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.

Yoiks and away!

daffy yoiks and away
This is what being a writer feels like sometimes, folks.

Another thing about perseverance, especially when you want to be a writer, is knowing full well that you’re going to face-plant into that next tree, but you go ahead anyway, scream “Yoiks, and away!” and make the jump.

It took me a long time to figure that out.  I’d say most of my 90s output was really just about fostering the writing habit, getting used to it, getting better at it, little by little.  Sure, I had delusions of grandeur that I’d be able to sell what I was writing, but there was always a small part of me that knew those delusions were exactly that.  My attempts at submission then were during a time when I had no idea if I was any good.  If they’d get accepted, then I’d figure I was on the right path and doing something right.  If they didn’t, well…at least I knew that I still had some ways to go.

I still metaphorically face-plant into trees on a regular basis, of course.  This time it’s less about quality or submission success, and more about dedication and time management.  On Wednesday I wasted too much time doing other things that I didn’t give myself enough time for my daily practice words.  I only got a few hundred down before I had to log off of that and get some Lidwells work done.   I made up for it Thursday by avoiding Twitter* and making a point to get the practice words (and a few other creative things) out of the way early.

(* – Well, given that it was filled with comments, hot takes and livetweeting of the James Comey hearing, I had good reason.)

That’s the thing, really…despite the face-plants, I still have to shake it off and jump again at the next opportunity.  Maybe one of these days I’ll clear all those obstacles.

Balancing

Goats-balancing-on-sheet
….yeah, I’m not sure either.

If I’ve learned anything over the last week, it’s that the downside to coming up with a secondary project to play around with while working on Meet the Lidwells is the temptation to fall prey to the “ooh shiny!” of the newer project, leaving the original one undone.  I love the apartment complex idea at the moment, and I’m quite sure it’s because I’m still in the world-building phase of that one.  Two daily-words entries and I’ve already come up with some neat ideas that I’d like to play with.

BUT!  I really need to focus on my other story!  The one that’s been on my mind over the last few years.  The one I can FINALLY devote my time to.  The last thing I need right now is another distraction!

So how to handle this sort of thing?  All writers fall prey to it sooner or later…the rogue new idea that tempts you and won’t leave you alone, and you know damn well that if you don’t write it down RIGHT NOW it’ll be lost forever.  Often to the detriment of any other deadlines you might be working on at that moment.

Well…I’ve learned that there’s got to be a bit of balance.  From past experience, the worst thing I can do with a completely new idea is to try to create an entire novel out of it.  I definitely don’t have the whole story and its universe in my head at that point.  The end result will be a lot of making stuff up as I go along, thus needing a hell of a lot of revision on the back end.  It’s one of the reasons the trilogy project took so damn long.

I wrote outtakes of Meet the Lidwells via my daily practice words, and I knew that wasn’t going to be the final version.   And I wrote it while I was rewriting and revising the trilogy, so I put just enough into it to keep it alive until it came time for it to be my main project.

I’m doing the same with this new story idea.  Right now I’m looking at it from a workshop level, throwing stuff at it to see what works.  Coming up with characters, names, settings, and other background details that I can reference a little later.  And I’m sure sometime within the next few months I might even draw a layout of the main setting, maybe even some of the characters.  Bits will change along the way.  It’s all up in the air right now, malleable.

And that’s just for fun, at the moment.

The heavy work is on Lidwells, and that’s where it’ll remain until it’s done.  That’s my evening writing work, the stuff I’ll treat more seriously.  Attending to details, focusing on the feel of the story in my head, contemplating what needs work and what needs excision.  And besides…this one has a deadline that I don’t want to break.  If I have to put New Shiny Idea aside to devote more time to Lidwells to get it done on time, so be it.

Finding that balance is a bit of crazy work, but I believe I can get it done.

 

two novels, finish my blueprints, begin my beguine

nowhere man typing

I’m writing this on Wednesday evening, but by the time you read this on Friday, I’ll be awake and preparing for BayCon down the road in San Mateo.  Come by and say hi if you’ll be there!

Speaking of preparation…this is officially the second convention I’ll be going to where I’m actually taking part in panels to some degree.  Which means that even though I’ll be going there mostly to have fun and meet other writers, in a way I’m also there on business.  As much as I feel more at home riffing in conversations, playing off what other people are talking about, I should also ensure that I stay on subject.  And more importantly, I should be prepared to bring up certain points that I’d like to share with the audience.

For two of the panels, the moderators reached out to the rest of us panelists for some preplanning and idea sharing, which I thought was a brilliant idea.  [The moderator for one of the panels I was on at FogCon did the same, which helped a lot then as well.]  It gives us a chance to come up with a barebones list of points to make and where we’d like the conversation to head.  It also breaks the ice a bit!  If you’re ever moderating a panel at a convention, I highly suggest doing this.

There’s also my half-page flyers to prep.  By this, it’s just a simple address label stuck in the lower corner where I’ve written something along the lines of “I’ll be at these panels.  Come and say hi!”.   If someone sees these on the freebie table, then they can follow up if they so choose.

And as always, I’ll have needed to take some allergy meds and stashed a few bottles of water with me.  Yapping on a panel for an hour or so does dry you out!

And lastly, A. and I are familiar with the area, as it’s just down the road from SF Airport.  I’m sure the hotel will have a restaurant and probably a snack shop, but it’s good to know places nearby where we can stop for take-out on the way home!

I don’t need to prepare for every detail, of course.  But doing at least the bare minimum so I’m prepared is good enough.

*

Note: Monday’s blog post will either be up late or will be up on Tuesday, due to the fact that it will be the last day of the con and I have two of the panels that day. 🙂

Regeneration

doctor who regeneration
If it were only that easy, Doctor…

My original plan to take the week off from blogging was simple: I had a lot on my plate, my energy was tapped, and I’d run out of things to blog about.  I’d earned it, considering I’ve had a solid updating schedule over the last five months.  Just a week off to focus on Day Job and personal deadlines, and not feel guilty about it.

It seems I chose to get all philosophical instead.

The week before, I’d been using my daily 750 Words to type up a sort of 90s version of my Walk in Silence riff — just writing about the various things that had gone on in a rollercoaster of a decade for me personally.  As with the 80s riff I’d posted over at the WiS blog, this was partly about the music but mostly about me purging things out of my system once and for all.  By purging, I mean this:  writing it out for the final time, coming to peace with it, learning from it.  And then moving forward.

I finished up that riff on Monday and briefly thought: what am I going to write about for my daily 750 Words now?  I thought about it some and realized that the overall lesson I had to learn from my life in the 90s was this: stop trying to fit in where you so obviously can’t and don’t want to belong.

It’s a general statement to be sure, but the reasoning behind it makes sense.  It started way back in my senior year in high school, actually; there’s a reason I half-joked to one of my friends with the following:  “It’s hard to be a nonconformist when there’s no one else to be nonconformist with.”

I said that knowing full well how oxymoronic (and moronic) that sounded.  The reason I’d said it was because my closest friends at the time, who were all a year ahead of me, had all left for college.  They’d all been on my wavelength, something I hadn’t been able to find with anyone else, to such a degree.

I started riffing on that with my Daily Words.  It reminded me of something one of that group had written sometime in 1989 along the same lines.  He’d talked about being a nonconformist — not so much in a political sense but as a personal decision — and what it took for that kind of mindset to thrive.  Like me, he grew up in a somewhat conservative small town where rebelling against the mainstream didn’t take all that much effort: listening to college radio, liking weird things, wearing odd clothes, and giving up all intentions at trying to fit in with everyone else.  No mohawk, piercing or tattoo necessary, unless you wanted to go that far.  [To my knowledge, none of us did at the time.]

One of his points kind of resonated with me after all these years: it’s kind of hard to be a nonconformist in a vacuum, because the energy behind that mindset tends to dissipate.  Why rebel against the mainstream when the mainstream doesn’t care about you either way?  And on the other end of the spectrum: if the only reason you’re rebelling is to be among your own kind — other nonconformists — you’re kind of missing the point.

My mistake in the 90s was that I was trying so hard to achieve the latter.  I was looking for a surrogate crowd to take place of my old circle of friends.  [Remember, this is well before the Age of Social Media, so the only way we could remain in contact was by phone (too expensive), by weekends off (too iffy due to different schedules), or by letter writing (too much of a pain in the arse and a super slow turnaround).]  That itself was a dismal failure, and while I did end up finding a great group of friends a short time later, it wasn’t exactly the same.  I always felt a bit out of place.  And would continue to feel this way throughout the rest of the 90s.

So.  What’s the point of this current riff?  What’s with the sudden resurgence in fascination with nonconformity?  Well, I would be lying if I didn’t say it might have a little to do with the current presidential administration.  In an odd way, too me, he and his cronies are a shocking parallel to the jocks and the popular kids at school.  They weren’t always causing harm, but they certainly knew how to fuck with people’s heads, and they could not deal with the square peg.  Or they’re the eager followers, willingly ignoring reality and/or other people while desperately trying to claim their role as part of The Gang.

Part of it is also me revisiting my fascination with nonconformity, but on a more stable, creative and positive level.  It’s no longer about rebellion just for the sake of it (“What are you rebelling against?” “Whadda ya got?”); nor is it about achieving a reactive response.  As I’ve said before, I’m trying to avoid falling into the reactionary trap; I’ve wasted far too much time and energy playing that game.

The nonconformity I started riffing on, and what I’ve been contemplating lately, is really about relearning how to ignore outside influence that I don’t need or want. This is more about shedding all the extraneous bullshit in my life, the distractions and the irritations that derail me from what and who I am, and who I want and need to be.  I’ve already figured out who I am at this point; I just need to make a more concerted effort to be that person.

This is why I’m the kind of writer that I am, writing stories in the way that makes sense to me creatively, publishing them in the way that makes sense to me creatively.  I’m the kind of writer who will hear certain ‘don’t do this’ writing advice and immediately think, well, why not?  And then follow up with an attempt at proving it wrong.  I go with what my soul sings to me.

In the end, with this bit of recent insight and clarity, my long-game plan is to regenerate a bit (to borrow a Whovian term) and return to that True Self I’d had in my head for years but hadn’t been able to achieve.

 

“When you think about it, we’re all different people all through our lives, and that’s okay, that’s good, you gotta keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be.” – Doctor Who (11th Doctor, Matt Smith)

Not always on schedule, but at least consistent

fma running
credit where it’s due: Full Metal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa

Oh hey!  I’d completely forgotten to write up a WtBt entry yesterday!  Sorry about that, folks.  Here you go.  Sometimes the weekend gets the best of me.

Or in this case, A. and I binged on the Star Wars movies this weekend, watching the original three and following it up with The Force Awakens (which we still hadn’t gotten around to watching).  We also bought Rogue One at the mall this weekend so we’re all good to go with that series for the moment.  [Not including the prequels — that’ll be for another time.]

I’ll be honest, I’m not used to taking days off from writing.  I get a nagging in the back of my brain that I shouldn’t be wasting time doing frivolous things when I should be working on a project.  It usually goes away with a good movie or television series (British TV is really good at that for me).  But it’s worth it, especially as I have to remind myself to watch and read new things that could give me insights on my own work.

In other news, I’ve been keeping busy with Meet the Lidwells, and I’m glad to report that the word count has been consistent.  I’ve been hitting between 500 and 1000 words a night, which is alright by me.  That’s my normal average on first drafts, so I’m happy with that.   And as first drafts go, this one’s going fine so far.  Room for improvement, but I’ll let myself worry about that on the first once-over later on.  To tie in with the music metaphors here, I’m laying down Take 1, where I’ll hit a few bum notes and flub a few of the verses, but at least I’ll know what to fix when it’s time for overdubs and mixing. 🙂

Meanwhile, it’s finally dawned on me that BayCon will be in a few weeks!!  It’s probably time for me to prepare myself for that considering.

Here’s my schedule for the con…if you happen to be there, stop by and say hi!

World building techniques and approaches
Saturday 11:30 – 13:00, Synergy 4 (San Mateo Marriott)
Specifically focused on pointers for attendees to attempt rather than history of what panelists did with X.
Panelists: Margaret McGaffey Fisk (M), Kevin Andrew Murphy, Ms. Jennifer L. Carson, Jon Chaisson, Katharine Kerr

Cover Me
Monday 10:00 – 11:30, Convene 1 (San Mateo Marriott)
How to put a good cover on your book.
Panelists: Ms. Jennifer L. Carson (M), Mr. Ezra Barany, Jon Chaisson, Daniel Dociu

You Want to Build Your Own Language?
Monday 13:00 – 14:30, Inspire 1 (San Mateo Marriott)
An intro course on how to build a language.
Panelists: Jon Chaisson, Kai MacTane (M), Juliette Wade

 

In the meantime, back to the mundy Day Job with the hopes that I can sneak in some Daily Words later on when things quiet down!

State of Independents

green-apple-books
Our local indie bookstore in the Richmond

This past Saturday was Independent Bookstore Day, and so of course we made our way over to our local indie bookstore, Green Apple Books, to spend some time and a bit more money than normal.  Sure, we go there at least once a month anyway, but it’s always fun to join in the celebration.  [And to be honest, I’ve kind of given up on Record Store Day, which was a few weeks previous, as it’s become more a Come Buy Our Overpriced RSD Collectibles Day for me, but I digress.]

A and I will always find a reason to head there to browse the shelves.  They have a stellar collection of all kinds of new and used titles, and if they don’t have it, they’re more than happy to order it for you.  A lot of the music bios I’ve read over the last six or seven years have come from that store, in fact, as has most of A’s history books.  And as I’ve mentioned before, they sell e-books on their website via Kobo, as well as ordering self-published books through CreateSpace…which means this store carries my trilogy!

Which brings me to a conversation A and I had earlier today when we were out for a walk around the neighborhood.  One of our internet friends had tweeted her concern about the state of e-books, having read an article somewhere online about how Kids These Days are leaning towards Good Old Fashioned Paper Books or something of the sort, and I replied saying that e-books really weren’t dying a horrible death at all.  It was just stabilizing.  Having followed Publishers Weekly on this very subject for a good couple of years now, I think I can say that with conviction.

We got to talking about how, just like the music business, the excitement and shininess of having a new platform in which to enjoy something has leveled off.  Just like CDs, just like mp3s, e-books have matured as they’ve become more prevalent.  Sidetracking ideas and not-quite-successful failsafes (like DRM) have slowly faded into the background.  You don’t need to buy a Nook when you can download an app (and on your tablet, PC, or phone at that) instead.  And for every person who swears by physical books and loves them like children, there’s another person who swears by e-books because they save a hell of a lot of space.  [And like music: I used to be a physical-copy purist and my collection took up a sizeable chunk of a room in my parents’ basement, but it’s now 99% digital and takes all of one external drive the size of an index card.]

This is partly why I don’t take sales too seriously.  Sales teams are there to push the latest toy into your hands…as well as push the latest version of the toy you already have.  They’re there to say This Version Is Better.

Which is all well and good, when the thing your selling is constantly evolving.  Back in the 90s, with computers getting smaller and stronger, CDs being more durable and travelworthy, and so on, Sales had their work cut out for them.

Nowadays, I think the reading public is at a point where they’re just as happy reading a book as they are reading something on their tablet.  The product excitement wore off some time ago; they just want to enjoy the actual text at this point.  Which means that if you look at the sales graphs just for e-books alone, they’ve sort of leveled off, maybe gone down a bit.  But if you take book sales as a whole — books, e-books, audiobooks, and everything in between — it’s still a pretty stable and vibrant business.  It might not be skyrocketing the way Sales wants it to, but it’s moving at a damn healthy walking pace.

When we lost Borders Books & Music a few years back, and now that we’ve also lost a number of Barnes & Noble storefronts, there’s a justified worry that there’s no available bookstores in a lot of towns and cities.  Some of them had gotten run out of town by those two chains, others had simply given up.  Or didn’t bother.

But I’m starting to see a return to that, really.  The ‘big box’ stores are indeed becoming a thing of the past, for multiple reasons:  internet shopping, unrealistic sales forecasts, and even a small resurgence of small stores.  Some companies aren’t quite sure how to handle that, but others are finding new ways to make it work; some are even flourishing.  The Bay Area is blessed to have a high number of independent book stores and small local chains (such as Copperfield’s and Books Inc), so this area is more of an exception than the norm, but I’ve heard tell — again, via Publishers Weekly — that that’s slowly turning around.

Viva independents! 🙂

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.