like sludge. We are already seeing that. The people that are serious writers are putting out product. The smart ones realize that they have to create that product as well as figure out how to repackage and repurpose what they have done because it’s all about visibility.  Yes, the paid spots at the front of Barnes & Noble do sell some of those books. And there has to be new product to keep people coming back to the store. That is just the same for the indie author.

You did notice that I have nearly 20 books out? There is a reason for that: I needed more product so that readers had 1) more to read by me when they did find me, 2) a variety of things to read in case something wasn’t their “cup of tea,” 3) a number of ways for people to find me. I am being as aggressive with product creation as I can. And this summer, I will be aggressive with repurposing the things I do have. See, it’s not always about creating new product, but it’s about rethinking what you already have.

This is where Barnes & Noble is failing. They don’t want to work with indie authors. Of course, indie authors are a bane to their paid spots on the shelves. But that’s getting to be a vast majority of the books out there. You’d think that they’d be figuring out how to license a piece of the indie author’s copyright to repackage it for something that will help them.

Or, is this what Barnes & Noble is trying to do with the print division of Nook Press? I wonder how willing Barnes & Noble will be with getting book that are printed through their press into the store. That might be a question for my barista friend. Or possibly the store manager here.  I wonder how aware the employees are of Nook Press and what its doing. I find that communication is vital in successful organizations. Want to know why classes at your local Michael’s craft store don’t work? It’s because the employees don’t know a damn thing about them. If you do have good classes at your Michael’s, it’s because 1) the teacher made the class popular by word of mouth, or 2) the employees actually knew about the classes and boy do you have a rare store. Enough said there.

If Barnes &  Noble wants to survive, they really need to cut their dependence upon traditional publishers who are also slowly sinking under the weight of the times. Traditional publishers haven’t learned how to plug their own leaks and it will drown everyone still insisting on linking arms and not letting go. Barnes & Noble needs to figure out how to work with indies, whether that be through consignment or some other fashion. Let us in the door. We’re here. We’re hungry for readers (which you have). And we want visibility too. Why not link arms with us because we’re on the rising tide?

If Barnes & Noble wants to survive, they need to figure out where their place is in this new world where an author can take their books directly to readers without needing a distributor and a bookstore. How can they entice authors to use them? Hint: my experience with Nook as not been the best, but I can say that they have made improvements. I still think it could be better. Losing their worldwide platform hurt. Barnes & Noble needs to quit being a baby about this. It feels like they want to go somewhere with Nook, but they aren’t willing to take a risk. They need to find a Steve Jobs visionary to head Nook (although they may have ticked off enough authors that they might just have to scrap the Nook program and start something entirely new).

Barnes & Noble should figure out how to do Amazons KDP Select program without the exclusivity (making it more like Kobo’s program, but then figuring out how to do it even better!). They need a rock star idea. How to get the indie authors to flock to them? Remember, it is all about product. The more product you have to sell, the more chance of making a sale you have. And it’s not about discounts. Apple is proof of that. Yes, they need a Steve Jobs clone.

To say that I have a love/hate relationship with Barnes & Noble is an understatement. As I said, I like to sit in the cafe and write. I don’t have an experience like this anywhere else and I don’t want to find somewhere else. I don’t want my cafe to close. I like having physical books close to me and being able to peruse titles at my leisure. Yet, as an indie author/publisher, I hate the fact that they don’t support me in my books. When I was doing a signing at Hastings, I use to take away $40-80 each time and that was when I only had 4-7 titles. Hastings got a cut of about $50-90 each time. Okay, so they aren’t going to stay open like that, but it was money in their pocket by just setting out a table for me.  Barnes & Noble has over 630 stores nationwide.  One author in each of their stores, doing net sales of $75 would be $47,250 for one day, $94,500 for the weekend in their pocket. Do this for a year, and they would have $4,914,000. Guess what? That’s not income that they have now because THEY WON’T LET INDIE AUTHORS IN!

Okay, Barnes & Noble, I just did some math for you. Do you know how easy this would be? Farmers markets do it. Certainly you can too. You have readers who come to gather in your store. Give authors access to them. Let me call up a store before I travel so I can plan a time to be there and bring my own books (a simple little consignment contract) and let me sell my books.

Writers: I know some of you just panicked when you thought about having to sell your own books. Yeah, sorry. Get over it. Get over yourself. Get off your butt. If you want to have a career, you have to learn to sell your own books. Yeah, we don’t like it. You need to learn to coax your inner salesman out. Remember that selling is nothing but sharing enthusiasm and you will never find anyone more enthusiastic about your book than you! Selling is a skill that is learned, just like writing. Spend some time educating yourself on it. I say again: get over it.

There is no guarantee that the money mentioned above can be brought in, but right now, you are missing out on every potential dollar and that ought to make you realize that you are missing out on a big, big possibility and one that Amazon and Kobo can’t duplicate because they don’t have stores already in place. This is how you find your place.

Now I’m not suggesting that Barnes & Noble takes every indie author. I believe that there should be some qualifications to “sit at the table.” First, you need to be a writer, not someone who has written a book or two — unless, of course, that person is a non-fiction writer and moderately knowledgable about the field in which they are writing. Second, the cover and formatting need to professional quality. Every store book manager should be able to look at the book and say whether it is professional or not. Okay, can speak to this: I’ve spent years developing my “house style” for Morning Sky Studios. Just last week I sent several screenshots to Vellum because I love their formatting program but I need to have some more control so that I can make the print versions that come out of Vellum look like what I have already set up as my house style.

Writers: if you haven’t seen Vellum, you really need to check it out. It will make formatting ebooks a breeze, and if you don’t already have a set print format that you like (a house style so to speak), it can do that as well. It is for Mac only (sorry, PC users — yeah, I had to buy a Mac just to run this program — cost of doing business, don’t whine! And if you really can’t even afford it, check out Draft2Digital’s ebook creator — just as cool for ebooks but not nearly the variety. Stick with what you can afford for the moment, but be aware of the options. P.S. Vellum does run on Mac in Cloud – that’s a Mac that is cloud-based and you purchase time – an option to having to buy a Mac).

Also, I know a lot of times I got to Barnes & Noble and I’m looking for a book which I don’t find in the store. I own two Nooks, both of which the gnomes in my house have stolen, even though I bought a bright pink case for the second one I purchased. So, what if I could check out a Nook from the sales counter and look at the ebook version of the book I’m looking for there in store? I think this would be awesome. I bet it would increase the number of purchases I make from Barnes & Noble. Strike while the iron is hot. Oh, and if these page reads could count toward the author’s B&N-version-of-KDP, how cool would that be? Score!

Well, this post has been long enough and I need to be moving on. It’s time for me to leave Barnes and Noble for this week. I hope the doors are still open next week.

 

Writing Action Scenes – Part 2

Whether or not you read the last post, I highly suggest you go (re)read it now. It is an important example.

The answer really is to write short sentences. It’s a little more than that though. The habit of Steven King’s use of one word chapters was a little excessive. You. Can’t. Just. Write. Like this. And. Get. Great. Results.

I’d like to take you back to my story for a moment. Let’s return and look at Dragons of Wellsdeep pages 8 and 9.

If you look at page 8, we start off in Moonhunter’s thoughts. The second paragraph has Moonhunter being fired upon. Except for the second-to-last sentence in the paragraph, they are all relatively short sentences or are divided by commas, which gives a feeling of a break.

The third paragraph has the sentences stretching out a bit more. It kind of feels all short and anxious, followed by a bigger span in order to breathe. Then we have Balthier’s and Moonhunter’s action and dialogue sequence. See how it starts off long and starts to get shorter as they go along. I’m increasing the page here with the white space of the page.

Now, in the last post, did you feel the intensity of it? Maybe a bit disappointed that there wasn’t more? I set up the great question, then slammed with the answer.

Bam! I have you.

It’s those short, punchy sentences where action has to take place. It locks you in. But you also have to have those longer sentences where the reader feels the space to breathe. You’re probably starting to feel a bit of the hypnotic spell here with post. At least I hope you are.

Now look at page 9 and see the sentences vary in length depending upon the emotional impact I want for the action scene.

Now, go write great action!

Dragons of Wellsdeep- pages 24 & 25 edit

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Let’s look at my edit notes for these pages:

Page 24 is a lot of telling and prodding for more details. This really is where showing first draft material gets a little hard because I know that this is one of my weaker points. But it’s also very important, so please don’t get too bored. When I get started on the 2nd draft, you’ll start to see how this all rounds out, how it gets deeper because I know where I need to add things.

Do notice that I also point out things I like. That doesn’t mean they won’t be cut or emphasized more, but it’s a mark of something I feel I did right. Sometimes, you do need positive notes in your edit too, even to yourself so that it doesn’t get to feel like, “Oh, I’m such a failure! I can’t write. What am I thinking?” Again, that’s why I’m here showing you what the first draft looks like and illustrating how to fix it. If you’ve got it down, you’ve got a great start on people who only want to write a book but never do the work. So mark the spots you like!

Page 25 – what was this? Was there an explosion? If the ink was red, this page would be bleeding! Look at all the “was” words. There’s a lot of suggestions for improvement, plus a note to go into out-galaxy (OG) missions earlier. Yes, this is the mark of true first draft material. I really am learning the story here. In earlier pages, I had no idea that there was going to be a difference between off-world missions and out-galaxy missions, much like I didn’t know about the abilities of the dragonborn when I first started. I am learning as I go. That’s your proof.

How’s your manuscript coming? Hopefully well.

Until next time, happy writing and editing!

 

Dragons of Wellsdeep- pages 22 & 23 edit

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Let’s look at my edit notes for these pages:

Page 22 is run amok with alliterations (words starting with the same letter: i.e. Peter Piper picked a patch of pickled peppers). I mostly wanted to notice it on the page when I come back to it because I kind of like it — all those “s” words give the illusion of spinning. However, I know that “spinning on her slippered foot” is really something I do with Keteria from my Sacred Knight series. I really need to make Sundancer different. Maybe she pirouettes. Okay, I really need to get some dancing terms for her — and that’s something I’m only realizing now as I’m writing this. So, if you notice while editing that something like this stands out, it might be more than just a note on the page. Dig deeper into your reason for why it stopped you.

There’s also a lot of “was” words. I do like the connection to the Norse mythology — it emphases the fact that this is an Earth-based universe versus a non-Earth based universe (blog coming on that later). It also ties it in to The Loki Adventures.

Page 23 – still wanting more information from the characters, how they are feeling, showing versus telling items. Then nearing the end of the page I’m getting into a lot of similar sentence structure: he tore, he couldn’t, she was, he wanted, he curled, he felt, etc. That tells me there is a good opportunity to add setting to their actions, and a lot more action and interactions between the characters. This is a very loose lace where I can embroider in more juicy details. That’s why there is the big MORE! at the end.

Are you getting enough in your writing? Maybe a second glance over it wouldn’t hurt.

Happy writing!

Is writing worthy of your life?

I have been wondering if my post last Thursday was too harsh. Maybe a little. Then I remind myself of two things:

1. When I write a blog post, I’m usually writing it for me as much as anyone else. I often find myself giving the very advice I need to hear. So did I need to give myself that advice? Yes. Not just for my writing either, but that’s another story.

2. I’ve had enough people wonder how I find the time to write when I work full-time and raise two boys by myself. I usually just shrug and reply that I have really good children who help me out a lot. But that’s only part of the answer. The full answer includes the explanation that I don’t “find” the time to write. I “make” the time. If you’re looking to find the time to write, you will never find it. You have to decide that writing is important enough for you to do it. If it’s not, then move onto other things that are worthy of your time. 

Last week I heard some great advice. The woman who gave it said that she’d been asked the question and it had helped her put some things in perspective. So now I share her advice with you:

“Today I heard some advice that I know I will use to measure the importance of my goals. The question that was asked was: Which goal is worthy of your life? Which would you trade your life for?”

So, with that being said, is writing worthy of your life? You are going to trade away hours and hours of your life to tell an elaborate lie (which is the essence of all fiction) which you hope other people will read and enjoy. Make sure you are making the best possible choice for yourself. Also realize that over time the answer to this question might change. We all go through seasons.

So, if you still know that writing is your everything, I wish you happy writing! Now go get to work on that manuscript.

Dragons of Wellsdeep – Pages 20 & 21 edit

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When I get to editing this for the rewrite, I need to push the characters more here and how they are reacting off of one another. Especially if you take a look at all the “was” words on page 21. This is an overload for me. That definitely tells me there’s a problem! Yes, it is all telling. Fortunately I have a lot of room to work with, so it’s just a matter of of untying the knot I’ve got here and fixing it. I look forward to it.

Yes, adding those layers and deepening the story is what makes if fun. I promise.

Happy writing!

 

When the writing gets hard

Yes, there are days when the writing gets hard. There are days when the editing gets harder.

Go on, Google all you want on creative blocks. You’ll find lots of answers.

Yes, follow all those leads if you will: read a book, take a walk, write anyway, edit anyway, blah, blah, blah.

The truth is there are just some days when you can’t do it. This blog is as much about my journey in writing as it is yours. It is my legacy. Someday someone will come along and read this and know that I’m sharing everything I know about writing with you in order to help you.

So here it is, the truth about when the writing gets hard:

Suck it up, cupcake. No job or career is fun all the time. There are times when you just have to make yourself have the discipline to step forward into the task you don’t really want to do. If you want to wait on the Muse, put down your pencil or delete all the writing files off your hard drive now. You cannot wait for anything. You only have this moment because one minute, one hour from now and it’s gone. Hard work requires discipline. If you want to have your book done, you have to do it.  Put your butt in the chair and do the work or suffer the regret later. That’s your choice.

Now I’m really going to injure those creative block lists. The thing is, they aren’t all wrong either. Sometimes you do need to step away for a moment. A moment! Half an hour or less, if you think that life won’t suck you into something else. Don’t let drama happen to you in order to procrastinate. If you think that’s going to happen, skip this paragraph and move right to the next one.

Just because you don’t want to write one book, or if you feel it’s too difficult of a scene for you to write from where you’re at in your life right now, switch to something else. Yes, you heard me. Start another project. (gasp!) I’ve found that everything cycles around. I’ve learned to listen to my Muse and what she wants to work on. Sometimes I have a schedule for a book and I have to override the Muse — but hey, who really is in control of this body anyway? When she gets a body, she can do what she wants too. Until then, I ask, “What would you like to work on?”, she answers, then I have to decide if it’s really wise or not. My decision. Then I step into discipline, put my butt in the chair, and get to work.

I generally have 2 or 3 projects going at once. My main writing projects right now are, of course, Sacred Knight and The Loki Adventures. After that, I know that I have Dragons of Wellsdeep to write for this blog. If I really don’t want to work on any of those projects, I also have the script for my Weblinks comic (which I’m also lining out at a novel when I have time and inclination), and another young adult story. I like having lots of ideas. I might not feel like working on one story at the moment, but surely there is another which I can easily lean into and work on.

If I don’t, I write anyway. Unless I really can’t. But that’s usually because I’ve gone into a cycle to draw or paint and that’s a whole other can of worms.

So write. Be disciplined, even if you don’t feel like. The Muse will sit down with you when she realizes you are serious. She usually just wants to see you get to work first.

Get to it. Happy writing.

Dragons of Wellsdeep – Pages 18 &19 edit

 

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Remember my post from last Thursday about balancing your posts. Yeah, these pages show my definite weakness for setting. Fortunately, that’s why we edit our manuscript!

Once again we’re in the “white room” and there’s a lot of talking. It’s not all talking, so that’s good, but wouldn’t you like to know what Sundancer looks like. I do, but right now it’s in my head. I have so got to get it out.

Another thing I’ve alluded to, but never really said is that they have speed healing. This would be a great scene to put it in. I started thinking about his mouth and gums, how he had steam coming out of his mouth. It’s not possible for him to be unhurt. When was the last time you drank scalding coffee or tea and wished you hadn’t?

Also, notice how with the names, Serchk and Sundancer, we start to have a lot of alliteration going on in the middle of page 19. I’ve underlined all the S’s just so I remember to change something.

Well, I have a lot of work ahead of me to get this part whipped into shape. Bring it on!

Happy writing.

Have you found your writing flow?

In last Sunday’s post, I mentioned how my first drafts are heavy on the action and dialogue and include minimal setting details. I didn’t figure this out overnight. In fact, I didn’t even figure it out myself. My critique partners mentioned it when they asked why I didn’t write screenplays. Both of them were very aware that I saw my stories in a cinematic fashion and I do; I see everything as if I’m watching a movie. They told me that I should stick with my strengths and let a set designer and costumer do the rest of the work.

The fact is that screenwriting is a difficult industry to get into. I certainly don’t have the connections to make it happen, not without more work than I want to put in. I’d rather do a couple more subsequent drafts of adding the detail.

Here’s a colorful tip for getting a visual on your strengths:

Take some highlighters, none that will cover up your text or make it difficult to see what you’ve written and start going through your manuscript. Color dialogue in yellow (or the color of your choosing), setting and other detail words in blue, thoughts, internalization, or point of view indicators in pink, and everything that is left will be narrative.

Let’s have an example (since I can’t highlight, I will change the font color):

Caitlyn looked out the window at the darkening sky while she parted the heavy, velvet drapes with her hands. With the sun fading behind the clouds, she could dare to open up her world some. She reached down to put on her sunglasses, which hung from a chain around her neck. Her grandmother had always kept a pair of reading glasses on this chain, but Caitlyn didn’t need cheaters like that. Dark lens were another thing.

“Ow!” complained Lucky behind her as she drew the curtain across the rod. She glanced back at him, sitting at the mahogany table with his usual pile of papers before him. He capped his hand over his eyes, shielding them from the light of the overcast day. “Did you have to go and do that?”

“If it doesn’t hurt my eyes, it shouldn’t hurt yours,” Caitlyn responded as she opened the other curtain. If only for a moment, she enjoyed feeling human again.

So I have narrative in blue, dialogue in pink, details in reddish-brown, and thoughts/internalization in green.

Now, this isn’t an exact science. Sometimes things could fall into two categories — for example, I thought “chain around her neck” could be a detail or just part of the narrative. I gave myself the benefit of the detail here.

I did write this with the intent of it being a fairly balanced piece. If you have done this exercise for several pages of your manuscript, you should find that narrative is the most common, followed by details, then dialogue, then thoughts/internalization. You’ll see here that the blue (narrative) is the most used, followed by details (6 instances), then dialogue (3 instances), and thoughts (2 instances). If you have a scene which is heavy on the dialogue, make sure you don’t have a “talking heads” scene where the participants are just talking back and forth with no action or setting details. If you are still having narrative and details, but there’s a lot of dialogue, make sure it is balanced and flowing just so it’s not all speech; break the rhythm every now and then. Again, it’s not an exact science, just an experiment to show you how you work. Once you know your own writing flow, you know what you need to work on in the next draft.

Happy writing!