The Writer's Mailbag: Installment Seventy-Eight
Let’s Get Right to It
We have a full Mailbag this week so you don’t need any introduction or small-talk from me. Let’s do it!
THE SEASONS AND WRITING
From Blond: “I have a question/thought about seasons in relation to writing. Do you feel that some seasons allow one to be more productive? I ask this because where I live in Brazil, our weather is a constant. 87 degrees every day year round. It doesn't instill a sense of urgency to do anything.”
It’s an interesting question, Blond. Since I’ve never experienced constant 87 degree temperatures there is no way for me to comment on that. I do know I write much more during the rainy season here. I have a tough time concentrating when the weather is nice. There is so much to do on the urban farm when the weather is sunny and warm; less farming to do and less motivation to do the farming when the weather is cold and rainy.
I know weather greatly affects people in a number of different ways, so it wouldn’t surprise me at all that a constant temperature would in some way affect you. We humans are affected by climate much more than we understand.
From Linda: “Do you think there are fewer readers in the world today and perhaps that is why ebook sales have declined?”
Linda, it’s an interesting question but, unfortunately, there is no definitive, interesting answer. Statistics on the number of readers in the U.S. are sorely lacking. There was a government study in 2014 and at that time they said the number of Americans who annually read at least one book dropped from 78% to 74%, so take that with a grain of salt or a whole damned ton of salt.
I personally think ebook sales have declined because, like all new things, they peaked and now are leveling out to a norm. They were the hot new thing and now they are just “a thing.” Again, grain of salt.
From Colin: “was wondering what you think about the subject of pre-orders - that is, having a book on sale but not yet released. D'you think it makes any difference to initial sales, or is it a case of the writer being a bit optimistic in thinking he or she can generate interest? (I'm particularly thinking in terms of 'new' writers who don't already have a following).”
Colin, it’s a great question. I just wish I had a great answer. There are no statistics proving that pre-ordering is a better marketing strategy than just the usual book release. My own personal preference is to simply publish and skip the pre-order, but that preference has more to do with impatience than anything else. I wrote the damn thing and now I want it published, end of story.
Can new writers build up interest by doing the pre-order thing? I really don’t think so. An unknown writer has no devoted following other than family and friends, and those people are going to buy no matter what. Building up anticipation with strangers is nearly impossible if you are an unknown writer, no matter how good you are. Remember I said nearly impossible; it can be done but you better be ready to do some serious pre-marketing.
Color in Text
From Brad: “Are you really opposed to the use of color text in novels?Let us say, a dusting of color, rather than a full immersion, or submersion. Maybe, it would be more appropriate in e publishing? Again, not being a reader of fiction, I don't know how important is the internal imagination of the reader interpreting the written word.
BTW, there is a condition where some people see text in colors, it has something to do with the brain wiring. Not sure if it is a bonus, or a bummer.”
Brad, I must be getting old. Oh, wait, I am old. I don’t remember saying I was opposed to the use of color text in novels. Oh well, now that I think about it, I guess I’m not against it or for it. I’m a bit ambivalent about it, quite frankly. I think it would be distracting for me but that is a purely subjective statement. If there are some out there with different brain wiring, as you say, then I guess it is what it is.
I do see this as a problem for publishers and that problem is tied into the cost of printing. Color printing is, I believe, more expensive, so that might be why you never, or rarely, see it in novels.
Trimming the Fat
From M Abdullah Javed: “This hub is a good one, the question about the length of eBook has been dealt intelligently, your personal suggestions adds more meaning to it. I think we need your guidance about trimming and editing the contents. As a writer, every word appears precious, deleting the words need a heavy heart to bear there loss. So how to over come the fear of losing words is an important aspect that need to be addressed. Thanks for sharing valuable questions and there answers.”
M Abullah Javed, I love your statement that every word appears precious. I agree with you and would go a step further and say that every word “is” precious….but….although precious, are they necessary?
Proust wrote a novel that was 1.2 million words and over 3,000 pages. Really? A novel? I wonder if there might have been a little fat to trim in that work of art?
I’m having a little fun at Proust’s expense. Back to the point: Are all the words necessary? Are three adjectives enough or are two more than adequate? Is a sentence clumsy? Is a sentence too long for the mood that is being portrayed? Too short? Is every character necessary? Is every subplot necessary?
An author will always feel as you do, that every word is precious. That’s why an impartial editor is so valuable. They ignore the precious nature of words and concentrate only on what is necessary.
Book Length Again
From Brian: “So if, after I trim the fat, I have a novella of under 40,000 words, what might I do with it if an ebook needs to be at least twice as long? Are not ebooks a profitable to the author market for novellas, assuming mastery of the form? Would I do better to submit a novella to an online literary magazine, in terms of either income or number of readers?”
Brian, from what I understand, novellas do quite well as ebooks. Most of them sell for ninety-nine cents or one-ninety-nine. The length of an ebook is more important when talking about maximum length; those listed as novellas and described as such in the synopsis can do well selling low and selling volume. Again, as I mention to all who ask about selling books, without a good marketing plan it doesn’t make any difference what you wrote or how long it is. Write the book you want to write, write it well and then learn how to market it successfully.
The Structure of Writing
From Eric: “Wow that numbers breakdown on the length of novels is cool. Who would have thought there was a science to this art? Well that just sets up my question. I know in being a house painter that the prep and setup are 80% of the job. Give me a numerical breakdown as to how much time you spend on the structure of a writing compared to that time spent creating, please. I kind of need a guiding breakdown of what good writers do.”
Eric, it’s just not going to be that easy. Sorry!
Writers are independent cusses on the best of days. I know writers who spend weeks and weeks writing the outline of the novel. They then spend weeks and weeks writing character descriptions. Then there are writers like me who don’t outline at all but do spend time with character descriptions.
So there are a lot of answers to this question and I don’t know which answer you want. I can tell you, for me only, that I spend about two weeks planning the novel, and almost all of that time is spent interviewing my characters until I get a real feel for them as “real people.” Once I know the characters and have a basic plot in my head I just start writing. After that the characters take over and tell the story.
How’s that for nebulous? If you are an “outline kind of guy” then you might spend weeks or even months writing the entire outline of the story, and that wouldn’t be unusual at all.
That’s It for This Week
I had fun; hopefully you had fun. Let’s do it again next week, shall we?
Thanks to all who asked questions. I’ll see you next Monday with some more thoughts on this wonderful craft we call writing.
Merry Christmas to all, or Happy Holidays to all, or Pax Vobiscum to all.
That was exhausting!
2015 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”