Thursday, August 15, 2013

Guest Post by Larry A. Winters

Joe sez: I'm going to be taking a blogging break during August, but I've got twelve guest posts scheduled this month, so they'll appear as slotted.

Today it's Larry A. Winters...

X-Rated Research

First off, a big thanks to Joe for helping a good cause, and for providing an opportunity to contribute to his blog.  I’ve been an avid reader for many years.  Joe, you’re awesome!

Now, to business.

As a reader, I like to learn something from a book.  I am a big fan of writers like Michael Crichton, Joseph Finder, and Tom Clancy, who ground their stories in solid research.  I attribute a lot of Dan Brown’s appeal to the way his thrillers offer readers insights into art, history, and religion.

As writers, especially self-published writers, we can feel a pressure to produce material quickly.  There is a common belief that the more titles a writer has on his or her virtual bookshelf, the higher visibility and sales he or she can achieve.  And that’s almost certainly true.  But even so, I would caution that skimping on research—or worse, skipping it entirely—is a mistake.  Imagine if Crichton wrote Jurassic Park without bothering to study dinosaurs, genetic engineering, or chaos theory.  The result would probably have been a fun monster story, but a much less textured, less nuanced, and—perhaps most importantly—less convincing novel.

My novel Hardcore is a mystery set in the multi-billion dollar porn industry.  I know, it’s like a bad joke:  You wrote a book about porn?  I bet you did a lot of research!  Well, in my case, that’s true.  I knew I wanted the story to feel authentic, to expose the reader to an unfamiliar milieu, and, like the novels mentioned above, to make the reader feel like the book expanded his or her knowledge.  I spent months consuming nonfiction books, industry newsletters, insider blogs, interviews, documentaries, behind the scenes footage, and other resources.  Was some of this research fun?  Of course.  If you’re writing about a subject that interests you, the research should not be a chore.

And in my experience, the research was critical.  Knowing the real life problems and concerns of people in the industry enabled me to craft believable characters and realistic settings.  It opened my mind to plot twists that otherwise would not have occurred to me.  It helped me to avoid stupid mistakes that might have broken a knowledgeable reader’s suspension of disbelief.  Research impacted just about every aspect of the book, and made it better.

But don’t take my word for it.  In honor of this blog post, I’m discounting the ebook version of Hardcore to 99 cents until August 20.  Check it out for yourself.

Before I sign off, a word of warning:  Research can be taken too far.  Don’t let it become an excuse to delay writing.  (This is a dangerous temptation.  Reading is easier than writing, and we’re all here because we love to read.)  Also, resist the urge to pour all of your research into the book.  Otherwise you risk too much exposition (aka “infodumps”) and irrelevant details that distract from, rather than enhance, the narrative.  Let your research inform the book, but not overwhelm it.

To shamelessly use my own book as an example again, Hardcore isn’t a treatise on the dirty movie business.  It’s a story about a former porn star who returns to the industry because she doesn’t believe her sister’s death was really a suicide, and she’s determined to find the killer.  Research is not an end in itself.  It provides the details that bring the setting to life.

I hope you found this blog post helpful.  Visit my webpage, and please check out Hardcore at its limited time special price.

Good luck with your writing.  I hope to read you soon, and learn something!

Joe sez: I gave my opinions of research on Laura Nance's guest blog on August 5, but Larry touches on something else that's important in writing.

The hook.

Hooks aren't really plot or theme. Hooks are ideas that grab a reader's attention.

A well-researched thriller about the porn industry? The hook there is obvious. As mainstream as porn has become, it's still considered shameful. We don't talk about porn. In fact, we hide it from others.

So who wouldn't want to read about the industry without having to go into an adult bookstore and feel like a pervert?

Hardcore has a really smart hook, and as much as Larry's post was about research, it was also a clever way to get people interested in reading the novel. I downloaded my copy. I expect others will as well.

Look at the big indie bestsellers. The ones that hit #1 and get optioned for Hollywood and auctioned off to the Big 5. Most of them have big hooks. Something that can be stated in a sentence. Something readers "get" instantly. 

What hooks to you use to reel in readers? How are you enticing them to plunk down a few bucks for your ebook?