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Return to the dreamscape with If Sin Dwells Deep

You don’t have to be a dream drifter to enjoy the collective unconscious. As of today, If Sin Dwells Deep is available in paperback and Kindle edition.

Books One and Two of The Soul Sleep CycleFans of If Souls Can Sleep, Book One of The Soul Sleep Cycle, will be treated to another twisted adventure in the dreamscape. Book Two focuses on the CIA-sanctioned gods of Project Valhalla.

Late to the slumber party? No worries. If Sin Dwells Deep is not a direct sequel. Because it’s a parallel novel, readers can dive into the series without having read Book One. (More on that below!)

As I did before with The Renegade Chronicles (Infrequently Asked Questions) and If Souls Can Sleep (More Infrequently Asked Questions), I’ve compiled a Q&A for my new novel.

And even though I have, in fact, been interviewed a handful of times about If Sin Dwells Deep, I’m going to keep the sarcastic naming convention for old time’s sake.

Even More Infrequently Asked Questions

What is If Sin Dwells Deep about?

Here’s the back-cover teaser:

Even good girls have secrets.

When straight-laced Allison sleeps, the rebellious goddess Syn wakes. Having a fling in the dreamscape may seem like harmless fun, but when a sadistic predator learns her true identity, the fantasy begins to bleed into real life.

If Sin Dwells Deep—a parallel novel to If Souls Can Sleep—exposes the hidden world of dream drifters and explores the war between gifted government agents and those who would use their abilities to corrupt life, death, and that which lies beyond.

Who is If Sin Dwells Deep about?

Close up of Allison "Syn" GreeneThe story centers on Allison, specifically her struggles while navigating multiple realities and the morality of managing conflicting identities. The reader also gets glimpses into the mind of the Wolf, a disturbed dream drifter who is determined to punish Allison for her alleged sins.

Intertwined with the main plot are chapters that feature psychiatrist-turned-fugitive William Marlowe, who was presented as an antagonist in Book One and whose scenes help uncover the true threat to the dreamscape in Book Two.

Who is your favorite character?

In If Sin Dwells Deep, I really enjoyed creating point-of-view characters who were all very different from me. Allison is a conservative young woman; the Wolf is a sexual predator; and William is a gay man of Japanese descent. All three have unique voices and presented their own challenges to me as the author.

While I don’t think I can pick a favorite, I always appreciate the characters who give me an opportunity to express humor. The relationship dynamics of Allison and her love interest, Eben, were a lot of fun to write, though William—a scoundrel on the verge of a mental break—gave me some of my favorite lines in this book.

What is the setting for If Sin Dwells Deep?

The real-world scenes are split between Seattle and Philadelphia in 2007, but most of the action takes place in the dreamscape, the collective unconscious where dream drifters can access the minds of unsuspecting sleepers.

There are also a few flashbacks, both inside and outside of the dreamscape, that drop clues as to how the actions of William—and other members of the defunct Lucid Dreaming Society—resulted in the current conflict.

Who will enjoy this book?

With If Souls Can Sleep, the first book in the series, I set out to write something very different from the sword-and-sorcery fantasy stories I had been writing previously. I wanted to tell a story I had never heard before, something unique and unusual.

As a result, Book One and Book Two of The Soul Sleep Cycle are both mashups of several genres, such as science fiction, fantasy, paranormal, suspense and metafiction.

Fans of speculative fiction—including fantasy and science fiction—are the obvious audience, but the series, as a whole, appeals to people outside those genres too. It’s a wonderfully weird story, so anyone who likes rich characters and unpredictable plots can enjoy If Sin Dwells Deep.

What is If Sin Dwells Deep “rated”?

Whereas I would have rated If Souls Can Sleep as PG-13, If Sin Dwells Deep earns an R rating. The Wolf is one twisted soul, which brings mature aspects into the story. There’s profanity, violence and sexual content. The suggested audience is age 18 and older.

How long did it take you to write the book?

I wrote the first draft of If Sin Dwells Deep in about eight months in 2011 and 2012. It wasn’t until 2014 that I wrote a second draft. Then I wrapped up the final edits and proofing in early 2018.

On paper, it looks like it took six years, but when you ignore the time I spent working on other projects, I’d estimate just under a year from writing the prologue of the first draft to finishing the final version.

What does the title mean?

Cover of "If Souls Can Sleep"I really liked the title of Book One, If Souls Can Sleep, which came from a quote within the book. Using an “if clause” leaves the reader hanging and injects some suspense.

The working title of Book Two was “Almost a Fantasy,” but it lacked vim. So I tried to come up with something better, something that tied into the first title.

If Sin Dwells Deep was perfect in that it touches on two themes in the novel—whether one’s actions in a dream could be considered actual sins and the idea of “going deeper” while dream drifting.

Does Book Two pick up where Book One left off?

If Sin Dwells Deep is not a direct sequel to If Souls Can Sleep.

With Book One, I realized early on that I was trying to write three books at once. I had to cut two significant storylines in order to streamline it. In the end, Book One became Vincent’s—and to a lesser extent, Milton’s—story.

Yet I knew I wanted to reveal more about the gods and goddesses of Project Valhalla. Ultimately, I decided If Sin Dwells Deep would be a parallel novel to If Souls Can Sleep. This allowed me to tell another side of the story—the stuff that couldn’t fit into the first book—while giving readers an alternate entry point into the series.

Because If Sin Dwells Deep is a parallel novel, readers won’t have to have read If Souls Can Sleep first. They could start with either book, though I suspect reading them in the order they were published will be more satisfying.

Does that mean Book Two tells the same story as Book One?

No. If Sin Dwells Deep isn’t just a retread of the first plot. While the new book will fill in some blanks, shedding light on Project Valhalla’s actions during If Souls Can Sleep, it’s strong enough to stand on its own.

Although the two books share a handful of scenes, I thought it was important to make both books self-contained. The two books are interconnected yet independent.

There will be closure in If Sin Dwells Deep, but the overarching saga still needs a conclusion—hence, a third book in the series.

How many more books will there be in the series total?

At least one more: If Dreams Can Die.

The third book is slated for publication in spring 2019. If Dreams Can Die will wrap up the saga that began in If Souls Can Sleep and If Sin Dwells Deep. It will provide a satisfying conclusion to the myriad, intertwining storylines.

However, I always leave a couple of doors open in case I want to return to a series—and, more importantly, if readers do. I try not to let myself think too far ahead, but I do have ideas for a fourth installment of The Soul Sleep Cycle.

Where did you find inspiration for this book?

I like putting realistic, relatable characters in strange situations and seeing how they will behave.

As with Vincent in the first book, If Sin Dwells Deep focuses on an ordinary person in an extraordinary situation. What would you do if you could do anything without consequences? Who would you become?

Allison uses the dreamscape as an escape. So does the Wolf, though his explorations skew to a much darker extreme. And then there’s William, who hopes to capitalize in the real world from what he can do in the dreamscape.

As for the dreamscape itself, well, I’ve always had vivid dreams. Why do our minds produce their own movies every night? What if dreams actually link our brains to others? I find psychology and neurology fascinating. There is still so much we don’t understand about the science of dreams; I suppose that is what science fiction is for.

What is your next project?

Frankly, I have no idea what I’ll pursue after I publish If Sin Dwells Deep and If Dreams Can Die.

If sales of my existing books support it, I’d love to revisit The Renegade Chronicles or The Soul Sleep Cycle someday. Yet I know I’ll need some kind of palate-cleanser in the meantime.

I have no shortage of ideas. That’s the silver lining of working on a series for so long: new ideas pop into one’s mind while elbow-deep in the current project. I jot them down for later. I’m not sure which I’ll pursue, but I expect I’ll write something a little less complex next—maybe a short story or a stand-alone novel.

The young adult (YA) market is tempting not only because those books seem to be selling well, but also because I’d love for my kids to be able to enjoy my fiction in the next few years. Someday I’d love to write for a comic book or a video game. Only time will tell!

When will If Sin Dwells Deep be available to purchase?

It already is! The paperback and the Kindle edition were published on Oct. 2, 2018, with other e-reader formats to follow in January 2019.

Any other questions? Leave a comment below!

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A different class of writing

Spending time with young people can make you feel old, but it can also make you feel young, too.

I had the pleasure of talking with students at Waupun High School yesterday. My mission: to share my educational background, professional writing experiences, writing advice, and tips for getting published with the fledgling writers—in 45 minutes or less.

waupun-warriors

Despite my best efforts, I might have uttered “when I was your age” at least once.

In all seriousness, it was a very casual environment, and even though I did most of the talking, I couldn’t help but be a little inspired as we went around the circle, and the students told of their current projects and future ambitions.

Because I’ve been up to my (pointed) ears in editing a certain fantasy trilogy, I hope you’ll forgive me for taking a shortcut here by repurposing my notes from yesterday’s spiel—quasi-transcripts, if you will.

Hopefully, you’ll find a nugget or two of wisdom regardless of where you are on the path to authorhood.

My story

I started writing in earnest in high school. My fantasy tales bore a resemblance to the books I was reading at the time: DragonLance, Forgotten Realms…you know, books with dragons on the covers. Mostly, I engaged in world-building exercises and episodic storylines, though there was at least one false start to a novel

By senior year, I knew I wanted to be a novelist. At UW-Fond du Lac, I signed up for an independent study writing course. It turned out to be a one-on-one with a professor, where I delivered a chapter for her to critique each week. This was one of the most valuable college courses I ever took, and I learned an awful lot about the basics of storytelling, the importance of word choice—and how to meet deadlines.

In those two years, I wrote two-thirds of what would come to be Volume 1 of The Renegade Chronicles. When I transferred to UW-Milwaukee, I completed the first draft and then rewrote the entire manuscript from scratch senior year since my writing style—not to mention skill level—had dramatically changed since freshman year.

I submitted chapters of my book for various writing workshops, and peer review also proved incredibly valuable. (Though in one class, I had to convince the professor that genre fiction had merit before we were allowed to present fantasy, sci-fi, romance, etc.)

Meanwhile, I took as many literature and linguistics classes as I could. Beyond English courses, I signed up for philosophy, psychology and a ton of history courses. An all-too-common adage dictates one should write what one knows. Ergo, the more you know, the more you can write about.

I somewhat regret I didn’t take any journalism, marketing, or radio/TV/film classes. At the time, I wanted only to write fiction, so none of those related disciplines appealed to me. Then again, I picked up many of those skills later in life.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in English with an emphasis on creative writing, I taught for a year in China, where I had my favorite job title to date: foreign expert. While overseas, I wrote a sequel. I also tried to publish a short story I had written in college (to no avail) and researched agents to represent my fantasy novels.

When I returned to the U.S., I got cracking on Volume 3—while racking up rejections for Volumes 1 and 2.

I was fortunate to find an entry-level position at a newspaper. As a news clerk, I mostly was responsible for formatting lists, such as marriage licenses and school lunch menus. (Have you ever questioned the proper spelling of “tri-tater”?) I typed up letters to the editor, too.

But I also got to do some proofreading and wrote an article here and there. In less than I year, I was promoted to entertainment writer and editor. I picked up a slew of skills in the newsroom—writing and proofing using AP style, headline writing, lead writing, pagination/layout, the basics of photo editing.

Most importantly, I learned the virtues of brevity.

After a few years, I went to the “dark side”—public relations and marketing. At UW-Oshkosh, I wrote press releases, coordinated interviews with faculty and staff, wrote articles for the online news publication and the alumni magazine, became a wiz at Word Press and other content management systems, taught myself project management, and supervised student interns.

I learned even more when I became an account executive at BrownBoots Interactive, including more website skills, search engine optimization (which injects a lot of science into the art of writing), writing for TV and radio commercials, managing multi-channel marketing campaigns, estimating on projects, blogging, and much more.

That’s right, the guy who couldn’t care less about journalism, public relations, and marketing in college grew to appreciate them and, if I do say so myself, excel at them.

But my dream has always been to be a novelist…

About 10 years ago, I joined Allied Authors of Wisconsin. Because I couldn’t get an agent to bite on The Renegade Chronicles, I decided to go outside of my comfort zone and wrote a sci-fi novel that got very good feedback from my beta readers. An agent, who is also a member of AAW, elected to represent If Souls Can Sleep.

And because I didn’t learn my lessons with The Renegade Chronicles, I wrote a sequel before selling the first one.

My wife and I wrote a children’s chapter book to test the waters with self-publishing. (More on that here and here.) But between a full-time career and family obligations, I always felt as though my fiction got short shrift.

Earlier this year, I decided I to take a chance and put my fiction on the front burner. I transitioned to a new role at the agency to allow for larger pockets of time for writing and editing fiction. I created a business plan and am committed self-publishing The Renegade Chronicles in 2016.

My long-term goal—my dream—hasn’t changed remains the same: I want to make a living writing fiction.

Writing advice

There’s no shortage of writing advice out there (and sometimes tips contradict). But here is some advice my mentors gave me “back in the day”:

  • Margaret Weis: “Treat your writing like a job. Write on a schedule.”
  • R.A. Salvatore: “If you can quit, then quit. If you can’t, you’re a writer.”

I’ll add a few of my own observations to the mix:

  • Embrace a variety of life experiences—everything is fodder for your writing.
  • Learn as much as you can about the industry and gain related skills. Even traditionally published authors have to be business-minded marketing experts.
  • Write as many different kind of things as you can because you might be surprised at what you’re good at…and what you might enjoy.
  • Don’t turn your nose up at any writing gig—even if it’s the company newsletter—because everyone has to start somewhere.
  • Get feedback from others (e.g., writers groups, online forums) but realize that not all critiques are created equal. Not everyone is your target audience, and ultimately, it’s your story.
  • Always write what you love and do whatever you can to hold onto that passion.
  • Most importantly, don’t give up.

Tips for getting published

A lot has changed since I was in high school. Back then, you were supposed to write and publish short stories (which I sucked at), and you couldn’t hope to publish a novel without an agent. Also, self-publishing was for losers, and vanity presses that preyed on amateur writers made it expensive, too.

Today, self-publishing is both respectable and profitable. Print-on-demand means publishing a book is relatively inexpensive, though there are outside costs like proofreading and cover design. The biggest challenge is getting noticed above the noise.

As someone who is still on the path to publication, I don’t have any surefire secrets for becoming a bestseller. I do, however, have a couple of tips:

1. Don’t publish before you’re ready. After more than a decade between drafts, I’m now hacking apart The Renegade Chronicles, and they’ll be much better for it. And do your homework to avoid wasting your time…or getting sued.

2. Don’t be afraid to take chances. By the time you’re ready to publish a novel or a comic book or your memoirs, a lot is going to have changed. It’s never been a better time to be a writer, but it’s also the Wild West of publishing right now. If you want to get noticed, you have to experiment.

If you follow the crowd, you’ll always be behind.

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Pondering my next writing project

My favorite questions tend to start with “what if.” Lately, however, this writer has been asking himself, “What now?”

intersection with many signs and directions

Source: Ernie & Katy Newton Lawley, http://www.flickr.com/photos/lawley/59402926/ via Wikimedia Commons

Ever since I started plotting out If Souls Can Sleep nearly nine years ago, I’ve had a clear path in front of me when it came to my fiction. The road wasn’t always a straight line by any stretch—for instance, my wife and I wrote a children’s book in between the first and second draft of If Sin Dwells Deep—but I always had more tasks than time to complete them.

Until last week.

With the first two installments of The Soul Sleep Cycle in my agent’s hands, I find myself at an unexpected crossroads, where past, present, and future compete for my attention. And for the life of me, I can’t decide which path is the most prudent.

Option 1: The Past

Once upon a time, I wrote a sword-and-sorcery fantasy series called The Renegade Chronicles. I couldn’t get agents or publishers interested. Rather than invest more time in fixing it, I decided to try something completely different. The result was If Souls Can Sleep.

For many years, I’ve had the notion to go back and self-publish the TRC. After all, just about every article I’ve ever read about becoming a profitable author espouses the virtues of having a large number of titles for sale. Some of those same sources heavily imply that quantity trumps quality…

Then again, just as many advice columns say that an author’s No. 1 marketing tool is a well-crafted manuscript—in other words, the best story you can write.

(And what to do when writing tips contradict?)

Last week, I reread the first third of Book 1 of the TRC to see just how much dust had collected over the past 14 years. While it wasn’t as cringe-inducing as a feared it would be, one thing was clear: that book, along with the other two, would need copious edits.

The best-case scenario would be a performing a series of substantive edits on all three books, cutting out superfluous text, fixing awkward words and phrases, and eradicating all types of typos. In addition to removing excess, I detected a dearth in setting and sensory details throughout. The prologue was rubbish, too.

Pros for revisiting the past

  • Repairing something that’s already written is bound to be easier than starting anew.
  • This is the fastest way for me to publish several books in one fell swoop—and, hopefully, start generating revenue.
  • I invested seven-plus years in TRC, so dedicating another six to twelve months seems like a small price to pay in order to potentially profit from all that work.
  • If TRC finds an audience, I have a slew of storylines saved up for that particular universe.

Cons for revisiting the past

  • After so much time away, I’m not particularly passionate about this project.
  • Even with substantive edits, the final product will not reflect my current skill level.
  • Therefore, it will take an awful lot of willpower to refrain from completely rewriting the series, which would be quite time consuming.
  • More editing? It’s been more than three years since I wrote a new book—or, more precisely, co-wrote The Pajamazon Amazon vs The Goofers Twofers—and I’m itching for the chance to jump back into the more creative aspects of creative writing.

Option 2: The Present

With at least one book left to write in The Soul Sleep Cycle (and hopefully a few more), I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t eager to wrap up the major story arc that I started back in 2006. However, I’m reluctant to invest the time in Book 3 before I see whether the first two garner any interest—and sales—either via traditional publishing or indie publishing.

To forge ahead or take a break from the series—that is the question.

Pros for living in the present

  • I already have a pretty good idea of what this book will be about and what needs to happen before the end.
  • Having just finished major edits to If Sin Dwells Deep and minor edits to If Souls Can Sleep, the complexities of the story are still fresh in my mind.
  • I’m still very excited about this series, and, honestly, I can’t imagine not writing this book at some point—if only for closure.
  • If traditional publishers don’t buy the trilogy, I’ll have three books ready to self-publish simultaneously. (Hey, it works for Netflix.)
  • I’m confident that the project would push me creatively and that I’d be proud of the final product.
  • While not as easy as editing TRC, writing Book 3 of The Soul Sleep Cycle would still be simpler than coming up with a completely new idea for a novel.

Cons for living in the present

  • If ISCS and ISDD don’t prove profitable—regardless of whether I or a traditional publisher sell them—then spending time writing the next book in the series would be rather pointless. (See also: The Renegade Chronicles.)
  • Even with my new writing schedule, it could take me a couple of years to plot out this story, write it, and then edit it.

Option 3: The Future

I don’t know about other writers, but I always have a slew of story ideas rattling around my gray matter. I jot down some of these story starters in a Word file. In most cases, a few paragraphs are enough to placate that which is threatening to distract me from my current project. Such was the case with a young adult time-traveling tale, a twist-filled take on a traditional fairy tale, and a book about zealots bent on triggering Armageddon.

But then there are stories that can’t be so easily exorcized. For more than a year, I’ve found my mind wandering to a new novel—or series—codenamed “Changelings.” Last week, I finally relented and wrote a few pages about a potential plot and the people to populate it.

Could this be my next novel?

Pros for embracing the future

  • Jumping into a brand-new book would be undeniably energizing, not to mention fun. (I haven’t written a first draft a story since “Ghost Mode” in 2013!)
  • I already have a viable avenue to explore: Changelings.

Cons for embracing the future

  • I have no idea whether any of my ideas, including Changelings, will bear fruit.
  • Even if I were to write a complete manuscript for Changelings, there’s no guarantee it would be publishable.
  • Planning aside, starting afresh will surely be the most time-consuming approach. If my goal is to publish something pronto, this option is out of the question.

Of course, there are other possibilities. I could focus on non-fiction, repurposing some of my old Generation Why? columns or mining this blog for writing-related topics in order to make my self-publishing debut. Or I could give into one of my friend’s urgings and try my hand at a biography of some fascinating historical figure.

But the fact is my passion for writing has always focused on fiction.

“What next?” has almost never been a problem for this writer. Perhaps I should spend a little time exploring past, present, and future—each in turn—and see which project captures my soul. Then again, I suspect I already know where my heart lies.

Perhaps that’s another advantage of “living the dream.”

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I should be thankful, and…

…I am…in spite of so many obstacles on the path to my destination as “successful writer.”

Two years ago (“I should be thankful, but…”), I griped about the many challenges facing writers in the modern, Wild West-like world of publishing. I took positive, prevailing thoughts and poked holes in optimists’ arguments.

Every silver lining has a storm cloud, right?

So many of my posts over the years have outlined the challenges and frustrations that go hand-in-hand with being an aspiring author, an up-and-comer, a struggler starter, and so forth. From finding time to write to promoting one’s fiction to ultimately getting compensated for one’s work, there are no shortage of injustices to bemoan.

And it didn’t help that 2014 began with some bad news

Today, however, I endeavor to do the opposite of 2012’s exercise. Rather than harp on the struggle, I will embrace the spirit of Thanksgiving by acknowledging the advantageous and affirming aspects of being a fiction writer in 2014 (and beyond):

1. I’m thankful for stories that demand to be told.

Despite the many characters’ voices clamoring for attention in my head, taking me to task when I allegedly slack off, and even though I have more story starters ricocheting within my gray matter than I could ever make time for, I can’t imagine living in a world where random “What if?” thoughts don’t bloom into myriad plots and would-be worlds as I traverse the here and now.

2. I’m thankful for progress.

Every writer could use more time for fiction writing, and none of us would turn up his nose at a few more acceptance letters (and advances). I haven’t accomplished nearly as much as I wanted to this year, but in spite of an unrelenting calendar, I can look back and see how far I’ve come. Even small, measured steps take us forward.

3. I’m thankful for support.

I’ve compared writing to an addiction in the past; if nothing else, it’s a habit, and I’m blessed to be able to rely on family and friends for support—whether for feedback for specific projects or simply for encouragement when the struggle overshadows the enjoyment of the craft. Additionally, I’m honored to be a part of the Allied Authors of Wisconsin (because writers groups still matter).

4. I’m thankful for success.

Despite the woeful fate of The Pajamazon Amazon vs The Goofers Twofers, the children’s book my wife and I self-published, I still count that project as a victory—a learning experience, yes, but a victory nonetheless. And even though neither of the short stories I’ve been shopping around have been published, “Going Viral” received an honorable mention in the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest in June, and I was notified recently that “Ghost Mode,” which I submitted to that same contest for the fourth quarter of 2014, made it to the next round of judging, so…fingers crossed!

5. I’m thankful for opportunity.

I’ve spent a lot of space on this blog pointing out some of the misperceptions and missteps inherent in the self-publishing arena as well as the traditional publishing model. But at the end of the day, thanks to modern technology, we writers have never had more channels through which to reach our audience. Moreover, we’ve probably never had so many literate people on the planet at one time. Just imagine trying to be a writer in the Middle Ages?

6. I’m thankful for living in the heyday of speculative fiction.

It’s everywhere, folks, and that’s good news for someone who not only consumes sci-fi and fantasy books, movies, and video games, but also who can’t seem to write a story that doesn’t go someplace weird.

7. I’m thankful for the world outside my head.

OK, that’s an odd way of putting it, but what I mean is that all of my ideas in my head, all of the words I type, and all of the readers I may one day reach don’t mean much without the embarrassment of riches that make up the rest of my life. All of my needs are met, as are so many of my wants. I have an amazing wife, two awesome kids, and so many other people around me that make life at least as fun (if not stranger) than fiction.

When I stop dwelling on supposed shortcomings and impediments to where I want to go, I realize that the journey has been one heck of a road trip so far and promises to stay that way. “Thank you” almost seems too small a sentiment to pass along to the Author of it all.

What are you thankful for—as a writer, a reader, or simply a human being? Share below!

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4 reasons why fiction writers struggle with marketing

Please excuse me while I make some excuses.

You see, I’ve read 3,009 articles about how fiction writers need to become savvy marketers and self-promoters if they want their books to succeed commercially, and I fear I’m becoming a convert. (This very blog is evidence of that.)

Many of these how-to editorials cover common ground, but every now and then I discover one that contains tidbits I hadn’t uncovered before, as was the case with “10 Things Authors Ought to Know about Book Marketing.”

And even though writing advice is often rife with contradictions, one theme rears its draconian head again and again when it comes to writers and marketing: you should start your marketing strategy well in advance of your book’s publication.

Blocks of Swiss cheese

No time or interest in marketing your fiction? How about some cheese with that whine? | “Swiss cheese cubes”. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Even if you don’t have anything else published yet.

Despite the chicken-and-egg paradox this presents—how can I get fans when I don’t yet have anything for them to be fans of?—I can appreciate the proactive approach presented in articles like “When should you start marketing your book?”

With so many marketing tips for fiction writers out there, I’ve come to a couple of deducations:

  1. Self-promotion must be important.
  2. Writers, apparently, aren’t inherently good at it.

But why don’t fiction writers approach marketing with more gusto? Read on.

Disclaimer: These are not universal facts about the fascinating and complex animal that is the Earth-dwelling author. They are possible truths about most fiction writers…or some fiction writers…well, at least, one fiction writer.

Excuse #1: We don’t have time.

Just about every writer I’ve met wishes he or she had more time for fiction writing. So when it comes to finishing that short story or meeting a novel’s daily word-count quota, that must come first, and writing blog posts, participating in forums, and engaging in other social media inevitably fall to the back burner.

Or off of the stove entirely.

On the other hand, I’ve come across very successful bloggers who seem to prioritize their marketing strategy above their fiction, periodically lamenting about their lack of progress on the latter. I suppose procrastination takes many forms, including other potentially productive, writing-related activities.

Certainly, there’s a balance to be maintained when it comes to creating a writing schedule—not this!—and even small steps can reap benefits.

Another thing to consider is that while promotional writing and fiction writing share some commonalities—including the arrangement of words and punctuation—the two disciplines have significantly different skill sets. Just because someone can crank out a novel, it doesn’t mean he or she innately understands or will excel at marketing writing. (Just ask anyone who has ever reduced a 100,000-word manuscript down to a single-sentence synopsis in order to hook an agent or editor.)

Learning how to promote one’s writing and oneself as an author takes time too.

Excuse #2: We don’t like talking about ourselves.

If fiction writers thought they, as individuals, were particularly interesting, they would be writing memoirs, not novels. Self-promotion (especially if done heavy-handedly) can sound an awful lot like bragging.

Fiction writers might sprinkle autobiographical details throughout their plots and into their people, but it’s far more comfortable to couch personal thoughts and emotions in imaginary scenarios.

While putting a piece of fiction out into the world does open us up to criticism, how much more vulnerable is an author when he or she puts him- or herself out there…as him- or herself?

It’s one thing to weather the blow when a reader bashes our characters and quite another to endure venom directed at our own character.

Excuse #3: We’re a little antisocial.

Writing can be a very solitary experience, and I suspect the craft attracts more than its fair share of introverts.

Think about it. We don’t need anyone else when it comes to thinking up ideas, performing our finger exercises at the keyboard, or tinkering until we’ve hammered out a full-fledged novel.

(Which isn’t to say that there aren’t advantages to letting others assist in the process, such as joining a writers group. Also, if you want to go from being a dabbler to a bona fide published author, you’re going to have to depend on others somewhere along the path from final draft to sale-worthy book.

These days, marketing—when done well—requires a certain level of networking. However, we authors generally prefer one-way narration to two-way conversations. And if we are engaging with the masses, we find that we must become “fans” (or “friends” or “followers”) of others in order for them to even think about being “fans” of ours.

One hopes that there are other motivations and rewards for networking with other writers and readers of your genre (other than just future sales), yet there is something inherently predatory when it comes to joining online communities, in particular, with the ulterior motive of building a fan base—even when you do it “right.”

Plus it can be difficult not to take it personally when forays into the marketing arena don’t pan out—such as when an insightful and time-consuming blog post doesn’t garner any comments. (HINT HINT!)

Perhaps worst of all, networking blurs the lines between author and audience as well as creator and creation, when we really just want to be appreciated our work. Because at the end of the day…

Excuse #4: We want our writing to speak for itself.

Yes, it’s naïve, but I believe there’s a part of every fiction writer that thinks if he or she writes something wonderful, a handful of people will read it and love it, and then news will spread faster than a virus in a zombie flick.

Sadly, that’s almost never how it works, and even though the popularity of self-publishing has put an awful lot of power in writers’ hands, that doesn’t necessarily diminish the challenges of getting your story to the reader. Even authors who go with traditional publishers have to pitch in when it comes to promotion if they want their books to get noticed.

With an ever-increasing amount of competition for readers’ time and transactions, there is no shortage of other writers who are trying to do exactly what you’re doing.

“If you write it, they will come” just doesn’t work.

No more excuses…

Even if there’s some merit in these excuses, it doesn’t change the fact that marketing one’s fiction is essential.

If we ignore the business side of writing, we might as well keep our manuscripts stored safely in a box under our bed or on a hard drives and forget about publication altogether. A book that isn’t nurtured by a deliberate marketing plan—or, at least, exposed to some occasional sunlight—is bound to wither.

What’s the best way to approach marketing? There are at least 3,009 articles out there to answer that question, but I’ll add this: when it comes to the challenges of marketing, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach—not so unlike fiction writing.

Good thing you’re so darn creative!

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What to do when writing tips contradict

The only constant when it comes to writing advice is inconsistency.

There are times when I wish someone would come up with a template for writing a creative, impactful and commercially successful novel in “Just 10 Easy Steps!” While there are no shortage of textbooks and self-help guides for writers, I fear there’s no one surefire way to become the best writer you can be.

At the end of the day, fiction writing is more art than science.

Since no two minds work precisely the same way, no two writers are going to approach planning, plot structure, character development, research, writing, and editing exactly the same way. A method that works for one author might result in utter failure for another. A customized methodology, then, is key.

Portrait of author Stephen King

Who am I to question the wisdom of Stephen King? Just another writer trying to figure stuff out. | Photo credit: Shane Leonard

In my first post on this blog, I vowed to abstain from stating “absolute rules that govern writing as a craft or business.” Mostly, I didn’t want to come off as arrogant, but there’s a more pragmatic reason for my promise:

There aren’t any absolutes when it comes to writing.

That’s not to say there aren’t valuable tips to share. (I like to think that this blog contains a helpful nugget or two for people careening headlong down the same crazy path I’ve chosen.) And there are plenty of overarching platitudes that seem applicable to most people.

Yet I have to believe that despite how many successful writers have declared, “You must read voraciously in order to become a better writer,” there’s a genius out there somewhere who penned his or her masterpiece in a vacuum.

Anomalies aside, some so-called writing rules outright contradict others. Never was this more apparent to me than during recent email correspondences with a novice writer and prospective member of the Allied Authors of Wisconsin, who sought my perspective on several conflicting pieces of information—including the sage words of one Stephen King.

The article he referenced included excerpts from King’s memoir, On Writing, which I had read and enjoyed many years ago. In the article, King says writers should “write with the door closed; rewrite with the door open.” The article further paraphrases the point: “You should maintain total privacy between you and your work,” while composing the first draft.

This wasn’t the first time the aforementioned aspiring author had encountered advice dissuading him from sharing his partial manuscript with others. And while I can agree that there are some disadvantages to prematurely exposing one’s story to the critics, I believe the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.

In “Why writers groups still matter,” I outlined how soliciting feedback from fellow writers can help an author and his or her book. Of course, one could wait until he or she is finished with the first draft before joining a writing workshop, sending it to beta readers, and so forth.

So why not acquiesce to King’s (and many others’) point of view? Here’s what I told my friend via email:

I don’t know if I’d say receiving critiques on your work prior to having finished a first draft is detrimental. I can see pros and cons.

Some pros include getting an early understanding about what the readers are latching onto. If their attention is focused on the right stuff, you know you’re on the right track. If they are getting distracted by minor details (or characters), that gives you some ideas not only for how to revise those first few chapters, but also how to treat such things moving forward.

I will say, however, that I think it’s a mistake to perpetually revise chapters. I’ve seen it happen time and time again where writers can’t get past the first handful of chapters because they’re constantly revising until it’s “perfect.” And getting feedback from alpha readers adds more feedback, so, yeah, there’s a higher chance that a writer will want to revise/redo/rewrite instead of move forward.

At Allied Authors meetings, I take notes on the critiques for every chapter I read. But I never work on those chapters immediately after a meeting. In fact, I don’t review them until I’m ready for Draft 2. (Though I will keep comments in mind in case they are relevant for upcoming/unwritten chapters.) I’m a firm believer that it’s better to get a complete draft done before trying to improve on anything. It’s probably because I’ve seen too many people frustrate themselves by trying to make Chapter 1 flawless before moving on. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that work.

Is a completely MS review preferred? Absolutely. …it’s difficult to critique portions of a novel (due to a lack of context, etc.), but imperfect though they may be, I continue to find value in chapter-by-chapter reviews.

So who is right—Stephen King or I?

Or both?

In actuality, I’m not disagreeing with King on a philosophical level, but the devil is in the details. And even if King and I likely agree that rewriting Chapter 1 ad nauseam is a mistake, there are probably those out there who make it work. Probably, there are folks who never get a second opinion on their manuscript before sending it off to an editor or self-publish it and let the public decide whether it’s worth purchasing.

Writing is a complex activity. What’s ideal for one person might not be remotely achievable by another. (Sorry, Mr. King, but as much as I’d love to knock out a first draft of a novel in three months, real life tends to get in the way.)

Every writer must determine his or her own path from conception to composition. There’s a heck of a lot of alphabet between Point A and Point Z. I suppose the only thing that matters is making it to “The End” without getting lost among all of the warnings along the way.

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Self-publishing: a seldom-told story

Partial cover image of "The Pajamazon Amazon vs The Goofers Twofers"

We knew we wouldn’t be able to create a cover worthy of the story just on our own, so we found a graphic designer to give the book the pizazz it needed visually. (Enjoy this teaser image for now!)

Here’s the good news: self-publishing puts authors in control of nearly every aspect of the publishing process.

That’s also the bad news.

Once upon a time, a successful writer could get away with being a brilliant storyteller and leave proofing, editing, cover design, interior layouts/paginating, and distribution to folks whose full-time jobs were to manage such things.

Today’s writers who walk the path of traditional publishing continue to benefit from the collective expertise of professionals.  At the same time, the self-publishing route has become more accessible and profitable than ever before.

Which means more and more folks—such as my wife and I—are taking the do-it-yourself approach.

The pros and cons of DIY publishing, self-publishing, independent publishing (or whatever you wish to call it) could monopolize an entire series of blog posts.  Suffice it to say that amateur publishers have more freedom when it comes to the presentation of their novels than their contract-signing counterparts do.

Yet that freedom comes with a price.  For instance, a traditionally published author might not have much of a voice when it comes to the composition of her cover.  In fact, I’ve heard of situations where writers downright despise the depiction that ultimately graces the front of their books.

Not so with self-publishers—that is, of course, if you are a graphic designer, know one who will do you a favor, can afford to hire someone with the talent to translate what’s in your head to the printed page, or are satisfied with a template you (and God knows how many other writers) found online.

Fortunately, my wife and I know more than a few graphic designers, and we’re both extremely satisfied with how the cover for our upcoming children’s book, The Pajamazon Amazon vs The Goofers Twofers, turned out.

Then again perhaps “DIY” is a misleading term when it comes to self-publishing.  I’d wager very few independently published authors could ever do it all alone.  Even those who can’t afford or otherwise spurn professional help in the form of artwork, editing, and proofing (a perilous decision, in my opinion) aren’t likely be the ones buying paper, setting up the press, or building their own retail website to sell their work.

Why would you bother when services like CreateSpace can handle the printing for you, and Amazon.com is more than capable of handling monetary transactions and distributing copies?

Despite such shortcuts, however, plenty of work remains for the self-published author.

I’ve read articles that purport the contrary, but believe me when I tell you that self-publishing is a significant investment of time.  Most of the checklists I’ve stumbled across online are far from comprehensive, and even if they were, looks can be deceiving.  A single line item can swallow up an entire afternoon…day…week…

On more than one occasion while trying to make sense of journey, I’ve felt like a certain British lass who wandered haplessly down a rabbit hole.

For example, we asked our cover artist to leave a space for the barcode, which we knew we would be purchasing in the near future, along with an ISBN.  No big deal.  It would be easy enough for her to add it to the back cover later.

But before we could create the graphic of the barcode, we needed to determine the price of the book, which we couldn’t do until we learned how much it would cost to print the book, which we couldn’t calculate until we were reasonably certain how many pages it would have, which ended up being only one aspect of price because we learned that printing our interior in full color was cost-prohibitive, which meant we needed to figure out if our color illustrations would look good in grayscale, which we couldn’t do until we consulted the graphic designer who was working on the cover.

Yes, I’ll have some more tea, Mr. Hatter…

Before someone accuses me of unfairly representing and/or tarnishing the reputation of self-publishing, perhaps a disclaimer is needed.  Our situation might not be typical for the following reasons:

  • This is our first attempt at self-publishing, so there’s a learning curve.  I’m confident that if we were to go through this exercise again, it would go faster and smoother.
  • Because there are two authors, there are two opinions when it comes to details big and small.  Not every decision is a drawn-out negotiation, but before either of us pulls the trigger on any task, we at least have the courtesy to consult the other.
  • I’m a (recovering) perfectionist, who sometimes gets bogged down in research.  (More evidence of that here.)  I prefer to consider all of my options before committing to a course of action.

I’m also incredibly detail-oriented, so if the page numbers on the contents page don’t align perfectly along the right margin, I have a problem with that.  The point is to make our book look as polished as any traditionally published title.

Speaking of page numbers, I must have spent an hour last Sunday battling Microsoft Word, which boasts an incredibly convoluted process for setting up Page 1 on any page other than the first or second with a document.

Even after setting up a section break to separate the story itself from the book’s front matter, I needed a YouTube video to show me the location of a tiny, random button that appeared at certain times on a certain tab and which needed to be unclicked so that the footer styles wouldn’t carry over from the intro to Chapter 1.

And then I had to figure out why only odd page numbers were showing up.  On second thought, forget the tea.  Alice needs something stronger…

The entire time, I kept thinking, “There are people out there whose job is to transform a manuscript into a print-worthy layout.  Someone—or several someones—could do in a matter of minutes the steps we’ve been attempting to do (on and off) for the past handful of weeks.”

But that’s the tradeoff.  We could have decided to hire a service to handle such things.  We also could have attempted to sell The Pajamazon Amazon vs The Goofers Twofers to a traditional publisher of children’s chapter books.  Instead, we’re doing as much as possible ourselves.

It’s been a learning process as well as an adventure outside my comfort zone.  But that’s Wonderland, for you: unfamiliar, sometimes infuriating, and often…well…wonderful.

Editor’s note: The Pajamazon Amazon vs The Goofers Twofers is no longer available for purchase. Here’s why.

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