Unsticking the Sticky Middle of Your Book

Sticky Middle - Cait Reynolds
Sticky Middle - Cait Reynolds
Actual photo of Cait Reynolds emerging from the Sticky Middle. Photo by Nathalie SPEHNER on Unsplash

We’re two weeks into NaNoWriMo, and I’d wager that a bunch of us are stuck in the morass that I like to call the ‘Sticky Middle.’ We have made it through the first heady 5,000 words. Maybe even 15,000 or 20,000 words. But, now?

The words are coming slower.

The ideas are coming even slower than that.

Sticky Middle - Cait Reynolds
Photo by Niklas Hamann on Unsplash

We are in the vast wasteland between the OOH of the beginning and the AHH of the end, where it’s mostly…

MEH

EH

BLAH

ARGH

In other words…the Sticky Middle.

Why do we get stuck?

The Sticky Middle is mushy, amorphous mass of words that unfortunately form the bulk of a book. For a body of words that is so unwieldy and difficult to structure, the Sticky Middle unfortunately carries the weight of providing order to the plot while keeping the reader deeply engaged.

In a three-act plot structure, the Sticky Middle is Act II. Therein lies the problem.

Sticky Middle - Cait Reynolds

Most of us can take a wisp of an idea and fake it ’til we make it with Act I. Beginnings are relatively easy to set up and rough draft (yes, yes, I know that according to Dune, beginnings are a delicate time, but Irrulan never tried writing genre fiction, so she can suck it).

Even Act III isn’t a complete mystery to us when we start, no matter whether we are plotting or pantsing. The final product might change, but most of us have at least a sense of how we want to dole out the happy endings, prison sentences, and golden apples of immortality.

But, Act II?

How the hell do we figure out everything that has to happen? Even worse, how do we know when we have done enough and it’s okay to move onto the next part of the book?

It’s easy.

Well, that is to say, I’ve figured out a fairly simple technique that helps me, and I’m going to share it with you.

Training ourselves to walk through quicksand

I promise we are going to get to Act II and the Sticky Middle technique, but I need to take a moment and set things up.

Sticky Middle - Cait Reynolds

First, I’d suggest checking out my blog post about how to structure a chapter and figure out your sweet spot word count pace. In a nutshell, though, I basically recommend a couple things:

  • Practice timed writing so you get a sense of the average word count you can achieve in 30 minutes, an hour, etc. You’ll also get a feel for what your most comfortable span of concentration is and your peak quality output. For example:
    • I know that I can write about 500 words in 30 minutes;
    • I am most focused and productive in 30-40 minute segments;
    • I can produce 2,500 words of solid writing per day, but anything more than that and the quality of my rough draft writing goes down drastically.
  • Learn the discipline of chapter structure now in order to improvise later;
    • A scene/chapter has four parts to it: the Problem, Progress, But Then, and the Death Threat (read the post for descriptions of each of these);
    • Each of these four sections should be about 250 words each, or doubled to 500 words;
    • That means that a 1,000-word chapter is made up of 1 scene with four sections, and a 2,000-word chapter is made up of 2 scenes of 1k words each.

For the sake of this exercise, I’m going to use my personal sweet spot of a 2,000-word chapter.

Greasing the skids with Act I

The logic behind the structure and mechanics of Act I is another book-like blog post for another time, but for our purposes, let’s compare Act I to the stages of grief.

Why?

Because we are about to massacre the characters’ everyday existence…all in the name of setting them on the road to adventure. And, like with any death, our characters need to react to and grieve for what they are losing/have lost.

Sticky Middle - Cait Reynolds

I use the following stages (yes, I know there are five stages, but I only use four—whatever! Grief is a personal thing! LOL):

  • Denial: The curtain rises on our characters, and we get a glimpse of their day-to-day life. It’s not perfect. In fact, they’re probably in denial about all the things that are wrong and should change/be different.
  • Anger: This is the first thing that happens that simply cannot ignore that will set them on a collision course with the quest. It’s startling. Different. Disturbing. They don’t like it and try to go back to denial.
  • Bargaining: The characters are having second thoughts about ignoring the signal that change is coming. Or, maybe they can’t stop thinking about it. Whichever it is, they are now teetering on the edge of trying to cling to denial while acknowledging anger and bargaining to see if there’s a compromise.
  • Acceptance: Yeah, no help for it now. The quest is real. It’s in-your-face, beating-you-over-the-head-with-a-2×4, and the characters have no choice but to go down this new, uncertain, and possibly dangerous road.

While it is fun to play around with cute categorizations, we are still faced with the same question for Act I that I posed earlier with regards to Act II:

How the hell do we figure out everything that has to happen? Even worse, how do we know when we have done enough and it’s okay to move onto the next part of the book?

Nowwwww, we’re getting somewhere.

We really are. Trust me. I’m like a human GPS. I know where we’re going.

Sticky Middle - Cait Reynolds

At least to start with, I plan for:

  • Denial: 1-2 chapters
  • Anger: 1-2 chapters
  • Bargaining: 1-2 chapters
  • Acceptance: 1-2 chapters
  • Each chapter will be 2 scenes of 1,000 words each or 1 scene of 2,000 words;
  • All scenes will follow the pattern of Problem, Progress, But Then, and the Death Threat.

Therefore, I know that:

Act I will have 4-8 chapters and be 8k-16k in length.

BOOM.

Now, all we have to do is take this and apply it to the Sticky Middle.

Piece of cake. Right?

RIGHT?

Unsticking the Middle

Remember those two questions? Yes, you’re going to come to hate those questions…almost as much as you hate the fact you can hear my voice in the back of your mind whispering, “Is it really relevant?”

And, if you didn’t have my voice in the back of your head, you do now.

You’re welcome.

Sticky Middle - Cait Reynolds

Anyway. The questions.

How the hell do we figure out everything that has to happen? Even worse, how do we know when we have done enough and it’s okay to move onto the next part of the book?

Let’s tackle the first part. How do we figure out everything that has to happen?

Well, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that it’s completely up to us so long as we follow one rule. The bad news…is that it’s completely up to us so long as we follow one rule.

That rule is super easy to remember: ALWAYS MAKE IT WORSE.

Think of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs: physiological (food/water/sleep), safety, love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. Now, create plot points, clues, and twists that strip all of these away from your characters.

Sticky Middle - Cait Reynolds

No matter what, never give your characters a break, coincidence, relief, or opportunity. Happiness is boring. Cheerful coincidence could create the dreaded bookmark moment, or worse, condemn our book to the DNF (did not finish) pile.

The whole point of Act II is to take the protagonist to the moment when all is lost, everything has gone wrong, and leave them pretty much completely unprepared to face the climax…because that’s fun (at least for the reader).

The terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Act II

As you might have guessed by now, I’m going to break this down even further into structured segments.

Sticky Middle - Cait Reynolds

So, in Act II, we need the following:

  • Weird Shit & Things Get Worse
    • This is the chunk of the book where we start stripping the protagonist of her Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs under the guise of plot points, clues, betrayals, etc.;
    • This is where the bulk of the clues are going to come into play;
    • Decide how many facts the protagonist is going to need in order solve the problem and then set up an increasingly difficult obstacle course for each clue – this will help you figure out how many scenes and chapters you need…
    • …also, it helps keep a lid on irrelevant side-trips like the Mary Sue Shopping Spree;
    • Try to create a crescendo of severity of the risks and consequences of learning each piece of crucial information;
    • This naturally build to…the TWIST!
  • Twist and Shout!
    • The protagonist thinks she might have everything figured out, but surprise!
    • She doesn’t!
    • She could be totally wrong, blindsided by her own biases, have dismissed a key fact as unimportant, or trusted the wrong person for the right reasons;
    • WARNING: the twist MUST follow logically from all the clues we have been doling out. The twist cannot come out of left-field. It should be the fruit of our own hard work at thinking about the story and sacrificing our chance to enjoy guessing whodunit in real-time as we write. We have to know who the murderer is from the beginning so we can work backwards on how to hide the clues. It takes practice, but it’s far better than deciding that the twist will be…uh…she’s a werewolf! when what we’re really writing is a contemporary YA romance but haven’t thought far enough ahead about what is going to be the twist…
  • Sharknado! And, Sharknado II!
    • Or, rather…DISASTER!
    • As a result of the protagonist being ignorant of and unprepared for the twist, the consequences of the twist are the worst possible scenario come-to-life;
    • This is our chance to strip away that last shred of the Maslow Hierarchy that the protagonist has desperately been hanging onto;
    • It’s okay to do this. We apologize to our characters, let them know that we’re going to get them out of the hole, and then proceed to smash their world to pieces;
    • Remember, the disaster part of Act II is like Sharknado and Jaws had a love child who then dated Snakes on a Plane.
  • All is Lost
    • This is an optional section. That’s right. I’m giving you a choice. Booyah!
    • Basically, this is that quiet lull the comes right before the protagonist figures out the one thing that can change the course of everything and allow him/her to take up the mantle of the hero;
    • You know this moment…every Disney move has it…when Belle weeps over the dead body of the Beast and the last rose petal falls; Elsa and Kristoff are too late to keep Anna from turning completely to ice; in Disney’s Hercules, it’s the moment when Meg dies, and a mortal Hercules is not only helpless to save her, but has also failed to protect Thebes and the rest of humanity;
    • The purpose of an all-is-lost moment is to show the protagonist at her truest and most raw. There is no more pretense, excuses, illusions/delusions, false idols. She stripped to her foundations, forced to face her faults and fallacies, and in that moment, decide whether she will give into them or make one more attempt to put things right and become better than she was;
    • Again, this is optional because it doesn’t work for every story. It can depend on pacing, character arc, whether it’s a part of a series, genre, etc.

Sticky Middle - Cait Reynolds

Now, ready for the magic formula? Remember, I’m working based on every chapter being 2,000 words and 1-or-2 scenes, and all scenes will follow the pattern of Problem, Progress, But Then, and the Death Threat.

  • Weird Shit & Things Get Worse: 6-8 chapters
  • Twist and Shout!: 1-2 chapters
  • Sharknado! And, Sharknado II!: 1-2 chapters
  • All is Lost: 1-2 chapters

Therefore, I know that:

Act II will have 9-14 chapters and be 18k-28k in length.

BOOM.

Consider the Sticky Middle UNSTUCK.

A slick finale

All of this is not meant to regiment our writing in the equivalent of literary whalebone corsets.

Sticky Middle - Cait Reynolds

(Yes, I will cover Act III, but that’s another book blog post!)

But, if you—like me—struggle with the Sticky Middle, then this can be a map for making your way through the morass. The ‘Sticky Middle’ is that moment that determines whether we are going to make through November, NaNoWriMo, or throughout the year with every book we try to write…or that we finish.

Oh, and by the way, I’ve got an AWESOME new class this Friday!

BAD BOYS: DANGEROUS LOVE FROM REJECTION TO REDEMPTION

Instructor: Cait Reynolds

Price: $45.00 USD

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

When: Friday, November 17, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

Some Bad Boys have tattoos and motorcycles. Others wear three-piece suits and eat mergers & acquisitions for breakfast.

Whatever Bad Boy flavor you like, there are key characteristics they all share…and there are some common mistakes writers make that will turn his sexy, wolfish grin into the simper of an anxious bichon frise faster than you can say, “How you doin’?”

This class will cover:

  • How to leverage all the classic Bad Boy traits while making your character unique.
  • Keeping the Bad Boy on the tightrope between attractively arrogant and annoying a$$hole.
  • From macho to marshmallow: how to avoid the traps that turn your man soft mid-plot.
  • Write like a man (because no Bad Boy should ever come across like a soccer mom with an attitude problem).
  • Redemption vs. realistic redemption: creating the arc for a Bad Boy we can live with.

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.

About the Instructor:

Cait Reynolds is a USA Today Bestselling Author and lives in the Boston area with her husband and four-legged fur child. She discovered her passion for writing early and has bugged her family and friends with it ever since. When she isn’t cooking, running, rock climbing, or enjoying the rooftop deck that brings her closer to the stars, she writes.

 

What is the Burning Reason You Must Write This Book?

Did you just stop and ask yourself that? Did the Burning Reason trip off the tip of your tongue, or did you stare blankly at the screen and think:

a.) “Oh, crap, there’s ANOTHER thing Cait wants me to think about and that I probably need to up my writing game.”

or

b.) “What the fuck is a Burning Reason?”

Both are totally valid responses, and you are not alone. When I first started writing with a goal to becoming published, I had no clue about the Burning Reason.  I just wrote because…uh…I wanted to tell a story.

The Burning Reason You Must Write This Book - Cait Reynolds

Yeah. It was a story. Beginning, middle, end. Happy ending. Tra la la and all that jazz. But, then, I wrote a story that accidentally really meant something to me (Duet of Desire, if you must know).

I was not just enjoying writing. I was passionate about it. Driven to finish. Driven to make a point. Okay, so I might have taken liberties in using Sarah Bernhardt and Worth to make my point, but at least I had a point to make.

The result was a book that is both a lovely little romp in historical erotica and a story that (hopefully) touches the reader’s heart and soul in a way that goes beyond the pat satisfaction of a Happily Ever After.

So…yes, I digressed. Back on track, then.

What IS the Burning Reason You Must Write This Book?

The Burning Reason is a thought, belief, truth, or emotion that forms the foundational bedrock of every story worth telling.

Skip thinking about the Burning Reason when you are getting ready to write, and you risk producing a story that is rote, forgettable, and does absolutely nothing for your brand or reputation.

Today, I’m going to take you through a little bit more about what a Burning Reason is, and what it does for our characters, plots, writing, and marketing…and of course, why every writer needs a Burning Reason to Write This Book.

That Itchy Feeling in Your Brain? That’s a Burning Reason.

Think about what sticks with us after we have either a very positive or very negative interaction with someone.

We replay the scene over and over again. We analyze the other person’s words, actions, motives, seeking causes, explanations, and often excuses. Then, we compare all of that to our own set of beliefs and and values, seeing how well everything lines up. When it doesn’t, that’s a moment when we either define our own position more clearly, or it challenges us to grow.

All of this usually happens unconsciously, but there’s that faint, itchy sensation in the back of our mind as we inadvertently puzzle out our personal philosophies.

We don’t even realize that the conclusions we reach are sometimes really profound statements of our core values. It’s easy to toss out, “Oh, she shouldn’t have done that because cheating on your boyfriend is wrong.” But, if we take a second look at those words, a deeper meaning emerges.

It could be wrong because we hold to religious dictates about fidelity. Or, we believe that cheating damages the fundamental trust that is crucial to a relationship. Maybe, we have been the victim of cheating, and we believe that no one should have to go through that pain.

Any one of those statements would make an excellent Burning Reason.

It doesn’t have to be more complicated than that. It can be, but it really doesn’t have to be.

The Burning Reason You Must Write This Book - Cait Reynolds

At the end of the day, the Burning Reason is simply something you believe in and want to share because it is the one way that you, as a writer, can truly use your craft to make a difference.

Seraphina and Taylor do not have a Burning Reason

You know my Mary Sue stand-in’s, Seraphina and Taylor, right? They go on adventures. They fall in love. They go to balls and parties. They save the world.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Ad nauseam.

Every utterly forgettable (and/or terrible) book tells a variation of the Seraphina and Taylor story.

It doesn’t matter if we change the color of their hair from raven to flaming, or if we decide their magical powers can make them control dragons instead of commanding fire. It doesn’t matter whether the drug lords who are after them are from Colombia or China, or if the stalker ex appears normal or comes off as plain batshit crazy.

The Burning Reason You Must Write This Book - Cait Reynolds

Without a Burning Reason, Seraphina and Taylor are just going through the motions, over and over again. The Burning Reason is why we remember Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy but not the names in that romance we borrowed on Kindle Unlimited last week.

If a character arc is made up of a past, present, and future, then the Burning Reason gives depth to their past, consequences to their present, and meaning to their future.

The Burning ARC

Using the Burning Reason helps us define the mistakes, false beliefs, and fears that bring our characters to that moment of Toxic Normal (phrase courtesy of Kristen Lamb) when the story begins.

For example, say my Burning Reason is I want to share my belief that we can’t always choose what happens to us, but we can always choose how we react. By keeping this in mind as I create Seraphina’s backstory, I begin to see a character who has a central fault of emotional knee-jerk reactions.

This fault has led to failed jobs, relationships, and a general sense of depression. That is where she is when the story starts.

The Burning Reason You Must Write This Book - Cait Reynolds

I know that once I begin to nail down the specifics of the plot, I am going to create obstacles, problems, and twists that require Seraphina to admit to, face down, and finally overcome this fault.

At the end, Seraphina might not have completely overcome her tendency to react slightly hysterically to situations, but at least now, she is aware of it. She is working to change her behavior, which in turn helps her achieve (or gives her hope of achieving) her happy ending.

The Burning Reason also works for the antagonist, secondary characters, etc. The more we think through how the Burning Reason applies to all the characters, the more we create deeper, more complex, more realistic, and more compelling relationships

…which in turn make for better problems in a plot.

Burning it down: plotting and the burning reason

Though I am a pretty good writer (*muscle cramp from patting self on the back), every now and then, Kristen Lamb needs to beat me over the head about not letting my plot degenerate into simply a series of bad situations.

There are a lot of techniques writers can use to prevent the slide from story to situations. The Burning Reason is one of the quickest and easiest.

When we are figuring out all the things that have to happen in the story, the Burning Reason helps identify what kinds of problems will become plot points. It also acts as a scale against which we can measure the increasing gravity of obstacles, risks, and consequences.

I harp on ‘relevance’ a lot, and, yup, you guessed it. The Burning Reason provides a way to spot-check the relevance of plot points. Let’s go back to the example of Seraphina’s knee-jerk reaction ‘fault’ and the theme of choosing how we react to things that happen.

The Burning Reason You Must Write This Book - Cait Reynolds

Every scene should be relevant in some way to Seraphina’s ‘fault,’ allowing her to deny it, face it, explore it, struggle with it, etc. In the first draft, it’s easy to accidentally slide into a scene or chapter where she is just going shopping, or having lunch, or making out with Taylor.

Once we begin editing, checking every scene against the Burning Reason that is behind Seraphina’s ‘fault’ helps us identify sloppy and/or superfluous writing.

This is also a great technique for breaking through writer’s block. Stuck on where to go or what to say? Look at the Burning Reason and think about how it could make things worse or bring out another aspect of the character’s faults and struggles.

Even the conclusion and resolution of the story is helped by keeping our eyes on the burning prize. Happily ever after is all well and good, but what does happy actually mean to our characters if we don’t know what has made them unhappy or caused them to struggle.

Cue the Burning Reason. *shifty eyes*

a reasonable brand

These days, authors have to be brand conscious and marketing savvy.  It feels like almost every week, there’s a new trick to getting newsletter subscribers, book sales, and Instagram followers.

Yet, I wonder if we aren’t overlooking something so fundamental that no amount of Facebook posting can make up for its lack.

In our rush to get to tell the stories in our head, get to market, and corner the market, we might be forgetting to think about the most important aspect of marketing: THE READER.

The readers are giving us the gift of their time and money, and we risk losing long-term fans if all we do is take advantage in the short-term without giving something back. (Producing a 20k word novella every two weeks doesn’t count as giving back unless you are the next Brontë sister or have a last name like Koontz.)

We have to respect and show our gratitude to the reader. The truest and most sincere way we can do that is to produce the best book we are capable of writing.

Part of writing a book that gives something back to the reader is offering up a Burning Reason.

The Burning Reason You Must Write This Book - Cait Reynolds

It’s something for the reader to think about, to mull over, to feel deeply moved by, to rage against, to remember often in years to come, or be pleasantly surprised by remembering it in a random moment.

We don’t have to be self-righteous, sententious, obvious, or pedantic about the Burning Reason. But, by writing a story that is built on that foundation, we are giving back to the reader the best possible thing we can: a connection with the beauty, tragedy, hope, and power of the human experience.

“If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don’t write, because our culture has no use for it.” Anais Nin

 

If You Write Fiction, Read Non-Fiction

The top half of ONE of my bookshelves.

I am insatiably curious. This has led to a slight issue (some might say addiction) with buying books.

Non-fiction books.

For an author, my actual collection of fiction is quite small. That’s probably because I’m such a picky bitch about the caliber of storytelling and writing I will read.

But, non-fiction? OMG, it’s a real problem. Eric and I recently went to IKEA because I had to buy a whole new bookshelf system. I got the Billy bookshelves…and the extra shelf extension. I literally have books floor-to-ceiling now.

Yet, I regret nothing. NOTHING.

but…but…isn’t all that non-fiction boring?

Hardly! Most of the time, I end up reading things and am like, ‘You seriously can’t make that shit up.’ Reality is way, way weirder than fiction. Dragons included.

I will absolutely admit that non-fiction has experienced a renaissance since the 90’s, shaking off the dust of academic ponderous pomposity and embracing engaging narratives, clever topics, and intelligent and witty writing.

Most importantly, though, is the fact that through non-fiction, we learn more about the world and people around us. What’s more fascinating than that? The more I read, no matter what the subject, the more I see intriguing connections that help me weave more complex, compelling stories.

It doesn’t matter if you are writing historical, contemporary, paranormal, romance, or even epic fantasy. Reading non-fiction will make you a better writer.

Non-Fiction and Research

It’s hard to think of a single really good work of fiction that hasn’t relied on some pretty solid non-fiction research.

I can think of a lot of really, really bad fiction that clearly shows signs of the author not giving a fuck about facts. I remember reading an erotica story where the main female character is an interior designer.  She lands a multi-million dollar project designing a hotel…and pitches in with the painting crew she hired to help paint the owner’s suite to get it done on time.

REALLY? REALLY???? Seriously?

It would have taken exactly six minutes to go to Wikipedia, look up ‘interior designer,’ and scrolled down to the bottom where it lists exactly the type of work that interior designers do, as opposed to…interior decorators. As opposed to people pretending to be interior designers who violate all kinds of union, OSHA, and other insurance and contract restrictions to ‘pitch in’ and help paint walls.

Sure, we could say that it’s ‘just’ erotica, and we’re supposed to be suspending disbelief anyway. Let’s just put aside any kind of professional pride, attention to detail, and desire to produce quality books. From a purely technical perspective, taking care to get a little detail like that right (even if it means reading a boring Wikipedia article) actually encourages the suspension of belief.  Accuracy grounds a story in reality in a way that is absolutely tantalizing because it is logical and could happen, and therefore enhances the fantasy.

Okay, I may have gone off the rails a bit here, but my main point stands. Good fiction needs research, and research gets easier the more we accustom ourselves to reading non-fiction.

It’s almost as bad as wearing a pocket protector

Okay, fine. I’ll admit it. It’s not just books I have a problem with.

I am an insatiable magazine article ripper-outer.  Daphne Lamb, Kim Alexander, and Genevieve Raas from The Fabulous Fictionistas can attest to this, having seen me tear through show dailies, catalogs, and other periodicals at Book Expo America.

My husband, bless him, knows me so very, very well. For Christmas one year, he got me a subscription to ‘Astronomy.’ I have my own subscriptions to ‘Discover’ and ‘Archaeology.’

I am the chick on the beach, drinking things with umbrellas in them and completely engrossed in an article about black holes. Don’t get me wrong. I am not a scientist and even less of a mathematician. God invented calculators for a reason. ‘Discover’ is written for people like me. Obscure scientific ideas are broken down simply. The writing is clear and entertaining. And, over time, the more I read, the more I learn, and the more familiar scientific concepts become.

I know what you are thinking. Don’t I write historical romance and paranormal YA? What am I doing reading about amoebas and pretending it makes a difference to my writing?

Well, just for the record, I drew on some of the articles I had read about quantum physics and astronomy for ‘Downcast,’ and the sequel has quite a bit of science behind the scenes. In fact, the whole premise of ‘Thunderstruck’ came from an article in ‘Discover.’

It’s more than that, though.

I’ve come across articles about how neurochemistry can explain why we get such a rush from reconnecting with a first love. I’ve read about pioneering immunology research in the 1880’s that used bacteria and provided a critical breakthrough with major writer’s block. I get clues I didn’t know I was looking for, plot bunnies, and just the sheer pleasure of exercising my brain.

Science and history are not everyone’s cup of tea…or Petri dish. I get it. But, we should all be constantly learning and expanding our horizons in both literature and non-fiction. The more we learn and know, the more we naturally anchor our story to facts, pay attention to world-building, and create connections between characters and concepts that make our stories deeper, richer, and most importantly…more worth reading.

Cue NBC’s “The More You Know” theme music.

via GIPHY

 

Why I Canceled Kindle Unlimited

It’s the start of a new blog – sort of. File it under “The Sort of Thing That Only Happens to Cait.” It began with going to my blog and seeing that all my images had disappeared…and ended up learning more about Bollywood porn spammers than I ever wanted to.

Long story short (because I’d have to include all the language I used when learning how to ftp into my site, clean virus and spam files, rebuild the site, etc., and that would mean putting an Adult Content Warning label on this blog), it ended up being a bit of a mixed blessing.

I lost some of my funny manuscript marginalia posts, but I gained clarity about what I actually want to blog about. And, what I want to blog about goes against the advice of almost all the author social media experts: writing.

Yup. I want to blog about writing and editing. (I know, you’re wondering when I get to the canceling Kindle Unlimited part, but it’s coming.) Apparently, I have a lot to say about it because my friends and family all cautiously edge away when anyone asks me my opinions about writing and editing.

Okay, now we’re getting to the Kindle Unlimited thing

I canceled it.

Oh, you got that already.

WHY did I cancel a service that for $9.99/month would let me read ALL the books I wanted to…so long as they were participating in the Kindle Unlimited program?

Because I couldn’t stand it any longer. The typos, the sloppy craft, the puerile plotting, the two-dimensional characters, and the utterly, utterly predictable endings all drove me into a wild rage. Admittedly, I’m a picky b*tch when it comes to reading fiction, but frankly, out of the hundreds, if not thousands of KU books I read or tried, only a handful barely come up to the quality standards that most traditionally-published books meet.

Wait! Wait, before you flame me for being one of those dream-crushing, anti-self-publishing haters, just hear me out a little more?

I have been self-published. I have worked with small publishers. I have worked with hybrid publishers. I’m pretty sure there are probably still typos in my books, and while what I have published is solid, I suffer from the writer’s dilemma of looking back at cringing at writing from two or three years ago. I feel your pain. I hear your cries of “Why, KDP, why won’t you update this file?” I know what it’s like to dwell in the purgatory of the 200,000 rankings and get that whopping $0.26 royalty payout.

But, here’s the thing. I have also seen the rise of competitive review trolling (seriously, it’s like an Olympic sport now), buying reviews, gift-ranking manipulation scandals, and Amazon’s own delightful habit of deleting reviews from people we care connected to on social media (because ‘Build relationships,’ they said…’It’ll be fun,’ they said…). I have seen the rise of ‘authorpreneurs’ where we writers are desperately hawking our other talents in editing, proofreading, ghost-writing, cover design, and layout to other authors in hopes of paying the bills for our own publishing costs, thereby creating a damnable feeder loop of dependency in the space-time continuum.

What really drove me over the edge, however, is waking up one morning and finally seeing how writing and publishing are truly in peril from Amazon KDP.

The Sword of KENP

With Kindle Unlimited, we authors are paid by the page. More pages. More money.

Except, remember that whole PageFlip thing from last year? Yeah. How many people woke up to find NO pages read? Fun times.  Oh, and let’s not forget the slowly dwindling payout-per-page rate. $0.0049 per page. On a 200-page book (with pages determined by Kindle), that is a whopping $0.98 payout.

Considering that we pay $150 on average just for a decent cover, not to mention the $300-500 for editing and proofreading, and up to another $100 for layout…

Better start cranking out those pages, because now, we’re on a hamster wheel of endlessly trying to play catch-up with our expenses. Let’s not even talk about the cost of websites, advertising, swag, etc.

When we are paid according to KENP (stands for something about number of pages read whatever), we are trapped. Yes, there are authors out there making decent money from self-publishing. But how many aren’t? How many are getting lured into the authorpreneurship-hamster-wheel loop of the space-time continuum?

What is the price of all of this…because there is always a price.

The price is quality.

The price is being able to make a livable wage.

The price is having no gatekeepers to push us to improve our writing and tell us when a story is not ready for prime time.

That is why I canceled my Kindle Unlimited account. If I want to see things change in the publishing industry, I have to put my money where my mouth is.

If I want to read a book, I will buy it.

But, in return for my money (and more importantly, my TIME), that book had better be damn good. I don’t want typos. I don’t want sloppy writing. I don’t want predictable plots and boring characters. I don’t want a glaring lack of research, logic, and pacing.

If we want to keep claiming that self-publishing is where it’s at, then we need to up our game. I just came back from Book Expo America, and I have to tell you, the saddest area of the show floor was where the self-published authors all had their little tables. For all the noise about the Big 5 failing, they seemed pretty unconcerned as they watched the lines for their ARCs and autograph sessions wind three times around the booth.

Don’t get me wrong. The rise of KDP did some great things for publishing, waking up the establishment and giving access to voices that couldn’t find purchase in the mainstream. However, just like the housing boom and every other boom we’ve ever seen, there is going to be a bust.

I guarantee it.

The number of authors and books is growing at a rate that is outstripping KU subscribers. The pressure on Amazon’s profit margin for KU is increasing. Why do you think they started PageFlip? Why do you think they have been dipping their toe into various submission/gate-keeping programs?

Winter is coming. And, by winter, I mean quality control.

Which…brings us full circle back to the fact that I am going to be writing about writing and editing and publishing from now on. Okay, maybe I’ll throw in some cat marginalia from time-to-time, but for the most part, I’m here to man the barricades and lead the revolution.

Denny Basenji is joining the revolution.

So, buckle up. It’s a new day, and a new era of demanding better from ourselves in order to demand more from the publishing industry.