But Really, What Format?

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com, Steve’s Tumblr, and Pillowfort.  Find out more at my newsletter, and all my social media at my linktr.ee)

As a writer, I find my use of format almost automatic.  This book is only an ebook, this book ebook then print, my print always 6”x9”, and so on.  I’ve recently been experimenting with zines and magazines, which is refreshing for getting me slightly outside my comfort zone.

When I speak about writing, I can easily rattle off the usual formatting advice.  This as an ebook, this as a picture book, audiobooks can be great but are risks, etc.  There’s so much that is “the usual,” and I didn’t see it until I read Joe Biel’s People’s Guide to Publishing.

In time I’ve come to realize that a lot of us writers choose formats for any reason but actually meeting the goals we have.  There’s so much expected, so much taught rote, and so much that supposedly works I don’t think many of we writers put thought into what format works best.

For instance, for years I focused on my worldbuilding eBooks.  They were fast, easy, and I figured the books were a quick read.  It was much later when I looked at physical book sales and considered how my audience may want to reread that I considered physical copies.  I could imagine half a shelf taken up in an indie bookstore with just my stuff.  I imagined how people might gift five or six of my small books to a friend.

But I just did ebooks because, uh . . . well simple stuff is supposed to be ebooks, right?  I didn’t ask the questions we should all be asking:

What are my goals?

What does my audience want?

The formats we choose should reflect those goals – and honestly, your goals should be first.  I mean if you don’t want to physically format a 200 page color photobook I sort of get it.  But at least consider it.

When it comes to formats, we writers should ask what really meets our goals.  Yes, you could format a book on Amazon, but if you’re only going to sell local maybe just print off 100 copies at a local shop.  You could do an elaborate print book, but maybe your audience wouldn’t pay $75.00 for it – but would love a $10 ebook.  Maybe, as Biel noted (and inspired me) you just want to do a zine, or a magazine, or something else.

You also don’t have to do every format.  I’m thrilled we’re in an age where people have stopped saying everyone needs to do an audiobook.  Sure you probably want an ebook and a physical book, but maybe not – and maybe not hardcover and softcover or whatever.

This was a refreshing realization.  As I plan the next stages of my writing career now that I’m like 40 books and more in, it helps me see many more options ahead of me.  Free of “format assumption” I can see the many choices I have.

I just have to make sure I am really aware of my goals.

Steven Savage

Remembering Good Enough

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com, Steve’s Tumblr, and Pillowfort.  Find out more at my newsletter, and all my social media at my linktr.ee)

My latest book Think Agile, Write Better is in its final read-through, and I’ll be formatting it for e-book next week.  This book has been through many edits to get it right, but my biggest challenge lately was to realize that “it’s good enough.”

I’d gotten into an “editing binge” when one pre-reader found some flaws with first third of the book.  I went through the suggestions carefully, rewrote them again, kept going, and kept looking for what else to fix.  I knew there had to be more to do.

That’s when the same friend read it and said basically “ok, seems solid” which surprised me because I’d expected yet more to fix.  I’d gotten into a habit of editing and looking for flaws, not realizing if the book was “good enough.”

It’s easy to get into the zone where you edit, edit, and edit some more.  Looking for flaws leads you to find more flaws, and sometimes even imagine them or second guess yourself.  You can get to the mental place where your book will never be “good enough” because you can’t recognize it and aren’t even looking for it.

There I was, with what was basically a finished book and I didn’t even know it.

I think there’s a skill to recognizing a book is done, a skill with two facets.

The first facet of the skill is to recognize that a book is good enough on a technical and content level.  This mix of organization, intuition, empathy, and technical knowledge is one that a good author just develops over time.  I don’t think it’s one you can train in, more one you get to by just doing it.

The second facet of the skill is psychological –to be in the mental space to recognize that a work is complete.  Based on the experience of myself and fellow authors, this “skill facet” of being in the right mental space to say “done” is less common than the ability to see the work is done.  Many of us have met authors with it what is clearly a finished work that authors clearly can’t stop editing.

I can relate.  I still rethink past writing, but there is a time just to realize it’s good enough and move on.  If one doesn’t move on, one will never publish what they’re working on, let alone publish anything else.

I’m glad I caught that moment of being in the mental space of not seeing “good enough,” as it not only kept me moving but it was also a good reminder to move on.

I might not know what’s next, but at least I know there will be a next.  All because I could say “good enough.”

Steven Savage

The Humanity Of The Lost Jester

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com, Steve’s Tumblr, and Pillowfort.  Find out more at my newsletter, and all my social media at my linktr.ee)

Serdar and I often inspire each other in our writings.  Recently he wrote about an amazing column by Nan Robinson that inspired him as a child – which led to me reflecting on my own inspirations.

Some of my influenced quite obvious – for instance I outright admit how I was affected by Sir Terry Pratchett and Grant Morrison.  But I want to reflect on one person who’s writing has guided me, and not any science fiction or fantasy writing.  I want to discuss author and humor columnist Dave Barry.

Yes, Mr. Barry has done some fantasy with such things as his Peter Pan based works, but read on.  I take inspiration in his earliest work – humor columns.

Mr. Barry began writing his humorous observational humor between 1981 and 1983, and I encountered him in the mid 1980s.  He mixed wordplay, humor, silliness, and a real humanity to his writing.  From birth to home ownership, strange local events to political frustrations he was accessible, funny, and often on the ball in his observations.  Barry would joke, but his jokes were very real, the humor of relatability.

His  humor style influenced my own – more than I often let out (and there’s a lesson there).  But now let me note as much as his humor inspired me, what really, really got to me, reached me, was when things stopped being funny.

Barry wrote about the death of his father and his decision to keep his last contact simple, because his father should die on his own terms.  He took a trip to Japan, and reflected on Hiroshima, the remembrance ceremonies, and he tried to capture what he as an American felt.  Barry could write about unfunny things, with all the humanity of his humorous efforts.

Much as I find good comedians can be good actors, what made him funny allowed him to be damned serious.

Most of all, I’ll remember his reflections on visiting Graceland, home of Elvis.  It was a column called “Hearts That Are True,” and you can find it in his book Dave Barry Is Not Making This Up (published 1994).  He went to Graceland, met with fans, and figured there would be something fun to write about

You could tell he thought it would be amusing.  Talk to the Elvis camping around the gates, look at the kitchy décor of Graceland, have some fun.  Very quickly, he found there wasn’t anything to laugh over.

He found passionate fans.  People who really loved Elvis.  Fans who mourned his death, sad he died in such an undignified manner.  Folks who had memories of seeing the singer, and good times with their friends.  People who you could tell wish they could have helped.

Barry heard Elvis’ songs everywhere, a reminder he was a pretty damn good singer.  Yeah, he had some lousy albums, but there was a lot of really good stuff – and even some of the bad albums at least had Elvis.  Let me say that a good listen to ‘Burning Love,” a really good listen will remind you why he was the King.

The humor columnist toured Graceland.  Sure, it was overdone and kitschy, but so what?  Elvis didn’t aspire to be some society guy collecting art or putting on pretentions of culture.  He lived and partied with his riches, but his excesses seemed weirdly human – even flying a plane to get that awesome sandwich.

And so you had Dave Barry, brilliant columnist, truly hilarious person, with nothing to laugh about.  He was there in a place of excess and fanatic fandom, exploring a colorful figure like Elvis, and there wasn’t anything funny to say.

The sheer humanity of that column hit me hard, Barry put you in touch with the fans, the feelings.  He also outright admitted there was nothing to laugh at.  If anything the joke was him and his own confidence he could find laughs.

So the humor columnist found the joke was on him.  And he turned it into a column that was one of his best, one that still sticks with me.  It’s a column of such quality I wish I could write something that good.

It’s decades since I encountered Dave Barry, his jokes about lawnmowers and pop-tarts, and I still want to be like him, writing about Elvis.  I still hope I can reach people like he reached me.

Steven Savage