Friday, June 24, 2011

On Self-Publishing

I love self-publishing, it's such a liberating experience. You become the master of your own destiny. The burden is yours and you succeed or fail on your own merits.
I think in the past, people who might have considered writing a story, novella or novel were discouraged because the effort it took to write with conventional tools and convince a traditional publisher to accept it, was so daunting they never tried.
Thousands and thousands of wonderful stories lay parked in people's brains never to be read.
Not any more, because you don't need to hurdle the publishers gate, you just lengthen your stride and arrive at the finish line. You self-publish. No waiting months for a dreaded rejection letter, no lengthy times from acceptance to publishing, and the work is yours to do with as you wish.
Are all self-published stories good?
No, but not all conventionally published stories are worthy either. They may be spruced up by a good editor, but trash is trash even if polished to a high degree. Readers know and punish both the author and publisher by ignoring the work.
Are many self-published books good?
A resounding yes! Over and over. Wonderful examples abound, actually more works than traditional publishers, and it will only grow larger because more people are self-publishing, truly talented people who write amazingly creative stories. Stories which would have never surfaced if the traditional publishers still guarded the gates.
Today readers have a huge variety to choose from. No longer are they burdened by exorbitant prices, paper books scattered throughout the home taking up space, or suffering from what the traditional publishers think they should read. They are finally free to choose.
Such a liberating feeling.
Many times I have heard that with freedom comes responsibility.
Nowhere is this more true than in the self-publishing world. The self-published author has a responsibility to his or her readers. You must make the work as free from error as you possibly can. The reader should be able to rely upon you, not upon your publisher.
When readers pay for your work they should feel confident that you put forward your best effort, and they will enjoy reading it. Nothing causes more dismay than a promising book riddled with mistakes.
If you write something that people like and you try your absolute best to make it a quality work, people will come.
If you don't, you can expect to fail.
Don't look for excuses. The internet contains ample help. With all the author's groups and informative blogs on the subject of writing, there's no excuse for shoddy work. I know, I belong to a few of them and learn from them. Even if you have limited grammar skills, you can learn. You must learn to use the tools of language before you finish a work and publish it.
Traditional authors and publishers argue that self-publishing is only an electronic form of vanity press. It can be, but so can traditional publishing. Their argument is one of the last barbs of a breed facing true Darwinism.
The readers will decide the issue. As a group they are smarter than all of us.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Fiction, science and strange marriages of the two.

My first book Shadow Games, contains a scene in which a college professor discusses his theories of how my antagonists, the Shadows, are able to accomplish their seemingly impossible abilities.
I created the professor's fictional theories from strange things I had read about existing scientific principles, particularly quantum theory.

Many science fiction books use as a premise, mental telepathy, mind control, and a host of other talents related to the same concept. (Steven King is an example in Fire Starter) Most of the evidence for this is anecdotal.

It's a fact that the brain does not contain the power and external organization that could reach out from the skull and influence the behavior of others, at least at a macro level.

But, I thought, what about the quantum level?

The neurons in the brain contain structures called 'micro-tubules' These structures resemble computer memories in their organization, and they are quite capable of operating at a quantum level. At that level, they could not only influence the brains of others, but could also interact with space-time itself throughout the universe.

As a further argument, follow me in a mental exercise. Keep your eyes open and conjure the image of a childhood friend, family member or teacher from your memory. Can you see it? Notice that the image is not truly an image at all. It's more an impression of an image. It's still there, you can see it, but are you really seeing it? I can do this with memories from more than fifty years ago, and other more recent experiences.

But something else is happening. You can still view a three-dimensional, full-color image of your surroundings. You hear sounds, smell odors, feel the cloth on your skin. You can still move your arms and legs and react to the voices of others in your environment. You can still think of you, and are aware that you exist. All this is occurring simultaneously as you view the image of a significant memory.

The estimates of the number of neurons contained in the human brain vary, but the most often figure quoted is one hundred-billion neurons. Each neuron may have ten thousand connections. But even with all the neurons and all the connections, (a staggering number) it still can't account for the wonderful things that your brain can accomplish.

Imagine my surprise when I viewed a recent episode of “Through the Worm Tunnel” narrated by Morgan Freeman. (the Science Channel) The program was on life-after-death, the soul, and consciousness. One of the arguments for the existence of the soul and its continuation after death was proposed by Stuart Hameroff (MD) and Sir Roger Penrose (Nobel prize in Physics).

Their theory nearly mirrored the one proposed by the fictional professor in my novel.

Science? Fiction? Or maybe the truth? Who knows? It's a question that we all will answer when we pass this mortal realm. (But not before about a hundred or more novels later!)

Saturday, June 4, 2011

So you wanna be an Indie writer?

The road to self-publishing can be a lonely one, bordered on each side by self-doubt, frustration, insecurity, inexperience and lack of a shoulder to cry upon.
Frequently you wonder about your goals. Why are you doing this? There's so much competition. Can you ever find a reader for your work? Will anyone like your writing? Should you just surrender and collect endless rejection slips until someone recognizes your talent and gives you a break?

I often ponder multiple choices after I've completed a project.
OK, you've typed “The End”. Now what? After nearly a year of inspiration, blind alleys, despair, and not-so-good passages followed by blazing insight and blinding speed, you've reached the end. What do you do next?
First, you need to edit this mess but can you trust yourself? After all, you're the one who created it. Do you trust the idiot who made endless mistakes (you) to be the one to correct them? Do you know enough with your limited experience to be able to find the errors? Does someone, someone wiser than you, have the solution to your dilemma? Where can you go to find help? Can you trust him or her?
Maybe if you send it to a publisher your problems will be solved. After all, they employ professional editors. But do you want to see it gathering electronic dust while someone else holds your precious work in their hands, maybe for months or a year at a time, only to receive a mail stating “Dear ___ we are unable to publish your novel ...”.
Should you hire someone, fearing that the work may never sell, or not sell enough to pay for the costs of editing? Who can you turn to? You don't know any editors. Which ones are the good ones and can you afford them?
If you self-publish the book which service do you choose? Do you want to offer it in print? Will anyone ever read it? No one knows you. How can you convince a reader to take a chance on an unknown author?

The list continues, but at some point you need to stop agonizing over the choices. If you felt good writing it and you gave it your best shot, if you did due diligence, went back and corrected as many errors as you could find, then maybe it's the time to get another opinion.
Family and friends frequently lie, fearful of offending you. (Most of my grown, adult children will not read my stuff. They're too busy, they can't read a sex scene that dad wrote without blushing, etc.). However, it's important that your spouse or significant-other support your efforts (mine does, enthusiastically).
Find a stranger, in fact several strangers. Bribe, cajole, coerce, plead, or twist arms. Find a critical person who will be honest with you if you reciprocate. Get several opinions. If the consensus is, it's trash, rewrite it, or put it aside and tackle the next one. Don't give up. (Also remember, one man's trash is another man's treasure.)
Join a writer's group like the Indie Writer's Group on Facebook and become involved. There, you'll learn a lot of skills, gain good information and meet your fellow writers.
If you feel that you've done your best. You've weeded out all of the errors you could find, and most importantly, you love reading it and you're proud of your efforts, then choose a site and publish it. 
I choose Smashwords because it's free and gives you a reasonable presence in a large ocean of books. If you publish it for free or decide to sell it, be patient. It can take six months to a year before people notice you.
Finally, while waiting for reviews (which may never appear), reflect upon the goals you had when you started. Why did you do this? Did you want to make money and become a successful writer or did you do it for the fun and satisfaction? If the answer is the former, then I'm afraid your task has just begun, if the latter, relax. You've done it.
But maybe if I just put a web site up, a blog, a name on Facebook, and logged on to Tweeter, then maybe....