The Writer's Mailbag: Installment Eighty-One
Welcome Back to the Show That Never Ends
That’s how it feels, anyway! Eighty-one weeks…whew! You people sure have a lot of questions.
But not this week….only three questions, which does not make a Mailbag, so I improvised to fill it out and keep the streak alive. Is that cheating? If so, oh well. It doesn’t seem to bother sports fans when their favorite athlete uses steroids, so the fact that I “bulked up” this Mailbag shouldn’t bother anyone.
So, with bulging muscles and shrinking genitalia, we shall proceed. (get it, steroids??????)
From Linda: “Here is my question for you. Which writers have inspired you and why? Easy question, difficult (perhaps) answer. I know that you treasure the book "To Kill a Mockingbird", as do I. (The prequel, not so much.) But I have read and re-read TKAM countless times and never tire of the colorful descriptions and the realistic dialogue.”
Linda, I don’t think anyone has asked that before.
Well, you named my number one inspiration. In fact, a book I’m planning and want to do soon was inspired by TKAM, so obviously Harper Lee inspired me greatly. Let’s see, other than her, James Lee Burke has greatly influenced my mystery/thriller writing, and John Steinbeck has inspired my “dark side” style.
One other writer probably unknown to any of you, F. Paul Wilson, has influenced me greatly with his ability to write sequel after sequel of a continuing storyline and make it all cohesive and interesting. His pre-planning on a series that numbers over twenty books is beyond admirable.
I read a lot as a child, but it was the Hardy Boys and Spiderman sort of reading. I’m not sure if that qualifies as inspirational.
So there you have it. I’m sure there are a great many more, but those were the first to come to mind.
From Vina: “When is it all right to break grammatical rules? I know when you are writing dialogue it’s okay at times, but are there times, other than during dialogue, when you can just throw caution to the wind and ignore the rules?”
I was smiling when I read this, Vina. My first response was going to be to break the damned rules any old time you want, but you really can’t do that. Your writing would be a complete mishmash and no one would understand you….and if they did understand you they would refuse to read much of your work because you would be labeled a fool and shunned from the writing community.
Okay, I’ve had my fun. Now let’s answer the question.
I do believe most grammar rules can be broken….for effect…just not often. I was reading an article about grammar written by my good friend Sha, and I was laughing while reading it because several of the rules she stated, I break occasionally on purpose. I do that for the flow of the story, or to set a certain rhythm, or just because I think it sounds better a certain way, even if that way is incorrect. I think it is perfectly all right to do that for those reasons.
But if you are just breaking rules to break rules, or because you don’t know the rules, then I think you are ignoring the beauty of the English language, and if you are breaking rules consistently because you don’t understand them, then you need to learn them.
And yes, in dialogue, anything goes!
From Marsha: “It seems as though your opinion of ebooks has changed lately. You mentioned in an earlier Mailbag that you were going to publish many more ebooks and you seemed a bit disillusioned by the traditional publishing business. Is that true?”
Marsha, I really don’t think I’m disillusioned by traditional publishing. I knew going in, with my first novel four years ago, that it was going to be a steady uphill climb with no promise of reaching the summit. I do think it’s harder today than it was four years ago. Hell, I don’t think it’s ever been easy to find a traditional publisher. But the point I’m making is that ebooks are not going away. Any writer would be ignorant to ignore the ebook market. It comprises about 30% of the entire market, so why would you want to just toss away 30% of the possible market?
I’m 67 years old. I don’t have unlimited time left to play the traditional publishing game, so I’m going to rely on self-publishing through CreateSpace and ebooks through Amazon. This is a matter of practicality more than anything else. Whether someone goes the traditional publishing route or the ebooks, route, it still comes down to marketing, so pick one or the other, or both, and then learn the marketing game.
Late Question Just in Time
From Lawrence: “I've noticed a few writers who seem to serialize novels here on HP and then self publish them, to me this might be a way to go (maybe tweaking some of the chapters so you get something 'familiar' yet different) any thoughts on it?”
Lawrence, I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to exactly this concept. I really think this is the way ebooks will go in the future, and it’s not a new idea.
Anyone old enough to be familiar with pulp fiction will see the similarities. During the 20’s, 30’s and early 40’s, pulp fiction, so named because of the low grade of paper in the magazines, sold for ten cents a copy. Oftentimes they were about hardboiled private eyes or of the science fiction genre, and they were hugely popular because of how inexpensive they were and how entertaining they were. Some of the great writers of our time, people like Edgar Rice Burroughts, Ray Chandler, John D. MacDonald and others got their start writing pulp fiction magazines once a week, fifty-two weeks per year, churning out copy to make a name for themselves.
Why not the same thing in ebooks? Churn out short books, novellas, sell them for $1.99 or $.99 each, keep the same characters in serial form….I think it can work and I suspect it is already being done.
In fact, I’m going to do this with my Billy the Kid character, starting in another month or so, a new Billy the Kid adventure every month.
Did I answer your question?
My Observations About Ebooks and Self-publishing
I’ve got a pet peeve, so bear with me while I express it.
I was surfing ebay the other day looking for a book about raising quail, and in particular about the marketing aspect of it. I came across a book titled “Quail Farming Markets and Marketing Strategies,” so I thought “what the hell” and I bought it.
It was self-published.
It was a piece of junk.
If I had a canary I wouldn’t line the bird’s cage with this drivel.
It was that bad.
I literally read the first page and then threw the book across the room.
I’m afraid this is going to be long-winded and I hope I don’t appear to be a snob.
Writing is a craft. It is listed as one of the Fine Arts. The simple act of writing a book and self-publishing that book does not make one a writer. I’m getting pissed as I write this and think back to that book again. Not only did this person not understand the rules of grammar, but his knowledge of quail was elementary at best, and at times totally inaccurate and/or lacking.
Come to think of it, I am a writing snob.
Writers like that give real writers a bad name, and they also give self-publishing and the ebook industry a bad name. There are some flat-out great writers out there who self-publish, and they should be applauded and read, but there are also some who don’t seem to care about language and its beauty, and they should be, well, kicked to the curb and not allowed back in the playhouse.
There, I’m done!
Buyer beware, or if you prefer, Caveat Emptor!
More Next Week?
Well, hopefully there will be more next week. We’ll just have to see if there are any questions, won’t we?
Thanks to those of you who asked questions this week, and thanks to the writer of that quail book for inspiring me to always do my best.
2016 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”