swan's sililoquy

A bad case of writer's blog


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Purpose

A blog without a purpose is an ugly thing.

Mine didn’t necessarily lack purpose, and I’m not saying I’ve found it either, but this is a writer’s blog. And a writer’s blog without content is essentially a journal, and I have no desire to write a journal. I’m simply not that interesting.

Secondly, considering my ‘content’ is still a work in progress, it’s hard to share it, or even post snippets on here because as with all things on The Internets; once it’s out there, there’s no taking it back. And first impressions last forever.

I’ve also been hesitant of turning this into a lecture seeing as I’m neither qualified nor experienced enough to talk about writing, or publishing, or how to do either well, never mind just one.

So in an aid of not making myself look pants on head retarded, I’ve held back from publishing anything from the book until I’m happy with it. I.e. 100%.

I also didn’t want to be one of those people who wrote a blog post every day simply for the sake of writing one. Instead, this is more of an update than anything else, because finishing the book is taking a little longer than I expected, but then again, it takes six months to make a Rolls Royce and fourteen hours to make a Toyota, and I know which one I’d rather have at the end of the day.

That’s also the reason for the two month break since I wrote a single word on this page. I was thinking / writing, and hence why it will be a little while longer before I post even the first chapter on here. Sorry… but I’m still thinking, still writing. But some have asked why I went quiet, so I figured I’d at least give an update, an idea of my intentions and my plans, as they stand, plus I’d much rather have a point than a ramble. As such, I decided to run this as a little Q&A session with myself, titled:

The most common questions I get asked, and the questions I ask myself.

And of course, question number one is:

When can I read it?

The first time I post an actual section / chapter from the book on here, it will be:

  • Finished / complete (Which means a professional edit)
  • Linked to Amazon
  • In the iBook Store
  • Cover art finished
  • Price point entry set
  • Launched on as many forums / social websites as possible. E.g.:
    • Imgur
    • Reddit
    • Facebook etc.

How will it be released?

In eight parts of approximately 15k word sections. One at time. Each part being about 50 pages in a paperback book.

Part 1- the first 15k words will be published as a free download on Amazon.

I.e. A sample.

Same idea as how most people buy a book in an actual bookstore, they pick the book up, skip through the first chapter to see if it hooks them. If it doesn’t, they put it down with no cost to themselves except for time. The 15k sample works on the same premise, and all books on Amazon currently offer this feature anyway. You can try the sample, and if you like, you just hit the buy button.

However, the next 15k words, (Part 2) would come in at $0.99, and the rest (Parts 3 – 8) would all be priced accordingly.

Why $0.99?

On Amazon you can basically set the price of your book to be anything you like, with a minimum of $0.99, unless of course you’ve published it for free somewhere else first (like iBooks), then Amazon price matches it down to $0.

Why wouldn’t you charge more?

Because at the beginning it should be about growing an audience, not making money. If enough people don’t read it, or aren’t aware of my work because of a price barrier, then I make no sales at all. People are hesitant to take risks on new authors, unless it’s recommended by someone else, and the only way that happens is by getting as many eyes on it as possible.

Note:

A lot of self-published authors use this strategy if they’re writing a series of books / parts, and its becoming an increasingly popular method of getting your name out there.

So what’s the catch?

Basically there are two commission rates you can get through Amazon:

  • 30%
  • 70%

But the 70% rate is only available if you price your book at $2.99 or above.

So if you try to sell your book really cheaply (say a $0.99) to get more readers, then you have to sell about six times more copies to make the same money as you would if you sold one copy at $2.99 with the 70% rate. But at least you’re selling them.

In essence, $0.99 is all about exposure and getting your name out there. If people like what they read, they keep going. $0.99 is also the impulse buy limit of most people; they’ll spend $4 a day on coffee, but $2 on a book by an author they’ve never read before….hmmm.

Why haven’t you published anything on here yet?

Because no content is better than shit content, no matter the medium, blog or book. First impressions are all that I’ll get, so it has to be as close to humanly perfect as possible. Well edited, and devoid of spelling or grammar issues. Once it’s published, it’s final, no changes allowed.

What’s so hard about revising?

Revising means fixing all the problems. And in a body of text with ~140,000 words, there can be a lot of problems. For me that meant learning how to both take, and look at feedback subjectively, and to do so properly, because just like my own writing, not all feedback is great, helpful, or even correct. You can’t let ego get in the way, but you can’t bow to everyone else’s opinion either.

Why, what can be wrong with feedback?

When it comes to writing, reading, and associated feedback, you have to remember that people have different tastes. Everyone will want to give you his or her impression, or his or her opinion on how you should write the book. That doesn’t mean they’re right, it just means that they have their own opinion, no surprises there.

Simple example:

In my writing group, there are fourteen people all writing in different genres, with different reading histories. Which means we don’t all share the common base knowledge level (ie. what’s been done before, big name authors in each genre, who’s influenced our own styles).

Example being there are several in my class writing kids fiction (12 yr old stuff), two writing romances, a couple of sci-fi, and one about tranny porn ish. And then theres me….killing everyone. And as a result, there’s a bit lost in translation sometimes. But I can’t be defensive or blind to feedback either, because sometimes feedback is spot on. And when you’re too close to your own work it’s often easy to miss a big glaring flaw / problem / or stylistic issue.

I for instance, apparently like to overuse the full stop. Making my sentences short. Blocky. And abrupt. I wasn’t aware of this until it was pointed out, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing when used in moderation, anyone who reads Lee Child (Jack Reacher) will agree.

What’s the biggest indicator of meaningful feedback?

If more than one person points something out, then it’s probably an issue that I need to fix, and I can’t discount it as just personal preference. Such that if everyone is saying a section I wrote is too slow, well… then I have to add more pace. I have to make it Harder. Better. Faster. Stronger.

The tricky part is knowing which one to listen too sometimes, my gut, or some feedback that disagrees? Do I stick to my guns and make it work, or do I admit defeat and kill my darlings?

That’s the challenge, but it’s also a blessing in disguise. Listening to feedback and integrating it before I publish it means I get to fix things before I embarrass yourself publicly, and permanently. Which means a lot of revisions, which means draft 1, 2, 3, etc.

As such, my alpha readers deserve a medal, they’ve had to wade through the worst of it.

Note:

Most published works go through an average of 8 drafts.

So what’s your point?

Basically I’m not going rush it, or show my hand too early. Which means I can’t post extracts until they’re ready. Too much is riding on them, but hence the delay. I have to incorporate the feedback, and then interweave it back into the story while still making sure I’m speaking with my own ‘voice.’

And what makes voice so important?

These words you are reading now, whose voice are they in? Yours or mine? What does it sound like in your head? The point of writing is to take charge of the voice in someone else’s head. Tell them what to think, what to feel, what they can see, and to describe what’s happening around them such that they forget they’re reading a story.

And if it’s done well?

Well then they keep reading.

But what does this mean in terms of feedback?

It means that if I’m not careful, if I listen to too many other people then I might just end up losing my own voice, and I might just end up with a book that looks like a horse designed by a committee. #ugly.

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How long really then until it’s all done?

August, as a soft deadline. September as final.

By Christmas I’d like to be seeing actual sales and growth. That would be the ultimate feedback and vindication of the ginormous gamble I’ve taken.

Why then?

Because the cover art should be done by August. Sadly I can’t post that either (it’s still in progress / early stages), but I’ve commissioned a digital artist and we’re getting there. Concept. Revision. Version A. Revision. Version B. Revision. etc etc.

So it should be done in time, and that’s important because the plan is to:

  1. Contact an author in the US (August).
  2. Hopefully get a response.
  3. Send a finished and polished product to him
  4. Ask his opinion, maybe even get some face to face time

Hell, if I’m really lucky he might even plug it on his website, and that gets 30 – 40k hits a day. Granted, that would be like seeing all the stars align, but hey, if I’m going to aim big, then it may as well be out of the park big.

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Which US author?

His name is Hugh Howey, and for those who read / dabble in the low sci-fi genre, you might have heard of him already. To everybody else, he’s a rich and pretty damn successful author. He’s also one whose business model I’d like to emulate.

Why him you might ask?

Primary reason being that he went the self-publishing route. In fact they call him the poster boy success story for self-publishing. Secondly he’s a strong supporter of self-publishing over the more traditional big publishing house route. Or the Big 5 as they’re called, namely:

  • Hachette Book Group
  • HarperCollins
  • Macmillan Publishers
  • Penguin Random House
  • Simon and Schuster

There are numbers backing up what he’s saying too, as in research, actual benchmarks, relative performance, sales data, and income comparisons. See here if you’ve got time / interest.

But, in a nutshell:

Self-published authors, on average, earn more than their traditional counterparts.

Lastly, Hugh Howey has a pretty strong and easily accessible voice in social media. So when I write to him, I actually stand a real chance of getting a serious answer.

Why self-publishing you might ask?

Because it lets me start publishing parts of what I’ve written, and that’s important because it allows me to start building up reviews, comments, and some idea as to reception / audience. It will also give me an idea as to whether I’m on the right path, whether I keep going on it, or if I switch to another story.

What’s the biggest difference between self-publishing and the Big 5?

On Amazon, self-published authors are paid 70% of the list price instead of a mere 17.5% that you might expect to get through the Big 5. Plus nearly 98% of all submissions to the Big 5 never see the light of day, even if they’re pure gold in terms of potential. They disappear into a dark hole and never come out, or it takes them years and years to gain some traction.

Example?

  • J.K Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was rejected by the BIG 5 publishers and everything else in-between a total of 12 times. It took a year before someone finally said yes. She also only got a £1500 advance.

One more example?

  • Carrie by Stephen King was rejected 30 times before it was published.

Here’s another example, just for comparison, but a self-published one.

  • E.L James, the author of 50 Shades of Grey, went the self-publishing route.

Disclaimer

It’s garbage (but that’s just personal opinion / taste). See?

But it was also earning E.L James $1million a week, so my personal opinion doesn’t mean a thing when that many people disagree. And that’s the biggest selling point of self-publishing. You can still get your work out there, even if everyone else with ‘taste’ says no.

Confession:

I even tried reading a couple of pages out of curiosity, trying to work out just how the hell it was making so much $$$

Actions taken:

  • Pick up gf’s book.
  • Open at random page x
  • Starting reading
  • Turn to page x + 1
  • Lose innocence
  • Horror
  • Run away

Result:

PTSD. And since then I’ve never felt entirely comfortable when I sit down next to someone reading it. I crawl into a ball, and hide.

There is no eye contact, which is good. But how could there be? They never look up from the book they’re reading. Instead they’re stare at the page like it’s sucking their eyeballs out, and now I know why. In all likelihood, they’re probably balls deep in the middle of a pretty nasty porn scene.

On a side note.

J.K Rowling is now also the only person (ever) to earn a billion dollars from writing.

E. L James, the author of Fifty Shades is now worthy approximately $80 million, all earned in the last two years alone.

Moral of the story?

The bigger the audience reached, the bigger the chances of success. Even if 9/10 of people who read it come away with a mental disorder.

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Doubts, distractions, and feedback

I’ve found it somewhat easier to work on two things at once.
Whether it’s two books or a blog post and a book.
Either way, to those watching it means I look like I’m working and not just staring at nothing.
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It also helps that when creativity fails on one, it usually converts to the other.
So in one way or another, I’m still making progress, or at least I feel somewhat productive by the end of the day.
Which is important, simply because it is the hardest feeling for me to attain. It’s hard simply because there still isn’t a finished product or any version of self-validation for me to fall back on…yet.
Right now it’s all still a pipe dream, riding on a lot of tentative hope, and always, that gnawing doubt at the back of my mind.
You see, every sentence I write is generally followed by why?
Why did I say / write that? Where the hell are these words coming from and where are they taking me?
Its akin to wishing upon a star, aiming for it, then strapping a rocket to your ass, lighting the fuse, and hoping for the best.
Results can be mixed…

Which is why I tend to feel awkward and somewhat dismissive when people tell me they’re amazed by me, or proud of me, or jealous…
I usually grunt and look at them like they’re mad. Then I worry that maybe I’m mad.
They’re jealous?
Why? Jealous that I quit my job? Or Jealous that I took a risk to do something I enjoyed?

If it’s the job, well. I don’t know many who enjoy what they do.
Maybe two, three people in my entire extended network. The rest hate it, and the others are depressed, or soon to be.
The only ones who seem happier are those that quit and changed direction long before I did.

But if it’s not quitting, and it’s about the risk…
Then why are they jealous that I took such a huge risk to pursue something as unlikely and uncertain as writing?
You see, the odds of making a living as an author are close to laughable. So I tend be somewhat confused by the notion of jealousy and I don’t particularly feel like I’ve done anything amazing.
I feel this way mostly because I still have to prove it to myself. I’m my biggest critic and still need to prove that I made the right choice, (as Drake said, I finally realised that turning papers in won’t get me paid).
But getting paid this way will take time. More than I would like to admit.
So it’s stressful.
Don’t get me wrong; I believe I have it in me. I’m committed, whole-heartedly; otherwise I wouldn’t be doing this at all, but still. A large amount of luck is going to be needed, shitloads more that I’ve already had to bring me this far.
So I don’t think I’ll truly relax, or begin to process it until I get my first acceptance, or rejection letter from a publisher.
Right now I’m still working up to that, and trying to work out how to pay the bills in the meantime.
So I still have a very long and uncertain way to go.

But, I get told often that it’s amazing what I’ve done.
Especially from people who still work in the type of environment I left. Trapped in their cubicle, breathing the same recycled air as a hundred other people, slaved to their desk, watching the clock tick by, minutes, hours, years.
They tell me they’re happy for me, happy that I followed a passion.
They want to know how it’s going. They offer to help, to read, to critique.
People I never expected to care or even notice in the first place.
Which is flattering, and somewhat surprising, but that at least I do understand, that smile you get when someone you know does something they’ve always wanted to do, something that makes them smile too.

I know how hard it is to give a crazy idea life. To overcome the doubt, or the fear holding you back, and strangely, I think we’re too scared to try something we dream of doing in case we’re awful at it and fail.
The question that follows such an awful realisation is: Now what?
Back to where you started with your tail between your legs?
Hence the thought of doing something we actually enjoy, instead of doing something we hate because someone pays us, is, in today’s world, strangely considered a type of madness.
You have to be a little mad to risk it, but madder still to let it pass your by.
I spent so long myself with those same thoughts that I can empathise.
I get it. Doing this had always seemed impossible to me, and to be honest, it still does some times, but those times are getting less.
Slightly.

When I first started having these thoughts: occasions of temporary insanity I called them (daydreams in most people’s vernacular), I simply dismissed them. Blind to the fact that sitting still, doing the same thing over and over, never getting anywhere but always expecting a different result was in itself, the definition of insanity.
So when I get told now that people are amazed that I did what I did.
I get it. Sometimes I’m amazed too.
But in reality I finally acknowledged that there was only one way to find out if there was more to life than being a glorified monkey: Pushing the same button everyday. I knew that if I didn’t do something different soon, I’d either end up playing with my own poo, or throwing it.
So it was either I get out while I still could, try this, find out once and for all, or turn into a bitter old bastard.

In the end, I guess it comes down to one simple fact.
I would rather bet on myself than bet on somebody else to bring me the life that I want.


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Nothing ventured nothing gained

If I think about it- and I do a lot, my life has taken an odd detour lately.
Odd in terms of the fact I’m doing something I never thought I would:
I.e. taking a huge fucking risk.

You see I’m generally pretty risk adverse. Generally.
Some small exceptions perhaps, but usually I get set in my routines, and I resist change like fat people resist exercise.
I tend to stack the deck in my favour before I commit to something, and I like to know exactly where I’m going to land long before I jump.

Throughout my life I’ve always done the safe thing, the smart, and normal thing, but perhaps the wrong thing, or boring, at least for me. Especially in terms of a career or following a passion.
I didn’t find mine until recently, and thankfully, according to the feedback I’ve been getting from my writers group. I’m pretty good at it, if a little graphic.
Which is exactly what I was going for. So winning.

But one thing I have learnt lately, the one thing this has all shown me, if nothing else. Is that in terms of career and passion, you can’t have one without the other, not a fulfilling one at least.
Otherwise why do you even bother?
That was my problem.
You see I woke up one day, and realised that my life was almost set, course plotted, wrong side of thirty but with no real passion. I didn’t have a reason for being there, and there wasn’t anything in particular I was working for. There wasn’t a point.
It was Groundhog Day, every day.

By always playing it safe I had ended up in a situation were I was simply following a pay check, drowning in whiskey flavoured boredom, and on a clear path to a fat gut, Prozac and an early grave.
Being normal, and ‘safe’ was going to kill me faster than the alcohol would.
To reference a quote by Ellen Goodman:

‘Normal has become getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work and driving through traffic in a car you are still paying for- in order to get to the job you need to pay for the clothes and the car, and the house you leave vacant all day so you can afford to live in it.’

I’m pretty sure that would strike a cord with most, and I’m also sure most would say upon reading those words, ‘that’s just life. Get over it.’
True. Perhaps…
It’s also called the rat race.

But I wanted to see if there was another way, by creating something new for myself instead of working towards someone else dream. I didn’t want to wait until it was too late, or always wonder if.
So now I know where passion and talent intercepts, the question is how do I turn that into a career?
Answer: With difficulty.
Do I think it will happen overnight?
No.
But I’m making a good solid dent in getting it going, and by the end of this month I’ll have two finished books under heavy review and editing, with a third not far off. Do I really think it will be that easy?
No.
But I’m making some good connections, I’m getting exposure to the industry, and all I need is one solicited request. And weeeee, straight past the slush pile.
After that… who know, a little luck and serendipity?

As for the last three months, well… the money is almost gone, as expected, and pimping myself out only brings in so much $$.
But I’ve learnt a lot, and apparently it shows on my face, and in my nature, my friends can attest to that.

So whatever happens down the line, I took a risk and it was the best thing I could have done.
Whether I ever get to be a world famous author is somewhat secondary, and still years away, even if every star aligns along the way. But at least now I know what I’m working towards. Success will come in its own time.
Who knows, perhaps it’s meant to be, nothing in life is certain. That’s why it’s called risk.
I’m just glad that at 30, I finally took one before it got even harder.
Apparently that’s a good age too.

lzpnbLh


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Deadlines

So… I missed my deadline, but only by a few days – three to be exact.

I had intended to have Draft 2 completed by March the 10th at 100,000 words. Well I hit my target and then I went through it.
Problem?
Not really, possibly. Maybe??
Either way it’s a good problem to have.
But I realised that I couldn’t finish the book in 100,000 words. So Draft 2 is still a way off from being complete.
Currently I’m sitting on ~111,000 words, and by my calculations I probably need another 40 k to tie it all up (at a minimum).
Which is yet more months of work, and that’s just to get the basic structure in place, and by basic structure I mean the bare bones, and by the bare bones I mean a list of scenes, a framework, dialogue, and set outcomes i.e. cause and effect.

The reason?
I chose a tricky genre to write in, especially to start writing in.
Sigh.
In hindsight I probably should have stuck with the first book I started writing. Far simpler in scope and less labour intensive. By that I mean it’s a straightforward Thriller / Sci-Fi. Think of something along the lines of World War Z i.e. it’s a world we all know, current day, the rule set is the same, just add Zombies.
In this type of book / genre, most of the work is already done for the author, the leap of faith / suspension of disbelief required by the reader isn’t as great. In fact it’s that little twist on the familiar that makes these types of stories so interesting.
Note: I don’t have zombies in mine; it’s just a convenient comparison.
However I put that first book on hold at 30,000 words and then went and travelled down the High Fantasy route (think George R. R Martin).
Or for those interested in a bit more info – See here

Now High Fantasy is a bit more complicated for several reasons.
Primarily – There’s a lot of ‘world building that has to go into fiction of this genre and it makes it a hard balancing act between story, pace, style, and exposition (exposition is the process of describing the world, i.e. When the protagonist jumps in a matte black four door SUV that he bought a year ago, its got decent mileage, the passenger seat has a coffee stain and the old kid seat is still in the boot, its raining, the engine is already on idle blah blah blah = Exposition. It’s not necessarily story, but its part of the setup).

For those unfamiliar with the term World Building– See here
In effect, you’re trying to establish a whole bunch of new rules (how the world works), without killing the pace too much. Believe me, it’s harder than it sounds.

On the whole High Fantasy books are longer, slower, especially at the start, and tend be part of a series – Game of Thrones, Wheel of Time, Lord of the Rings etc.

The second issue I faced is expected ‘completed’ book length, or word count as the effective measure.
Standard submission lengths for manuscripts tend to fall in the 90 – 110,000 word range (about 400 pages in paperback). Publishers hesitate with longer works, especially with ‘unknowns’.
Hello yours truly.
But it’s also somewhat genre dependent, and there are always exceptions.
Considering I don’t think I can finish this story in less than 150,000, I worry a little… but I don’t see much of a way around it.
There is a story to tell and it’s not finished yet. Hell, it’s at about 66%.

To put it in context, here are some popular books and word lengths:

Wheel of Time – Robert Jordan
The Eye of the World: 305k
The Great Hunt: 267k
The Dragon Reborn: 251k
The Shadow Rising: 393k

Joe Abercrombie – First Law (& standalones)
The Blade Itself: 191.2k
Before They Are Hanged: 198.3k
Last Argument of Kings: 234.1k

Stormlight Archives – Brandon Sanderson
The Way of Kings: 387k

A Song of Ice And Fire – George R. R. Martin
A Game of Thrones: 284k
A Clash of kings: 326k
A Storm of Swords: 404k
A Feast for Crows: 300k

King Killer Chronicles – Patrick Rothfuss
Name of the Wind – 259,000
Wise Man’s Fear – 399,000.

So even at 150,000 words, I’ll still be at the shorter end, granted the second book in the series is already sitting at 70k…

In the meantime, I’ll just write until it’s done and see where it ends up. Deal with the stress / panic as it arises, and then start cutting again. Then again, and again, until it’s ready.
Disclaimer- Writing and editing are somewhat iterative processes.
The only other thing that keeps me sane at those points is that as frustrating and slow as it may seem, it never feels like work. Which tells me I’m on the right path, and that’s enough for now.

All it means is that the timeline isn’t as quick as I would like and I just have to be a bit more ‘patient’.
But I’ve made progress in other areas, the writing course / workshop is going well, I got my ‘author’ photo done, I’ve started incorporating feedback from my Alpha readers (pretty sure I owe them presents when this is all done), and they’ve already pointed out some of the flaws and traps I fall into too easily.

So to my Alphas – Thanks again, it gets better with your input!
I was going nowhere until you started helping, now it’s like a gang bang, (we’re getting shit done).

aB2aarH

And ultimately, I’m making progress.

Slowly, but progress is progress and I’m a hell of a lot further along that I was two months ago, I can almost see the light.

Almost.