Thoughts On the Long Game

book page turn

There’s one part of publishing no one likes to talk about: when the book sales dry up.  Let’s be honest: a lot of us writers go to bookstores and we see all the perennials on the shelves that we can always trust to be there: the books by Gabaldon, King, Tolkien, and Martin (not to mention the 9,485,682nd book by Patterson, Robb or Grisham…how the hell do they keep cranking those out every couple of weeks, anyway?).  We’d like to think we could get in on some of that as well.

The grim, sad truth is that it rarely happens.  We’ll show up on a few shelves for a few months and then disappear.  And we’ll fall so far short of our dream numbers.  Even grimmer that the title stops getting printed due to lack of demand.  Not to mention suffering the indignity of having fans wondering where they can find Book 1 in your trilogy and having to tell them to look in a used bookstore, because your publisher isn’t making it available.

It almost makes one wonder just how antiquated and out of date the publishing business might be, how many of these rules and guidelines no longer work in this day and age.

But that’s another blog post for another day.  Me, I want to talk a little about how I look at this conundrum as a self-published author.  [Mind you, I’m not dissing the publishing business as a whole; I know many authors who do just fine with it, frustrations and all.]

See, I have three books out that I’ve self-released as POD trade paperback (through CreateSpace) and ebook (through Smashwords), and at present they’re just sort of…sitting there, not doing much.  I did sell a few as they were released, of course.  Not that many, more than I’d expected.  And they’re still up there, available and ready for whoever wants to buy them.  I don’t plan on pulling them from availability any time soon.  I might revisit the books and do some cosmetic editing sometime down the road, but they’ll always be out there for anyone to read.

The Balance of Light has been out for what, a good couple of months now?  The e-book was released in February, and the trade a month or so later.  I think it’s fair to say I got as much as I could get out of the three for the time being.  It would be kind of silly to keep flogging these books to virtually the same audience over and over again.

So what do I do with them, then?  One of the things I’ve thought about, in particular is how to let potential readers know that they’re still out there.  I mean, aside from the occasional tweet or blog post or shameless plug?  That’s the rub.  No one’s really been able to figure out how to do that for self-published books.  I’ll put out some of my self-made flyers when I’m at conventions.  There are some websites and platforms I could advertise on if I so desired.  But is it the right time to do that at the moment?

At this point, I’ve been thinking less about the Short Game — flogging the books while they’re still fresh — and more about the Long Game.  And by Long Game, I mean coming up with ways to push the trilogy on new readers in the future.  Plugging the trilogy as an Added Value when I release my next book.  Continuing to join in on the various sales that come up on Smashwords and elsewhere.  Using them as props when I’m on convention panels.

Meanwhile, this also gives me more time and brainspace to focus on writing my current projects and planning future ones.  [Current status: writing one, prepping another, and two, possibly three on the back burner.]

Do I feel let down a bit that the trilogy didn’t do as amazingly as I’d hoped?  Well, sure.  I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bother me a bit, and that I feel that I’ve failed myself for not following up on publicity as much as I should have.  But what’s past is past.  I also know that the themes of the trilogy are rather dense and they’re not for everyone.  I’ve made my peace with all of that.

My thoughts on this are:  always look forward. Always find the positive.  Always find a way to make all of this work for me.  And above all, learn from my own mistakes and missteps.  The trilogy isn’t dead, far from it.  It’s just in stasis.  I can certainly bring it back to life if I so choose.

I’ve said it before…I’m in this writing gig for the long term.  It’s more than just writing a large body of work, though.  It’s about knowing what to do with it all over time.

 

Coming back to the grind and other notes

your name comet taki
One of many spectacular shots from your name.

It’s Sunday mid-morning as I write this and both A. and I have been up for a few hours now.  I think we’ve both somewhat adjusted to Pacific Time again, having spent the last few days in a jet lag haze.  We’re both going over our work inboxes to clean them up at the moment, and I’m streaming some new music releases over the last few days.  [Best find so far: Moscow-based Life on Venus with their album Encounters, which I would describe as Slowdive if they had MBV’s volume.  So yeah, right in my wheelhouse there.]

Our two-week vacation in London was quite enjoyable if a little exhausting — thanks to my phone’s pedometer app, I figured out we walked just a little over eighty miles.  Lots of places seen, friends seen, cats petted, and lagers or tea ordered.  And somehow within all of that, I was also able to work a little on some of the index card notes for Secret Next Project!

And if you’re wondering why I chose the above gif from the anime your name., it’s because I watched it on the plane twice (once each way).  It’s become one of my favorite movies on many levels.  This makes three times I’ve watched it — so far — and I’m sure it’ll be one that will get even more views in the future.  And yes, I’ve already decided I’ll be writing a blog post about it here soon enough, as I find it an excellent example of detailed, layered storytelling and how to successfully unfold each subplot and hint of characterization so it all fits together perfectly.

Speaking of writing, I’m looking forward to getting back into the swing of things as soon as possible.  I’m still feeling exhausted, but only physically, so I think I should be able to get back on the horse with little issue.  I’m particularly excited that I’m about to start the last act of Meet the Lidwells (and working on the cover!), which means I can start up the revision quite soon!  I’m also hoping to get started on further work with Secret Next Project as well.

As for non-writing creative stuff, I finally got the drawing models that I ordered online a short time ago (half off, so basically two-for-one!) that are made by Bandai.  They’re small but they’re detailed and pretty versatile, so I think I’ll be able to use these for future drawings.  Check ’em out:

Taki Mitsuha
I’ve named them Taki and Mitsuha, of course.

They come with some nifty accessories like different gesturing hands, katanas and handguns (because why the hell not), cell phones and tablets, and so on.  The directions are entirely in Japanese of course, but they’re super easy to use anyway.  I’m sure I’ll get more work out of these than out of Wilhelmina, the simple articulated model I got from Ikea for like six dollars. 🙂

So yes…we’re back from vacation, autumn is nearly among us, and I’m eager to get back to Doing All the Creative Things.  Hell, I may even record a few more Drunken Owl demos if time permits!

Now, if I can just shake the remnants of this jet lag…

 

Point of View

jupiter io pov
Timelapse of Jupiter from Io’s POV, December 2013.  Credit: user ‘bubbleweed’ on Reddit

Recently I’ve hit a few tough patches in Meet the Lidwells, where it just feels like I’ve slowed to a crawl and the story’s not going anywhere.  I know what story I need to tell, but for some reason it’s been like slogging through mud trying to get there.  I know this is a problem because when I as an author feel the sluggishness, I know my readers will feel the same thing.  And I don’t want to do that.

So in this instance, I decided that maybe someone else’s point of view would be worth investigating.  Instead of the kids in the band talking through their attempts on a comeback album after taking a much-needed hiatus, I realized that it might be a bit more interesting to tell this struggle from their manager’s point of view.

Why?  I felt their story would be more interesting.  The kids in the band have mostly grown up (the youngest is now 16 and the others are in or approaching their 20s), and from their view, they’re just hoping that the Big Comeback will work out.  On the other hand, their manager has the thankless job of Making That Happen.  Once I got started on that, everything was smooth sailing again.

*

Over the years, changing the POV when I’m stuck has definitely helped when I’m stuck.  More often than not a different witness to the story will bring in a fresh take on the situation, maybe even create some needed conflict in the process by going against what the main characters want and expect.  Even if I end up not using it, or rewriting it again from someone else’s point of view, at least I’ve managed to get myself out of that sluggish spot and back on track.

For me, it’s yet another way to work outside expectations.  Forcing myself to think about something from a different angle almost always produces sometimes helpful but always interesting results.

Frustrated

dr tennant annoyed

Feeling frustrated by my less than stellar output lately.  It’s the same damn thing, too…distraction and procrastination.  A tiny bit of it is a not-high-but-consistent volume of work for the Day Job, which I can deal with.  What’s annoying me is that I’ll have few spare moments to breathe and realign myself, and waste those moments my fucking around online.

Even more frustrating is that I’m even doing that off the Day Job clock.  Time for my nightly writing session!  Woohoo!  Let’s go check Twitter first.

NO.  NO NO NO NO.  STOP THAT, DAMMIT.

I swear, if this keeps up I’m going to have to enforce another internet hiatus.  Mind you, I’ll sort of be having one in a few weeks anyway, while we’re on vacation.  It’ll be mostly fly-by blog entries and Instagram posts.  Writing will most likely be a bit of longhand work on the Secret New Project, as I don’t plan on bringing a laptop.  Hopefully I’ll get all this frustration out of my system and start anew upon return.

So!  Let’s just get this all behind us and soldier on, shall we?

On Being a Writer: Document Retention

cat copier
Thats…not how it works, kitty.

I’ve been meaning to scan my longhand writing for quite some time.  For one reason or another, however, I’ve barely gotten around to it.  The Great Trilogy Revision Project took up a hell of a lot of my time, enough where I couldn’t squeeze any of that in.  Now that my work volume isn’t nearly as large as it once was, I believe I should be able to squeeze a little bit in now and again.

I used to be a pack rat with my writing, to the point where I had multiple copies of the same printed documents.  I also had a lot of spiral notebooks that only contained maybe a few dozen pages’ worth of work.  One of my first projects when we moved out here to San Francisco in late 2005 — mainly to keep myself busy while I waited for job openings — was to go through these countless printouts and shred what wasn’t needed.  I had two large storage tubs, a few milk crates and two wooden boxes full of stuff when I started.  As of today, I have everything in manila folders on two shelves of the bookshelf next to my desk, plus a few straggler folders elsewhere.

Over the years I’ve been meaning to create pdfs or something similar so I at least have a digital image of my work.  The most obvious reasons are the security and the ease of access: I save all my writing-related things on a cloud already, so this would put everything in one place for reference, and so I wouldn’t have to worry about losing it.  And if the apartment went up in smoke, the only thing I’d have to grab is my external drives where my music collection is!

I’ve attempted it a few times in the past, of course.  The only failure those times was due to a low-end scanning device that took one look at the amount I wanted to scan, LOL’d at me, and decided not to work anymore.  I now have a much higher-grade printer/scanner/copier — not to mention a lot more time to work with — so I have no excuse to put it off any longer.

So is any of this writing worth the work?  On a personal note, sure.  I have mostly fond memories of writing most of this stuff, even if I did end up trunking a high percentage of it.  It’s part of what made me the writer I am now.  You can definitely see the evolution of my writing style, the themes I often revisit, the imagery I like to use to tell my stories.  My own writing also shows where my mind and emotions were at the time, and my attempts to make sense of them.  I’ve even come back to a few of these trunked works to steal a scene or two for one of my successful books and stories.

Is any of it worth saving on a ‘donate my papers to a public/college library’ level?  Maybe not, but it’s worth saving for my own reasons.  It’s not just my stories, it’s the story of me as well.

Out on the fringe

abitw

I still think about that bit of graffiti we used to see in the back parking lot down in Northampton in the 80s, spray-painted impossibly high up on a brick wall and perfectly visible from Main Street if you looked directly down Cracker Barrel Alley, just around the corner from Main Street Music.   It was just one word, deliberately spelled:  ANARCY.

For some people, it was pure collegiate thinking so typical of the Pioneer Valley — next-level meta tagging against The Man as well as against the Rebellion.  For others it was simply a bit of clever smartassery.  For me it was a bit of both.  I liked the idea that not only were they rebelling against the mainstream, they were also rebelling against the ‘alternative’ mainstream, so to speak.  It made me think about what it means to be a nonconformist:  there’s more to it than just being the opposite of whatever the prevailing crowd is doing, even if that particular crowd is full of alternative-minded people.  I also loved that it made you look twice and say “Heyyy, wait a minute…”

I’ll be honest, I wish I’d taken a picture of it at the time, because it’s one of my fondest memories of the 80s.

Why this ongoing fascination with nonconformity lately, you ask?  Good question, and I think I have more than a single answer for it.

First, it’s a part of my revisiting some of my old ideas that worked out really well that I’d put aside for a while, for one reason or another.  It’s not just reminiscing about my teen years of listening to college radio and wearing weird tee shirts and ugly duster jackets and being a weirdo.  I’m not trying to recapture that.  It’s me thinking about why I was like that, how I felt when I gave myself that sense of emotional, intellectual and social freedom.  Thinking about it thirty years on, it’s less about trying to recreate that mood — an error I made countless times over the years — and more about following up on the philosophy behind it all.  Maybe there’s some truth to what I was thinking back then, that I can finally act upon, now that I have the knowledge and experience and a different setting.

Second, it’s part of coming to terms with why I didn’t completely follow up with it all.  I had reasons for holding back how far I could go with it.  It clashed with my instinct for wanting to please others before myself (which would get the best of me more often than I care to admit).  I didn’t necessarily want to make waves within my own family, not when I really had no reason to in the first place.  And it’s kind of hard to rebel against a mainstream when the social cliques of a small New England town in the 80s couldn’t be bothered either way.  They just call you a weirdo, make fun of you for a few moments,  and leave you alone.  In the end, sometimes you just wanted to be a normal kid and leave it at that.

Third, it’s part of figuring out who I am now, within the context of the society we live in at this time.  I’m now seeing a lot of parallels between my past and present, what with all the talk about a popular idiot I can’t stand, who delights in ruining the days of others because it makes him feel better about himself, pretending that he’s the alpha.  There’s also the parallel of the incurious, unquestioning followers of said alpha, who’ll just join in on the fun of punching down.  My instinctive emotional reaction wants to take over, now as then, only this time take it to the white noise of social media, and I would not be alone in taking that route.  But I no longer want to take that route.  As I keep saying — I’d only be adding to the noise that’s already there.  [I’m not dismissing this soapboxing as a valid step here…I’m just saying it’s something I no longer want to do.]  I could hide behind my notebooks (or go online) and bleed out my emotions just like I did thirty years ago, but I no longer want to do that.  It’s therapy, but it’s not entirely productive for me.

So where am I now?  Where I am is relearning my intellectual instincts. I’ve had those in the past, I just didn’t always follow them, often to my own annoyance or misery.  I’ve cleared the road of as many distractions and pathetic reasonings as I could, and the path is a hell of a lot clearer than it was in the past.  Owning up to who I am and what I want to be, and doing my best to stick to it.  And most importantly, any response I have to events and situations has become thought-out and processed instead of reactionary.

And how does this tie in with my writing, you ask?  Another good question. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately as well.  As I’ve said, it’s one of the main reasons I chose to self-publish; a lot of my stories are interstitial, meaning that they don’t quite fit perfectly into the expectations of more mainstream stories.  I don’t mind that I don’t quite fit in; in fact, just like my personal life, I embrace that.  The few times I have tried writing mainstream, it was disastrous.  I’m a fringe writer.  Not necessarily writing about the fringes, but being a writer whose style doesn’t quite fit in to the mold of mainstream publishing.

It wasn’t a path I chose lightly, but it was the one that was available to me, and the one that made the most sense to me.  It’s not exactly a harder road to take, but it’s a lot of work and I have to be up for it.  There’s a lot to learn and remember.  I’m still learning to this day.  It’s a strange balance of figuring out how the mainstream pros do it and implementing that into your own production.  It’s okay to imitate the cool kids if it gets you were you need to be, you just don’t have to be one of the cool kids in the process.

A bit of anarcy never hurt anyone, when used correctly.

More on World Building

makoto shinkai yn
Still from the anime Your Name, which you should definitely watch.

Yes, yes, I know.  I love talking about world building.  It’s one of my favorite parts of the whole process.  And one of the reasons I love it is because it’s always ongoing.  Rarely do writers come up with a complete history of the characters and the world they live in.  And conversely, quite often writers are thrown for a loop when an unplanned but much needed figment of a character’s personality shines through.

Recently while doing some work on the Secret Next Project, one of my main characters suddenly decided to change from snarky and a bit wild, to moody, highly intelligent and deeply caring.  Part of this was due to a later outtake where I had him working with another main character (specifically a moment where they had to trust each other completely) and instead of trying to shoehorn him into my original idea of him, I ran with the new idea instead.  Their connection with each other suddenly became an extremely important plot point, especially as it mirrors their fathers’ history.

I love it when a major plot line pops out of nowhere like that.  It’s that moment where the larger story as a whole suddenly starts falling into place.  [Mind you, my reaction to this is usually not an emphatic “YES!” but more of a smile, a nod, and a thoughtful yes, that should do nicely.  Then I’ll spend the rest of the evening secretly squeeing on the inside.]

One rule I’ve given myself for Secret Next Project is to not dismiss ideas out of hand.  If I come up with an unexpected leftfield idea, I’ll think it through and see if it’ll fit within the context of the larger picture.  So far it’s worked quite nicely, as the story has taken at least four unexpected turns and has evolved into something much deeper and more complex than I expected.  More to the point, it surprised me that it happened so quickly; I’ve only worked on this for less than a month and already I’ve got almost a full storyline idea.  That never happens that quickly for me.

This also means that it’s clearer and more complete quite early on in the game; another thing that almost never happens for me.  The same thing happened for Meet the Lidwells, to be honest; I already had a pretty solid idea of the entire story by the time I actually started writing it.  I’m not feeling my way in the dark nearly as often as I did with the trilogy.  With the Secret Next Project, I’m yet to work out the complete plot, but I’ve got nearly all the important beats I have to hit already.

To be honest, world building really is a game of balances.  Elaborating versus using what you already have; choosing which fate works best for the character; creating enough to make it realistic but not getting bogged down with details.

There’s more to come, of course, but learning how to balance it all is the best part.  That’s what makes the story, and the storytelling process, interesting.

 

 

 

A product of my generation

1984
courtesy of 1984, Michael Radford 1984 version

Somehow I found myself listening to 1984 the last few days.  It may have been sparked by hearing my favorite song by The Fixx, “Deeper and Deeper” (the end credits song to the movie Streets of Fire from that year) on an 80s Sirius XM channel.  This in turn influenced yesterday’s Walk in Silence, with the various songs that I was listening to at the time.  And as is my wont, I’ve gone down the rabbit hole and am listening to various songs and albums from oh so long ago.

I was thirteen at the time, seeing the back end of junior high and entering high school as a freshman, hoping that life would be a bit more exciting and less drama-filled.  [Seriously, what is it about middle school and everything in life sucking?]  I’d just started focusing seriously on writing, to the point where I probably spent more time on the Infamous War Novel project than I did on my homework.  It just seemed a hell of a lot more exciting to me.

Thinking about it now, I’m fascinated by the parallels between then and now.  A resurgence of ultra-conservatism, American exceptionalism, international terrorism, sexism, ism ism ism.  I’m even a bit weirded out that we could fit Russia into this equation again.

With the current administration doing whatever it thinks it’s doing, I’ve been sort of preparing myself mentally to get through it.  I could easily fall down the other rabbit hole — the one where I fall prey to the doom and gloom and feel like shit until it’s over and done with — or I can learn from the past and know that there will indeed be a light at the end of this tunnel soon enough.  [Granted, this tunnel is a detour that we really truly did NOT need to take and it’s a big pain in the ass for all involved.]

Personal point being — to get through the troubles and frustrations of today, I’m thankful to have a decent memory of the past.  It helps me to stay one step ahead of the beast.

In the context of writing: this is part of why world-building is so important to me, and it’s also why I’ve been working on future projects with the 750 over the last few years.  When I was first starting out way back in the 80s, figuring out how it all works, I just sort of made up the scenes as I went along, with a somewhat vague overall plot line being nudged ever so slowly forward.  The end result was patchy and inconsistent at best.  Writing these practice words for a project I haven’t even started yet gives me just enough of a world and a plot to base it all in.  It helps me to stay one step ahead of that beast.

It’s tricky, and you really need to know yourself and your own thought processes, but it’s worth it in the end.  It’ll keep you sane, that’s for sure.

 

 

 

 

Trying a little something new

hanks-aol

With my Sort of Secret Next Project taking up my daily practice words, I’ve been tearing down some of the boundaries I’ve had set up for ages.  I suppose you could say it’s part of the ‘own it’ mantra I’ve been using lately…instead of trying to find reasons not to write a certain scene for whatever reason, I’m forging ahead and writing it anyway.

These are passages that work within the context of Secret Next Project, of course.  It’s not so much about pantsing the writing as I’m letting myself come up with things that I would normally not write.  Here’s the thing: when I’m writing a character, I have to have at least some connection with them, whether mentally or emotionally.  I get inside their head and see how they tick.  This is all well and good, but there is the tendency to write samey characters, or worse, write Jonc Personality #483.

I tried (and I think mostly succeeded) writing this way for the trilogy, especially when I had to get inside the head of characters like Denni and Amna, who were major players with a hell of a lot of stressful issues going on.  I think this is also partly why I trunked some of my earlier novels, because I’d failed.

The Secret Next Project involves quite the menagerie of characters, so I definitely need to stretch my boundaries there.  In writing my daily practice words, I’ve been doing my best to set as few boundaries as possible.  In the process, over the last couple of days I found myself writing some passages that surprised even me!  And I like that feeling.  It means I’m doing something right.

 

…That said, it also means I still need to focus mostly on Meet the Lidwells.  Which means the Secret Next Project is currently also the I’d Rather Be Working On This Fun New Project Instead Project.

As is typical of any writer, of course.

Why I self-publish

dead poets society
from Dead Poets Society

Well, that’s a good question.

It’s a question that came to me the other day when I received an email response to an agent submission that I’d completely forgotten about.  I’d forgotten about it because I’d sent it out early in March of 2015, over two years previous, for A Division of Souls.  One of the last times I’d submitted a manuscript before deciding to self-publish the trilogy.  The response was a rejection, but a nice one…they explained why they felt they couldn’t connect with my book.

I’m totally fine with that.  In fact, I’m totally fine that it was rejected, and that it took two years for them to respond.  I’m actually kind of touched that they not only took the time to finally respond, but they read my submission and gave a reason why they didn’t accept it.  That doesn’t always happen.

I thought about it some over the weekend, and realized that if I had heard back from the few agents I’d submitted to then, and if, in a stroke of luck, my manuscript had been accepted, then I’d have most likely gone a different route in my writing career altogether.

Instead, I’d given them all three months to respond — a generous amount of time to be honest — and after a no-response from a fly-by follow up, that’s when I chose to self-publish the books.  A Division of Souls would be self-released that September, and I’ve stayed on that course ever since.

Over the course of the last two years, I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s multiple reasons why I self-publish.

  1. Quick turnaround.  Let me be clear on this: I totally get that it takes a long time to go from submission to finished product.  I’ve done my homework; I completely understand what goes into releasing product via an established company.  Self-publishing on the other hand means that it’s all on me, which means I don’t need to worry about my release conflicting with someone else’s.  It also means that the wait for the end result is all on me; I assign my own deadlines and schedule my production work and release dates.
  2. The DIY attitude.  In the process of learning the ropes from the pros, I’ve also learned a secret: I can take those same steps on my own.  As I’ve stated before, I’ve treated all my books as if I were a punk band self-releasing my new single.  It won’t have the high gloss or the artful editing, but it’ll be something I think is pretty darn cool (and from what I’ve heard from readers, I think others feel the same way).  This has become one of my favorite reasons for self-publishing.  It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s work I absolutely love doing.
  3. I’m a loner, Dottie.  A rebel.  This is the reason for self-publishing that I’ve been thinking about lately.  I know that my stories don’t exactly fit into a specific mold.  I know of professionally published authors who have this issue, where they are unable or unwilling to work on a project due to its possible inability to sell commercially.  Some of them have even stopped writing altogether, or have written in a completely different genre (and even written under a new pen name) to circumvent the failure of their chosen career path.  This in particular caused me to think about how that would play out, had I gone the professional route.  To be quite honest, I’m sure it would have frustrated the fuck out of me and might have even caused me to rethink what the hell I’d done with my life.  [And on a personal note, it most likely would have thrown me into a long and deep funk.  Definitely something I prefer not to deal with again in my lifetime.]  I’m not a commercial writer; I’m not the best at that style, and mainly because it doesn’t interest me.   As soon as I’d self-released A Division of Souls, I knew I’d chosen the right path.  I can write what I want and not have to worry whether or not the publisher will be able to market it.  Again, that’s all on me, and I love being creative about stuff like that.

Self-publishing is a hard (and sometimes expensive) road, but it’s the road I’m best suited for.  It excites me on almost every level, from the writing to the editing to the cover art, and even to the release.  My only constraints are of my own making.  I may not be pulling in the dough, but I’m putting my work out into the world, and I love getting responses about it.  Plus I’m paying it forward by telling you about the process here at my blog, and now at a growing number of conventions.

It’s a hard road, but it’s the one I chose, and I’m glad I chose it.