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The secret beauty of bad ideas

Writers never kill their darlings.

We just lock them away…in a dungeon…indefinitely…

Even when we expunge plots points from the pages, old drafts linger long after their expiration date, haunting hard drives and battered binders for years. The same goes for ideas that never even had a chance to thrive as well as stories that don’t survive a full draft.

I keep my little failures in a folder called “Ideas and false starts,” a literary gulag whose inmates date back to the turn of the century.

What makes an idea bad?

Bad is in the eye of the beholder. Most ideas start out as precious—too precious—so if the author passes harsh judgement on his/her own work, it’s probably really bad. Some common culprits are ideas that are too unrealistic, convoluted, or clichéd. If an idea doesn’t serve—or can’t support—the story, it has to go.

Then there are the ideas that might have made it to those two little words if only they had kept the author’s interest. Boredom aside, ideas also can lead writers down dead ends. Writer’s block has murdered many a storyline.

And here’s a tragedy: a perfectly adequate idea can perish before it reaches its full potential when a shiny new one shows up, usurping an author’s brainpower and priorities.

Can two wrongs make a write?

Abandoned ideas don’t really rest in peace. I, for one, occasionally visit their proverbial prison, poking and prodding to see if there’s any life left in them. Better to have many ideas waiting in the ward than too few to fill one’s time.

I admit very few people to this freak show. Family members, writers groups, beta readers—they alone get glimpses at the grotesqueries. However, after watching a certain movie and playing a somewhat related video game recently, I can’t help but wonder if there could be beauty in the bad.

The LEGO Batman Movie and LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2 both feature D-list characters from comics past and present. If Condiment King and Chipmunk Hunk can star in successful stories, what about some of my own castoffs?

The Bad Idea Club

Supposing there’s validity to the theory that mixing up a bunch of bad ideas can result in something good, here are a few mostly forgotten characters of mine that could conceivably band together:

Digger (circa 1984)

Likely the first instance of my unfulfilled fiction, Digger’s Days would have recounted the adventures of Digger, a robot equipped with a drill and a number of other tools to do…stuff. I’m pretty sure this prototype didn’t make it past the drawing board, literally, since I was all of five years old when I sketched him. Still, what story couldn’t use a mechanical sidekick?

The Ultimate Crusaders (circa 1991–1993)

Drawing robots eventually led to illustrating massive battles. I flirted with the miserable (and trademark-infringing) G.I. Joe: The Next Generation before inventing cringe-worthy acronyms for my elite soldiers. Once my interest switched to comic books and their super-powered characters, I invented the Ultimate Crusaders. Many of these heroes and villains they thwarted were Marvel rip-offs (e.g. The Mutant Flame and Electra); others were just plain terrible (the Quarter Note and Herron, whose helmets were as groan-inducing as you might imagine). However, Mr. Mysterious did get reincarnated for a short story I wrote in college.

Yalte Dark Elf (fall 1994)

After months of building my own fantasy world, I decided to attempt a novel. While Altaerra would live on and eventually serve as the setting for The Renegade Chronicles, the original cast of “The Maltaken Experiment” did not. There was an elven bard, a gruff dwarf (of course), a warrior woman, a pixie, and a barbarian guy. Leading the pack, however, was dagger-flinging Yalte Dark Elf, whose only saving grace was that he wasn’t inspired by Forgotten Realm’s Drizzt Do’Urden (like most dark elves), but rather DragonLance’s Dalamar the Dark.

Tarreth (spring 2001)

An attempt at co-writing a fantasy series with a fellow college student quickly fizzled, but not before I wrote a scene introducing Tarreth, a half-immortal child adopted by a creepy old wizard. I think she was going to eventually destroy him and meet up with a delusional “Chosen One.” Alas, her quest was over before it began.

Benedict Strong (fall 2006)

When I stepped away from Altaerra to take a stab at a fantasy novel set in the real world, I conjured up Benedict Strong, who was one of only a handful of true wizards remaining on Earth. He learned from Merlin, I believe, and so did his rival/counterpart, Pandora, who used her arcane talents to perform true magic on stage—unbeknown to her Vegas audiences. Rasputin would have made a cameo. I know: hard to believe this one flopped.

Persephone (fall 2010)

Some ideas are enticing solely because they are something other than what you are currently working on. While up to my elbows in dream drifters, editing If Souls Can Sleep, I began mentally exploring a story where a teenage Wisconsinite named Persephone gets possessed by her unborn granddaughter, a time-traveler comprised of consciousness-preserving nanobots. Of all my bad ideas, Sunny’s story is most likely to orchestrate a jailbreak.

Ysa (spring 2013)

It turns out that writing a story about an alien anthropologist isn’t all that new. Ysa, a genderless extraterrestrial from a mostly lifeless universe, would have been one of three interplanetary delegates to travel to Earth, where the anthropologist would use his/her woefully incomplete knowledge of humankind to forge a lasting friendship between worlds. Naturally, Ysa would have discovered a conspiracy on one side or the other and then foiled it.

The Later Gator (fall 2013)

A few years ago, my wife and I penned a children’s chapter book. The Pajamazon Amazon vs The Goofers Twofers had a very limited run for complicated reasons, but the story foreshadowed a sequel in which the titular heroine would square off against an anthropomorphic alligator whose tide of chaos causes tardiness wherever he goes. The Later Gator still hasn’t shown up.

A song for the unsung heroes

My abysmal mashup may never come to be, and there’s an excellent chance not a single one of these characters will ever escape my digital dungeon. But even if bad ideas can’t be reformed, they serve an important purpose.

Bad ideas take the brunt of punishment from an author’s inner critic. For example, if Benedict Strong hadn’t been such a bore, I might never have given Vincent Cruz a chance, which means The Soul Sleep Cycle would never have happened.

Once a bad idea is banished, we turn with fresh eyes to a new idea, our sadism sated…for now…

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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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It’s important to look back occasionally while on the long road

Yesterday morning, WordPress congratulated me on my blog’s third anniversary. There was even a fancy little trophy icon by the announcement.

Never mind that I hadn’t posted an article in nearly three months—or in this calendar year.

TrophyIt’s not that I had given up on One Million Words; I simply have prioritized the heavy editing/rewriting of my novel, If Sin Dwells Deep, over blogging. I knew I’d come back to this blog at some point, and I almost broke down last month and wrote the clichéd I’m-taking-a-break-but-stay-tuned! post to let all of my readers know that I’m still alive, but to be honest, I didn’t think anyone even noticed my silence.

After all, I know most (if not all) of my author’s Facebook page’s 85 “likers” on a personal level, so they’ve probably seen my non-writing-related comments on my other account. And the majority of my 58 followers on Twitter have hundreds, if not thousands, of other tweeters to fill their feeds each day.

Also, no one really reads this blog.

Well, that’s not entirely true. According to WordPress (the content management system upon which my website is built), I have 127 followers. Now, I can’t say with certainty that any of them actually read my posts (except those precious few who take time out of their busy schedules to comment on them), but they cared enough at one point to click the “Follow” button.

Delving into my site stats, I also find that there have been 357 comments over the past three years, and even if I estimate that half of those were mine (in reply to others’ comments), that still leaves more than 170 times someone read and replied.

While these aren’t big numbers compared to many, many other blogs, I take some solace in them nonetheless. I’m a big fan of measurable goals. I’m also a progress junky. Every now and then, I need to take stock of what I’ve accomplished, even if they are small successes.

Because most of the time, I’m terrible at acknowledging my accomplishments, especially modest ones. Every silver lining has a storm cloud and all that…

For example, while reviewing my early notes on my current project, I noticed a timestamp that caught me off guard. My very first ideas about this novel—the sequel (maybe) to If Souls Can Sleep—was dated 7/14/10.

Sweet sassy molassy, I’ve been working on this book for more than four and a half years?!

What’s worse is that I still have a ways to go with the editing, which means it could end up being five years or more from inception to completion.

To prevent myself from hyperventilating, I reminded myself that I tackled a number of other projects between July 2010 and March 2015: starting and populating this website, editing and publishing a children’s chapter book with my wife, writing a new short story (“Ghost Mode”), attempting to get that and another short story published. Oh, and real life happened somewhere in there too.

Perhaps it was a bit masochistic of me, but after seeing how long I’ve been working on Book 2, I opened my notes file for Book 1, did the math, and discovered that that novel took me four and a half years to plan, write, rewrite, proof, and submit to my agent. That means, when all is said and done, I likely will have pumped close to a decade into the first two books of The Soul Sleep Cycle.

And I still have at least one more book to go!

Then there are the four sword-and-sorcery novels I wrote before diving into a sci-fi/fantasy hybrid world of The Soul Sleep Cycle. Add in the experimental children’s book, and I’ve written seven novels. None of them are available for purchase.

I doubt there’s a word to describe the combination of emotions I experience when I consider the situation. I’m at once impressed with what I’ve done, amazed at how much of my life I’ve dedicated to this project, and disappointed that I don’t have more to show for it. “Impressamazappointed”?

If nothing else, the fact that I’ve put so much time and energy into my fiction without a significant return on investment indicates I have the thick skin and tenacity it takes to make it as a writer.

Or maybe it just proves that I am a masochist, after all…

Some aspects of my writing are quantifiable. As for this blog, I can easily conjure up this statistic: Over the past three years, I have published 51 posts (not including this one). And while that’s not a ton of content compared to some other sites out there, that’s 51 posts more than I would have written if I hadn’t overcome my prejudice of the medium and decided to add my perspective on the topic of fiction writing to the Web.

Other attributes are not so easily quantified, such as the satisfaction of transforming an idea in my head to a full-fledged story on the page or the frustration and guilt I feel when I go too long without a writing session.

If this were only a numbers game, I wouldn’t have much to show for my 17 years of being a dedicated writer. But every experience within that span has made me a better writer and wiser when it comes to the publishing world.

Were I to keep my eyes fixed solely on the destination, which always seems just beyond the horizon, I probably would have swerved off of this wonderful and terrifying road by now. But even when I’m enjoying the journey for the journey’s sake, I know I need to look back at the milestones I’ve passed along the way, if only to remind myself of the distance I’ve already crossed.

Even if that reminder comes in the form of a cheesy trophy graphic.

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A sad ending to our self-publishing tale

An unfortunate truth about experiments: they often end in failure.

Sure, I’ve heard the anecdote about Thomas Edison and how his thousands of attempts to perfect the light bulb.  And some might argue that failures teach us more than successes.  But when one’s heart is inexorably tied to the experiment, the disappointment of defeat runs deep.

On December 4, 2013, my wife and I published a children’s chapter book, The Pajamazon Amazon vs The Goofers Twofers.  The titular character occurred to us when our daughter was yet an infant and the phrase “Pajamazon Amazon” was uttered in jest when it was time to put on her overnight onesie.

We jested about how donning magical pajamas transformed her into a superhero, and we thought the concept clever enough to entertain notions of writing a story about said heroine someday.  After our son was born, we jokingly referred to the two of them as the Goofers Twofers, an idea we tucked away as a possible name for the Pajamazon Amazon’s nemeses.

It was roughly six years before Stephanie and I put pen to paper.  It took us a handful of months to write the first draft and another year and a half to edit the book and prepare it for self-publication (more on that process here).  Our daughter, now 8, contributed the interior illustrations; a friend and coworker, the cover art.

On December 4, 2013, we finally published our book.

Less than two months later, we removed all traces of its existence from online retailers and deleted Pajamazonamazon.com.

While ideas are free, words can be owned.  More accurately, words—and combinations thereof—can be trademarked.  And after receiving what boiled down to a cease-and-desist letter from the trademark owner of the word “Pajamazon,” we had a simple yet heart-wrenching decision to make: either fight for our family project (and pump potentially tens of thousands of dollars into the legal process) or fold.

Considering we sold only fifty copies and hadn’t even recouped our setup costs, reason dictated a prompt removal of our book and website from the public marketplace.

I can’t begin to explain the depths of my disenchantment.  What began as a fun family project and then evolved into a medium through which we could share our collective creativity with the wider world has become a source of frustration and pain.

For the record, I harbor no ill will toward the legal owner of the word “Pajamazon.”  That individual is protecting his own rights, and even if I don’t agree with every aspect of his objection—and even if I think our book poses little or no threat to his work—I can understand why he would want to protect his own endeavors.

Even though book titles cannot be copyrighted, the use of a trademark in the title or elsewhere in the book opens the door for legal objection.  While I did embark on some research into the topics of copyright and trademark prior to publication, my due diligence apparently fell short of the mark.  In all likelihood, I searched for other instances of the phrase “Pajamazon Amazon,” never imagining that the made-up word “Pajamazon” in and of itself could come back to haunt us.

(Some have asked whether our story could be salvaged if we substituted a different name for the superhero.  In theory, yes.  However, to change the alter ego of our protagonist alters the very nature of the story.  The name was the foundation of everything—from the outlandish book title to the abilities her magical pajamas bestow upon her.  If we were interested in pursuing commercial success at all costs, then we might entertain the notion of major edits.  But at this point, such a compromise would feel like adding insult to injury.)

Like Edison implied, experiments are learning experiences.  If I ever self-publish again, not only would I spend more time searching for existing trademarks, but also I would likely spend some time and money trademarking ideas of my own.  There are other takeaways as well, perhaps fodder for future blog posts.

While I walk away from this ordeal with additional wisdom, I endeavor to leave any bitterness behind.  Whenever my mind tries to play the What If? game, I remind myself that nothing can change the fact that my wife and I wrote a book together, that other people have read and enjoyed it, and that we will always have a hard copy to treasure.

Even if The Pajamazon Amazon vs The Goofers Twofers (very) limited run could be construed as a failure, the fact that we achieved what we set out to do is an indisputable success.

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This writer is making a new kind of resolution

I’ve never put much stock in New Year’s resolutions.

That’s not to say I haven’t ever made any, but like most of the population, my success rate is less than stellar.  As much as we all would like to believe that something magical happens when the calendar resets, our behavior—and personalities—seldom change with the flip of a switch.

I understand why we do it.  Anyway, it’s not as though we’re apt to make major life changes during the marathon of late-autumn and early-winter holidays…

When it comes to my writing, I prefer to work under deadlines.  Sometimes those goals coincide with the end of the calendar year, as was the case recently.  I dedicated much of 2013 to a couple of sci-fi short stories and the children’s chapter book I co-wrote with my wife.

I knew I wasn’t going to have time for The Soul Sleep Cycle in 2013.  And I was OK with that.

But I knew I didn’t want another year to go by without working on the rewrite of Book 2, so in the back of my mind there was a Dec. 31, 2013, deadline for my other projects, including The Pajamazon Amazon vs The Goofers Twofers.  And when friends started asking if the book would be available in time to order copies as Christmas presents for sons, daughters, nieces, and nephews, my wife and I made a priority of self-publishing the book as early in December as possible.

Mission accomplished.

Well, sort of.

As far as The Pajamazon Amazon goes, there is still a lot we could—and arguably should—do if we want to achieve any kind of commercial success with the book, including making it available as an e-book.  Marketing and PR are my day job; I know there’s no shortage of tactics at our disposal.

Likewise, submitting short stories for publication is an ongoing process: as soon as a rejection arrives, there’s always the next destination on the list.

Then there’s the rest of the writing-related activities that vie for my free time, such as updating this website, co-managing the Allied Authors of Wisconsin website, and helping friends with their writing and publishing endeavors…

My days of being able to focus on a single manuscript for long, uninterrupted periods are over, which leaves two possibilities for planning the year ahead:

1. Work harder!

Been there.  Done that.

In fact, I tried this approach in early 2012.  The overly aggressive writing schedule was unsustainable.  I doubt anyone can allocate every spare moment of his life working on (or even thinking about) writing.  Even the best jugglers need a break, or they risk dropping a ball.  Or a chainsaw.

I’ve done my best to narrow my focus since then.  Well, I stopped writing the newspaper column at least, and some of the other side projects have decreased their demand for regular attention.  Nonetheless, I continue to have a dearth of opportunities to tackle everything I’d like to do.

I’m at the mercy of physics.  Cramming more time for fiction into my week just isn’t a viable option in the real world.  Whenever I try to do that, it all starts to feel like a burden—like doing work for the sake of doing work.

2. Stop thinking of it as work!

I have fond memories of my days as a dabbler, back when the writing itself was the endgame, not publication.  While there are a few fundamental differences in a writer’s approach when he decides to write commercially instead of just for fun, it shouldn’t be at the expense of fun.  If one finds satisfaction only when reaching a milestone or achieving some measure of success (e.g., recognition, profit, etc.), then the activity is doomed to resemble a dull “day job.”

Or worse, it’s a part-time job that doesn’t pay.

While I still intend to partition off regularly scheduled periods of time for writing and writing-related activities, I simply can’t afford to be a slave driver when it comes to my fiction.  If I want to succeed, I’ll still need to be strategic, but not sadistic, when it comes to self-made deadlines.

(I suppose that’s where patience comes in handy.)

So instead of making a bold declaration like “I’m going to have Book 2 of The Soul Sleep Cycle completely rewritten and edited by the end of 2014,” I prefer to make a different kind of resolution…no, make that a mission statement.

My goals for 2014—and beyond—are to find genuine happiness in the craft of writing, focusing as much (if not more) on the journey as the destination; to define success in terms of quality, not quantity or pace, of projects; and to maintain healthy, realistic deadlines while treading the fine line between dedication and compulsion.

Finishing/fixing the sequel to If Souls Can Sleep will remain a top priority.  The myriad of other tasks will filter in as time allows.  I fully expect to write fewer blog posts in 2014.

Once the ball drops on 2015, I can’t promise I’ll be any farther along in terms of finding a publisher for my novels and short stories or in terms of Pajamazon Amazon sales, but if all goes according to plan, writing will still be fun.

And without that, there can be no happy ending.

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

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What else a writer needs to succeed (Part 3)

Painting of Saint Monica

While there isn’t a true patron saint of patience, St. Monica’s name gets bandied about. | Benozzo Gozzoli [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Patience isn’t just a virtue; it’s vital.

In this third installment of a series exploring the anatomy of a well-adjusted writer, the focus falls on another overlooked—and arguably undervalued—trait: Along with thick skin and a strong spine, a writer needs the serenity of a saint.We live in a do-whatever-it-takes, fight-for-your-dream, grab-life-by-the-jugular kind of world.  Any writer who wants to achieve even a modicum of success has to work hard.  The obstacles are plentiful, but many of them can be overcome by a combination of creativity, intelligence and diligence.  When faced with adversity, the determined writer simply fights harder.

And that usually works.

Usually.

Here’s a tough lesson for those who have devoted countless hours and made sacrifices for their passion: Sometimes there’s nothing to do but wait.

While a writer can set her own pace when it comes to the craft of writing—from outlining and typing the first draft to editing and soliciting—a manuscript eventually must go out into the world.  When that happens, all illusion of control soars out the window.

News flash: The publishing industry is slow.

Whether you’re waiting to hear from a prospective agent or an editor (or, more likely, the assistant to the assistant to the editor whose charged with shoveling through the slush pile), you’re going to have some time on your hands.

Find your happy place.  Get all Zen.  Give yourself a break.

Or don’t.

I suspect the majority of us writers juggle multiple projects.  If there isn’t something waiting on the back burner, you could always start tinkering with a new story.  Write something fun, crazy, outside of your comfort zone, or just plain bad.  Cleanse your palate.

Whatever you do, keep occupied…because a watched plot never boils.

Lest you accuse me of singling out traditional publishing, I found plenty of opportunities to indulge in impatience throughout the self-publishing process.  Those proof copies of The Pajamazon Amazon vs The Goofers Twofers couldn’t come fast enough, and the day we gave CreateSpace the thumbs up to sell our book on Amazon.com, I must have refreshed my search page a hundred times waiting for it to appear.

And now that it’s there, I can list off a dozen follow-up tasks I want to tackle.  (It’s realistic to create and implement a marketing plan in twenty-four hours, right?)

In the interest of full disclosure, I admit I have a history of allowing forward momentum to sometimes steamroll common sense.  Take this impossibly aggressive writing schedule, for instance.  I suppose we writers have to cut ourselves some slack too.

Perhaps a measure of impatience is inevitable.  Real life can get in the way.  At the end of the day, no one cares about your book as much as you do.  If you don’t serve as champion of your story, who will?

So, yes, fight for your dream when it’s appropriate.  But when it’s not, take a deep breath (or two), fold your hands, and demonstrate faith in your work through patience.

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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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