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Posts Tagged ‘self-publishing’

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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One of the great rallying points of self-published authors and those who champion them is that now the Big 5 publishers* no longer control what you and I can read. With the self-publishing revolution, everyone can be an author, an editor, a publisher. As the printing press allowed for underground pamphleteers to get out their message, the desktop publishing industry made books available to the masses no matter what the New York Literary Establishment might decree!

Yeah, about that… Turns out the NYLE, like any cog in an ecosystem, had (and still has) its uses. The NYLE is, among other things, a gatekeeper. The complaint was that it “suppressed” books by deciding which were worthy of publication, using criteria that were both arbitrary and secret. Now that publishing is a home industry, the NYLE’s role is diminished. But all of those “suppressed” books that are now popping up everywhere? Many of them were suppressed for a reason: They weren’t very good.**

We need gatekeepers. There are too many authors and too many books to keep track of, even in a small niche like SF or mysteries. Somebody has to say, “This is good,” or nobody’s ever going to buy it, not only because they can’t find it, but because (honestly) most people don’t want to spend money on an unknown quantity. (I sure don’t.) But who are the gatekeepers of this Wild West of words?

You are. Everyone who reads a book can go on to Amazon or Goodreads and leave a review. It doesn’t take more than checking a box. A couple of clicks and you’re done. You have contributed to the mass gatekeeping operation which is the only way to deal with the mass publishing operation going on in every neighborhood in America (and much of the rest of the world). And you need to do this.

Independent authors have no marketing budgets (although the Big 5 do). Independent authors have no sales force (although the Big 5 do). Independent authors have no connections with all the bookstores in town (although the Big 5 do). The only thing indies have is the power of their readership to rank and review. Your words, your ranking can be seen by everyone in the world–just like the Big 5’s ads can. But if you don’t review, then the stories you want–the books you shouted about and blogged for–go away. This gig doesn’t pay a lot, and it doesn’t take but a couple of disappointing books to make an author go back to selling insurance.

You think you can do better than the gatekeepers? Fine. Now’s your chance to prove it.

*The number changes all the time.

**This is not to say that the traditional publishers only ever published what was worth reading, either.

#SFWApro

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I have been given my tentative panel assignments for Loscon, at the LAX Marriott November 24-26, and as I know that my appearances have long (well, since last year) been a highlight of the early holiday season, I wanted to list them here. They are, of course, subject to change, but if they do, I’ll let you know. (We don’t want a repeat of last year’s near-riot at the Star Trek panel when I didn’t show up!)*

I self-published my first book, and I didn’t die! (11/24, 5:30pm) I believe this panel was specifically named to exclude posthumous-American indie authors from attending. I will be taking this up with the committee on behalf of all of my writer colleagues who feel like zombies (which is pretty much all of them).

Blending mystery and speculative fiction. (11/25, 5:30pm) As far as I’m concerned, everything was speculative when I was trying to become a published author. It’s how I did that which remains a mystery.

Writing & Intuition: What happens next? (11/26, 2:30pm) As faithful readers of my blog know, it’s really the characters who write the story and the author simply takes the credit. So I’m going to allow one of my characters to sit on this panel for me–as soon as I can find one who lives in this century…

Given my schedule, I should be around for most of the con. Look me up and ask me to autograph your e-book. I’ll sign a piece of paper and you can tape it to your Kindle.

 

*Oh, wait, there was nearly a riot at the panel because I did show up. If I’d realized Star Trek was that popular, I wouldn’t have said those things…

#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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A friend pointed me to an article the other day regarding the latest generation of teenagers and their addiction to their cell phones and tablets. According to this author’s research, the more time they spend staring at their screens, the unhappier they are. Now I am not a teenager, and I don’t have any teen-aged children, so normally this would be of little import to me. But it got me thinking about something else I’d seen lately, not about kids, but about the time spent starting at a screen–in this case, as an indie author.

As I’ve said, I’ve spent more than a little time researching the subject of self-publishing and making it as an independent author. I’ve read a lot of postings and articles by people who make a very good living (six figures annually) doing that. Naturally, the “how” is important to me.

One author I read recently opined that the absolute minimum for success is to put out four novels per year. I’m assuming these aren’t 200,000-word door-stoppers, but that’s still a lot output, a minimum of a quarter-million words. (Right now, I’m aiming for 180,000 words; we’ll see how it goes.) And that means a lot of time spent writing. (These are people who make their living writing; you’d think they have no day job, but apparently some do. Wow.)

I have seen postings saying that to achieve this milestone, you have to work all the time. You are writing or you are promoting or you are researching your audience and how to reach more of them. You do not watch TV, go to the movies, and although some have children, I don’t know when they found the opportunity.

I’m sorry, there are things I’m not willing to give up. Granted, I watch a lot less TV than I used to (something has to go), but I have a wife, and friends, and hobbies, and I will not surrender them. I won’t spend my life staring at a screen.

When I was in high school, I took a class that was supposed to provide life lessons for after you graduated. (Yeah, it was pretty laid back, and no, grading was not tough.) One of our exercises one day was to write an essay naming people we thought were “successful.” I came up with a few obvious folks, wrote about them, and turned it in. Nothing ground-breaking, except that I can still remember thinking that “success” is personal. It’s not making the most money, or fame, it’s being able to do what you want to do. (Maybe I learned more in that class than I thought.) He who dies with the most books doesn’t necessarily¬†win.

Well, what I want to do is not sit in my freezing garret every day for the rest of my life, spinning stories, if it means sacrificing what I find makes life worth living. If I can find a way to write four novels a year and not lose it all, then great. (I may; writing three a year would have been unthinkable as far back as 2016, but I’ve already written one this summer and just started my second.)

I’d love to make six figures with my writing. I’d love to shower my wife with vacations to make up for all the time she’s allowed me to leave her for the company of my fictional friends. But if I spend my whole life writing, then she’s going to spending those vacations alone…

…and I don’t think that’s the point.

#SFWApro

 

 

 

 

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To go along with the The Scent of Death (available for pre-order now at Amazon and Smashwords, hint, hint), I ordered a new cover for book no. 1 in the series, The Choking Rain (on sale through September). Although the cover has been uploaded, those sites have not yet posted it, so here, for the first time ever, in a Graffiti on the Walls of Time exclusive, is the new cover for The Choking Rain.

cover

 

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Lately, life has developed a way of grabbing me by the scruff of the neck, shaking me around, and saying, “Things don’t always work out the way you think! You’re not always right! Stop analyzing and just believe!”

Now, I’m not talking about a religious conversion here, but a couple of things have happened lately that jerked my head around ninety degrees. In short, I don’t know everything.

As you all know, prior to very recently, the fastest I’d ever written a book was just over a year. Most had taken longer (although in some cases there were extrinsic circumstances that slowed me down). But a few months ago, I decided to see if I could write a book more quickly, using outlining and a strict daily word requirement. Part of the reason I hadn’t been fast before was because I used 500 words as a benchmark, 1000 words if I was feeling ambitious. But I knew I could do better, because I had done so before, albeit in short stretches.

And I wrote a 57,000-word novel in 55 days. It still sounds weird when I write it. But it told me that I could do things I never thought I could do.

Then, in a completely unrelated episode, last night I attended a football game. It was hot and muggy; it rained. It was one of the ugliest games I ever saw. We had minimal offense; we had virtually no effective defense. People were leaving the stands in droves. I was ready to leave. As the third quarter wound down, UCLA was losing 44-10.

We won.

In the greatest comeback in school history, we scored five consecutive touchdowns, including one in the last minute. No one would have given a plugged nickel for our chances, except apparently the players. They believed.

If I can write a book in under two months, if the Bruins can come back from a 34-point deficit in twenty minutes, how can you not believe that the impossible is merely the unlikely with good PR?

In the past month, I have both done and seen things that I would have sworn were impossible. But they happened. From now on, when my reasoning brain tells me that this is a brutal business, that success may never in my grasp, that making it as an author is practically impossible…

I’m going to say, “Yeah? That’s your opinion. Me? I’ve seen miracles.”

#SFWApro

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