Indie Publishing vs. Vanity Publishers

There is a difference. As Robert Bindinotto explains, vanity presses are:

…companies that make their money, not by selling an author’s books to paying customers (readers), but by selling expensive publishing services to authors themselves. They couldn’t care less how many books are sold; they care only how many authors they can enlist to buy over-priced “packages” of services.

It used to be that these companies (“… including AuthorHouse, Trafford, iUniverse, Xlibris, Palibrio, BookTango, WordClay, FuseFrame, PitchFest, Author Learning Center, and AuthorHive” among many others) were on the forefront of internet-based self-publishing. That all changed when e-books meant anyone could finally get their books in front of anyone else. As Robert writes:

“You do not have to buy ‘self-publishing packages’ costing $2,500 to $10,000 or even more, from companies that promise you the moon in promotion, marketing, and advertising . . . but never deliver. To cite my own example: I self-published HUNTERall for under $1,000.

So there are changes all through publishing, even in the sector that changed it all. What path have you taken or will take with your book? What have you experienced and what will you do different next time?

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Why Does Every Story Have a Villain?

In Waking the Dead, John Eldredge writes:

Little Red Riding Hood is attacked by a wolf. Dorothy must face and bring down the Wicked Witch of the est…Frodo is hunted by the Black Riders…Beowulf kills the monster Grendel…Saint George kills the Dragon. The children who stumbled into Narnia are called upon by Aslan to battle the White Witch and her armies…

So why does every story have a villain?

“…Because yours does.”

What are the villains in your life, your Story? Addictions, vices, work, sin, crazy people… As Eldredge writes, we are “born into a world at war.” He is coming from the perspective of Evil that was long ago unleashed in the world and seeks to undermine all that is good.

Our stories have villains because our stories are inspired by life. Fiction is only fact in different clothes.

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Why “Fantasy” Fiction?

Fantasy author R.A. Salvatore answers this in The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction:

Perhaps more than any other genre, fantasy is about the hero’s journey. In a world of seven billion people, with wars I can’t stop and legislation I can’t even read, the idea of one person being able to make a difference, the idea of one man or woman grabbing a sword and defeating the dragon and saving the village is quite appealing.

And perhaps it will inspire a hero or two in our own world to rise up.

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Storytelling Vs. Writing

Phillip Athans writes in his book, The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction:

Storytelling is at the heart of any genre of fiction…Teaching writing is relatively easy, but teaching storytelling is close to impossible.

Think about that. In all the writing classes you’ve sat in, or writing books you’ve read, are all the grammar tips and sentence structure mandates what makes or breaks your story? Yes, if your mastery of English is horrible, then your book isn’t going to find many readers. On the other hand, if you follow every “rule” to the letter, ignoring the flexibility of the language, will your great story be buried under perfect 8th-grade English? Perfect schoolroom grammar and perfect writing are not necessarily the same thing. And perfect writing is not gripping, immersive or compelling.

That is where the story comes in. Stay away from those things that will ruin it. Be a storyteller first, and if you really care about that, the rest will come.

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Missing Letters from Antiquity

Unknown thousands of writings from mankind’s past have been lost through the centuries, so it’s always impressive when finds are made, as with these Dead Sea Scrolls this month.

One has to wonder, what else is out there?

We know of some missing works, such as at least four letters that the Apostle Paul wrote (referenced in his other letters) that have no known remnants. He also wrote of a journey to Arabia and the intention to go to Spain (no one is sure if he made it). Did the prolific missionary-writer leave no records of these?

Finding these writings would be most interesting — or should I say historic?. Most consider the Bible closed — and any contrary suggestion unthinkable — but wouldn’t these letters be canonical? After all, the epistles state they exist. It would be quite the event, or circus, if such a discovery was made. Not a great disappointment like pseudo-gospels like the Gospel of Judas much ballyhooed a few years ago until scholars took a close look at it. Not that those types of documents don’t have any value, just not the religion-changing headlines often claimed.

Scholar and novelist Paul L. Maier explored the idea of the discovery of a missing part of the Bible in his novel The Constantine Codex. Another example of how it can take fiction to explore ideas some may not like.

And that is why fiction will never die.

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Writers: “Differentiate between drama and non-drama”

David Mamet wrote a “Master [writing] Class Memo” to his writers on the show The Unit a few years back. Much of what he presents applies to novelists just as easily as screen writers:

EVERY SCENE MUST BE DRAMATIC. THAT MEANS: THE MAIN CHARACTER MUST HAVE A SIMPLE, STRAIGHTFORWARD, PRESSING NEED WHICH IMPELS HIM OR HER TO SHOW UP IN THE SCENE.

THIS NEED IS WHY THEY CAME. IT IS WHAT THE SCENE IS ABOUT. THEIR ATTEMPT TO GET THIS NEED MET WILL LEAD, AT THE END OF THE SCENE,TO FAILURE – THIS IS HOW THE SCENE IS OVER. IT, THIS FAILURE, WILL, THEN, OF NECESSITY, PROPEL US INTO THE NEXT SCENE.

ALL THESE ATTEMPTS, TAKEN TOGETHER, WILL, OVER THE COURSE OF THE EPISODE, CONSTITUTE THE PLOT.

ANY SCENE, THUS, WHICH DOES NOT BOTH ADVANCE THE PLOT, AND STANDALONE (THAT IS, DRAMATICALLY, BY ITSELF, ON ITS OWN MERITS) IS EITHER SUPERFLUOUS, OR INCORRECTLY WRITTEN.

And most importantly:

I CLOSE WITH THE ONE THOUGHT: LOOK AT THE SCENE AND ASK YOURSELF “IS IT DRAMATIC? IS IT ESSENTIAL? DOES IT ADVANCE THE PLOT?

ANSWER TRUTHFULLY.

IF THE ANSWER IS “NO” WRITE IT AGAIN OR THROW IT OUT.

Does every scene of your story propel it forward or will readers feel like they are bogged down in a swamp?

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St. Patrick’s Day

Leprechauns, green beer, parties, Irish heritage. Hard to tell that St. Patrick’s Day started as a religious remembrance of one of Christendom’s most famous missionaries outside of the apostle Paul. So here is a little history.

Partick’s early days aren’t well known. His father and grandfather were both members of the clergy. Possibly a wealthy family, but surprising to many, they were British. Yes, the patron saint of Ireland isn’t Irish (reminds me of famed British writer C.S. Lewis who was, well, Irish). Nonetheless, the teenage Patrick was kidnapped and became a slave in Ireland for six years. It is there his faith grew, and he would later write that God told him when to flee to the coast, where he escaped back to Britain. There, he would receive another call to return to the land of his captors to minister to them. After over a decade of training in the priesthood, he did just that.

He wasn’t the first to introduce Christianity to Ireland, but is often credited with influencing its explosive growth there. As with most missionaries, it wasn’t easy. His writings attest to being detained and subject of wrath from local rulers. Mostly likely not the “fire and brimstone” variety of preacher, he would incorporate — or subvert — some of the old Celtic symbols, when possible, into his mission. He is said to have superimposed the Christian cross onto the Celtic one, making it a recognized Christian symbol to this day. The popular usage of bonfires by the Celts was maintained for Easter celebrations.

Many other legends have grown around Patrick, and quite probably, they are simply legends. Such as his use of the shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity or that he banished all snakes from Ireland. Even though he’s often referred to as a “saint,” he was never officially canonized by the Roman Catholic church, but only declared a saint by popular opinion. Still, the day is observed officially by Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans and some others. In the long centuries since the Reformation, many churches have abandoned such “feast” or observance days, perhaps due to some overstated fear of appearing too much like another denomination or of remembering someone in their history.

I think it is important to remember our past. Out of billions who have come and gone, when one has been remembered by history, one should be encouraged to find out why. Here’s a man who went back to the land of his enslavement, far from home and with little support, to teach and witness. I know, many look at those who want to share what they believe as some sort of oppression. Those are often the same people who claim to believe in the freedom of speech. Those debates aside, he also worked among the slave and poor, one of the first to oppose the kind of slavery he himself had experienced.

Yes, this Monday can be used to remember Irish heritage and its influence on the world. There’s nothing wrong with that, especially if you are Irish (if you aren’t, don’t you have your own day?). St. Patrick’s Day has, perhaps, always been a bit less about its namesake than it should. So take a minute and think about why this man is still known so many centuries later. History remembers only those terrible and those great. Patrick was the latter and maybe the church can look to those like him in their past as it charts its future. All, though, should ask this:

What does it take, whether you are remembered or not, to leave a similar mark upon the world?

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Disruptive Honesty

How honest are you with other people? Or do you find yourself doing what John Eldredge writes in Beautiful Outlaw:

We chitchat. We spend our days at a level of conversation as substantive as smoke. We dance around one another like birds in a ritual, bobbing, ducking, puffing out our chests, flapping our wings, circling one another, no advancing, now retreating…Let’s be honest – why aren’t we more honest with each other? Because it will cost us.

It will offend people. People don’t like being challenged. We don’t want to be seen as rocking the boat. Maybe that’s what draws so many to writing. Explore truth through storytelling. Some may think that this is a flaw in us, not being able to talk directly to each other. To an extent this is true, but our minds our wired for imagination. It is the source for innovation, thought and revolution. Storytelling reaches back into the depths of history in every culture. Homer. Chaucer. Milton. Dante. Twain. Poe. Dickens. Even Christ used stories to reach people.

Stories can be the gateway to Truth. They will never go away.

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50% of Book Sales from Indie and Small Press Authors

Says this report. Robert Bidinotto gives the break down here.

Publishing has changed in a very short time and there’s no turning back. Technology has seen to that. Companies like Amazon publish and sell from all sources (and Amazon has its own imprints and indie services). But what is to become of the traditional publishing houses? Take a clue from retail and restaurants: Many are beginning to abandon the giant-warehouse model or overbuilt-shopping areas for indie-ish stores and smaller markets. Perhaps big publishers will be looking to similarly reinvent?

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Deal With the Devil: Operation Paperclip

Long a student of the history of space exploration, I knew of the Operation Paperclip (often called Project Paperclip) to bring rocket scientists to the U.S. after WWII from Germany. Never thought much about it until more studies on WWII and the Cold War started to reveal more about these scientists. Not all were innocents caught up in their nation’s war.

Some were part of the Nazi Machine.

Indeed, even when it was exposed in the ’40s that hundreds of these scientists, doctors and engineers were coming to America, protest was raised. It was largely too late. Records were scrubbed and classified. The people themselves remained quiet and evasive on the subject of their past until their death. While some Nazis to this day are hunted down in their old age, some were allowed to be free, in the open. Perhaps the most bizarre example of cognitive dissonance ever known, and widely at that. But most don’t know the whole story.

Annie Jacobsen remedies this in her new book, Operation Paperclip: The Secret Program that Brought Nazi Scientists to America. She isn’t the first to write on Paperclip, but perhaps the most thorough. She has brought new materials to light as more has become unclassified and through interviews with Paperclip family members and others with first hand knowledge.

I thought I knew a lot about the program, I didn’t. The twisted policy of chasing down prison guards in their 90s while other individuals were in effect acquitted. Some became American heroes. I have read of Von Braun and other rocket scientists who oversaw the V-2 production sites were thousands of prisoner-slaves died, but many know little of this. Jacobsen’s account will force you to look at our space heroes quite differently.

It wasn’t just the builders of rockets, however. Doctors involved in the Reich’s human experiments, experts in chemical and biological warfare and others were also spirited away by Paperclip. Most of these men lead productive lives contributing to our country. Others, though, were part of questionable state-sponsored activities here. In either case, Jacobsen writes this for us to ponder:

The question remains, despite a man’s contribution to a nation or people, how do we interpret fundamental wrong? Is the American government at fault equally for fostering myths about its Paperclip scientists — for encouraging them to whitewash their past…When, for a nation, should the end justify the means?

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