Akiri: Dragonbane has been nominated for book of the year in the self published category. Please help me to the next round!
Tuesday, September 26, 2017
So you want to be a writer, do you? Awesome! For me, there is no better way to make a living. Believe me when I say that I have tried many other professions – from working on offshore supply boats to selling cars. I even traveled around the country playing music for a time. But nothing holds a candle to the life I have as a professional novelist. It’s not just the writing; it’s the people. The fans are wonderful, as are the other writers I’ve met. I have gone from day in, day out toil and monotony to spending my time inside my own head, thinking up new and fantastical worlds.
But it’s not all fun and games. Though the rewards are tremendous, the cost is high at times. For those of you interested in what it means to write novels for a living, I will give you a brief insight into what it is truly like and what you should expect if you are determined to pursue a career in writing.
First of all, I should explain that my experience is as unique as any other writer’s. Though there are similarities, each person travels down their own road. Moreover, I am limited to my own perspective. There are many ways to write for a living; being a novelist is but one.
As many of you know, I am an independent author. Though my audiobooks are produced through traditional publishers, the production of my kindle and paperback editions are solely my responsibility. This means hours of mind-numbingly tedious work that is added to my already heavy schedule. But it is either get it done or watch my career circle the drain. Many new authors go into indie publishing with the expectation of it being somehow easier than the traditional route. They soon learn that nothing could be further from the truth. Both methods are an uphill climb. And you are no more likely to “make it” as an indie than through traditional means. Is it quicker? Yes. You succeed or fail in far less time. But the obstacles you face are no different. It is a continuous battle to keep yourself productive and maintain focus on your goals. And even should you have a strong launch and quickly attain your sales objectives, you discover that it’s only the beginning.
When I launch a new series, every word I write is a risk. I depart from what I know people like and throw the dice, praying that I get lucky. You might think that my previous success would ensure future sales. If only that were true!
In the world of indie publishing, two things are the key to continued success: production and quality. It is the first aspect that many find discouraging. The amount of material involved in building an audience is staggering. This year (2017) I have written four books and am scheduled for six by the end of December. You would think that after a time, I would have enough of a backlist to be able to relax somewhat. But nope! In order to remain relevant, I have to keep pumping them out. Readers of indie demand that we give them stories at a pace traditional publishing cannot keep up with. That’s the very thing that propelled indie to prominence in the first place—and it’s why readers keep coming back.
But you simply can’t bang out a bunch of words every day and expect people to read them. Maintaining quality is essential. This can really put your mind to the test. Coming up with new adventures is not as easy as one might think. A novel is more than a concept; you can’t just think of a neat plot and expect it to magically transform into a book. As they say, the devil’s in the details. Individualizing characters and then outlining a political and social structure, magic systems, and even the laws of physics all have to be taken into account. This takes time. And when time is not your ally, the pressure can mount.
It is important to have in place an editing and proofreading team so that you can move from one project to the next without missing a beat. These people need to know your work and what you expect from them without needing to bombard you with questions.
Of course, you have cover art, interior designers, and bloggers to deal with as well. But that’s another topic. For the purposes of this piece, we are focusing on the very base essentials for indie success.
The popularity of indie relates directly to the fact that we give readers an abundance of good quality stories – and we don’t overcharge. So, when you ask yourself, “Do I have a book in me?”, you need to then ask, “Do I have 20 more?”
At this point you might be saying, “Why are you being so discouraging?” I’m not. In fact, before you gain an audience, you’re in a position to take much of the weight off your shoulders before you get started. You can do this by understanding one simple thing: there is no hurry to publish. None whatsoever.
I see all too often a mad dash to the finish line; new authors chomping at the bit to click on the “publish” icon. Are they ready? Usually the answer is no, and for many reasons. The one that relates to what I am talking about pertains to the possibility of initial success. What if your first book sells like crazy? Are you ready for that? Do you have a follow up? Do you have the time to write one? How long did it take you to get the first one written and edited? Because let me tell you, once sales start happening, you have about 90 days – then poof. It’s over. Sure, there are exceptions. But typically, that’s your window. After that, sales begin to dwindle, and you lose your initial push. Why not wait and have three or four books written ahead of time? Put yourself into a position to take full advantage of that initial momentum. You can use this time to expand your network and build yourself a solid foundation on which you can launch a career that has both stability and longevity.
Quantity and quality are not the only factors, but they are the most fundamental. Before you dive into indie publishing with the hopes of quitting your day job, you need to have the relevant information. You need to know your own capabilities. Can you write four or more books per year? That single question is enough to tell you if you should consider traditional publishing.
I know indies often frown at the idea of going traditional. Mostly it’s backlash from years of being looked down upon by the “real writers” who are signed with one of the Big Five publishers. We’ve spent so long taking veiled insults and defending our right to publish without the gatekeepers standing in our path that many of us feel somewhat bitter. But there is nothing wrong with a writer who wants to go the old-fashioned route. Is it slower? Yes. But not every writer is cut out for the breakneck pace of indie. It can be absolutely soul-draining. There are times I just want a break – a few months of…well…not writing. But I can’t do that. I have chosen my path. I’m not complaining. But there are realities I face that can’t be ignored. And my family depends on me.
I think all I am trying to say is that before you embark on your journey, do your research. Make sure you are going down the road that is right for you. Indie sounds very appealing, particularly when you know that with traditional publishing you will face rejection after rejection. But make no mistake, with indie you face it too. Instead of agents and publishers, it’s readers. But unlike agents and publishers, readers reject you in a very public and sometimes cruel manner.
Whatever course you choose, know that becoming a writer is a wonderful thing. Despite all of its pitfalls and heartaches, there is nothing quite like the feeling of hearing a reader telling others how much they enjoyed your work. The sense of personal validation is like nothing else I have experienced. I hope you find in writing all that I have found…and more.
Friday, September 22, 2017
Tuesday, September 19, 2017
Many of you will have no idea what the SPFBO is. It stands for Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off and has been instrumental in shining a light on both individual indie writers as well as indie fantasy as a whole. Created in 2015 by the best-selling author Mark Laurence, the SPFBO provides hundreds of indies the unique opportunity to have their work reviewed by top fantasy sites, with thousands of followers. These sites typically review and discuss traditionally published authors and would rarely consider reading an indie novel.
The rules are simple. There are 300 entries spread among 10 review sites. Each site narrows it down to 1. And from those 10, a winner is chosen. The prize: aside from the review itself, exposure and prominent mention by a world-famous author…and I think he sends a trophy. This may not sound like much. But for those of us who have spent countless hours soliciting reviews and doing anything we can think of to get noticed, it’s a pretty big deal. Big enough that not only did I enter, but several of the top selling indies out there did the same.
As with any literary contest, the judging process is subjective. There is the possibility a book could end up in the hands of a reviewer who simply prefers a different style. But it’s as fair as it can be, given the number of books. But the point of it isn’t winning the contest. Well, not to me. Getting these high-volume sites to review an indie is nearly impossible. And here is an opportunity to spread your name. If you lose, fine. But they might remember you. They might even have liked your book enough to recommend it. Bare minimum you get a critique from a highly thought of reviewer. And so far, the reviews that have come in from those eliminated have been thoughtful and carefully crafted. No. Not all of them were 5 star. But they were constructive, and many left spots where the author could use a quote – another big deal.
Speaking of quotes, I asked Mark Lawrence to give me one about the SPFBO and he had this to say: “The SPFBO, or Spiffbo to its friends, is a collective effort that has become far more than I imagined it would be. It has made a huge difference to several excellent writers and a small difference to a great many more. It's one of the things I am most proud of, although my contribution is quite small." Mark is far too modest about his contribution. He is in constant contact with the participants through the social media site, and has been a true source of inspiration. Hell, he even gave me the quote I asked for the next day.
Why a guy like Mark Lawrence, a traditionally published, best-selling fantasy author with no specific ties to indie of which I am aware, would take the time to help indie authors is a question only he can answer. But I’m glad he did. So if you haven’t read his work, do so. Not only will you be reading a book written by one of today’s most talented writers, you’ll be supporting someone with a heart of gold and a true champion of the literary world.
Sunday, September 17, 2017
Monday, September 4, 2017
To trope or not to trope? That is the question. One to which no small amount of discussion has been dedicated. Does the world really need another farmboy with a secret destiny? Have elves become old and tired? Do you really want another rock hammering, tunnel drilling dwarf? You bet! But then, I love the tropes. I don’t need them. But I love them regardless. I admit it can be overdone. And if the story is weak, all the elves in Elrond’s army won’t make it better. That’s where I think people get turned off.
I’ve always believed that a good story should be able to translate into nearly any genre. Simply adding elves, dwarves, dragons, magic, etc., isn’t enough. And if the writer is lazy about it, the tropes become annoying. Simply ramming a prophecy in so that the plot makes sense, or to use in place of subtle foreshadowing is a fine example. Not that there is a thing wrong with a good prophecy. Done well, it can add an air of mystery and be used to enhance the book’s ah-ha moments.
The races in fantasy are another bone of contention. But again, we run into the same issues. Elves, dwarves, trolls, orcs, are absolutely wonderful in my view. Overdone? Yes. But so what? Again, it’s not the frequency of their use, it’s the way they are portrayed. Creating a society is not easy. It’s meticulous, time consuming, and often frustrating work. Simply ripping off Tolkien is a sure-fire way to turn off a reader. No one wants another group of eternal know-it-alls. If they are so damn wise, why didn’t they get rid of the bad guy in the first place? And why do they all have to live in trees? Are they cousins to the mighty squirrel? But if you give them a real history; one that is complicated and perhaps a bit tumultuous, they can be fabulous additions to your world. This is true with any of the trope races. I think it’s when there is an utter absence of thought and depth you see the “trope haters” take exception. And who can blame them? Orcs are evil, elves good, dwarves xenophobic mole people, and humans…in power and governing the world, yet at the same time the least special and weakest race. Yeah. It’s easy to see why an avid fantasy reader could scream, ENOUGH!
And there is the plotting. How better to start a good fantasy novel than with…wait for it…the farmboy? But hey! I like the farmboy plot. Though massively overused, it is a great way to launch an adventure. Now keep in mind the farmboy doesn’t have to be an actual farmboy. Your hero can be a farmgirl. Or the child of a blacksmith. Or whatever. The point is the unlikely hero. A mundane person who discovers they were special all along. The reason it works so well is that people desperately want to see themselves this way – a lowly worker bee with untapped potential and undiscovered greatness. How could you not relate to that? And there isn’t a thing in the world wrong with it. But if you use this plot, you must use caution. Pay close attention to how you flesh out the main character. When using a common theme, you have to make up for it with great characters and exciting storytelling. It’s one thing to rehash the farmboy plot. It’s something else to do so with two dimensional characters and jaw-droppingly predictable storytelling. You’ll lose the reader…even the trope loving kind. This applies to other common themes such as the dark assassin, disgraced soldier, and the lost prince or princess, to name but a few. Use it. But you’ll need to step up your game.
Tropes in general are not bad. They provide a sense of familiarity that I, along with many readers, find pleasing, and even comforting in a way. Used well, they can help paint a picture of your fantasy world that can transport a reader away from their hum-drum and provide a bit of pleasure in an otherwise harsh life. It’s when they are used in place of well-considered storytelling that they begin to annoy people. You have to strike that balance between the familiar and the new. It’s a tightrope walk, to be sure. But no one ever said being a writer was easy.