By Guest Blogger Kristopher Miller
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Standing Out as a Self-Published Author
[“Books Scramble” | Image by Vladimir Melnikov]
You look on the bookshelves or an e-book service and notice they all feature the same thing: women who fall in love with vampires. Women who fall in love with werewolves. A fantasy quest involving elves and other traditionally used fantasy archetypes. Despite the somewhat different concepts, they all use the same plotlines and formula. All of this is used to sell a lot of books but it does not help the authors stand out in the crowd. This is because traditional publishing houses encourage the same stuff to be used over and over again in order to reap more money. Even some self-published authors also fall into that trend in hoping to copy the traditional published authors’ success.
The age us writers live in is a wonderful one because not only can we can be our own entrepreneurs, editors (though more than one person helps make a good manuscript), and illustrators. People need to take advantage of this era because there is a lot of potential to break new ground in the writing world, whether it is in the medium itself or genre. And it does not involve having to do something utterly groundbreaking to where material has to be Top Critics’ Choice-worthy, but something just fresh enough that it is material that is different from the rest of the pack.
Here are a few tips to slowly breaking from the mold:
[Image from How to Write a Stand-Out Hook]
Look at Other Writers in Your Genre
Take some time to look at the writers who work in the genre you’re thinking of writing and releasing your book into. Look for patterns. What conventions do a lot of writers use? What patterns in regard to plot structure, character design, and settings do writers use in that genre? Look for those patterns and then think of ways like “How can I write this plot in a different way that does not need that type of character?” or “How can I make this setting unique compared to what other authors use?” Brainstorm of what you can do as a writer, think about what personal style you use, and deviate from the conventional norms in what might be refreshing to you and refreshing to the reader.
Write Several Drafts, Not An Outline
This step seems strange, because in school you were always taught that an outline was the best way to plan a written piece. From experience, it is a rigid blueprint that assumes you need to follow the outline. An outline also encourages shortcuts in terms of how to plot characters, settings, and the storyline. Instead, start writing the piece in short phases. Write a short summary of what is going on in your head. Don’t worry if you think it is crap, for you are going to work on it later. Work on a longer version of the summary, then start working on the first scene. You will find what works in the piece and what does not work in the piece. Then you can reevaluate that piece and ask yourself: did I do something differently than what other authors have done? What can I make better? What can I make different? Writing is a very continuous process for there’s always something that needs to be worked on.
Don’t Be Afraid to Experiment
My suggestion of creating a small summary is just one way a writer can start marking himself or herself from the pack. While working on the manuscript, write in some dialogue that is unexpected. Write a sequence that might seem out of place, for eventually that sequence might not seem out of place the more you work on the manuscript. Introduce a concept that might seem out of place with the genre you are working on. Eventually, you will work it in with enough writing and editing. Bottom line: keep experimenting with concepts that have not been played around in the genre before. Who knows, a chaingun might seem very, very out of place in a sword-and-sorcery fantasy novel but somehow it might fit in your universe that might not fit in the traditional universe. Mess around and have fun with inserting things that “aren’t” supposed to be in there!
[“Writing” | Image from Eastern Michigan University]
Look at Different Types of Book Covers
Now, this would be a no-brainer, right? But sometimes authors look for book covers that sometimes overlap each other. If you happen to know an artist or two, ask and hire them to do a cover for you so that your book cover will look different than what other people have been doing. If you are buying a book cover, double check to make sure that the cover has not been used by another author already.
Don’t Just Talk About It…Do Something About It!
Lots of people like to complain of how writers these days are uncreative, how the traditional publishing houses are harsh, how Amazon is evil, blah, blah, blah, blahky blah. It’s one thing to talk about how the writing scene needs to change but there is a different between a person who just talks about writers and writing and those who actually write. Writing is a hard, laborious, time-consuming process that requires a lot of thought and a lot of spontaneity. You can write about all the suggestions about writing you can and you can rant all the fuck you want about how writers are not very creative…but are you actually creating anything? No? Well, you don’t have the damned right to tell people how they should write. If you are passionate about doing something different in the writing world, find a pen and a notebook and a keyboard. Get started.
Don’t Be Jealous of Other People’s Creative Ideas That You Are Tempted to Steal Them (Irony!)
If you see someone do some really cool stuff, chances are you are going to be impressed. And sometimes when we are all impressed by how badass and cool that idea is, we really want to do something like it!
And that’s the problem: we are not that person who created the idea and imitating the idea leads to an uninspired copy that will be hated by those who loved the original work. Worse, we get very, very jealous of that person’s work. We start to hate the person and the work, and we often wonder why we loved the person and the work in the first place. Jealousy is a wasted emotion that consumes, time, energy, and yes, physical and mental life.
Instead, be happy for that person’s highly creative ideas. Give that person your compliments. Write a positive review of that person’s work. Spread the work about that person’s work. Because that particular writer’s work is worth reading and it is worth reading. It is one more work that defies the norms, tries something different, and goes not take the easy way out. That work serves as an example of a work that defines conventional norms. You too can do original work on your own terms. Everyone has a way of doing things different, so don’t be a copy. Be an original. Do your own work and praise the ones whose work deserves to be praised.
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Kristopher Miller is a graduate student currently studying for his masters in technical communication but he is also writing hard on his latest novella, short story, poetry, and nonfiction projects. His first short story in first grade involved a frog that kept trying to eat a planet, only to be blown back by an alien spaceship. He has grown far from planet-eating frogs being blown away by laser beams and has recently released his first novella, The Maze’s Amulet, in 2012.
Mr. Miller is currently working on a sequel to the novella, as well as a poetry anthology and a short story anthology.
You can visit him, his works, his writing advice, and other drabblings at The Catacomb’s Bookshelf.
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Thanks for sharing your views, Kristopher :)!
Here are a couple of Kristopher’s past blog posts readers might want to check out. These posts help us remember there is such a thing as high quality and low quality — and that if we fail, for whatever reason, to distinguish between the two we pervert and harm our culture and our language:
(1) Commas Keep People Alive! teaches a valuable lesson about commas.
(2) “Hollowland” Review features a collaborative review of Amanda Hocking’s Hollowland, by Kristopher and AJ.
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P.S. And here’s Kristopher’s Q&A with JCS (24 June 2012).
— Jess C Scott / jessINK