Tag: publishing

The precious time of day

Perhaps it’s a habit formed by watching Netflix, but I can only give a bad book so much time out of my life before I skip to the end and cut to the chase.

If I find a new show on Netflix, I give it a few minutes and if the acting isn’t sincere or the story intriguing I turn it off. This is a phenomenon relatively new in the world of fiction consumption. Many years ago in the stone age, we used to pay for a movie and sit in the theater for two hours whether we liked it or not; we used to suffer through commercial breaks for hours in our living rooms, because nothing else was on but the dumb show in front of us. Here in the future, there is always something else on, somewhere.

So, when I pick up a new book and start reading, those first few chapters better be snazzy and the story better keep getting better or I am done with it.

I recently started reading Origin by Dan Brown. I made it about 10 chapters in and realized he was just stringing me along for the next six hours of my life before revealing what his fictional scientist discovered about the origin of the species. I skipped to the page with the big reveal and saved myself six hours. The big reveal was a big disappointment, by the way. Don’t bother picking that book up.

I did the same with another Brown recently. Sandra Brown’s book Seeing Red caught my attention on the front page of a Barnes & Noble bestseller list one day, so I gave in and ordered it through the mail like an old-fashioned, Kindle-less reader. It was a total bore, so I skipped to the end and confirmed it all turned out just the way I thought it would.

If I am representative of modern day consumers, we don’t have time for books anymore. We want gripping stories that keep delivering from start to finish and we have the ability to search for them quickly. Books that pose interesting questions in the first few chapters only to make us wade through garbage to find the answers aren’t going to work anymore.

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The super-short e-book

I have a theory that people would read more if books were shorter, say like 10 pages or less. If that sounds ridiculous, wait until you hear me out.

In a year of study, I’ve found people really don’t read books. They hate the idea of reading books for one reason: it takes too long. People will binge watch a TV series for six hours, but will say reading a book takes too long. People will watch movies for two hours, even if they are bad movies. People even seem to take pleasure in watching bad movies and critiquing them afterward with friends. Nobody wants to wade through a bad book, however, and fear of doing so prevents people from even picking one up.

The key to being a modern writer is to come up with a format of reading that would allow people to read bad books and not mind.

To think in purely economic terms, as opposed to artistic, we are talking about consumers and their tendencies for purchasing stories. People need stories of some kind. They literally can’t live without them. By far the most popular way to consume stories is through video. No matter how much you tout a book, most people would rather get the story through their TV.

What if books were super short? Would people want to come home on a Friday night and read a 10-page story? My history of blogging has proved that people do like to read, as long as the reading doesn’t take too long.

I have released a super-short e-book as a test. You can read it for free this Friday through Sunday. It is called The Secret, by JJ Petes. It is available for 99 cents on Kindle or can be read for free with a Kindle Unlimited subscription right now.

I expect nobody to read this super short e-book and I certainly have no intention of making money from it. I only want to test the theory. If even a couple of my small number of followers gives the book a try, maybe I’m on to something. Super short might be the only way to go.

 

 

The art of selling stories

What’s the first question someone invariably asks when you tell them you are reading a great book?

“What’s it about?”

If you say it’s about good vs. evil battling it out in outer space and they aren’t interested in that kind of thing, they will shrug their shoulders and never bother reading. People make up their mind very quickly about whether they are willing to buy a story.

Once I was at work and I told a woman I work with that I had an idea for a story. I said I was writing about a woman who meets her soul mate, but is already married to someone else. Within the next couple of days, different women around the office were asking me about the book and saying they thought it sounded good, yet that one-sentence premise was all they knew about it.

I asked the women what they would do in that situation and each one said she would stay with her husband. I didn’t realize until much later that I was basically planning to write Bridges of Madison County, which makes me think about the difficulty in selling old stories.

Movies like Casablanca or books like the Invisible Man probably aren’t making much money at this moment and it isn’t because they aren’t any good. It’s because they aren’t front and center in our minds.

People don’t read books because they are well written and they don’t watch movies because they are artistically shot. Take the two following cases as proof:

The seven-year old son of a man I know was wearing a Star Wars T-shirt the other day. I asked him if he was a Star Wars fan.

“Not really,” he said. “But I’ll watch it anyway.”

I just finished watching a movie called Passengers, which was made in the past year and frankly wasn’t impressive. I watched it anyway, because the premise intrigued me and I was in a tired mood and needed to relax.

In both cases, the consumer would gladly watch a better movie, but would also be willing to settle for a mediocre one. Now I understand how so many bad books and movies get made. The public doesn’t demand good.

If I told that kid he could watch a great classic movie from 1956 or the latest Marvel superhero movie, he would probably choose the latter. Premise and freshness trumps depth of content when selling a story.

 

 

 

Keep blogging, even though it won’t sell your book

That was the theme of an article I read last week. Blogging will not sell your book at all, wrote a female author, not even if your blog is read by thousands and thousands of people.

This female author had a real, published book for sale and her widely read blog post led to one or two sales of the book and that’s it, she wrote. Yet, she insists that blogging is still a good thing. Blogging gets your writing and your name out into the world and keeps both on your readers’ mind, so when the reader runs across your book someday, they know who you are.

Last year, I read a blurb from a literary agent who said the first thing he does when he gets a submission is Google the prospective author’s name. If they don’t have an online presence in place, he won’t even read the submission.

I guess the lesson to take from both of these tidbits of information is that modern writers better be online in some form.

Do you need an editor?

I completed 23 percent of that book I mentioned the other day and could go no further. I gave it a two-star review on Goodreads and in the process ran across an interesting review from another Goodreads user who also gave two stars.

Her review said the book started strong, but became repetitive and slow moving, which she thought could have been fixed by an editor. I agreed completely with her assessment and it forced the question: do all writers need an editor?

An editor of mine at a newspaper I worked for used to say everyone needs an editor. She didn’t say it to me directly in a scolding sort of way; she just said it out loud when circumstances called for it. While there were rare occasions in which she wouldn’t change a word of my stories for the paper, she more often changed them for the better. A few times, she changed them for the worse, but only a few times. Overall, my work was better for having an editor.

So, if I had to give advice to anyone thinking of publishing a book, I would tell them to get an editor. They don’t help with spelling and grammar as much as they help with analyzing the feel and flow of a work.

From what I understand, self-publishers can hire decent editors. Does anyone out there have a good editor they can recommend?

 

The greatest compliment

I usually don’t get past the first page or two of most books, so the greatest compliment I can give any book is to finish it. I sample a lot of books and it’s a pretty decent compliment if I pass the first chapter. I found a random book yesterday that lured me beyond the nine percent mark on Kindle. The book is Deadly Messengers by Susan May.

I plunged right in without reading any blurbs and found the general writing style to my liking and the story intriguing enough. I will continue reading it today and see how far I get. The beauty of reading on Kindle Unlimited is I can quit the book anytime.

If I make it all the way through, I may even take a stab at writing a short review for this blog. I promise to keep it short to increase the odds that you will finish it.

 

Funny thing about bestseller lists

Consumers of entertainment love lists, like the Billboard Top 10, the top hits of the weekend box office, or the New York Times Bestseller List. The big difference between the first two lists and the third list is the honest, realistic sample size available.

If you see a list of the top 10 songs, it is reasonable to assume a music fan will have listened to all 10 songs and formed opinions about each. A moviegoer could easily watch three to five of the top 10 movies over a one-month stretch, but books require a significantly greater time commitment, meaning a reader might only read one book on a bestseller list before the list has completely changed.

The rest of the books on the list become irrelevant and vanish, like old blog posts. I remember back around Thanksgiving, everywhere I browsed for books I kept seeing the new book from Bruce Springsteen. His memoir Born to Run was all over the bestseller list for a couple of months. What list is it on now? Does anyone even remember that Springsteen wrote a book?

In a way, entertainment brokers’ lists resemble slow-moving social-media feeds. We glance over them the way we would glance over our Facebook page, reading only the posts that interest us and forgetting the others forever. Of course, there is only so much time in a day, so how many 70,000-word posts are really getting read?