Write Tip: On Paid Interviews & Why Authors Shouldn’t Pay For Them

I respect interviewers. In case you don’t realize, I am one. I have a lot of experience with it. Weekly. Sometimes daily, as an interviewer, not just interviewee. But there’s a practice that’s becoming more and more prevalent these days and which I really abhor of people preying on hopeful authors’ dreams and offering big exposure if they’ll just pay a fee for the privilege. And often this takes the form of interviews. And I find that pretty insulting. Exceptions might be a few cases where you’re guaranteed exposure like national television or radio, but even then, you shouldn’t have to pay and here’s why: They need content.

That’s right. You’re providing them content they need. Why else would they be out following random people on Twitter, commenting on your blog or advertising for authors to use their “great interview services?” One guy is so foolish about it, he follows you, then when you follow back, he unfollows. Uh, yeah, right. He’s preparing to interview me and he’s not doing research? There’s a clue right there.

Blogs and media need content. And the reason authors get interviewed is that people are interested. They want to find new books. They want to learn about celebrities and people doing something significant they admire. That’s why authors are getting invited to interviews and it’s why you don’t need to pay to do them.

I have another secret for you to. Listen carefully. There is no short cut to a large audience. Nope. Sorry. Even seeming overnight bestsellers are not overnight. It took them years to get there. And with the marketing muscle of a major New York corporation behind you, it’s easier to get boosts in exposure more quickly, but that takes thousands of dollars, even millions sometimes, and multiple outlets in a constant stream several times a day for weeks or months. If you can’t afford that, you’re paid interviews may give you a slight momentary splash, but I promise it’ll fade within a few hours or minutes and you’ll be back where you started. Even worse, the sales generated won’t make up for it. If I sell it myself, I make $3 per book sold roughly. At least until publisher’s advance and costs are recouped. If I paid $50 for an interview, that would mean I had to sell  17 books to just break even. I’d be losing my $3 on each book because I already spent it. So that’s like giving 17 books out for free. If you pay more for an interview, well, you do the math.

There’s a reason some sites charge for interviews and others don’t. Greed. Yep. They know people are desperate and hungry and they’re taking advantage. They have so many people wanting in, they have people pounding down their doors. And as long as authors continue this foolish rush, they will continue to get used by these people. The authors are not getting rich. The interviewers might be.

I maintain three websites. I spend $300 a year in hosting. That’s $25 per month. I spend 10-12 hours a week in responding to comments and writing posts. If I were paid for that, I’d charge at least $20 an hour. But to keep traffic growing and steady, I need regular posts, and I post not just on my blog but other places where I can link and keep visibility, so I write 4-6 posts a week. At an hour a post, that’s about $120 a week. Forget the comments, let’s call that part free. Most interviewers don’t bother responding to those. So that’s $505 a month right now for my three blogs and time and effort. But these sites post daily. And they post interviews two or three times a week. At three a week, $50 each, they are making $150 or $600 a month. If they have only one blog, they are probably paying $100 or so for hosting. Prep time on interviews is maybe an hour per post. $20 per hour. Plus social media marketing. I spend 3 hours a week probably on that. So $60. So add social media to mine at I am at $565. If you add the time it takes to do interview questions, let’s be generous and say an hour each, that’s $60. So their expenses are $120+$8.40 for hosting each month. $130. They have made $20 off those three interviews. And if you consider they probably don’t account for blogging time, they’ve actually made $70. You’ve lost $50. Who’s getting the better deal?

Interviews are invaluable for lots of reasons. The more the better. The more sites the better. Why do you see celebrities all over the place saying the same things over and over? Because they reach a different audience at each place. It has value for them. And that’s great. But they don’t pay for it. They get it free, because the interviewer uses their name in promotion and gets a lot of audience which is ad revenue. You may be an emerging or unknown author, like myself, but you are still bringing value. Someone interesting people can discover offering possible book of interest. In fact, the fact that you’re not on every channel is to your advantage. They’re less likely to flip through because you’re something new.

And I’ll tell you another thing. Since you don’t have access to their blog stats, you can’t verify the audience they guarantee exposure, too–not for your post, not for other posts. Those visitor counters can be faked. You can get ones that ask you which number you want to start the count on. (Oh wow, day one and I already have 150k hits, I’m awesome!) It varies day to day for them as much as it does for anyone else. AND there are tons of other sites you don’t have to pay for–bloggers, fellow authors, etc. who’d gladly welcome you. You just have to network and ask around. When I tweet that I’m looking for host sites, I always get one or two responses from places I didn’t think of or know about. Free.

If you get a big publishing contract and your publisher wants to spend money that way, let them. Who cares as long as it’s not coming out of your pocket. But when it does come out of your pocket, you should be careful to make sure it really delivers the return you want and need. Don’t buy these interviewers’ story about how they’re just trying to help you succeed. They just care about authors and want to help them live their dreams. My initials. (Drop the middle one.) I’m pretty confident that’s NOT their main motive. Instead, they are like all the other Writing Scams, and they are numerous, read http://www.sfwa.org/for-authors/writer-beware/ sometime if you don’t believe me. You are not alone in your dream of writing success. But don’t let greedy people take advantage. This is just one more way to victimize writers, and you deserve better because writing a book is a big accomplishment. It’s worth celebrating. And you shouldn’t have to pay for that.

For what it’s worth…

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the new anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. His children’s book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing. As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Painting With Words: Imagery In Fiction

I don’t know how many of you have ever tried to learn a foreign language, but believe me, English is one of the harder languages to learn. As the husband of an immigrant, I can attest to my wife’s continuous learning curve with our crazy language.It’s been eye opening for me as a writer, someone who’s always had a gift with English words, to watch this process. And what I’ve discovered is that one of the biggest challenges in learning English are some of my greatest tools as a writer: figures of speech.

The tropes otherwise known as “figures of speech” are expressions not intended to be taken literally but instead used to symbolize related things in some way. The five most common figures of speech are:

Metonymy – one thing is represented by another thing associated with it. Ex: “all the crowns of Europe” wherein crowns refers rather to “kings”

Synecdoche – a part stands for the whole. Ex: “all hands on deck,” with hands standing for men.

Personification – in which human characteristics are bestowed on nonhuman things. Ex: “the gentle breeze” or “the calming storm

Metaphor – a comparison which assumes or states a comparison without acknowledging that it is a comparison. Ex: “the woman is a peach” or “the eye of a needle

Simile – a comparison between two things using “like” or “as.” Ex: “the woman is like a peach

Other common tropes are:

Hyperbole – extreme exaggeration. Ex: “when she smiles her cheeks fall off.”

Oxymoron – the linking of two contradictory words. Ex: “act naturally” or “random order
Pun – a play on words using either different senses of the same word or similar senses/sounds of different words. Ex: “when it rains, it pours

Imagine being a foreigner trying to sort all those out?
For fiction writers, the simile and the metaphor are our most vital tools for painting with words, i.e. creating imagery in our fiction. It’s the tension between the two compared items which holds the power of such statements to inspire pictures and images in our readers’ minds. How alike or different are they? Good metaphors and similes get readers’ brains working to imagine how the writer could come up with such a relationship. They are intriguing, inspiring, interesting, even surprising. They contain an abstraction or judgment but yet are brief, condensed. At their best, they make us look at things in a new way.
From childhood, we are taught to learn by comparison. By being told to “be careful” when we fall, we learn that “be careful” is a warning of impending harm, which we will then apply to other situations. Our past experience forms a basis by which we predict the future and soon we are using language so full of similes and metaphors that we don’t even realize we’re doing it.
A pitfall of this phenomenon is clichés. “Her heart broke as he said it” is so overused it fails to have impact any more. “Her heart shattered like glass with the impact of his remark” is different altogether. Most writers spend a lot of time developing the craft of using these kinds of comparisons. Often one has to focus intensely on these aspects of his or her fiction. I know it’s something I continue to wrestle with. But when successful, metaphors and similes form the core of rich prose. 
So next time you laugh at a foreigner struggling with English, think about your own efforts to learn craft. Maybe you’ll understand better where their struggle comes from. You might even empathize.
For what it’s worth…

Tomorrow I’ll share some exercises on how to build up your skills with imagery.

Writer’s Tip: The Value of Receptivity

A section I read in Jeff Vandermeer’s wonderful “Booklife” last night reminded me of one of the most important lessons I’ve learned through a decade of international travel and cross-cultural work: be receptive to other world views. I cannot emphasize enough how valuable it is for characterization and description to see the world through someone else’s eyes in as unbiased a manner as possible.

From a particular character’s point of view, you might write: “the crisp leaves sparkled in the sun, its rays accentuating the luscious green of their color.”

But what if you went inside the head of someone else who saw the same scene through different eyes. “The leaves’ sheen reflected the sun in blinding ways of blue-tinged light.”

There are people out there who see things very differently than you. And the more you know about how those people see the world, the richer your writing can be.

I remember a conversation I had with a friend in Ghana once, a student of one of my workshops, who insisted that God loves white people more than black people. Hearing a black African state that just blew my mind.

“Why would you think that?”

“Because white people are more blessed.  Look at their countries — wealth, power, success. Everything we wish we had and don’t.”

Another student once asked me what it was like to walk on streets of gold in America. And he literally believed the streets were paved with gold.

I visited an African coastal town once and was mobbed by children wanting to touch my skin. They rarely saw white people, our guide explained, you are like a god to them. Hearing that made me mad. I never wanted anyone holding me to that standard especially when it diminished the esteem which they held for themselves.

In Mexico once, I went to play with a friend’s daughters.  I love kids and playing with them delights me. But in this case I quickly noticed how everyone in the house kept a very close eye on me, and the older daughter kept her distance, only smiling occasionally but rarely actively participating in our game. Later, I was told that in the culture men are not expected to be able to control their natural sexual instincts, so they cannot be trusted with girls. I was horrified. I am no molester. I wouldn’t dream of it. Was that what they thought of me?

I bring these examples up (and I have many more) not to argue the merits or truth of the reasoning but to point out how different their view of the world is than someone from my background and culture.

The world is filled with such peoples of different views and by meeting them, interacting with them, and getting a glimpse of the world through their eyes, my world is richer. It doesn’t matter if their view of the world shocked or offended me. It doesn’t matter if it made me sad or angry. These examples inspired all four in me. What matters is that before I couldn’t imagine viewing the world through such lenses but now I can and as a result, I can now better write characters who view the world through lenses far different from my own.

Many of us meet people every day who see the world differently than we do. Those encounters are opportunities to expand our arsenal by engaging them in dialogue and trying to learn who they are and how they see things.  You don’t have to argue with them or agree with them to do that. In fact, I would urge you to avoid either. You’ll get a more honest perspective if you do. But what you can do is discover, through the powers of observation all writers are urged to cultivate and must to succeed, new ways of thinking and looking at things which can use to enrich your writing and your characters.

That’s why I love foreign films and stories and novels. I’m a much deeper, more well rounded person because of such encounters. And the box in which I place my world has grown much larger many times over as well. Grow your box. Build your arsenal and write better stories. The world will thank you for it…on many levels.

For what it’s worth…

AUTHOR’S TIP: Thesaurus Abuse No

I got criticized once that my writing style uses simpler words.  Why not show off your vocabularly or use more sophisticated verbage, they asked.  My answer:  I’m writing for a wide age group, and vocabulary is only useful if it adds to understanding, not if it takes away from it.

For example, my friend, a talented writer, just tweeted this from his WIP:  “Her soul was gnawed through, suffocating, sensitive though numb.”  Out of context, that does very little for me.  Intriguing use of words? Yes.  But meaningless without more context.  Knowing this friend, he’ll give it the context.  So I’m not worried about him, but I’ve seen plenty of writers who use words like this and end up with a jumbled mess.

Have you ever been reading and come across a word you had no idea the meaning of and it ripped you right out of the story and world?  Do you hate that?  I know I do.

Publisher Candlemark and Gleam offers this comment:  There’s a difference between having a good vocabulary and a good grasp of wordplay and being overly clever; think of the poor, overused thesaurus before running amok. Trust us, saying “her violet orbs welled up with viscous, salty fluids” does not, in fact, work as well as “her eyes brimmed with tears.” Won’t someone think of the thesaurii?

It’s not that I’m not impressed with a good vocabulary.  Well used, it can be both educational and intriguing.  I often go through during polishing and substitute words using a thesaurus.  This is to keep it from being stagnant with overly repeated words.  But I’m very careful where and what I replace.  It does you no good to show off words when the reader has to look them up constantly and step out of your story.  It’s distracting, annoying, and, in the end, insulting.  Writing is communication.  Communicate with your readers.  Fiction is story telling.  Telling them a story doesn’t work if they don’t understand it.

So when I’ve heard people criticize my lack of sophisticated words on occasion, I point to authors who are quite successful and don’t need that.  Authors like Mike Resnick, Orson Scott Card, Kevin J. Anderson, Timothy Zahn, to name a few.  I’d much rather have words a lot more people can read than words only suitable for a select few.  How about you?

Part of having a vocabularly is knowing when and how to use the words.  If you can’t do it well, you don’t really own those words.  So don’t try and fake it, because, trust me, readers will know.  And it won’t give you cred.  It will take away cred.

For what it’s worth…


It’s been too long since I posted something helpful for writers.  I really do intend to do that more often here, but as life around me is chaotic, so goes my blogging and everything else.  So if you found the previous posts helpful and were waiting, sincerest apologies.  I hope I haven’t chased you off.

Since I am currently halfway through a polish draft of my first novel, which has a contract pending from Diminished Media, I wanted to talk about how I edit.  Everyone has a different method and approach to such things, and there is no wrong or right way.  This is just how I’ve come to do it and I’m sure even that will evolve with time.

Before I talk about how I edit though, it might first be helpful to talk about my writing process.  I am a writer who doesn’t rely on outlines much.  I tend to like to know who my characters are in some rough sense, know a few key plot points, have a TV Guide story pitch sentence and then write and see where the story takes me.  This works well with first novels in series, but as I approach sequels, I am finding outlining a more necessary evil and I’ll likely be embracing that more and more.

My first drafts have one goal:  get the plot, characters and basic arcs down as fast as possible.  I want to get the major characters, scenes, and a sense of the pacing all on paper.  I don’t spend as much time on fancy descriptions or even in depth emotional monologues.  Those I can flesh out later.  I just want the framework to build on.  Now as I learn my craft and develop my skills, I find I put more of this stuff in first drafts, but my goal is just to get the story told.  I have plenty of time to fix things and make it all pretty and bow-wrapped later.

Because writing is a series of questions and answers for me, I aim to ask questions in each scene.  I keep track of these questions on a list and as I go along try and answer one for every new one I ask once the set up has been done.  This helps keep readers satisfied that they are figuring things out and that the story has more surprises.  It keeps them turning pages.  But forgetting to answer any of these questions is deadly annoying, so I keep a list to make sure they all get addressed by the end.

The second draft, at least a month after the first draft’s done with no peeking in between, I go back and read and pay special attention to setting descriptions, character descriptions, character arcs, etc.  I also look for themes or motifs I can use which have just appeared naturally and I find ways to work all of these things into the story and strengthen them, building on my basic blocks.

My third draft is my Ken Rand’s 10% Solution draft where I go back and cut absolutely every non-essential word.  I look at overused or overly repeated words, and I use a thesaurus to find words which can replace these and make the prose more interesting.  I also aim to just tighten wherever I can.

There are often subsequent drafts or even drafts in between some of these to work on particular specifics, but those are the three basic drafts.  Each is usually spread apart by 3 weeks to a month for some perspective and I do my best to immerse myself in other projects and flush the thing from my mind as best I can in between.  It’s very hard to have fresh eyes for your own work, and you cannot hope to make it the best it can be if you don’t find a way to do it.

So that’s how I write, in succinct summary.  How do I edit?

The one advantage of editing is it uses a different half of your brain.  It’s a different thought process and focus than the writing itself, so once you’ve done all those other things you can really start looking at mechanics like grammar, punctuation, word usage, etc.  The Ken Rand draft is editing in a way, and I do much the same in my editing phases, cutting whatever unneeded words I can, etc.  But on the other hand, I am looking primarily for how can I make this as shiny as it can be.  What repeated sentence patterns have I gotten stuck in that I can rework in places to keep it fresh?  Which places can I use more emotion to make action more powerful or build the character-reader connection?  Where can I use more of the five senses to make it more real to readers?  What questions did I fail to answer?  Which did I answer incorrectly or incompletely?  Is anything unclear or convoluted?  Is anything missing — holes, etc.?

I also read the manuscript out loud, word for word.  It’s different when you read out loud.  First of all, most readers read like this only silently to themselves, so you’ll get a sense of the flow for readers by doing this.  You’ll also find awkward phrasings, run-ons and other issues which you don’t always find just by reading your overly familiar prose.  You can find where you need a better mix of sentence sizes.  You can find where you need to break up paragraphs differently.

I always find I’m overly wordy.  No matter how many times I’ve tried to cut before.  Here’s where I find out how much I overstated and how much I needed more color.  I add more interesting setting decriptions or emotional descriptions.  I trim repeated dialogue and phrases.  I realize I have repeated things too many times and annoyed the reader and cut as many of those as I can.  If I have to keep them, I make them tighter and rephrase them so they don’t sound the same each time.  I also look at where the story lags in pace.  Are things out of order in sentences or paragraphs.  Etc.

The editing can take a while or go quickly, but I always make at least three passes on these things, the middle being the read aloud one, to make sure I don’t miss anything.  After all, when this book gets printed it will represent me potentially well after I die.  I want to be represented well.  Oh I know I’ll write better as time goes on, the more I learn my craft.  And I know publishers, agents, editors will all jump in with improvements as well beta readers.  But I don’t want any of those people to feel their time was wasted so I’ve got to make this the best it can be before they even see it.

I am impatient.  I don’t like to wait.  And I have jumped the gun on stories and novels with betas, agents, etc. too many times.  Burned markets and readers.  It’s too bad.  Because now they might never realize what the book and story came to be.  The potential they saw or didn’t see won’t be realized in their eyes.  Hey, I want everyone to read my stories, because I think I have something important to say.  That’s why I write.  Isn’t that why anyone writes?

In any case, when I’m done I get that feedback and make adjustments to that.  It takes a lot of effort to do all these drafts and editing phases, I know.  It takes a lot of time to wait through them.  But in the end, I want to be proud of what I write, and as I prepare to sign a contract on this novel, my second ever novel attempt and first science fiction novel, despite all the missteps I’ve made in sending it out too early, etc., I’m proud of it.  I’m pleased how it’s come out and I know all the work has made it better.  I can’t wait to see what it becomes after the publisher and editor do their thing.  And I hope it pleases you, reader, so I can write another one and another after that.

In any case, that’s a summary of my editing process.  If you have questions or want more details or just want to say hi, please comment below.  I look forward to hearing from you.

For what it’s worth…

Science Fiction Oddball

Sometimes I feel like a science fiction oddball. The stories I like most and like to write are good old fashioned space opera, like Star Wars or Star Trek, and sword & sorcery like Legend Of the Seeker, or high fantasy like Lord Of The Rings, etc. I don’t like slipstream. I don’t like stories which have no discernible speculative element. I don’t like preachy stories pushing a political agenda. And I don’t like stories with overwhelming amounts of science or magic which feel like textbooks. Tell me a story with good plot full of action and riveting, well developed characters.

Partly this is because I am a child of the media generation which are not the most die hard science fiction fans these days. I did not grow up on the old school science fiction stuff. I read some of it (Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, Jules Verne, HG Wells, Lord Of The Rings, Lord Valentine’s Castle, the Narnia Books, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, and more). I grew up on Star Wars and Star Trek tie-ins and the movies and tv shows. Those were what I got my biggest science fiction fix from. And certainly I have enjoyed going back and discovering much old science fiction stuff along with the new, both of which I continue to do. But I still want those lovable characters with action as they fight bad guys, save the girl, and save the world.

I don’t write hard science fiction. What would be the point? Biology was the only class I flunked in college. I never took Chemistry. The only science class I did well in was Astronomy, in which I got an A minus. And I skip the long boring sections in Tom Clancy books where he spends half a chapter describing a gun or vehicle. Who cares? Tell me a story. So those kinds of things just don’t impress me. In large part, that’s because they don’t make me feel anything. Characters do.

As I prepare to get my novel deal finalized and figure out a marketing plan, I am hoping there are lots of others like me, because that’s what I wrote, and I fear that may make it less appealing to the standard science fiction crowd. The fans who attend ComicCon and DragonCon would love it though, and I hope to reach out to them. Not sure how yet, but that’s the goal. Every reader who’s read it so far has raved about the book, including two fellow writers and two professional editors. Two small presses are bidding on it. I believe it’s good and people will like it. But they have to read it first.

Here’s hoping this is one case where being an oddball doesn’t leave me standing on the sidelines at the big game.

For what it’ worth…

Friday Photo Prompt

No details but I will hint that if “borders” come to mind, you’re on the right track. Or should I say “write” track?

Tuesday Photo Prompt

Hope this inspires some stories.

Friday Photo Prompt

My friend Jay Lake posts photos throughout the week. They’re inspiring and fantastic and artistic. It inspired me to think about how photos can be writing prompts. So as part of my efforts to make this blog more useful and helpful for fellow writers, in between blogging about daily life, adventures, opinions, etc., I’m starting this new feature. Photos to inspire your writing. Use it or don’t as you will. There will be others.

Photos © 2010 Bryan Thomas Schmidt. All Rights Reserved.

AUTHOR’S TIP: Playing The Waiting Game

I think one of the hardest parts of being a writer is the waiting. You wait to hear back on submissions, wait to hear back from beta readers, wait for checks to arrive, wait for books to arrive, etc. And if you’re anything like me, waiting is probably not your forté. So what do you do to get through it?

Here’s a few suggestions:

1) Keep multiple projects going. Once you send out the latest manuscript to your betas or a slush pile, get to work on the next one. Okay, you can allow yourselves one evening to celebrate your satisfaction, but, after that, back to work. After all, even if this one gets accepted, careers don’t happen on one submission. You have to keep building your business.

2) Regard it as a business. All too often I meet writers who talk as if their writing is a hobby, yet act as if acceptance or rejection is something their life depends on. I have few friends whose hobbies are so important to them. If you’re that invested, it’s not a hobby, so stop pretending it is and treat it like a business. Work on your craft, including writing classes, reading a lot, studying what other writers do and how they describe their own craft and struggles. Set up a database for you submissions and your income and expenses. Treat it like the business you want it to be.

3) Blog about it. That’s what I’m doing and it’s therapeutic. There are lots of people going through the same thing and sharing with each other is an encouragement and learning experience.

4) Remind yourself that finishing and submitting your work puts you a step ahead of many others. Lots of people say they are writers or want to be, but only those who actually write, complete it and submit it have the chance to actually make it as professionals.

5) Offer Reader Incentives. This one won’t work with the markets you submit to, but it might work with your beta readers. Of course, it all depends on your budget. But think about running little contests with your betas for the person with the most helpful notes, the quickest response time, etc. You can offer everything from gift certificates for a cup of Starbucks to writing lessons or services. It might be a way to keep your betas motivated. After all, if they’re not writers, they probably don’t realize how hard the waiting is or how important their input is to your success.

Everyone’s situation is unique, so I’m sure you can think of better ideas than I can. See what you can come up with to make the wait time pass more quickly. Whatever works for you might not work for me. The point is to use the time to further your career, instead of regarding it as holding you back.

Good luck with your writing.

For what it’s worth…

Write Tip: Making Perfect Bound Arcs With Create Space

After almost a year, nine drafts, two independent editors, a series of beta readers, two critique groups, and a few rejections, I was tired of looking at the word file that was my novel’s manuscript. I still believed in the story and characters and felt good about my writing though. Both the professional editors I’d worked with and the betas had raved at about, as had my crit group members. I’d polished and polished. But still had not achieved what I wanted — holding the finished book in my hand.

Then I remembered the process I’d used to self-publish my short story collection using Create Space. If you format the cover and book interior yourself, there’s no set up cost. And if you don’t click “Submit For Publishing,” Create Space never releases the book to Amazon or stores. This could be the perfect way to get to that next phase, I thought.

I went through the manuscript again and polished it some more, addressing a few issues I discovered with the main character’s arc, polishing and tightening words and sentences and making sure it was ready. Then I sent it out to two betas for corrections and final notes.

After their notes came back, I implemented them into the manuscript, made a copy of the Word file and started reformatting the copy to meet Create Space’s instructions for the interior of a 6×9 trade paperback. Locating a free temporary cover image off the web, I trimmed that down and used Photoshop to fit it into Create Space’s cover template. Then I sent both files off to a friend who was experienced with Photoshop to double check and polish.

When they were ready, I sent them to Create Space for file approval.

Up to this point my total cost: zero. Much cheaper than print cartridges and paper reams would be.

A day or two later, after Create Space approved the files (which took a couple of tries with the cover because Create Space’s instructions aren’t any more understandable than anyone else’s), I ordered a copy for proofing.

Looking it over, I made a few changes, resubmitted the files, and, a week later, had another proof.

What a great feeling it was to finally hold the book I’d dreamed up 25 years before in my hand looking like a real book. Oh sure, I still had to find a publisher, but at least I knew it would look good that way, and reading the paperback was much easier than reading a backlit .doc file.

Since I never submitted for publishing, Create Space never released the book for sale so no one except me and Create Space even know it exists. I sent a few copies to faithful betas and a couple of reviewers and then submitted to small presses.

Now I am awaiting word from two who are interested in bidding for it. Altogether a very useful tool for getting professional looking book copies inexpensively. Total cost per ARC: $7.50 + shipping.

For what it’s worth…

Word Limits

I have been really neglecting my blogging duties lately. Apologies to anyone out there who actually wanted to hear from me. The reason for this, besides deadlines to write yet more release notes and update the user guides again at work, is that I have been writing a set of serial stories which will begin running in July in Digital Dragon Magazine online, and I decided to release them as a book and include chapters from my two novels. The idea is to get my name out there by handing them out at conventions to writers, editors, agents, publishers and whomever else strikes my fancy. But because one of the two conventions I have blocked out for this year happens at the end of May, so I had to rush the project through to be ready in time.

So in the past two weeks, I have written 11 stories. Not all that impressive given my usually daily output, but nonetheless good for me given that I was not working from an outline or mental plan like I usually do with my novels. Additionally, I was working with a 1500-1600 word limit, something I am not used to.

When I first heard of Digital Dragon, it was from the loop of Lost Genre Guild, in which I participate. Several others had stories accepted there and I decided to check it out. Though it doesn’t pay anything, I liked the family-friendly focus, so I checked out the guidelines. 1500 words?! Are they crazy? I couldn’t imagine writing anything so short. None of my short stories had ever been less than 2900 words, and that one was a rarity. Most were at least 4000. Many came in at 6500. 1500 seemed impossible. But nonetheless, I sat down and decided to give it a try.

The idea which came to me was of a space opera about a Christian starship Captain and her crew fighting pirates/raiders from a neighboring empire. Since space opera is my favorite sub-genre of science fiction, and the sub-genre in which my completed scifi novel falls, it seemed a natural. As usual, I chose to make the characters more Christian-influenced than blatantly Christian because I want to write for a wider audience, not just Christians. What came out of me was a story about a female Captain on her first command leading an inexperienced crew into battle. And I thought it turned out pretty well. TW Ambrose, the editor at Digital Dragon, thought so too and suggested I might consider writing other stories in that world.

About the time the first story, “The Korelean Raiders,” appeared in the April issue of Digital Dragon, I wrote a follow up story, and found myself stuck on the idea that I could indeed do a lot more with these characters. Not just that I had story ideas, but that I myself wanted to know more about them. An idea soon developed to write ten more stories, all earlier than the previous two and bring the characters from when they first met up to the current stories, setting up their relationships, the origination of the conflict, etc.

With all the stories, I stuck to the 1500-1600 word limit, knowing not only that Digital Dragon would like to publish them, but also that as a pulp-type story, it would work best. For a guy who dreaded word limits, I found it amazingly easy and as time went on, found myself having to trim less and less as I somehow found a natural rhythm matching the desired length. The advantage of doing a serial was to do character development and story development which just couldn’t happen in one or two 1500-word stories. I also added a couple of new crew members and one more major enemy character and devised a plot line I believe could sustain not just these twelve stories but perhaps 30 or so.

In any case, I encourage any writers out there to test yourself by writing to a limit. With 1500-words, every word really has to count. It’s tricky to balance dialogue and description, and thus, some of my stories are dialogue heavy, while others are better mixed. But I did learn a lot about precision writing and thinking through character arcs in small chunks of very few lines and words. I think it will make me a better writer, and I think it will make you better writers too. If nothing else, I now feel a lot better prepared to trim stories for specific market’s demands. That is a valuable asset in and of itself. I even took the prologue of my scifi novel down to 1600 words from 2900 in an abridged version which will be featured in the May issue of Digital Dragon.

All the stories so far for the North Star-Korelean saga will be available soon via Amazon and my website, but other stories are also available at www.bryanthomasschmidt.net. If you want, go check them out. Meanwhile, thanks for reading my thoughts on writing with word limits. For what it’s worth…

Sharks in Publishing

I just got an exciting email this past week: an anthology wanted to publish one of my own favorite short stories. Having not yet made a professional sale in fiction (so far I have had fiction work only appear in ezines) and given that he was paying the professional rate, I was naturally excited. Until he broke the terms out. He wants me to hand over the copyright to DE (his company) and that’s for life. He wants to have his editor rework my story to meet his needs with no input from me (I did negotiate and finally got him to agree to give me approval), and he wants to restrict my sale of the story in the future unless he gets paid.

I have submitted to a lot of professional fiction and nonfiction markets. This is the first time I was ever asked to give up a copyright. I sent out the question to three groups I am involved with, including American Christian Fiction Writers. The combined membership of the groups is easily several hundred. Of the fifty responses I got within an hour, only one person had ever been asked to give up copyright and she had refused. Another friend told me it is unethical to even ask.

DE’s reasons were to protect his investment in the anthology he was creating. He wanted total control so he could market it. When I offered him First Serial Rights and Electronic Rights, he told me that was archaic and the way of the past. He was working in the way of the future. If he’s able to foretell the future, that is indeed impressive, but every fiction market I research online still asks for the rights I offered, never copyright. Not even book publishers ask for that. So I guess he’s the only one who’s really hip and ahead of his time then.

I pulled the story and refused to agree unless he changed terms, so I lost a nice pay check and a chance to be published. It made for a depressing day, but imagine what would happen if one of my favorite stories was suddenly in demand by Hollywood for a film or TV production and I didn’t own it. If I wanted to someday do a collection of my short stories (if I ever do sell any and become respected enough) and couldn’t use this one. Imagine if someone wanted to give me an award and include it in their award anthology and I couldn’t allow that?

DE justified this additionally by saying he was buying stories from Indian writers for $10 each and was offering me thirty times that, so he was treating me more fairly and helping me get exposure. Well he’s exploiting the Indians and he wanted to exploit me, because this is his first publication venture. He has no track record, no distribution and isn’t even sure which stories he’ll end up using and whether it will be print or ebook. The more we emailed, the more I realized he doesn’t know what he’s doing, and that made me even more convinced I’d be a fool to turn over my intellectual property rights to him.

To all you writers out there, it sucks to lose a sale. I get that, believe me. But don’t get so desperate you lose your self-respect and sell out. It’s not worth it, and it will come back to haunt you. Take my advice and those of lawyers and others and stand up for yourself. I hope someone else buys this story, because I really like it. But at least if they buy it, it will be from me and not someone else.

Wouldn’t you prefer it that way with your stories?

For what it’s worth…

So You Wanna Be A Writer…

I get asked a lot about how to become a writer. What advice would I give?

Two things: Write every day, Read every day.

If you want to be a writer, you can’t just think about it. As much fan as sitting around daydreaming ideas is, if you don’t write them down, you aren’t a writer, you’re a dreamer. Write daily. Set aside specific time for it. Because of my day job, I usually write weeknights around 6 or 7 for an hour or two. On Saturdays, I write in the morning, on Sundays, in the afternoon. Write something, good or bad. I set a page goal of between 4 and 10 pages, but many days I write twice that.

You can only become better by writing, so don’t worry too much about quality. You can always throw it away and not share it with anyone and you can always revise it to make it better. If you never have anything to start with though, you can’t do either, so write.

I suggest you read daily. Read good books, read bad books. You can learn as much or more from the bad ones as the good ones about craft. And don’t just read books about writing or books in the genres you like most and/or want to write. Read everything you can get ahold of. I writ primarily science fiction and fantasy, and I do read a lot of both, but I also read Nicholas Sparks (romance), WEB Griffin (military, thriller), John Grisham (legal thriller), Stephen King (horror), John Jakes (historical), Robert Ludlam (suspense) and a lot more. Every writer has something to teach me, and I use all of it. If I write a romantic storyline as part of my scifi or fantasy, I use what I learn from writers like Nicholas Sparks. If I write suspense, Robert Ludlam, John Grisham or WEB Griffin come to mind. You get the idea. The more tools you have in your arsenal, the better writer you will be.

As far as books on craft, here are my top recommendations:

Writing The Breakout Novel by Donald Maass
The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman
Narrative Technique by Thomas Uzzell (out of print and old, but worth finding at a library or used online)
Writer’s Market Guide by Writer’s Digest Books
Novel & Short Story Writers’ Market Guide by Writer’s Digest Books
Christian Writer’s Market Guide by Sally Stuart
A Guide to Book Publishers, Editors and Agents by Jeff Herman
Creating Character Emotions by Ann Hood

and the Elements of Fiction Writing series by Writer’s Digest Books. They have books by successful authors on topics such as Plot, Dialogue, Description, Scene and Structure and more, which I have found very helpful in learning my craft and you will, too.

Above all, write and get readers to critique it. Critique groups can be especially helpful in this. Your Mom and your friends will not tell you what you most need, unless they’re writers or editors at a professional level. You need good feedback to help you grow. Take the feedback, rewrite, and send it out again. Rejection is part of the game, and, yes, it hurts, but if you don’t get feedback you can’t get better, and if you don’t get better, you’ll never make a professional sale.

Lastly, never write for money. Write because you have something to say and you have to get it out. Write what you know, write what you love, and never stop believing in yourself. No one else can write it like you. No one else can write it but you. Your voice and your work are unique. If you work hard enough and stay strong, you’ll get read and you may even change lives.