On Doing It DIY

Courtesy of Etsy

Back when I first started taking my writing seriously — I mean, as in thinking “Hey, I kinda like doing this, I could see myself doing it professionally” and setting out a goal to actually finish a full novel, way back before I actually knew how to do it — was in the mid to late 80s when I was in my mid-teens.  Out of that came the Infamous War Book (basically a Red Dawn pastiche), which took me three years to finish, in between false starts, obsessive planning, revisions, homework, and hanging out with friends.  On the one hand it was kind of expected I’d be a writer, considering my dad was a local reporter and historian, and well known in the area; many adults would not have been surprised if I followed in his footsteps.  On the other hand, though, I was following a path I didn’t think any other kids my age would have followed.  I knew a handful of kids who wrote stories alongside me, but I think their interest was more on what many nowadays would consider the fanfic level.  A fun thing to do as a hobby, but their career paths lay elsewhere.

crass stay punk
Courtesy of Etsy

Around the same time, I’d discovered college radio (which I still go on about to this day, as you can tell from my other blog).  After years of listening to commercial radio and being fed a cross section of classic rock and pop hits, the college radio thing hit me like a revelation:  you don’t have to be commercial, you know.  I was completely drawn to the DIY aspect of it all; they weren’t exactly writing and recording music for the fame, they were writing and recording because they wanted to.  And I had a real respect for that.  It was a real inspiration on multiple levels for me, from my clothes to the way I thought and acted.  It also inspired my writing quite a bit — in the latter half of the IWN, you can really see a change to a much darker mood and style.  I may not have been the leather-and-mohawk punk; I was more the Morrissey, hiding in my bedroom with my books and my music and writing the most brilliant things.  I eventually grew out of the self-important lifestyle, but the thirst for creativity remained.

I was thinking about this the other day while listening to an 80’s-themed radio show (on a college radio station, natch).  In the late 80s I had a huge burst of creativity that lasted from about 1987 to when I graduated in 1989.  Having finished the IWN I quickly wrote a silly little screenplay (basically a John Hughes pastiche), taught myself how to play bass, started a band with a few friends and wrote many of the lyrics, started writing another novel and other small bits and pieces, and started writing a LOT of poetry.  I knew a lot of it was going to be crap, and I totally understood that if I was going to release any of it, it would need a hell of a lot of revision and rewrites.  But the most important thing was that I had a goal:  I was going to get these things out into the wild, one way or another.  My life’s career was going to be as a writer!  The major goal was to try to get my writing released by a major publisher, but barring that, I could always go indie.  I came to know about vanity publishers, small independents and print-on-demand, thanks to years of studying Writer’s Market and seeing all kinds of punk zines in record stores.

Courtesy Wikipedia
Courtesy Wikipedia

The decision to go DIY for the Mendaihu Universe stories was always there, it was just that I wanted to try my hand at the pros first.  One of the reasons for that was to learn and understand how it works on that end of the business.  I wanted to see what they accepted and how it went from manuscript to printed book.  I’d even submitted it to a small number of agents and publishers over the years.  But after finishing the trilogy and a few years of further revising and rewriting, I knew I was at the point that they were ready (or closer to that point than ever before), but did not feel that I wanted to spend even more years trying to sell it to an agent or a publisher.  It was high time to put them out there before I ended up over-revising and ruining them.  Going DIY meant that I was going to do a good chunk of the “backstage” work myself, and I was up for it.

I’m lucky in that this is a perfect time for it.  There are legitimate self-publishing companies out there like Smashwords and BookBaby and CreateSpace, who do all the technical bits and bobs while you focus on the creative end of things.  You can hire a cover artist (or buy a stock photo and fiddle with it on Photoshop if you have the ability and the inclination).  You can hire an editor.  You can even find a few authors you can hire to critique your work.  And with the help of social media and the internet, you can even give yourself a bit of promotion.  The only prerequisite is that you have an understanding of what you want and how you want to get there.

Not gonna lie, seeing this still makes me giddy.
Not gonna lie, seeing this still makes me giddy.

Every step so far for me has been DIY, from the story, to the editing (with the help of a few beta readers and a partial critique from a pro), to the cover, to the formatting and uploading to Smashwords, all the way up to this blog.  Hell, even my picture in the About the Author link here was done using my nice camera set on a timer and a slight touch-up on Photoshop.  The promotion will be a little trickier, because I’m still trying to find what works, but I’m taking the Indiana Jones approach on it (“I dunno, I’m just making it up as I go”) and remaining aware of any potential avenues that might pop up.  It’s definitely been an interesting couple of months, but I’m having a hell of a fun time with it.  I’m almost tempted to make this my primary avenue for my writing.

I’m certain that’s the alternageek in me saying that, reveling in the nonconformity of it all.

On Writing: Entr’acte

doot doot doot...
doot doot doot…

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again.  When a writer purposely decides to take time off and not write, it definitely feels weird.  On the one hand you’re enjoying some mental time off, watching movies or catching up on tv shows, or reading that book you put aside a few months previous, or maybe even just goofing off on the internet for hours at a time.  On the other hand, you’re itching to get back to work as soon as possible and work on that next project.

So what have I been doing all week?  I mean, aside from goofing off on the internets?

A lot of offline stuff, really.  Cleaning the apartment.  Doing some shopping.  Practicing a bit of guitar playing.  Continuing on my daily personal journal.  In short, living life outside the Next Book.  I even skipped out on updating this blog.  Okay, I may have browsed over at Shutterstock to decide on my next cover, but no real work was done.  I purposely gave myself a week off to unwind from that crazy five-week blitz of line editing and doing all the backstage work for A Division of Souls, before I jumped in on the probably-longer blitz of line editing and backstage work for The Persistence of Memories.  [And there’s also the fact that I will need to continue paying attention to the release of ADoS so I can figure out various ways to promote it.]

It’s not to say I never take an evening off…I definitely have, here and there.  A day where I’m feeling under the weather, or just had a shitty day at the Day Job, or whatever.  I’m not chained to the writing, I’ve just turned it into a healthy addiction.  When I first wrote TPoM back in 2002-3, I was dedicating two hours daily (including weekends, when I’d dedicate more) to writing at least a thousand pages a day.  The words just flowed, I was in a good frame of mind, and I wasn’t about to let that pass me by.  But I did take a few days off here and there, either to sickness or personal plans, or just plain wanting to take a day off and read comics instead.  Sure, it felt odd, but I wasn’t feeling guilty about it.

That said…I’m going to be jumping back into the fire tomorrow.  TPoM is nagging at me to be edited (this current version clocks in at 180k words, so I’m sure there’s going to be some serious deletion going on).  Added to the ADoS promotion, the cover art, this blog, the Day Job, and maybe even other non-Mendaihu Universe related writing work, I’m going to be a busy little worker bee for the next few months.

Wish me luck!

Adventures in Self-Publishing: Waiting for the Drop Date

The waiting is the hardest part...
The waiting is the hardest part…

On the plus side, I am ecstatic that I was able to get this all done well under deadline — and almost a full week early at that.  I can calm my nerves a bit, catch my breath.  Maybe pick up some of the other minor projects that fell by the wayside.  Relax, play a few games of FreeCell, goof off with my mp3 collection for a bit.

Or, y’know, I can spend my time figuring out how the heck I’m going to promote the book.  There’s always that.  I’ve already made a few strides on that.

Or start working on the Final Edit and cover for The Persistence of Memories.  It’s a toss-up.

Seriously, right now I feel guilty for taking a break.  I’ve put so much energy and time into getting ADoS out on time that I’m not quite sure what to do with myself.  Part of me is still wound up and wants to jump headlong into editing the next book (which probably won’t be available for at least a few months at most anyway).  There’s also the voice in the back of my head quietly reminding me that I still have to continue work on the new Mendaihu book, because it ain’t gonna finish itself.  And lastly, there’s the voice of reason humbly requesting that I take a break for once in my damn life an not feel guilty about it.

And lastly, I have fifteen days before the drop date of 3 September, in which I have to resist temptation to edit the book even more, even though technically it’s out of my hands now.

All I can really do is wait at this point.

[NOTE: For those playing along, yes, I would totally want Fleur & Manu, the directors of this video, to direct the film version of the book.]

Adventures in Self-Publishing: Seeing the Final Result

Above: the MS Word document I’ve been carving away at for the last two months. Below: the final result in EPUB format on my Nook.  Lon Dubh the blackbird approves.

Two things that are Totally True when an author sees the galley/ARC/final result of their book:

–A mixture of elation and pride.  More often than not this is a project that has taken far too long for our liking, but still the author has a bit of a squee when they see it all bound in paper or in final ebook form.  Look at that!  I made a thing!  A professional thing!  A thing others will (hopefully) enjoy!

–The turnaround time from the above excitement to worry and mortification when typos and other mistakes reveal themselves when you’re checking out how pretty it all is:  +/- two hours.


Most of this weekend was spent working on the formatting of A Division of Souls, which was easier than I’d expected it to be.  Come to find out, most of it entailed highlighting blocks of text and adjusting a lot of Settings, which I do all the time anyway.  Saturday afternoon I cleaned up the end matter (glossary, acknowledgements, etc) and other easy bits.

Sunday was spent doing a lot of Style changing — primarily my old habit of hitting Tab at the start of every paragraph to a permanent 0.3″ paragraph start instead.  Ctrl+A was my best friend through most of this.

Creating a table of contents was shockingly easy.  Just a bit of bookmarking and hyperlinking, et voila!  I’m done.

There was also a good half hour of dithering about line spacing…single, 1.15, or 1.5?  Single looked too crowded to me, and though I liked 1.15 myself, A. (who reads more ebooks than I do) felt otherwise.  So 1.5 it was.

So by late afternoon, I was ready.  It was time.

Uploaded the file to the Meatgrinder at Smashwords (their quite apt name for the software that checks for errors and also translates it into multiple formats).  Waited for the scanning and the translating.  Waited for the email letting me know if there were any errors.

At 6:52pm PT, I got the email; no errors, everything was groovy, and it was now on its way to being available at all fine ebook retailers.  I’ve also added a ‘Buy Stuff’ tab up at the top of this blog to make it all official and stuff.

So yeah.  I can now finally say I’m a pro.  Go me!


Oh, and the typos and mistakes?  Thankfully just a few:
–Apparently epub doesn’t like accentuation marks in the glossary, so I’ll have to use caps instead.
–An event I’d decided to rename, that got missed a total of three times.  A bit of Find/Replace did the job.
–A few places where the carriage returns didn’t take.  Easy enough to clean up.

Yo ho ho, it’s a writer’s life for me. 🙂

Adventures in Self-Publishing: The Myth of the One Chance for Success

One of the things I’ve been thinking about during this self-publishing project is that time-honored maxim, ‘You only have one chance to make a first impression.’  Okay, that might be true if you’re trying to, y’know, impress someone on the spot.  A potential date, a possible future boss, the audience watching your first stage performance.  It also sounds like you need to do it right the first time, or it’s going to be black mark on your cv and you’ll forever be labeled a hack.

I agree with that maxim when it refers to getting your book out there (especially your first one)…to an extent.  I agree when it pertains to making sure you’re providing the best work you’ve ever done.  No ‘there-I-fixed-it’ kludge editing, no relying blindly on spellcheck, no half-assed cover thrown together in a five minutes, and especially no ‘meh, they won’t notice’ rookie mistakes.  On that level, you want your book to be the most professional thing you’ve ever done to that date.

On the other hand, I’ve come to think that, even if my book is the best thing I’ve done, and that I’ve cleaned it up, spitshined it, formatted it, taken the steps to promote it, gave it a fifteen-point inspection and even rotated the tires, and led the call for all and sundry to come and bask in its awesomeness (or at least beg everyone buy the damn thing), I still might hear crickets upon the book’s arrival.

In this case, I still don’t think it’s necessarily true that I’ve spoiled that One Chance.

See, with my music obsession, I have a particular affinity for sleeper hits.  The ones that might not be a big hit right out of the gate, but still manage to attract a decent following.  The ones that the mainstream might not pay attention to right away, but will eventually.  Like Loveless or Fantastic Planet or The La’s or any one of those brilliant albums that took a long time to show up on everyone’s Best Ever lists.  They may have been minor hits at the time, but they didn’t get too far, at least not right away.  They had to grow on people.

This is how I’ve been looking at getting A Division of Souls out to the masses, really.  The most important thing, at least for me, is to get it out there first.  I’ve not done too much promotion as of yet, other than tweeting pictures and emailing links whenever I see it in the wild.  [The giddiness hasn’t abated, I admit.]  Reason being, I’m about sixty pages away from finishing the final edit, plus I’m going to need to format it as well before I can upload.  But once it’s up, it’s up and it’s live.  And I’m going to need to promote it at that point.

Which begs the question:  how to promote it?

Well, that’s the tricky part.  And I’ll be going into that in future posts, once I get to that level.  I’m still figuring it out right now.

Point being, part of the trick here is to avoid promoting it by making a huge pre-release scene over multiple platforms, like it’s a big Hollywood film.  I know from personal experience that no one likes to have a product jammed down their throats, even if it is something they’ve been waiting a long time for.  I’m taking the quieter route:  magazine reviews, word of mouth, reader contact, freebies, consistent blogging, and so on.  And a little further down the line, perhaps sitting in on a panel or two at a convention, limited release of physical copies, and so on.  It’ll be a much longer route to take, of course, but in the end it should pay off because I’d be keeping the book visible for a longer amount of time.

At that point I’ll make a good first impression on a new reader, even if it takes a while.  I’m in for the long haul.


If you would like to be one of the first to say “I was into his stuff before it was cool,” by all means!  Here’s some linkage for you!
 Barnes & Noble (Nook)
Good Reads

I’ll of course add more as I find them.  [Apparently I need to jump a few hurdles in order to have it available on Kindle…more on that when I get to that point.]



Adventures in Self-Publishing: Juggling the Writing Career and the Day Job

The perils of balancing a writing career and a day job.
The perils of balancing a writing career and a day job, courtesy of Naruto.

Why did I think preparing my first book for release in the middle of Third Quarter would be a good idea, again?  *DED*

Don’t fret…I’m not about to give up, not just yet.  I may be a walking zombie by the end of this, but I have my cups of coffee and tea, my sugar boosters (read: Pocky), and a stubborn will to see this through, completed and to my satisfaction, and ON TIME.

I tell you, though…this past month and a half, I’m convinced my day job has caught wind of my extracurricular activities and has piled on the extra work accordingly.  The volume has quadrupled for some reason, and I’m also getting hit by ‘where’s my two dollars’ queries left and right.  It’s not pretty.

But I’m still on target.  I have less than a hundred pages to go on this final edit, and I just have the formatting and the uploading to do, and I’m done.  I have a week and a half to do it (really, two weeks but I gave myself a buffer in case there are any hitches).  I CAN DO THIS.

Really, I can.  I’m just really going to feel it afterwards.


I’ve been saying it for years: the day job is my paycheck, but my writing is my career.  I do okay at my day job, and I’m even an SME (subject matter expert) on a few things we do.  But come four o’clock in the afternoon, I log off and completely forget about it.  My bosses know I only dedicate myself to the job within the hours I’m assigned and no more, because I have this writing gig going on.  I told them that up front when they hired me, so they understand if I don’t really plan on expanding my resume there any time soon.

Still, it can get pretty crazy, balancing between the job and the writing. One often drains you of the other, so it’s up to you to decide which deserves your stubborn refusal to give up and which one falls by the wayside.  Sometimes it’s the day job (if you can swing it), and sometimes it’s the book.  It’s frustrating when you have to decide on one or the other.  I’ve always tried my best to stay with both for as long as I can, or at least until I need a physical and mental break, mainly to avoid having to make that choice.  Sometimes that comes back to bite me in the butt in the form of illness or exhaustion.  Is it worth it, though?  That’s up to personal choice.  It’s worth it for me, at any rate.

Going the indie route has put an interesting spin on it, however.  Not only am I balancing an unexpectedly heavy workload at the day job, I’m doing pretty much everything that goes into making a self-published book, both before and after the drop date.  The release date is only one of many goals; once it’s out there, I have to start nudging it in various directions to promote it.  That’s going to be a bit of a long-term job…alongside starting the process all over again for The Persistence of Memories.

It’s not for everyone, I’ll tell you that.  There are a lot of moving parts, a lot of things to pay attention to, a lot of things that could go wrong…and the temptation to kludge one or the other and call it done.  And you don’t want to do that for either one.  I’m only doing this because I want to, and I know exactly what I’m doing this time out.

Still…tell me again why I thought this was going to be a good idea during the one of the busiest times of the year at my day job…?