Tag Archives: Marshall Plan for Novel Writing

Traditional vs Electronic

There’s a big debate—maybe even an argument, in some cases—about which is better: print or electronic. Now, of course, it’s part of the larger argument about whether it’s better to have a physical copy or an electronic one sitting on a cloud out there somewhere. Should I download the song from iTunes or go buy a CD? Should I get the ebook on my Kindle (or iPad. That’s another argument in and of itself) or go to Barnes & Noble and buy the hard/paperback?

The world is changing a lot and it’s hard to keep from feeling left behind sometimes. I mean, it’s easy for me and a lot of the people I know to remember when the CD was the new thing, and there was a big debate on whether or not it would last or be a blip like the—are you ready for this blast from the past?—8-track tape.

You remember those, right (I know you don’t Jesi)? Big, thick cartridge that usually had a miniature picture of the album cover on its label. I’ve never understood why it was called an 8-track, because it had four “programs,” as most of them called it. Where the 8-track part comes in, I’ve never known. If you do, I’d be interested in hearing it.

Anyway, big plastic cartridge, thick as a cigarette pack and about twice as big. Not quite as big as a VHS tape, but almost. You plugged the narrow end into the tape player, listened to the big clicks as it changed programs. The advantage it had over the cassette was that you didn’t have to flip it over (this was before they came out with auto-reverse cassette players that didn’t cost as much as a house). Perfect for the car, as long as you didn’t mind them spilling all over the place with alarming regularity. Or having your deck eat the damn things with even more regularity. They mentioned 8-tracks on Car Talk a few shows back, and Bob commented that your 8-track collection usually went down in number about 50% every year.

But, hey, there just wasn’t a way to play albums in a car. 8-tracks were big when I was a kid, and were replaced by cassettes about the time I graduated from high school. At least, that’s when cassettes got big around here. Most of us had to hang onto our 8-tracks because we couldn’t afford the snazzy new cassette decks.

Not two years later, I was introduced to the CD.

Like, whoa.

I distinctly remember the first CD I ever heard. It was Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon. I was in the Army, had a rockin’ stereo, and this guy who was new to the unit and had been stationed in Germany, brought up his CD player and hooked it into my stereo. This was in the days when you built a component stereo instead of buying a rack unit that had everything. Anyway, he started playing the CD and, since I didn’t have headphones at the time, I laid down on the floor between my two big Pioneer S710 185-Watt speakers and took a journey to the dark side of the moon with the Floyd.


Inside of a month, I went to the PX and bought my first CD player. Kept it till it went out in the early 90s.

And now they’re saying the CD is on the way out because everybody’s downloading their songs. The album as a coherent collection of songs is going the way of the dodo.

Or the 8-track.

Same thing with books. There was commentary on NPR recently about this. We go into someone’s house and look to see what albums and/or books they have on the shelves because that tells us something about them. And yet, most sf movies depict a future where there aren’t any of these things in people’s houses because it’s all stored digitally.

Looks like we’re getting there fast.

As authors, there’s another dimension to consider: do we want to go the traditional publishing route and publish a physical book? Or should we go the other way, maybe publish on Kindle?

One recent author, Amanda Hocking (or was it Amy? My apologies) published her paranormal novel online after getting rejected by every publisher she approached. Now, the publishers have offered her a multimillion-dollar contract because she’s been selling like crazy and they’ve probably got this hangdog expression on their faces: Will you come make money for us? PLEASE?!

The advantage, as I understand it, to ebooks is the royalties are higher. After all, the publisher doesn’t have to spend so much money printing the damn thing up. I’ve heard figures that vary from 35% to 80%. I haven’t researched it, so I don’t know which is true, or if both are, depending on publisher.

What a lot of people don’t know about book publishing is that they like you to adhere to certain word counts for a very definite reason: they have boxes designed to hold x number of books at y word count. I don’t know the exact figures there, either, but I know it’s true. Evan Marshall, in his book The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing, has a chart he calls the Novelmaster that divides word counts up by how they’re shipped. I’m not going to go into detail about it except to say that it goes up by 4,000 each time. For example, the lowest range on the chart is between 50,000 and 54,000. I bring this up because it’s one of the limitations of physical publishing.

With electronic publishing, who cares? Your story will take up whatever space it takes up, because that’s gonna be measured in kilobytes unless it’s a pdf file, in which case it will be in megabytes because they make it look like a book cover and all. Graphics take up a lot of memory. On top of that, on the consumer end, ebooks make a lot of sense. Last I saw, the Kindle holds something like 2,500 books, and I’m not sure what the Nook’s capacity is. I’m even less sure what the iPad will hold. Probably a lot more, though. Imagine how much room 2,500 books takes up.

What do I think (after all, we know this blog is all about me lol)?

I don’t really know for sure.

See, I’m a gadget guy. I like nifty digital watches (though I do not wear a calculator watch), and I like to find out about the latest software. I like Windows 7 because it’s so clean looking. If I see some tech article online chances are I’ll read it. I took two years of online college in Network Management, too, so I know many of the shortfalls of all this neat stuff. I found that the more I learned about IT, the less I trusted it. Not in the HAL 9000 sense of things (“Open the pod bay door, HAL”) but in the sense that I know why you sometimes get garbled texts on your phone: it’s because of the protocol the packets are sent under. Trust me, you don’t want me to go into details except to say that it’s my guess text messages aren’t guaranteed to arrive in the exact form they were sent, so they occasionally get corrupted.

On the other hand, I grew up with physical books (and 8-track tapes). I like the idea of holding a book in my hand, of turning the pages. For me, there’s nothing like that sense of anticipation I get when I buy a new book, and since I don’t have a Kindle (and won’t own an iPad), I don’t know if that translates when you buy a new ebook or not.

For all that I’m a gadget guy, I’m also old-fashioned. I’m perfectly happy tapping away on my three-year-old desktop. I like that 19” flatscreen monitor, and I especially prefer the desktop’s real, detached keyboard. I learned to type on an electric typewriter, for crying out loud. I only grudgingly admit that, for a full-time writer, a laptop is essential. How else to write when you’re traveling? How much writing could you get done if you took your laptop to the doctor office? God knows you’re paying them plenty for the privilege of spending hours in their waiting room. Might as well write some billable word count while you’re there. If nothing else, it will pay for his next golf outing.

And, as a writer, I like the idea of holding a physical copy of my first published book in my hands. Of being able to go into a book store and (hopefully) seeing my book on the shelf. On the other hand, those higher royalties are awfully enticing.

So, what about you? What are your feelings of traditional vs. epublishing? Do you have a preference or, like me, do you find yourself straddling the fence, undecided? I’d be interested in hearing.




How Do You Write?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I write. I don’t mean my language or any of that. I guess to be more specific I need to say I’ve been giving a lot of thought to how I plan my writing.

There are lots of ways to write a novel. I just read an interview with David Morrell (author of First Blood) and Ken Follet (author of The Pillars of the Earth) in the most recent issue of Writer’s Digest and it was very interesting. I’ve read some of Mr. Morrell’s novels (I highly recommend Creepers. He barely gives you a chance to catch your breath), and I have The Pillars of the Earth in my to-be-read stack. Besides the fact that these are two very interesting writers, one of the neat things about the interview was that Mr. Morrell writes pretty much from the seat of his pants while Mr. Follet spends six months to a year outlining his works. He even outlines backwards to be sure everything connects like he wants it. He said his outlines are usually about 50 typed pages.

When Mr. Follet related this, Mr. Morrell said, “Wow.”

That’s kinda what I thought, too.

In the past, I’ve always been one who writes by the seat of my pants. I usually come up with a beginning, and the beginning almost always suggests an ending. And, sometimes, I’ll always have at least one or two pivotal scenes in mind. I let my subconscious stew and boil until I just can’t stand it anymore and then I start writing. The hard parts of this process are gauging when it’s time to actually start writing and how far you’ll get when you do. I have an old fantasy novel in which I stalled out on page 198. Not a happy circumstance.

Needless to say, this can be a little frustrating. So, at the suggestion of a friend, I tried outlining my sf novel utilizing a loose adaptation of The Marshall Plan. This plan was devised by agent and mystery novelist Evan Marshall. I’m not going into all its details (if you’re interested, get a copy of The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing from Writer’s Digest Books), but suffice it to say that the plan works all the detail in so that, by the time you finish, writing is the easy part because everything is already planned out. You just utilize your section sheets and your scene-by-scene outline and write the thing.

I can see some of the advantages of this. The biggest one, to me, is that it allows you to map out the idea and see if you can make it work instead of stalling out at page 198 like I did. You have everything laid out, and that gives you a road map that will take you all the way to the end of your novel.

My sf novel has six POV characters, so I decided to try The Marshall Plan and lay it out. The idea was that I could spend some time planning the thing out and not invest a lot of time to it and have it die in the middle. And, since this would be my first attempt at a story that was more epic in scope than normal, I thought it would be a good way to avoid stepping on my own toes.

Right now, I’m stalled out at page 189.

Things that make you go “Hmm.”

So what’s the problem? Well, I was talking about it with my daughter last night and I have a theory: I stuck too closely to the outline. I’m the kind of writer who writes from inspiration, and I suffocated that by sticking strictly to the outline. I like the idea of having the hard work (plotting the story) done before I start writing. I don’t like stifling my creativity by sticking to the outline to the letter.

I need to find a happy medium there. Because, like I told my daughter, it’s like using an atlas to drive somewhere you’ve never been. I can start from where I live and drive to, say, LA and just trust that I’ll get there and then maybe get lost somewhere in New Mexico or Arizona. Or, I can buy an atlas and plan a route that way. The good thing about having the map is, if I get to Arizona and see a sign beside the interstate that points to some kind of interesting attraction, I can revise my travel route around that. Take a side trip, go see the attraction, then resume the trip, still heading safely for LA.

To translate that to writing, I can still outline my novels scene-by-scene, but I will also allow myself to rework that outline if—no when inspiration strikes. Finish writing the piece of inspiration and then adapt the outline to fit the new development. Maybe not the easiest way to write, but I’m gonna try it to see if it’ll work.

I need to retain some freedom. My daughter said the way she likes to write is that she takes off on the trip, not even sure where’s she’s going. She just has some characters with her and some ideas of where she might stop along the way, but there are no guarantees (did I get that about right, Jesi? Hope so). I can understand the appeal there. I’ve read other authors who talk about writing this way and how it keeps the writing fresh because the author is discovering the surprises just as the reader is. I know that I had that experience with my urban fantasy, and it was so exciting that I wrote it in about three months. Not too bad considering it originally come out around 114,000 words.

One of the tricks I’ve discovered when writing this way is that you stop your daily writing before you write everything in your head. That way, the next day, you can start with an idea of where you’re going and, once the inspiration hits you can keep going. And I was gratified to read that other authors do that as well (it’s neat when you actually discover one of these techniques for yourself).

All of this has me curious: how do you do it? Since I’m trying to devise a new model for myself, any comments and suggestions would be appreciated. And let me know what you’ve experienced if you’ve experimented with different ways of doing it. Put in the pros and cons, too. This could start an interesting discussion (I hope).