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Month: March, 2015

Back To The Drawing Board

The problem with self-publishing (he says as though there’s only the one), is easily defined thus: too much noise. When I say noise, I don’t just mean the sheer number of books, good and bad, competing for a reader’s attention. There’s also the advice. You can easily spin yourself in circles trying to find the ‘right’ path, trying to merge so many conflicting views on marketing, pricing, etc into an average whole. I had doubts about my Norton Pumblesmythe series consisting entirely of short stories, but when the endless blogs confirmed those doubts it just made me more determined to ignore them. I had solid reasons for a short story series, after all. Pumblesmythe is a shot of espresso; a character that appears, jolts the reader, and then is gone. You’re given time to get comfortable with his shtick, but not tired of it.

I had sincere doubts that I could pull off novellas, only now that’s the plan. Concern at gaining an audience was my initial impetus, as e-book enthusiasts tend to weigh words by the pound, but I started to see other benefits too. The Pumblesmythe timeline had been hanging over my head for a while; with a span of roughly 1845-1900, and every short story set in a particular year, it would be difficult to cover everything without revisiting years and confusing the reader. I’d also planned to bounce between dates, with future Norton’s madcap antics balanced by his younger, more introspective self. A nice idea, but one that required a level of fore-thought perhaps beyond an author with ADD and a chronic pain condition. I had three aborted novels under my belt before I found my level with short stories, but maybe this character deserved a bit more than vignettes.

Two things are certain, however. The first is that I have no idea if this will work so, y’know, banzai. The second is that none of my work has been squandered. Not only can I use my current shorts for material (or in some cases directly transplant them as chapters), but I can still write more of them as short stories are excellent connective tissue between novellas. So, everything good, right? Well, kinda. I’m satisfied with the new plan, but the short story’s position as slightly above an afterthought does leave me a bit forlorn. Not just for my plan but with e-books in general. They’re not a training wheel, damn it, they’re a discipline! The funny thing is everyone expected the short story market to explode right along with the rise of e-reader popularity. Nobody expected those new consumers to get genuinely hungry and start demanding full plates at every sitting.

Dumb Down, All Ye Who Enter Here

I read an Independent article the other day in which Fay Weldon says that writers should ‘Abandon their dignity and write a racy page-turner.’ It’s an attention grabbing headline designed to provoke, like much press these days, but it does raise some interesting issues. It’s easy to dismiss Weldon as, in the meat of the article, she makes the distinction that traditional press can still shoulder literary works, but it’s the e-book audience that need a faster alternative. Of course, as any self-published author will know, faster doesn’t mean shorter. Novels do far better than short stories because of perceived value. The race to the bottom in self-pub pricing, which began with chart abuse of Amazon Kindle’s ‘free’ price range, is something constantly debated; but what of the change to customer perception? When you can pick up a whole novel for 99c then does the author really need to aim that high? As long as it has momentum, and slips easily down the gullet, then they won’t receive any criticism worse than ‘It wasn’t great, but…it was only ninety nine cents.’

That’s why I can’t let the article go, as it’s one of those most frustrating statements: bald, seemingly ignorant, but with enough truth to make it prickly. A writer may not want to admit it, but they do know that the public often prizes fast paced, cliff-hanger prose over something painstakingly crafted. The problem, and it’s difficult not to sound priggish here, is that if we all followed that formula then something vital would die. Of course, we want to sell stuff too! This is a classic and enduring dilemma, so to suggest that it’s now a consideration because of e-books is disingenuous. Every writer worries about it. My main concern with my ‘Norton Pumblesmythe’ series (apart from figuring out the timeline) has always been how much period detail, and period slang, to include. Due to it being a slapstick kind of work, my serious author side is forever trying to tip the scales. Am I trying to teach or entertain, and is there a danger in thinking I can do both?

The other issue is in implying that writers, as a whole, can skip genres and write to a formula. Yes, some writers do manage this, and I’m envious and a little bewildered by that kind of flexibility. If I tried my hand at, say, a Western Romance (marketable genre right now) then my lack of interest and enthusiasm would curdle the writing. Readers have changed, undoubtedly. They want it fast, and they want it cheap; but when we genuinely consider Weldon’s approach of a cerebral paperback and an edited for speed e-book (of the same book) then the situation becomes a little crazy. A work stands or falls on its own merits. Trying to whittle down or balloon those merits depending on who’s reading doesn’t mean accessibility, it means they just read a different book.

Starving Review: Terror Beyond Measure: A Norton Pumblesmythe Short Story by Ian Clements

J.B Garner recently reviewed Terror Beyond Measure, and fortunately liked it a lot! Big boost for me; as getting your self-published work noticed can sometimes feel like yelling into a hurricane. Thank you for taking the time, Mr Garner.

J. B. Garner - Musings of a Starving Author

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Terror Beyond Measure: A Norton Pumblesmythe Short Story by Ian Clements (Amazon, Goodreads)

Some literary foods are full meals, heaping quantities to be ingested and enjoyed at a table over a course of time.  Others, however, are tender morsels, snacks meant to be gulped down quickly in this fast ‘on-the-go’ world we live in.  Terror Beyond Measure is one of those snacks.  Does its small size mean it lacks flavor or is it a taste-filled delight in a minute package?

Before I answer that, let us remember the Starving Review creed:

  1. I attempt to rate every book from the perspective of a fan of the genre.
  2. I attempt to make every review as spoiler-free as possible.

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