How the three laws of robotics apply to writing and planning

Today is National Sci-Fi day, and while we’re not on Sci-fi this month (that’s later in the year) as our featured support genre, for advice Mondays, I thought I’d share a bit of a thought experiment.

First though…

Today would be Issac’s 100th birthday, and there’s little denying the impact he had on the world of sci-fi and writing. But the thing that always stuck with me the most was his three laws of robotics.

The three laws

(from Gismodo, who cites his story Runaround)

1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Issac Asimov

Later, Asimov added a fourth, or zeroth law, that preceded the others in terms of priority:

0. A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.

Issac Assimov

I have many theories on AI, given I’m eventually doing a Ph.D. on it (hence the combined STEM degree now), but I’m not going to address the fallacies and intricacies of why the three laws (and the additional zero law, which is almost the same, but not quite, as law 1) fail and cause problems. If you want to know why there’s a plethora of books out there exploring that and similar issues.

No, instead, I wanted to talk about how the three laws apply to writing.

But I’m not a robot…

As you’re quite right to observe, it’s highly unlikely that you are a robot. You might be, but then, that opens up questions, again, not for a writers’ blog. But when you look at the three laws of robotics and change the context to writing, something interesting happens.

  1. An author may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
    I would argue this is common decency, but when there’s little of each online, it’s a good thing to bear in mind. It goes into a slightly broader concept though.
    While there’s no admonition to not harm our characters (cause we might), there is a duty in every community for the weakest to be cared for by the stronger. Writing is not a zero-sum game, so, if anything, I’d argue the first of the Writer’s three laws is that we need to work to prevent bullying. As we watch the mess with the RWA unfold and look back on Cockygate, I wonder why it isn’t a credo adopted by more.
    Beyond that, it also tells you not to hurt yourself. Planning and self-care are critical.
  2. An author must obey the rules of its community, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
    I think the easiest way to explain this one is 1) Don’t pick on someone for upholding rules on a group, even if you personally think they’re not fair. It’s their group, you agreed and continue to agree when you joined, and to be frank, bullying a moderator is something that we’re going zero tolerance on – and that includes if we *hear* of it from a friend that’s a mod. Beyond that, mob mentality is dangerous online – there’s a difference between defending the downtrodden and forming a lynching mob, and I think this law aptly states that. If an author is unhappy with a review and asks their tribe to retaliate, maybe question the worth of that tribe, and the person leading it?
  3. An author must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
    Ah, you may say, doesn’t that mean if I don’t agree with people, I get to retaliate?
    Nope.
    You need to protect *your own existence*. What Jilly, Bob or Timmy does, as long as it’s not hurting you, isn’t important to you. I’m actually interpreting this one to be ‘don’t compare yourself to others, someone will get hurt’.

Law 1, Kindness. Law 2, fair play and Law 3, personal obligation. All three make for the best writers and the best communities. Personal obligation does mean sticking up for the rights of others if you’re sure you should, but it also means accepting that you ‘do you’. One of the hardest lessons I learned last year was that if I’m not careful, I will stay away for too long because I have nothing to give. My personal obligation became to me and only me for a while, and that was ok. But I have an obligation to you guys too. So, Law 3…it could also be read as ‘help yourself, help others’.

I don’t really agree that the zero law exists in the case of writers, but there is one final one I think all writers need to follow.

Law 4 – An author must ensure that everything they put out reflects the best of their work and the best of them.
Each and every one of the team knows
it’s hard to get things done in a budget, and we all sacrifice, but we are calling each and every one of our members to consider their reputations this year. Build good things, save and make things to the best of your ability, and only release books when they are professionally edited, covered and formatted. That way, you’re already ahead of a lot of people out there, who might see your example and follow suit (thereby helping you with the second and third laws ;)).

Yes, I belabored that one a bit, but I’m sure Asimov would forgive me.

Do you agree with my three laws of writing? What would you add?

January is National Braille month.
Check out January’s Posts to see what we’ve covered.

Coming soon….

  1. Why making a five-year plan *after* New Year might work better for you
  2. The ins and outs of organisation
  3. Calendars and the two radical ways to use them
  4. Bullet journal layouts for writers…
    And more….

Writing series/sequels

Looks like a good bookFirst, readers love series/sequels. However, the next book in any series should always be a standalone book, that is unless you really want to annoy your readers. And you should only write it because you have more to say, because you like the world in which you wrote it, or because you love the characters so much that you want to spend more time with them. Because if you did, your readers probably will, too.

If you’re going to write a sequel, though, don’t assume that a reader read book one. They may only have seen an intriguing cover or read the blurb for book two or three. I know of one writer who took a lot of backlash because her ‘sequel’ required readers to have read book one – they felt it was a cheat, that book two was just a way to make them buy book one. That’s why every book in the series should stand on its own.

You also have to be careful not to rehash all the info in book one in book two. It should be organic, as part of the story, something that can be shared via dialogue between two characters or as a memory. New readers need to know those shared experiences, so they understand what motivates the characters, why they’re friends or enemies. (Ditto Books Three, Four, and so on.) If you do your job right, then your readers will want to know more, and they’ll read Book One.

When you market Book Two, market it on its own merits. If you set it up correctly, the subtitle and cover will let readers know it’s part of a series. Series can be challenging for just that reason.

If you knew you were going to write a sequel to Book One, or a series, it’s much easier. Just make sure you actually have those books written. Or at least Book Two, with Book Three in-process, if it will be a series. There is nothing worse for a reader than having a writer talk about a sequel or series, but then they don’t deliver. If you didn’t, it gets complicated. For one thing, you need to join the books under a series name. Hopefully, you have an idea what that will be. It also means you’ll need to go back to book one and add that series name to the listing for the book. Ideally, too, the books should have similar covers. Those covers will automatically announce that there is a connection between the books. Without it, it makes it difficult for readers to know it’s a series. That may mean you need to purchase new covers, or contract with your original cover artist to produce a similar one. Similar covers will tell readers that it’s part of a sequel or series, reassuring them that they’ll find more books by their new favorite writer.

And nothing sells Book One like Book Two.

Our groups and subgroups, and the award winning project!

EXTRA, EXTRA!
The Indie Author Group has won a Preditors and Editors award!

We were voted BEST DISCUSSION FORUM, 2014!
IAG

And while we’re here – would you like to join some new writer’s groups?

Our main writers groups are our closed one – Indie Author Group
Our open group is smaller, but just as friendly  – Indie Author Writing Group

On top of that we have a Triberr tribe, where we can all share our blogs.
Or, if you’re hankering for genre discussion groups, we run a whole pile of them!

Any groups marked with a star are closed groups – that is, people that aren’t members can’t see anything in the group until they join.  If you advertise on any groups not set up to talk reviews, or other information, you WILL be removed. Pages marked with an (A) allow some form of advertising, either reviews or posts that fit the category or subject of the page.

Indie Book Review – Indie supernatural and Paranormal writers – Indie romance writers

Indie thriller writers – Indie Fantasy Writers – Indie science fiction writers

Indie Horror writers – Indie Mystery group – *Indie Erotica Authors

Indie Non fiction – Indie Historical Writers Group*Indie transgressive writer’s group – Indie historical fantasy group

 Young Adult Book Group – Indie Author Children’s writers – The Indie Short stories, poetry, novellas and Lit indie group

[email protected] Heroines (A) – Certified Heroes (A) – Winter Reads (a seasonal group – the name changes for the season) (A)

*Indie author Writing Prompts –  Indie author Blogging group – Indie (Camp) Nanowrimo

*Indie Author Marketing And Social Media (After the Novel)– Indie Author Freelancers (Write and Earn)

 Valerie also runs Ohio Writers Group while Kai runs ‘Write the Cotswolds

Points of view…

From The Fellowship of the Rings – “There were some that shook their heads and thought that this was too much of a good thing; it seemed unfair that anyone should possess (apparently) perpetual youth as well as (reputably) inexhaustible wealth.

“It will have to be paid for….”

Notice that the sentence is in no discernible particular voice.

*****

From Dune – ‘Paul’ heard the fear in her voice and wondered at it.

Jessica spoke without turning. “Reverend  Mother is waiting in my morning room. Please hurry.”

 

The Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam sat in a tapestried chair watching mother and son approach…

 

Omniscient Point of View aka the POV of many movies (like Lord of the Rings and Dune) and the bane of many an editor’s existence. Also the Point of View of the novels Anna Karenina, The Lord of the Rings, Middlemarch, Charlotte’s Web and Dune. Also known as cinematic POV for its portrayal of scenery and the POV of the characters – as well as their thoughts. (Although thoughts are better conveyed through their expressions and actions, but that may just be me.) AKA the POV of the generation raised by the movies.

For those who have seen The Lord of the Rings movies, imagine the first movie, The Fellowship of the Ring. Neither the movie nor the book is told solely from Frodo’s POV – at least part of the time Frodo is unconscious. The POV changes to Aragorn, Arwen (in her confrontation at the river in the movie), Elrond, Gandalf (when surprised by Saruman) and Samwise. The same is true of the books.

But it starts in Frodo’s point of view. It’s important to establish the primary voice or voices so the reader can identify with them.

Character points of view can be separated by spaces, as with the passage from Dune, or by a string of asterisks (*****).  Whichever you choose, be consistent. I do either, depending on the book, and until all the major characters have been introduced. Once that’s done the ones that work together talk to each other and interact as a group.

“Third-person point of view allows the author to be like a movie camera moving to any set and recording any event, as long as one of the characters is lugging the camera. It also allows the camera to slide behind the eyes of any character, but beware–do it too often or awkwardly, and you will lose your reader very quickly. When using third person, don’t get in your characters’ heads to show the reader their thoughts, but rather let their actions and words lead the reader to figure those thoughts out.” (Bob Mayer, The Novel Writer’s Toolkit: A Guide to Writing Novels and Getting Published. Writer’s Digest Books, 2003).

Which leads to a caveat. Many a writer advises that you end each chapter with a question (not a literal one, but a figurative question. “He looked out across the hills and wondered what would happen next….) That can be a bit stilted. For myself, I end the Chapters as the end of a scene is naturally reached. If I can end it on a question or a cliffhanger, I do, but only if it happens organically.

The second caveat is this – it is omniscient POV, but while the unseen narrator knows everything that’s going on, be careful not to presage events. Even in one of my books where the lead character has foresight, he can’t see everything. And readers like to be part of the journey.

I’m not sure when Omniscient POV went out of style except perhaps that it’s much harder to write and edit than other Points of View and it requires a very good editor in order to avoid ‘head-hopping’. It takes a good writer to properly convey the multiple POVs so that the reader/editor knows who is doing/saying/thinking what, and a good editor to make sure that in the novel they all stay straight. One of my editors insisted that there always be at least three paragraphs in a particular POV. I do that where I can, but there was one scene – a reunion of parents and child – in one of my books where I couldn’t. The scene was too crucial to showing the intensity of the feelings between parents separated from a grown but beloved child, I couldn’t eliminate it.

So, we’re going to walk you through the two most difficult POVs – omniscient, 1st person – and the most common – third person – so you can decide which POV will work best for your book.

Pinterest – A picture is worth a thousand words

A picture is worth a thousand words, especially with Pinterest. This is where having a great cover makes a tremendous difference.  An intriguing cover will draw the interest of Pinterest viewers As with all social media, though, it is social media. It’s not just about promoting your books, but about getting to know you, the author, so you need to post more than just your covers. Post about you. What inspires you as a person or what inspired your book. Upload pictures of your pets. Post anything that intrigues you. If you write historical romance or steampunk, post pictures of clothing or carriages. If you write fantasy, then include images that will bring viewers into your story.

Pinterest

So, how do you use Pinterest?

  1. First, you have to join Pinterest and create a profile. Remember that your listing is to promote your books, so use your pen name or call it Author John Smith, or Jane Smith’s Books. Pinterest provides a location for adding your webpage or Facebook page listing.
  2. It will also ask if you want to add the “Pin it” Pinterest button. Add that button. It will make it much easier to add images.
  3. Pinterest supplies a few standard ‘boards’ where you can add listings like Favorite Places and Spaces or Places I’d like to go, but there is also a box at the left with a plus sign in it where you can add/create your own boards. Add one for your cover art, for instance.
  4. To add your images go to the board you created – Cover Art – or – Images for Books – or Recipes – or Pets. Now the box with the plus sign will say Add a Pin.
  5. To add an image from your computer click the plus sign. It will ask you whether the image is found on the Web, Your Computer, or Pinterest. If you’re reasonably computer literate, choose the appropriate location and find your image. Otherwise, use the Pinterest Pin It button.
  6. Do you want your cover art linked directly to the site where your book is sold? You can. Using Amazon as an example, go to your book page and click the Pinterest button. It will bring up a number of images, including one for your book. Click on it, and it will say “Pin It”. Click on that and it will give you a drop down menu listing all your Boards. Choose your Cover Art board (or whatever you called it). It will also give you a box with a link where you can add a brief description of your book.
  7. To return to your page and your other boards, simply click on the name you called your page.
  8. Remembering that Pinterest, like Facebook and Twitter, is a social networking site, connect to other pages. On the upper left is a search box. Search for Indie, Self-published, your genre(s), and add them.

Pinterest, like all other social networking sites, can be a bit of a time sink. It’s worth it at first to learn how others use Pinterest, and to add pins from other sites to your boards. If you hover your mouse over the image it will allow you to choose Pin It, Send (to Google+, G-Mail or Yahoo) or Like (a heart). If you Like it, it will show up on your Facebook page.

If this all seems overwhelming, schedule one day a month for updating Pinterest, it’s not a site that requires constant maintenance. Everything you add, though, helps readers connect with you.

The Indie Author’s quick guide to Twitter

In a new feature, we’ve decided to provide some quick guides to various social networks, from our social media based moderator (Kai).  Remember too, that we have our own Twitter and Facebook page, and will be launching a Pinterest profile for our members soon!

The Quick guide to Twitter

Twitter is a basic social network where you can post tweets, which are 140 characters or less.  Tweets are designed to be short and sweet – they can contain hashtags (sort of like categories) and mention other members of twitter by username by using the @ symbol.  Your tweets can also be retweeted, you can follow people and place them on lists.

Signing up to Twitter

Twitter is easy to sign up for – all you need is a unique email address and a username.  That said, there are many limitations on usernames, mostly down to length and availability – Twitter is now a huge network, so even if you’re the same username everywhere else and don’t yet have a twitter account, you MAY not get the username you want. Continue reading

The four E’s of Indie publishing

IAG oneThere are four e’s to indie publishing – four elements that just can’t be skimped on, or you’ll destroy yourself.  That destruction will come from poor reviews, and your image, once damaged, is really difficult to repair.  Once you’re known as a writer that doesn’t care about his/her product, though you’ll still gain readers, there will eventually be a barrier to your evolution as a writer, or even your ability to reach the next level.

So what are the four E’s?

Excellent story, editing, expert support for covers and formatting, that extra special push.
Each of these, coupled with writing more books, will give you the solid foundations you need as an indie writer to create the career of your dreams.  Of course, those goals are yours to set.

Excellent story

It all starts there.  If you’re bored with your own book, it’s possible that your readers will be too.  But there’s a difference between ‘been looking at it for so long I’m bored with it’ and a boring book.  If you’re not caught up in the rush of the story though, look at why.  If it’s because you’ve been working with it for so long it’s making your eyes bleed, take a step back.  If the story is weak or lacklustre, look at it again.  Work on it.

There are elements to an excellent story, but the best guide is how you feel about it.  And how your beta readers feel about it.  If it gives you a rush, chances are it’s an excellent story.

Editing

I know a lot of people are going to be sceptical about this, as I’ve listed the next point as expert support, so, why have I split off editing from expert support.  The short answer is that of all of the support you can get for your book, editing should be started while you’re getting your cover reveal and researching formatters.  Covers and formatting are OF COURSE important, but editing needs to come first – it’s also a good priority to make because it gives you the time to get your cover done without it being rushed, and time to investigate your formatting needs, and find someone to work with.  It’s always important to remember that just because your book is written, it’s still got a way to go, and you need to incorporate that into your timeline.  Editing isn’t a rapid process, and it also gives you a bit of time away from your story.

Editing is important because it’s a new set of eyes on your book and a professional opinion on your book.  Of course, you don’t need to take all of their recommendations, but professional editing is a must for any published book.  And you should always self-edit first.

Expert support

Covers and formatting come next.  You can start your cover design while your book is out for editing, fo course, but your cover and your formatting is really getting you to the end of your professional polish and getting ready for your launch.
You should consider running a cover reveal or other launch for your fans – not only does it build your fan base, but will also get you the start of your launch.
Once edited, your book should be formatted.  At this point you can work with your formatter, find the last of the errors (if there are any) and deal with anything that you’ve found.  These professional touches, along with editing will place your book apart from those that don’t look for professional support.

That EXTRA special push

Most authors can’t market to save themselves, and find it very difficult to do so.  And while it’s pretty much essential now, there are ways around it.  You should launch your book, and you should capitalise on as much of the attention as you can, but longer term, you may want to either have a support structure and team to help you, or set aside time for marketing.  Marketing is important, though there’s a difference between spamming people and interacting with them.  Most marketers will work with you, not against you, and author services can range from posting to your social networks, to a full service website, much like our blog.  It does come down to what you can afford of course, but do consider that professional marketing help might actually make back the rate they charge over the course of the project,  and if they don’t, they WILL create more exposure for you in the short-term and you will make the money back eventually.

And then your book is out there, and you can start on the next book!

Merging sites and more

One of the major things we quite like to do at the Indie Author Group is make sure that we’re offering the best of our content to everyone.  Over the last few years, we (Valerie and I) have ran two seperate blogs that we’ve recently decided to merge down.
So, when you visit both the Indie Author Community and Two Midlist Indies, you’ll now find those posts here.

Explore the archives – there’s some really interesting posts in there!

(our top five based on stats before we moved)

1. How to be a new Writer

2. You’re not a special sunflower, sorry

3. What it’s like to moderate

4. How many, how often

5. (draw) Covers 101 and Editing 101

 

How to be a new writer

English: Image of a fountain pen.

English: Image of a fountain pen. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

There are so many decisions to be made it can seem overwhelming. The first and best advice I can give you to start is this – stop worrying and just write. Then write some more. Enjoy yourself, enjoy the process whether you’re a plotter – you have to outline – or a pantser – you just write. If  you’re loving what you do, then do it. Just do it. Before you do anything else, before you make any decisions, write. If you can, write at least three novels.

Okay, now that you’ve done that, it’s time for the next step. If book one is any good, send it to a beta reader or editor. If it isn’t, don’t beat yourself up, rewrite and send book two to your beta reader/editor.

Now you’re ready for the next step.

  1. Do you want to write for a traditional publisher or as a self-publisher, or both? Both is a viable option these days, and all three have their points.
    Traditional publishing gives you the editors, cover artists, and formatters, but they have the control.  They also give you access to awards and recognition. You have to do much of your own marketing, at least at first, and you’re one of those one-in-a-thousand writers at the top, and not one of the mid-listers.
    Self-publishing gives you all the controls – you choose your editor, cover artist and formatter. Awards, recognition, best seller lists are a bit harder to reach,  except for the one-in-a-thousand writers like Hugh Howey or J. C. Wilder. Many successful indies have gone with traditional publishers – those are the ones who’ve done both – but there are some who do quite well as pure indies.
  2. If you chose traditional publishing learn how to write a good query letter. Try the query shark blog to see what works. Find an on-line list of agents and/or publishers to query. http://querytracker.net/ is an easy one to use.
  3. If you chose Indie publishing you have to choose your editor, cover artist and formatter. Go to on-line groups to find them. If money is tight, there are cover artists who have pre-made covers to carry you until you can afford a custom title. Check out their offerings to find something that suits your story. Editors and formatters range in price – contact them and message to get their pricing.
    An unprofessional looking book is your worst enemy, and confirms for many the complaints of some writers about indies. (Not all of which is deserved.)
  4. Determine whether to go with all publishers, or just some. My best advice on this subject is this – try Amazon KDP Select for it’s 90 days free. It’s a good way to generate word of mouth for your book. It’s only in Select for three months, just uncheck the box so it’s not automatically re-entered. Most readers are using Kindles – with Nooks and other devices far behind – although some people are starting to read on their phones.
    You’ll need to know your genre – either find books like yours on Amazon, look up book genres on Wikipedia, or find an on-line writers group who can help you.
    Categories, too. Find books like yours and tailor your categories the same (that can determine bestseller lists per genre for your book).
  5. Market, market, market. First, when the book is pulled together, determine a release date. Set up a website, a Facebook writers page, and announce the date. Find anything that will create interest in the book – the inspiration for the book, the faces of folks who might have given life to the character, and announce a cover release date. Post the cover in advance of the book to generate interest. Offer an excerpt on your web page or blog. Offer to do interviews on other blogs. Find reviewer blogs and offer them ARCS (advanced release copies). Release your book on Friday, so people have time to read it. If its your first book, it’s also a way to get reviews from readers.
  6. LEARN PATIENCE – it will take time to generate traffic and reviews. Post the first good reviews.
  7. While book one is building an audience, prepare book two (it does NOT have to be a series) and post about it as it’s being edited to assure readers that more books are coming. Get the cover art chosen, post it once it’s ready.
  8. Timing on a second release depends on the editing. Just keep in mind that having book one and book two out,  with book three in your back pocket, gives you time to write book four if you’d like, and without pressure.
    Release book three while you do that to keep reader interest alive.
  9. Good reviews are a wonderful thing, rough reviews are learning experiences – either about things to improve in your books or to toughen your skin.
  10. Writing should be an act of love, and a life-long career. If you’re writing to get rich and famous, find another job. There are few Stephen Kings, Nora Roberts, etc., and there are moments when even they burned out. Define your own success. Are you happy just having people read your books? Then relax.
  11. More than anything else, do what you love. Even at the worst of times as Neil Gaiman says – Make good Art.

 

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Your new to-do list – what should it include?

109/365 Goals

109/365 Goals (Photo credit: Vinni123)

So, now you’re looking at the ‘clean’ space that was once a massive to-do list of doom, what goes back ON it?
The short answer is, whatever you prioritize.

How to choose priorities

One of the major things many people need to think about is what they want to prioritize – it is, in most cases, physically impossible to do everything, and a lot of the problem with old to-do lists is knowing what’s really, truly important and what you’ve picked up and can let go.
In general, the most important things for many people are items that further their overall goals – but the problem with stating it that baldly is that many people struggle to name their actual goals.

Goal setting 101

Sometimes the most difficult things to decide when setting your overall goal is what you’re actually hoping to do. Especially for writers – it’s easy to look at our list of wants and think they’re goals – good sales, strong publication results and great reviews aren’t actually goals – they’re results.
So what are goals?

You should set your goals easily and within guidelines that make sense to you. These goals should encompass where you want to be, not the resources that are out of your control.

So, what’s my goal?

My goal as an indie writer, is to be known and to share my books with the world. The problem is, I’ve not done much towards that as yet. I’m ‘known’, but not as an indie writer, not really. Instead, I’m tech support, I’m a writer who helps out on other groups, I’ve ghostwritten.
All of those are great and do contribute to the first part of my goal at least. So, I need to keep that balance and find time for writing too.

What’s your goal?

Whatever your goal is, remember there are communities out there that will help you. Dealing with overwhelm is something that many of us struggle with, but a supportive indie community, like The Indie Author Group is a great place to get support and feedback and see what you’re doing, what you should be doing and how you’ll get there in the end.

 

 

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