This is a Bestselling Post!

In this exciting post, I will argue why I think the term “bestseller” no longer has any meaning.

Long ago, in a much simpler publishing world, describing a book as a bestseller actually meant something. Specifically, it implied that the book had been listed as one of the  top-selling books by a respected publication, such as The New York Times. The ranking was typically based on sales for a one-week period, and there were only a small number of very broad categories, e.g. “fiction”. These books were often featured prominently in bookstores. Actually, they still might be, but who goes to a bookstore these days?

Now consider the following: An author writes a novel and self-publishes it as an ebook on Amazon (or some other similar site). The author runs a promotion in which the book is free for a few days, and they advertise the living hell out of it. Lots and lots of people “buy” the book, and for a brief period it ranks in the top ten of its incredibly narrow and highly-specific category, for example “coming of age, zombie techno-westerns”. (Okay, I just made that up.) From then on, the author proudly brags to anyone that will listen that their novel is a bestseller, and even adds that claim to the cover. Woohoo!

I wish that the previous paragraph was fiction, but sadly it’s not. There are an incredible number of people that no one has ever heard of now claiming to be “bestselling authors”. They’re everywhere. There are even businesses that guarantee to make your book a bestseller, and measure their success as described above. It’s actually rather sad if you think about it. It would be far better to write a book that actually sells well based on its merits.

In conclusion, the term “bestseller” has now been abused to the point that it’s practically meaningless.

Stay tuned for a future post in which I explain why an award your book received from a six-month old website run by your cousin out of his parents’ basement should not be plastered all over the cover and included in the blurb. 🙂

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The Editing Never Stops

I am currently making another pass through my book, Audrey of Farmerton, preparatory to offering a paperback version. Despite the best efforts of both myself and my beta readers, I am still finding typos and minor mistakes. It appears that no amount of copyediting will ever find all of the mistakes. The good news is that when I am done, I can update the ebook version, and the new version will be automatically pushed out. You can’t do that with printed books.

It is my contention that there simply aren’t that many decent editors left out there. These days, even books by popular authors are published with obvious typos and grammar errors. Last year, I read a science fiction novel that had won major awards despite having significant plot holes and the author not really understanding how to use commas. The editor was either incompetent, or was too rushed to do a good job.

The advent of easy self-publishing is probably to blame for the current situation. The publishing industry in general has dealt poorly with  emerging technologies. That has led to cutbacks, including editorial staff. And when cutting staff, it is invariably the most experienced (and best paid) people that are let go.

What makes a good editor? They obviously need to have a good knowledge of the English language (or whatever language they are editing). This includes both spelling and grammar. But they also need to understand composition. They need to be able to judge if sentences are properly grouped into paragraphs, paragraphs into scenes, and scenes into chapters. They also need to understand what they are reading, otherwise they will be unable to spot larger issues such as plotting and pacing. To be perfectly honest, a good editor first needs to be a good writer. But a good writer isn’t likely to be interested in editing the works of someone else unless they’re a close friend or relative. A good writer would rather be writing.

I can’t offer any magical solution. For now, I’ll just rely on my own editing skills, resigned to the fact that the things I write will never be perfect.

Cover Art

audrey-of-farmerton_small

I want to discuss how I ended up with this particular cover, but first I wish to inform you that Audrey of Farmerton is free as a Kindle ebook through Sunday January 8.

I decided to go with a professional artist for my cover because I’ve heard that it’s important both to have a good cover, and to have one that looks good even when reduced to a thumbnail. My cover was done by Brandi McCann, who is very experienced at creating book covers. She works primarily be compositing existing pictures, which has both advantages and disadvantages. Despite this limitation, she gave me a cover that I’m very happy with.

The cover depicts an actual scene in the book, with Audrey in the foreground, and Saxloc farther back. The artist quickly found an excellent background, as well as wolves and a man in chainmail that was easily modified to portray Saxloc. The real issue was Audrey. Finding an appropriate picture was a challenge. After several false starts, I finally realized that a traditional karate uniform had the kind of look I wanted, similar to peasant clothing. In the original picture, the woman is wearing an all-white uniform with a karate belt. The artist was able to make the top look more like a shirt, alter the belt, and change the cloth colors. She also had to add the boots, because people in karate uniforms are nearly always barefoot.

I think the final cover turned out remarkably well. She even added paw prints in the snow and shadows. I also like the fonts she picked. I will definitely being employing her services for the sequel, The Witch’s City.

Thoughts on Thoughts

One advantage of the written word is the ability to reveal a character’s feelings and emotions, or even their actual thoughts. This helps make up for the fact that we can’t actually see the person, as we would in visual media. There, the viewer can see facial expressions, read body language, and hear the emotion in a voice.

There are different ways to reveal a character’s thoughts. Below are two examples. The first is indirect, and the second uses italics to indicate actual thoughts (a common practice).

  1. He told her that his train had run late. She wondered if that was really true.
  2. He told her that his train had run late. I wonder if that’s really true?

Which of these techniques to use is really a matter of preference in my opinion. The first form is almost universally used. Some authors make heavy use of the second form, while others use it sparingly. There are even some who adamantly claim that actual thoughts should never be shown, but I have found their attempts to prove that it is never necessary to be unconvincing. Sometimes the second form is the only really choice.

When writing, I use whichever form seems most appropriate. And it varies depending on whose viewpoint I am writing from. The second form is particularly useful for characters that are sarcastic, smart alecks, or simply lie frequently. For example:

He nodded, saying, “Yes, I’ll give your proposal serious consideration.” That is the dumbest idea I have ever heard! How stupid does he think I am?

For me, deciding how often to show actual thoughts is simply part of developing a character, and it’s something I’m still working to refine.

Chapters

When I first began to write Audrey of Farmerton, it was a single giant text document. It was divided into individual scenes, but not chapters. I hadn’t divided it up because I really wasn’t sure how to go about it.

Scenes in books aren’t much different than scenes in movies or TV shows. They mark a change of location, a change of viewpoint, or an abrupt passage of time. In a book, they are often delineated by a line containing one or more symbols, as shown below this paragraph. Some books simply place an extra blank line to mark the end of a scene, but that is a bad practice because blank lines are hard to spot at the top or bottom of a page.

*    *    *

The beginning of a chapter is the beginning of a scene, and its end the end of a scene, but a chapter can contain multiple scenes. It might, for example, flip between the viewpoints of two people as they speak. It is also worth noting that some authors only put one scene in each chapter.

A chapter is supposed to be somewhat self-contained, but that rule isn’t always adhered to. The lengths of the chapters in a book are also supposed to vary by no more than a factor of two, but that rule is also routinely ignored. It seems to be more a question of personal preference and style.

I began to divide my book into chapters, finding that it was sometimes easy, and sometimes a challenge. In several instances I ended up moving scenes around to create chapters with more of a theme. And sometimes I wrote additional scenes to flesh out short chapters. I ended up with forty-some chapters in the range of 2500 to 5000 words (or so).

Many books have only chapter numbers (and some have scene numbers within the chapter). I started with only numbers, but then began adding one-word names just to make it easier to navigate the book. My beta readers liked them, and so they ended up staying in. Now coming up with a chapter title is simply part of my writing process.

Word Count

When I first began to write Audrey of Farmerton, I was concerned if I could even write enough for a novel. I did some research and discovered that the threshold is considered to be about 90,000 words. It’s not an absolute. There are famous novels much shorter, and many that are far longer. In addition, I discovered that fantasy and science fiction novels tend to be longer because they require a great deal of world-building.

In the end, my worries about word count were groundless. The first draft was just over 160,000 words. The revised draft came in at 168,000 words despite ending at a much earlier point than I had originally envisioned. When book two is finished, what I had initially planned for book one will certainly exceed 300,000 words.

The more I write, the easier it becomes. Writing two or three thousand words in a day is now common for me, although there are still days where I struggle to write anything. When that happens, I usually do something else or review what I have already written.

About my novel

My first novel is titled “Audrey of Farmerton”. It is a fantasy novel, but it is unusual for several reasons. It is based on a Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) campaign that I have been running since  autumn of 1979. This provides me with an enormous amount of material to draw upon, but it also means that a number of other people have contributed by creating and developing characters, some of whom are depicted in the novel. In writing it, I have frequently sought input as to whether I have properly portrayed their characters. So in a sense, Audrey of Farmerton is a collaborative effort, even though I am listed as the sole author.

My novel doesn’t seem to fit any of the traditional fantasy genres. It is the story of how a peasant girl named Audrey makes her way to a large city and struggles to find a life for herself there, but it’s not really a coming of age story. There is some fighting and heroics, but it’s not really a heroic fantasy. There is no noble quest to save the world or massive struggle between warring kingdoms, so it’s not an epic fantasy. There is some romance, but that’s only a portion of the story, so it’s not a romantic fantasy. Audrey of Farmerton is probably best characterized as a slice-of-life story or even a soap opera. There’s a great deal of people simply interacting and going about their lives, but in a fantasy setting with magic and monsters.

I am planning to publish my novel through Amazon as a Kindle ebook and then see what happens. I primarily wrote it for the enjoyment of myself and my friends, especially those who have actually played in my D&D campaign. The second book, which tells more of Audrey’s story is already well underway.