Symbolism in Novels . . . Sort of Accidental

Double Rainbow What Does This MeanA while ago, I came across across an article on Mental Floss (fairly old news now) about how a teenage Bruce McAllister sent letters to famous authors in 1963 to ask whether they consciously (or subconsciously) placed symbolism into their writing and other related questions. The answers varied a bit, some are pretty funny on their own and others are hilarious given the contrast between the authors’ responses. Then, there’s also some useful information.

Back in my K12 years, I had thoughts similar to McAllister’s about symbolism in my reading assignments at school. One recurring thought I had was, “This is horse crap” (well, not those exact words). It wasn’t that I thought authors never intended certain symbols, or that they never created symbols by accident. I assumed that happened quite often. However, I remember my teacher(s) trying to sell me very vague and unlikely symbols (I also recall pulling symbols out of my ass and my teacher(s) agreeing with me about it). So, like McAllister, I wondered about whether these authors intended all the symbols that academics draw from their work.

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Punching Self-Publishing Stigma in the Face

Successful novels that were self-published - The Mill River Recluse by Darcie Chan - My Blood Approves by Amanda Hocking Wool by Hugh Howey - Fifty Shades by E L James - Eragon by Christopher Paolini - Daniel's Gift by Barbara Fr

First, a bit of a summary of what I’ve learned about indie publishing over the past six months, and then a glance at some indie successes.

Indie publishing, not self-publishing.

One thing I’ve learned about non-traditional publishing is that many prefer to call it “indie publishing” as opposed to “self-publishing” because the latter carries an outdated, negative connotation.

Traditional and indie publishing: neither is clearly better than the other.

In an older post, I analyzed a number of pros and cons for traditional and indie publishing for a new author. To paraphrase myself: Indie publishing allows for greater freedom in the content of your writing, the cover design, and much more. However, going indie generally requires substantial out-of-pocket costs for the author. Traditional publishing, on the other hand, takes away some freedom but the publisher would provide professional editing and a cover design, and potentially aid in marketing and an advance on royalties. My ultimate conclusion was that new authors should at least chase traditional publishing first because it allows time to understand the market as well as an opportunity to properly edit the manuscript before rushing to print (impatience is one of the worst traits of a self-publishing author).

Manuscripts without a high concept have a tougher time getting published traditionally, but there’s no such bar for indies.

As I’ve previously discussed, high-concept fiction is highly original, widely appealing, easy to visualize, and easy to sum up in three sentences or less.

These days, agents and publishers generally look for high-concept work. Thus, if an author’s query (or even just the hook) fails to demonstrate enough high-concept qualities, traditional publishing folks will be very unlikely to even look at the manuscript. It makes sense considering the quantity of material that goes into their inbox and the fact that a book without a high concept will result in less impressive sales numbers.

If you’re indie, you can publish just about anything—there’s no requirement of a high concept. However, you’ll run into the problem that agents and publishers anticipate when they see a “low concept” book: it’s going to be much more difficult to get people to buy that thing.

A book doesn’t need a high concept to be awesome.

While a book which lacks a high concept may be difficult to market, it isn’t necessarily a bad book: a book that doesn’t seem original on in a three-sentence summary may be original in its details; wide appeal is helps for quantity in sales, but books which cater to smaller, niche markets can great; visualization for high-concept fiction generally should be somewhat of an “action” scene which will be non-existent in subtler works; and there are plenty of awesome works out there that are difficult to sum up in a few sentences while demonstrating originality, wide appeal, and provide a strong visual.

Indie authors should utilize professional editors as well as beta readers.

A lot of the sucking found in self-published titles can at least be partially attributed to a lack of professional editing. At worse, these novels require drastic revisions under the guidance of a developmental editor. In the not-too-bad scenarios, these books merely need another read-through by a copy editor.

Many indie authors probably don’t bother with professional editors due to the considerable cost. In those cases, the author should alternatively gather a substantial amount of beta readers (including a mix of casual readers, other authors, and English Major-y people to provide feedback), and take time to seriously weigh their suggestions.

I’ve seen at least one indie author admit to ignoring all beta reader feedback and simply rushing to print. While it’s a good idea to critically analyze feedback and avoid rushing to change your book based on the opinion of a single reader, you shouldn’t take any feedback too lightly—particularly when the same bit of advice is repeated by several readers.

Too many indie book covers look like stuff I made in seventh grade (some are even worse).

Seriously, I’ve seen covers that look like they were slapped together by some kid in the late 90’s on MS Paint. If you aren’t considerably gifted with graphic design, find someone who is (i.e., a professional with a relevant degree). If you really want to get away from the old stigma of being self-published, it should look like it belongs on the shelves at Barnes & Noble.

If there’s an image, the resolution should be high—I don’t want to see pixel-y blocks unless your book is about 8-bit video games. Also, the book title and author name should be easy to read with genre-appropriate fonts (this article by Derek Murphy may be helpful, though some of those fonts are a bit too flamboyant and illegible for my taste). I’ve also read an article which suggests to use a serif font and sans serif font for the title and author name, but to avoid using the same type for both—one is serif, and the other sans serif.

Book sales will require dedication to marketing endeavors—platform building, book reviews, pricing deals, appearances, interviews, and conventional advertisements.

You can’t just slap your novel onto Amazon, B&N, Lulu, Smashwords, and Kobo and expect sales to magically happen. You’ll need to market that thing. Personally, marketing my book is what scared me into chasing traditional publishing. However, reading about different avenues for authors to get the word out on their books has made it less foreboding.

The first thing an author needs is a platform: a means with which the author can reach an audience.

If you’re a celebrity or a renown expert in some field that relates to your book, then you’re pretty well off. Having none of that, it may be a good idea to make some noise on the internet (e.g., blogging, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram). I’ve read some articles that bad mouth the effectiveness of social networking as a means to advertise your book, but I’m of the school of thought that believes some reach is better than none. Continue reading

Traditional Publishing VS Self-Publishing: Considerations for a First Novel

Publishing and Distribution

After getting blog comments from writers who believe traditional publishing is dead or dying, I thought it was a good time to reassess the pros and cons of traditional publishing and self-publishing. With my buddy Google, I examined at the opinions of a handful of folks (who have good SEO) and basically reaffirmed my desire to try for traditional publishing first.

Basic Differences

Traditional publishing is where a publishing company invests in your manuscript: they pay for printing, distribution, marketing, and give you an advance on royalties. In exchange, the publisher takes a hefty cut of the royalties on sales. The most common route to secure a publisher is through an agent who act as so-called gatekeepers of traditional publishing (generally requiring a highly polished manuscript and a good pitch in the form of a query letter).

Self-publishing is essentially where the writer funds everything herself.

Pros, Cons, and Other Considerations

1. Advances VS Out-of-pocket Costs

Oftentimes, when an author publishes traditionally, the publisher will pay him an advance on royalties. For self-publishing, the author has to pay upfront for a great many things (e.g., editing, cover design, printing, marketing). I’m pretty sure traditional publishing is superior in this respect.

2. Quality VS Speed

An oft-cited drawback for traditional publishing is that it takes so stinkin’ long to go from a finished manuscript to having the book available for sale. Traditional publishers take while to make it happen, whereas self-publishing allows nearly instantaneous satisfaction.

An important factor to consider, however, is the quality of your work. A traditional publisher generally supplies you with a team to edit the content, design the cover, and what-not. This helps ensure the book is as awesome as possible once it’s released. With self-publishing, in the rush to get the book out there, many authors forgo substantial editing and quality checks and end up releasing a product that could have been much better had they put a little more time (and money) into it.

Then there’s also an apparent issue as to whether freelance editors are as effective as editors working for for major publishers. According to Keith Martin-Smith, the editors available to self-publishing authors do not have “the breadth of experience traditional publishers’ editors have,” which results in self-published works being sub par. Martin-Smith goes on to say that freelance editors lack the motivation to say “this book stinks and won’t make a dime, and here’s why,” and are more likely to leave a lot of self-published books to go to press “poorly written.”

In contrast, James Altucher believes the best editors (and cover/book designers, and marketers) are “no longer [just] working at the big publishing houses,” but are available to self-publishing authors. Thus, according to Altucher, self- Continue reading

Major Influences #5: Shows with Characters Ages 25+

Major Influences Friends HIMYM The Office Mad Men Breaking Bad Sons of Anarchy Lost

As no one has probably noticed, most of the shows in my prior “Major Influences” posts are family and teen shows. This post will be on shows that aren’t quite as family friendly, which focus on characters over the age of twenty-five and allows for much heavier drama.

For the most part, comedies influence me in a fairly obvious way: it alters the kind of jokes I make with my friends and family, and in my writing. The effects of dramas, on the other hand, aren’t so easy to notice (aside from trying not to use plots I’ve seen elsewherejust as I try to avoid stealing comedy bits).

The best effect of any narrative, however, is the immersion into so many other lives and perspectives. You get to experience things which you might never get to experience yourself. Of course, I’m a proponent of travel and experiencing things firsthand (within reason), but you only have so much energy and fundsbooks, film, and television can get you places at a fraction of the time and cost and exposes you to scenarios you’d probably rather avoid in real life.

Anyway, on to the shows about characters considerably beyond their teenage years. Continue reading