Monday, January 30, 2012

Author Anxiety

Anyone outside the publishing industry or even those just starting their writing journey have a distinct vision of the 'author.' The private, relaxed individual sitting in their own home office plugging away at their keyboard while downing coffee. Not that there isn't some truth to this image, most authors have more coffee in their system than blood, but TV, movies and stories romanticize this image.

The first-time author is a far cry from that idyllic vision that the entirety of the world seems to portray. In-fact the budding author is actually subject to more stress than they could anticipate.

Just starting out the writer has clear aspirations, a precise writerly dream that they want to accomplish. They receive praise and support for their work from friends, family and other aspiring writers in their circle.  The nervous anxiety that comes with sharing what was private work with the outside world is taxing but the support keeps the writer moving. 

The writer completes their work, making minor edits and revisions based on the input of those offering support. Their supporters start asking the question; "Are You Going to Get it Published?"

Constant questioning from supporters leads the writer to the publishing industry. That perfect, amazing work will now have a home, well, maybe. The writer is introduced into the confusing maze of ambitions, pitfalls, deceit and predators. It becomes a learning process, how the industry works, what is currently trending, roles of agents, editors, the author platform and the loathed query. 

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The writer needs to create an 'author platform.' This is basically a string of social media platforms that work together to help the writer establish a community. Blogging, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, Dear Author etc. These need to be tended daily to develop a community and show potential agents and publishers that the writer can establish an audience.

Stress levels skyrocket as the first-time writer is introduced to the confusing logic of 'writers need an agent to reach the publishers but most agents require the writer to have some publishing credit before considering them.' Add in an introduction to Pred-editors, and the process becomes a frustrating mess. The most trusted agencies and publishing houses have guidelines that make prisons look lenient. Generic form letter rejections flood in with little hint at why the writer is being rejected. The publishing industry seems to be an impregnable fortress with a labyrinth surrounding it. Almost 80% of writers surrender at this stage.

First-time authors do have a number of options at this juncture; they can self-publish, they can try a smaller press or maintain their persistence pursuing the traditional route. Fighting their instincts, they start making changes to the masterpiece, editing and revising the work to address the rejections.

The remarkable and persistent few manage to find their way through that mess and through a small bolt of lightning receive a publishing contract. This doesn't mean any of the stress fades at all, this only changes the goals. The writer now needs to evaluate the terms of the contract, are they fair? Does the publisher have a solid distribution network? Sure Amazon and Barnes & Noble are on the list but how far is the publisher's reach? Does it include the itunes bookstore? What about physical imprints or audio? What about media rights? Do the percentages and efforts balance? The writer has a contract and they have a longing desire to just sign but the fear of being betrayed is extremely high. 

Everything balances out, the writer signs the contract and will be a published author soon. The writer can start working on the next project.

Once again the stress levels rise as the first editor dives in while you're filling in all of the necessary paperwork. It is like working for an employer after all. At this time the publisher starts their cover-artist on your project. The editor takes your masterpiece and leaves enough red on it to make you wonder how you ever made it this far. Some things are requisite changes while most are just questioning your logic. The next project is left on hold as the writer is left to make adjustments and edits to their work. Now the writer has the pressure of the publisher to make sure the work is the best. 

Just as the writer begins to find a bit of calm in the routine engagement with the publisher, the cover-artist produces the first mock-up for their title. It looks nothing like what the writer had in mind but the writer needs to fight their instincts once more. The publisher and cover-artist know what will work, the writer can make changes if they want but it may not be advisable. At this stage the writer is introduced to the Line Editor. The last editor said the work was great but the LE goes through every single line with a microscope and scarily enough knowledge about various subjects to win big on Jeopardy. 

The writer manages to endure and completes the line edits. They can turn their attention back to working on the next project. Then the final proofs come in from yet another editor. There are barely any marks on the project now and these changes are made in no-time at all. 

After the proofs are returned come the Galleys, yet another round of edits. Things that slipped by all of the editors up to this point are caught and after a couple of checks the publisher produces the ARCs, that's Advanced Reading Copies for the newbies. It's an exciting time and the writer's work is almost on the shelves. 

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This doesn't alleviate stress, it only causes more. Now come the marketing efforts both from the publisher and the author. The publisher will readily produce booktrailers, get the book to all available channels and push it out to all the review sites that they have ties with and maybe even create Pay Per Click ads on Facebook, Google or Goodreads. There may also be a book tour or blog tour (more common now). The writer can not simple 'fire and forget,' letting the publisher handle all of the marketing. Depending on the publisher, the author will need to design the PPC ads and run them or set up promotions, tours and send out their book to any additional reviewers.

The writer needs that project to be a success, they need to manage the marketing, find time to write and still maintain their author platform so they can be found.

Then it hits home, even with a publisher and a novel about to be on the shelves most large review sites pass along form-letter rejections citing that they don't have enough time or aren't interested in the book. Is the project slipping already? It hasn't even launched yet and it's being relegated to the non-important pile.

Fortunately most authors have grown a thick hide by this time but the doubts still nag at the back of the mind. Then they begin to question the marketing. These review sites are great for grabbing avid readers but they do nothing at grabbing the majority of potential readers who only occasionally read. Forcing out social marketing doesn't work, it only blitzes the same audience over and over again and traditional marketing doesn't work either. Avid readers are only a small portion of sales how can the project possibly be a success?

In truth, it only takes about 100 sales-a-week (ebook) to make the top 10,000 in sales rank on Amazon. Most books are lucky to sell 1,000 copies in their sales life. So long as the novel is available on every possible distribution channel it stands the best chance but not without marketing to push it.

The anxiety of the publishing process never lets up. Even as the book hits the shelves it becomes a concern of sales and reach while the whole cycle starts again for the next project. The romantic image of the author is never fully true. The best authors have just grown accustomed to that stress and keep pushing out their work to assure they have the best possible results.    


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Intriguing Observations: Art In Writing

When this blog was first launched early last year, there were concerns about subject matter and finding an audience that would be interested in these ramblings. Over time, topics became more creative and more distinct, focusing on not just writing but all creative aspects. On the anniversary of the initial launch it only felt appropriate to gather together some of the greatest supporters and bloggers to provide their own Intriguing Observations on creative ventures and techniques.

Kicking off the Intriguing Observations Series this week is an outstanding supporter and wordsmith Amber Keller


When you read a book have you ever felt like you were in a scene? Maybe you could see what the character sees, feel their anxieties or fears, maybe even smell certain scents or hear a particular sound. This is what a writer strives for; to have their audience as lost in and passionate about their work as they are. In order to achieve this, several things must be taken into account.

This is also a way to incorporate art into writing.

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When you write a scene, place yourself in your characters head. What do they see? What do they hear or feel? What would they do? If you start with these questions, many times you can branch off into much deeper details in a natural progression. Like an artist with a canvas, the writer needs to convey emotions and meanings. Give the readers a real, visceral interpretation of the scene so that they can lose themselves in it.

Also much like a potters’ wheel, a writer starts with a crude idea and begins to mold it into the right words and phrases, building elements such as scene, characters, setting and plot. It is a work of passion, of sweat and tears, maybe even literally at times, but one that is not meant to show the work. It needs to seem flawless and fluid. The delicate balance is what we attempt to achieve.

Another way to assimilate art into writing is to use symbolism. This can be in the form of a repeated phrase or item throughout a story. Once the reader sees something repeated, it becomes significant and there will be a meaning bestowed upon it.

One example of a widely known artistic movement is Surrealism. There were works of literature being created at this time that are fundamentally considered a part of this movement. The method was to concentrate on undertones instead of the literal meaning. This can be a powerful tool in a writer’s toolbox.

After all that’s been previously discussed, there is one discernable truth that speaks to the totality. 

Writing itself is an art. 

Amber Keller is writer who delves into dark fiction, particularly horror and suspense/thrillers. Besides having finished two horror novels this past year, she has numerous short stories available on her blog, and is fortunate to be a part of two anthologies. She is a member of the Horror Writers Association and also contributes to various websites and emagazines, including horror and science fiction movie reviews. When not at her laptop, she can be found looking for things that go bump in the night.

Amber's blog ~ Ramblings by Amber
Amber on Twitter ~ akeller9

The newest anthology that was just released is the Night Terrors II anthology and can be found here.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Perfect Tease

Compelling, Intriguing, Tease…

Any artistic piece is a combination of different elements that are arranged in such a manner as to be compelling to the observer, the audience. Creating a compelling work is more than just the internal elements; the setting, scenes, dialog, pacing even tone of the piece. Making a compelling work is ultimately perfecting the art of the tease.

Every creative work relies on an intriguing presentation to attain the interest of the viewer regardless of the medium.

The primary challenge for any piece is to compress the entirety of the work into a small segment that is both a summary of the piece and an outstanding 'hook' that leaves the viewer with the desire to know more about the work.

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In cinematography, especially the film, this initial hook can be presented as 30 second or 1 minute clip of a work that summarizes the piece, creates tension and makes an exceptionally compelling argument for why the piece should be viewed. Often these promos, or teasers, feature the most dramatic or compelling moments of the overall piece to show a heightened sense of drama and conflict. A secondary approach to the cinematic teaser is to create the compelling nature of the piece by only revealing the unique elements of the work and creating an incomplete picture of the piece.

In these cinematic instances, the teaser is created as an instrument to compel the audience to experience the entirety of the piece. Both approaches rely on the viewer's questioning nature to create sufficient desire to 'fill in the blanks.' Why were the characters fighting/running? What is going on at town/village/office etc.

The differences between narrative teasers and visual teasers are precious few. The primary difference between literature/narrative teasers and visual is that the narrative needs to constantly replicate the sense of the teaser. The cover is the first compelling teaser, combining the most dramatic elements of the piece into a visual representation that serves to intrigue and compel interest.  The synopsis is the second teaser, compressing the entire piece into a few lines that serve to outline the story and leave the observer with the desire to 'fill in the blanks.'

Moving into the actual narrative, the first line that is affectionately known as a 'hook' is the teaser. A highly effective line that serves to pique interest in the piece. The first paragraph, page and even chapter become the more complex teasers that allude to the overall narrative and hint at the direction of the piece. Subsequently, each introductory line in a chapter and exit line serve as teasers to compel interest. This is where perfecting Macro-composition can assist greatly.

Outside of the primary narrative, teasers are constructed in animated gifs, book-trailers and even ad text that are designed to highlight aspects of the work while remaining true to the overall piece.

No matter the medium, all creative works rely on being the perfect tease. Creating that perfect tease is an ever evolving process and what worked previously may no longer be acceptable or effective. The audience is constantly evolving and so too does the art of the tease.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Abstracting Speed and Clarity

Expressing the focus of a composition is a delicate balance between the primary subject and surrounding details of the piece.

The balancing of primary subject and supporting details is most readily apparent in visual compositions from mediums such as photography and cinematography. The speed of the composition determines the clarity of the overall composition.

In photography and subsequently cinematography, the film speed determines a number of components within a given composition. Most prominently the speed determines the level of detail and clarity of the the piece. The restriction of adjusting the speed at which a composition is captured is that as the speed increases to capture fast subjects with more clarity, the more detail is sacrificed.

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Film, as well as digital, requires larger film grains to capture at faster speeds. As the film speed is increased, the grains become noticeably larger and affect the level of detail capable in the image. While faster speed allows for capturing a subject with more stability the faster the subject, the faster speed required to capture it.

The concept of speed and clarity is just as visible in a narrative composition as it is in the visual arts. As the speed of the composition increases, the subject becomes clearer as the focus but the level of detail is reduced as the speed - pacing is increased.

In a narrative the descriptors, dialog tags and even breaks either page or chapter are the equivalent 'film grain' in the piece. Increasing the pace of the narrative makes these elements seem larger and even distorted compared to the piece. The primary subject becomes even clearer but the surrounding details begin to lose detail to keep that pace. While reducing the speed of the piece too much can make the overall composition seem unfocused.

Every composition is a delicate balance of speed and clarity. Increasing the details reduces the focus of the primary subject and slows the pace. Likewise, too little detail yields a fast-paced blur of a composition.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Stabilizing Influence

Dynamic, fluid, compelling...

Any creative composition, especially a narrative, has a dynamic component to it that keeps the audience interested. The more dynamic the piece, the more intriguing it is for the viewer but it can also become a challenge for the composition.

In the visual arts, creating a dynamic composition is a matter of choosing fluid elements and subjects for the piece. The largest difficulty in fluid subjects is in establishing an anchor, applying some stability to keep the composition in clear focus. As much as fluid subjects are compelling to the viewer it is also possible for the composition to lose focus and become distorted, unclear, if the piece lacks some stability.

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Capturing dynamic compositions in the visual arts is a matter of stabilizing how the composition is perceived. Typically this is achieved through tripods and very complicated stabilizing rigs that keep perfect balance. Other elements that are fluid in the piece require equal parts of static elements.

A dynamic narrative composition is very similar to a visual arts composition. The fluid elements of a narrative piece can range from the perceived scene to the very characters within the piece. The combination of elements and unrestricted perceptions in a narrative can allow for dynamics that can become disorienting for an audience. 

Stabilizing the elements of a narrative is similar to stabilizing a visual composition however, additional 'supports' need to be added to the composition. For every dark and bleak setting there needs to be one 'safe' setting. For a calm, collected and methodical character, their partner should be emotional and impulsive. Altering perspective, adjusting pacing, changing settings and adding opposing character personas are just a few means of supports that can stabilize a narrative and help it to maintain focus.

Dynamic and fluid elements are needed in a composition for a viewer to find it compelling however, for every dynamic element within a piece it is necessary to have something to stabilize the composition and balance the elements. maintaining balance allows the audience to perceive the contrast between the static elements and the dynamic, making those elements even more compelling.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Intriguing Perspectives

"There's nothing new under the sun." -John Lennon

Every narrative, every composition has existed in one form or another for as long as people have been able to create. The tools and mediums for these have continued to evolve over time but the inherent core of these compositions have remained the same.

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In any creative effort, while it's clear that it's not the first incarnation of a composition, it's the artist, their perspective that creates something unique.

Every artist regardless of medium has a unique approach and an entirely unique perspective to breathe life into their compositions. The combination of elements; tone, saturation, angle, lighting, settings and even characters are utilized in a distinct manner that only the artist envisions.

While there is nothing new under the sun, every composition is an assemblage of elements and while those elements may have been used before by another artist, the variations of each element assure that each composition is wholly unique. Every individual has their own perspective and this means that a person can observe the same composition but see different features of that composition.

So long as there are artists, there will always be unique compositions regardless of medium.

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