Paying the card game Hearts – a cautionary tale

I am mildly protan colorblind. I have trouble distinguishing some reds from greens. I cannot successfully pick out all of the numbers hidden in those funny figures with the many little dots. Here is an example of one of them from the EnChroma Color Blindness Test.

EnChroma Color Blindness Tests © 2015

You can take the test yourself at http://enchroma.com/test/instructions/

I have known about this for years, and it does not bother me very much. I can tell a red light from a green one on the street, and my driver license tests are no problem. But in the past, I did encounter one situation…

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Many years ago, when I was working at the aerospace company, TRW, various games would become lunchtime fads for a while. I am not talking about serious ones like bridge or chess, games that require heavy mental lifting, but simplier ones like hearts or kriegspiel. Enough of a challenge to play well, but not brain exhausting. There was enough of that in the rest of the day.

As most of you probably know, hearts is a trick taking game for which the object is not to take points. Each heart counted one point against you and the queen of spades thirteen. During the course of play, for every hand, usually everyone was pegged with a few hearts. But the card certainly to avoid was the evil queen.

I remember one lunch hour in particular in which I was really getting hammered. I ate the queen many more times than was my share. I could not understand what was happening. Was I having an extremely bad day for luck, had my game suddenly gone to pot, or what?

After the game concluded – I reached a score of over 100 and end of game – in rapid fashion, the other players explained what was going on.

As is the custom with many card games, two decks are used. While the cards were being dealt out from one for a new hand, the other one is being shuffled. No time is wasted at the end of the hand. The next could start immediately.

The two decks we were playing with both had the same abstract design on the back. The only difference between them was that one back was green and the other one brown. There is a lot of red in brown. I could not tell the difference.

Before we began for the day, my erstwhile friends merely swapped the queen of spades between the two decks. Then everyone could see where the queen of spades was at all times in either deck. Everyone could except for one person—me.

This turned out to be a tremendous advantage. Talk about ‘marked’ cards. This was ridiculous! If I held the queen, it would be ‘smoked out’ of me. Low spades were led until I was forced to play it, winning the trick, and eating the big points. If someone else held the queen, then his buddies held off, not leading spades at all.

So the moral of the story is to take the color blindness test. And if you have a deficiency, stay away from cards games with two decks being used – two decks that you cannot tell apart.

Happyness as a card game

Three middle managers are instructed to take a special test. The first arrives at the testing room and sees that it is empty except for a wastebasket in the middle of the floor.

“Your task, the proctor says, “is to sail playing cards into the basket. Your score is the number of times you succeed.”

The first manager squints at the basket. “You got to be kidding. That thing is way out there.”

“Nevertheless, that is the task.”

The manager grumbles, grabs the deck of cards handed to him, and, with a scowl, flips them one after another towards the center of the room. The cards flitter every which way, but three end up in the basket.

“So, my score is 3 out of 52, right?” the manager asks.

“Yes, that is correct,” the proctor answers as he adds the score to a tally sheet on a clipboard.

“Stupid game,” the manager mutters as he leaves. He is an unhappy man.

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The second manager arrives and listens to the same instructions. Then with a sly grin, he asks the proctor, “You did not tell me where I have to stand, did you?”

“No, your are right. Where to stand is not in the instructions.”

“OK, then,” the manager says as he grabs the deck of cards from the proctor’s hand. “How about this?”

He strides purposefully in the room until he is hovering directly over the basket. Raising his hand high in the air, he hurls the deck forcefully downward. It hits the bottom of the basket with a crash.

“Put me down for 52,” he says as he brushes off one palm against the other.

“Yes, your score is 52,” the proctor says.

“Stupid game,” the manager mutters as he leaves. He is an unhappy man.

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The third man arrives and listens to the same instructions. Without saying a word, he walks into the room about half the distance from the door to the basket.

Carefully holding a card as horizontal as he can, he flicks it towards the target. The card flutters around a bit but lands nowhere near the goal.

Undaunted, the manager walks a dozen steps closer and tries again. This time, the card goes in with a satisfying ping as it ricochets off of one of the basket’s walls. He tries another card, and it too scores! Then ping, ping, ping! Five cards are successes.

But now, the manager backs up two steps before his next attempt. This time he misses, and then he misses again. Still undaunted, he moves a step closer and tries again. Moving back and forth to make adjustments, he finally finds a range from which he can get most of the cards into the basket — but not all.

He walks out of the room, whistling.

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A somewhat sappy story to be sure, but the moral is clear.

Happiness is striving for a goal that you have a good chance of achieving but that is not absolutely certain. You have to pay attention and do your best, each step along the way.

Novel writing rules – part 3

Previous blogs discussed the two of three books dealing with rules for writing novels. In this one, I talk about the third — The Fantasy Fiction Formula.

As I presented before, the situation is summarized by the famous quote by W. Somerset Maugham –

“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”

Nevertheless, I plunge on.

The Fantasy Fiction Formula (FFF) is written by Deborah Chester, author of over forty novels and a professor at the University of Oklahoma. As might be expected, unlike the first two books discussed here, one does not have to dig a bit to find what is relevant to writing fantasy novels. Indeed, for anyone starting out, I think FFF is required reading.

The scope is encyclopedic, covering the usual topics of story structure, characterization, viewpoint, etc. The material is dense and would take many readings to be absorbed fully. A beginner might well be overwhelmed and perhaps start that first novel on some other day.

One thing in particular that I liked was Chester’s use of examples. Reminiscent of the format for newspaper bridge columns, she first illustrates the incorrect way to accomplish a writing goal and follows it with a much better way from her own writing.

There are rules aplenty in FFF, but unlike Contagious and Save the Cat, they do not serve as chapter titles or section headings. Instead, they appear in the text without fanfare as part of the ongoing exposition. So, my goal here was not one of twisting rules as presented to make them relevant for novel writing, but instead to detect them when they were encountered. It was like a treasure hunt, extracting pithy gems from the surrounding matrix.

What I found is presented below. I make no claim as to its completeness. I am sure that I missed many more ‘rules’ than I discovered. And presenting them without the surrounding context does them no justice at all. The serious fantasy writer should read the book from cover to cover. No, that’s not quite right. The serious fiction writer should read FFF from cover to cover.

The beginning

“Get your protagonist into trouble in the opening sentence.”

Not the first chapter, not the first paragraph, but the opening sentence! Chester does not pull any punches to soften what she has to say.

In the first few paragraphs, “introduce the protagonist, the story goal, and the central story question.”

In the first thirty pages in addition to the above, present:

“A clearly established viewpoint

Setup of story situation

Location and time of day

Introduction of immediate antagonist

Scene action and conflict

Hints for later developments

Small hooks to grab reader curiosity

First complications”

In the first paragraphs! In the first 10,000 words! This strikes me as a pretty tall order, but Chester asserts that it can be done and easily.

Characterization

“For your protagonist, select four or five positive traits…and then mix in a couple of flaws”

Complexity of character “is achieved when a character’s inner problem or flaw is in conflict with that character’s external situation or behavior.”

“True nature is revealed by what a character does under stress”

“George R.R. Martin’s popularity notwithstanding, its best if you avoid tacking an ensemble cast of multiple protagonists until you’re an extremely skilled and experienced writer.”

Scenes

Chester has an interesting take on the basic elements of a novel — narration, scenes, and what she calls sequels. She devotes several chapters to discussing scenes and sequels, and I found them to be the most instructive part of FFF.

Scenes are “confrontations between at least two characters in disagreement over a specific objective.”

“Every scene. . . is designed to remove the protagonist’s options, one by one, until the protagonist has no choice but to face the villain in the story’s climax.”

“Following a scene,…it is necessary to give your readers a breather. You do this by allowing your protagonist some processing time, plus a chance to react to whatever hurtful things have been said or done to him.”

“Dialog advances plot by stating the scene goal.”

“Never shift viewpoint within a scene.”

The middle

“…you can’t set up a novel with only one, super-huge, overwhelming plot question…and nothing else…You need more than that because no matter how clever or intriguing it is, if that’s all there is, readers will grow tired of it.”

The ending

“[The] protagonist is cornered and faced with a moral dilemma. All the options are poor but the protagonist must choose one and act on it according to his or her true nature”

Glossary

“Don’t even think of adding a glossary at the end of your manuscript. You are not Mr. Tolkien and do not rate his privileges.”

Now, I learn this! The second editions of my three books are already going to press. One of my motivations for producing them was so that I could include glossaries. Some readers of Master of the Five Magics complained about the usage of archaic architectural terms in my description of the Iron Fist castle and that detracted from their enjoyment of the novel.

And once I got rolling with glossary entries, I discovered that it was a lot of fun to include expanded material on other little grace notes in the text. Oh, well.

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As I said, the list above is only the tip of the iceberg, a sampling of ‘rules’ that happened to resonate with me. What gems did you find? I would like to see your comments.

© 2016 Lyndon M. Hardy

Novel writing rules – part 2

My previous blog discussed the first of three books dealing with rules for writing novels. In this one, I talk about the second — Save the Cat.

As I presented before, the situation is summarized by the famous quote by W. Somerset Maugham –

“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”

Nevertheless, I plunge on.

Save the Cat, by Blake Snyder, is a book about writing screenplays. As one might expect, not all of the material there applies to novels — things which have a much broader scope. But I think it is an interesting exercise to examine what is presented through the lens of a novelist.

The first five chapters cover many aspects of screen writing:  developing the logline, ten movie genres, characteristics of the movie protagonist, and so on. There is a lot well worth reading there, even for the novelist, but for my purposes here, I will focus on chapter six: The Immutable Laws of Screenplay Physics.

Immutable Laws — is that on topic or what!

I found that some of the immutable laws apply to novel writing and some did not. Here’s the roll call

Save the Cat — applies

“The hero has to do something when we first meet him so that we like him and want him to win”

When I look back at some of the reviews of my first novel, Master of Five Magics, written over thirty years ago, I am struck about some on the comments that said that the hero, Alodar, was driven, competent, etc. but he was also arrogant — not a likeable character.

Now I never had Alodar kick old ladies out of the way or stomp on babies, but there it was — arrogant. Who knew?

Shortly after finishing my read of Save the Cat, (within hours)  my wife and I saw the movie “Me Before You”. In the very first scene, the male protagonist is hurrying off to work, and as he crosses the street is hit by a car and becomes a paraplegic. But in a single line tossed off to his wife as he had left the apartment had been something like, “I will take care of dinner tonight”.

Wow, I marveled. He had saved the cat!

In the second scene, the female protagonist who would eventually become the caregiver for the injured man tells two women standing before her counter at a bakery  something like, “They have fewer calories if you eat them standing up.” The customer guilt is swept away. She too had saved the cat!

Thereafter, I paid much closer attention to the structure of the movie than I had ever done before, and was agog at how much advice of the book had been followed in the screenplay. The movie was written by the author of the novel, which is unusual I guess, but either Jojo Moyes was also a reader of the book or she has incredible screen writing instincts.

So why not go ahead and save the cat in a single protagonist centered novel? It only takes one line or so, and if no big deal is made of it, it should only help.

Now, before reading Save the Cat, I had already finished my revisions to the second edition of Master of the Five Magics, and it was cast in concrete for the production process. I hurriedly reread what I had written in the new Chapter Two, and to my relief, coincidentally there happened to be a line or two that might qualify as following the rule.

Yes, cat saving is definitely something to be aware of when writing a novel.

The Pope in the Pool — applies — but how does one do it for a novel?

Bury the “backstory or details of the plot that must be told to the audience in order for them to understand what happens next.”

Well, OK. No argument on the validity of this one. But how does one do this? How does one bury essential information so that it does not get in the way?

The book does go further than just stating the rule. It presents a technique that works for movies — have some interesting visual going on for the viewers to watch while the explanatory words are happening as a voice-over — like the pope taking a swim in the Vatican City swimming pool.

Double Mumbo Jumbo — doesn’t apply

“Audiences will accept only one piece of magic per movie”

This is a rough one to follow in a fantasy novel, although it probably has merit for a more general audience. What Snyder is saying is something like – “Magic, OK. but magic and aliens, and time travel and …” is definitely not OK.

Laying Pipe — applies

“Audiences can stand only so much pipe”

Snyder defines pipe as all of the initial setting structure that is necessary in order for the story to get off the ground.

My reaction to this was, “of course, but in so doing one is creating downstream problems that in movies are solved by Popes in the Pools. Not so easy to follow in an novel.

Too Much Marzipan — maybe applies

I suppose that all of us writers aspire to be more than just formula hacks — churning out prose that does not have literary value. So we introduce little tidbits along the way and they all tie together in the final satisfying reveal of what is actually going on.

Perhaps having something like:

The nursemaid who vanishes when the castle is stormed and Destiny’s Darling is kidnapped. – Turns out she secretly was his aunt and gave him a crucial power needed in the climax.

The sword that could never be drawn except in uncontrollable rage? – It was forged from no less than steel taken from the ruins of the castle.

The feather he wore in his cap? From his guardian wren who had sang at the protagonist’s cradle side

that are all crucially needed for the hero to defeat the dragon in the end.

Snyder says, “You cannot digest too much information or pile on more to make it better.”

Clearly, I was guilty of this in Master of the Five Magics. My editor, Lester del Rey, in analyzing the first draft of Master of the Five Magics said something along the lines of

“OK, you have set up five types of magic in detail and have Alodar move from one to the next. But why? What is the purpose of all of that?”

So for my second draft, I wove back in the threat of demons and what the wizards had prepared as a defense. It answered del Rey’s question, but at the expense of a huge long exposition at the end of the book, violating Snyder’s rule.  I knda liked what I did, but perhaps it was too  much marzipan.

What would I do differently now? I do not know. Even after reading Save the Cat, I don’t know.

Watch out for that Glacier – applies

Snyder says that the danger to the protagonist always has to be imminent. Gradually getting closer just does not hack it. Heros need challenges right here and now. Sure, the aliens are going to be here in a decade or so, but right now, he has to deal with the boa constrictor that is swallowing him. If he is in a movie for which the danger is not immediate, Snyder’s instinct is to yell out in the theatre, “Watch out for that glacier!”

The Covenant of the Art – applies – but, gosh, everybody

Every single character in your movie must change in the course of your story”

Well, sure the protagonist must change. However, except for the bad guys who remain bad, Snyder says that everyone else must change. That’s a tall order.

Keep the Press Out – does not apply

Do not have exposition or advances in the plot occur though the actions of the media.

Summing up

These brief paragraphs do not do Snyder’s book justice. It is a very enjoyable read. Totally unacademic in tone, breezy, funny, and chocked full of examples. While I was reading it, I found myself repeatedly thinking, “That’s why I enjoyed that movie so much,” or “That’s why I did not.”

A treasure trove of advice for the novelist as well as the screenwriter. Highly recommended.

Next time I will be finishing this series by discussing The Fantasy Fiction Formula by Deborah Chester

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

© 2016 Lyndon M. Hardy

Novel writing rules – part 1

Many how-to books have been written on novel writing, and most aspiring writers probably has sampled many of them. But as we all know, although they can provide guidance, no set of hard and fast rules exists. If they did, computers would write everything and we all would be out of a job.

The situation is summarized by the famous quote from W. Somerset Maugham –

“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”

Nevertheless, guidelines and so-called rules are good to know about. At the very least, provide a checklist one can check their writing against to see if some additional tweaks can change something that might be good into something that is great. In that spirit, this blog and the two following will discuss three books

Contagious by Jonah Berger

Save the Cat by Blake Snyder,

and

The Fantasy Fiction Formula by Deborah Chester

The first two are not how-to books for writing a novel, but I have found it helpful to look at them through the lens of an author rather than that of the intended audiences.

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Contagious –Why Things Catch On, is an exploration of what causes certain products, ideas, and behaviors to be talked about more than others. Jonah Berger is a marketing professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. I found the book to be quite informative and entertaining. It is filled with examples from real life and backed up by quantitative research.

As Berger explains, things go viral because of word of mouth (well, duh!). But quite surprisingly, only 7 percent of word-of-mouth occurs on-line. Most of it happens in face-to-face conversation. From his research, Berger concludes that something going viral possesses one or more of six important characteristics of contagiousness:

  1. Social currency: — makes us seem more interesting to others.
  2. Triggers: — is connected to things in our environment that recur repeatedly
  3. Emotion: — creates an emotional response
  4. Public:–  is visible to others
  5. Practical value:– is useful
  6. Stories: — is communicated by telling a story

Of course, to understand the details of what each of these labels really means, you would have to read the book. It was published in 2013. But for a more recent simple example of why someone engages in word of mouth, consider the explosion of interest in Pokémon Go by almost everyone. A person talks about Pokémon Go because:

  1. He can tell others how many Pokémon he has captured and where he found them. He shows he is playing the game well. — Social currency
  2. Every time he picks up his cellphone, he is reminded of the game — Triggers
  3. He has a feeling of nostalgia  about when he was much younger when he plays the game. — Emotion
  4.  He sees all these other people walking around that are also staring at their phones – Public
  5. He feels good that he is exercising. After all, exercise is a good thing – Practical value
  6. He can tell others what happened last night when hundreds people converged on the coffee shop. — Stories

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OK, Contagious is an interesting read. However, what does it have to do with writing?

Well, think about it. Books are products marketed and sold primarily by word of mouth. So, the question arises — what can an author do to give a novel one or more of the six characteristics that increase its chances of going viral?

The following is the result of a mental exercise of trying to apply what I learned from Contagious to writing fantasy novels. As you will see, nothing I came up with is earth shaking; all are just little tweaks. I did not discover one of the three unknown rules of novel writing.

But the exercise of looking at things through the lens of a writer seems to me to be a good thing to do.

Social currency

Berger discusses three subcategories in Contagion: sharing a secret, relating performance in playing a game, and passing on something remarkable.

Maybe someone else can see how to incorporate one of the first two concepts into the act of writing, but I didn’t. The third, however, presents possibilities.

Berger gives the example: “A ball of glass bounces higher than a ball of rubber” – a fact to relate to a friend. As authors, we probably all have a store of such trivia stashed away in our heads. When I read about bouncing balls, one immediately came to mind from over five decades ago. It was “Mouse milk costs over $300 an ounce.”

Thanks to the Internet, I was immediately able to verify this and learned that mouse milk did cost over $300 an ounce, but that was in 1947. Now it is down to $1 an ounce – probably due, I am guessing, to the improvement in mouse milking machines.

Now, it probably is a challenge to work mouse milk into a fantasy and make clear to the reader that the cost being talked about is for our own world, but I think the basic idea is a good one to keep in mind. In sword and sorcery, for example, there is a lot of medieval weapon vocabulary that might be of interest to a reader and something to chat about with a friend. In my first book, Master of the Five Magics, I used a lot of words dealing with the architecture of castles. After all, literature elucidates as well as entertains.

Triggers

Marketing lore for writers tells us that a part of a well-orchestrated campaign prior to the publication date is to get many on-line reviews. There are many websites that talk about how to find on-line reviewers, politely ask them if they are interested in reviewing your book, and (under the radar) get agreement to trade reviews.

One piece of advice that struck me about review solicitation, however, was a discussion of the mental attitude of the reviewer. Does one really want someone to comment on what you have done, not because he freely choose to do so? Would not he feel an obligation to make the review a little more negative so it is “well-balanced”?

Yes, yes, even negative reviews are worthwhile. Berger comments that for new or relatively unknown authors, negative reviews increased sales by 45%. But, one of the key points of Berger’s chapter on triggers, however, is that the more powerful triggers are recurring ones, not ones that just occurred once and then were done.

That suggested to me that perhaps something to consider is solicitation of reviews all right, but not to bust a gut for a new book’s rollout. Instead, after the book has been out there and, presumably, got some good reviews at the outset, then periodically and continually start asking for more. If bad reviews are good for sales anyway, then a steady stream of them perhaps could help one’s book ‘break out’ and go viral. The repetition of reminders is  the key.

Emotion

Of course, all writers hope that what they have written is good enough that a deep emotional response is generated in the reader. From the standpoint of going viral, however, the results of Berger’s research concluded that not all emotions are equally effective in generating word of mouth referrals.

He lists the ones more likely to contribute to virality are: awe, excitement, amusement, anger, and anxiety. Ones least likely are contentment and sadness.

Interesting. Action/adventure novels do strive to create excitement and anxiety. Humorous novels are fun to read (and hard to write). But awe? It ranks right up there in the experimental results, and I had never considered it in the context of fantasy.

How does one create awe in a fantasy? I don’t know. But perhaps this is what in science fiction refers to as “a sense of wonder”. If so,Berger is saying fantasy should strive to create the same feelings as well.

And sadness is not so powerful? A well-written tragedy might well generate a deep feeling of sympathetic grief in the reader. But from the standpoint of word of mouth, sadness is not a strong characteristic. Evidently, few people want to be identified as a communicator of downers.

Public

For books, this is a hard one. Book reading, by in large, is a solitary activity. You might just eat up a L. Ron Hubbard decalogy, but no one watches you doing it.

So I did not come up with something for this characteristic. Well, as Berger says, not all six are necessary.

Practical value

There are possibilities here. Yes, as authors we want to write great stories – great escapes in which the real world is left behind. But inserted into the stories can be mini-stories — tips that can apply in real life as well as fantasy. These do not have to be long elaborate things that drive the plot, but such things as, well maybe — how to distract someone’s attention away from a doorway…

Buy a strip of caps for a cap gun (do they still make these things?) and some air riffle bbs. Wrap a cap around a bb and place them in the middle of a small square of tissue that is about 1 inch on a side. Gather the four corners of the square together and twist until the bb and cap are firmly secured to one another. Smooth out the tissue above the twist into a flowing tail. Make a handfull more of these the same way.

Then when the collection is tossed into the air near the target, the light tissue tails and heavy bbs will force the caps to hit the ground first. There will be a pop-poppa-poppa-pop sound, and the target will turn to investigate what is causing the noise. While he is distracted, you can now rush through the door. Remember, you heard it here first.

Stories

Well, of course, the novel itself is a story. One does not want the whole thing given away when one reader is talking to another. But how about something like the backstory of one unusual character — not critical to what transpires, but something that is interesting to talk about.

For example, perhaps someone like Gladstone Gander…

Carl Barks, the cartoonist of many of the Walt Disney comics invented Gladstone Gander in 1948. He was the world’s luckiest duck. (How he was both a gander and a duck was never explained).

In one adventure, Gladstone was sunning himself at the beach – on his back, completely relaxed with his hands spread out. palm down on the sand. Donald Duck and his three nephews show up in order to look for a large ruby lost the year before. The ducks agree that one-half of the beach is Gladstone’s to search and other half Donald’s.

While Gladstone does nothing but continue to sun himself, Donald and his nephews sift all of the sand in their half of the beach and find nothing. A new deal is agreed to. Gladstone allows Donald to search half of his half of the beach but anything that they find must be split 50-50.

Still no ruby. Another deal allows Donald to sift half of Gladstone’s beach that remains unexamined, but for only one quarter of what is found. And so on. Eventually everything has been searched except of the ground directly under the gander. Donald gives up – totally exhausted after all that work and nothing to show for it.

As Gladstone rises from the sand to join the others, he feels something under the palm of one of his hands. Yes, it is the lost ruby. Well, of course, he is the world’s luckiest duck.

Gladstone was never a central character  in any of Bark’s work, but he was well remembered and talked about.

OK, exercise over. For me, it was a fun thing to try. Six more things to think about when writing the next novel.

Next time, I will be discussing Save the Cat.

© 2016 Lyndon M. Hardy

Tweak and try again

I am a Goodreads newbie and am still in the process of digesting all of the material that is available on the website. One thing that I have found is that many authors report on their results from trying things like giveaways or other promotional ideas. This is good info, and I am glad learn about what has happened in the real world. I have noticed, however, that some reports include comments along the lines of “It was a failure; I will never do that again.”

Of course, there is no magic bullet that guarantees a wide readership, and time is an author’s most precious commodity, but it occurs to me that something from my own experience might be relevant here.

Now, I want to very clear. I am not using this post so that I can brag about things. The actual details are entirely irrelevant. It is an observation about what happened that I want to talk about.

I did my writing over forty years ago, in the infancy of computers and just the beginning of the internet. Back then, one typed a manuscript, put it into the box that a ream of typing paper came in, crossed one’s fingers, and physically mailed it off to a publisher in New York with return postage enclosed. About three months later the box would return with a rejection letter, and one would send it to the next publisher in line.

I had written a fantasy and in the 1970’s had just four targets, the first of which was Ballantine Books, now a subsidiary of Penguin-Random House. Sure enough, it came back, and I followed the established routine. A year later, I had my manuscript back for the last time, and nowhere else to go. I was not going to be a published author.

Some time passed. I don’t remember how long, when I learned that Lester del Rey, the science fiction author had been hired by Ballantine to be their new fantasy editor.

On a whim, I decided to submit my manuscript to Ballantine again. No changes in the text. No change in the cover letter. No mention that I had tried with them before. Sent to the same address. I may have added “Attn: Lester del Rey” to the address label but this many years later I am not sure.

Son of a gun, I got an acceptance letter back from del Rey. I was going to be a published author after all.

The point is that circumstances change. They did so in the 1970s. In our computer-enabled age, they certainly do so now. So it just might be worthwhile to try something again – but perhaps with a little tweak like ‘Attn: Lester del Rey’—that can make a world of difference.

Another example is one related by another science fiction author, Friedrich Pohl. At one point in his career, he was working for a publisher whose business model was to use the US mail to send out solicitations to purchase books. Yes, crazy things like that happened back then.

Anyway, there was a coffee table book – something like ‘Birds of America’ – that just would not sell. Pohl used all sorts of enticements but none worked. Finally, in desperation he tried “Do you need a big book?” This worked and the book inventory started to fall.

The moral of the story is that giving up after one try might not be the only option to consider. Perhaps trying again with some tweak could produce better results. You have already gone through all of the steps once. The second time around will take a lot less effort. Obvious candidates are things like the blurb for a giveaway, or the text in the email asking a blog reviewer to look at your book, or …

Keep track of the results for each try to see if you are on the right track. Who knows, maybe success is just a little tweak away.

Just a thought.

© 2016 Lyndon M. Hardy