Writers Need Other Stories

I met a friend for lunch the other day who has been working on the same novel for close to twenty years now.

This friend is an excellent writer. When I saw some of the chapters from the book six years ago it was funny and a great opening. But my friend queried the book and was told it had a pacing issue and so has spent the time since then going down rabbit hole after rabbit hole and following critique after critique changing the novel trying to figure out how to fix this issue.

The one thing my friend has not done is…read a book in their genre.

They’ve been so busy with their work and kids and life that they don’t actually read any books anymore, not even in audio, which when trying to fix an issue like pacing is working blind, IMO.

They won’t follow my advice, but what I told them they needed to do was set aside this novel, read ten novels in the genre they’re trying to write back to back, and then pick up their book and read it like it’s the 11th novel they’re reading.

If they do that, they should then be able to see the pacing issues because they’ll have established the pattern for that genre in their mind and it will catch them out when that pattern isn’t followed in their own novel.

(I also told them to stop working on the same damned novel and go write two other novels and come back to this one later, but they won’t listen to me on that one either.)

Now, granted, I’m high Strategic, so I see patterns that maybe others don’t, so this may not work for my friend.

But the idea is that most books in most popular genres (romance, mystery, speculative fiction) have a certain flow and pace to them.

Differences do exist between books in genres, it’s not set in stone, but you can get a very good feel for what to include/not include and when the action should peak or ebb for each genre by reading a number of books in the genre in quick succession.

Even if you don’t have time to read, there are other ways to absorb story. Taylor Swift came out with her latest album today. Each of her songs is a sketch of a much larger story.

She’s a great one for that. Kenny Rogers and Jim Croce are two others that come to mind. They can tell an entire life in one song.

There are important lessons that can be learned from music about what to include to create this sense of a much bigger story.

(Same with poetry. Kahlil Gibran distilled so much about life and relationships into very few words.)

I love music and if I could sing a lick I would’ve probably thrown everything I had at being a singer, but to use music as a tool to improve writing requires not just listening to songs, but then asking yourself, “Why does that lyric move me? How is it appealing to my experience? How is it lifting me up? Or bringing me down? What have they done with the words they use to get that effect? Why do those words trigger a reaction from me?”

Writers can’t use every tool that songs use like background vocals and instruments, but we can learn from the lyrics of songs.

If you had to distill your story down to a song, are the elements there? The emotions, the characters, the setting, the outcome? Are you hitting the core of the story enough times throughout the novel like a song repeats a verse?

Speaking of, I love some of the Masterclass courses and the latest one I really enjoyed was by John Legend on songwriting. It was excellent even for a non-songwriter like myself.

The approach he takes to writing songs isn’t necessarily something that can translate to writing a novel since he starts with the the music behind the words, but perhaps in a sense it can if you focus on the feeling you want to give the reader before you start.

Is this going to be a fun story? A dark story? One that ends in triumph? One that ends in defeat? How high will the characters get? How low will they get? What tone are you going for?

What would be the soundtrack if you had one for this novel? If this novel were an album, what ten emotions/experiences would you want to distill from it? Do you even have something you can distill from the novel or are people just moving around on the page?

Bottom line: writers don’t write in a vacuum. If you’re not bringing in new experiences and material then you may be mining past experiences and material, but at some point you need to feed more in.

And if you’re still learning (which I’d argue we all are always), then you need to occasionally go back to the type of stories you write and read a bunch of them to see how others do it. You’ll see something new each time you circle back because of what you’ve learned in your own writing in the meantime.

Anyway. Just a few random thoughts to share. Off to record some audio if my dog will let me.

A Maturing Industry

One of the things I learned as a regulator was that there is an ebb and flow to things. In that case we’d get more and more proscriptive about what could and could not be done until people screamed bloody murder at which point the trend would move towards more principles-based requirements until people said, “well, that wasn’t what the rule said” and tried to get out of the principled requirement using semantics and it would reverse again.

Back and forth, back and forth it goes.

Right now we’re seeing a sort of tide shift with streaming content. One I personally hate. You want me to pay for you like you’re cable but then also make me watch a ton of ads that aren’t placed properly in your content so that it just randomly switches out mid-scene to an ad? Yeah, I’ve got a bunch of old DVDs I think I need to rewatch, thanks.

There was this big new area of exciting development with streaming at one point and all sorts of new players rose up and tried things and found their niche (love you Acorn), but now we’re in the consolidating, gotta suck every last penny out of the system stage. We’ll probably have to suffer through that for a few years until maybe some equilibrium develops or some new disruptive technology emerges to change things again.

There are rumblings that self-publishing is heading into some sort of contraction stage, too.

I think the glory days when there were more readers looking for content than writers who could provide it are long gone. That was five years ago or more, but people who got a good start then have kept acting like that’s still possible for anyone. It’s not and I think even they are finally beginning to realize that as people that were doing pretty well start to slide into obscurity.

I had a conversation two years ago with someone about self-pub and Amazon and how it all worked. Everything I told them was publicly available. Nothing was a secret. But I knew where to look. At the time, this person asked me how someone who was brand new would find that information. My answer was I didn’t know.

When I got started there was a forum that was the first place anything new was mentioned. That’s where I learned about Kobo promotions and Vellum and all sorts of other developments. And, yes, some of that moved to FB groups, but not in a great way IMO. And a lot of the inside baseball conversations just aren’t happening publicly anymore.

Because we’re now in a maturing industry in self-pub. The raft is full and the ocean is right there and no one wants to fall off the raft and drown. Which is not to say that there aren’t people helping one another or bringing others up or that that shouldn’t be happening. But if someone finds something that works for them today, they might not broadcast that fact to the world like they would have a decade ago.

Someone eventually will because there’s a whole ecosystem of people making money off of telling other authors what to do and any useful secret they find they’ll share immediately to up their clout. (This happens in one of the groups I’m in with someone who charges authors for marketing help. Of course, generally that will make that particular secret ineffective or much less effective in approximately three months’ time as everyone scrambles to get in on the latest thing.)

We also now have some very well-developed heavy-hitters in this industry. I think most of them are going to be solid going forward. They’ll get knocked sideways at some point by Amazon changes or something like that, but they’ve staked out their positions and as long as they keep delivering, they’ll be good.

What will happen is that a lot of people who didn’t make it to that steady place in time will fall off.

Maybe they keep publishing, but turn to a day job. Maybe they turn to trade pub. Maybe they quit altogether.

Some will innovate and find new ways to reach little pocket audiences. I know one author who has turned towards Kickstarter and using their own website for sales, for example.

But a lot are going to drop off in the next few years. Which, for the “easy money” types who killed it for a while there, farewell and good riddance, enjoy the next easy money wave you find to ride, wherever that may be. For the ones who always had a dream of being a successful writer and see that dream disappear, that’s gonna hurt. A lot.

Which is not to stay that you can’t still launch a successful pen name. I have a good friend who launched an incredibly successful pen name just this year after launching a different one two years ago. And another friend who launched a successful one about two years ago.

What those friends had though was the ability to write well and write quickly, the ability to hit the genres they were aiming for, the ability to package their books well for that genre, and the marketing know-how to launch those first books into the top 1000. Not a lot of authors have all those skills. Even a decade into this “self-pub revolution”.

I don’t think I have all of those to be honest.

Those friends were also writing for big genres. We too often fail to give credit to how important it is that you are writing for a big enough genre if you want to support yourself at this. Romance authors hate having this pointed out, but, hey, there are a lot more romance readers that read voraciously than there are readers who want another book like Tolstoy wrote. Doesn’t make it easier to write those books, just means those books have more of a chance to get some good sales when they are written well.

Yeah, so, maybe read up on how to succeed in a mature industry. Warning, though, that the definitions there of the shakeout we’re seeing/about to see aren’t great for this scenario, because I don’t expect consolidation, I just expect a lot of people to drop out with their books sitting there on Amazon forever not being actively promoted and with no new content being produced until probably at some point there’s a cull of books that don’t sell off of the various platforms. (Maybe. It’s electronic records so what’s the space it’s taking up, right? But still. If you’re not showing them in search indexes, why bother listing them?)

Anyway. With that cheerful thought I am going to go spend the day with my family and my dog (which I just tried to spell god, haha) up in the gorgeous Colorado mountains, because no matter where my own personal path goes in the next few years I don’t regret for one moment taking the last ten years for myself, my family, and my dog. Nor do I regret a single one of the books I’ve written or all the skills I’ve had the joy of learning.


I just sent off my shiny new laptop for unknown repairs because it kept restarting while I was working. It was my first Asus and it’s beautiful, but…beauty doesn’t help when it doesn’t work first.

I miss my old Sony Vaio laptops. I’ve been struggling to find a good one ever since. I’m typing this on my Lenovo Ideapad or Thinkpad, I can never remember which. It’s held up nice over the last five years or so, but when I tried to get another one it ran so hot when I first got it that I returned it immediately and bought a Dell laptop instead. Which also runs hot.

Which is why I swore I was going to go with a desktop for work this time around. And then I got suckered in by the Asus…

It cracks me up to think that I made it all the way through college and the first year at work with no computer at all and now between the cheap Macs I have for Vellum and a succession of laptops that haven’t quite died but needed replaced I have five working laptops.

Then again, a computer and internet access are pretty much my only must-haves for writing. Well, that and a good enough monitor for the non-fiction screenshots, but that pretty new laptop had that, too.

(But an annoying number pad. Sigh.)

I saw some hot take on Twitter yesterday that I’m refraining from commenting on. But seriously people, when people meet you halfway don’t keep moving the frickin’ goal post or they’ll just quit playing your game altogether.

I had an aunt like that. We did family game night for a bit and whatever the game was, she’d start playing, figure out how she could win if the rules were changed, and then preemptively change the rules so that she’d win. Trivial Pursuit suddenly became the first person who could get another pie, for example, when she was right on top of a category she was good at. Surprise, surprise, we stopped family game night pretty quickly after she started pulling that nonsense.

What else? That book that was frustrating me? Also had a Chekhov’s gun problem. The special book that her mother gave her that she dragged with her for no apparent reason, that her sister maybe noticed was missing, that she hadn’t read in ages, that was rescued from her room being demolished…in the end was never mentioned again. I was going to write a post about using something as characterization versus as a plot element, but I bailed on doing so. Sorry.

Basically if you want to show that your character is a reader, then have them constantly reading books you don’t specify. But if you call out one book in particular and give it a history and have it turn up more than once, it needs to be for a reason. IMO. YMMV. Etc. Etc.

I saw a bunch of different friends recently and I’m in this phase where I feel like a complete failure because of the path I stepped off of and where I would’ve been by now if I’d stayed on that path but at the same time I know I’m on a longer journey and exactly where I need to be to make that journey.

It’s a tricky place to be. Because there’s a part of me that wants to run back to the safety of that old path but I know I don’t want to take that path at all.

Which is part of the reason I am skipping my 15 year MBA reunion. I don’t need to be in a room with people who value and weigh others by their income, power, and influence because I have tried very hard to not put weight on any of those and being back in that environment would be destructive.

Not to mention my inability to avoid reacting to certain things these days. I’m pretty sure I have no chill left. I had to stop following that school on FB and getting their emails about their new published articles because there was a very specific slant to the articles they were publishing that were basically just opinion pieces not proven fact.

Haha. Ah well.

Hiding your opinions and controlling your emotions so no one sees them is a very upperclass thing anyway and that is absolutely not what I aspire to be these days. I need to find a way to have money so there’s no financial worries without actually being around the large majority of people with money.

Right. Yeah, that’s…easy to do.

Let me get right on that.

AML Compliance Fundamentals Now Live

Yesterday I hit publish on AML Compliance Fundamentals and it’s already live on Amazon in print and ebook as well as on Nook and Kobo. I’m sure it will hit Apple and Google and all the other stores shortly, probably later today

If I can be considered to have an area of expertise, it’s AML regulation. It took two pages in the book to list out my qualifications related to AML including being a nationally-designated expert in AML regulation when I was at NASD (which is now FINRA) and writing the AML exam procedures that were in effect there for a few years.

I don’t expect it to have a large audience, but it’s a book I’ve been meaning to write for a while now just to consolidate almost twenty years of knowledge and put it out there for others.

I stayed conceptual with the book because each country and each industry has their own subtle twists on the basics. But if anyone needs that overview, it’s out there now. I focused a lot of time on customer identification, AML risk assessment, and suspicious activity monitoring and reporting, but I also touched on all the other aspects of AML regulation I think it’s important to be aware of.

Funnily enough, this was the book I was most nervous about writing because it was where I should know the most, which makes any possible mistake feel inexcusable.

I had two good friends who also have an AML background read through to make sure I hadn’t completely made a you-know-what of myself with it. Haha. But I’m sure someone will find something they don’t like about it, because that’s just the nature of publishing.

Still. I’m pretty proud of it. And glad to finally cross it off my to-do list. So check it out if it’s of interest to you.

Universal Link, Amazon, Kobo, Nook, Apple, Google
Print ISBN 9781637440728

Random Thoughts and Comments

I have written 100K words in the last three weeks. And what’s crazy is it didn’t even feel all that hard to do. But I think there are reasons it flowed so well. Part of it is this is something I’ve already worked out for myself before so even though I wrote the words new I had the general structure established.

For me, writing non-fiction is about getting something I already know down on the page in a way that will help others learn it. It’s a bit like doing one of those puzzle games where you move things around until all the red balls are in the red slots and green balls are in the green slots, etc.

So the big challenge of non-fiction is what to include/exclude and then what order to present the information in. Once that’s figured out, it flows.

Of course, even though this is the third time through for me, I still am one of those people who can’t let it lie. Round 1 was good enough but here I am on Round 3 coming up with yet another way to present things.

It’s been fun, actually. I like that challenge.

What’s crazy is this is the first time in a decade where I feel like there are more things I want to do writing-wise than I have time for. Why that wasn’t the case before, I don’t know.

Maybe it’s taken this long to get over my fear of being a workaholic again? What’s the point in leaving a high-paying career to do something you enjoy only to work around the clock and become miserable doing the new thing, too?

I don’t know. But the list of “what’s next” is a mile long right now. And part of that 100K words is a project that wasn’t even on any of my lists. Haha. I never change that way.

In completely unrelated thoughts…

I saw a good friend from high school this week and…

They were fine. There was nothing they said that was wrong or showed they were unhappy. But…

And I didn’t give them this advice, because it took a couple hours after I’d seen them to realize what was off for me, so I’m giving it to the world instead:

Never stay in a relationship (friendship or romance or even work) where the other person makes you dim your shine to be with them. If they can’t stand next to you in your full glory, then move on and find someone who can.

You should never make your self less than to be accepted. And I know it can be tempting to do that, especially when there’s someone saying “you’re too much” or “why do you need to shine now that you’re with me”, but…

Don’t let them do that to you.

Anyway. More words to write, so onward.

Oh, and if you’re in the U.S. and aren’t boosted yet with the new bivalent booster, get boosted. As long as you haven’t had a boost or shot or been sick in the last two months you should be eligible. I don’t know how big the next wave will be, but there is going to be one.

Also, kudos to the MSM community for keeping MPX in check so it looks like the wider community won’t have to face that one, too, this winter. Yay.

Author or Publisher Screw-Ups

A while back there was a discussion on FB about whether or not readers should tell authors when they notice an issue in a book. And what’s interesting is that it really comes down to how that particular author is published.

For example, today someone reached out to me and said, “Hey, the back cover copy of X book looks like it’s actually from Y book.”

Sure enough, it was. I updated two covers at once, moved them over to a new cover software at the same time, copied and pasted the wrong back cover copy for one of them, and didn’t catch it.

Because I do the majority of my own covers I was able to fix the issue immediately. I’ve already uploaded the new cover and hopefully that change will go through in the next 24 hours or so.

I can do that because of the way I’m published.

A few weeks ago I was reading a book by an author who is both traditionally published and self-published and realized that the book I was reading was missing a chapter in the print format.

I was able to buy the ebook and read the missing chapter, but I reached out to let them know about the issue because that particular book was print on demand so could be fixed.

If the book in question had been one of their trade-published books, which generally involve a print run, it’s not certain that the error could have been fixed.

Books published by the larger trade publishers are printed before they’re sold. You generally get what you get. Unless there’s another print run. And then maybe they’ll fix any identified issue. But it would have to be a big enough issue to warrant edits and new type setting and most minor typos would not fall under that heading.

On the self-publishing side it can come down to how much the author does themselves and how much the fix would cost.

I had a typo in a website address in one of my other books, for example. Fixing it in the ebook was free and something I could do myself so I did it. Fixing it in print on Amazon, same thing.

Both fixes were done within 24 hours of my becoming aware of the issue.

Fixing it in print on other stores, however, would’ve cost $25 at the time. And taken the book off sale for an unspecified period of time.

(I once had my best-selling books stay off sale for a full month before I realized that could happen. I’d always figured the printer would fulfill all orders that had already been placed using the current files while allowing me to submit and approve the updated files for new orders, but that’s not what they do. They pull the book while they’re handling old orders and only let you approve the updates after those old orders have all been filled. At which point the book becomes available for sale once more. So if they’re backed up on filling orders, which they were when that happened, the book remains unavailable that whole time.)

Other self-published authors pay someone else to format their books. In that case those authors are faced with getting on the schedule of their formatter and then paying the cost for the edits and then uploading when that’s all done. That could be $100 maybe and a month or three to get the edits back.

We all want perfect books, but if you have a book that’s made you $50 and the typo is minor and will take three months to make…It’s easy to see why that doesn’t make sense to do.

I also know an author who didn’t want to face an old book that had disappointed them so didn’t fix a typo they knew about in that book for five years because they didn’t want to revisit that book. They literally could not bring themselves to open the file and find the typo.

It happens.

So we all try, but sometimes there are going to be mistakes that slip through and that don’t get fixed.

I definitely make mistakes with my books. Not a lot, I hope, but there’s a dropped period here or there for sure. And more significant issues like this cover one sometimes do slip through. It’s a lot to juggle.

For me personally I will say that if you ever see an error in one of my books, please do email me about it. Often I can fix it easily and will do so.

If it gets reported to Amazon, they don’t always tell me. I had two errors I noticed in my books during a reread that I fixed and THEN Amazon told me about them. They registered as fixed issues on the quality dashboard I had never seen before that day.

Most trade published authors I know don’t want to be contacted on the other hand, because there’s nothing they can do and it’s kind of like rubbing salt in the wound.


There can be style differences that readers point out that aren’t really errors.

I remember someone commenting once that they didn’t like reading X Author because that author’s main character used a sentence construction they thought was grammatically incorrect.

But it’s important to understand that the way people speak is regional and that what someone might consider grammatically incorrect is actually regionally appropriate or character appropriate phrasing.

Especially for books written in first person “grammatical” fixes may not be legitimate.

I know, for example, that I speak with certain sentence constructions that are not considered appropriate according to Word. But that’s how a character like me would structure their sentences, so if I’m writing a character like that the one-size-fits-all grammar rules in Word don’t apply.

Which is all to say that if you reach out to someone and say, “you should’ve phrased this differently” they are within their rights to say, “nope, that’s how I meant it to be, thanks.” They probably won’t say that to you, but they’ll think it.

So anyway. We’re all human. None of us are perfect. Sometimes we can fix what we mess up, sometimes it’s out of our control. And sometimes it’s not really an error, just a difference of opinion.

But glad that friend reached out because it may have been years before I noticed that error otherwise.