Composition
by Linda A. Lavid
Aventine Press, San Diego, CA. ISBN: 1-59330-476-5
$10.95

This slim paperback cooks up a basic recipe for writing (and possibly self-publishing) fiction in the Internet Age.

The first section on the craft of fiction writing is useful for writers regardless whether self-publishing figures in their plans. The five chapters swiftly cover story goal, plotting, scene architecture, the chewy nubs of development and finally the undervalued toil of rewriting than can change a blob of lightly related scenes into a well-kneaded and shapely tale.

I most enjoyed the chapter on story goal because that’s one of my own failings. I’m shy about stating simply and clearly what a story is about.

However, as a recipe requires a base ingredient to embellish and build upon, so a story needs a strong story goal to orient its parts.

Ms. Lavid on story goal:

This declarative sentence is also called the story goal. Think of story goal as the magnetic north. From page one until the end of your story, the story goal will be your homing device. It will keep your novel or short fiction piece focused and can even be used for publishing and marketing purposes. With a little tweaking you already have a blurb for your back cover and press release!

…When writing a story goal, use present tense and consider what your protagonist wants and what’s stopping him. The point of having a story goal is to stay focused and remind yourself at every sentence, paragraph, page and scene what the story is about. Whenever you get stuck, review your story goal. This may hold the key. You may have strayed from the story goal or not defined the story goal well enough. …A story goal impels the story. It defines [a] character, her want[s], what’s stopping her, and is the basis for the opening scene.

(Emphasis added by me because I so frequently commit the sin!)

The first section of Composition clears my bar for a to-do book: it makes my fingers itchy to try out its prescriptions.

The second section, on self-publishing, begins to fill in a huge blank spot that, until now, I have paved over by waving my arms and muttering, “Then a miracle occurs.” How do I get from finished manuscript to self-published book? And, more importantly, make money at it so I can not only repeat the exercise but eat and keep a roof over my head?

Ms. Lavid pushes front and center the question of self-publishing versus the conventional publishing route — and insists rightly that self-publishing is not for everyone. She forces a curious writer to confront the investment in personal time and energy required to make self-publishing a success. But she also provides information and encouragement for a committed writer to make a go of it.

Those writers unable to stand the heat in the kitchen, so to speak, should order take-out.

Ms. Lavid on marketing a self-published title:

Developing a marketing plan can challenge your creativity and bleed you dry. In my opinion, you should spend parsimoniously until you see results. Some marketing ploys to avoid are: placing upscale ads in magazines/newsapers; entering your book in an expensive contest; paying a company to do a press kit, get reviews, or add your book to obscure websites. One shot advertising, one contest, and charging for what can be done for free does not a campaign make. Marketing dollars should be spent where they can make a difference and where the campaign is sustained.

Enter the Worldwide Web…

There you have it: a tasty treat to whet your appetite for not just writing well, not just self-publishing well, but living well on the proceeds.

If your interest in self-publishing is not slaked by Ms. Lavid’s book, you might also pick up a copy of The Well-Fed Self-Publisher: How to Turn One Book into a Full-Time Living by Peter Bowerman or Dan Poynter’s Self-Publishing Manual, now in its 16th edition.

[cehwiedel also writes at cehwiedel.com]

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