Why I’ll Never be “Famous”….and Why I’m Okay With It

Bit of an epiphany this morning, and a good one, though some might not see it that way. All started when I checked my mail this morning and found the latest post from Karen Cioffi. For those who don’t know, Karen writes a wonderful blog about book marketing and whatnot, a real essential during my morning walks. Regardless of your feelings on the topic of book marketing, I suggest that any author subscribe, as she covers some handy topics and offers a lot of useful information. Even as a cranky author who refuses to define his success in terms of sales and reach, I think it’s important to to stay on top of what’s “expected” these days.

This morning Karen got my attention by publishing an article about the importance of an author’s online platform and its effect on an author’s success with finding a publisher. These include some metrics of the numbers that publishers like to see before taking on an author. I suggest you read the article, but the crux of it is that publishers like to see, at a minimum:

-5,000 newsletter subscribers
-Speaking to 1,000 people a year (this is optional)
-If you’re self-published, sales of at least 2,000 a year

Here’s how she sums it up:

Writers are no longer simply writers. Writers are now a business with a marketing plan and hopefully a marketing budget. Authors now need to allocate a significant amount of time toward marketing themselves and their products.

I suspect these numbers may be a little different with smaller publishers, but they seem to check out, and that statement is pretty much iron-clad by this point. Here’s the problem, or rather my problem: it’s reality, but the reality makes me want to rebel against the whole damned establishment.

Ani Difranco once said that if you don’t want to end up working for the man, you have to find an alternate plan, and I suppose that’s where I am at this point.

If I’ve learned one thing about myself over the last three years, it’s that I’m not a marketer. Oh, sure, I go through the motions and technically this would be a marketing activity, but I find the process tiresome. More importantly, I find that it diminishes the time I can spend writing new fiction, which is a sin in my mind.

I’ve spent the last year pushing aside the compelling push to market my work and instead focused on writing. Did it improve sales? Hell no. Did it make me happier and better at my craft? You bet. Oh, and During that time, I cannot recall a single instance where I would have been happier going through the marketing motions rather than writing.

Oh, sure, a pang struck here or there, a little voice telling me that I wasn’t doing “what it takes to make it”, but each and every time that came from a place of fear, not a place of joy.

You know what came from a place of joy? Writing.

Not every single time, true. Sometimes it’s punching in and punching out, doing the lunchbox work of the craft, but regardless of my commitment to any particular day’s work, my quality of my life appreciably diminishes when I don’t write. The world’s edges become harsher, and I lose touch with myself in ways that frighten me.

Simply put, writing is in my blood and part of my psyche. I wouldn’t stop even if I never sold another book in my life. Would it be awesome for more people to read my stuff? Absolutely, but the characters come first.

And so, I do not expect to find much “success”, but who knows. Stranger things have happened.

In the meantime, work on Came to Believe continues. I finished editing all of Chapter 1 and most of Chapter 2 and now leave them to the hands of my critique group while I push forward. I’ll talk about some of their suggested changes on Monday.

Writing Versus “The Writer”

Certain conceits waft around people who write. I see these a lot, and I’m sure you could name some, too: writers worship coffee. Writers are drunks. Writers are broken in some way. Writers see the world differently/have skewed points of view/are special snowflakes. These can be some of the more poisonous beliefs. Then you have the trappings that are shorthand for “writer”: the pen, ink, the typewriter, the bottle. They provide an easy set of symbols to reach for, and a temptation to use them as a quick sketch to define your personality. You know the ones. “Oh, I get all crazy about adverbs, that means I AM WRITER.” “Up until three AM editing, another sign I AM SURELY WRITER.”

And so on.

I need to start with these misconceptions because, as I wrote in my last post, I have very little interest in being “a writer”. Some folks questioned what that meant exactly, and that is your answer: a shorthand for a lifestyle that some people use to define themselves. I’m not interested in that lifestyle and I’m especially not interested in defining myself by it.

This all kind of came to a head last night when I watched the fantastic documentary Shut up and Play the Hits, about the band LCD Soundsystem’s farewell show at Madison Square Garden. For those unfamiliar with the film and/or the band, LCD Soundsystem had a rather large cult following, had done a few profitable tours, and basically stood on the cusp of breaking through as a major act when leader and founder James Murphy decided to call it quits. The movie examines his motives and what the repercussions would be for his life. It’s really fantastic as both a slice of life and a music movie, I highly recommend it, but one his biggest points is talking about the rock star lifestyle and while he never overtly states it, it sounds like his biggest struggle is separating who he is in his day-to-day life and this concept of “the rock star”.

This is highly relevant and for whatever reason, something that I struggle to do myself. In my previous life, for lack of a better term, I embraced the concept of the writer/author as a handful of those things above. In retrospect I never felt 100% comfortable with the idea, but it became easy to hand wave away as a price of trying to make it. I could throw on the cloak and be something that I might not necessarily be if it meant reaching a larger audience. I could easily discard some misgivings here or there.

It could not last, though. In the last few months of my “writer” persona, I found myself increasingly irritated with the stereotypes, in addition to some of the things that I saw indie writers justifying in the name of making it big. Underhanded dealings, review puffing, and a lack of commitment to quality. Nothing spoke more to my increasing alienation to the indie community than when I witnessed a successful indie romance writer counseling a new writer to simply release his rough draft in an effort to increase his volume and visibility, then release the proper draft to the readers later.

Perhaps I’m flawed here, but to me that’s nothing more than fraud that goes beyond a lack of dedication to your craft.

Pull Quote

I stopped visiting that writing forum shortly thereafter out of disgust and found myself and my values farther and farther away from how I saw the authors around me defining “writer”. Perhaps, I thought, the problem was mine. Maybe I didn’t have “what it takes” to get ahead in the industry. Time to reassess my position and figure out what I wanted from my career.

I’m well aware that part of this speaks to my own personality flaws. Not every indie author does these things, probably not even the majority. I’ve met some fantastic people in the community, people who stand up and do the right thing every single time. I admit I jumped to some poor conclusions about indie authors and no longer feel these things – you might sense some of that in my hesitation and difficult with even defining these terms. People will be people in any walk of life and my withdrawal had more to do with the fact that I had jumped in without really thinking about or planning out what I wanted from my career.

Call it a failure of imagination.

I still reject the term “writer” and the stereotypes, but am comfortable with saying that I am someone who writes, and that I want those stories to be bought, read, and yes, maybe even be eligible for some awards. The latter not for the cause of ego but my belief in the stories that come to me. They deserve better than what they’ve had so far. This all comes down to marketing, ultimately, and ways to do it and life with myself.

You can see how this somewhat relates to my indie-versus-traditional decision, which I’ll speak about in the near future. In the meantime, I’m happy to redefine my public persona as something more in line with my personal values. That’s still in flux, but evolving. More to come.

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Where Things Stand

So it’s been awhile. Well over three months, closing in on four, and I’m sure some people have questions about my silence. Maybe not many, but a few. To be perfectly honest I couldn’t have told you what the silence meant. It’s not that I didn’t feel inspired, it’s just…well, look. I sat down to write, really write, back at the end of August and I discovered something new: while I love writing, I’m not fully in love with being a writer. And I think the two things are very different.

What has this realization meant? An almost total pull-back from marketing efforts. A long, hard look at what I want to do with my career. A lot of writing, and I mean more than I’ve written in my entire life. Lots of considerations, and my mind tends to work best when I push those ideas to the subconscious and plow ahead with day-to-day life, so it’s taken some time to get here.

This isn’t a resignation letter, although I do recognize it sounds like one, especially with that ominous title. It’s more a statement of intent. I mean, first things first, did you guys know I released my third novel a few weeks back? I really did! The sequel to Corridors of the Dead, Pathways of the Dead, is out there, and I’m proud of it. Yet I’ve done zero marketing, and again it comes back to the question of why.

The truth is that my heart is no longer really in dark fiction. Oh, I plan to finish the Among the Dead series, don’t fret on that one, dearies. The first draft of City of the Dead is already halfway finished and on the backburner as I plow through the first revision of my next novel, and I know how most of Portal goes down, including the ending. It’s going to be a fun ride.

But it’s not where my heart is.

Today my heart is with a deeply flawed sex addict dentist named Dean and his struggles after his wife passes away in a tragic car accident. It’s with a woman who moves back to her small town home after 20 years in the wilderness to discover that not much has changed. It’s with a circle of friends and how one tragedy forms a fulcrum that changes their lives in a myriad of ways.

I guess what I’m saying is that I’ve rediscovered my love for literary fiction and want to take it “mainstream”. I’m plowing through the next book, tentatively titled Broken Wing and Rusted Drill, and plan to pitch it to literary agents once it’s done in hopes of getting a deal with a larger publisher. As I told a coworker last week, I’ve never really known how to sell books like Room 3 and Corridors of the Dead, but I know just how to sell Broken Wing and its sister titles. If a major won’t take it, I’ll scour the smaller publishers. I believe in the title and think it will place somewhere. Will it sell? Well, I hope so. No way to find out unless I try.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to self-publish the dark fiction with Qwendellonia, at least until the end of Portal. I guess it just means that my indie experiment currently has an expiration date. Maybe I’ll end up back here afterwards, who knows? But I think I’m ready to communicate with you guys again either way, in a more mature fashion. No more bullshit.

Good to see you again.

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The Gratitude List

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our day-to-day lives (especially the stress of our routines) that it becomes nigh-impossible to slow down and appreciate the moments that not only shape our lives but show us the beauty of the world around us. I’m ever-so-slowly coming to realize how important it is to – even in the face of stress and pressure – take the opportunity to stop and check the amazing gifts that I have in my life. So, simple as this post might be, it’s the right topic at the right time for me. Below is a list of ten people/places/things that I’m grateful for right at this moment, at least as they pertain to my writing career. Please understand that even if you didn’t make this list, it has nothing to do with you – if I listed every one of my friends and their influence on me this list would grow exponentially. You all mean a lot to me. I’ve also left out critique groups because I’ve written about them recently and my gratitude toward them should be abundantly clear.

Oh, and first I want to give credit where credit is due: this list began with an overheard conversation at a Supermarket in Herndon, Virginia, so hey anonymous stranger sharing a list of gratitude with his girlfriend and/or wife.

internet-bear

The Internet. This is a broad topic and some of my other topics might be included here, but humor me. The Internet has changed how writers do their jobs, from the very beginning of the idea through research and on to publication. I might capture the spark of an idea in my email account or on Evernote and later pull that information out to paste into a document on Dropbox. I then take that idea to Wikipedia or Google and research any topics that don’t immediately come to mind. I use Google Maps to plot the course that my characters’ travels take and can zoom down to the street level so I more authentically understand that part of the world. As I write, I maintain the document on Dropbox so that it’s available at just about any location that has Internet access (and I can plan for when that’s not available as well). Once I’m finished, I use online-based tools to clean up the document and prep it for release. When that’s done I upload the files to my service of choice, and customers can then purchase it through that service. The changes that the Internet have brought to the average writer’s life cannot be overstated – and I am incredibly grateful for these changes. Continue reading

The Ugly Baby: Why QA is so Important

Monday already, huh? All right. I’m up for that challenge.

I apologize in advance for the scatter-shot nature of this post. You see, a few things have been bouncing around my head since this weekend and I need to get this out of the way before I descend into Full-On Horror Mode for the rest of the week (Coffin Hop, what up).

My current train of thought begins with one central event: I attended a conference.

© Photographer: Gina Rothfels | Agency: Dreamstime.com

Yes, on Saturday I got up at the asscrack of dawn – well, okay, before dawn – so that I could attend the 2012 Maryland Writers Conference. This was my first such incarnation of this beast.

I suppose I went in with some expectations based on stories that I’ve heard in the past, and I’m not sure it lived up to any of those. One of these days I’ll learn to go into things with zero expectations, but for now, this is the best I have.

My personal frustration with logistics aside (seriously, they didn’t plan for parking in Baltimore), I found myself on the outside looking in. It’s a customary position for me, but I also suppose it’s normal, given that I’ve only been a member of the MWA since September. If I attend next year, I imagine it might be much different. At least, I hope so. I had fun, but found it really hard to connect since just about everyone seemed to already know one another.

Thankfully the conference wasn’t just about attending – they offered classes, as well, and I enjoyed the few that I attended. I found them quite informative, and learned a few things. The classes aren’t really the core of what I’m getting at here. It’s the impression that I got from those classes, and indeed from the whole conference, that I feel is worth speaking about. Continue reading

Offering Yet More Proof

Mind is whirring. So many things going on, but I think the most important is the impending release of Room 3. Today I thought I’d share the outcome of last week’s proofing session and show you some of the issues that can crop up even if you’re familiar with the process and have done your level best to ensure a good first proof. These things happen; even with precise measurements sometimes things get changed and look different once you have it in hand. Let’s take a look.

First, a picture of the overall package:

Looks good, right? Well…I spotted a few issues right away on the cover, ones that weren’t so apparent on the online preview. Here’s what the online preview showed me:

Aside from my weird author picture (I don’t know what happened there but can’t be bothered to fix it since that’s a placeholder anyway), I can see that the title text is a little too close to the lines, but it didn’t become as readily apparent until I saw the actual printed version:

The title (and author name) bleed too close to the edge. This probably happened when the book doubled in size and is a fairly easy fix. You can see in the next photo and the digital proof above that I have some room to play with; the left edge of the back cover has a bit of slack and the right edge on the front cover has some room. Worst case scenario, I just take the font down a size, but that’s probably not necessary. Continue reading

Indie-Pendence Blog Hop Day 6: Announcing the Winners

Welcome to awards day in Shaggin the Muse’s first annual Indie-pendence Blog Hop Blowout. First things first, to those of you who commented: thank you. You’ve brought a new level of conversation to the blog, and I can’t undervalue that. I just wish that I could have been a more active participant. Count on that in the next blog hop.

Next order of business: the winners for the giveaway have been chosen. I’ve contacted everyone who left an email address and am working on getting them their books. As I promised, I fed everyone’s comments into a spreadsheet, gave each one a number, and used a random number generator from random.org to select the winners. Here we go:

Name Prize
Darlene The Newfoundland Vampire
Yvette Room 3 Advance
Kelly Ron The Kayson Cycle
Lisa Hackney Corridors of the Dead
Mel Bourn Corridors of the Dead
bn100 The Station
Donna/BLHmistress Corridors of the Dead
Angel Jennifer Valknut the Binding
Darlene Room 3 Advance
Denise Z Valknut the Binding
Paul Dail The Newfoundland Vampire
Aniko The Kayson Cycle
Angel Jennifer The Station
Kassandra Valknut the Binding
bn100 Valknut the Binding
Angel Jennifer Corridors of the Dead
Paul Dail The Station
James Garcia The Station
Aniko The Newfoundland Vampire
Darlene Valknut the Binding
bn100 Corridors of the Dead

Congratulations to all who won! Here’s where you come in: I’m missing information on how to contact Lisa Hackney and Jennifer Angel. I’m doing some digging to possibly find them, but if you have any information or happen to be them, please comment or shoot me an email at crimnos at gmail dot com and I’ll be happy to get your books to you.

Thanks again, and I’m glad you could join us. Watch for more of these in the near future.

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Indie-Pendence Blog Hop Day 4: The Difficulties of Indie Publishing and Marketing

Okay, so technically we still have one day left of the blog hop, but that’s reserved for a weekly feature on this site – a chance for you all to get to meet my writing group. Today I want to break the formula and ramble a bit about my own views on indie publishing and marketing aside from what I talked about yesterday.

First, though, a reminder that we’re still giving away loads of books for free. Let’s review what you stand to win this week:

-eBooks of the Corridors of the Dead (limit 5)
-eBooks of the Kayson Cycle (limit 5)
-eBooks of the Station (limit 5)
-Advance eBook of Room 3 when it releases (limit 2)
-eBooks of the Newfoundland Vampire (limit 3)
-eBooks of Marie Loughin’s Valknut the Binding (limit 5)

That’s 25 free books ready for folks to win. And all you have to do is comment. Once you’ve commented, you’ll go into the drawing spreadsheet. On Friday, I’ll draw your number from the hat (a random number generator), and notify you of what you’ve won. Your odds are really, really good, and I know the involved authors would love your comments on our posts. I’m hoping this will be fun for everybody and spur some discussion.

All right, so. Where do we go with this post? Good question. I had originally envisioned this post as a recap of what the other authors shared this week, but I think those posts stand on their own and there’s no need to rehash and bore all of us. The answer, I think, is to take a look at my own attitudes about indie publishing and marketing, outside of writing. I went with four additional questions to probe some of my own attitudes.

The most difficult part about being an indie publisher

Hands-down, the marketing. Formatting is a chore and can be a slow, frustrating pain (doubly so when you’re working on a print book), but when it’s done, it’s done. Marketing drags on and on and can suck up every moment of your waking life if you allow it to. Not to mention that, as I said yesterday, you can develop this real casino mentality to the whole thing, hoping that the big payoff is just around the corner. All the while it drains your money (creativity) with no real return. Everyone claims to have the answer, but by the time that person shares her answer, that approach has likely dried up entirely, and that’s not mentioning people who have an angle just to make money off of desperate authors. Continue reading

I Gave a Speech: A Brief History of Me

I recently joined Toastmasters, as they opened a chapter at work and encouraged us to join for a pretty decent discount. My ears perked up when I heard about it because I’ve been looking to sharpen my public speaking skills and just get used to the concept for when I finally get around to doing some readings. Our first meeting was last month, and I decided to participate but not speak. Once I had a sense of the format, I jumped right in, volunteering to speak. Yesterday I finally gave my first speech and thought I’d share it with you.

You can click here to listen to an audio version; the text of this speech is below. Apologies for any issues with the sound levels. I need to get that reverb under control.

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Good afternoon everybody. I’m excited to get the chance to speak to you and share some of my experiences outside of work, since I apparently come across as a quiet guy while I’m here. Don’t let appearances fool you, though! Ask my wife, family, and friends. They’ll let you know all about how much I can talk. I just have a pretty strong wall between my personal and professional life that probably needs to come down a bit, and this is my way of doing it. Continue reading

What Makes an “Indie” Writer?

Okay, I admit, this entry is a bit later in the posting than I might have liked. I’ve been sitting on it since May 21st, when someone retweeted a comment from agent Sarah LaPolla. Other worthy topics kept coming up that required my attention; in particular, the posts about standards, and blah blah blah. Now I’m ready to climb up on the soapbox.

Let’s start with the tweet in question:

Indie writer = published w/ a small press who gave you a contract & had an editor & packager who wasn’t you or someone you hired separately.

I’ll own it: I saw some red when that came up in my feed. The whole thing smacked of the sort of dismissive attitude that does absolutely no-one in publishing any good, even those who work through the traditional system, though they don’t always realize that. Not having the greatest of days, I tapped out a scathing reply and hovered my finger over the trigger.

Nah, I thought, best to give yourself a second. No need to fly off the handle.

So I allowed myself a moment to calm down, and as I did so, I realized that she might be quoting a source, perhaps a writer. I didn’t agree, but I’d like to see the source  I asked her where it came from, and if this meant that writers like JA Konrath and/or John Locke were not “indie” – the idea seemed patently absurd, but what the hell, she might have been pulling it from somewhere.

Not so much. She sidestepped John Locke altogether, but replied about Konrath:

Both are used because people misuse “indie.” He’s self-pubbed & proud. Self-pubbers shouldn’t hide behind a mis-label.

Continue reading