Living In An Age of Horribly Bad Indie Fiction

Not so long ago, there was no internet and the only way to get a book published so the public could find it was to go through a traditional publisher who thought the book might sell. Some of those books didn’t, but they at least had sentences in readable English and some hint of a story.

Now with NaNoWriMo and eBook publishing, people who have never even read a book even when ordered to do so in school can participate in NaNo, throw enough word-shaped letter combos on a page to complete a word count goal, and run the result through Kindle Direct Publishing and have it appear as a book for sale without anyone having to read it first.

And that’s what the more competent Indie authors have to compete with. Scads of not-really-novels that make our potential readers wary of any fiction not vetted by a publishing house.

At the same time, traditionally published fiction is going down the crapper of wokeness/political correctness. I read one novel in which a male character who didn’t even need to exist for story reasons was given a ‘husband’ for non-virtue signalling reasons, and another in which a woman-of-action sci-fi character is fretting about what pronoun to use when thinking about (non-telepathic) asexual aliens, and decides to go with made up fake pronouns. Nonsense like this weakens stories, but major publishers seem to care less about that than they care about Leftist conformity.

The challenge for Indie authors today is to find a way to show potential readers that our works are actual, readable fiction with stories in them, not just word salad. It’s hard work. We have to learn about real book marketing methods from good sources, not just imitate a hopeless book spammer and hope for the best. You need to have samples of your work available to the questioning would-be reader. I have seen Indie authors of nonfiction use up the whole book sample on Amazon with a long intro telling what the book is about, so no one can check out any actual content for free. I never buy books like that.

You might post a short story or flash fiction piece on your author blog or elsewhere just to show evidence of your ability to actually write something a reader might enjoy. Or submit short stories to anthologies. Some writers who do novels in series like to make the first novel in a series available as a free eBook.

This is necessary, because people will not just trust you because you say you can write. You have to ‘audition’ for the role of author these days.

But the good news is that if you learn to tell an interesting story, even if you make mistakes along the way, you will start finding people who enjoy the kind of stories you want to tell.

Lead Characters must Do Something

How do you make a Lead character in fiction interesting to readers? Create a character who has problems, and who will DO something to try to solve the problem.

A victim character— one with a problem who can or will do nothing to try to solve it, who has to wait for rescue by someone else, isn’t strong enough to be the Lead in a work of fiction.

Imagine a character who is beaten by her husband, who does not leave her husband, or report the abuse, or do ANYTHING to try to help herself. She just waits until another character rescues her. We don’t become very interested in her, because she can’t take action. It’s her rescuer who might have a story worth telling.

Think of the Harry Potter books. Harry was an orphaned wizard boy with a powerful enemy. But he didn’t just wait around for Wizarding adults to solve his problem for him. He did things– not always the right things, but he took action. And most readers wanted to see him succeed.

In ‘Gone With The Wind’ young Scarlett O’Hara really wanted to marry Ashley. She didn’t just sit around wishing for Ashley, either. She did things— like declaring her love for Ashley and asking him to elope with her– on the day Ashley’s engagement to Melanie was announced.

I think most of us who read that book figured out that Scarlett should not have picked Ashley as a love interest. She made a wrong choice. But she sure knew how to take action to solve her problems, and that’s why her story could keep us interested.

So, when starting a story, don’t think of how to make your Lead character more like a popular person in real life– handsome, rich, athletic, whatever you think of as popular. Your character needs to be someone with a problem, who is able to take action to try to solve the problem.

Your plot make take your character on several failed attempts to solve the problem, or may be a quest to get the things needed to solve the problem. The character’s initial problem may be revealed as part of a bigger problem.

But the important thing is that your character must be able to take action, and the problem must be seen as one that is difficult but not impossible to solve.

In this way, your story can be something that will catch the interest of a reader, can be a journey that a reader will want to take.

The Perils of Prologues

The verdict is in— readers do not care for prologues. Some won’t read any section marked ‘prologue,’ others, looking at the sample section of a book on Amazon, won’t even buy a book that starts with a prologue.

Why are prologues so shunned? Look at some older fantasy novels. They start with a prologue that introduces you to the story-world with an info-dump about the worlds’ history cleverly written in the style of the most boring sort of history text. Is that a good way to hook a reader? Not really.

Many of us readers might want the information from the info-dump prologue, but not in the place of an exciting story-start. This info can be gathered as an appendix in the back of the book. Small doses of it might actually be worked into the action of the story.

In addition to the info-dump prologue, there is another kind that tells part of the main story. Often the word ‘prologue’ means we are dealing with a part of the story that is earlier in time.

Think of the beginning of the Harry Potter series— Harry is a baby whose parents have just been murdered by ‘You-Know-Who,’ and Dumbledore must arrange that Harry be handed over to his Aunt Petunia. Then the story jumps forward to when Harry’s old enough to go to Hogwarts.

This kind of prologue is often best handled by not calling it a prologue. Just call it ‘Chapter One’ and prologue haters and skippers won’t notice.

Another kind of prologue is the horror novel kind. It introduces a random character about to be killed by the ‘big bad’ of the story. This prologue provides a horror-thrill, and often is a motivation for the true main character to be drawn into the story— investigating the murder/disappearance.

Calling this opening a ‘prologue’ may be the author’s way to signal to the reader not to get attached to the doomed character. But horror readers already know about the sacrificial character beginning. Perhaps for some, identifying with this doomed character as a potential Lead character is part of the horror-thrill. Again, this may be a time to call your prologue ‘Chapter One.’

In my own current WIP, a science fiction novel set among nomadic colonists of a world just Terra formed, the initial section of the story takes place seven years before much of the rest of the story. But I don’t plan to use the P-word to mark off that temporally earlier section. That would just encourage readers to skip ahead for no reason.

So— what do you do about the prologue issue? How do you avoid the temptation to write an info-dump prologue that scares off some readers. Have you ever written a prologue and just not called it that?

Writing Book Promotions for Social Media

I admit it– I got started on social media all those years ago to have a way to promote books. Though what I’ve seen of most book promotions on social media make me reluctant to do it.

Promoting your books through promos on social media says some things about you as a writer. It says you are probably self-published or very-small-press published, that your books don’t sell as well as you’d like, and that you have money woes enough that you are trying to get ‘free advertising’ on social media.

If you post clumsy or cheesy book promos, the likely conclusion is that you are not a good writer. If you feel the need to do book promos, make them good ones!

Social media is for communicating in a personal way. If you are not James Patterson, don’t post something like an objective ad James Patterson’s publisher would spend money on.

When I have purchased books after having seen them mentioned on social media, I don’t pick any old books. I pick books of authors I have a personal connection with on a social medium. Be yourself, be relatable!

Another important point is to give specific details about the book in question. Posting your possibly not-so-great book cover plus a buy link is not enough.

Randy Ingermanson recommends that you come up with an appealing one-sentence description of your book. I’d suggest writing many, and keeping the best.

Your book description must be specific. If you are not sure what ‘specific’ is, look that word up in a dictionary. You don’t want a book description that fits hundreds of other books.

Your book description should give a reader a clue about what genre or subgenre a book is. But don’t be afraid to add the specific words. Some people won’t consider your book if they mistakenly think it is a murder mystery and not a paranormal romance.

Book price matters are much less of a draw these days. It doesn’t matter if your eBook is free this week if you are a poor writer.

Your social media accounts shouldn’t be about you advertising at people. It should be a way for you to make connections with other people. You should be posting loads of non-book-promo things on your social media accounts, if you want to draw enough of a following to sell a book or two that way.

Exercise in Writing Book Descriptions

It’s a funny thing about writers. Sometimes it’s easier for us to write a whole novel or a ten-book ‘trilogy’ than it is to write a simple little book description that you will need for a book blurb or book promotion.

The best way to learn to write book descriptions is to read good ones. Most traditional publishers had people on staff who were skilled at writing the kind of book description that made readers want to buy.

For this exercise, go to your book shelf and pull down some books with book descriptions. Don’t consider the bestseller books that have excerpts from book reviews and quotes.

Read the book descriptions. Pick out one you thought really caught your interest and perhaps made you want to buy the book.

Write the book description out by hand or type it into a computer file. This is to make you pay attention to what the individual words are, so you don’t skim-read and miss stuff.

Now you are going to change that book description. Pick a book or WIP of your own, or even a favorite book by another author.

Change individual words from what describes the original book to something that describes the book/work you have chosen.

Stick close to the original! Don’t add five sentences to explain the unique stuff in your work, or replace one adjective in the original with four describing your own.

Keep to the spirit of the original. You will not be generating a useable description of your own book this way. The end product will seem like a mishmash of the two books.

Do this same exercise on other days. You are doing this to internalize the way effective book descriptions are made.

You don’t have to always match the genre of your example-book with your work. If you write starship-based science fiction, you can use a science fiction example book one time, and the next time a mystery or historical.

When you are better able to write book descriptions, you may want to share your descriptions in a writing group. This can be a problem. Why do you assume everyone else has a sounder opinion than yours? Even a professional English teacher can give you advice that will lead you astray.

What might help is if you can find and befriend a published self-published writer who has great book description. If you regularly buy that writer’s books, read them, and post reviews, he may be inclined to give you trustworthy advice. Or not. Good writers get asked for favors a lot.

Nissa Annakindt can be reached at MeWe under the name Nissa Annakindt, and at Gab as nissalovescats.

Writing for a Cause

Does your soul burn for a cause? Whether it’s the cause of Christ or the cause of Karl Marx, there will be an accusation made against fiction for a cause — it’s preachy.

Oh, some Leftwing people remember to call Leftwing fiction ‘messagy’ instead. But it’s still the same thing.

Should you then try to write avoiding mention of anybody’s cause? Some writers, especially of the more escapist type of fiction, try to do so.

This is a valid approach, but be warned. Certain persons of influence keep changing the rules about what words are allowed and what words are toxic hate speech. So your work may end up with ‘messages’ you never intended, and you may be placed where you have to offend one group or another just to tell your story.

If you do feel moved to write for a cause, you will draw haters. If you state in your fiction that enforced universal vegetarianism will cause mass starvation deaths, vegetarians will hate you forever.

But on the other hand, carnivores and low-carb/keto near-carnivores could end up being a super-loyal fan base. Even if your fiction writing skills are not yet up to the level of an Orson Scott Card or Declan Finn.

But there is a problem with your super fans. If you are a global warming novelist but proliferation, and the majority of your fans expect you to embrace massive increase in abortion rates as the only way to halt global warming, you may have a problem. Your readers may expect to agree with you on everything. You have to find a way to make readers happy without feeling like you’ve sold your soul.

That’s a key issue for all writers. You need to please a fan base, but you also need to feel like you are not a sellout. You may need to work a little harder to find a fan base, but the confident feeling you get from being a writer with integrity will be worth it.

Your WIP Notebook

Writing projects generate notes. A sci-fi or fantasy project may generate pages and pages of world building or backstory notes. A small town mystery, just lists of character names and names of significant places. I used to be unorganized with my notes, and lost some that I wanted later. So now I have 3 ring binders dedicated to a project or group of them, with alphabetical dividers to make things findable.

I used to print out these things— I wrote them down in the Scrivener project in files under ‘research.’ But because of current computer/printer woes, I now write things by hand.You may wonder why I want hard copies at all. It’s because when I am actively writing a scene, I may need info that isn’t in that particular Scrivener file. I may need to consult my master list of words in the Konju alien language to give a Konju person or place a name. It’s easier to find in an organized notebook than by searching through multiple Scrivener files. If you might use the same setting for multiple projects, don’t file it all under the names of individual projects. I’d never find my Konju stuff if I had to remember the original name of the project for which I created the Konju!

Character lists might be under the project name, or be under ‘character list’ with the project name or number as a subcategory. The reason for your notebook is to make your writing work easier. You don’t want to have to skim through one hundred or one thousand pages to recover the name of a person or place you mentioned in passing. With a good notebook, you can have all that stuff to hand. Some writers plan everything out in advance, in detailed outlines. Others don’t. All kinds of writers should take notes as they go, for filing later. You may invent a minor character or an event or place that wasn’t in your outline. Make it easy on yourself- jot down notes, and file them.

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Meet me on MeWe– I am Nissa Annakindt there. MeWe is becoming fun and is less commercial than Facebook.

First steps on MeWe, Parler and Gab

Since Twitter &Facebook have gone into full-fascist mode to influence a US election, many writers, bloggers and influencers have lost trust and sought for backup social media, if only in case of an emergency– like getting banned for no apparent reason when you have a new book out.

Step one is to open an account. MeWe, Parler and Gab are all free. Choose your user name with care. If you have a day job in a sensitive environment, you may not be able to use your real name. A pen name works for writers. A nom du guerre works for others. Something memorable, anyway.

Next, you need a photo of yourself or avatar. I like something with a face for a profile picture. When I joined Parler, I used a picture of my kitten Kos before I figured out how to change it.

I use an old, black & white photo of myself at age 4. I’m weird that way. It doesn’t reveal my current age or weight.

I used to use different profile pictures for different accounts or FB pages, but now I’m unifying to the one picture everywhere. It helps people find me.

Your self description should mention that you are a writer, blogger, Martian ambassador, whatever you are.

Should you hint at things like your political or religious affiliations? It can attract like-minded people, but repel others. If your politics or faith are mentioned a lot in your work, it’s probably best. But if your work is neutral on these controversial things, you may keep your social media neutral as well.

Next, friends/contacts. You need lots. Remember, lots of people don’t check out their alt social media accounts every day.

You might ask on FB or Twitter if your friends there are on the alt medium. Once you find a few, check out your friends’ contact list and send friend requests to anyone you recognize.

Also, post something. Almost anything except naked pictures or death threats. People will check out what you have posted before they accept your contact request.

I participate in #MeWeMondays where I do stuff on MeWe on Mondays and mostly stay off the fascist social media. I may be doing that on Thursdays as well, because of a suggestion from a friend.

Be faithful. It took us years to build up FB and Twitter accounts. Success won’t come on the although social media right away. I’m concentrating on my MeWe at the moment, but intend to build up my Parler and Gab also. Look for me under NissaAnnakindt on MeWe and Parler, and @nissalovescats on Gab.

Please drop a comment with your social media handles— let’s follow each other.

How to ‘Witness’ to Catholics.

Imagine this situation on social media. There is a Catholic discussion group and the members are currently discussing good First Communion gifts, and a new group member breaks in. ‘Hello, I’m a REAL Christian, not like you hellbound Catholics. I know this is supposed to be a Catholic group. I lied about being Catholic to get in. But that’s OK because I’m here to SAVE YOUR SOULS by getting you to repent of your sins of worshiping Mary and the Pope instead of Jesus. And you call your priests ‘Father’ and my father always told me it’s a sin to call any man ‘father.’ I have ten great books written by the pastor of my church on why all Catholics are hellbound, I will give you the list, and you can buy the books, read them, and then I can explain to you all the things you don’t understand…’

Now, is this person witnessing, or just Catholic-bashing? Most Catholics would say the latter. It doesn’t matter how sincere you are, when you insult people you are trying to witness to, you are not planting seeds of your faith but pushing people farther away.

If you feel called to ‘witness’ to a Catholic, you must know actual facts about what the Catholic Church really teaches. Don’t go by some anti-Catholic book written by a member of your denomination, or even the testimony of someone who came from a Catholic family and got ‘saved’ in your church. Many childhood Catholics never had any sort of Catholic religious education and may know less about what practicing Catholics believe than anybody.

Read the Catechism of the Catholic Church to know what real-world Catholics believe. This document has many references to Bible verses or sayings of Early Church leaders that back a certain teaching up. If you are not willing to read from a Catholic source, perhaps you should restrain from making claims about what Catholics believe.

Read The Catholic Verses by Dave Armstrong. He is a former Protestant who became Catholic.

Another important point is to know what you believe and why you believe it. If your church has a catechism or statement of faith, read it. If you don’t believe in ‘doctrine ‘ but just in ‘what the Bible teaches,’ learn more about the many different teachings different Bible-believers find in the same Bible. Learn from Bible commentaries or by learning to read the Bible in the original languages.

Above all, be civil enough to see things from other points of view. You may think a Catholic is hellbound, the Catholic may think you are hellbound. Bickering and insulting is not the way to win people over.

I find that a good number of those who purport to ‘witness’ online are just exposing their ignorance and incivility. Remember, Jesus did not win over the Samaritan woman by declaring she was a whore from a false sect. She had heard insults before, she would not have been moved. But Jesus cared enough about her to be kind even when she was in the wrong on some things.

Let us hope we can all be more like Jesus and less like the online jerks we have all encountered.

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Contact Nissa Annakindt on MeWe, the less censored social medium.

Ye Prologue that Sucketh

There is a writing rule that your shouldn’t write prologues. That rule should be don’t write prologues that suck.

A classic prologue that sucks can be found in certain SF and fantasy books where they open with a prosy, dull rehashing of the history of the kingdom or galaxy of the fictional world. In a trilogy in also sums up what happened in the previous books— in the style of a particularly dull history textbook.

Cut that kind of prologue. Start with chapter one with a character in action– learning to use a sword or pilot a starship, chasing a buxom alien woman or an escaped riding dragon, coping with the fact he’s just been turned into a cockroach and that might make him late for work…

There is another kind of prologue often used in horror novels that you can keep. The prologue introduces you to a character who is about to be murdered by the monster or serial killer or whatever you’ve got that kills people, and this killing launches the story. Calling this story start a ‘prologue’ acts as a suggestion to the reader not to get too attached to the prologue viewpoint character.

If you have a prologue in mind that isn’t that kind or a history lesson, and it features your Lead character, is there any real reason to call that a prologue instead of Chapter One? Many readers have been so burned by bad prologues that they don’t read them. Putting ‘prologue’ on a first section just diminishes the number of people to read it.

‘Don’t write prologues’ is not a valid writing rule. Write all the prologues you like. Just don’t write ones that suck. If you put your best foot forward and write things that make the reader curious, you have hooked the reader, and that’s the job of any kind of book beginning.