A Blog Post From Mirkwood: Self-Publishing.

So, for those who are unaware, this year I have tried — with many errors, sidetracks, and bad assumptions — to improve my marketing skills. And it has reminded me more than anything of how Bilbo Baggins felt when Gandalf left him with a bunch of dwarves who didn’t particularly like him at the western edge of Mirkwood with no more advice than STAY ON THE PATH. He had no idea what he was getting into, only that he could not turn around and go home.

By the very nature of this beast, however, this journey is different in one significant way. Unlike Bilbo, who was traveling only with a few folks just as lost as he was, I am traveling on a winding path, and a VERY heavily populated one. I am forever coming within shouting distance of those who are VERY much more experienced than I am and who talk about traveling through this forest all the time. The major areas I have tried to earn about this year, in the approximate order of success I have had are:

1) submitting to agents
2) self-publication
3) networking with fellow authors, and
4) creating audiobooks.

In the course of all of these things, I have encountered some of the following issues:

1) Good information is hard to come by in all of these areas. It’s not that it isn’t there; quite the opposite: there’s TONS of it! So much of it, in fact, that my specific questions get buried and washed away in avalanches of people who want to sell me stuff, or who really want to talk about what they know, or who really want to talk even though they don’t really have good advice, or who MAY know what they are doing, but are terrible teachers and communicators.

2) VERY few people, even in places allegedly set UP to answer questions, will actually take the time to answer questions. It’s hard to blame them; they’re not getting paid to do it. But almost always, if I post a question, they will respond with links. The internet being what it is these days, 90% of the time the link is to a video. VERY often, that video is over 10 minutes long. More often than not, that either leads back to 1) or on to

3) The instructions/videos I encounter are often designed for and by people who already know all or most of the jargon/acronyms, so while the information is often good (I have sat through hours, mining through the dross for some actual nuggets of useful information) I usually can’t understand half of it. And videos are AWFUL for my style of learning. I am a fast reader who loves to cut to the chase, but I am doomed to slog through hours of meaningless foliage. “Well, why not just read through the online manuals?” I hear you say? Because those manuals were written by and for people who know most of the jargon/acronyms, and they are not indexed. It is incredibly frustrating to have a single specific question that could be answered in seconds, but can’t be because the people who have the answers either will not respond, or deliver the information in vague or highly technical terms.

4) Finally, many people I encounter who could actually be helpful are operating at a high enough level that they have literally forgotten how overwhelmingly hard all of this is for people like myself that are just starting on this road. At my level, all of this is overwhelmingly hard and confusing. And all that is discouraging. Extremely discouraging, especially when you are constantly encountering people for whom it is seemingly as easy as breathing and who, to hear them tell it, were NEVER as confused or thought it was at all difficult.

Now, Mirkwood wouldn’t be complete without its share of monsters, so let me explain about the monsters I’ve encountered along the forest path. Besides the foreigners along the path who will baffle you with technical jargon or leave cryptic puzzles for you to solve on your own, you will encounter thieves, trolls, elves, and spiders.

Thieves: Probably the easiest to spot and avoid, these are the people who swear to you that they will explain it all if you will just pay their low, low price to join their platform. After all, you gotta spend money to make money, amirite? They are selling maps to the forest, bay-bee!
Well, if you’ve found one that works, good for you. But I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t already an established name that recommended one.

Trolls: There are people out there who will actively discourage you. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to find one pop up in response to this blog post. They’re the ones who will tell you that if you’re finding this hard, you’re just too stupid to be in this business. Often they’re the ones who have self-published 20 books that are selling really well, they will tell you. Funny how you’ve never heard of them…

Elves: Elves mean well. At least, they kind of do. Elves will tell you that they can help you, REALLY they can, but only if you ditch that freeware you’re using to write/self-publish/record and buy THEIR ONE PLATFORM. You’re not pinching pennies, are you? Only a few hundred dollars. Elves also answer every question with a 40-minute video link. They offer so much help, but its never… quite… helpful.

Spiders: Spiders speak authoritatively on everything, but every piece of advice they give you wraps you up tighter in huge strands of NOPE. Before they’ll answer your question, they want to know everything you’re doing, and you are ALWAYS doing the wrong thing. They’re like a combination of an elf and a troll: they want you to do everything their way, and you suspect they don’t really want you to succeed. They really want to be that voice of authority, though.

So why am I writing this? Perhaps it’s because it’s the advice I wish I’d been able to give myself a few months ago. Because back then, I was really hoping that all of this would be easier. It’s not. It;s been a lot harder than I thought it would be. It HASN’T been without successes or without learning. But what  have learned has been dearly bought, with a lot of time and effort. And I want you to know that if you’re there, it’s okay. It’s just part of the journey. Keep going.

Update 7/6: Decided to post to the “Audacity Users” group on FB about my specific question. Specified please no video links as answers. First answer: “I should be able to just say “compress (minimally) and normalize” and you could take it from there. It almost sounds like you’re in over your head – submitting recordings before you know what you’re doing.”
Folks, that right there is a “spider.” Answers in jargon and then criticizes you for not knowing it, while not elaborating on what you should know.
And of course, it may be appropriate to say, “You don’t know enough about what you’re doing to ask that question yet,” but if you really want to be helpful, that should be followed by: “And here is the minimum you need to know about what you’re doing before asking it.”

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Short Story Release: “Whoever Is Not For Us.”

Received confirmation today that “Whoever Is Not For Us” will appear on the Mysterion website on July 8th, but for supporters of their Patreon it is available NOW.

Here is an excerpt, just to whet your appetite:

(Sorry for the lack of paragraph indents, but WordPress is particularly stupid in that regard).

Whoever Is Not For Us
by
Scott Huggins

 

The sparking hell of Main Engineering shuddered and rang like a cymbal under the blows of magnetic grapples impacting the outer hull. Marine Captain Manuel Stolz spared a single glance for Commander Ellerbee and her mate frantically working on the drive bomb.

“How long?” he said. His voice echoed in his combat suit helmet, unnaturally loud.

“A couple of minutes,” grunted Ellerbee. The Navy engineer’s hands were moving too fast for him to follow.

Too long. Stolz switched to his Marines’ channel. “Perimeter check.”

“Conrad, hatch secure.” 

“Olivett, hatch secure.”

“Plekhanov, hatch…” The lights went out with a photoflash and Plekhanov’s voice was swallowed by a roaring hiss. The boarders were through the stern perimeter, moving with a precision inhuman and terrifying. Their lasers strobed the compartment. Ellerbee’s suit sprouted holes: superheated air and flesh jetted out, knocking her body back into Stolz, smashing him into the bulkhead. Conrad slammed the butt of his rifle into the helmet of the attacker that appeared suddenly behind him. Then he leveled it at the thing’s belly. He and the alien fired at the same moment. They exploded apart from each other.

Stolz’s reflexes and enhancement took over. Riding the tailored hormones like a roller coaster, he tucked and bounced off the bulkhead, rolling back to fire his puppetcutter. The focused EMP seared through the Brainsucker’s circuit-neurons, severing the connection between host and parasite, and his target spasmed and went still. Then Stolz was through the hatch, into the weapons bay. Scanning. His bulky gun’s screen showed nothing. He sealed the hatch and moved again, bouncing from wall to wall. His back itched, but no infinitely hot finger reached out to stab him between the shoulder blades.

They wanted him alive. Wanted them all alive. It was their way.

He dogged the hatch behind him and turned forward. Then he heard the shout. “Manuel, stop!”

He stopped. He didn’t remember letting the gun go, but it hung before him in microgravity.

Zanne’s voice.

Numb, he reached for his holster. So even this prayer would be denied him. He’d had nightmares about this moment, had planned for it. And prayed it would never happen. The weight of the weapon filled his hand with heavy and final comfort. He focused his eyes on it, and the comfort drained away. 

His laser sidearm was burnt clean through. He’d never noticed the hit. And the hatch behind him was beginning to glow red. The Brainsuckers were burning through. He was trapped, with Zanne on the other side, coming for him, and he could not kill himself.

All Things Huge And Hideous: Edits Done

Short blog post today. I am happy to announce that All Things Huge And Hideous has been returned to the publisher for edits.

I less pleased to announce that my laptop is limping along sadly due to the catastrophic failure of its battery, and it is now effectively a desktop until such time as the new battery arrives. Oh well.

How To Get Me To Stop Watching Your Movie.

As readers of this blog are aware, I periodically go back and watch movies that intrigued me when they were released, but that I missed for some reason in the theater. So it was with A Simple Plan. As always, spoilers be here. Sort of.

So the movie opens up with Bill Paxton in the company of his brother and his brother’s buddy, who were obviously runners up for the title roles in Dumb and Dumber. They go out hunting and find a crashed Cessna or similar with 4.4 million dollars in it. After a brief debate, they decide to hide the money for a little while, see if anyone comes looking for it, and then split it, with Bill being the money holder.

So far, not a terribly bad idea. But then. Oh, but then…

Having got away with the bag of money, Bill and his wife decide that they have to put some money back so that people won’t believe any of it was stolen. Now, why? If the cops don’t know where the plane is, it’s a fair bet they don’t know what was on the plane. They wouldn’t necessarily be looking for money. Could be looking for guns. Drugs. And if it’s the criminals whose plane it is looking for you, that won’t work anyway: they will know exactly what was on the plane. So, you’re putting your whole secret in extra danger to do something that will not matter a damn.

And then, rather than simply sneak out to put the thing back in the dead of night, Bill decides to have Dumb stand watch for him while he puts the money back. Inevitably, Dumb is challenged by some old fart on a snowmobile, gets in an argument with him about whether he saw a fox and hits him. Dude dies.

Firstly, that situation smacks of The Hand Of Fate. Basically, the universe isn’t letting these people keep this money, and it’s not JUST because they’re too stupid to keep it, it’s because Fate will inevitably contrive to make sure they are always seen, followed and in trouble. Arguments that shouldn’t ever happen. One-punch kills.

Of course, now we panic, which is the dumbest thing in the world to do, and Paxton says, “We have to make it look like an accident!”

IT ALREADY DOES LOOK LIKE AN ACCIDENT, YOU MORON! No one saw the fight except you. All you have to do is call the cops! “We were changing a flat tire when Old Man Grumpy came up on a snowmobile, fell off and hit his head real hard! We tried CPR! Get an ambulance quick! I think he’s dead!” No one’s even going to ask if you hit him. But without thinking of this, they load Grumpy onto the snowmobile and point it toward a bridge.

Now, Old Man Grumpy wakes up (not REALLY dead! There’s Fate again) and tells Bill “Call the police, your brother hit me!” At which point, Bill, deciding the old man has to be kept quiet, strangles him.
Again, leaving aside the whole murder thing, we have a solution in search of a problem. What was wrong with saying, “Thank God you’re okay! I’ll get you to a hospital! By the way, here’s $1000; leave my brother out of it — he’s an idiot?” Or hell, let Dumb serve a few months for assault and tell him to keep his mouth shut if he wants his share of the money.

And THEN, Bill goes home to his wife (who wasn’t that hot on keeping the money in the first place) and confesses to murder, and she’s basically, “Well, you only did what you thought you had to.”

Oh, sure. I mean, I’d totally understand if my wife was asking me to cover up murder for 4 million dollars and risking us both going to prison for life. And then, in the crowning idiocy, the wife discovers that the 4.4M was a ransom payment for a kidnapping and they get second thoughts about keeping the money. Uh-huh. Because murder was excusable, but keeping someone’s kidnapping money is just WRONG.

I couldn;t stand it anymore. I’m sorry, but I can handle your evil smart protagonist; I loved A Clockwork Orange. I can handle your good dumb protagonist, a la Of Mice And Men. But evil dumb protagonists just make me want to stop watching unless it’s being played for laughs. You can’t drink that piss straight.

 

 

Movie Reviews Far Too Late: House. Or, The Worst Horror Movie In The World.

Not the hit TV series starring Hugh Laurie. The 80s horror-schlock film starring George Wendt and some guy who was utterly forgettable as the protagonist.

So, every now and then, I get the urge to do something completely silly. Make random recipes off the internet, see how well I remember the lyrics to whole musicals, vote Libertarian, etc. And one of the things I do is watch old movies on Netflix or Amazon that I thought looked intriguing once upon a time. This is how I came to watch House.

I remember previews for House from the 1980s. It was billed as a comedy-horror or a horror-comedy. I also really like the haunted-house conceit. So I decided to give it a try and see if it was material for a cult classic.

What I found was, in fact, material that I shall use if I ever want to teach a class entitled, “Writing: How Not To Do It.” A brief catalogue of its sins will be listed below, because a comprehensive one would be longer than the film. For the hard-of-thinking, this will contain what would otherwise be called spoilers, but this film is so far gone it really can’t be spoiled.

The Junkpiled Protagonist: Our protagonist is a writer (gosh, wonder where that came from?) who is traumatized by, in no particular order, the fact that he is suffering from writers’ block, possibly brought on by his son who has disappeared from his front yard, his wife who has divorced him because of the missing son, and his Vietnam-induced PTSD. The effect is that this guy has so much shit to deal with that it’s impossible for us to care about any one issue.

The Incoherent Backstory: Apparently, the son disappeared while playing in the yard of the titular House, while I guess visiting there, because the House belongs to protagonist’s crazy aunt, but the whole family was to all appearances living there when the kid vanished. It’s implied that he either or both was kidnapped by people in a car streaking away or vanished from the House’s swimming pool before his father’s eyes.

The Endless Red Herrings: The car streaking away turns out to be only the first of myriad fake clues strewn all over the plot. Also included are Bosch/Daliesque paintings done by the aunt, endless scenes involving a medicine cabinet, a love interest that never materializes, strong hints that protagonist is completely delusional and hallucinating literally everything in the movie, and to top it all off, LITERALLY EVERY MONSTER IN THE FILM BUT ONE.

The Wandering Plot Monster: So we see the protagonist move into his aunt’s House (the same one his son vanished from and that he seemed to have been living in before) right after she has hanged herself, and despite getting fairly convincing evidence that the House is haunted — like, the ghost of his aunt appearing and saying, pretty much, “The House killed me.” — does nothing about it. Just sits and tries to plow on through his memoir of the Vietnam War despite the fact that his publisher has told him it won’t sell, and despite increasing but halfhearted attempts by the House to kill him. The fact that the protagonist looks very much like Ted from Airplane! with a perm does not add to the gravitas of these scenes. Closely related to this is…

The Idiot Plot: This is pretty much the whole film. Our protagonist kills humanoid monsters and buries them in broad daylight in six-inch shallow graves in his backyard. He completely ignores apparitions of his son begging for help. Despite the fact that the House’s clock loudly rings midnight right before monsters appear in the closets, it takes him two or three times to get it. Despite the fact that he’s a soldier, it takes him most of the movie to figure out that he might want to use guns. Despite the fact that his own son vanished in the House, he allows his sexy neighbor to use him as impromptu unpaid babysitting so she can go out clubbing and leaves the kid alone in a room of the House, from which he is promptly kidnapped by shapeshifting spirits, which he already knows the House contains. Through all of this, he continues to behave as though the most important thing is plowing on with his story of how he lost his pretty-much-an-asshole buddy in Vietnam.

The Horrible Climax: In the end, it is revealed that the cause of his son’s disappearance, the mastermind behind the House, is the ghost of his old war buddy, who has never forgiven protagonist for — get this — NOT killing him in Vietnam when he was wounded. Because protagonist went to get help instead, leaving his buddy to be carried away by the VC, who tortured him to death. So his spirit apparently decided to get revenge by invading protagonist’s aunt’s house, and kidnapping the kid to the jungles of Vietnam in another dimension, which can only be reached from inside the House.
So, EVERYTHING else in the House — the creepy distorted woman he killed, the baby kidnappers, the Lovecraftian closet-monster, the animated tools — all of this was just incidental. We never find out how long the kid was kidnapped for. Enough time for a divorce, for great-aunt to put him in a spooky painting, and for her to commit suicide. Of course, she blames the kid’s disappearance on the House from the beginning, so apparently it was haunted before Evil War Buddy Ghost got there? And I guess it was just a great place for him to take over? He’s actually a pretty knowledgeable and subtle strategist, this guy.

The only way this movie ever got made is that it was during the Great Eighties Horror Boom, when studios were desperate to mimic things like Nightmare On Elm Street and Friday the 13th Part Billion. And the production values are so low that I kept expecting to see Made In China stamped on the rubber suits. I’ve literally seen these mistakes made and avoided by high-schoolers. Take these lessons to heart: this film is not “so bad it’s good.” But it is bad enough to learn some lessons from.

General Update And Writing News: Cons And Publications And Jobs, Oh, My!

Okay, so the blog has been on a sort of soft hiatus for about a month now, for various reasons, and I have high hopes that is coming to an end. I’d really like to thank everyone who’s stuck with reading it. The hiatus happened for various reasons, exciting and mundane, including…

The End Of The School Year: Yes, with three children in elementary school, this process requires a bit of readjustment to the way the house functions, so I’ve been transitioning back into the role of Full-Time Dad.

Next School Year: Just to complicate matters, I once again have a Real Day Job. I accepted a position with a local private school teaching World History, a job I truly love. So while that’s a lot of fun, transitioning to that new job takes a LOT of time.

DragonCon: In the interim, I have learned that I will be an Official Guest of DragonCon, appearing on at least two panels and probably more. In addition, I will be hanging out at Bard’s Tower signing copies of my forthcoming book All Things Huge And Hideous, from Superversive Press! Stop by and say hi!

More Professional Sales: Also, I have been polishing up my short story “Whoever Is Not For Us” to appear next month on Kristin Janz’s and Donald Crankshaw’s Mysterion website,and just sold (of all things) a 76-word short story to Jaleta Clegg’s anthology Beer-Battered Shrimp for $5, which works out to 6.5 cents a word!

More Unprofessional Sales: While it’s not a pro sale, I also received news a couple of weeks ago that StarShipSofa, one of the most prestigious semi-pro markets out there, and one I have never cracked, has bought one of my original stories, “Wheels-Up Time.” So that’s awesome news, and I’m honored to be working with Jeremy Szal.

So a lot to be grateful to God for, and hopefully, we’ll have some more Dear Stabby and things coming up later.

The Query I Learned To Write

It occurred to me that it might be helpful to provide this query to the general writing public.

Last month, I won Runner-Up honors at #RevPit, a contest in which 15 editors each review 100 queries and pick about 10-20 of them to request pages. Of those 10-20, one winner and one runner up are selected. This means that my query was in about the top 15% and my query, synopsis and pages were in the top 2%.

I’m starting to get a handle on what querying a manuscript looks like, but for a long time, I did not know what the heck I was doing. And I wished I could see what queries had received positive attention. So I’m going to pay it forward and publish my query below, for those of you who would like to see it:

Responsibility doesn’t know why she has wings instead of arms. Responsibility doesn’t know why she was abandoned, nor why her dragon mother left her among humans. Nor why, on the endless ocean that the Century Ship Ekkaia trades across, she is the only halfdragon anyone has ever seen. Disgusted by her freakishness, but in dread of her mother’s return and retaliation, Ekkaia’s crew keep their hated Responsibility in safe, but despised, isolation.
But when Ekkaia captures a shipwrecked man whose face resembles her own, Responsibility seizes the chance to learn more about her past. That night, she frees him from his cell, and discovers that he is her half-brother, Avnai, and that her mother foretold their meeting before she disappeared. Together, they escape and return to their father’s kingdom.
Among a family she has never met, Responsibility experiences love and belonging for the first time. She also finds herself cast into a world larger and more complex than she has ever known. She learns true flight, and the use of magic. And she discovers danger: the shadowy sea empire called the Consortium, which holds her father’s kingdom in an uneasy vassalage, is watching her: because twenty years ago it was their attack that drove her mother away.
But when Responsibility’s part in a diplomatic ceremony reveals a plot to destroy her new home entirely, she will have to seek help from an unthinkable source: the crew of the Century Ship Ekkaia. Assuming they don’t kill her on sight.
ACROSS THE ENDLESS OCEAN is an adult fantasy complete at 119,000 words. It is the story of Responsibility’s transformation from prisoner to warrior-princess. It is an adventure in the vein of the Miles Vorkosigan novels, set on a stage the size of the Ringworld. With dragons.
Scott Huggins trains teenagers both in the inevitability of death (history) and in overcoming a fate worse than it (public speaking). He has sold a dozen F/SF stories to professional markets, and is a Very Nearly Award-Winning Author, who won Runner-up in the Writers Of The Future (1999), The First Baen Adventure Fantasy Award (2014).

 

Critiques And Stories!

I don’t want to make this blog into a marketing machine, but I haven’t written about my Patreon account for about a year, and I just made some changes to it, so today I’m going to let you know what all of you could get if you choose to patronize me.

Um, maybe I should rephrase that.

Okay, so starting at the $2 reward level, I will start writing you your own personalized story at the low, semi-pro rate of $0.03 a word. The longer you support me, the longer your story goes.

At $10 of support, I will provide a detailed critique of a single work of fiction/poetry of 6k words or less. I’m a runner-up with about 20 short stories published: it’s a good deal.

At $25 or more per month, I’ll offer a second critique, only this one will be good for up to 10k words. Yes, you can get 2 critiques per month.

Finally, $40 of support gets you a single piece of flash fiction that I will write just for you, on whatever subject you wish.

Try out some of these rewards and watch your writing improve. Or just enjoy some great fiction. Thanks for your support!

Short Blog: Grammar PSA

Going to be a very short blog post this week, because it was Easter weekend, which meant that obligations to God and family were at the forefront, and it’s Spring Break for the kids this week, which means that they still kind of are. But it also means that writing projects have backlogged, so don’t expect too much blogging this week.

So, I’ve been doing a bit more researching than writing recently, mostly so I can kick marketing my novels into high gear. For anyone who’s interested, QueryShark is a gold mine for this.

And I’m kind of in shock at the number of people who want to be professional writers and really have no clue about grammar.

Look, I know we all like to joke about the Grammar Nazis, but in all seriousness, good grammar (and spelling) is important. It’s important because it’s there for a reason: to make your writing clear. Bad grammar is like static in a broadcast. A little of it can be tuned out and ignored. More than a little bit, and it gets annoying. No one wants to read what’s annoying. So here’s a few things I keep seeing that you really need to know to sell your work.

You must know what a full sentence is. A full sentence consists of at least one noun and one verb. “I ran.” That’s a sentence. That doesn’t create a sentence by itself. You can screw it up even if you have both those things. But that’s where to start.
You need to know this, not because you must always use them. Sometimes you may avoid them for rhetorical purposes. Like this. But if you don’t know when you’re using them. You’ll sound weird. Like I just did two “sentences ago.

You have to know the difference between those little annoying words. Yes, I mean its and it’s. Their, they’re and there. To, too, and two. You’re and your. And also then and than. Not knowing the difference doesn’t say you’re stupid. It says you’re careless.It says you need a copy editor. but you don’t know you need one. And that, right there, is the difference between “inexperienced” or “grammar-challenged” and “clueless.” The first two can be worked with. The third, no one wants to.

You must be able to use quotations, dialogue tags, and paragraphs correctly.

“Well, how do I do that?” you may ask.
“Firstly,” I say, “You must remember that punctuation always goes INSIDE, and never OUTSIDE, the quotation marks.”
“But what punctuation?” you ask.
“Well, that depends on a few things,” I answer. “For example, that last sentence ends in a comma, because we followed it up with the dialogue tag ‘I answer.’ It should be a period, but the dialogue tag makes it into a comma. On the other hand, because the first sentence of this whole exchange was a question, we left the question mark there. That’s really the only rule. Before a dialogue tag, periods become commas. Everything else stays the same.”
“Pretty easy. But what about paragraphs?”
“Every time a new speaker takes part in a dialogue, that’s a new paragraph. When you’re NOT writing dialogue, every major beat in the action should have its own paragraph. Paragraphs are a way to group related events together, and to separate major changes.”
“Should I indent paragraphs?”
“Always.”
“Then why aren’t we doing that?”
“Because WordPress really sucks that way.”

Very Nearly Award-Winning Author Very Nearly Wins Another Award!!

I very nearly won an award today, which puts my lifetime of very nearly won awards at 3.

The award I very nearly won was the annual Revise & Resub contest (#RevPit on Twitter), which allows you to win a full five-week editing session with an editor you choose from a list. I came in 2nd of 100 for my manuscript ACROSS THE ENDLESS OCEAN. So that’s not too shabby. I will get my query, first page, and synopsis formally edited. That’s not nearly as cool as getting the whole manuscript done, but it’s probably worth at least $100 if I was paying for it, so I’m not complaining. I learned a lot through the process, and recommend it to anyone who’s querying novels.