Showing posts with label bad writing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label bad writing. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 3

What Bad Books Can Tell Us About Good Writing

What Bad Books Can Tell Us About Good Writing

Today I want to discuss what bad books can tell us about good writing. To do this I’m going to discuss the history of an intentionally bad book—Atlanta Nights—and tell you about something surprising (well, surprising to me) I’ve discovered.

Atlanta Nights

First, Atlanta Nights. This book was created as part of a sting operation against notorious vanity publisher, Publish America. James D. Macdonald organized a group of science fiction and fantasy authors to pull off this travesty, each author taking a chapter (one was computer generated!), with the goal of creating a story so bad only a vanity publisher would accept it. Appropriately, the group pseudonym they adopted was: Travis Tea. (See: Atlanta Nights)

Happily, Publish America accepted the book allowing everyone to ask a very good question: Why on earth would a respectable publisher, one who made their money from book sales, accept such absolute dreck? After all, it was so bad the publisher couldn’t possibly hope to make money on it. Unless, that is, Publish America wasn’t a respectable publisher at all. (If you’d like to read more about Publish America and the controversy swirling around it, head over to Absolute Write.)

What Atlanta Nights Can Tell Us About Good Writing

Here we have a rarity, an intentionally horrible book. It turns out (and this is the surprising bit I’ll go into in more depth at the end of this post) that writing a bad book isn’t easy.

Story vs Prose

Here’s how I look at things, writing—good or bad—is composed of two things, the prose itself and the story the prose expresses. I agree wholeheartedly that the story expressed by the prose in Atlanta Nights is awful, horrible, irredeemable. But the prose itself, it’s actually not that bad. It’s not good, but it’s certainly nowhere near as bad as the story it expresses.

From the outset, I’d like to make one thing perfectly, vividly, clear: Atlanta Nights IS a bad book. I know that’s not a technical way of putting things, saying just that something is ‘bad’ isn’t descriptive. So I’ll let you judge for yourself. What follows is a quotation from Chapter Two of Atlanta Nights:

The Atlanta sun slanted low in the west, rain showers predicted for later that afternoon, then clearing. Bruce Lucent looked from the side window of his friend's shiny Maserati sports car as they wheeled their way westward against the afternoon traffic.
"I'm glad you could give me a ride," Bruce Lucent muttered, his pain-worn face reddened by the yellow sunlight. "What with my new car all smashed and all."
His old friend, Isadore, shook his massive head at him. "We know how it must be to have a lot of money but no working car," he said, the harsh Macon County drawl of his voice softened by his years in Atlanta high society. "It's my pleasure to bring you back to your fancy apartment, and we're all so happy that y'all is still alive. Y'all could have been killed in that dreadful wreck." Isadore paused to put on the turn signal before making a safe turn across rush-hour traffic into the parking lot of Bruce Lucent's luxury apartment building. "Y'all'll gets a new car on Monday."
"I don't know how I'll be able to drive it with my arm in a cast," Bruce Lucent shoots back. "It's lucky I wasn't killed outright like so many people are when they have horrid automobile wrecks." (Atlanta Nights—this link leads you to a free pdf of the story; it’s on the website of Andrew Burt, one of the authors.)

This is certainly NOT good writing, and intentionally so. (This bit was excerpted from the chapter penned by James D. Macdonald.) I’d say the authors collectively called Travis Tea did a fabulous job creating a story no respectable publisher would buy.

But, as I said, there’s a problem. It turns out that while we all intuitively recognize this writing as bad, that, in one respect, it’s ... okay.

Let me explain.

I’ve been creating a program, a writing analysis program, that has the ability to analyze a book and compare it to other books along various dimensions.

For example, my program will look at how many “-ly” adverbs, wh-adverbs, how many superlative adjectives, how many verbs ending in “-ing,” and so on, a book contains. Based on this my program will generate a score for the book.

One thing I was curious about was how close my generated score (a score generated from objective and quantifiable characteristics) would align with the subjective scores I had assigned each book.

The Results

It turns out that the score generated by my program and the subjective scores I’ve assigned to each of the books are strongly correlated. 

So far so good. 

But there is a problem. It turns out that while my program generated scores are quite close to the user defined scores for the higher scoring books that the generated scores are off when it comes to one low-scoring book.

That book is Atlanta Nights.

It turns out that although humans have no trouble identifying Atlanta Nights as bad, it throws my program for a loop. While it should put Atlanta Nights in the same group of books as The Eye of Argon, my program consistently puts it closer to James Patterson’s books (and, while Patterson’s books aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, they certainly aren’t bad in the same way Atlanta Nights is bad.).

In the beginning, this caused me no end of concern. I thought something had to be seriously wrong with my program since it scored Atlanta Nights high.

But, what I’ve come to suspect, is that the writers of Atlanta Nights did one thing well and one thing not so well. What they did well was telling an awful story. What they did not so well was WRITING an awful story. That is, they couldn’t help themselves, their prose itself (as opposed to the concepts expressed by that prose) wasn’t in the same badness category as, say, The Eye of Argon. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it was good! Far from it. But it wasn’t horrible. 

Now, I’m not at all trying to cast aspersions on any of the writers involved in the creation of Atlanta Nights. I’m just saying that, in a way, they failed. Their prose (as opposed to the story expressed by their prose) wasn’t all that bad. Or, rather, wasn’t as bad as some books that have gotten published by traditional, non-vanity, publishers (case in point: The Eye of Argon).

This seems to point to something truly interesting, and the reason I wrote this post: It’s possible that one’s prose style is built up over a long period of time—years—and becomes ingrained, like one’s accent or culinary cravings.

It’s possible that we, as writers, aren’t even completely conscious of our prose style and so find it very difficult to change, even when we want to!

What do you think? Whatever your opinion, I invite you to create a truly terrible microstory of 100 words or less.

Saturday, November 12

12 reasons why commenting on blog posts will make you a happier, move fulfilled, person

Okay, maybe not a LOT happier, or MUCH more fulfilled, but I've been fortunate to make quite a few connections to other readers/writers by leaving comments. I've also been lucky enough to connect to some of my favorite authors through leaving comments (yes, I walked around my apartment with a goofy smile for about half an hour afterward; I'm such a nerd!).

But don't take my word for it. Here are Bruce Sallan's 12 most self-serving reasons to post blog comments:
1. Yes Fred, it will make you happier
Commenting is a happiness guarantee. You will have more interaction with people. People will like you. You’ll get auto-post thank yous. But, you’ll also begin meeting really great people because you’re going to comment on great blogs, right?

2. No Sally, it doesn’t take too much time
Every comment does not have to be a brilliant essay! So, stop with the excuse that it’s too time consuming! Sometimes we “desperate-for-any-feedback-insecure-writers” just love an “‘ataboy!” Not me, of course, since I’m totally secure. You like me, don’t you?

3. Yes Robert, you will get more followers
Do you want real followers or just numbers? I know there are some great programs that will increase your numbers, but if you want more quality peeps, start commenting.

4. No Herb, you don’t have to have the answer all the time
A question is posed in a post. You think you don’t have the best answer, so you don’t bother commenting. Just ask a question back.

5. Yes Karen, your Klout will improve
A lot of people measure their worth by Klout. IF you care about this sort of stuff, you probably will get a higher Klout score via commenting as you’ll just generate more of the metrics that they measure, though it makes NO sense to me!

6. No Joanna, it won’t hurt
“I don’t have time.” “If I do yours, I’ll upset him/her if I don’t do theirs!” “C’mon, I have work to do.” What’s your B.S. excuse? It won’t hurt, it won’t deprive you of needed TV time, and in fact you can do it in front of the TV!

7. Yes Jack, commenting is good for your blog
You comment. They comment. Simple. To gain loyal readers, comment on good blogs and those writers will comment on yours. I know this is complicated, but you do for me and I’ll do for you. It’s called Quid Pro Quo… and Life!

8. No Roberta, I won’t stalk you any more than I already do if you comment on my blog
I love Roberta. I follow everything she says and does. She’s afraid I’m going to show up at her home. NOT, NOT. Stop worrying, just comment.

9. Yes Norbert, I learned everything from #blogchat
I’ve written about how much you can learn from Tweet Chats, and I learned the value of commenting from #blogchat. Other than “Content Is King,” that has been the most consistent evergreen recommendation for better engagement. So, listen to the blogging pros and comment!

10. No Cynthia, all the comments don’t have to be how swell the blog is
But, it may be better to be nice. You can start incredible discussions with a probing comment, even a provocative one. I wouldn’t suggest dissing the blog or the writer. It’s bad karma.

11. Yes Carla, it helps you improve your writing
To comment, you have to read. The more you read, the more your writing will improve. You might even learn something. This is called Win-WIN!

12. No Warren, I won’t miss participating in your great community ’cause I’m always commenting
Again, we come back to time management. That is the ironic struggle we all go through with the advent of the computer. It was supposed to ease our burdens. All it did was give us more to do. So, begin slowly. Start by commenting once a day. Make it a habit and then you won’t have to miss your friends!

Okay, ready to comment? Convinced? You can start below. I will respond to EVERY ONE! I always do…
- 12 Most Self-Serving Reasons to Post Blog Comments
The same goes for me! :-)

Tuesday, October 18

Indie writers and Internet dependency

I am internet-less. I have been without Internet access for coming up on 24 hours. 

I'm sitting in a coffee shop an hour before i have to work peck-typing on my iPad. (Have I mentioned lately that I love my iPad?) 

Having had constant access to the Internet for years I was completely unprepared for ... Well, for the silence. It may seem odd, but I'm experiencing a sense of dislocation. I know that's an exaggeration, but I wasn't able to blog last night, or schedule tweets, and my personal emails lie in my inbox neglected and unsent. It is like my life is in stasis -- on hold  -- until I get my connectivity back.

An image just flashed through my head: a member severed from the Borg collective. I shudder. Surely not.

Has anyone else gone without the Internet for a significant period of time?

Edit: Problem fixed! Turns out my router was dead. Ah well.

Saturday, October 1

10 Steps to Self-Publishing

These ten steps will help you painlessly jump-start your new adventure. Although most of these steps are very easy to accomplish, I believe that they will help you quickly lay the foundation for a successful self-published book. Now is your chance to go for it. Have fun.
- Joseph C. Kunz Jr
Joseph has written a great article. My favorite point is his last one: Start your next book.
1. Realize that this is a business: Self-publishing is a business. It can be your side-business, main business, or even be your hobby. But you must still run it like a business. That means you will need to learn the basics of management, marketing, sales, public relations, accounting, negotiation, etc.

2. Start your due-diligence: You must research what will be involved in self-publishing. Buy several of the most popular books about self-publishing, such as those by Dan Pointer and Robert Bly. Visit the popular self-publishing blogs, such as and Visit the biggest websites that can sell your book, such as SmashWords and Scribd.

3. Keep your current job: This will ensure that you will have a regular paycheck. It is also very important to keep building your resume. A good resume will help build your credentials and be your proof of your accomplishments. This will give you more credibility with your readers.

4. Discover your niche: In today’s terms, this means “micro-niche”. As a self-publisher you will most likely find the biggest success by narrowly defining your market niche. It is much easier to become an expert in a very specific market where it is much less crowded with big well-established writers and publishers.

5. Start with an ebook: This is the smartest way to get started. It is fast and inexpensive. It is the perfect way to dip your toes into the water and see how comfortable it is. Starting with an ebook allows you to feel out your market. It also allows you to make any changes or corrections well before sending your book to a print-on-demand printer and distributor.

6. Set-up your blog: Once you figure out what your niche is, start your free WordPress blog right away. This will get your creative juices flowing. It will also establish an internet home for you where you will show the world your expertise in your niche.

7. Get your spouse/partner on board: It is important to keep your family involved with a decision like this. Keeping your family informed and involved will help keep all of you happy.

8. Join professional groups: This will help keep you informed of what is going on inside your market niche. These same people might also become the market for your book. Professional affiliations also give you more credibility with your readers.

9. Advocate for your target market/audience: Nowadays, especially because of the internet, you can immediately start to show the world that you are an expert. Start writing for industry publications and websites.

10. Start your next book: Now that you have accomplished the previous steps, keep the momentum that you have built-up going. Keep improving your business model. Never stop learning about marketing and promotion. Keep enhancing your blog. Keep improving your first book. Start your next book.
Read Joseph's article here: Jump-Start Your Self-Publishing Adventure in 10 Steps

Sunday, September 18

Dean Wesley Smith: Book Cards Work!

Here's the idea: You have an electronic book to sell but how can you show it to potential customers at, say, a convention? How can a bookstore sell your electronic book? It is stating the obvious, but ebooks aren't like paper books, you can't just hand the book to someone.

Sure, you can direct them to and say, "Well, just search on 'Until Death' ... and maybe add 'Karen Woodward' so you're sure to get the right 'Until Death' ... I mean, who knew certain titles would be so popular! You'll remember all that? Right?"

No. They won't. The solution? Book cards! This is Dean Wesley Smith's idea and I think it's brilliant. I'll let him describe it:

Each “book card” had two parts.

Part one was the plastic gift card the size of a credit card and the same thickness. The cover of the book is printed on one side, the code and instructions on the back. We used these cards alone for a sort of business card as well, since the cards had our web site addresses as well as WMG Publishing website address.

As you can tell from the image up to the left, these credit-card-sized book covers were way cool.
Dean cautions that,
For the next few years, until book cards become more accepted by bookstores, I do not see them being economically viable for an indie publisher to produce for every book for sale. It would take too long to return the printing investment.

But WOW are they great promotion. Worth every penny.

Let me say that again. On special books and for events, book cards are worth every penny.
He closes by saying ...
Honestly, I see book cards becoming a major way for bookstores to sell electronic books in four or five years. It’s going to take traditional publishers to jump onto the idea to make it easier for indie publishers to get book cards into bookstores.

And book cards, packaged like gift cards, have a huge market in major supermarkets and other major retail stores besides bookstores, placed right beside all the other gift cards that have already gotten into those stores.

Electronic books are clearly going to be over 50% of all books sold within five years. This is a way to get those books into reader’s hands and thousands of new markets that paper books are too expensive and large to get into.

And from the author perspective, all I can say is that they are great fun. These are fantastic promotion.

Now it is up to traditional publishers to get this going. Cindie and I gave copies of these to many New York editors and a couple major New York publishers who really, really loved the idea.

First publishers have to train bookstores.

And then bookstores have to train readers that they can buy their electronic books in a regular bookstore.

It will happen.
Read Dean Wesley Smith's entire article here: Book Cards Work.

Wednesday, September 7

Elizabeth S. Craig: The First Draft Is Supposed To Be A Disaster

Elizabeth S. Craig, author of Progressive Dinner Deadly, Pretty is as Pretty Dies, among others, has written a wonderful blog post on how to be productive entitled, appropriately, Perfectionism and Productivity.

Elizabeth writes:
I’ve always been pretty good about resisting perfectionism during first drafts. That’s because I’d never get anywhere with a book if I tried to make it perfect as I went. The first draft is supposed to be a disaster. I don’t look at what I wrote the day before, just end my writing time with a quick cheat sheet to tell me where I left off and where I need to pick up.
Read the rest of her article here: Perfectionism and Productivity.

Sunday, September 4

Dean Wesley Smith: The secret of making it as a professional writer

Dean Wesley Smith gives Heinlein's Rules of Writing:
1. You must write.

2. You must finish what you start.

3. You must refrain from rewriting except to editorial order.

4. You must put it on the market.

5. You must keep it on the market until sold.

Then he said, “The above five rules really have more to do with how to write fiction [...] but they are amazingly hard to follow — which is why there are so few professional writers and so many aspirants, and which is why I am not afraid to give away the racket!

I found these rules and followed them when I got serious about writing in 1982. So did my wife before I knew her. So did so many more of my successful writer friends.

As Heinlein said, the rules are amazingly hard to follow.

And for those of you who are looking for a secret to making it as a professional writer, Heinlein put it right out there in 1947. And it hasn’t changed, unlike most everything else in this business.
Read more of Dean's article here: Heinlein's Business Rules

Joe Konrath: Why Writers Shouldn't Care

You shouldn't care about people liking you. Praise is like candy. It tastes good, but it isn't good for us.
- Joe Konrath, Not Caring
This is why I like Joe Konrath's writing: Not only is it snappy, but there's something behind it. ... Not, of course, that Joe cares what I think!

He continues:
The world is filled with a wide variety of people. But only a few of them should really matter to you. The rest are just white noise. They can amuse. But don't give them more power than that.

One of the greatest journeys in life is overcoming insecurity and learning to truly not give a shit.

But don't take my word for it. My opinion shouldn't matter to you at all.
Great advice! To read the entire article, go here.

Tuesday, August 30

Erotica: To Write or Not To Write?

Back in the day, writers were told that if you wanted to make a lot of money, fast, then you had to write pornography. They used the word 'pornography' rather than 'erotica' because back in the day there was no erotica! Well, maybe there was, but I don't think it was called that.

As the end of the month nears and I contemplate my back-balance being plundered as my rent cheque barely squeaks through, I wonder if writing about something other than urban fantasy would be more financially lucrative (hell, almost anything would be more financially lucrative!). I've gone so far as to try to calculate the average Amazon ranking for books in each of the categories (fantasy, science fiction, erotica, and so on) to discover which kind of books sell best, but, as far as I can tell, books with erotic content don't seem to do markedly better or worse than any other kind of book.

I will confess to putting some thought into the question of whether an unknown author of erotic romance has a better chance of selling their work than an unknown author writing in another genre. Personally, I doubt they do. Here's why: I think that, all things being equal, the key to an unknown writer selling a story is how easily the writer can define and write to their market for that story.

Let me try to say that again, only in another way. (Here we are stipulating that the stories we are comparing are equally well written.) A writer who knows more about what her audience wants to read, and who writes accordingly, will have a better chance of selling their story, provided they can connect to that audience. I think this counts for a lot of the success Harlequin has. They know the demands of their audience and they give their audience what they demand.

Of course the size of the audience matters. I imagine that the market for erotic stories is enormous (suddenly it seems all my words have a double-meaning!), but so is the market for urban fantasy, or just plain old romance stories. Also, as John Locke mentioned in his excellent book, How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months, it isn't just the size of the audience that matters, it is whether you can connect with that audience, as well as how engaged that audience is with you as a writer, and with what you write (that is, how likely they are to buy your work; the more likely they are, the smaller the audience needed). Or something like that.

I'm blathering. If anyone would like to share your thoughts on this, please do, mine seem to be running around chasing their collective tails. Also, what genre do you think is the most profitable?

Tuesday, July 19

Joe Konrath's Indicators of Quality Writing

Here's another great post by Joe Konrath. There has been a lot of talk lately about the criteria for good writing. Here's what Joe has to say:

According to my criteria, a novel is a success if:

1. The writer intentionally sets out to do something within the story.


2. As a result of deliberation and execution, the story meets the writer's expectations.

And also:

So, to recap:

If you're a writer, make sure you understand why you're writing what you write, and have a clear idea of what you want those words to do. Then you'll never write crap.

If you're a human being, make sure you truly understand why you say and do the things you say and do. An unexamined life ain't worth living. And an unexamined life that tweets or posts reviews on Amazon is a big waste of carbon. And oxygen.

Go Joe!

Be Deliberate