Be Like the Squirrel: Marketing of the Dead

I finally finished the Art of War for Writers the other day, and since it’s been so influential on this site for such a long time, I thought I owed it at least a bit of a nod. I really enjoyed it; in fact, if anything, it’s almost too dense, as trying to keep in mind all of its teachings is a difficult affair at best. It’s probably something that I’ll need to revisit every now and then, to see how my own perception of some of the wisdom contained within. I thought about going back to review some of what I’d written about the book on this site, but it was way too much to sift through. Even if you’re a writer who rarely reads books about writing, I’d say it’s worth a purchase.

I’m moving on now to a book about self-publishing, which I’m sure will arise from time to time. It’s already given me the inspiration to create a (semi) daily marketing plan of how to reach out and become a little more ingrained into the writing and reading communities.

Which brings me to the real topic of today’s blog, which occurred to me as I was brushing my teeth this morning – funny how and where inspiration strikes. Once upon a time, the idea of putting together a novel seemed nebulous and intimidating. So I evolved a process to go at the goal with smaller, incremental goals. Then it became the act of putting together a coherent novel. So I refined that process and broke things down into even smaller steps. Now I’m at a stage where I have a pretty decent process that works for me and keeps me writing five to six days a week at around 10,000 words a week.

Bringing us back to the ever-tense tooth-brushing, I know this is where things get real. As I was brushing I was thinking about marketing the novel and my “brand” itself and how I had kind of gone about it in a haphazard way. Oh, sure, the website has given me a platform and presence of sorts, but I need to expand it. That’s when it occurred to me to use the same concept that I used for evolving my fiction writing: break it down step-by-step. Make it into smaller goals.

So I pondered…how do I do that? Writing I know. Writing I get. For me, it seems easy enough to look at how a story or an essay is composed, break it down into its component parts, and examine how I could apply those parts to my own process. I think Stephen King said something once about how examining a plot is like taking a look at a fellow mechanic’s work under the hood, and that analogy works a lot for me. I can look at that and just sort of get what they’ve done.

But marketing…well, that’s another beast. It’s not that I don’t think I’m capable. I’m pretty sure I am, but I’m not a natural at it. It’s something that I’m going to actively have to work at learning, and I’m only just starting to get that. With that in mind, where to start on marketing myself?

The answer, I think, is in approaching marketing like my writing. One of my most faithful tools is the weekly word count. I’ve noticed my skill level jumping appreciably week-over-week as I hover around that word count. So why not apply the concept to marketing? Set daily (or cumulative weekly) goals that aren’t too rigid or interfere with my writing, and try to hit those targets as best as I can. It has the benefit of being consistent, keeping my brand from being forgotten, and also of being fairly non-intrusive on my writing life.

So I set up some simple goals today, and will see how well I can live up to them – and if they are, in fact, effective. After that, it’s a matter of tweaking them, just as I have with my writing process.

There’s probably a lesson about life itself to be learned there, trying what works and throwing out what doesn’t, breaking larger goals down into smaller ones and then being adaptable to changes when they come, making the process of achieving just about anything a living, breathing organism.

But that might just be an extrapolation that’s out of this site’s scope. Just an idea. Who can say if it’s something to be expanded upon?

And since it’s Friday, the song which I’m referencing in the title…

Stealing a Minute

I may have a longer entry on tap today depending upon how the day goes, but I at least wanted to get something out, as I can feel myself slipping a little bit without stretching my mind in the usual fashion. The subject of what to do when you’re so busy and tired that you can’t write seems pretty appropriate, as it’s something that I’ve struggled to do this week.

You see, this was supposed to be the week that I finished up the first draft of Corridors of the Dead, and while I have all but one scene in the can on my voice recorder, I’m forever stuck at the penultimate scene, it seems. At least, for the last two days. Tuesday I added a lot of information to the new book but wasn’t able to get much added to Corridors for varying factors. Wednesday I added a bit, but I found my usual zeal to push over the finish line had been sapped by the long days and intense thought required for what we’re doing at work now. I only managed a handful of paragraphs before having to shut down. And yesterday…well, yesterday was pretty much a complete wash as I was in early and out late.

I can’t help but ask myself what I could have done differently. Preparation is not really the answer, as I have another set of all-day meetings next week and was going to prepare myself for that by having a bunch of material ready to go this week, but this set of meetings just sneaked up on me and clubbed me in the night. Voice dictation definitely helps, and I’ve been pretty diligent about that (save last night, when the brain was simply too fried). So what?

I guess the answer is if I can’t change the situation and I had no time to prepare, then I just have to reframe it as just one of those things that happens. I think I’ve written about that in the past, in fact – sometimes we just have to accept these things that come up. I’ll have time to write in the future, and in the meantime I can slip in little moments here or there to add to what exists.

Time to get to it. We’ll see what today holds…

Down with the Sickness and the Hybrid Approach

This is going to be an interesting week, as I’m transitioning from one medication to another and at the moment I have quite a bit of brain fog, in that I’ll be clear for a little while and then the next thing I know my brain is just shot.

The interesting thing is that I’ve really gotten in a groove when I sit down and write with music – not typically my most productive form of writing. Yesterday I sat down and just pounded out a bunch of words while listening to this band Battles (finally “discovered” them upon learning that I had already had a couple of their songs before). Even though I felt like I was about to keel over, I was able to channel the characters and let them take over.

Right now my side-effects are dizziness; light-headedness; what they call “brain zaps“, which are moments of being completely lost in the fog; and exhaustion. Combine that with the insomniac properties of the new medication and, well, I’m just having a grand old time. But I’m dedicated to keep going. I view my writing as a legit job, and as such I can’t take too many days off, considering that last week I was a little bit short of my word count.

Before I get into today’s topic, I want to carry out an accounting of where I am in my process and what comes next. I’m very, very close to the end of Corridors of the Dead now. If I stick to my usual schedule and don’t have too many hiccups, I expect to have it done by the middle of next week. I follow a process where I write the story in my head and have a few days’ lead time before it gets to the page, and I’ve reached the end in my head.

The next step, as mentioned yesterday, is finding some beta readers, then setting the book aside for a week or two while I dive into the next book, which I haven’t started in my head yet but have a lot of details about. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s going to be a nod to Videodrome and Twin Peaks. These two stories were very influential for me.

Of course, the mockup for the cover is complete, as I said. I see a few changes that I want to make, a little tweaking, but for the most part I think it’s ready to go, which is pretty exciting. I also plan to do some research into the Print on Demand options this week then talk to the guy who’s been doing my graphic design work on what to do for the spine and the back. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it; there’s some time, as I don’t plan to make it available until Thanksgiving.

Already things are starting to come together in my head on how to run my writing and self-publishing as a business. I’m getting ideas about how to set up incentive plans and an overall business plan. Having a finished product will be a really good start. Obviously, there are still some edits to be made, but I think it’s close right now, probably the closest I’ve ever felt upon finishing a first draft. I think that’s a product of internalizing a lot of things that I’ve learned over the last six months.

Now let’s talk about the original goal of today’s entry: how to blend character-driven and plot-driven. All I can really give you is my approach, because while I’m always aware of this, I haven’t studied it closely in other works. Meaning it’s a topic that I’l likely come back to in the future.

My own approach is that I start with the kernel of an idea and slowly add things on to it – like with this next novel, I woke up one morning with the idea of bringing the idea of Videodrome into the 21st Century (which is not entirely what the book will end up being about after all, rather the spark of the concept). As I drove to work, as mentioned before in how my process works, I dictated what I had in mind and new ideas.

Where I’m going is that I take these ideas and generate a loose, three or four paragraph write-up of what I want from the story, how I envision the story from my perspective. Then I get to know the characters, though this can be part of the plotting process. This is the case in this new novel – I already have images of the characters in my head, can hear their voices speaking to me.

While I’m doing this I also do any necessary research.

This is the key, however: having both an idea of the plot you want, even if it’s not going to be the ultimate plot. If I showed you the original plot of Corridors of the Dead from last November to now, well… Then you have to be aware of your characters and in tune with them. Spend time with them. Once you start getting into the writing of it, leave your preconceived notions out and yourself open.

At times your characters will stubbornly refuse to go down the path you want. If you hit a scene where your characters suddenly flatten out into cardboard cutouts and nothing is moving, that is the time to sit down and really think about what the character wants in that scene and how they would react. They will surprise you a lot of the time. As a matter of fact, in my rewrite, they surprised me so much that only three scenes came over from the old book. It’s basically a new story with the same characters.

What I’m trying to say is, in order to achieve that hybrid, you have to do the work of both: of a character-driven story and a plot-driven story. You have to have a solid concept of the plot (so you do the work of plotting) and you have to do the work of getting to know the characters. There’s none of this one-or-the-other business. At least, from my perspective.

I’d be interested in hearing what others have to say about how they plot and what their approaches are.

I’m looking at this week as plot and character week. The next entry is twofold: one is about how to get to better know your character. The second is part one of a two-parter on my top ten influential books, the ones I think of as my personal “pantheon”. This comes from an idea that I first saw from Paul Dail and which he drew from Worlds in Ink. I’m looking forward to it!

Call for Beta Readers Coming Soon

I expect to have the first draft of my novel rewrite done next week, and with that I need to start thinking about how I’m going to get beta readers for this draft. I’ll probably need five readers, and I have two lined up already, so I have to figure out where to pick up three more.

I’m thinking of implementing an incentive system based on how far in a reader gets and how much feedback they give me. I’ll post more here once I’ve got that all sorted out, but I at least wanted to get this up here as a mental note to myself.