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Posts Tagged ‘self-publishing’

Today is the day! The final book in the Stolen Future trilogy is on sale! The Cosmic City is available as an e-book for $3.99 on Amazon and Smashwords, and the paperback will soon be on sale for $9.99 at Createspace.

Keryl Clee may think he has defeated his foes and started the Earth on the path to unity, but his greatest challenge–and Earth’s greatest threat–await him.While he languishes in a prison of made of history, the clock moves inexorably to the moment when humanity will be destroyed and Time itself may be damaged beyond repair!

To celebrate the completion of the Stolen Future trilogy, the first volume, The Invisible City, is priced at $.99. What are you waiting for? As Keryl Clee will tell you, Time is of the essence!

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From now until Christmas Day, The Invisible City is on sale at Amazon and Smashwords for $.99. This is a great chance to grab a last-minute (virtual) stocking-stuffer–and gives plenty of time to read the first book in the series, and The Secret Citybefore The Cosmic City comes out in 2017!

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…are the ones you should be listening to. I know the adage is, “Those who can’t do, teach,” but that is so dismissive and narrow-minded that I could spend most of this post on why I don’t agree with it. Suffice it to say, as it is commonly understood, it’s garbage.

Let me ‘splain. I recently read about a friend who has been trying to become a professional writer nearly as long as I have (which is saying something). Soon after I succeeded, he did too. And so he is justifiably very proud of his accomplishments. Recently, however, he was told in no uncertain terms that he was going about his career all wrong. Independent publishing was the only way to go! Everybody would do better if he’d only abandon the creaky old system of traditional publishing and self-publish!

Well, my friend was justifiably (again) upset. He’s got his career path, it’s starting to work for him, and he doesn’t need anybody coming along and saying how it’s so tough just because he’s doing it all wrong. Becoming a published writer (let alone succeeding at it) requires a ridiculous amount tenacity and a delusional level of self-confidence. Saying it’s only so hard because you’re doing it wrong is condescending and rude. In other words, my career is None of Your Business.

And yet, there is a value in learning from others. Sometimes this even involves being lectured, and occasionally, it involves being told you are wrong. This is called “teaching.” (Simply telling someone he’s doing it wrong because your way worked for you isn’t teaching. It’s gloating. And it doesn’t make you a teacher, it makes you a jerk.) And I would posit that some of the very best teachers are not “those who can’t do,” but rather “those who can’t do for a living.”

Let’s face it. Not everybody can be the best at everything–or even one thing. While there is value from learning from someone who has tried (and succeeded to some extent) what you’re trying to do, it doesn’t mean that just because your teacher isn’t making a living at, say, writing, he can’t be a good writing teacher. I’ve had teachers who were professional writers, and others who have merely written professionally. I have learned from all of them. (I’ve also learned a great deal from myself, and I’m certainly not making a living as a writer.)

I would go further and say I’d rather learn from the guy who hasn’t made it than the guy who has, or at the very least that you can learn more from someone who has failed than someone who never has. The successful (writer) can tell you how he made it and you can try to emulate him. The moderately-successful writer who has twice the number of rejections as acceptances can teach you how not to fail. In my experience, you can’t really understand winning until you understand losing.

Case in point, as provided by my friend: self-publishing. I entered the self-publishing field about three years ago. I tried to find out what I was getting into by going to panels at cons, featuring self-published authors. I went to all I could. They were very encouraging. They thought everyone should try it. After all, they’d succeeded with no more of a book idea than I had. The problem was, they had all succeeded. They never talked about failure. Eventually, one actually said, “Your first book never sells,” which was manna to me because my first book wasn’t, in fact, selling. No problem, says I, the sequel will.

The problem with listening to all these successful self-published writers was that they didn’t know (or talk about, anyway) how not to fail. They never spoke of the need to stick to one series in one genre because audiences won’t follow you across genres. They never said that it can take three or four or more books to gain an audience (if you ever do) and how those four books had to come out no less than every four months (six if you must, but you’re taking an awful chance that people will forget you). They never talked about the hundreds of dollars you must spend in cover art, copyediting, and advertising. Yes, advertising, preferably with a heavy social media presence to raise your books out of the morass of the thousands of other books self-published every year. They didn’t mention the ten hours a week you should be spending on your blog, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and whatever other media platforms have been invented since I started writing this post–and that if you’re not prepared to do that, or if you don’t already have 50,000 Twitter followers, your chances of ever being noticed are slim to none.

So, yes, I shared my friend’s outrage and being told he was writing “the wrong way.” Because no two writers work exactly the same, and self-publishing is not a panacea and anyone who tells you it is, is either selling you a bill of goods or selling one to himself.

It’s true that “those who can’t do, teach,” but it’s a damned good thing, because they’re the ones with the courage to admit they haven’t always succeeded. And that’s a lesson we should all learn.

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Every once in a while, if you’re going to write a blog about writing, you have to write about writing. Right? This is one of those times. If you’re not a writer or planning to be one, you can skip this one. (But you don’t have to…)  If you are a writer–why aren’t you writing? Oh, you’re just taking a break from the next Harry Potter? Then settle in. You need to know this stuff.

Writers are always concerned with how they’re going to get their message across to readers. Unless you’re planning to self-publish, that’s the wrong way to go about it. (And if you are planning to self-publish, there are some other blogs you should be reading.) What you want to do is get your message across to an editor. The editor buys your story from you. He gives it to the publisher. Readers buy their story from the publisher. If you don’t sell the editor, you don’t sell.

How do I sell an editor, you ask? Very good question. And a very big task. To begin with, there are as many ways to sell to an editor as there are editors. (Even so, selling to readers is a lot harder, because  there are a lot more of them than editors.) On the other hand, editors will tell you exactly what they are looking for. These are called “guidelines,” and if you follow them, while you still might not get the sale, you will develop a reputation for dependability, which can be almost as good. (For purposes of our discussion, we will limit ourselves to magazine editors.)

See, even though editors read hundreds of stories a month, they tend to see the same authors over and over, and they remember you. The first time an editor said such-and-such story was not as good as my other stories, I was over the moon. I never sold to him, but he knew my name. He found it worth remembering, and that’s huge.

If an editor is going to remember you, you want it to be for the right reasons. That means read the guidelines and follow them. You’d be surprised how many writers don’t.  On the other hand, sometimes guidelines aren’t as strict as they appear. An anthology’s theme might stretch to cover your story even if it doesn’t fit like a glove. And word limits may be flexible. If the guidelines say, “3000 – 5000 words, firm,” then respect them. But if they don’t, maybe they can be exceeded–but if you’re going to try that, ask first. You can query an editor to determine if exceptions are allowed, and the mere fact that you asked may get you the answer you want.

Well, you may get the answer you want concerning whether you can skirt the guidelines. Getting the answer you want about a sale, that’s going to take some more work. But when you sub that next story, having an editor who remembers you isn’t going to hurt…

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Once upon a time, writers were known for their stories–and from their stories. In this benighted past, there was no Internet (yes, well may you shudder, children). There were no blogs, no e-books, no online magazines, Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook…there wasn’t even any e-mail. And the people toiled through snail mail and telephones that did not take pictures and did not even know that they were technologically poverty-stricken. For only in comic books were their portable telephones with vliewscreens, and only in stories did men and women communicate by computer.

So how the heck did a writer ever make a name for himself? It wasn’t easy. (Not that it’s easy now. But back then it was harder to become famous just for being famous.) Ironically, like today, there were many magazines available as markets, but back then, so many people read them that you could actually become famous that way. Astonishingly, you could even make a living selling to magazines. Like much of history, it was full of inconsistencies.

Flash forward to now, when all you need to become world-famous is a blog. (Assuming that your definition of “world-famous” is that your work is available all over the world.) And every writer’s marketing plan–heck, every writer’s publisher–is in his own hands. So if fame (or notoriety) is so easy to grasp, why isn’t every writer famous? Why is true fame still as elusive as ever?

It used to be, even with the plethora of markets, that you had to have a modicum of talent to sell to a (magazine or book) publisher. That isn’t true now, because you can publish yourself. Yet self-publishing success is at least as difficult as traditional publishing success, because there is so much competition, and so much (to be honest) garbage out there. Collecting fans is a full-time job. (So in that sense, a robust social media presence is necessary. It’s the only way to stand out from the crowd. But for some, it isn’t that easy–if you’re over 50, particularly.)

Traditional publishing can accomplish the marketing for you. But look at the field now: With e-publishing, short fiction venues have exploded, but like self-publishing, it suffers from two problems: (1) the quality varies. There are markets you almost have to try not to get published in, but who’s going to read them? (2) Declining readership. More venues and fewer readers means even the top-flight markets suffer from “genre fatigue.”

It is no longer possible to make a living writing short fiction. It simply can’t be done. (The minimum professional rate established by SFWA is six cents per word. An average short story may run around 5,000 words. Do the math.) But it is possible to build a career by publishing short stories, even if you don’t have any other publicity machine. You just have to hit the biggest markets, consistently.

Can your social media profile help you climb the ladder toward fame and success? Doubtless it can, particularly if you understand that every rung is an accomplishment, and not everybody can climb high. Can simply writing great stories get you there, without the social aspect? Sure; there have been lots of reclusive writers, and I don’t see that changing. Writers are weird.

So how important is social media to a writer’s career? I don’t know–how long is a piece of string?

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So, in line with my promise to try to read more in order to help my writing, I analyzed my habits and discovered I was spending so much time trying to write, I had no time to read. I then gave myself permission not to write at all, and devote the time I would normally use to write as reading time. This is not in itself bad; I have given the same advice to other writers who were struggling. (If you know enough writers, it happens pretty much all the time to somebody. This was my turn.) Unfortunately, life is a juggling act, and I stopped juggling.

After about two weeks of not writing, I have found that allowing yourself not to write is a lot different from not being able to write. Some of us believe in writer’s block (I do) and some don’t. But this isn’t that. Not writing because you choose not to leads to an itch, but not the climbing-the-walls nerves that writer’s block can cause. So overall, it’s not been an unpleasant interlude.

But that itch is still there, and I think I should scratch it. The trick is to regain that balance, to find the number of chainsaws you can keep aloft without undue stress. For me, the secret is to know ahead of time what I’m going to say. I know from experience that if I outline with some detail, I can write 2000 words a night. Unfortunately, my typing speed isn’t up to maintaining that pace while allowing time for anything else. But I can write 1000 words in 60 – 90 minutes, which is not too much time to spend at my desk, while still moving my book along at a reasonable pace.

When you’re self-publishing, though, speed is everything, and since I cannot write 2-3 books per year, once The Cosmic City is done, I’m going back to short fiction for a while.

I can’t juggle chainsaws; I’m going to stick to balls and bowling pins and the occasional puppy. Anything else would make me look like an April Fool.

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I get a lot of pitches for ways to get your self-published book noticed. Paid reviewers, unpaid reviewers, virtual libraries, PR companies, Amazon, Smashwords…everybody is out to help the poor writer get readers. What I can’t figure out is, with so many writers out there now, why do we need help? If all the indie writers simply read all the other indie writers, everybody would get rich (or at least sell respectably).

I do not claim not to be part of the problem: I don’t read my fellow indies, either. The problem is, I have little time to read anyone, and the few authors I like pretty much fill it. Now this, of course, is my problem. And it is most certainly a problem, since writers need to “feed their heads” more than most. I write better when I’ve been reading; I suspect most of us do. I should do a lot more of it.  (Of both, actually.)

So if writers aren’t reading, who is? And is that why indie writers can’t get readers, because nowadays so many people are busy self-publishing that no one has time to read?

We had dinner at a fish restaurant tonight. I am not terribly fond of fish, but I’ll eat some, and there’s always something else available. (After a detailed examination of the menu, and consultation with my wife and the very patient waitress, I chose the shrimp pasta. The waitress was very enthusiastic about the cheeseburger. I am nothing if not transparent.) But in talking of the choices afterward, my wife said, “You have to take some chances.” (To me, shrimp pasta with a spicy red sauce is taking a chance.)

It is not my intention to encourage reading more independent writers; I can hardly do that if I don’t know what I’m recommending. (I could recommend myself, but that would hardly be helpful, let alone objective.) But I would encourage people (myself included) to read more broadly, to branch out, take a chance.

If we can take chances with what we put into our mouths, why not with what we take in with our eyes? After all, a paperback (let alone an e-book) is a lot cheaper than a good fish dinner, and if you quit when you’re half-way finished, no one can see the leftovers on your plate and blame you for wasting food. (“There are illiterate children in China who would love to read that book!”)

A lot of people would choose the cheeseburger book. Others would go for the hazelnut-encrusted halibut novel. It doesn’t matter; they both go well with a glass of wine, and we all have to eat.

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