Brown River Queen cover art

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Frank's Handy Guide to Writing a Book

The author, who has better ankles than anyone imagined.

Here's a brief sample of the ads that usually confront me on Facebook and elsewhere online:




Just out of curiosity, I've clicked on a few of these banner ads. They're all designed to take you down the same familiar road -- pay us to do what you can do yourself for free, and we'll bleed you dry while continuing to make the same empty promises.

There isn't any ten-step program to send your book rocketing up the Amazon sales rank list. And the people who've claimed to know 'the secret' to such success usually wind up being outed as the ones who dumped thousands of dollars into schemes that hid their purchases of bogus reader reviews.

So what does make one book a best seller while at the same time a hundred equally worthy books languish in the frigid depths of sales rankings?

Sunspots. Hemlines. Paper clip sales, the ratio of European dog nose widths to the NASDAQ, the relative temperature difference of Mrs. Potter's last cup of tea to that radiator  in the apartment two doors down. 

In other words, it's all whim and caprice, and you'll go absolutely nuts trying to quantify the factors that determine sales.

What you can do is write another book. That's the best use of any author's time and effort. 

Sadly, it's also the most work.

I'm here to help, though, by making public my own half-assed -- er, sure-fire -- methods for starting, continuing, and finishing your book!

STEP 1: Assign each finger a name and a function. For index, my left index finger is Larry, and Larry is responsible for finding the + key. You get that, Larry? You have ONE JOB. I don't want excuses. Just a + sign now and then.

STEP 2: Read 'Finnegan's Wake.' That's a real book. Ask yourself what on Earth makes you think you can pull that off? Now go sit in the corner and feel inadequate for a month or so, you poser.

STEP 3: Fire up Microsoft Word. Type your title, centered, all caps, about a third of the way down the page. Be overwhelmed by what a silly title that is. Delete it. Close the file. Delete the file. Uninstall Word. Format your hard drive. Go for a long walk. Weep, letting the rain hide your tears. If it isn't raining find a lawn sprinkler. 

STEP 4: Return to the keyboard, refreshed, revived, and moderately drunk. Forget the validation code for Word. Mess around on Facebook for an hour or so. Go to bed.

STEP 5: After numerous false starts, give the thing a title, and get that all-important first page down. You've got about that much time and space to engage a reader. You'd better hit the ground running, with a potent mix of action and intrigue. You don't have time for infodumps. If the reader doesn't ask herself 'What is going to happen next?' you're screwed. 

STEP 6: Keep writing that all-important first page, substituting second for first, third for first, etc., until you've finished 250 or three hundred all-important pages.

STEP 7: Edit. Re-write. When it's as good as you can reasonably make it, either publish the thing yourself or shop it around with publishers. Don't pay anyone calling themselves a publisher for anything, ever. Don't agonize over sales, either. It will sell or it won't, and waving feathers and fish-bones over the ranking page isn't likely to do any good.

STEP 8: Start all over. You can start with Step 5 the second time around. 

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