Budgeting for Self-Publishing

Lupin III
In a perfect world, us writers would be like Lupin III here.

When I was on a FOGCon panel about self-publishing a while back, one of the things I felt I had to point out — something that everyone else was skirting around but not really touching upon — was one of the most important parts of being a self-published author.

If you’re going to be serious about self-publishing, you’re going to have to be willing to fund it to some degree, out of your own pocket.

It’s a tough thing to admit, I know, but it’s true.  You’ll need to budget to some degree.

I knew and understood this going in when I decided to self-publish the trilogy.  It’s part of the reason I wanted to try my hand at doing as much of it myself as I knew I could: the editing, the cover art, even the various promotional avenues.  [I should state now that some people aren’t interested, willing or able to do any or all of that — and that’s just fine.  This is part of what I mean: you need to budget for those things.]

As it happens, the uploading of documents to Smashwords and Createspace is free if you’re doing most all of the work yourself.  For the production, the only costs I had were the Shutterstock picture package (five for $40), and trade galleys from CS (~$60 for five).  The cost of course will go up if you need to outsource your art and/or editing and formatting.*

*There are many legit sources out there for these things…caveat emptor, of course, but a lot of fellow writers and editors online can steer you in the right direction.

The big part of the cost for me was after that — I had to be willing to budget for promotional things over the last few years such as flyers ($60 for 100 half-page cardstock flyers from MOO.com, which I created and mocked up myself), short-term advertising on a website ($100 at NoiseTrade.com to feature on the landing page and a mailout for a week), and cut the cost of the book for a site promotion (books 1 and 2 free for a month on Smashwords).  Recently I’ve spent some money signing up for a few local science fiction conventions (FOGcon and BayCon over the last few months), where I will be using that time to plug my trilogy as well as talk about the writing biz.  I also paid a graphic artist friend of mine to create my Mendaihu Press logo (see my blog site header, courtesy of MeaganHealy.com) that I will be using in the future.

I’m quite sure I’ll be spending more funds in the future — the occasional advertising, more flyers, and so on — but so far I’ve been keeping it reined in pretty well.  I know well enough that I shouldn’t be creating thousands of flyers or having hundreds of copies of my books printed.  I’m notoriously cheapass when it comes to the creative part of it; if I can pull it off well with minimum cost, then I’m happy.

Point being: if you’re going to do it DIY, do it responsibly, and be aware that you’re going to have to prime the pump a bit in order to start making any money out of your endeavor.  Whether that’s hiring an accountant or learning how to do it yourself, as long as you do it well and do it right, the end result is almost always worth it.

Characters and Their Stories

When I’m pantsing my writing…which I’m trying not to do this time out.

I supposed you could call my preferred style of prose ‘character-driven’.  The way I often create stories is to put characters in a scene and try to figure out how they react — to the situation, as well as to those around them.  This reaction often drives where I’ll go with the plot next.

Noted: it’s not as if I let them run rampant in the scene to the point where I have no idea what comes next until I get there.  I just have them going from Plot Point A to Plot Point B and I pay attention to their movements and emotions.  There’s a few reasons I do it this way:

–The character is always evolving.  One of my worst errors in a lot of my early attempts at writing was that the characters had style, but they were static; they never changed.  And when they did, it felt forced.  I don’t always expect each one to change completely and irrevocably…more that I just want them to evolve in some way.

–I pay attention to how they interact with other characters and use that as part of their evolution.  A good example is Christine Gorecki from my trilogy: originally she was a one-off character, but her initial single walk-on part with Sheila and Nick worked so well that I had to expand her role considerably.  She was obviously well-loved by all the main characters that she needed an important role as well as her own personal story.

–Quite often, the interaction between the various characters gives me more background, more grist for the mill.  One character’s personality will irritate the hell out of his brother after a while, which in turn gives me a subplot dealing with the two brothers not talking to each other for a year, which in turn gives me a scene where they have to sit in the same room and talk to each other and behave.

In a way, my writing process is a mash-up of half-pantsing and half-outlining.  I have a solid (if vague) idea of where the story is supposed to head.  Lately I’ve been calling that the backbone or the spine of the story.  But I keep the movement of the story fluid, keeping it open for change and unexpected inspiration.

In the process, any major arcs in the story feel less action-driven and more personal.  The action moments end up being there for a reason; it’s less about playing plot point bingo or trying to Save the Cat and more about how life puts unexpected hurdles in our path, and how we respond to that.  Personally, I find that a MUCH more fulfilling story.

Old habits die hard, but…

python anfscd

…new habits are even harder to keep, especially when you’re trying to reorganize your life.  It’s terribly easy to slip back into the old ones when you’re trying your damnedest to get rid of them because they don’t work for you anymore.

Still, I can’t expect them to change overnight.

I’ve been doing my best to reorganize my life so I’m not wasting so much time passively surfing the internets.  There are a few goals here, of course: I can still get easily caught up in the latest imbroglio on social media, fall down the rabbit hole of You Tube (I wasted a good ten minutes right now looking for other Monty Python gifs and then finding the Spectrum skit, one of my favorites), or staring at the screen trying to think of what the hell I’m going to blog about for tomorrow’s entry.

On the other hand, I have great days when I fall into a groove and I get all sorts of things done.  I’ll close down the browsers and only have my mp3 software running (or a single browser playing a radio station or one of the Sirius XM channels).

So what to do about it?

I’ve tried all kinds of things.  Closing down the browsers.  Knowing the difference between enjoying an unencumbered weekend afternoon and just wasting time.  Obsessive cleaning and reorganizing.  Facing down the Don’t Wannas by doing the damn thing regardless.  Putting my current writing project front and center on my screen (or in this case, on my desk) so I can’t avoid it.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.  Regardless, it’s a matter of actively working on changing those habits.

It’s a slow evolution, but it’s getting there.

my neighbor seki


fullmetal idea
Never a good sign when Edward gets an idea.

Coming up with ideas really isn’t all that hard.  It’s the latching onto one, getting it to germinate, that’s the hard part.  I’ve got to have some connection to it, otherwise it’s just a single scene that doesn’t belong anywhere.  And I’ve got an old trunk full of those already.

Sometimes those ideas take a hell of a long time to germinate, and that can either be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how you look at it.  Meet the Lidwells! came to me nearly two years ago, and I’m only working on it now.  That was primarily due to the trilogy project taking precedence, but I also wanted to give it a good planning-in-my-head before moving forward with it.

I’ve got a few backburner projects as well, ones that have been simmering for quite a few years.  Those are ideas with merit but I wasn’t ready to work on them just yet for one reason or another.  I’ve got a few new and fresh ideas as well, ones that I may play around with via 750 Words (like I did with Lidwells) until something concrete comes about.

Is it frustrating, having these stories in various points of stasis?  Well, yeah, of course it is!  But I’d like to think I’ve gotten to the point where I no longer feel like I MUST WRITE ALL THE BOOKS RIGHT NOW. Once I cleared the table of the Trilogy Project, I found it…actually pretty empty.  I’d trunked numerous story ideas over the past fifteen years; ideas that didn’t work, that I’d lost interest in, or just led nowhere.  Others I’d turned into blog series.  I had maybe three or four Possible Next Projects, tops.

Which also meant that I could afford to come up with a few new possible seeds of ideas that I could nurture down the road.  I could let myself play around with the tiniest inklings that passed by.  I have to relish when that happens now, because I haven’t had that feeling in a long time.  Writers love coming up with scraps and seeing where they go.

It feels great to be fully creating again after years of editing and revision work.  It feels even better to let my brain come up with these seeds of ideas and know that I won’t have to wait for ages to get to them.

wile e coyote idea
Granted, it’s never good when Wile E Coyote gets an idea, either.

On Outlining: The Discography…?

anime piano

I’ve complained about outlining before, both here and elsewhere…even in high school I disliked outlining, if only because I knew even then that I was a pantser writer and that whatever outline I created would be thrown out within the first couple of pages.  It always felt like a waste of time.  So previously here, I talked about swallowing my pride and stubbornness (and working against my long-ingrained pantsing style) and giving Meet the Lidwells! a solid outline.  It’s working out well so far, I think.

Especially since I came to the conclusion that in order for me to have a solid story, I needed to give it a solid backbone.  And considering this story is about a band, what would be more solid a backbone than said band’s discography?

If you think about it, a band’s discography does tell an interesting story.  Take the Beatles, for instance.  From the prologue-worthy “Love Me Do” to the first peak point at “She Loves You” to the end of Act I with A Hard Day’s Night; the conflict of fame versus creative evolution in Act II (with plot peaks of Rubber Soul and Revolver) and climaxing at Sgt Pepper; the conflict of creative outlet versus personal evolution with The Beatles and the recording of Let It Be, climaxing with the creative peak of Abbey Road.  And finishing the story with a bittersweet denouement; the band breaking up but their legacy lasting far into the future.  [Hell, they even have a song called “The End” that works as a closing epigraph.]  It’s no wonder they have so many books written about them.

Read any music biography and you’ll see similar backbones.  Each band or performer has their own life story with climaxes and low points, successes and failures.  These are actually great books to read if you want to learn this sort of storytelling.  [Off the top of my head and looking at my nearby bookshelf, I would definitely suggest reading Johnny Marr’s Set the Boy Free, Bob Mould’s See a Little Light, or Carter Alan’s Radio Free Boston: The Rise and Fall of WBCN for a taste of a rock bio with a lot of plot peaks and valleys.  Those are but three of the numerous books out there; next time you’re at the local bookstore, take a peek at their music section and take your pick.]

These are also good books for how to tell a story in a format other than straight prose.  The current popular style of rock bio seems to be in the form of an ‘in their own words’ text; most if not all the dialogue is from recorded interviews, but without the interviewer’s words or point of view.  The flow of the story is usually chronological, from the band’s creation to their demise (or alternately to their present iteration); it behaves almost exactly like fiction does.  The only difference is how the story is presented.

A little something I drew in 1991

Murph War 1991
(c)1991 Jon Chaisson

This was in response to Gulf War I, which kicked off during the Christmas break of my sophomore year at Emerson College.  Everyone my age had grown up during the Cold War, and even though that seemed to be in the past tense now (the Berlin Wall having come down months earlier), we were all nervous.  Was this going to be a big war?  Was this going to be our Vietnam?  What was going to happen?

What if they reinstated a draft?

In retrospect, it was a small enough war that that wasn’t going to happen, but we really had no idea if that was true at the time.

I remember I was with my dad and my sisters at McDonald’s in Gardner when we got to talking about the Gulf War, and it was at that time that I’d made my decision to follow the principle of ahimsa:  no harm.  I absolutely refuse to take another person’s life.

Oh, my college friends and I had those conversations when we got back to our dorms.  By then Gulf War I was in full swing and would end within a few weeks.  Some were for it, some were against it, some didn’t know, some didn’t give a shit.

My reaction to all that was to draw the above strip.  Originally I’d posted it up on the door of my dorm room, where it got a huge response from passersby.  A few suggested I submit it to our school paper, The Berkeley Beacon, which I did soon after, to more positive response.  In fact, the one negative response I got was to some conservative-minded student who took offense to it because they’d somehow thought ‘The Ignorant’ person was meant to be Republican.  Hey, you’re the one who assumed that, chief, not me.

I’m quite proud of that strip.  It’s not my best artwork, but it’s one of my best works scriptwise.


So yeah.  Writing this post at 7pm PT on 6 April, just as the current administration has launched a missile attack on Syria in response to the terrorist attack there earlier this week.  I don’t know the details, so I’m not going to hem and haw and pontificate and indignate or whatever.  Not right now.

I’ll be brutally honest, I don’t feel too optimistic about this event at the moment.  Not because I’m a pacifist, but because a) I don’t trust this current administration to sharpen a fucking pencil and b) I’m really not looking forward to the Orgasmic Patriotism we may get as a response from the hard right.  I’m afraid that there will be much dick swinging and flagwaving and no responsibility for the aftershock it causes.


I shall carry on.  I still have my work to do on this new project of mine.  Nothing’s going to take that away from me.

Here’s to hoping this ends peacefully.

Creating a Writing Regimen

exercise panda

Now that I have a new project to work on, I’ve been thinking seriously about revisiting and revising my writing habits.  I’ve already talked about my writing regimen during the Belfry years, which was probably the most solid and consistent I’d ever had.  [The Arkham West years, not so much.  I spent most of those years just trying to adjust to married life and living on the opposite coast.]  The Spare Oom years have been stable and evolving at a stable rate.

But I just feel that I’m not doing enough.

This is my current weekday schedule:
Eat breakfast, catch up on webcomics
Focus on Day Job stuff during Day Job hours (sneaking in a blog post or Daily Words if time permits during slow time)
Longhand personal journal entry during first break
Catching up on social media or writing magazines during lunch
Breather during second break
Dinner and maybe an episode of whatever A. happens to be streaming that night
An hour or so working in Spare Oom at the end of the night
Getting into bed and reading until lights-out

Weekends include e-mail catch-up, chatting with family on the phone, shopping and errands, outside activities, blog writing, and so on.  End the day continuing work on whatever project I’m focusing on.

Mundane stuff, yeah, but I can’t help but think that I’m really not doing my best at time management here.

BUT!  Since I no longer have a Giant Book Project weighing me down, I realize it’s time for me to give that all a rethink.  It’s too scattered, too disjointed.  I find myself wasting time when I shouldn’t be.  Sure, maybe I’m already using these few hours whenever I can, and just like every other writer, I feel it isn’t enough.  The question becomes: how to get the maximum work out of a limited time frame?

Or perhaps that’s the wrong question.  Besides, that way lies madness.  I’ll never have enough time, even if I decide to drop every other minor exercise to make it happen.

No, the better question is:  how do I organize my time better?

Well, the problem is that I’m dithering.  I’m in the very early stages of Meet the Lidwells! and I’m chomping at the bit to get writin’.  I’m trying a new approach this time: preplanning by way of index cards and an outline instead of making it up as I go along.  [Noted: the reason I’m doing this is that the trilogy project took so damn long and needed so much clean-up afterwards that I figured being more organized might save me a hell of a lot of time.]  All this precision is driving me batty, because I’m so used to being a pantser writer.  I still have this excess energy with nowhere to put it, so it ends up getting wasted on skimming social media or futzing around with my music collection.

And to be honest, I had the same problem in the Belfry years.  I’ve talked about my time wasted playing multiple rounds of FreeCell (or worse, wasting twenty minutes pondering over my cd collection trying to decide what I was going to listen to that night).  And I definitely had the same problem during the Arkham West years.

So what do I do?

Well, the best thing for me to do is to expand on that daily assignment regimen.

One of the steps I take is following my whiteboard schedule.  As you may have noticed, I’ve been reasonably consistent with my blog schedule here and at Walk in Silence.  I’ve also been good at writing the personal journal five days a week during Day Job hours.  I can expand on that, then.  I’ve already given myself a deadline of getting the indexing and outlining done for MtL! by the end of April, and to get the major writing started by the first of May.  I can certainly add more assignments with other projects if need be.

Mind you, I’m not trying to Write All the Things.  I’m just trying to be more productive.  It’s also a long and evolving process, so I can’t expect a complete change right off.  It takes time and practice.  And dedication.

It’ll take time, but I’d like to think it’s worth it.