A how-to book on writing fiction and self-publishing.
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Illusion is the first of all pleasures.
ó Oscar Wilde
Visualize . . .
Before you I stand, a decidedly middle-aged woman, round, doughy and blinking through smudged glasses. Itís six p.m. Weíre in a VFW Post drinking bitter coffee from Styrofoam cups. Iím worried. Itís my turn to disclose. All eyes, expectant, are on me. I clear my throat, swallow, then say, ďMy name is Linda ó Ē I stop cold. What will you think? That Iím a fool, a loser? I want to run, but Iíve come this far. My confession tumbles out. ďAnd Iím self-published.Ē
A palling silence fills the room. I recoil waiting for the jeers, the scoffs, the room to empty out. Remarkably however, from the last row of seats, a voice calls out (maybe itís yours), ďGood evening, Linda.Ē Relief sweeps through me. I am among friends . . . or at least one.
Backstory . . .
Seventeen years ago, I embarked on writing the great American novel. At the time I had completed an advanced degree and wanted another challenge. Writing a novel seemed like a good idea. It was an inexpensive undertaking for a single parent with young children and a full time job. Certainly I could steal moments in the early morning hours or during lunch. There was only one problem Ė I never demonstrated any particular talent for writing. In fact, my worst subjects in high school were English and typing. Hardly portentous. But I was a reader with an interest in the stories and foibles of human nature. So, with a sharpened pencil and a nice, fresh pad, I took the plunge and began to write. In record time, however, I discovered that the subterranean world of creativity twisted darkly. I also learned I knew nothing, nada, zippo, about writing fiction. But I was up for the challenge Ė in the beginning.
I read books on writing and took copious notes. I deconstructed to make the process understandable to myself. I struggled with tense and point of view and story . . . Well, um, itís about two sisters and they have a friend who committed suicide. But itís a mystery. And they want to find out why it happened. I havenít quite worked out the details, or the beginning, but I know the end and thatís a start. I think . . .
Over the years flashes of inspiration sparked then burned in roiling, despairing seas. I puzzled, avoided, and gave up too many times to remember. What kept me going? Certainly not accolades or desperate bidding wars for print rights. What kept me going is what Composition is about. Itís about craft, technology, and getting from point A to point B. Itís about how to stay the course and not get lost. Itís about what Iíve learned from both writing fiction and publishing my work.
So where am I today? This is my fourth book sent into the wild blue. Before Composition, I published two collections of short fiction and a novel. All were well received and garnered wonderful reviews. My fiction has been used in college courses and published in award-winning journals. I have taught both short story and novel writing classes as well as moderated writing groups. Iíve learned and grown but most of all Iíve taken charge, not only of my writing, but of the publishing and marketing of my work. Thanks to the technology of the 21st century, a golden era for writers approaches, which is a clear departure from the situation of a short seven years ago.
The publishing world of the late 20th century was grim. Due to a couple of decades of diminishing returns and the buyout of many publishing houses, conglomerates heavily invested in an increasingly small pool of writers, who they tagged as ďbest selling,Ē a self-fulfilling prophecy of their advertising dollars. One only has to look at the New York Times bestseller list to see this recurring truth. But such is the way of the American free market, where products are branded, pumped, then sold to the masses. Not necessarily a bad thing. After all, John Grisham is very entertaining. The problem was, it left many voices out of the mix.
Enter the equalizer Ė technology Ė and suddenly the world, along with publishing, shifts. Computer technology, software, and the Internet have converged and dramatically changed the landscape for the independent writer. Every step, from writing to rewriting, from book design to publishing, from marketing to selling has changed the publishing paradigm. Manuscripts no longer need to languish on shelves, or be sent dog-eared through the mail for another go-round with an agent or publisher. The waiting is over. A writer can now publish his work quickly and at a reasonable cost. Marketing outlets are infinite given the virtual nature of the Internet, and never before in history has the relationship between writer and reader been so intimate. Itís exciting. But with this freedom comes a huge responsibility to your readers, to yourself. The task is daunting but hardly impossible. I somehow managed, taking one step at a time.
Part I On Fiction
Plant the Seed ~ Story goal
Water the Sprout ~ Plot
Tend the Bloom ~ Scene
Fill the Garden ~ Development
Dig the Weeds ~ Rewrite
Part II On Publishing
Decide ~ The Option
Prepare ~ The Plan
Publish ~ The Book
Market ~ The Campaign
Sell ~ The Reward
Reviewed by Mark M. Owen, Ph.D.
Linda Lavidís Composition is a priceless gem of a book. In less than one hundred pages, it manages to cover the most important aspects of penning a great novel, and as a bonus it provides readers with detailed information to help them navigate the complex world of self-publishing. I actually read this book twice, just to make sure Iíd properly digested the morsels of wisdom scattered throughout the text like chocolate chips embedded in an epicurean cookie.
The chapters in Lavidís self-help book should be run as a serial in Writerís Digest. Theyíre incredibly succinct, explaining only the details readers need to know if they want to write a novel. Iíve read other writerís self-help books that explain in twenty windy pages what Lavid manages to do in a tight five. Itís no small feat to be so concise. She explains scene, plot, and character development in a way only learned by experiential training. In other words the reader is not lectured, but rather invited into the den to listen to someone whoís been there and done that.
Thereís even a solid index in the back for easy reference.
The only weak point in the book, and it was a small issue for me, is that many of the examples seem to come from a romance novel, where an emotional female-on-female encounter is used to illustrate a key writing concept. That type of dialog is not my personal cup of tea, but because the concepts are so easily understood, the attractiveness of the examples is secondary.
Make no mistake; this book is not just for women.
For any potential author whoís in the market for a book to guide them through the nuances of writing and the minefield of self-publishing, Lavidís monograph is a great place to learn, review and refine the tools of the trade.
Armchair Interviews says: Anything that can help writers write better, is a good read.
From our armchair to yours...
Reserve Book Reviews
Composition, by Linda Lavid (Aventine, 2007)
In this book Linda Lavid, the author of Paloma, Rented Rooms, and Thirst, has written a helpful guide for new writers.
For anyone who has even thought about becoming a writer, this small volume provides a helping hand as you join your first writers' group, write something every day, and analyze the novel you'd like to write.
Much to her credit, Lavid also provides a useful index and list of references.
The author is treated to a balanced explanation of story goal, plot, scene, development, and revision. But this book doesn't make the common error of stopping at that point and leaving the author with a dream and manuscript that will meet just a few readers.
In the second section, Lavid explains the process of publishing, right along with the tough parts, which include book design and a marketing campaign.
I'd recommend this book to anyone who is just starting n a writing hobby or career, and anyone who'd like to better understand the book publishing process.
Bruce Cook, Ph.D.
Blogger News Network
High-quality English language reporting, analysis and editorial writing on the news.
Book Review: A Recipe for Writing Fiction in the Age of the Internet
October 6th, 2007 by cehwiedel
by Linda A. Lavid
Aventine Press, San Diego, CA. ISBN: 1-59330-476-5
This slim paperback cooks up a basic recipe for writing (and possibly self-publishing) fiction in the Internet Age.
The first section on the craft of fiction writing is useful for writers regardless whether self-publishing figures in their plans. The five chapters swiftly cover story goal, plotting, scene architecture, the chewy nubs of development and finally the undervalued toil of rewriting than can change a blob of lightly related scenes into a well-kneaded and shapely tale.
I most enjoyed the chapter on story goal because thatís one of my own failings. Iím shy about stating simply and clearly what a story is about.
However, as a recipe requires a base ingredient to embellish and build upon, so a story needs a strong story goal to orient its parts.
Ms. Lavid on story goal:
This declarative sentence is also called the story goal. Think of story goal as the magnetic north. From page one until the end of your story, the story goal will be your homing device. It will keep your novel or short fiction piece focused and can even be used for publishing and marketing purposes. With a little tweaking you already have a blurb for your back cover and press release!
ÖWhen writing a story goal, use present tense and consider what your protagonist wants and whatís stopping him. The point of having a story goal is to stay focused and remind yourself at every sentence, paragraph, page and scene what the story is about. Whenever you get stuck, review your story goal. This may hold the key. You may have strayed from the story goal or not defined the story goal well enough. ÖA story goal impels the story. It defines [a] character, her want[s], whatís stopping her, and is the basis for the opening scene.
(Emphasis added by me because I so frequently commit the sin!)
The first section of Composition clears my bar for a to-do book: it makes my fingers itchy to try out its prescriptions.
The second section, on self-publishing, begins to fill in a huge blank spot that, until now, I have paved over by waving my arms and muttering, ďThen a miracle occurs.Ē How do I get from finished manuscript to self-published book? And, more importantly, make money at it so I can not only repeat the exercise but eat and keep a roof over my head?
Ms. Lavid pushes front and center the question of self-publishing versus the conventional publishing route ó and insists rightly that self-publishing is not for everyone. She forces a curious writer to confront the investment in personal time and energy required to make self-publishing a success. But she also provides information and encouragement for a committed writer to make a go of it.
Those writers unable to stand the heat in the kitchen, so to speak, should order take-out.
Ms. Lavid on marketing a self-published title:
Developing a marketing plan can challenge your creativity and bleed you dry. In my opinion, you should spend parsimoniously until you see results. Some marketing ploys to avoid are: placing upscale ads in magazines/newsapers; entering your book in an expensive contest; paying a company to do a press kit, get reviews, or add your book to obscure websites. One shot advertising, one contest, and charging for what can be done for free does not a campaign make. Marketing dollars should be spent where they can make a difference and where the campaign is sustained.
Enter the Worldwide WebÖ
There you have it: a tasty treat to whet your appetite for not just writing well, not just self-publishing well, but living well on the proceeds.
If your interest in self-publishing is not slaked by Ms. Lavidís book, you might also pick up a copy of The Well-Fed Self-Publisher: How to Turn One Book into a Full-Time Living by Peter Bowerman or Dan Poynterís Self-Publishing Manual, now in its 16th edition.
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Reader Reviews for "Composition: A Fiction Writer's Guide for the 21st Century"
|Reviewed by Jeanne Treat
|At last! Linda Lavid has written a definitive work on writing and publishing fiction in the 21st century. Filled with useful information presented in a concise, sometimes humorous manner, 'Composition' will delight both veteran and beginner writers.|