s.a. huntI recently downloaded a free e-book from Amazon, “The Whirlwind In The Thorn Tree,” Book One of “The Outlaw King” by S.A. Hunt. I’m only 6% of the way through the story and I can already tell that I’ll read the whole book. I like it. On my Kindle Fire, it says I’m at Location 426 of 6372, so I’m barely into it. I knew I liked it from the first paragraph.

By contrast, I downloaded “Unicorn Western” by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant a couple of months ago and abandoned it after the seventh chapter.

I knew I didn’t like the book in the very first chapter, but I thought I’d give it a chance. I downloaded it after reading Write. Publish. Repeat. by the same authors, which I thought was one of the best books I’ve read on independent publishing in the last five years.

“Unicorn Western” shows the place of my abandonment at 775 of 1268. As you can see, it’s quite a bit shorter than S.A. Hunt’s book. Why do I like one and not the other?

Tight Writing Vs. Aggressive Marketing

platt and truantBy reading just a few pages of each book I determined early on that Platt and Truant spent the bulk of their time on marketing while Hunt spent his time polishing his manuscript. Here’s the first paragraph of “The Whirlwind In The Thorn Tree.”

The assassin crept toward the house through cold blue beams, the wash of the moonlight dancing across the night-forest under his feet like a handful of silver coins.

I love how that opening paragraph sings. By contrast, here’s the first two paragraphs from “Unicorn Western”:

Clint touched his guns.

There were two of them — old, silver, and laced with scratches. Each pistol held seven bullets, as did every gun carried by The Realm’s marshals. Back before Clint packed fourteen bullets, he was allowed to carry a pistol on just one of his hips, and to only fire shots from a six-bullet tumbler, like every other commoner outside The Realm. But those days, for Clint at least, were long gone.

Too wordy.

Without attacking the writers’ style, I can think of several ways to make “Unicorn Western” read more smoothly. Let’s try this (second graf):

There were two of them — old, silver, and laced with scratches. Both were seven-shooters as was the custom of The Realm’s marshals. Before, Clint carried one six-shooter, just like any commoner outside The Realm. But those days were long gone.

I cut that nearly in half. And I found opportunities like that throughout the book. I find it amazing that two guys who collaborated on a book couldn’t edit each other better than that. “Unicorn Western” reads like a high school boy’s fantasy adventure. “The Whirlwind In The Thorn Tree” reads like a pro wrote it.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy for Platt’s and Truant’s success. They’ve done well for themselves earning a six-figure income in just a couple of years, but their business model is based on churning out stories fast with sloppy editing and aggressive marketing. It’s not an approach that I favor. I would respect their work more if they had written half the volume, polished it well, and followed the same marketing plan. But that’s just me.

Of course, I’ve only read the one novel (or a part of it). That’s not to say that I might have a different opinion if I read more.

What Matters In Storytelling

Truant and Platt have their fans. I’m sure their fans are happy with the books they’ve read (otherwise, they wouldn’t read them). But I don’t think “Unicorn Western” illustrates what really matters in fictional storytelling.

Here’s what I think are the most important elements of good fiction:

  • Story development
  • Characters
  • Conflict, or situation
  • Writing style

Say what you will, but style matters. A good story with great characters and awesome conflict can fall apart on the writer’s style alone. I think that is the case with “Unicorn Western.” The writer’s simply don’t take the time to cut the fat off their sentences. And it shows.

Why We Market Fiction

I’ll buy toilet paper for a dollar, but I don’t want to spend a dollar on a necessary household item only to take it home and have it break on me the first day I use it.

Fiction is a product. Whether it be a novel, novella, short story collection, or a flash fiction piece, it’s a product. Like any product, it must meet a need. It’s got to find an audience based on its merits as a product.

If you’ve ever been to a dollar store, then you’ve likely seen items that you can buy for a buck that you could get elsewhere for much more. The decision you have to make is this: Does quality trump price? If you can get by with the cheaper version of a product for one dollar, then it’s a good buy. If quality is important, that one dollar is a waste. I’ll buy toilet paper for a dollar, but I don’t want to spend a dollar on a necessary household item only to take it home and have it break on me the first day I use it.

And that’s how I view my fiction. I’d rather spend a couple of extra dollars on a good story well told than $2.99 on a story I’ll abandon after a few chapters.

I understand the value of writing fast, but I also understand the value of high quality. As a journalist chasing a deadline, I’ve had to turn in less-than-stellar writing for the sake of telling the story. That’s sometimes necessary. But as an independent author, your deadline is when you say the story is done. You should never get your story into the public realm just so you can start marketing sooner. Take the time to polish your story, then pursue your marketing strategy.

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Allen Taylor
Allen Taylor
Allen Taylor is a freelance writer, content strategist, and award-winning journalist. He is the author of "E-book Publishing: Create Your Own Brand of Digital Books," available in the Kindle, ePub, iBooks, and PDF formats.

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