Articles and essays about my writing.
A month ago, writer Dean Wesley Smith launched a new challenge for himself. For one year, he is going to “write in public”. Every day he is putting up a new post, talking a little about his day, his writing process, what he got done, and how he did it. He’s calling the series of blog posts “Writing in Public: A Year in the Life of a Professional Fiction Writer”. He kept it up all through August, and it’s been an awesome read. You can catch his first post here. As a secondary goal, he’s planning to write about 100,000 new words each month, for a new monthly magazine he wants to put out – of all his work!
Understand, Dean’s been doing this for decades. If you haven’t read his blog, then you don’t know his history – which involves over a hundred traditionally published novels and over two hundred short stories sold to various venues. He knows his craft; he also knows his methods, and has built up systems for getting things done over the course of decades of work. So what he’s doing, really, is giving the rest of us a peek at those methods and systems.
It’s been fun to watch. But what about doing more than just watching?
A month ago when Dean first started this crazy challenge, I asked him if he’d be offended if I tried to take up the challenge as well. His reply?
Kevin, completely up to you. Remember, this is for a year. It’s the long push that’s important here. Might want to bring the elephant down to a month to start. (grin)
So of course, I chickened out.
Hey, I have THINGS going on, right? I have three young kids. At the time, I was job hunting (found a new one, and starting full time this week, in fact). I need to earn a steady income to keep the roof over our heads and the fridge full. And writing isn’t paying more than a bill a month or so. I still did some writing in August, but it’s WAY easier to avoid the accountability. To continue just plugging along as a dabbler, instead of pushing myself.
I didn’t get nearly as much done in August as I would have liked.
And I had a month to think about this idea of this challenge. I raised a bunch of objections for myself.
1) Who’s going to want to read about MY writing process, anyway?
I’m not DWS. I haven’t been doing this for decades. So why would anyone want to read about my writing work?
I do have one thing going for me, there. I have another job, and kids – two things Dean doesn’t have. Most writers aren’t in Dean’s boat. We can’t wake up at noon and write off and on until 4am, then go back to sleep before waking up to do it again the next day. We need to fit in writing around the day job, at least. It’s a different challenge. What I experience as I push myself to excel might have some value for other writers who want to do the same thing.
Or maybe no one will read it. At this point, I’m OK with that result, too. Because by holding myself accountable. I will be making myself do a little more, and push a little harder. Whether or not anyone reads these posts, they ought to help ME write more. And that’s a win all by itself. The data I will collect – about when I wrote best, when I worked faster or slower, and how I found space in my life for more writing hours – should pay more dividends in the future as well.
2) What if you fail?
Failure is embarrassing. We’re brought up to hate it. But I’ve done some reading this month, and I think that’s a poor attitude. Failure is only bad when we don’t learn anything from it. Or perhaps when we fail because we didn’t try.
From a certain point of view, August WAS a failure for me, because I didn’t meet the writing goals I had set for myself. I failed even though I never started the challenge, because the private goals I did set were not met. If the thing we should derive from failure is some sort of learning, then what I ought to be taking away from August is “what you did last month DIDN’T work – time to try something different!”
Maybe I won’t manage this challenge, either, but I certainly intend to give it my best shot. And I’ll learn something from it regardless.
3) You don’t have time for this.
Yeah, there’s the big one. Because, of course, none of us do. Really. None of us have time to step out, step up, and do the things that matter to us.
Except that’s a lie. We have all the time we need for the things we want to do. We just have to dump some of the things that are less important, but sometimes find ways to fill our days anyway.
The New Challenge
I’m going to take Dean’s advice, and stick to just one month. For 30 days, through the month of September, I will put up at least a short blog post every day. I may not write every day, but if I don’t write, I’ll mention briefly what else I was up to. I’m going to use the little image I put together for this post for each one in the series, so they’ll be easy to spot. I’ll tell you as much as I can about the writing process, what I was working on, when I was doing it, and how I was fitting in those words.
And because I’m not Dean, I’m going to hit a 60,000 word target this month, rather than his 100,000 words. Don’t get me wrong – I’d love to do 100,000 words! But 60k in a month will be my best month ever. So, baby steps.
If you’re interested in following along as I go down this crazy rabbit hole, welcome. I’ll spend some time answering questions people leave in the comments as I go along.
Wish me luck! This ought to be a lot of fun!
(The second episode of the STARSHIP serial was released on February 7th. The third episode will be out on February 14th, available from all major ebook retailers. You can find it on Amazon, Nook, Kobo, and iTunes.)
One of the things which interests me about serial fiction is the ability to engage the reader on multiple levels.
Ideally, readers get directly engaged with any good story they are reading! But with a serial, the writer has opportunity to get feedback from readers, and incorporate that feedback into future stories. If readers are enjoying one character more, perhaps the writer can concentrate on that character. Had a bad guy you loved to hate? The writer can bring that bad guy back again.
In the old days of serial fiction, writers didn’t have the ability to collect that sort of immediate feedback. But today…? With the internet, there’s a lot more writers can do to connect with readers.
So what ways might work?
Of course, writers can connect with readers like I am right now. Post about the story, and readers can give feedback here. This is helpful because most writers like having a blog anyway, as a central point for their web presence. But, hey – blogs can also feel a little one sided! If you want to begin a discussion, writing an essay isn’t always the best way to manage it. If you want to build a community, you need to give all the members more tools than just being able to respond to what you feel like talking about that day.
Yahoo Groups were the quintessential internet community source for years. They work; they’re easy to set up and manage; they keep all those conversations sorted by threads forever, so you can refer back to things if you want to later.
The down side of Yahoo Groups is that again it’s a limited channel of communication. It’s awesome for discussions. One person starts a thread. Other people reply to that thread. You can easily get discussions sent right to your email inbox, and reply back from there too. But they lack some of the immediate responsiveness of other social media. There’s no way to opt in to specific discussions while ignoring others, for example. You can post multimedia, but not as easily as would be useful.
Google+ is a great community site, right now. It’s the second largest social network, so a lot of fans are already participating. You can discuss things easily – and in real time, pretty much. You can upload images and video pretty easily. Users can opt in and out of specific threads. My personal feeling is this is one of the better community tools available today.
Still, on the negative side – you have to join Google+ to be able to participate, and not everyone wants to do that. With a Yahoo Group, for example, you just need to give an email, any email.
What sort of community site do you think works best? Which ones have you used before? Any other thoughts about pros and cons of the options mentioned above?
Writers being able to receive almost real time feedback from readers is exciting, invigorating stuff! As the STARSHIP series continues to grow, I look forward to being able to do something like this in the future.
Yup, I have BY DARKNESS REVEALED free on Kindle. Ends at about midnight.
Why give my book away? I know that subject is controversial, but I have reasons.
First? Because I’ve been indie publishing for a year now. Happy anniversary! Here’s a free book. =) No, seriously – I mean that. It’s been a fun year so far. I’ve learned a ton. And I have oodles of fresh material coming out later this year, so it seemed like a nice time to give something to the reading community. DARKNESS has a 4.9 star rating on Amazon – if you like urban fantasy, give it a try.
Second? Because it helps my book’s rankings. In theory at least, the arcane meta-mumblings of the Amazon Algorithms will increase my book’s visibility when you get your free copy. So when it goes not-free Saturday, it will be much more noticeable to many more people. That’s the theory, this is the experiment testing that theory. You’re helping ME out when you download your free copy. Thank you!
Third? The book is going up to $3.99 shortly. It’s been $2.99 for a while, and now free for a couple of days (ENDS 6/22!), but after that it is going up. For a variety of reasons, this seems like a sound choice. But, here’s your chance to get it free before it goes up.
Fourth – and this one is important – I am removing the book from the Kindle Select program. That’s the program where Amazon gets a book exclusively on their site, and puts it into their Lending Library in return. The publisher also gets five promo days every three months to make the book free. I tried the Select program. I have to say, I’m extremely underwhelmed; and the impact of Amazon algorithm changes recently have made be even less interested in continuing. So – exclusivity time is over, and the book will VERY SOON be available again on B&N, Smashwords, Apple, Kobo, and other major retailers.
That bit is the good news for those of you who don’t read Kindle books. =)
I’d originally planned to time this free promotion with the release of the next book, ASHES ASCENDANT, but ASHES isn’t quite ready and I don’t feel like renewing the Select program for another three months is worthwhile. So I’m running the free days now – and I’ll come up with something else interesting to do for my readers when ASHES comes out. In the meantime, if you like BY DARKNESS REVEALED, you can read the short story “By A Whisker”, a short adventure about Ryan set a bit in the future, after ASHES ASCENDANT. No spoilers though, don’t worry!
Thanks for reading! And I’m always open to hearing what folks thought of my stories. Improving my craft to tell YOU better tales is central to what I do.
By this time next year, that will have gone up to over 2 million.
By this time in five years, I expect it to be over five million.
By this time in twenty years, I expect it to be…well, really, really, REALLY doggone high.
Breakout vs. Slow Boil
Guys, it’s important to understand something about writing: the one book breakout is RARE. It almost never happens. Of course, we see lots of them, so we think it’s the goal to shoot for. It’s not. Most writers who only produce one book will sell a few hundred copies, maybe a few thousand over the years. More marketing will only very rarely cause a breakout.
If you have one book to write, one story to tell, then write it, get it up there, and do a little free time marketing. Don’t expect big sales; expect a trickle. I basically don’t market my work, yet get steady sales. I have two or three more books and a serial coming out this year, though. And will have more coming out next year. And more the year after that. Once I have a few more books out, I’ll start focusing a little more on the marketing. But I need enough product to make it worthwhile first – you don’t spend time and money advertising your new hardware store when you have one tool on the shelf, right? Same is true for books.
The goal for a professional writer trying to make a living shouldn’t be to get a breakout on any one book. That’s impossible to predict and cannot be engineered. You can’t make Twilight happen. Sometimes it just does. If it happens to you, I am thrilled for you. I’m not going to plan my career around it, though, and I don’t think you should, either.
Instead, the goal for writers who want careers (which I am differentiating from those who just want to write a book and publish it – a fine goal, but not going to make a living) should be to slowly, over time, build a fanbase. You build readers who love your work. You build connections to those readers. You inform those readers when your next story is available, and they support you financially. This sort of organic growth takes time. Years. Many, many books. But that’s the key to making a living at writing: write a LOT, write WELL, CONNECT with readers, and build a group of people who like your work enough to buy it as soon as you release it.
I’m on BV Larson’s mailing list. A few times a year, he sends out emails to everyone on his list announcing a new book. Like many other people on his list, I buy the new book within minutes of receiving the email. (They are fun, not deep, SF&F books). I usually read the book that day, maybe running into the next. But I buy pretty consistently. I am one of his “10,000 fans”, the folks who will consistently buy what he produces as soon as he lets us know.
Mailing Lists Connect Us With Readers
A mailing list is a great way to connect with readers. You can sign up for mine here!
But treat the mailing list with care. You have to ensure what you’re offering in any email you send is something interesting, relevant, and of value to your readers. I named the list “Readers First!” to remind myself of that – that the list is about the readers, not about me. It’s not about my cool new blog post. It’s not about research I did on the industry. It’s about readers, folks who enjoyed my work and want to hear about more of it when it comes out.
Present the reader with well-designed, high quality emails. Look like a professional. Those emails should be your “business best” work. Keep them short and to the point: show respect for your readers by not wasting their time. Those emails are a way to maintain contact with readers, so make yourself available as well. Create means to do two-way contact through those mails, even if it’s something as simple as inviting your readers to email you. If they do, respond, even if it’s brief.
We want to build connections, to create doors that open both ways for our readers. For all MY readers who are reading this post: thank you. You’re the reason I keep writing, and I appreciate each one of you.
For the writers our there: how far into building your 10,000 fans are you? Do you have what it takes to go the distance and get there? What have you done today to help make that happen? Remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint!
I’m writing this post on an iPad, using the virtual keyboard. No external keyboard, not bluetooth. Thus, writing on glass.
I was always a little iffy about the idea of writing on a virtual keyboard. I type pretty rapidly. On a good hour, I’m putting out fifteen hundred words. Losing writing speed in any serious way would be bad for me. But I had two experiences which made me want to give it a try.
First, I bought a laptop with one of those chicklet type keyboards about a year and a half ago. I’d typed on regular key type keyboards my entire life, you understand, starting with a manual typewriter over thirty years ago. It was a big adjustment. But I very quickly got my writing speed back up to full speed.
The second was talking to a college professor I know about tech. He commented that the new thing on campus was students using an iPad. Not alongside a laptop or desktop, but often instead of another computer. Simply typing out papers and assignments on the glass screen and turning them in.
OK. In my experience, college students are something of a litmus paper (perhaps canary in a coal mine is a better metaphor) for where tech is going. If the college students have moved to typing on glass keyboards, then not only can it be done, it’s likely things are moving in that direction for everyone. On the theory that this might be an upcoming vital life skill, I decided to give it a try.
A week in, and I’m basically up to full speed typing. There is no appreciable loss of speed. Oh, my fingers still stumble on the keys sometimes. But they always did that anyway. I’m back to touch typing, watching the screen more than my keys and fingers. Getting better as I go.
I’m not sure I’d have thought that was possible. But here I am. And it’s VERY freeing. With Storyist, I have a decent option for typing that I can export to my laptop. Daedalus Touch is a good program as well, but without support for RTF export there’s no way to retain formatting. Storyist retains bolds, italics, and other bits. I’ll be watching both as I go forward, as well as keeping eyes on the upcoming Scrivener for iPad.
So I can take this little pound and a half device with me anywhere, type away on it anywhere for eight or more hours, and upload it to my laptop via Dropbox when I hit an Internet connection. I’ve got a 3G iPad, but don’t have the service turned on right now. So far, I’m really liking it.
What have your experiences been with writing on tablets? Ever tried it? Thought about trying it? I’d love to hear your opinions on tablets for writing in general, and “writing on glass” in particular. I look forward to seeing what other folks are doing with these devices!
And check in number one.
A Round of Words in 80 days has twice weekly check ins, where everyone posts what they’ve done in the few days since the last check in. I’m thinking I need a new blog for this stuff, and might go grab one so it’s not mixing up my regular blog. We’ll see.
To date for this year?
1/1 1243 words and WIP converted over to Scrivener.
1/2 (official start of the ROW80 round) 1074 words.
1/3 No new words.
1/4 2068 words. Plus a MAJOR renovation to the blog that I’m quite happy with.
So far, I’m actually sitting ahead of goal a little bit, which is a minor miracle seeing as how I’m still at the in-laws, still in Boston, and still taking the kids out for excursions to places like the Boston Museum of Science (that was today – awesome traveling exhibit on Pompeii). Also still sick, and the bug has me tired out and is trying to move into my lungs, but I’m battling it best I can. The continuing saga of one Ryan Blackwell are proceeding apace, and the words are flowing well.
Going to bed now. Stuck it out long enough to get the words in and get the blog post up, but I’m tired!
I’ve updated the blog. New look – a crisp, clean website which should load a little faster and look a little more professional. I have to admit, I liked the old stonework art I used to have. It’s art I made, back when I was doing game art, so it had a little personal appeal. But I have to admit the clean white looks sharp.
When I founded this blog back in Autumn 2010, I wasn’t really sure what I was doing with myself. I knew that publishing was changing. I knew I loved writing, and that the way the writing profession seemed to be shifting had a lot of appeal. I’ve run a few businesses, and enjoy the work. Authors as entrepreneurs? Sign me up!
I’ve ended up doing quite a lot more than that now, though. Yes, I’ve been writing, and yes, I’ve been publishing that work. But to date, I’ve earned more income from formatting work for other writers, and done more work advising others on how best to go about doing things in this new world. I’ve listened to some of the best in the business, and I’ve participated in, even run, some intensive studies of the changing publishing marketplace.
In the process, I’ve created a blog which is fairly scattered. And as a very bright person pointed out to me earlier today, that’s not really the best way to go about things. So this is a moment of refocus. The old blog name was centered around me, my learning, my SF and fantasy writing: “Swords and Starflight: Exploring the worlds of writing and publishing”.
The new blog name is “Digital Delta: Charting a course through the changing world of publishing.”
Appropriate, because that’s what I’ll be writing about here. Yes, I’ll talk some about my own writing still. But the majority of what I put up here will be detailed information and analysis about the publishing industry as it exists today, and as it is likely to exist in the near future.
Because we’ve seen enormous change over the last two years, monumental change just over the last twelve months. But I think we’re still at the tip of the iceberg, and there’s much more to come. We’re still collectively working to find ways of coping with just these first steps of the digital publishing revolution, but the deeper changes won’t happen for a while yet. I predict that the next three years are going to be a rollercoaster of events as retailers, publishers, agents, writers, and everyone else involved in the industry work overtime to keep up.
Change can be scary. Folks, change can also be a lot of fun. Change can mean endings, but change can also mean new beginnings, new opportunities.
Let’s find them together.
Completed 1243 words of new fiction today. Also pulled all the files over from Ashes Ascendant into Scrivener, so I can finish the project there. Since I already had a bunch of the novel done, I had a lot of copy/paste and outline setup to accomplish, but I think it was worth it. Already feeling pretty good about using the software – I’ve used straight LibreOffice for writing for some time now, but picked up a Scrivener license now that the Windows version has been released (and hey, I had a half off coupon from completing NaNoWriMo, so why not?).
I’ve gone through and entered chapters for each chapter, and broken those chapters into scenes, so I have a rough outline of every scene. Then I pasted in the scenes from the LibreOffice document. Took a couple hours of work, interspersed with watching TV with relatives, so I wasn’t working at peak performance. Not a huge time sink, and it’s nice to have the outline sitting there on screen so I know what’s coming next. Still a few holes to fill in, but the book is proceeding apace.
Most important, I think – I started off the year right. It was a busy day, with a birthday party, my wife and I sick and two of the kids just recovering from being sick yesterday (thankfully, seems to be a quick but nasty fever/congestion bug). All sorts of excuses to miss a day. But I had an urge to kick things off properly regardless, so I made sure to make time to do so. ;)
I won’t report on this sort of progress daily. I don’t want to bore you all! But as a ‘getting launched right’ post, I thought it was worth telling you about.
Hope your New Year’s Day went well, too!
I don’t really feel like running out new predictions right now. Maybe tomorrow.
Instead, I thought I’d take a look at 2011, and then ahead at 2012, and set some goals.
Dean’s written some amazing articles on goal setting. He’s done similar articles before, but these just rock. Excellent reading, and very timely – hey, we’re all looking ahead at the new year, right? Check them out:
2011 was a good year. I published three short stories and a novel. I met a ton of really amazing people, and learned a great deal. But it’s time to push things to the next level. Now, I’ve got a lot of changes coming down the pipe. This is going to be a huge year, with a lot going on. So goals – real, achievable ones – are going to be critical.
1. Write more.
I have a brand new book; a little moleskin pocket sized planner. Aside from tracking dates and schedules in it (the obvious), it’s going to be used to track my writing. When I write, how much I produce, what frame of mind I was in. I’m going to use that to figure out when and where my best times for writing are, and build a better schedule for getting more done. I’m going to track every new word of salable fiction and nonfiction, and I’m going to make sure there are a lot of them.
How many? I’m going to shoot for 366,000 words. (It’s a leap year, 1000 per day.)
I’ve never even come close to that before. It’ll be a huge challenge, from the perspective of history. But then again – since I write about 600-800 words in a 25 minute sprint, it’s not really that much per day. In the back of my mind, of course, is the idea I might be able to exceed that, but life has a funny way of breaking in, so let’s just keep it there for now.
Specifically, on the writing front, I plan to publish Ashes Ascendant, finish Dead In Winter, and publish that. Those will finish off the first three Blackwell Magic books. I also still plan to produce the serial fiction work. I got a great start on that in November, but need to re-examine how I can approach the genre. It was my first try, and there were a lot of flaws (primarily, because I wrote a novel instead of a serial!). I will also finish the rewrite of Accord of Honor – which my wife assures me needs a new title, so it might get one. Science fiction in the not so distant future, this is a “lost book” of mine, or almost was anyway. The file was lost in a hard drive crash, but I had a paper copy, so I’ve been retyping it into the computer, rewriting as I went. The resulting story is not the same as the first one was – there are big chunks simply scrapped and rewritten – but it’s much improved from the first attempt to tell the tale, and I’m very pleased with how it’s coming.
I’ve also had a lot of requests for basically a “step by step guide” to the mechanical parts of self publishing. Where to upload. How, exactly, to convert. How to do a basic POD book. All the basics, all in one book. I know there’s a few out there, but when I queried one LinkedIn group in a half joking post, I had a bunch of replies back saying yes, please do! So the outline is done on said book, and I’ll be cranking it out this year.
2. Follow Heinlein’s Rules.
A while back, Dean wrote a blog post where he mentioned the book those rules came from. It’s a great little volume, “Of Worlds Beyond: the science of science fiction writing”. I got a copy of the original 1947 edition for Christmas this year. It felt vaguely like getting a copy of the Gutenberg Bible. ;) I mean, this is THE BOOK. The source of the rules which spawned the careers of so many writers. And I was holding an original edition in my hands. How cool is that? I may love ebooks, but hey, some print books have value as a symbol beyond the actual words contained within the spine.
For those who don’t recall, Heinlein’s Rules are simple:
Heinlein’s Rules for Writing
- You must write.
- You must finish what you write.
- You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.
- You must put the work on the market.
- You must keep the work on the market until it is sold.
In this new age of publishing, those rules are still valid. Only the market has changed. The rules themselves are still as simple – and simply powerful – as ever. So I intend to follow those rules. I will write. I will finish each piece. I will rewrite based on editorial suggestion. I will get that work up for sale as soon as is possible, and keep it there so that it sells.
3. Business building.
I’ve begun formatting and editing for other writers. Doing ebook and print book formatting, and copy editing manuscripts. So far, I’ve had a bunch of really happy people, and I plan to continue working in this venue into the new year. I watch all the time as writers are caught by this or that questionable – even scammy – operation that sucks them for every cent it can. I feel firmly that hiring folks for basic one-time fees is the best way to go, and I put my money where my mouth is. I’m making those services available to writers at fees that are reasonable – complete with a free set of revisions, and phone-walkthrough assistance in the upload process if necessary. I’m enjoying the work, it’s extra income I can certainly use, and it’s helping writers become successful publishing their work. I don’t intend to set a goal for how many of these I will do, but I will continue to make the services available so I can help writers achieve their own goals.
There’s a lot to do. It’s going to be an amazing year, in so many ways, for so many people! I look forward to the challenges ahead, and the work ahead, and the new experiences and things to learn. 2011 was remarkable.
2012 stands ready to be incredible!
Well, that was certainly interesting. I did 44,000 words in three days, 24,000 words on the last day.
And I’m done.
I had a little time to spare – about a half hour. Thanks, everyone who stopped by and said hello. Thanks for the retweets, the Facebook comments, and especially for the comments here. All the encouragement was welcome, and I’m enormously grateful!!
I’m doing an excellent job with the output. I was churning about 2k words per hour today. And while not all of it is perfect prose, it feels pretty good. Now, of course, the challenge is the same as every year: maintain. Continue working, now that NaNoWriMo is over.
NaNo gives us all an excuse to write. A chance to do something different once a year. But if you want to BE a writer, then that’s not enough. It shouldn’t be enough – should feel like it’s not enough, somewhere in your gut.
One hour a day for me is at least five hundred thousand words a year. How could I possibly agree to settle for anything less than that, and still feel like I’m taking writing seriously? Easier said than done. But honestly, if one is serious about something, is an hour a day too much to ask?
New year challenges and goals forthcoming later in December. It’s going to be a fun, fun year. =)
For now, though, this challenge is won!
EDIT PS: I’ll put up another article, either tomorrow or the next day, talking a little more about process, method, anything I think might be useful to someone else from the experience. But for now, fingers need a break! Brain too… =)