is two guys collaborating to write on writing and collaboration.
E-book publishing looks very much like writing your own app. Yes, you shouldn’t spend all your time in the weeds, but just like any startup activity, the technical details of doing it and the actual business details of making it all work are two completely different things. The trick is making both the technical work and the business work mesh into one product. All this work I’ve done? I’m just barely getting started. Now the real work begins. Don’t believe what they tell you. E-books are not that easy. Not at all.
Mix and match your favorite story, taken from the Wiki driven tvtropes.org. There could be worse places to find inspiration.
I count my words too. I was once at Sotheby’s looking at some furniture. Just looking. This guy whom I knew came over and asked if I’d like to look at a Twain manuscript that was going to be for sale. I constantly have to disabuse people of the notion that I can afford things like Twain manuscripts. I said I’d love to look at it, but I can’t afford it. He said, Oh, no, no, no that’s OK.
They think you’re lying. It’s amazing. You usually think of people bragging about being richer than they are. But people always assume that I’m lying when I say I can’t afford something. I have to explain this to the Good Humor man, let alone the Sotheby’s man with a Twain manuscript. He showed it to me. A short story. He was telling me about the manuscript and where they found it and everything.
He said, I’m pretty knowledgeable about Twain but there’s one thing we don’t understand. We’ve called in a Twain scholar.
I said, What is that?
He said, See these little numbers? There are these little numbers every so often. We just don’t know what those are.
I said, I do. I happen not to be a Twain scholar but I happen to be a scholar of little numbers written all over the place. He was counting the words.
The Sotheby’s man said, What are you talking about? That’s ridiculous!
I said, I bet you anything. Count. I don’t want to touch it, smudge up this manuscript. You know, like the sign says, you break it, it’s yours.
He counted the words and saw I was right. He said, Twain must’ve been paid by the word.
I said, It may have nothing to do with being paid by the word. Twain might have told himself he had to write this many words each day and he would wonder, Am I there yet? Like a little kid in the back of a car—are we there yet?
In the aforementioned Guardian article, Michael Moorcock says:
For a good melodrama study the famous “Lester Dent master plot formula” which you can find online. It was written to show how to write a short story for the pulps, but can be adapted successfully for most stories of any length or genre.
I’d never heard of the Lester Dent master plot formula, so followed Mr. Moorcock’s advice and looked it up. What a gem!
The steps are all there, although this guide isn’t a how-to on writing stories so much as guidelines for writing a 6000 word pulp story. The #1 piece of advice is worth repeating, since he does it a few times:
Shovel more grief onto the hero.
Printed in the Guardian, advice from Elmore Leonard, Margaret Atwood, Roddy Doyle, PD James, Michael Moorcock and others.
Too much advice to quote here, but much of it is very practical.
Make sure to click through and read part two as well.
J.D. Salinger, in 1957, responding to a producer’s enquiry:
Holden Caulfield himself, in my undoubtedly super-biassed opinion, is essentially unactable. A Sensitive, Intelligent, Talented Young Actor in a Reversible Coat wouldn’t nearly be enough. It would take someone with X to bring it off, and no very young man even if he has X quite knows what to do with it. And, I might add, I don’t think any director can tell him.
Oh Mandy Brown, how succinctly you elucidate my book-loving heart. This is short and beautiful, but these two thoughts struck me especially:
Reading and writing are not discrete activities; they occur on a continuum, with reading at one end, writing at the other. The best readers spend their time somewhere in between.
The best library contains both books you have read, and books you have not. The latter should grow in proportion as the library expands. A working library is as much a place for the possible as it is a record of the past.
I love his answer to the first question.
Vice: I’m curious as to how the writing process for Bloom County worked. Did you always know where you were heading, or was there an element of discovery as you wrote? Did you think in terms of seasons, sort of like television writing?
Berkeley Breathed: Your question presumes a reality so distant from the experience that any questions about process are meaningless—but perfectly reasonable. The problem is that you’re asking a guy who didn’t think of any individual strip or story line longer than it takes to read this sentence.
But I also love the answer to this one:
Did you ever hear about any reaction from Jim Davis regarding your statement that Bill the Cat started as a parody of Garfield?
Trust me, Davis could care less about being mocked. It wasn’t respect that he worked hard for.
Margaret Atwood’s invaluable advice, in convenient list format.
Deborah Solomon interviews Jeff Bezos for the New York Times Magazine.
Is it true that you add digital books to your holdings on the basis of their popularity and their sales rank in paper form?
Yes, that’s basically true. We also have a self-service platform where small publishers or even self-published authors can put their books on themselves.
How does that work?
Basically you submit the book, you set the price for it, we charge the customer and then we give you 35 percent of the revenue.
And Amazon keeps 65 percent? That sounds like a lot.
Does it? Youíre an author, what does your royalty check look like? Are your royalties 35 percent?
No. Letís not have that conversation.
O.K., I think weíre done.
Solomon’s Amazon page doesn’t list any Kindle titles yet.
Cormac McCarthy is auctioning his typewriter.
“It has never been serviced or cleaned other than blowing out the dust with a service station hose. … I have typed on this typewriter every book I have written including three not published. Including all drafts and correspondence I would put this at about five million words over a period of 50 years.”
Mr. Merlin Mann on rejection:
It’s not your fucking allowance, guys. It’s business. Keep writing, keep submitting, paper your walls, and cowboy up forever. The only person who owes you anything is you. Maybe. If youíre lucky.
He used the Exquisite Corpse as an example. I submitted poems to the Exquisite Corpse when it was publishing its oddly-sized, snide and wonderful print edition, probably about the same time that Merlin was submitting to Esquire (he had higher aspirations than I, no doubt).
I used nice stationary, naÔvely thinking that this would somehow dress my work up. My rejection letter said “Keep at it, but use cheaper paper. It’s just not worth it.”
Nearly everyone reads. Soon, nearly everyone will publish.
Seems about right to me.
Sometimes it’s just fun to watch video of writers you love.
Before she was a MacArthur Genius, Heather McHugh was Stranger Literature Genius. Other past literature geniuses have included Sherman Alexie, Jonathan Raban and Rebecca Brown. I mention this only to say that The Stranger is damn good at picking geniuses.
I’m not familiar with Ms. Levine’s work, but with a recommendation this high, I’m certain to pick up her book now.
From the Sunday New York Times, Arthur Krystal asks if writers should be good conversationalists.
Like most writers, I seem to be smarter in print than in person. In fact, I am smarter when I’m writing. I don’t claim this merely because there is usually no one around to observe the false starts and groan-inducing sentences that make a mockery of my presumed intelligence, but because when the work is going well, I’m expressing opinions that Iíve never uttered in conversation and that otherwise might never occur to me.
This reminds me of the old William Zinsser quote “Writing is Thinking.”
My personal experience has been that writing takes very different muscles than good conversation. Focusing on the former, sadly, has meant that the latter is under-exercised.
But I want to be a good conversationalist, so I work at it. The difference is in intention. Being a good conversationalist means listening more than talking. It means asking a person to draw out their stories, and when you share yours you are sharing them in relation to theirs. Disjointed conversations talk over each other. Good conversations feel fluid and connected.
I rarely know what I will say when I talk, I follow the flow of conversation. I occasionally know generally where I’ll go when I write, but never exactly how I’ll get there. When talking, what I say will have to be enough. When I write, it will be reworked and analyzed until it conveys exactly what I want as clearly as possible.
I’m extremely proud to announce the achievement of a long-held goal of mine: publication by McSweeney’s. Even better, it’s an ongoing deal.
A few months back I entered the McSweeney’s column contest and was beside myself with excitement to learn that I was a runner-up in the contest. Which means that McSweeney’s is running my column.
It’s titled “Letters From the Hellbox” and looks at typography and type designers. The focus is entertainment and teaching to non-designers why typography is important, even when not thought of that often.
The first column “Gutenberg and How Typography is Like Music” just went up a few days ago. I invite you to read.
An older piece by Gary Kamiya, which I noticed on clusterflock today.
The art of editing is running against the cultural tide. We are in an age of volume; editing is about refinement. It’s about getting deeper into a piece, its ideas, its structure, its language. It’s a handmade art, a craft. You don’t learn it overnight. Editing aims at making a piece more like a Stradivarius and less like a microchip. And as the media universe becomes larger and more filled with microchips, we need the violin makers.
If Antonio Stradivari had an editor, he certainly didn’t give them a signature line inside his violins.
I think editing is a noble, and necessary art. Used to be that designers hired typesetters to lay out their type correctly. To worry over the punctuation and spacing, the ligatures and em-or-en dash decisions. Now designers are responsible for this as the typesetters of the computer age.
So too must writers become editors, or at least better editors. They must be self-reliant. Design has both suffered and exploded with new creativity over the loss of typographers, so too will writing suffer and explode with the loss of editors.
Who, it should be pointed out, have every opportunity to explain to writers their value, and why a self-publishing small business person who is making their way as a writer should hire an editor to work on their texts.
Looks like the tide is turning on the opinion of self-publishing online. Here’s a post by Maria Schneider, former Editor-in-Chief of Writer’s Digest, arguing that you might want to forgo hard-copy publishing and put your work online. The goal is to build an audience so that you’ll be more salable to a publisher.
If you have a platform — a blog with a big following, regular speaking engagements, a known expertise — trust me, you won’t have to go looking for publishers. They’ll find you.
Ms. Schneider, like many of the people I link to here, are still working inside the traditional publishing system, so their advice is geared at becoming (that most elevated of writerly goals) “A Published Author.”
In this case, her advice makes sense and is essentially “leverage the following you’ve built up to get published.”
I argue still that a time is coming where there will be other revenue streams and possibilities for writers than going for the big sell. That time is coming faster and faster, the cheaper and better digital readers become. When the best, easiest, and potentially most profitable way of leveraging that following is to do it by yourself.
But I think she has one very good thrust to this article, and especially in a some of her follow-up comments with readers:
If you were to publish hard copies, who would you sell them to? Do you have a marketing plan?
In other words, if you want to do it yourself, know what you’re doing. Asking a successful writer to be a good editor, publisher and designer is going to be the bare minimum of success in future years.
Mashable.com article by Josh Catone on organizing, writing and publishing your novel using only online tools.
Mr. Olson, of course, is in a unique position and doesn’t have time for amateurs. The story is about an embarrassing situation he was put into by ignorant friends who unknowingly insulted him. If the script (treatment, actually) had been great, maybe the headline might have been different.
If that seems unfair, I’ll make you a deal. In return for you not asking me to read your fucking script, I will not ask you to wash my fucking car, or take my fucking picture, or represent me in fucking court, or take out my fucking gall bladder, or whatever the fuck it is that you do for a living.
Two other nuggets popped out at me from this piece:
It rarely takes more than a page to recognize that you’re in the presence of someone who can write, but it only takes a sentence to know you’re dealing with someone who can’t.
(By the way, here’s a simple way to find out if you’re a writer. If you disagree with that statement, you’re not a writer. Because, you see, writers are also readers.)
And then a few paragraphs later:
...saying something positive about [the work he was asked to critique] would be the nastiest, meanest and most dishonest thing I could do. Because here’s the thing: not only is it cruel to encourage the hopeless, but you cannot discourage a writer. If someone can talk you out of being a writer, you’re not a writer.
Robin Sloan, looking to come up with an evocative and memorable name for his new detective character, ran a Google AdWords campaign as a proof of concept.
But okay, Iíll be honest. This was mostly just an excuse to try a new tool. Any nerd will tell you that tools can provide their own intrinsic rewards. Thereís an aspect of exploration to it, too: youíre pressing out into new tool-territory, learning about what you can and canít do.
Robin’s on my radar because he is making an attempt at exactly what I was writing about previously. He’s released two short stories on his website, The Writer & The Witch and Mr. Penumbra’s Twenty-Four-Hour Book Store with attractive cover designs. Both stories are freely available and can also be bought in Kindle format.
For a novella he’s writing, he turned to Kickstarter for funding. As of this writing, he’s fully funded at his $3,500 goal plus an extra $2,000. These are pre-sold books, with some extras if you funded at a higher level.
I loved the idea of what he’s doing, so I pledged. These kind of models are great experiments into the future of publishing, and seem to be working well for Robin. We wish him luck and are eagerly awaiting our copy of his book.
File under library porn.
Cory Doctorow answers some of the criticism leveled at him as to why his experiments with giving away his work won’t work for other authors. Which can be summed up nicely here:
I don’t give away downloads because I’m just a swell guy — I do it because I’m a self-employed entrepreneur who needs to make as much as he can to support his family.
Browsing and searching are different — browsing is about the journey, searching is about the destination. Searching is focused on finding specific information quickly and often leads to tunnel-vision, which can prevent you from recognizing useful sources that don’t match your preconceived ideas and assumptions. Browsing is about slowing down, opening your eyes, feeding your curiosity, and allowing yourself the opportunity to make discoveries.
I love browsing.
When I was a teenager I would often spend time on the campus of Western Washington University, and not irregularly in the big library. One evening, while wandering the stacks, I discovered Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary. A find that has paid many returns.
Such as, an old-school quote maybe hinting at what Mr. Bierce might have thought of Ms. Gold:
CURIOSITY, n. An objectionable quality of the female mind. The desire to know whether or not a woman is cursed with curiosity is one of the most active and insatiable passions of the masculine soul.
Dave Gray, after a particularly ironic go-around with Penguin Books over the rights to an illustration, asks publishers to wake up.
The newspaper business is dying — people don’t read their local papers anymore, and maybe that’s sad. But it’s the way of the world and a familiar pattern: You gain power and authority, you do something original and the world starts listening to you. But over time you lose touch with them, you lose the link.
John August on Writer’s Block:
You know who gets writer’s block? Non-writers. They think it’s cool and romantic to struggle to make Art. They make sure everyone knows how torturous the process is, so when they finally squeeze something out, it won’t be judged on its merits but rather the emotional anguish involved in its creation.
Writers write. Hacks whine about how hard it is.
Here’s the whole interview, but the quoted section above is from his notes which are worth reading.
Guillermo Martínez’s short, from the April 27th New Yorker. The hope, when I read a story this good, is that I learn something and become a better writer because of it.
In those days, there were two barbers in Puente Viejo. Now I realize that if he’d gone to Old Melchor’s he might never have met the French Woman, and no one would have gossiped about them. But Melchor’s place was at the other end of town, and I had no reason to anticipate what happened.
The fact is that I sent him to Cerviño’s place, and it seems that while Cerviño was giving him a haircut the French Woman appeared. And the French Woman looked at the boy the way she looked at all men. And that was when the bloody business started, because the boy stayed on in town and we all thought the same thing: that he’d stayed on because of her.
If you’re looking for creative inspiration, Maira Kalman delivers in spades.
Everything is invented.
Language. Childhood. Careers.
Philosophy. The Future.
They are not there for the plucking.
They don’t exist in some
They must be invented by People.
And that, of course, is a great thing.
Don’t mope in your room.
Go invent something.
That is the American message.
Electricity. Flight. The Telephone.
Television. Computers. Walking on
the Moon. It never stops.
The quote is great, but it’s her delivery that truly slays. Don’t miss it.
Maira Kalman, with her late husband Tibor Kalman, made a commitment to how design and art can be agents of change without regard for personal income (Tibor Kalman’s design retrospective book is titled “Perverse Optimist”). Their fearless dedication to craft, perfection (of a sort) and work are very inspirational to me personally.
Seeing that she has a new blog post up on the New York Times is better than a birthday or Christmas present. I read them slow, and then I read them again and again.
Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan explain in the New York Times:
Vampires find their niche and mutate at an accelerated rate now — in the past one would see, for decades, the same variety of fiend, repeated in multiple storylines. Now, vampires simultaneously occur in all forms and tap into our every need: soap opera storylines, sexual liberation, noir detective fiction, etc. The myth seems to be twittering promiscuously to serve all avenues of life, from cereal boxes to romantic fiction. The fast pace of technology accelerates its viral dispersion in our culture.
Kevin Kelly argued last year how individual artists can aim to make a living without having a blockbuster hit.
One solution is to find 1,000 True Fans. While some artists have discovered this path without calling it that, I think it is worth trying to formalize. The gist of 1,000 True Fans can be stated simply:
A creator, such as an artist, musician, photographer, craftsperson, performer, animator, designer, videomaker, or author — in other words, anyone producing works of art — needs to acquire only 1,000 True Fans to make a living.
In my last post I talked about authors publishing online. I was thinking of self-publishing when I wrote that, but of course there is no shortage of journals or online spaces where good fiction is released. One is Derek Haas’ brand new Popcorn Fiction, with a gorgeous design that focuses on readability.
Their first story by screenwriter Scott Frank is called The Flying Kreissler’s. More sites like this, please!
In every industry where there is a large pool of people wanting a career there is a system of gatekeeping. Without it any jerk on the street could walk in and claim to be an insider. With it the people who think they may be deserving but don’t have the talent can be sent away, the people with genuine talent can be allowed in, and the people who have possibility but are not yet professional enough to gain entry can be rebuked with advice in the hopes that they’ll keep storming the gates.
The danger, from the outsiders perspective, is to view this as a monolithic estate, when it’s more like a city. It has risen through the uncoordinated and selfish actions of thousands of people. The human mind, always seeking patterns and simplification, groups that city into one unit in order to make sense of it. This has the unfortunate side effect of making whatever industry the outsider aspires to appear as if it is conspiring against them, when in reality the different parts of the city are relatively unaware of the actions in the other part, and rarely collude on who should be kept outside the gates.
But despite the many ways of gaining access, each point of entry has its own gatekeeper. Internships, mailroom, workshops, convoluted submissions processes — ways to pay your dues.
This gatekeeping is a matter of trust. The reader picking up a book or magazine trusts that certain editorial standards are met. That certain hoops have been jumped through. That the author has been vetted and, even if you don’t like the work, can string sensible words together into meaningful sentences.
This matter of trust is born from professionalism. You could publish a book or magazine all in Comic Sans and laid out by monkeys running Windows Me, you could print two million books with Stephenie Meyers name on the front and inside a transcript of the OJ Trial, but you’d be wasting a heck-of-a-lot of money. Professionalism means creating works that amateurs can’t easily achieve. It means delivering the promise of the book cover. Or, at the very least, delivering a really cool cover.
Stubborn outsiders will sometimes take matters into their own hands, and historically this has been a sign that the quality of their work is suspect. Ask any agent or publisher in the industry just how well self-publishing works for the majority of authors. It’s exactly because that level of trust is missing because more than likely, the quality is going to sub-professional. We all can list exceptions, but the advice has always been against the desire to DIY if you want to make a living at it.
But now we’re at one of the most crucial times in history in terms of ease of access. Distribution of textual matter to a worldwide audience is completely trivial. Whether you do it in longer form or 140 characters at a time, everybody who lives in a reasonably well-off country can publish any of their own work at any time where the majority of the educated world can easily access it.
The problem is not distribution, the problem is getting found, and trust. We need a trust system.
The cost of a traditional trust system is high. The percentage of cost to authors higher still. While the publishing industry is traditionally better than the music industry, the publisher of a bestseller will make out better than the author when it comes time to balance the books. Of course, there is a business built on that margin. Hard and soft costs, distribution and promotion, public relations, returns, rent on a New York city address. There are agent’s and lawyer’s percentages for the role in gatekeeping, much of it well-deserved.
In the graphic design world of mid-to-late Twentieth Century, the labor was distributed across many professions. The designer was in charge of vision. She would layout the advertisement and order the copy block from the typesetter. She’d order the photographic separations from the imagesetter. She’d paste the whole thing up and give it to be photographed and printed. Now, one designer does all of those tasks, and more, on one computer.
I think the same will be true of the writers. Today’s writers need to be editors. They need to be marketers. They need to think of the whole project not just in terms of the words, but every aspect of it. Which is not to say that editors and marketers and agents will disappear or be made unnecessary, but as the revenues from publishing are less, so the cast of characters that it supports will be lesser still.
But less money to the industry does not necessarily mean less money to the author. A self-published author, who has a reasonable following, has all the distribution they need. The payment systems are nascent, but emerging. The one-author empire age is dawning.
But we’re lacking the trust system. The trust system that will allow readers who are willing to buy the confidence to invest in authors they’ve never heard of. The trust system that a reader who is unfamiliar with a particular writer is willing to take a risk of a few dollars and try their work.
The answer, seems to be, in publishing and word of mouth. Publishing yourself and publishing often. Yes, a thousand authors do this already, many using blogging as a marketing and promotion tool — a way to build an audience before or after they approach traditional markets.
But I mean authors who publish their work online in defiance of the old gatekeepers. Authors who are willing to forgo traditional routes to success in experiments towards future potential success. If they’re good enough, people will find them and recommend them. They’ll build an audience. Maybe they’ll publish traditionally, or maybe they’ll find a way to keep everything self-controlled. Someday, some author like that will get a lot of attention and make a decent amount of money. Then, it will become the new norm. Thousands will copy their model. A new gatekeeping will arise.
When that happens, the idea of the systems created for the current distribution will be unnecessary, and remembered only as we remember mimeograph machines or metal type. So long as the world of words and ideas continue — and it will — the infrastructures of publishing can follow the business model it spawned into a slow, decadent decline.
Illustration by Christine Marie Larsen
Spitball! is two guys collaborating to write about writing and collaboration. We're writing partners who have worked together since 2000, and placed in the top 100 in the last Project Greenlight for our script YELLOW.
Currently, we are both working on multiple screenplay, short story, and novel ideas independently and together, and collaborate on this blog.
Spitball! started as an attempt to collaborate on a screenplay online in real time. From January 2006 to July 2007 we worked on an interactive process to decide the story we were going to make. A full postmortem is coming, but you can find the find all the posts by looking in the category Original Version.
During this period, we affected the personalities of two of the most famous spitball pitchers from the early 20th Century. Look at our brief bios for more info about this, and so as not to be confused as to who is talking when.
We rebooted the franchise in early 2009 in its current form.
Kent M. Beeson (aka Urban Shockah) is a stay-at-home dad and stay-at-home writer, living in Seattle, WA with his wife, 2 year old daughter and an insane cat. In 2007, he was a contributor to the film blog ScreenGrab, where he presciently suggested Jackie Earle Haley to play Rorschach in the Watchmen movie, and in 2008, he wrote a film column for the comic-book site ComiXology called The Watchman. (He's a big fan of the book, if you couldn't tell.) In 2009, he gave up the thrill of freelance writing to focus on screenplays and novels, although he sometimes posts to his blog This Can't End Well, which a continuation of his first blog, he loved him some movies. He's a Pisces, and his favorite movie of all time is Jaws. Coincidence? I think not.
Martin (aka Burley Grymz) is a designer and writer. He occasionally blogs at his beloved Hellbox, and keeps a longer ostensibly more interesting bio over here at his eponymous website. You can also find him on Twitter.