Monday, September 22, 2014

POV 103: Engage Your Readers with Deep Point of View

Jodie Renner, editor, author, speaker  @JodieRennerEd

As I discussed in POV 101, in order to draw the reader in and grab him emotionally, every story needs to have a clearly dominant viewpoint character. We should meet that protagonist right away, preferably in the first paragraph, and the first chapter should be entirely from her point of view, so the reader knows whose story it is and can start bonding with her and rooting for her. When we see the story through her eyes, reacting as she does to her problems, it sucks us into the story and we want to keep reading to find out what happens to her. 

In POV 102, I gave some tips for avoiding “head-hopping.” If we stick mainly with our main character, in his head and heart, with a bare minimum or no stepping back to describe things from the author’s stance (omniscient POV), we’re using deep point of view. Also called close third, this intimate viewpoint is a lot like first-person point of view, with the added freedom of switching to the villain’s or some other character’s POV when it suits our purpose. Deep POV is a powerful way of drawing your readers into your story quickly and making them worry about your hero right away, and keep worrying – which is exactly what you want!

But how do you go about this? Let’s suppose you’re writing a story about a macho, hero-type guy named Kurt, who defeats the villain, restores justice, and even gets the girl. It’s Kurt’s story so he’s your main viewpoint character. How do you make sure your handling of his viewpoint is as powerful as it can possibly be?

The first thing you need to do is imagine the setting, people and events as they would be perceived by Kurt, and only by him. As you write the story, you the writer must become Kurt. You see what he sees, and nothing more. You know what he knows, and nothing more. When Kurt walks into a bar, for example, you do not imagine how the bar looks from some god-like authorial stance high above, or as a movie camera might see it; you see it only as Kurt sees it, walking in purposefully and looking around. 

And of course include his reactions to the other people in the bar. Show Kurt’s feelings (and only his) about what and who he’s seeing, and his reactions to the situation. Instead of saying, “The bar was noisy, dark and smoky,” say “The cigarette smoke in the air stung Kurt’s eyes and, in the dim light, he couldn’t make out if his target was there. As he looked around, the room started to quieten down. Heads turned, and eyes took him in, some curious, some hostile.” This way, the reader is seeing the scene through Kurt’s head and identifying with him, starting to worry about him. This from-the-inside-out approach is vital if you want your reader to care about your protagonist and get truly engaged in your story. 

But you need to go even further – you need to describe what he’s seeing and feeling by using words and expressions that he would normally use. If your character is a rancher or a drifter or a hard-boiled P.I, you’re not going to describe the scene or his reactions in highly educated, articulate, flowery terms, or tell about things he probably wouldn’t notice, like the color-coordination of the décor, the chandeliers, or the arrangement of dried flowers in an urn on the floor. 

It’s also important to be vigilant that your viewpoint doesn’t slip, so you’re suddenly giving someone else’s opinion about Kurt, or telling about something that’s happening out in the street or even in a hidden corner of the bar, while Kurt is still at the entrance of the bar. You can let the reader know other people’s reactions to Kurt, not by going into their heads at this point, but by what Kurt perceives—he sees their disapproving, admiring, angry, curious, or intense looks, picks up on their body language, hears their words and tone of voice, etc. 

Then, in a later scene or chapter, you can go into the bad guy’s point of view and find out what he thinks of Kurt. Or, once he meets the girl, write a scene or chapter in her viewpoint so the reader finds out more about her and what she thinks of our hero Kurt. 

This technique, properly used, will suck your readers effectively into your story world, where they really want to be, engaged, involved, and connected.

You may also be interested in these related posts:
Immerse Your Readers with Sensory Details
Show Your Characters’ Reactions to Bring Them Alive
Developing a Strong Third-Person Voice
Using Thought-Reactions to Add Attitude & Immediacy

Besides publishing her popular craft-of-writing books under the series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction, the multi-award-winning Fire up Your Fiction and Writing a Killer Thriller (and the upcoming Captivate Your Readers), Jodie Renner is a sought-after freelance fiction editor and author of numerous blog posts on writing captivating fiction. Find Jodie on Facebook and Twitter.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Bring Some Magic to Your Writing

James Scott Bell

My uncle Bruce was a bartender for many years up in Santa Barbara. Like most of the Bells, who came from (or were chased out of) Ireland in the 1700s, he has the gift of gab. He started doing close-up magic right at the bar. This proved exceedingly popular and before long he started billing himself as "Bruce the Baffling, Magician and Social Chemist."

When I was I high school Uncle Bruce gave me a bunch of his tricks and I started getting into magic myself. That continued on through college. I loved it. I loved producing oohs and ahhs in people doing close-up. There's nothing quite like a great card or coin trick, or the cups and balls classic, performed right under the noses of people a few feet away.

I got good enough that I was able to perform at the famous Magic Castle in Hollywood. Not for the adults at night (you really have to be great for that gig) but for the kids on Sunday afternoon. I billed myself as "Jim Bell, Master of the Amazing." (Please hold your applause).

The best part about this was that I got to hang out at the Castle and sit around with some of the most famous magicians of the day. It's a crime their names are not as well known as performers in other wings of entertainment. But for people who know the magic world, names like Charlie Miller and Francis Carlisle are as familiar as John Steinbeck and F. Scott Fitzgerald are to writers. 

And if the most famous writer of the mid-20th century was Ernest Hemingway, then magic's analogue was a man named Dai Vernon (1894 - 1992).

Vernon was around 80 when I met him. He was friendly but also uncompromising in his dedication to the art of magic. He could not stand shoddy work. Once, he watched me perform some card tricks for some guests (informally, sitting around, as most of the magicians do there). When an astonished patron said to me, "How did you do that?" I said, "Very well."

A good line most close-up magicians use at one time or another. Awhile later I did the same trick for some other people, and once again got the question, "How did you do that?" And once again I said, "Very well."

Dai Vernon snapped at me, "Quit using the same material all the time!" He wanted the magicians to be constantly improving, never getting lazy, being fresh.

I owned all the Dai Vernon magic books and studied them like crazy. In one of the books he talks about a particular trick that never failed to amaze people, which he called "The Trick That Cannot Be Explained."

That's because the way he performed it would change, based upon the circumstances. It started with Dai writing down the name of a card on a piece of paper, folding it and placing down on the table. Then he'd give a pack of cards to a spectator to shuffle.

A few moments later, the spectator would select a card. How he would select it would vary, according to Dai's directions. But always it would match the one Dai had written down.

How could that possibly be, time after time? And how was it that this trick would never be performed exactly the same way twice? Well, Dai did it by utilizing all the skills he had mastered over the years, using them to manipulate the cards and also adjust to some things the spectator did.

I cannot tell you what those skills are, for then I'd have to kill you. Magician's code, you see.

But it got me thinking that this is also what a skilled writer does as well. Using all the techniques he's mastered, he pulls off an effect based on the circumstances in his book, which will never be the same. Each novel presents its own challenges.

Now, there are some folks out there in writing land who purport to teach or inspire writers, who often treat technique as a dirty word. It's limiting, don't you see? It blocks your creativity, your inner genius, your wonderful little untamed self that wants to play and be brilliant! So bah on technique. Just write!

For some writers this might be fine advice. For most, I think, it's toxic. 

The plain fact is that this thing we call writing is a craft as well as an art. Where the "just go play" people get it wrong is in misunderstanding the process.

Yes, there is time for play and not thinking about "rules" or "fundamentals." It's when you're coming up with ideas, visualizing characters or cool scene ideas, even writing your day's pages. This is where you let go and go wild. (I have found that it helps me to use a pen and paper for this part. I use a spiral notebook, the kind a college student would use, and let my pen play all over the page, making doodles and mind maps and plot ideas and connections between characters).

But then there comes a time when you have to look at your writing and put the screws to it. And to do that, you have to know how to identify weakness and know the way to fix them. Like a plumber, you have to know your tools and where to affix them (and believe me, the plumber metaphor is apt, because most first drafts are...well, what they are).

This is where craft study and knowledge come in.

My most valuable writing possession is a big notebook full of my notes on writing that I put together over the first ten years of my career, and have added to periodically since. It's a compendium of the things I learned, written down like an excited scientist discovering some new antibody or cure for baldness. Whenever I hit a little drought in the writing week I can always start flipping through my notes and am reenergized in about five minutes.

Do the same. Study the craft and make notes on what you learn. Create your own writer's notebook. You'll love it as the years roll on and your writing gets stronger and stronger.

And you'll especially love performing the trick that cannot be explained on your own books, because you'll be making magic for your readers.

Can you remember having an epiphany about something in your writing? A time when a light bulb went off in your brain and you thought, Ah! Now I get it! Tell us about it.


Saturday, September 20, 2014

There's No Place Like Home

All of my novels begin in New York City. It’s been my home for most of my life, so I guess I think of it as a natural starting point. For example, in my first novel, Final Theory, the hero is a professor at Columbia University who is arrested by the FBI and taken to an interrogation room downtown. Later on, he manages to evade the federal agents at Penn Station by mingling with a bunch of late-night suburban revelers returning to New Jersey. The authorities chase him across the country, and eventually he arrives at the Fermi National Accelerator Lab near Chicago, where a high-energy physics experiment threatens to unleash some nasty apocalyptic phenomena.

That first book established a geographic precedent for my subsequent novels. My next three thrillers start in New York City and end in the deserts of Central Asia, the mountains of China and the jungles of Colombia, respectively. My forthcoming Young Adult novel, scheduled to be published in June, starts in the suburban town of Yorktown Heights, New York, and ends at a sprawling ICBM base west of Saratov, Russia. But the novel I’m writing now (it’s due in November!) breaks the mold somewhat. The action begins in New York and stays there. There’s one scene in California, but everything else takes place within the city limits of my hometown.

As it turns out, though, many of the novel’s chapters portray places in New York that I’d never visited before. For instance, I wanted to write a scene set in a Con Edison manhole. I’ve spent my whole life walking past hundreds of these manholes, literally just a few feet above them, and yet I’d never seen the inside of one. But the city’s electrical infrastructure is in constant need of repair, and on any given day I’m likely to see Con Ed crews at work somewhere in my neighborhood. As it turns out, these workers are pretty darn friendly and if you show an interest in what they do they’re more than happy to talk about their jobs.

For safety reasons, the Con Ed folks couldn’t actually let me descend into a manhole, but I got a glimpse of what’s down there. And boy, it’s a mess! Rainwater (and all the crap that flows with it down the street) drips through the vents in the manhole covers and collects at the bottom of the underground concrete box. It seems like a perilous combination -- filthy water and electrical lines carrying 13,000-volt current -- but I guess that’s why the lines have so much insulation. Sometimes the insulation gets damaged or corroded, though, which can cause fires and the leakage of stray voltage to metal structures on the street. When the workers need to make repairs in the manhole, they first send over a special truck that sucks all the watery gunk out of the box. I’ve seen these trucks on the street many times, and now I finally know what they’re for.

Here’s another example of some hometown research: I wanted to write a scene set on Rikers Island, the sprawling jail complex for all New York City residents who are awaiting trial and can’t make bail. It’s a little difficult to get a tour of Rikers these days because the jail is facing a ton of criticism. The guards there have been accused of some horrible abuses, savagely beating up mentally disturbed inmates and adolescent offenders. Because the New York City Corrections Department is under fire right now, they’re not likely to allow a novelist to roam around the cellblocks. But when I worked as a newspaper reporter I visited other jails around the country. (I remember one particular visit with intense revulsion -- I had to interview a man accused of raping and murdering his sister.) And I found an unexpected source of information about Rikers: the videos recorded by evangelists who go to the jail to proselytize the prisoners. The videos are incredibly cheesy, but they show you exactly what the jail’s cells and dormitories look like.   

This week I’m writing a scene set in one of my favorite places in New York, the American Museum of Natural History. I’ve visited the museum many, many times in the past, but I went there again last weekend to answer a novelistic question: What would be a plausible way to break into the building? After much snooping around I came up with a plan. But I’m not going to give it away here. You’ll just have to read the book. (It’ll probably be published late next year or early 2016. Assuming I finish it, of course.)

Friday, September 19, 2014

Reader Friday: Are Physical Books Like the Dodo Bird?

In a post titled "What makes books different...", industry observer Mike Shatzkin posits that physical books may not be going "the way of the Dodo" as some suppose.

First, writes Shatzkin, a print book "has functionality that the ebook version does not. Quite aside from the fact that you don’t need a powered device (or an Internet connection) to get or consume it, the book allows you to flip through pages, write margin notes, dog-ear pages you want to get back to quickly, and easily navigate around back and forth through the text much more readily than with an ebook."

Second, "the [print] book has — or can have — aesthetic qualities that the ebook will not. Some people flip for the feel of the paper or the smell of the ink, but you don’t have to be weirdly obsessed with the craft of bookmaking to appreciate a good print presentation."

So what is your view of print versus e? What do you think the future holds for our old friend, the physical book? 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Guest Author Stacy Green on Creating a Sociopathic Character

Jordan Dane

AllGoodDeedsEbook (2)
Swiss psychologist Carl Yung believed our conscious minds possessed four major archetypes: the self, the shadow, the anima, and the persona. Naturally, as a thriller author, the shadow interests me the most.

The shadow holds our repressed ideas and desires, our weaknesses and the darker side of our psyche. Some people it is this shadow side that comes into play when seemingly good people go bad.

But what about the sociopath? I’m not talking about the serial killers we’ve all studied (I refer to those as psychopaths), but those individuals who walk among us every day with their own agenda, no remorse, and a frightening ability to manipulate everyone they come in contact with. Are these people simply more controlled by their shadow side? More importantly, what’s my shadow side like?

In creating my character, Lucy Kendall, I studied sociopaths. Lucy doesn’t believe she’s a bad person and she doesn’t even consider herself a killer. After all, her targets are repeat pedophiles who keep being turned out by the justice system. She’s in the right, and she’s doing society a favor.

Of course, anyone who believes that has to have some kind of sociopathic traits, right? In research for and creating Lucy, I started thinking about my own shadow side and exactly how close I was to the dark side of life.

According to the ICD 10, the following are considered sociopathic traits. Presence of three or more qualifies for a diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder, aka as sociopathy.

1. Callous unconcern for the feelings of others.

2. Gross and persistent attitude of irresponsibility and disregard for social norms, and obligations.

3. Incapacity to maintain enduring relationships, though having no difficulty in establishing them.

4. Very low tolerance to frustration, a low threshold for discharge of aggression, including violence.

5. Incapacity to experience guilt or to profit from experience, particularly punishment.

6. Markedly prone to blame others or to offer plausible rationalization for the behavior that has brought the person into conflict with society.

The DSM IV is another diagnostic tool and defines sociopathic traits as:

1. Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest

2. Deception, as indicated by repeatedly lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure

3. Impulsiveness or failure to plan ahead

4. Irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults

5. Reckless disregard for safety of self or others

6. Consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations

7. Lack of remorse as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another

A) The individual is at least age 18 years.

B) There is evidence of conduct disorder with onset before age 15 years.

C) The occurrence of antisocial behavior is not exclusively during the course of schizophrenia or a manic episode. SOURCE

So here’s the thing: I don’t fit that list, thankfully. But I’ve certainly had my moments when I realize I’m incredibly callous and most people would consider me a terrible person if they knew what I was really thinking.

Example: my daughter is a competitive swimmer, and she is able to practice in a very new and nice facility our tax dollars paid for. And every practice, when I see swim lesson kids taking up lanes in the pool, I get angry. I see these kids as space fillers who crowd the pool for team kids who need room to move. And I have little compassion for the parents who equally crowd the window space and get excited when little Johnny splashes a few feet and doesn’t drown. It outright annoys me. And even worse, I’m sure most people within my vicinity know I’m irritated because I certainly don’t look friendly.

What a jerk, right? How could I be so unfeeling toward these people who are excited for their kids and have just as much of a right to be there as I do? Thankfully it’s a feeling that subsides as the hour goes on.

Perhaps that’s my shadow side seeping through. The side that’s easily irritated with people and doesn’t have the patience to keep its mouth shut at certain times. The side that has no problem glaring daggers at a strange kid misbehaving in public. The side my husband affectionately refers to as Pissy Stacy. I don’t have the answer, but I bet if you take a moment to look deep inside, you can find something of yourself on this list.

Perhaps we should be afraid of our own shadows after all.

For discussion: Have you ever battled your darker shadow side?

ALL GOOD DEEDS (LUCY KENDALL #1) is now available at Amazon HERE or through more purchase links HERE.

All Good Deeds StacyFall1press (2)

About the author
Born in Indiana and raised in Iowa, Stacy Green earned degrees in journalism and sociology from Drake University. After a successful advertising career, Stacy became a proud stay-at-home mom to her miracle child. Now a full-time author, Stacy juggles her time between her demanding characters and supportive family. She loves reading, cooking, and the occasional gardening excursion. Stacy lives in Marion, Iowa with her husband Rob, their daughter Grace, and the family’s three obnoxious but lovable canine children.

Amazon Author Page
Facebook Stacy Green, Author
Twitter @StacyGreen26

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Seven Deadly Sins of Prologues

Today I welcome author, blogger and fellow ITW member, Kristen Lamb, to TKZ. I asked Kristen to share her thoughts on the pros and cons of prologues. Enjoy! Joe Moore


To prologue or not to prologue? That is the KL1question. The problem with the prologue is it has kind of gotten a bad rap over the years, especially with agents. They generally hate them. Why? In my opinion, it is because far too many writers don’t use prologues properly and that, in itself, has created its own problem.

Because of the steady misuse of prologues, most readers skip them. Thus, the question of whether or not the prologue is even considered the beginning of your novel can become a gray area if the reader just thumbs pages until she sees Chapter One.

So without further ado…

The 7 Deadly Sins of Prologues

Sin #1 If your prologue is really just a vehicle for massive information dump…

This is one of the reasons I recommend writing detailed backgrounds of all main characters before we begin (especially when we are new writers). Get all of that precious backstory out of your system.

This is a useful tactic in that first, it can help us see if a) our characters are psychologically consistent, b) can provide us with a feel for the characters’ psychological motivations, which will help later in plotting.

I have a little formula: background–> motivations –>goals–>a plan–>a detailed plan, which = plot and c) can help us as writers honestly see what details are salient to the plot.

This helps us better fold the key details into the plotting process so that this vital information can be blended expertly into the story real-time.

Many new writers bungle the prologue because they lack a system that allows them to discern key details or keep track of key background details. This makes for clumsy writing, namely a giant “fish head” labeled prologue. What do we do with fish heads? We cut them off and throw them away…unless you are my mother’s Scandinavian family and then they make soup *shivers*.

Sin #2 If your prologue really has nothing to do with the main story.

This point ties into the earlier sin. Do this. Cut off the prologue. Now ask, “Has this integrally affected the story?” If it hasn’t? It’s likely a fish head masquerading as a prologue.

Sin #3 If your prologue’s sole purpose is to “hook” the reader…

If readers have a bad tendency to skip past prologues, and the only point of our prologue is to hook the reader, then we have just effectively shot ourselves in the foot. We must have a great hook in a prologue, but then we need to also have a hook in Chapter One. If we can merely move the prologue to Chapter One and it not upset the flow of the story? Then that is a lot of pressure off our shoulders to be “doubly” interesting.

Sin #4 If your prologue is overly long…

Prologues need to be short and sweet and to the point. Get too long and that is a warning flag that this prologue is being used to cover for sloppy writing or really should have just been Chapter One.

Sin #5 If your prologue is written in a totally different style and voice that is never tied back into the main story…

Pretty self-explanatory.

Sin #6 If your prologue is über-condensed world-building…

World-building is generally one of those things, like backstory, that can and should be folded into the narrative. Sometimes it might be necessary to do a little world-building, but think “floating words in Star Wars.” The yellow floating words that drift off into space help the reader get grounded in the larger picture before the story begins. But note the floating words are not super-detailed Tolkien world-building.

They are simple and, above all, brief.

Sin #7 If your prologue is there solely to “set the mood…”

We have to set the mood in Chapter One anyway, so like the hook, why do it twice?

The Prologue Virtues

Now that we have discussed the 7 Deadly Sins of Prologues, you might be asking yourself, “So when is it okay to use a prologue?” Glad you asked.

Virtue #1

Prologues can be used to resolve a time gap with information critical to the story.

Genre will have a lot to do with whether one uses a prologue or not. Thrillers generally employ prologues because what our hero is up against may be an old enemy. In James Rollins’s The Doomsday Key the prologue introduces the “adversary” Sigma will face in the book. Two monks come upon a village where every person has literally starved to death when there is more than an abundance of food.

Many centuries pass and the very thing that laid waste to that small village is now once more a threat. But this gives the reader a feel for the fact that this is an old adversary. The prologue also paints a gripping picture of what this “adversary” can do if unleashed once more.

The prologue allows the reader to pass centuries of time without getting a brain cramp. Prologue is set in medieval times. Chapter One is in modern times. Prologue is also pivotal for understanding all that is to follow.

Prologues are used a lot in thrillers and mysteries to see the crime or event that sets off the story. Readers of these genres have been trained to read prologues and generally won’t skip. The serial killer dumping his latest victim is important to the story. It’s a genre thing. Yet, still? Keep it brief. Reveal too much and readers won’t want to turn pages to learn more.

Virtue # 2

Prologues can be used if there is a critical element in the backstory relevant to the plot.

The first Harry Potter book is a good example of a book that could have used a prologue, but didn’t (likely because Rowling knew it would likely get skipped). Therese Walsh in her blog Once Before A Time Part 2 said this:

J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is told in a close 3rd person POV (Harry’s), but her first chapter is quite different, told when Harry is a baby and switching between omniscient and 3rd person POVs (Mr. Dursley’s and Dumbledore’s). Rowling may have considered setting this information aside as a prologue because of those different voices and the ten-year lag between it and the next scene, but she didn’t do it. The info contained in those first pages is critical, it helps to set the story up and makes it more easily digested for readers. And it’s 17 pages long.

This battle is vital for the reader to be able to understand the following events and thus would have been an excellent example of a good prologue. But, Rowling, despite the fact this chapter would have made a prime prologue still chose to make it Chapter One so the reader would actually read this essential piece of story information.

Food for thought for sure.

Yes, I had Seven Sins and only Two Virtues. So sue me. Smile That should be a huge hint that there are a lot more reasons to NOT use a prologue than there are to employ one (that and I didn’t want this blog to be 10,000 words long).

Prologues, when done properly can be amazing literary devices. Yet, with a clear reader propensity to skip them, then that might at least make us pause before we decide our novel must have one. Make sure you ask yourself honest questions about what purpose these pages are really serving. Are they an essential component of a larger whole? Or are you using Bondo to patch together a weak plot?

But, don’t take my word for it. Over the ages, I’ve collected great blogs regarding prologues to help you guys become stronger in your craft. These are older posts, but timeless:

Once Before a Time: Prologues Part 1 by Therese Walsh

Once Before a Time Part 2 by Therese Walsh

Agent Nathan Bransford offers his opinion as does literary agent Kristin Nelson

Carol Benedict’s blog Story Elements: Using a Prologue

To Prologue or Not To Prologue by Holly Jennings

If after all of this information, you decide you must have a prologue because all the coolest kids have one, then at least do it properly. Here is a great e-how article.

So if you must write a prologue, then write one that will blow a reader away. Take my First Five Pages class (below) and I can give you some expert perspective of whether to keep or ditch or if you want to keep your prologue, then how can you make it WORK?

What are some of the questions, concerns, troubles you guys have had with prologues? Which ones worked? Which ones bombed? What are your solutions or suggestions?


Kristen is the author of the best-selling book, Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World in addition to the #1 best-selling books We Are Not Alone—The Writer's Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It's Me, Writer. Kristen is the founder of the WANA movement, the CEO of WANA International and creator of WANATribe, the social network for creative professionals. She is a contributing blogger for The Huffington Post and the official social media columnist for Author Magazine.

Follow Kristen on Facebook, Twitter at @KristenLambTX and on her regular author blog.

To contact Kristen, e-mail kristen at wana intl dot com.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Writer Drops a Toad on Agent

It was the closing day of a writer's event. At the end of a breakfast session, an agent and a writer were wrapping up a session about the ongoing changes in the publishing industry, and how those changes affect writers.

During the Q and A, most of the discussion addressed strategies for writers who were not yet published. I raised my hand.

"I'm wondering about writers who have already been published," I said. "how do you think the changes in the industry are affecting our strategies going forward?"

The agent looked confused. "What do you mean?" she asked.

"Well," I said,  "Many mid-list writers I know are interested in developing a revenue sharing model with publishers rather than signing traditional contracts. Or going the indie publishing route."

It was as if a toad had leaped from my mouth. "Indie publishing?" the agent asked me. "You mean, self-publishing?"

"Right, but not vanity publishing," I said, beginning to sweat. "I'm talking about writers who want to keep a greater share of revenue than they have under their previous contracts with legacy publishers."

"Legacy publishers?" Now the agent looked truly horrified. "That word sounds like something that guy Konrath would say."

JA Konrath, in case you don't know, is a pioneer in self-publishing who successfully transitioned from legacy--excuse me, traditional--publishing. He's known for criticizing the practices of publishers in his popular blog, The Newbie's Guide to Publishing.

At this point I was prepared to dive into my coffee cup and drown myself, but the agent was just getting started.

I don't remember her exact words, but they were something to the effect of "agents don't want to give up their advances."

Well, granted. But what about writers? What is best for us? 

I had unwittingly stepped into a raging discussion that's been swirling in the media-publishing world for months. A bit of background: there's something of a class system in the world of writing. The mega-bestselling writers are the darlings of publishers. The rest of us, not so much. Unless your first book is a monster success, you are more or less sent to the servant's quarters. It used to be that publishers would give a writer time to develop and gain a strong readership base. That is less often  the case today. Midlist writers are being dropped; contracts are not being renewed. Advances are shrinking.

Then there's Amazon, which offers writers--any writer--a decent percentage of each and every sale. Published writers who have been able to reclaim their backlist have been startled to discover that they can make good money from "new old" titles which had been languishing on the vine for years.  The prices for indie ebooks are being set by...gasp...the writers.  This process, along with the rise of indie publishing in general, is driving down the overall cost of ebooks.

Publishers don't like to lower their ebook prices, and they're fighting back. Amazon and publishers have gotten into several scrapes over pricing and distribution. Most recently, the tension boiled over into the Hatchette vs. Amazon kerfuffle. You can read more about that here. But the subtext of the fight is that journeyman writers suddenly have more options for publishing and getting paid for their work. These changes are putting pressure on the traditional publishing model, on pricing in particular.

I don't have any strong beliefs about the merits of traditional versus indie publishing. I suspect that most published writers will become "hybrids," pursuing the best available options. I do think that it is still better for unpublished writers to get traditionally published first--going through the process helps a writer develop her skills, learn valuable ropes, and establish a readership. But for writers who have previously been published and languished under the old system, the picture is different. If a previous book did not sell well, we're haunted by those sales numbers forevermore. If it did sell, the publisher will collect the lion's share of the book's revenues, forevermore. 

At the breakfast meeting that day, the agent  wound up her response to me by saying, "You're too early in your career to give up on traditional publishing."

In fact,  I'm not in any way giving up on traditional publishing. As a published writer who will have a new manuscript to market in the near future, I'm simply trying to figure out the best strategy for me. Not the best strategy for the publisher. Not for Amazon. Not for an agent. If traditional publishing gives me a good deal on my next book, I'll break out the champagne. If not? I'll go indie. I don't have any agenda attached to exploring all the possibilities. As they said in The Godfather, "It's not personal. It's business."