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Posts Tagged ‘novels’

Hello, my name is Brian, and I’m a writeaholic.

Some time ago, I sadly announced that, due to extrinsic factors beyond my apparent control, I was discontinuing my planned series of neo-pulp adventure novels starring my mysterious hero, Nemesis. Some time later, I announced that I had been having some difficulty commencing a new project, but that I was feeling optimistic. I was going to overcome my own self-doubt and write as good a story as I could. Self-publishing was out, magazine stories were in.

I am not only a writeaholic, I am quite naive.

Contrary to writing novels to the exclusion of short stories for magazines, or short stories to the exclusion of novels, I am now doing both simultaneously. You have to understand, that’s not how I work. I don’t do simultaneous projects. I am not one of those writers who has six different ideas in play at once. I work on one thing, then another.

And yet here I am. I am writing a short story for the money and fame. (Ha! That’s a good one, son!) And I am writing another Nemesis novel, Marauders from the Moon, simply because that is what I want to do. And I am writing both at the same time.

Setting myself a short schedule taught me that I could write a novel very quickly. How I learned to do this thing I’m doing now is an open question. Whether I have learned to do this thing I’m doing now is likewise a question.

I feel like a newly-minted superhero exploring his own powers. I’ll try not to destroy the world.

#SFWApro

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One of the bad things about being a writer is that you are your own workforce. If you take time off, no one picks up the slack. You also have to live with your decisions, good or bad.

One of the good things about being a writer is that you are your own boss. You set your own goals, your own hours. You want to take a week off, you don’t have to ask anybody. And if you want to change your business model, you don’t have to run your new plan by a committee.

So I’m changing my business model. And while I don’t have to run it by a committee, since it’s sudden and runs smack into the plan I was publicizing as late as a week ago, I felt like I should say something.

I am taking an indefinite hiatus from self-publishing. It’s for the obvious reason: economics. I have proven to myself that, given the proper motivation, I can write a lot faster than I had been, which is essential to self-publishing. You have to push a lot of product to the market. Unfortunately, this is only half of the equation, in that once you have put product on the market, someone has to want to consume it. And therein lies the rub.

The most formidable obstacle to successful self-publishing is discoverability. This is not a writing problem, this is a business problem. According to the numbers, I do not have the business acumen to make a go of self-publishing. It takes about twice the time I was putting in before, and it provides about the same money. I may not be a business genius, but even I can see this makes no sense.

So I’m going back to writing short stories, and with any luck I’ll be able to apply some of the lessons that I gleaned while learning to write a novel in two months. My backlist will remain in print, of course, so theoretically I will soon have two income streams.

Being the boss means sometimes you have let go of an employee. Or a business. I’ll miss being a self-published writer; I just won’t miss being a self-publisher.

Okay, I’ve got to go. My boss is yelling at me to write something. Short stories or novels, some things never change.

#SFWApro

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It’s scary starting a new book. You have an idea, maybe just a scene that you’ve been carrying around in your head for weeks or months, waiting to see if it grows into something you can use. If it’s a series, you already have your main character(s), so that’s a help. But you don’t have a plot, you don’t have secondary characters, you don’t have a beginning, a middle, or an end… You have to write 1200-1500 words per day for the next four months and you have no idea what Word One is going to be! Help!

It’s exciting to start a new book. There’s this image you’ve been carrying in your head for weeks or months that you can’t wait to get down and see where is goes. This is the fourth book in your series, and you’re really getting into your characters’ psyches, and you’re learning more and more about your setting all the time. Right now you’ve got nothing more than maybe a half-page of scattered notes, but in a few months you will have a book: Tens of thousands of words that you put together in a way that has never been done before and never will be again. Your universe, your mark on history. The possibilities!

And you wonder why writers can never seem to confine themselves to the here and now, even when they’re away from their typewriters. They are in a constant state of simultaneous terror and awe. (No, not shock and awe. That’s different. That’s when someone buys your book.) There are those who say fiction is irrelevant; it has no relation to, or effect on, the real world. They’ve never written a novel. Believe me, when you write a novel, it affects your real world a lot.

I am at the “ten lines of notes that I may never use” stage. And I have a blurb. In fact, the blurb came first. It was the first thing I wrote, because once you have a blurb, you have a story. You just have to fill in the details.

I have no idea right now what those details are going to be. I am in the same state as anyone else starting to read this book; I have little to no idea what’s going to happen.

It is scaring my pants off, and exciting as hell.

#SFWApro

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I wasn’t planning to write one of these, but it occurred to me, almost too late, that while 2017 has been a horrible year for many people (for reasons outside the scope of this blog), for me, professionally, it has been not only successful, but actually profound. This was the year that everything changed, maybe forever. With that in mind (and because, like all writers, I’m just obsessive about these things), I’d like to list some of my achievements over the past twelve months.

Summarily, I sold five short stories this year, one of which was a reprint. I had four stories published, mostly those I sold last year. Just as importantly, however, I sold a record number of copies of my various self-published books, particularly in the fourth quarter. I hope to see this trend continue in the new year.

But sales were only part of the story, and not the largest part. Where a novel used to take at least a year, in 2017, I published two, and am dangerously close to finishing a third. One was written in less than two months. This represents a huge leap forward in my production, and opens up an new business model where self-publishing may become a viable part of a hybrid career path (self-published novels/traditional short stories).

I also expanded my authorial presence this year, appearing on three panels at my second consecutive Loscon as a guest. At no time did I faint, get horribly sick, or otherwise condemn myself to 1 million hits on Youtube.

And last but not least, two of my stories appear on the Tangent Online Recommended Reading List for 2017.

All in all, I’m pleased. I’m writing, I’m selling, and I still have a few ideas on the drawing board. So to all of you out there who support me, or support other writers, and especially to those who are trying so hard to make it when all the odds seem to be against you, have a Happy New Year. Make 2018 the year you want it to be.

#SFWApro

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Balancing Act

There is only so much time in a day. The trick is to make the best use of that time. Hence my problem.

I have switched in the past year from writing short stories to self–publishing novels. This creates difficulties, because it turns out that writing novels on a self-publisher’s schedule requires even more time than writing a respectable number of short stories in a year. (This is exacerbated by the fact that no one expects you to write short stories on a schedule.) It requires, in my case, about twice the time.

Given this, I have abandoned writing any new short stories for the foreseeable future. I still have a catalog of unsold stories, however, and I am still trying to sell them. In our wonderful Internet age, new markets spring to life every month, unlike the Dark Ages of the Nineteen-Mumble-Mumbles when I started. So all those stories that haven’t yet found a home need constant attention in case a new possibility opens up.

But what happens when a new market opens that fits a story in your inventory perfectly–except that the story’s the wrong length? Can you extend a too-short story? You can, but it’s a tricky and dangerous game. Cutting down a too-long story is easier, but not easy, particularly when (as in the example which prompts this post) you’re talking several hundred words (a typewritten double-spaced page).

On what do you spend your time? The short story, which if sold will generate a few hundred bucks, or the novel, which is going to be published but each copy will only generate a couple of dollars and whose ultimate sales numbers are as speculative as that story sale? Not only that, but the story market has a finite closing date, whereas your book has a publishing schedule that you’d really like to keep.

If I were a best-selling novelist, this wouldn’t even a issue, but I’m not and it is. I know which way I’m leaning…

#SFWApro

 

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I am fond of saying that one of the reasons I’m a writer is because I have absolutely no talent for higher math. I’m pretty good at straight arithmetic, I managed to hold my own in algebra (with a great deal of struggle), and geometry was relatively easy–but when I try to advance beyond that, forget it. Many of my friends can read complicated equations like I read the newspaper (yes, some of us still do read the newspaper, and not on our phones), but to me they don’t even form a language, let alone a readable narrative.

Words, on the other hand, have always been my bread and butter. I was always the best speller in my elementary classes (among the boys, anyway), and I was a top English student in high school. Now I’m a writer. My friends with physics degrees can build models of quarks, but I can build models of worlds.

It is ironic, then, that so much of what I do is defined by numbers. There are sales numbers, obviously, and numbers of reviews (never enough), and ranking numbers at Amazon (although I realize as well as anyone how arbitrary they are, it doesn’t stop me from looking). And there are other numbers, as well–first among them is word count.

When you’re writing a short story, word count defines what kind of story you’re writing: flash, short, novella, etc., and where you can sell it, because magazines have parameters, based on their page counts and budgets. Some are firm, some have a little elasticity, but they all have the limits. You have to know this if you’re going to have any success at all, because your 17,000-word novelette may be brilliant, but its potential markets are few.

Word count also defines something quite different: It defines how difficult this job is. Think about it. A commercial short novel these days runs no less than 65,000 words, and you’ll find damn few of those. Most are at least 80,000 words. My longest novel so far ran 122,000 words. The novels I’m writing now are designed to come in at 60,000. And these words are not random; every one of them is specially selected. How hard is that?

Let me give you some context: The average person speaks about 16,000 words per day. That means that my typical novel is the equivalent of everything you say for four days. And it all has to be entertaining, suitably paced, and come to a point. You think you could talk that way for four days straight?

I do. Granted, I plan some of it out ahead of time, and it may take me ten weeks, but in the end it’s the same thing. The next time you’re reading a book, take a look at its page count, and multiply by 300. That will give you a rough idea how many words it is (depending on the book, of course, but bear with me). Then ask yourself, “Could I write that many words in a fashion so entertaining that people would pay money to read it?”

If the answer is “yes,” then close this window and get to writing. But if the answer is “no,” then the next time you finish a book, take a few moments to rate or review it on Amazon or Goodreads.

After all, in writing, it’s the numbers that count.

#SFWApro

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It’s late, I’m tired, I probably should leave this until tomorrow, but it’s not been a good day writing-wise, so I’d like to go to bed knowing I accomplished something. I’ll try to be coherent.

My last book (The Scent of Death), I wrote up as “The Experiment,” a mostly-weekly rundown of how well I had kept to my 8,000 (later 6,000) word schedule. Now I’m working on Son of the Experiment (The Killing Scar), and it’s not going nearly so well. After seven days, I have close to 5700 words. (It is, again, ironic that under my old system this would have been considered quite satisfactory.) And the words are all right; I have no problem with them; the characters are behaving themselves. Although it took time, I have the major plot points worked out, and the settings, and all that. But it’s been slow, and I’ve been slow to realize why.

The problem, I now understand, is that I’ve been trying to go too fast. Not that I can’t put out 1500 words a day (I wrote 1900 last night), but I’ve put the cart before the horse. The whole basis of my new system is outlining–and I kinda sorta forgot to do enough outlining.

I thought that because I only outlined the last book up through the first dozen chapters and wrote the rest with a vaguer sort of guidance, I could write a whole book that way. Turns out I can’t. You see, as long as you know where you’re headed, the closer you get to the end of the book, the easier it is to write. In the case of The Scent of Death, I was able to apply that principle to the last 40,000 words (and the last 10,000 flew by). But that still means I wrote 20,000 words from a pretty detailed outline, a luxury I haven’t given myself this time.

Last night’s 1900 words came in the form of a prologue–that I wrote after I was 3000 words into the book. If you’re writing a huge prologue after you’ve started the book, something’s wrong with your schedule. It means, most obviously, that you began your book in the wrong place. And if you start in the wrong place, you cannot end in the right place.

So I’m going back to the outline. (I feel better about the whole process already.) I’ll outline the first quarter-to-half of the book, maybe more if it is working. Then I’ll be able to jump into the real writing with a sense of confidence. Yep, I’m rarin’ to go now!

After I get a good night’s sleep. I don’t want my characters yawning in the middle of their dialogue.

#SFWApro

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