Losing the Story - Just Part of the Job

free forest

"--I don't know much

And I'm not lying

But I think you just have to keep on trying

That's what's going to save me..." 

~New Year's Eve - First Aid Kit~

So much in writing is about getting lost. Not surprising really, since being lost is at the very heart of all exploration. And don't be fooled by the pajama pants, nerdy glasses and bookish temperament: writers are explorers of the most adventurous sort. A true writer's brain is the equivalent of any whip-cracking, sea sailing, earth tasting, moon-landing globe trekker there's ever been.

To tell a good story, you have to be willing to go places--or at least get there--by the most unique method possible. No matter your process of writing a story (pantser/plotter/etc.), I think that applies on some level.

After all, you're not likely to discover a new path by constantly treading the ones you know.  In that way, much of the storytelling journey is done by compass, not by map. There's a sense of direction, where you want to go, but not necessarily an exact idea of where you're at. And there's rarely one set path you're going to follow to get there.

Sounds exciting, right? (It is!) Here's the thing: If you've ever been truly lost--I'm talking no clue where you're at or where you're going but for your next step kind of lost--it can be scary as hell too.

"He stopped to look at me and said

'Child, don't fear doing things wrong'

Yet I am still afraid

But if anything

That's what's going to save me..."

~New Year's Eve - First Aid Kit~

Now you've stepped in it. You've done written yourself into the trees and the forest is lost to you. Like a hunting hound, you've chased that rabbit too far, too fast. There are brambles, tangled plots and meaningless landmarks/characters everywhere you turn. Those harmless shadows you raced by only moments before have somehow caught up. They've gathered round you to form an impenetrable wall of darkness.

You're lost. For real lost, not happy existential lost. You feel as though just a few more miscalculated steps in the wrong direction and the story might be gone for good. We've all been there. Personally, it happens to me once in every story I write.

It goes down something like this: 

1) Inspiration hits!

2) I write like mad!

3) A few chapters in, I realize I might actually have a story.

4) I continue to write. I jot down notes. I do some research. I sketch out an outline of what I think the story is going to be. A true skeleton is formed.

5) I keep writing. Putting flesh on the bones, giving a body to the head I created.

6) Then I get to the legs: Crap! I've only got one good leg. Crap! Now I've got 7 shaky legs. Crap! Now I have none...

7) Having nothing to stand on, I question why I started writing the story in the first place. I might even question why I wanted to WRTIE in the first place. The thrill of exploration is gone. I'm scared. I'm lost.

"--Gotta stop worrying about everything to the letter

And sometimes when it's too hard to get on

It just might be you that I'll come upon

But I find it hard to believe

But if anything

That's what's going to save me..."

~New Year's Eve - First Aid Kit~

I've read the writing advice many times (you probably have as well): YOU HAVE TO WRITE YOURSELF OUT OF A JAM. I think the point is this - Go ahead and plot, outline, burn candles, listen to music, go for a walk--do whatever stimulates your writing brain. But at the end of the day, words on paper is the trick that's going to get you out of the mess you're in.

It might take ten-thousand unused words or a dozen unsuccessful steps to get you back on the right path. Ultimately, you'll find your way if you just keep writing. When you're drafting a story, it's all too easy to get turned around once the trail is cold. You lose purpose, and a story with no purpose or direction isn't a story at all, just words. 

On those occasions, don't despair. Remember that getting a little lost is part of the process. There's a way out, even if you don't see it right away.


This post was inspired by a terrific new band I found over the weekend. Their name is First Aid Kit and the lyrics above are quoted from the song New Year's Eve (video and full lyrics below). I highly recommend their album 'The Lion's Roar'. They helped me get out of a story-related mire, and I thought they might be able to do the same for you. : )


Well it's a new year
With it comes new hope and new fear
Met a young man who was in tears
He asked me what induces us to stay here
I said I don't know much
And I'm not lying
But I think you just have to keep on trying
And I know I am naïve
But if anything

That's what's going to save me
That's what's going to save me

Took a stroll around the neighborhood
Where the trees are swaying
People pass in cars with their windows down
With a pop song playing
A man walked by
Rocking back and forth the street
With a drunken smile to go along
He stopped to look at me and said
"Child, don't fear doing things wrong"
Yet I am still afraid
But if anything

That's what's going to save me
That's what's going to save me

Now I have a lot to learn and I'm starting tonight
Gotta stop looking at things like they're black and they're white
Gotta write more songs, love a little more, treat my friends better,
Gotta stop worrying about everything to the letter
And sometimes when it's too hard to get on
It just might be you that I'll come upon
But I find it hard to believe
But if anything

That's what's going to save
That's what's going to save me

Tell me tell me
Oh what's going to save me

Amazon KDP Select: Good, Bad or Ugly? Pt. 2

Welcome back! Hope everyone had a restful weekend, and also hope some of you are getting to enjoy the holiday away from work.

We left off Friday with an opening discussion of the Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing Select program as part of my new (and ongoing) N00B VIEW take on publishing whathaveyous.


It was more of a 'leading up to' account of how we got to this point, so if you're not familiar with what's been going down in electronic publishing (particularly as it pertains to Amazon shenanigans) it might be worth a read. I included a number of links within the article just in case you want to skip the shower and plunge into the deep, murky water head first.

Also, there were a number of tremendous comments I'd encourage you to read even if you don't have time to get to the entire article. Lots of smart folks chiming in!  Looking forward to more discussion as we wrap this up.


"You think these'll give you cancer? Just wait 'til I explain this publishing stuff..."
To understand KDPS we first need to wrap our noggins around the Amazon Kindle Owner's Lending Library (KOLL). Announced in September of last year, KOLL was to be a program for books akin to what the Netflix streaming service is to movies. 

Pretty ingenious from a reader's standpoint, right? Who wouldn't like a steady supply of electronic reads for one monthly or annual price, after all? Especially those of us who read multiple books in a month. Score one for the Amazon! Er, maybe... 

Amazon eventually launched the program late last year. Basically, if you enrolled in the Amazon Prime program ($79 US per year) and owned a Kindle device (NOTE: Doesn't work with Kindle applications on iPad, etc. from what I've read.), you could 'borrow' one book a month so long as the book was enrolled in the KOLL program. The KOLL program was to run in conjunction with other Prime benefits (like video streaming and free shipping for many Amazon products). 

So it wasn't the open barn door to reading Nirvana many had imagined, but definitely a step in an interesting new direction for book lovers.

For folks in the publishing business, however, it was tantamount to landing on a big, dark and scary moon. A foreign world was opening up, a world in which Amazon was making the rules. Independent authors were quickly welcomed into this unusual new landscape as well, so long as they followed those rules.

What the heck is Kindle Direct Publishing Select (KDPS), and why do we care?

The easiest way to conceptualize the KDPS program is to think of it as 'the independent author's' side of Amazon's Kindle Owner's Lending Library. The afore mentioned rules, as it were, for enrolling your work in the  KOLL.

Here's the dirty: Independent authors (trad authors are bound by their agreements with publishers; i.e. don't do anything without asking your agent, publishers and the Good Lord first) can opt to enroll either new or existing eBooks published via the Kindle Direct Publishing program in the KDPS program. You don't have to. You can simply upload your Kindle versions or leave them be if they're already up. Once they are enrolled (and published), your books (s) can then be borrowed by KOLL users. Easy as gettin' wet in a thunder storm. 

(I know those of you familiar with KDPS are screaming, WHAT ABOUT THE FLIPPING GINORMOUS CATCH, EJ?! Wait for it...)

After reading the above, (assuming you're an author-type) you have to be a little curious as to what the author gets out of this book lending stuff. I know I was! Here it is: 

1) Publicity: You get the relatively undivided attention of oodles of Amazon Prime members. Well at least the ones that own a Kindle... Well, at least the ones that own Kindles and read on them. (Hint - the new Kindle Fire is more of a tablet than an eReader, which translates to lots of people using them to do stuff other than read.) Furthermore, the program is in its infancy so there aren't THAT many books available. Yet.

2) Money! That's right, this ain't your grandparents' library with all the smelly sofas, burnt coffee and AA meetings. Folks pay for Amazon Prime, and the Big A was at least foresighted enough to know that authors would want their slice of cheese for playing along. Amazon has allotted a designated amount of funds to pay as royalties to all independent authors who have books enrolled in the program. Straight from the mouth of the giant commerce horse:

"Earn your share of at least $6 million throughout 2012 when readers borrow your books from the Kindle Owners' Lending Library."

(…)Your share of the monthly fund is based on your enrolled titles’ share of the total number of borrows across all participating KDP titles in the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library.

For example, if total borrows of all participating KDP titles are 100,000 in December and your book was borrowed 1,500 times, you will earn $7,500 in additional royalties from KDP Select in December.

Enrolled titles will remain available for sale to any customer in the Kindle Store and you will continue to earn your regular royalties on those sales. (…)

As near as I can tell the amount of funds available to KDPS enrollees is going to fluctuate based upon the number of books being downloaded, Prime Memberships, and Agnes knows what else. (If you are enlightened to the exact formula, please enlighten the rest of us.) 

The monthly 'allotment' of money to be divvied up in December was $500,000 US, and they've raised the kitty to $700,000 for January. 

3) Open and Constant Data Feedback: Amazon promises to allow you to see all the numbers on how often your book is downloaded, etc. at any time. Additionally, your 'borrowed' books will count toward your overall sales rank. And we all know how important it is from a marketing standpoint for your books to be ranked high in genre sales lists. (We all know that, right?)

Some authors think it isn't fair to allow borrowed books to count towards sales rank as it can perhaps create some skewed data. They also believe that it's Amazon's way of allowing/encouraging Indies to price their work for free so long as they do it the Amazon way. Note: Amazon doesn't allow you to price (strictly speaking) your regular Kindle Direct works for free--a common practice by authors on other eBook retail sites to generate buzz.

4) Other Stuff: Amazon is also promising some kind of snazzy Promotions Manager tool that will allow you to control the pub for your free books. Not sure how it works, but I do know there has been some clammer from Indies for additional advertising perks from Amazon for a while. We'll have to wait and see if this helps.


Sounds okay, doesn't it? So why are there so many authors with their drawers all knotted up? Directly from Amazon:

"When you choose KDP Select for a book, you're committing to make the digital format of that book available exclusively through KDP. During the period of exclusivity, you cannot distribute your book digitally anywhere else, including on your website, blogs, etc. However, you can continue to distribute your book in physical format, or in any format other than digital. See the KDP Select Terms and Conditions for more information."

What is the "period of exclusivity" you ask? 90 days. For 90 days you cannot offer your book in electronic form on iBooks, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, your blog, your news letter, your dogs fun electronic banner collar you bought at Sharper Image (well, maybe that)--you name it. 

Amazon is basically telling you where, when and how you can use your work, which is something they've avoided like the plague up to this point. That kind of strong-arming was supposed to be how the big paper publishers worked, not the autonomous communal collective of the Wild Wild eWest. So 2008, Amazon! Hadn't we left that kind of neanderthal thinking behind? Maybe not...

Not sure it goes all the way to Neo-McCarthyism, but at best it's a glaringly obvious grab for power in the electronic reading arena, and many folks think it is out and out corporate bullying. 

So is it good, bad or ugly? 

As alluded to in part I of this discussion, I believe the modern independent (indie) author owes a tremendous debt of gratitude to Amazon. No matter what grievances have arisen since, this much is certain: Without the introduction of the Amazon Kindle to the general populous and the subsequent allowance of Kindle Direct Publishing (basically, the program that allows authors of any renown to upload their work for purchase on the Amazon site at no upfront cost), being an Indie would still mean vanity presses, eye-of-a-needle small print runs and local (if you're lucky) exposure. 

The popularity of Amazon as a book vendor and their strong longterm reputation as an Online merchant and innovator is why we can even have this discussion with a straight face. They and, to a lesser degree, folks like Smashwords have placed a tremendous amount authority back in the hands of the creators. For that, I think all authors, both traditional and independent, should be at least somewhat appreciative. 

Moreover, authors are already reporting some serious financial bumps from taking part in the KDPS. (Click for details and jealous convulsions.) Whether it be from their cut of the lending funds, or from the sales bump the rest of their 'pay' works are getting because of the exposure, there seems to already be some juice in the program. And we're barely a month in! So at the very least, Amazon seems willing to share at least some of the wealth with the authors filling out that robust Kindle library with content.

On the other side of things, I certainly think authors have a right to make their displeasure known to Amazon. The KDPS program DOES seem like a step toward Amazon taking control away from authors. Granted, at this point it's completely optional, but that's how most non-optional things start. No, I don't fault anyone for not getting involved with KDPS based upon principle so long as they can afford it. (The real question, perhaps, in all of this is just how long can they afford to hold out? The program seems to be off to a good start with readers, and that's ultimately who Amazon is going to cater to.)

If it were me, I'd probably not enroll my one and only book in the program. However, if I were an author with a large catalogue, I'd probably give it a shot on a few titles here and there. Or, if my one and only book had been out for a time, I'd consider enrolling it on a temporary basis to generate some new interest perhaps. 90 days isn't forever. (I certainly welcome any other thoughts and points I might have missed in the comments.)

In the end, I have to point to a recent blog post from celebrated independent author, J.A. Konrath. There's been a ton of pub lately about how he earned out $100,000 in three weeks just from his Amazon offerings. The post I'm referencing (and linked to above) he debunks some myths about how he accomplished it, and also reiterates two valuable points: 1) Only hard, hard work is going to make you successful--at anything. 2) You have to understand how the system works and keep practicing to find what works best for you

Ultimately, that's what this N00B VIEW series is going to be about: learning new ways to be successful, and trying to understand how it all works.  Hope you've enjoyed the first installment! Now go get to work...


Amazon KDP Select: Good, Bad or Ugly?

N00B VIEW: Amazon's Kindle Direct Select Publishing 

Just trying to wrap my head around all of the twists and turns in publishing of late usually leaves me with a swollen and aching brain. Things are moving that fast!

I know, I know. Just saying things are moving quickly in the publishing world makes me sound crazier than that ONE guy, from that ONE giant Southern state, who thought he could be President. (Silly Hillbilly, politics are for quasi-sane people.) Alas, it is unfortunately true, friends. Major changes to how words become books and writers become authors are happening daily. 

Why? Pretty simple really. In a night of careless frivolity even the Bieber could admit to, reading and technology hooked up and made a crazy touch-enabled, instant download, content devouring, everyone-is-doing-it lovechild. That child quickly grew into a monster known as electronic reading and, knowing only a monster could properly care for another monster, Amazon adopted it. 

Here we are millions of downloads later, and we're nowhere near seeing the end of all of it. Don't mind telling you, as a publishing newbie that's scary as hell. So, in an effort to help other newbies (a newbie brain-trust we shall be!), I'm starting another new 'feature' on my blog called the N00B VIEW

Each N00B VIEW will take a look at different aspects of what's going down in publishing, mostly as it pertains to the new guys and gals. I hope to make it plain-speak, or as plain-speak as I'm capable of making it, and angle-free. I've got no ax to grind. Or, as Coolio might say, "If you got beef, eat a pork chop."

Maybe we can figure it out together? Maybe we'll all go blind from eyestrain and the robots will read to us out of the goodness of their tiny tin hearts? In my bleak book, a win either way.

This is part one of two articles examining Amazon's new book lending program (think Netflix for books) and what it means for authors. The second article will run right here on Monday, mostly because I thought we needed to have a little history lesson on the and the post just got too dang long.

Let's get started!


Oh, what sad times are these when passing ruffians can say Ni at will to little old authors. There is a pestilence upon this land, nothing is sacred.

Amazon has been called many things by many authors. Savior. Greedy, sharp-toothed, dirty greedy bastards. You name it. Honestly? I think they've earned every slur AND every complement. 

In one respect, Amazon almost single handedly took the publishing game out of the exclusive, corporate, freaking huge hands of New York publishing by pushing the Kindle and ePublishing. In the same move they put the game in the many grimy hands of the little people (see readers and writers--US). Yay Amazon!

Even before things got all techno-wild, Amazon was delivering paper books to your door at PRICES SO LOW THEY MUST BE CRAZY!! Consumers and fans of capitalism rejoiced!

On the other side of things big box stores, bean counters at Simon and Schuster and local bookstores moaned.  You see, here is the paradoxical female dog of it all: You can rarely accommodate everyone in business endeavors. If consumers are happy, businesses are probably losing money. If businesses are happy, consumers are left feeling fleeced. Not always, but usually. 

Before the Kindle ever caught fire, Amazon held a few too many cards for the tastes of many people in the publishing industry. Already a global giant in the paper book retail game, Amazon began acting as publisher as well with the eBook craze. Then, last year, they really peed on the campfire when they announced they were getting into paper book publishing as well. The tug of war between Amazon and traditional publishers began in ernest.

You can understand the dilemma faced by the trad pub folks: Your largest retail vendor is also trying to run you out of business. (Amazon denies that last bit, by the way.) They need their books to be sold on Amazon, but they also don't want Amazon (now a competitor in their business) to dictate terms.

Meanwhile, traditional publishing ex-pats and DIY authors flocked to Amazon to take advantage of the opportunity. Never before had an author been able to get her work in front of millions of consumers without signing 'Hurt So Good' contracts and/or mortgaging their creative properties. The filters were off, so to speak, and lots of previously struggling (or non-existant) authors started making money. Good money, and in some cases GREAT money.

However, a few nervous nellies (AKA - skeptical authors and agents) were cautioning about Amazon being the cow with the golden teat. (Okay, I just made that up, but it sounded like a cool name for a cautionary tale.) Once Amazon held all the cards, they said, they'd get all heavy handed and cut the purse strings. It would no longer be an open market, and you'd publish on their terms or not at all. Just like the old way of doing things, but maybe at an even higher cost, with even fewer people who really 'love' books in charge of things. 

Hogwash? Many thought so, until Amazon announced the Amazon Kindle Owner's Lending Library at the end of last year. The Kindle Direct Publishing Select (KDPS) agreement for independent authors soon followed. For the first time, Amazon began using words like 'exclusivity' and other nasty terms that make the ears of the artistically free bleed. 

So is it a good deal for authors or not?



*UPDATE* I inadvertently left the word "SELECT" out of the title of this post and the references I made to the Kindle Direct Publishing Select program. Please note that Kindle Direct Publishing differs from Kindle Direct Publishing Select and that (for the purposes of this discussion) my intention was to discuss KDPS. I apologize for any confusion, and really (REALLY) appreciate the folks who pointed out my omission. 

Blog Science - Who Do You Read

Howdy Gang! How're you coming on those resolutions? Me either... Still, it's times like these we have to remind ourselves: What would Brian Boitano do? Know what I'm sayin'?

You might (or might not) recall, not long ago I began a new reoccurring feature on this blog called Blog Science. (Guess I can't call it reoccurring yet 'cause this is only the 2nd post. I digress...) In this new feature we're basically going to take a hard look at blogging 'best practices'. Hopefully we can come up with some new ideas and/or insights that will improve our blogging. Or perhaps we'll just create a forum to bitch about the things we don't like. Either way, we grow, which is the point.

DISCLAIMER: I'm no expert or anything, but like most politicians I enjoy pretending I'm one. No, if you want blog expertise, go check out blogs with follower numbers in the Ks. In all seriousness, this is more about creating a dialogue between bloggers. So don't just sit there, tell us what you think!
Today's installment of Blog Science is going to examine the lucky few. The cream. The elite. No, I'm not talking about the the 1%, I'm talking about the blogs you actually read. I suspect I'm not alone when it comes to my blog diet: I've got many on my plate, but actually get around to eating only a few. My eyes are much larger than my stomach, as it were. 

Now before you get all 'hate crazy' on me, understand it isn't because of some kind of weird follower Internet ponzi scheme. I didn't just follow a bunch of blogs, hoping they'd follow back, and then completely ignore them.  This blog thang doesn't go down like Twitter, after all. 

(thanks be to God--mazel tov! mazel tov! Sorry, we caught Fiddler at the local theater a couple of weeks ago and it's been in my head ever since...) 

I can honestly say I've read at least a portion of every blog I follow and followed them because I truly enjoyed what I was reading. It is also a way I've thrown my support behind the friendly faces I've met around the WWWebs. Unfortunately, as I've said before, there are far more awesome blogs out there than there are minutes in the day. 

Chances are, if you've been blogging for a year or more, you've run into a similar predicament. This post isn't about solving that problem. There are far more organized folks out there who can tell you how to sort out and prioritize your Google Reader list. There are also far more ruthless folks out there who can tell you when/how to cut people off your blog lists to keep it paired down to only the essentials. 

What we are going to do is try to understand why we read who we read.  Essentially, who makes the cut and why? In order of importance, here we go:

Loyal Customers Get Dibs -
Okay, this one isn't rocket science. The blogs I most frequent, especially to the extent of leaving comments, are the blogs of people who visit my blog and leave comments. Call it reciprocity, brown nosing or whatever. The fact of the matter is that I favor people who acknowledge my existence. I think most bloggers do this, but if I only have time to read AND comment on a couple of blogs during the day, I usually track down the people who frequently visit my blog.

This doesn't mean they are the only blogs I read. It just means they are the blogs I go out of my way to read, if that makes sense.

The GOOGLE Made Me Do It - 
So I have the cute little iGoogle homepage thing going on. If you aren't familiar with it, you can basically create a custom Internet page with all of your favorite Web content on it. Why? Because it's awesome to be able to see your new e-mail messages, top stories on CNN, Twitter feed, Facebook updates, weather, etc., that's why. It's my homepage, so it's the first thing I see when I jump Online. You can learn about and get it HERE.

As part of my iGoogle page (at the very top, no less) I've got my Google Reader feed. It updates real time, so when someone posts a new blog update it pops up. It has become my blog lifeline. I know there are more efficient reader managers out there, but this one is the most convenient for me because I see it 10-15 times a day.  

The downside? I tend to only see the blogs that have been updated recently. So if you posted in the AM and I get on in the afternoon, your post is waaaayyyy down the feed. Unless I'm dedicatedly searching through the list (which I do from time-to-time) I probably won't see it. 

What I try to do is pick out a blog or two each time I'm on the homepage, that way I get a sort of eclectic mashup of reads from my blog list. Unfortunately, that means I don't consistently get to the same blogs.

Assuming again that I'm not the only person to use iGoogle feed lists (or something similar), here are some ways I choose which blogs to read:

Title of the Post: In my list I see the title of the post and the name of the blog. That's it. If I want more detail I have click the title (it then opens up in-page to reveal the entire blog post).  Thus, one way to make sure I read is have an awesome title to your blog post. Something to get me to CLICK. Granted, this will vary from the interests of the reader. Some people scour for ePublishing content, others for craft tips. So try to cast a wide net with most of your post titles. Enough detail to tell what the point is, but broad enough to appeal to many.

Opening Paragraph: I can usually tell from the opening paragraph of a post if it is going to be about what I was expecting from the title. Consequently, I read that first line or two or three to scrutinize the relevance of the post (or how the message will be presented). Sometimes it catches me with humor, other times with information. Either way, make your openings good and I'll read all of it. If I read all of it I'll probably jump to your blog and say so. I might even take it to the Twitters.

The Early, Middle & Late Bird Gets the Reader: Knowing that some people only see the most recently updated blogs, and that some people only look in the mornings, at lunch or in the evenings I guess it makes sense to stagger when our posts go live. This is something I haven't tried, but based upon my own habits I think it merits some investigation. I know it works for Twitter. (FYI don't Tweet at the same time every day, or only a portion of your followers are probably going to see it. Not everyone stays connected all of the time. Tweeps are creatures of habit, too.)

Frequency: Another easy one. The more you post, the more likely people are going to find you. The more people find you, the more likely you are to create...

BUZZ  - 
Hate this word? I kind of do, but it's probably relevant to this conversation. If I'm on the Twitter, or other blogs, I pay close attention to what my Web Friends are saying. If a trusted blogger or Tweep says, "CHECK OUT THIS BLOG! IT CHANGED MY FLIPPIN' LIFE!" I'm going to check out the blog. 

How do you get "BUZZ"? As best I can tell, two factors contribute greatly: 1) Write something worth reading. The good stuff has a way of getting out there. Study how to phrase your Tweets and blog titles. Learn how to share them effectively (What we're doing right here!) and fire with both barrels.  2) Do unto others. Help other bloggers get the word out. If you read something you love, share it on Facebook, Twitter, etc. They will typically treat you the same. If they don't, don't sweat it. Karma is as Karma does, momma always said. 

Those are the three biggies that sprang to mind. What about you? Who do you read? Why do you read? Share your tips and tricks or we'll hunt you down!