The Fork is OUT!

August 30th, 2015
Fork against a blue sky with white clouds

The Fork

My story for the Christmas Anthology Christmas in Duke Street is done. The title is currently A Seduction in Winter, but I’m not sure that will be the final one. It’s off to the copy-editor.

I’m learning to work with and around the disruptions that are happening in what is supposed to be my prime writing time. This is due to the medical condition of a family member. There is nothing I can do about that but figure out how to deal with the changes.

I’ll post the anthology cover shortly.

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Back and Still Alive

July 29th, 2015

I returned from the 2015 RWA national conference this past Sunday evening. Since this was my first conference as a member of the national board of RWA (As a Director at Large) my conference experience included duties and activities above and beyond the usual.

Alas, I was unable to pack in just a carry-on size bag, even with packing cubes and video watching. As a Board member, I was at conference from Saturday to the following Sunday. I would have totally been able to do carry-on, even with my admitted failings, if I were only there from Tuesday to Sunday.

But that turned out to be OK, because that meant I could put lots of books in my luggage. I’m still not clear on why my bag wasn’t overweight. The carry-on failure was mine. I brought too many clothes. There were items I did not wear… ::::but what if I’d needed them?????::::  One year someone spilled wine on my only pair of pants and boy do I wish I’d brought an extra pair. Oddly, my packing cubes were full on the way to conference but on the way back, one was empty. I guess I got better at rolling up things small. I’m a convert. Those make it really easy to keep organized.

Highlights of Conference

Guys. I got to shake hands with Nora Roberts!!!!  Tessa Dare and I met Jude Devereaux. I managed to put some brakes on the fangirling but not much. Tessa was gracious as always. I also met Carol Mortimer. Oh, gosh. It was wonderful.

The doughnut party was another success. Megan Frampton was in charge of fetching the doughnuts and they were delicious.

Box of doughnuts

Why you shouldn’t be late to the doughnut party

Workshops and Meetings

I didn’t make it to as many workshops as I’d hoped. Good thing I bought the conference recordings! The workshops I attended were fun and /or informative. I was able to meet up with a lot of authors I only see at conference even though I “talk” to them all the time on Facebook and Twitter or other author forums. The bar arrangement at the hotel was strange. It was as if no one believed Romance authors would want to sit around and drink and talk all day. I felt for the wait staff. There weren’t enough of them for the demand, but they were all lovely while insanely busy.

The Mood by Numbers

This one is harder for me to assess because as a Board member I have much more insight into the issues of the organization. In addition, my writing career is going far better than when I was traditionally publishing. That’s a pretty simple truth. From 1987 until 2010 I think my total writing income was something like $60,000 TOTAL for 17 books. That’s about $2,600 a year. From 2011 to present, total income is roughly $240,000 or about $60,000 a year, and 140,000 books sold. Those totals are actually higher because that doesn’t include income or books sold from projects that went through accounts that aren’t directly connected to my reporting. It’s closer to $260,000 and 160,000.

I had none of my old anxieties and fears about contracts and publishers, and that was great. I had some killer hallway conversations with authors about career planning and management. My anxieties now are about the bets I placed on certain career events. For example, I “bet” if you will, that I would get reversions for 6 of my traditionally published books. I got three of the hoped-for reversions. I had the basic plan B in place and that’s the trajectory I’ll follow now.

For me, I made contacts and arrangements with my fellow authors that I expect to materially improve my career position and that is the reason to go to the RWA national conference.

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RWA – Reporting In!

July 25th, 2015

I have been crazy busy at RWA, the Romance Writers of America’s national conference being held in New York City. The Golden Heart/RITA ceremony is later tonight. I’m as gussied up as I can be and then I get to cheer on all the contestants. Yay!!!

Tomorrow I head home. Later, I’ll blog more about the conference, not of interesting to everyone, I know. I will also update you on the status of projects . . .

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Various Bits of News

July 16th, 2015

I leave for RWA (Romance Writers of America) Nationals on Saturday. I’m on the National Board which meets Sunday, Monday, and possibly Tuesday. Conference starts Wednesday and ends Saturday evening.  The Board has loads of stuff to discuss. I return from conference the 26th. I will try to blog if possible.

If you’re planning to be at RWA, please say hello! If you have any concerns or opinions about RWA, please do let me know. The annual donut party Megan Frampton and I throw is scheduled for sometime Friday afternoon. If you’ve been a past attendee, you know it’s fun as heck. Plus. Free donut. BYO beverage. If you’re not following me on twitter (@cjewel) now would be a good time to follow me so you don’t miss the official time announcement.

I’m busy writing my Christmas novella for Christmas in Duke Street. My Demon Warlord should be back from beta after RWA, so once the novella is done and the beta read is back, I’ll be revising My Demon Warlord. Then I start Sinclair Sisters Book 3  (Emily and Bracebridge, for fans of the series ….)

 

 

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Nook?

July 11th, 2015

Last week Nook announced it was shuttering its international store and now there is, at least as far as I can tell, unsupported claims that the North American Nook store will also be closed. Maybe. But I’m not so sure. But first, the international issue.

From the get-go, I had doubts about Nook’s International offering. The first red flag was that it could take 6-8 weeks for a book uploaded through Nook Press to show up for sale in the UK and EU countries. A delay that long suggests a manual process, as in the US store and the International store not being served by the same servers and back-end. It made me wonder if they were doing uploads via spreadsheet and there were subtle indications and a few whispers that this might be true. Certainly, a 6-8 week lag is inexplicable if the US NookPress back-end was the same as the European operations. I really don’t know, but to me, that was a sign that something just wasn’t right with the implementation AND with the corporate commitment.

Then came VAT and B&N did it all wrong. They were the ONLY vendor that had no way of saying, hey, “assume the price I’m giving you includes VAT.” It totally screwed authors who felt felt they should/must/needed/wanted to normalize prices. Nook made it impossible for an author to provide EU/UK prices that end in .99 — a proven sales strategy. It put self-published authors at risk of running afoul of EU fixed price book laws as well as Amazon price matching. I worried about the price matching because in one case, when I lowered the price of a book I was promoting, Amazon price-matched the UK version of my book to the Nook version within two hours of my update at Nook — before I’d gotten around to the other vendors. Amazon didn’t price match the US price for another two days.

Theoretically, other book vendors shouldn’t have to care about the self-publishing environment at Amazon. They ought to be free to have whatever policies they like. That is not the reality. Google, which could be killing it in self-publishing, has several policies in place that keep a lot of self-publishers out of Google Play because those policies wreak havoc with those titles at Amazon. In fact, Christmas in The Duke’s Arms had to be taken off sale at Google because they’d decided to discount the book to $0.99 and Amazon was price matching it in an environment where that was harmful to our pricing strategy for the next anthology.

That’s a reality, and regardless of the fact that Google can, of course, do whatever it likes, there are many, many authors who do not publish to Google because of this (but also because their discounting policy requires keeping a brain-busting accounting of List Price/Actual Price. It’s awful awful awful.)

Bringing this back to Nook in the US, Nook did what was easy for them regarding VAT and immediately screwed self-published authors.

Now, I can also say that over the past two years, Nook has been a decreasingly important vendor in terms of sales. From everything I can tell, they still impose an artificial ceiling on the ranking of self-published books. They also made it difficult to find Nook Books at their website. I got a lot of emails from frustrated Nook readers who could not find my books in a search. Jesus. Just a terrible, terrible user experience.

Plainly Nook is looking to spin off the eBook store, which wouldn’t be so bad — especially if it ended up in the hands of someone committed to the tool. (I find that doubtful, alas.)

But does it make sense for Barnes&Noble to have no way to buy products on-line? Does it really make sense for Nook to shut out self-published titles entirely? Only if they intend to go the “Indie” route and hand everything over to Kobo the way other physical bookstores do. Which, you know, is a conceivable result.

If Nook Press spins off, it seems to me it would have to become more like Book Baby (::snort::) or Draft2Digital— an aggregator. OR it would have to try to be an independent eBook store. If it’s doing to try that, then I would be whispering to Draft2Digital that they need a direct-to-consumer storefront. They already have a superior author interface and they can already handle multiple file versions whereas Nook, to achieve that, would have to develop Kindle compatible processes. I don’t think Smashwords is a serious contender, by the way. They, too, impose harmful terms and policies on authors. (Automatic opt-ins, enforcing the text of  copyright statements when they are not the copyright holder so what the hell business is it of theirs how I word my copyright statements? their broken ePub upload process. No. Just no.)

D2D, however, appears to have real tech chops and a UX team that knows what the X in UX means, which appears to entirely escape Smashwords.

Interesting.

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Thoughts on Kindle Unlimited and Scribd

July 3rd, 2015

Some of you may know that Amazon changed the terms of its subscription service, Kindle Unlimited (KU) such that payments due to authors with books in KU are calculated in a different manner than previously. If you’re a reader and you subscribe, you can read all you want for $9.99 a month. With the single limitation, so far, that you can have up to 10 books on your “shelf” at once. To get book number 11, you have to read or release one of those books.

With the Kindle Unlimited subscription you can access hundreds of thousands of Kindle books and thousands of audiobooks with Whispersync for Voice. You can keep up to ten books at a time and there are no due dates. Read your Kindle Unlimited books on any Amazon device, or free Kindle reading app. (Terms)

Scribd reinvented itself from a pirate site reader-centric sharing site (Irony ALERT!) into a subscription service. For $8.99 a month. They paid all authors/publishers the same as a sale.

If you’re a reader, that’s a pretty sweet deal, assuming the books you want to read are in the program.

If you’re an author, deciding whether to have a book in KU is a business decision, and not everyone’s business needs and goals are the same. Everyone’s reasons for being in or out are different. Last year when KU debuted, I blogged about it here. Here’s what I said then about how that would be profitable:

If you are paying authors/publishers a percentage of price, then for your business to be viable, that payout amount per month HAS to be less than 9.99 * (number of users subscribed).

This means a profitable user will read a number of books N per month where the payment due to vendors is less than 9.99. The more books they read, the less the wholesale price has to be (obviously), and, at 9.99 per month, the wholesale price has to be less than 4.99 for 2 books per month, 3.99 for 3 books, etc.

Not long after that post, it turned out the payment terms for traditionally published books in KU were different than for self-published books. Traditionally published books receive the same payment as if the book had been bought — that is 70% of the purchase price. Further, certain self-published authors were given those or similar terms in order to convince them to put their books in the program.

Self-published authors can only participate in KU if they put their books in Kindle Select — that is, have those books exclusively at Amazon. Scribd does not require exclusivity. For some authors, Kindle Select makes sense. But for others, it doesn’t. Doing well at other vendors or wanting to avoid the risk of having a business depend on a single vendor are good reasons not to be in Select and therefore, not in KU.

Traditionally published books need not be exclusive. Because, as Amazon recognized, that would be a non-starter.

Arithmetic

What the Romance community knew, and what I suspect Amazon knew (because DATA!) and what Scribd apparently did not know (Because why would anyone pay attention to what goes on with those books women read?) is that Romance readers are the Great White Sharks of the reading world. They are the 80 in the 80/20 rule. They are the power in a power law.

Solving for X

Remember my ruminations over profit, book prices and that monthly subscription rate? Amazon had the data that would have told them everything they needed to know about those Power Readers (before KU debuted). Amazon solved the math problem with deep pockets but also by offering self-publishers a substantially worse deal. The KU reimbursement rates started decently, then took a swift dive until the reimbursement fell to around $1.34. Why? Well, either you sustain losses because of the Power Readers or you find a way to compensate for that. Falling KU reimbursement rates were exactly that, that is, KU’s “flexible” reimbursement rates to self-published authors was their hedge.

As KU continued, Amazon kept talking about how much money they were putting into the monthly fixed KU pool to be distributed to the self-pubbed authors, but reimbursement rates from that pool continued to fall. Because the hedge was needed. (So I speculate.) Scribd had no such hedge in its business model. (To my knowledge, anyway.)

How did Scribd solve for X? They didn’t. It’s hard to understand why Scribd thought $8.99 for all readers was viable even in the medium term. If they knew about Power Readers then they either didn’t know enough or they thought the same thing most of the traditional world thinks about products for women. How could they possibly matter when they were up against REAL books and REAL readers?

$8.99 is a brilliant strategy for competing for potential KU subscribers. It’s not a brilliant strategy for paying authors/publishers in an environment that includes Power Readers. The rational solution after the short to medium term is to introduce tiered subscription rates. It’s blazingly obvious that in an environment that includes Power Readers you must also have a bazillion 1-2 book a month readers or you have to charge Power Readers more. Or you have to pay authors/publishers less. Scribd did a great job going after traditional publishers, and they probably had a better selection of books than Amazon. And, by the way, the word is lots of Power Readers (those sharks!!) had subscriptions to both services. Because the pool of books was different.

But if they charged those readers more, then KU looks more attractive… It’s a tough situation.

Solving for Y by Killing X

Scribd’s solution was to remove 80-90% of Romances from their service.

Sure. Of course. Now they will be paying out less to authors and publishers because the books people women actually want to read are gone. Now that they’ve basically told the Power Readers they are unwelcome with all their womanly reading of THOSE books—who the hell knew they read that much???—what they have left are the 1-2 book a month readers.

This makes a certain sense. Because maybe what will happen is the Power Readers keep their subscriptions to both Scribd and KU, but now only borrow 1-2 books from Scribd and things are sustainable for a bit longer for them. Yes, an FU to romance readers, but Scribd maybe wasn’t in a position to feed the sharks.

If I were a Romance publisher ::cough::Harlequin/Avon::cough:: who just put substantial backlist into Scribd only to have their reader base told to fuck off, I think I’d be pretty pissed off.

The more established self-publishers, the ones who cannot afford Amazon exclusivity financially or at the cost of reader-relations will likely move to Oyster in order to have some presence in a subscription system. I wonder if Oyster knows what’s coming their way?

Cue the theme from Jaws….. LOOK OUT OYSTER!!!

Segue

Early on, long before KU, I put one book into Select into order to have data on the program. I asked my newsletter subscribers to tell me what they thought about my decision. Their answer? The non-Amazon readers were angry. Rightly so. That was enough for me. My experiment was done after the first angry letter. (After 90 days, you can elect not to re-enroll in Select.) If it had been possible, I would have ended it immediately, but I had to wait out the 90 days. I sent a copy of that book to every single reader who let me know how they felt.

Amazon’s Adjustment

The initial structure of KU with its fixed reimbursement pool meant that a longer book that make $2-4.00 for a sale, made $1.34 in KU. Shorter books, on the other hand, that would be sold in the $0.99-1.99 range and thus net the author a dollar or less, made $1.34 in KU. In other words, a book priced at $0.99 made $1.34 in KU. Anyone with half a brain can see that this meant shorter books were way more profitable and that longer books were way less profitable.

The adjustment Amazon made was to address that disparity. Instead of paying the same amount per borrow regardless of length, authors are now paid based on pages read. “Pages” read, actually. Basically, Amazon had to normalize what a page means for a digital book when displays are reflowable and resizable across different sized devices. A “Kindle Page” is the same for all devices regardless of settings. (Presumably, of course.)

To me, that’s fair enough. Authors who write shorter books make up the difference by writing more books. I should think that’s obvious, though apparently not. Category authors tend to write more books than single title authors. Three 30K word books will make you the same as one 90 page book, assuming the books are read all the way through.

I have to shake my head at the suggestions from some that readers should make sure to page through shorter books, because otherwise those authors are screwed.

No they’re not. They’re only screwed if readers never actually finish the books, and if readers aren’t finishing their books, well, maybe those authors should worry about why that is. There absolutely is a market for shorter books and short stories. Just like there’s a market for longer ones. I have short stories, novellas, and novels on sale. They achieve different goals for me. I’m quite sure that readers have different goals and preferences for reading works of varying lengths.

Final Thoughts

I don’t have any books in KU. I did have books in Scribd, but I assume the only thing left is Scandal, which is currently free and so would not have been removed. I’ll probably go pull Scandal because I’m vindictive that way.

But now I’m kind of wishing I did have something in KU because at last at LONG LAST Amazon is giving authors data about how much of their books get read, but the only way to get it is to be in KU. I had this idea that authors could put a book in KU, let it sit for 90 days and watch the data about pages read. You’d rewrite if no one gets past Chapter 10. ::snort:: Mostly I’m kidding.

[Update: MelJean Brook pointed out that Amazon is NOT providing meaningful page read metrics so my plan would not work. There is no way to tell from the data provided if 2000 Kindle pages read is 2000 people reading one page or one person blowing through 2000 pages of an author’s work.]

I Lied. This is the Final Thought

I was talking to a friend the other night about why Amazon didn’t fix their issue sooner since they surely had the data about the problem of shorter works no later than 6 months in. Assuming that’s true, that gives them 6 months to develop, test, and QA and then prepare the PR for the Kindle Normalized Pages scheme. This is aggressive but doable. You’d have to test a lot of scenarios and then make absolutely sure all the calculations are correct and reach consistency.

Maybe the schema changes weren’t as big a deal as they would be in a traditional SQL Server or Oracle environment, but NoSQL solutions have different challenges, and one of them is hidden errors because of eventual consistency or problems with “schemaless” documents. (It’s only schemaless if you never hired a data architect, and if you didn’t sooner or later you’re fucked. *)

I’m thinking of Wattpad and its problem with user comments attributed to the wrong account. That’s a total NoSQL error that a good OLTP-trained data architect could have said, hold on a sec here… What happens if…. And then all the developers stick their fingers in their ears and sing LahLahLahLahLah because the architect just added 3 months to the delivery date. And nine months later your data is untrustable. There are scores of developers out there who got burned by thinking schemaless means never having to think about data consistency across transactions.

Eventually, your financial data has to be in a transactionally consistent state and stay that way and it can never ever revert to a previously inconsistent state. Or you can’t pay people correctly. So, you know, 6 months seems like a decent guess for how long it would take to roll it out and be certain it works for paying people reliably. The concept isn’t hard. The execution is.

Interesting.

* OMG. I actually made a database joke in a writing blog! More than one, actually. This is very strange.

Note: Regarding NoSQL, it’s a very very fast way of scaling data. Although UC Berkeley had one of the early such databases, Amazon more or less put the concept into widespread use, followed by the original developers at You Tube who had to massively scale MySQL. Those guys needed to ramp up fast and on a scale that traditional transactional database could not then achieve. When I say “documents” in the sense of a NoSQL database, I don’t mean a Word document. I mean a collection of information of related items where Item 1 may not have the same information as Item 2 in the same set of related information. In that sense, there is no “schema” (that is a definition of what information is contained in related data. In a transactional database, all objects of a defined type have the same structure, even where elements of the structure are NULL.)

The NSA, by the way, collects your information in Hadoop, a NoSQL database backed up with some Postgres SQL functionality for the sorts of transactions that MUST be consistent.

This is a laughably high level explanation. It’s way more complicated. I’m a SQL Server DBA and Data Architect, but I’ve done some Mongo DB where we needed to address some shortcomings with our SQL Server applications without spending a fortune. For anyone who cares, Microsoft’s SQL Server 2014 changed the query optimization engine in significant ways — and I suspect it’s a direct response to NoSQL. For example my current employer had ugly queries that were taking 2 minutes (on completely under resourced SQL 2008 servers and for data that SHOULD have been in a datawarehouse but wasn’t, so I’m sorry, but the situation is long and convoluted and no one here cares, just know that 2 minutes for a query result is beyond embarrassing) that went down to 45 seconds when run on a SQL 2014 install.

Basically, the point is that the situation is considerably more complicated than, hey, let’s do it THIS way instead. Amazon is not just a company that sells stuff. They INVENTED the technology they needed to massively scale because no one else was doing that, and then they open sourced it. So when we talk about Amazon having advantages, the advantages are even bigger than most realize. Amazon IS data. I don’t think they do anything without knowing what the data says, and they have more data than anyone.

It’s why we’re seeing such an upheaval in publishing. It’s why Romance matters more and it’s why companies and analysts who dismiss Romance are in big trouble. Amazon knew about Power Readers. The usual gendered biases very likely got exploded by the facts. Traditional publishers need to lose the bias. Companies who want to compete in this space need to fire anyone who talks about REAL books and REAL readers.

The Romance Sharks will eat their lunch.

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Dancing Dukes! Get Yer Dancing Dukes! Also 3 prizes

June 27th, 2015
Cover of Dancing in the Duke's Arms, anthology. Cover is a dude in a brown coat and a pretty lady in a burgundy gown which is really pretty. They are dancing and falling in love. You want this book.

Dancing in The Duke’s Arms

Dancing in The Duke’s Arms is on sale now!

Amazon | Barnes&Noble | iBooks | Google Play | Kobo | All Romance | Print

Click here for more information about the stories and for links to excerpts etc. Order now while it’s $3.99. The price goes up July 7.

The Prizes

I have three unclaimed prizes from a previous giveaway:

For each prize(s), I will spend at least $15.00 US. If you hang out here, you probably know that I have impeccable taste except when I am odd or just plain weird. There’s just no telling.

The Rules and How to Enter

To enter, check out the rules below and follow the instructions. Three prizes. Three winners.
Void where prohibited. Must be 18 to enter. No purchase necessary. All prizes will be awarded. If a winner does not contact me within 10 days of notification, an alternate winner will be selected. Relatives or employees of Carolyn Jewel are ineligible. Winner chosen at random using the contest plugin “And The Winner Is.” International OK! Multiple comments disallowed. Contest closes at 11:59:59 PM Pacific on Tuesday June 30, 2015. Make sure you leave a valid email in the email box for your comment.

To enter: Leave a comment to this post in which you tell me the best book you’ve read recently. (I’m looking for recommendations!)

Go!

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What a Week!

June 26th, 2015

First SCOTUS was 6-3 in upholding Federal subsidies for health insurance. Then they were 5-4 in overturning bans on same-sex marriage.

The US changed today, for the better. There’s a long way to go yet but I’m enjoying these historic decisions.

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In Defense of Pantsing

June 17th, 2015

Lately I’ve been hearing a lot of talk about methods of getting a book written. This is expected writerly talk. Put writers together and eventually we’re talking craft. At the RWA National conference there’s loads of great workshops about these subjects. Quite sometime ago I had to stop listening to presentations about craft. That’s because they freak me out. Ack!!! I’m doing it wrong!!!! And then I dissolve into this gelatinous mass of self-doubt. Earlier in my career, I needed those workshops. I needed to learn about what other writers did and how they approached problems of story and craft.

I need less of that now because I’ve been at it a while.  I’ve spent hours and hours and hours and hours learning myself as a writer.

Some writers are “seat of the pants” writers and some are “plotters.” (Pantser vs. Plotter) This tends to be a polarizing issue and one that, for some reason, often sounds like ‘pantsing is wrong/immature/inefficient.’

No. It’s not.

I think it’s more accurate to talk about writers and their requirements for structure in their process. Some require a lot and some require less. It’s not a This or That situation. It’s a continuum, and what matters, ultimately, is whether your process results in a finished book where “finished” means it’s great story and you’ve fixed all your bonehead errors and typos.

Did you FINISH that puppy?

I love podcasts. I listen to lots of writing podcasts– most about the business because craft discussions — see above. Just about all my favorites have recently featured guests who said, in some form or another, some obliquely and some overtly, that pantsers are doing it wrong.

No. They are not. I have been writing long enough that actually, I know I’m not doing it wrong. I am coming up on 30 published novels, novellas, and short stories. Most of those 30 are 100,000 word novels. I have been traditionally published and now I self publish. There was a period, during which, by the way, I did not sell a single novel, in which I tried structured approaches.

I once wrote a 70 page outline. I’ve done character bios, charts, you name it, if it involved pre-planning so you know what you’re going to write, I tried it and I failed miserably. I FAILED MISERABLY AT PLOTTING. I lost an embarrassing number of years out of my writing career because all the writing books insisted on structure and pre-planning, and that had to mean I was doing it wrong. Right?

Charts, Bios, GMC, Outlines: GO AWAY!

I’m one of the few authors around who sold her first book. Two weeks after I queried it. By pantsing it, by the way. I had no idea what I was doing so I did what I felt like doing and it turned out I’d managed to hit on the process that worked for me pretty much right off the bat.

When I hear a new author talk about how they they were a pantser but boy, that first book was such a mess, it’s still under the bed, so OBVIOUSLY pantsing is wrong — Folks, no, Just NO. What it means is that author had not yet discovered her writing process. Few people writing their first novel know what process works for them. But it doesn’t mean that messy process is wrong for everyone. It’s a newbie effort, so all you new writers, your job is to find out what works for you. You have to keep writing to find out. You do have to pay attention to craft discussions and try out techniques so you know if it works for you.

All those plotter sort of things that are supposed to be a better, faster way to write are likely to completely fail some authors. All those pantser “just let it flow” things are going to fail some authors.

Carolyn the pantser (with a full time job) has written novels in 90 days while in graduate school, with a young son. I have written 30K word novellas in 30 days. Without a single outline. With very little planning.

The kind of significant planning that so many plotters do is a waste of time for me. Not for them. For me. I know this because my traditional publishers used to make me write synopses and it was awful horrible, dreadful and not one single synopsis I ever wrote (unless it was after the book was done) had the slightest resemblance to the book I turned in. None. Zero.

LESS THAN ZERO!!!!!

In the time it would take me to write a synopsis that didn’t make my agent cry— actually, I never wrote a synopsis that didn’t make my agent cry (Sorry, Kristin!)— I could have been 20 pages into the actual book.

Here is how it works for me: I spend 3-4 days bouncing around ideas in a notebook for an hour or so a day. Handwritten. I now have fountain pens so this is fairly awesome. I describe various things the book might be about, things that might happen etc. And from that comes this sense of the emotional heft of the characters who will be on the page. And then, I start writing. I pick a scene that represents that emotional heft and I start writing at what I figure is the middle of their story. My notebooking focuses me and gives me a place to start. I think about those characters and their story and I KNOW FOR SURE my story will be about some series of events.

{Folks, Ima setting you up. About now, you’re saying “BUT THAT’S PLOTTING!!!!}

I sit down to write and

Not one single thing I notebooked happens. The characters say and do stuff I didn’t expect and in response to that more stuff happens that I didn’t expect. But it’s magic. If I pay attention to what’s happening on the page my characters show me the interesting complicated fascinating relationship they will have. My job is to let that happen no matter what I wrote in my notebook.

My writing is constant focusing, brainstorming, following the threads that appear, deciding that X will happen and being totally prepared and willing to go with Y if that’s what’s happening. I brainstorm in my notebooks as needed — because I do need that. But I’m never more than a few scenes ahead. There’s no point.

Nobody Knows You’re a Pantser

After nearly 30 novels, I know that’s what it will be like. Not one single outline, no charts, no beats. No nothing. Sometimes I’ll go in and chop things up or out or rejigger. Every story is a little different, a different shape and heft on the page. I’ve had books that I rewrote in 3 weeks because I knew the traditional editorial process had failed me. I’ve had books where editors said “Don’t change a word.” I’ve had books I heavily revised because my editor was right about a weakness.

Some people write faster than I do. But loads of people write slower. And nobody can tell I’m a pantser from the finished product. Just like readers can’t tell if a book was plotted in advance.

I have one doorstop/under the bed book. It’s the one I tried to plot. Every other book I’ve written has been published. So, you know, pantsing works. If you’re a pantser.

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