What’s in a name?

It’s been too long since I wrote a legit blog. Time is relentless in its march. Still, I want to talk about names. Really, I want to discuss made-up names and words of all kinds. Maybe the benefit of what I’ve learned will help you in your writing endeavors. If not, at least it should be interesting.

If you’ve been with me from the beginning, you probably remember the tragic first edition covers on my first two books. I’m embarrassed to show them now, but it makes a point. (Just to ease my mind, I’m putting the newer versions, too.)

 

 

To this day, the Space Balrogs won’t call my first book anything except, “The Cracide.” Which is what the title looks like on that initial cover. Since then, I’ve learned it’s best not to title a book after a made-up word at all. Not only because I get confusion by people who think the book is about killing God as some kind of anti-religious statement (which it isn’t, it’s about killing a Theocrat who claims to be God), but a lot of people aren’t attracted to the title at all because it inspires confusion more than curiosity.

I went to a book signing where Terry Brooks shocked the entire audience of fans by informing us that Shannara is pronounced Shan-uh-ruh, not Shuh-nar-ra. Every person there had been pronouncing it wrong for decades. I’m guessing after a lifetime of correcting people’s pronunciation of his title, he wishes he hadn’t used a made-up word in the title, too.

Exacting Essence isn’t much better. It sounds cool (to me), but nobody knows what it means. So again, it causes confusion instead of curiosity. So, by making bad decisions in the past, I’ve learned to title books using only common words people already know. It is much more likely to inspire them to want to learn about the book. Here are some better book titles.

 

Uniqueness in titles isn’t as important as getting the reader’s interest. Common words can make a really good title.

I think this has also affected how I think about made up words in the book as well. I have a few in Salvation, because it’s a straight up fantasy and monsters and towns need names. But even though there have to be made up words in it, I think I would advise authors to use as many common words and when they are made up, spell them in a way that’s easy to understand.

Schism is the name of the planet. An actuator is a legitimate machine part. The sense of something familiar being used in a new and “magical” way is more intriguing, I believe, than if I named the planet Blarghdorugh and the machine R.T.C.I. (Reality Transforming Computer Interface). There is a place for fancy made-up words, of course, but less is definitely more.

So what brought this up now? My work-in-progress involves me deciding what to call a city, the people in it, and various aspects of their culture. So I have been revisiting some of the wisdom I learned by past mistakes. The title will not be a word I make up. The city must be called something that sounds like a real city, named as real people would name one. And the characters will have names that are “futuristic” in the sense that they are names people might really use as a result of a real societal evolution… not Zaphanianna or some other nonsense that readers can’t pronounce. It’s unlikely that after people used the name Matthew for thousands of years it will suddenly disappear in 100 years and nobody will be giving it to newborns.

If I save just one author from making the same mistakes I did, this blog will have been worth the effort. 🙂

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How Long is a Story?

Today I guest blogged on Forever Writers. It’s all about the arbitrary classifications publishers enforce on stories (genre, audience, word count, etc.) and how the Actuator series shatters them all! Check it out!

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Double Blogging

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Now that I’m managing acquisitions for Immortal Works Press, I will be writing blog posts for their website about once a month. The first one is up! It’s about the audience IW is looking for and what we mean by “general audiences” in our submissions guidelines. Occasionally I might re-blog articles here, but if you want to get them all, you should sign up to follow IW’s blog.

And if you’re going to Comic Con in Salt Lake City this weekend, come see the IW booth at table number 2220.

Have a great day!

cyoa Marvel

Announcing: Immortal Works Press

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I’m pleased to announce that a brand new publishing company is officially open for submissions: IMMORTAL WORKS. I have accepted a position as the ACQUISITIONS MANAGER for this new press. You can find more information at:

http://www.immortal-works.com

Needless to say, I’m very excited about this new prospect. I will continue to have my books published through Curiosity Quills Press, but I have not been working as an acquisitions editor for them for some time. This will be a new adventure! I’m thrilled to be part of the team.

For those interested in submitting a book to Immortal Works Press, please check the submissions page. We are accepting queries at submissions@immortal-works.com now!

How many words make a story?

 

I remember the first time I checked out a really big book from the library. Not just a novel, this thing was gargantuan. Noble House by James Clavell. I think half of my motivation was just to prove that I could read such a huge tomb. In retrospect, I wish somebody had caught me and recommended War and Peace instead. Still, I finished it, and that was important to me at the time.

Since then, I’ve read and written stories of all different sizes. Some of the most powerful, ideas that have endured in my memory to this day, were crafted with very few words. For a while, most of the industry seemed ready to declare short stories extinct. Only a few magazines held out against the falling market, and writers largely considered those venues resume builders. Then Amazon revolutionized publishing and opened a way for people to get anthologies (or even stand alone novellas) out with very low overhead. Luckily, the dying art was given new life.

It was especially fortunate for me, since I managed to get into some of those anthologies and build enough cred to sway a publisher to take a chance on my longer works. I believe if nobody made any more short stories, we’d lose something very important and valuable. While I like books for the journey they offer, I feel in many cases the books are inflated beyond the needs of the story. This might be to raise the price of the book, or to extend the escapism time it provides. However, I think we’ve all read a long book or series and thought, “That could have been done in half as many words (or books).” Fans may argue that they want 20 books set in their favorite world, but I feel those massive collections are only one facet of the many possibilities for transmitting stories via fiction. In fact, the most powerful ideas can only be shared in much smaller works.

I guess that’s why I knew the Actuator series had to be done with stories of many sizes. It isn’t only a study in the meaning of various genres, it’s a study on the impact of differing story lengths. Thus, it is over 20 authors, working in different story sizes with characters intertwined through the larger arc. I didn’t realize it when we organized the series and pitched it to Curiosity Quills Press, but the whole thing is not just a multi-genre thriller. It’s also an exploration of every facet of written story telling. It will be nearly half a million words by the end.

Book 3, Chaos Chronicles, is just a few months from release. It contains some of the most imaginative, unique stories in the series yet. It started out as another anthology in the same setting, but once I read the amazing work in it, I knew we had to bring those characters back in for the finale (book 4). I can’t wait for you to read it!

Want to have written…

i know kung fu

In the Matrix movie, there is an ionic moment when Neo wakes up after a neural uplink and says, “I know kung fu.” If they ever figure out how to upload knowledge and skill sets like that, I am pretty sure I will never get out of that machine. I want to know how to do everything.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the many people I’ve encountered who tell me, “I want to write a book some day,” or, “I wrote half a book a long time ago, but I’ve been too busy to get back to it.” What makes the difference between them and the people who actually write a book, or many books?

I remember as a kid, I took karate lessons for one month. I tried a lot of things for a little while until I lost interest and moved on to something else, but karate I remember specifically. I wanted to be tough and fast and a mean fighting machine if anybody messed with me. However, I didn’t really enjoy the lessons or do the practices and exercises. So I stopped and did other things. At the time, I didn’t think of it. Now, I understand it better.

I didn’t want to LEARN karate. I wanted to HAVE LEARNED karate. I wanted the results, but not the actual day to day actions leading to them. The same thing happened with piano lessons. I wanted to know how to play the piano, but I did not want to practice.

So I think it is with many people who want to HAVE WRITTEN a book. They want to be an author, but they don’t really want to write. That’s the difference. Unlike karate and piano, I love writing. I love to be in the middle of a scene hammering on the keyboard as fast as the words will arrange themselves in my mind. I enjoy going through the experience with the characters and imagining new worlds and exploring big ideas. I wrote over a dozen books before I had my first one published. And even if I never had any books published, I’d still write them.

At a book signing I attended, Terry Brooks said writers write because they have to. He went on to explain that writing takes a lot of time for no money and a very small return. If you have a choice, do something else. We only write if we have to.

I have to.

I’m hoping this insight will help people interested in writing to understand. If you want to be writing, then write. You will inevitably write many books. If you only want to have written a book, but don’t really prefer the act of writing to other activities in your life, then maybe the other things you do are what you really care about.

There are many authors who write just one book and stop. That’s great, but they clearly aren’t someone who wants to write. Rather, they are among those who succeeded, but only wanted to have written a book. Once they reached their goal, they had no motivation to write more.

This has significance for me, and anybody who really enjoys writing, too. I think of book ideas by the dozen. Some I write, others I don’t, for many reasons. Now I have a new way of deciding which ideas to invest in and which to leave alone. I write the books I want to be writing. I don’t write the books I only want, “to have written.”

Skill vs. Marketing

Tome

Lately I’ve spent a lot of time ruminating on books. What makes some books sell and others go nowhere? How important is it for a book to have “meaning?” What makes a book become a “classic?” What significance do I want books to have in my life?

A lot came together to cause such an internal inquiry. First, I realized I reached my initial writing goal. Once I had several books published and I found my place in the local writing community and with a good publisher, I fulfilled my plans. So I naturally wanted to re-evaluate what my next goal should be. Second, I observed that book sales at conventions and signings didn’t change whether I had one book to sell or half a dozen. I felt good about having more books written, but it didn’t seem to affect my overall numbers to have more books on the table in front of me. So I began to ask myself, “Why write the other books?” (Don’t worry, I write because I love it, and that won’t stop.) Finally, what do I want readers to take away from my books?

Obviously, any writer wants to sell more books. But as I’ve tried to examine what makes a book sell better than others, the variables get very convoluted. Sometimes a mediocre books is marketed so well, or referred by somebody so popular, that it becomes a best seller. Other times books that I love and seem masterfully written, will flop and find no readers at all. So there is some measure of luck involved. What seems to be the only discernable pattern is when an author writes one book that “breaks out” and is hugely popular. It gains momentum all its own, in excess of the marketing. It takes on a mythos greater than the content or skill by which it’s written. That’s really the “dream” of any author, to write something that becomes wildly popular. But how much control does anybody really have over such a system? Or is trying for such a thing like chasing a white whale?

Michaelbrent Collings said something profound. “Selling your own books won’t go anywhere. You need to write books so good that other people will sell them for you.”

I stepped back from writing for a while to internalize these things and come up with my next plan. I’m going to finish the Actuator series, of course. (Book 3 coming soon!) After that?

What I’ve come to realize is that much of this is out of my control. I can develop skills and invest in the stories I write. I plan to focus on better and less instead of faster and more. And deep down, I have to believe that a really good story will resonate with people and have a better chance of “going somewhere” than an average story. I love all the books I’ve written, and the people I’ve worked with. Now, I just need to take my art to the next level. It isn’t a quest to write a best seller. It’s just refocusing to make the best story I can. Thanks for sticking with me on the journey. I’m looking for brighter and more exotic destinations!