Writer’s Block and Tackle

I don’t get writer’s block. In fact, I don’t even believe it’s a thing. That is, it doesn’t really exist in the form people commonly think of it. There is no period where a writer can’t write. This simply doesn’t happen. Even if a writer isn’t able to start or continue a book or a story, he can always sit down and start writing a grocery list or a nursery rhyme and somewhere along the way he will start to make up silly fictitious items of dubious usefulness or lyrics full of filthy innuendo. Sure, none of this might directly contribute to any works in progress, but it’s still writing. It’s still an act of creation. It exercises the muscles critical to a writer’s occupation.

It’s the writer’s block and tackle. The exercise of writing is way more important than the measuring of progress toward completing a work. A work will be completed. A work must be completed. But along the way, the writer will no doubt encounter tough periods where no idea seems good enough to set to paper and everything she wants to communicate seems trivial and banal.

Be not discouraged! Discouragement leads to hopelessness. Hopelessness leads to fear. Fear is the little death.

 

And then you end up with several nervous tics and working for a psychopathic floating fat man.

 

I have two short stories I have been shopping to various publications and neither of them have yet found a home. On the surface, this is something I expected. In fact, since they are my first stories to ever send out for publication (not counting some small work done many ages ago when I was but an adolescent Tone of Voice) I am not optimistic that they’ll find a home in any major market. I’m sure I could get them published somewhere, but it might be a no-pay deal, in which case I might just publish them here. I’m fine with that… on the surface.

But I’ve noticed something as the rejections pile up. Even though I have several dozens of ideas for new stories, I am not happy at all with any of them. None of them seem interesting enough to warrant even starting. I’ve outlined a couple of them and I can see how each can be made into a complete story, but I can’t find any excitement about writing them in earnest. And if I’m not interested in writing them, it’s hard for me to imagine anyone would be interested in reading them.

But lately I’ve been wondering if this is a result of facing the rejections. I don’t feel the pain of rejection on the surface, but maybe I’m feeling it somewhere just below. Maybe I’m second guessing myself too much. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to experiencing that mythical curse called writer’s block, aside from the long period of my life when I didn’t write at all, but that was only because I wasn’t a writer, so it doesn’t count.

But the counter to writer’s block is the exercise of writing itself. Can’t write what you want to write? Write something else. For now, I can’t find good story ideas to crank out the two more short stories I want to get done this year, but I can continue to write Grant Scotland novels. I’m not saying I don’t want to write about Grant, it’s just that I want to get other projects going. But if I may be in a minor crisis of confidence on the short story front, I can revisit Grant’s world and make progress on book five. And in the writing process, I find I can still put words together, make myself laugh and even excite myself about new possibilities and the resolution to old mysteries.

Grant Scotland is my block and tackle. When the work of writing gets too tough, he’s there to help me do the heavy lifting of putting words on e-paper. I know I can sit down and write about him and his world when I can’t do anything else. So, if you’re ever in a corner where you can’t find something to write about, then simply write about something. Jot down your grocery list that would only make sense to someone from a parallel dimension. Scribe new lyrics to “Duck, Duck, Goose” that would make a sailor blush. Invent a recipe for chicken cacciatore that might, under the right alignment of planets, summon a host of faceless demons hungry for new faces.

Point is, find your block and tackle. Write whatever you need to write in order to keep writing. Hell, you could even write a blog post about it.

 

PICTURED: Not a good block and tackle.

 

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Don’t go looking for your muse! Go down to Ye Olde Word Smithy and pound out some prose.

“Writing about a writer’s block is better than not writing at all” – Charles Bukowski

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The Debate Over Free Content

There’s some controversy swirling out there about whether it is fair that many writers (or “content providers”) create articles for for-profit sites free-of-charge. On the one hand, it hurts the many struggling writers who are trying to make a living out of journalism, technical writing or even fiction writing. On the other hand, if people want to spend the time and effort to write something for someone else and then just give it away, that should be their right.

A couple of recent articles on the subject, along with a couple of responses from successful authors I admire, seem to bracket the entire debate. Over at The Passive Voice, we have an excerpt from Kristen Lamb’s blog, where she rails against the unfairness of a world where most people expect to get either cheap or free books and stories. She’s basically responding to reports that used bookstores are making a come back and is lamenting that this is indicative of how most people believe writers will produce manuscripts regardless of whether they are paid or not. Obviously, her reasoning is a bit of a stretch, to put it mildly – after all, a writer certainly was paid when the book was first sold. Is the writer supposed to be paid every time the same copy is sold again? Or borrowed? – but her point is still valid. After all, in the 19th century, being a writer was an actual occupation. People who knew how to put words together were respected and could expect to earn a comfortable living as full time employees in several industries. Nowadays? Actual writing ability is largely ignored and most companies will pinch their already over-worked and over-tasked employees to do any needed writing, instead of hiring a dedicated expert.

 

In today's world, Mr. Beauchamp would be... well, I guess he would be me.

In today’s world, Mr. Beauchamp would be… well, I guess he would be me.

 

But Joe Konrath responds on his blog to Kristen’s post, saying basically, no one owes you a living. Just because you’ve produced something doesn’t mean everyone everywhere needs to keep paying you every time they look at it. Also, if you produced content on the internet for free and posted it for public consumption, don’t whine if no one wants to give you any money for it. No one asked you to do it in the first place! I largely agree with Konrath’s views. The glut of content on the internet will continue for the foreseeable future and forcing people to pay for more things isn’t going to do anything but drive free-content deliverers into an even bigger spotlight and/or increase piracy. Neither of those things would help the guy who wants to earn a living writing get paid for his work. In my view, Konrath’s point that this is simply the age we are living in and you have to adapt to it is pretty much spot on. Pirates will be pirates, hobby writers will be hobby writers and on-line companies will continue to try to figure out how to make the biggest bucks any way they can. Instead of whining about it, you should get serious about getting your work out there and getting people to consider paying to see more of it.

Oh, and don’t forget to make more of it. Lots more. Every hour spent ranting about the unfairness of the world is another hour neglecting your own work!

 

"You used to call me on my cell phone..."

“You used to call me on my cell phone…”

 

Another tidbit on this topic just recently popped up. Apparently, Stephen Hull, editor for the Huffington Post UK, crowed about how they don’t pay any of their writers. Their content is 100% free and so therefore somehow more “authentic.” I get what he means – their content producers aren’t beholden to sponsors or advertisers in any monetary way, unlike a lot of other for-profit businesses. However, this argument isn’t exactly accurate. After all, through the Huffington Post’s own selection and editing process, the content is certainly altered. The writer is beholden to them, at least. Also, each writer has their own slant on anything they’re writing about. There’s no such thing as complete objectivity. Saying you use only volunteers for your writing staff doesn’t somehow auto-magically increase their willingness to set aside personal bias and opinion. And just as an added note, being proud of not paying employees while raking in 2.3 billion dollars in revenue represents a disturbing continuation in the glorification of downsizing and maximizing productivity. This has been a trend that has been strangling the middle class and discouraging upward socio-economic mobility for more than a generation.

So, a slow clap for Steven Hull and HuffPo, I guess? Good job? Way to be a part of the problem? If you’re so concerned with the “authenticity” of your content, why not just grant full disclosure? Isn’t that what most reputable news organizations do? If a writer was paid by you, then just say that. If they were paid by Coca-Cola, then just say that. Where’s the problem? Personally, I’d love to see a full-time writer for Coca-Cola fence with one from Pepsi in a monthly “Cola Wars” battle of wits in a dedicated column on HuffPo or Mother Jones or MSN or whatever. That would be fun! Well, sort of. The Cola Wars are mostly over, so I guess they’d need more topical industries.

Maybe have the makers of Levitra battle the makers of Viagra in post after post of innuendo-filled jibes about the relative size of their customer bases? OK, now that would be funny.

 

"Let me just come clean and admit the girth of our profit margins. I just want you to get a firm grasp of my point."

“Let me just come clean and admit the girth of our profit margins. I just want you to get a firm grasp of my point.”

 

But I digress.

Obviously, Mr. Hull’s admission sparked all kinds of indignant outrage. Good old Chuck Wendig let loose with a piece full of hysterical vitriol on his blog. It’s fun reading, but I think he goes a bit too far when he says “No money means no checks, no balances.” As I suggested above, there is no absolute way to secure complete objectivity, regardless of pay. Best thing to hope for is that the hosting site grants full disclosure, as well as doing its own fact checking, of course. But, in one way I find I am in complete agreement with Chuck. Although he didn’t make the point directly, he alluded to it. A world where we allow, even encourage, jobs to start being done for free is a world that only makes our already tilting free-market economy sway even more dangerously toward favoring the privileged class.

Take this as an example. A man walks into a fast-food joint. He approaches the manager and says he loves being a grill chef and has no need of money. He would like to be the restaurant’s grill chef free of charge. The manager immediately puts him to work behind the grill and fires the guy he was paying. Now, that guy has to go get a job at another restaurant, only he’s finding more and more grill chefs are being replaced by these “hobby chefs.” He has to take jobs for less and less pay at worse and worse restaurants just to stay in his chosen industry. His socio-economic mobility goes into a downward spiral. Consequently, he can’t afford to buy as many things as he used to, which affects the profitability of other industries around him.

Now, I don’t mean to be an alarmist, but I think many people don’t realize the role each one of us plays in our capitalist economies of the democratic nations of the west. While it’s great to have so many freedoms, for the love of Andrew Carnegie, you have to be responsible! For myself, I enjoy writing Battletech fan fiction, but I would never dream of submitting my stories to the license holders and saying “Here you go! Feel free to use any and all of this in your published material! Free of charge!”

But people will do what they want in a free society and I can only offer my humble opinion about what I believe to be right or wrong. Consequently, I side mostly with Joe Konrath on this whole debate. If you don’t like not getting paid for your work, then just don’t do it. Either find something else to do with your time or get your head in the game and find ways to monetize your product. Don’t sit around and whine about stuff being unfair. Write your congressman if you feel that strongly about it, but then immediately get back to writing your own stuff and trying to figure out how to beat the game.

 

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Until next time, go read a book and review it. While you’re at it, order a pizza and tip the delivery guy. 😉

 

 

Author Interview: Auston Habershaw

Today I’ve got something special for you: The First Official Author Interview conducted on This Tone of Voice! And the author I’ll be interviewing is none other than Auston Habershaw, a new and exciting voice in fantasy fiction. His first book, The Oldest Trick, is now available in e-book as well as paperback. It’s a story of revenge, morality, greed, guilt and good old fashioned sword and sorcery. I highly recommend it. Pick up a copy today!

A bit of full disclosure before we begin. I first met Auston back in 2001, when we were both employed by Sierra Entertainment as Quality Assurance play testers on a computer game called Empire Earth in development at a Cambridge developer called Stainless Steel Studios. We worked together for about eight months before being unceremoniously laid off. Auston took the hint and looked for greener pastures. It would take me another six or seven years to do the same.

Anyway, I always knew he was a funny and creative intellectual, but was surprised and pleased to discover years later, when through the magic of Facebook I was reunited with him, that he had become an accomplished writer. He’s been an inspiration to me and I hope he will be to all of you as well.

OK! Bring in the Interrogation Nazi!

 

"Now... What shall we talk about?"

“Now… What shall we talk about?”

 

Let’s start off by learning a bit about you and your professional life so far. What have you done and what are you doing now? A/S/L? Are you ready to party? Are you interested in meeting dudes who like meeting other dudes? Wait… Actually, I think I copy/pasted from the wrong questionnaire. Oh well, just go ahead and answer what “feels” right.

Have you always wanted to be a writer? When did you start writing “in earnest?”

In retrospect, I always wanted to be a writer, but it took me a while before I realized “writer” was the profession I was looking for. I’ve always loved telling stories, but it took me years before I figured out in what medium best to do that. I think it probably crystallized in high school at some point, though the exact moment would be hard to pin down.

As for when I started writing in earnest, that depends on the definition of “in earnest.” I wrote my first novel as my senior honors thesis at BC (it was awful, don’t worry), but I don’t think that counts. I don’t think it counts until you actively start submitting things for publication–until you start getting rejection slips, you’re still just a hobbyist. That happened after I got out of grad school around 2005. I had written a lot of stuff by then, but I really started working at the career end of things following that.

What did you study in school? Were there girls there? Did you talk to them? What was that like?

I went to Boston College undergrad and I got my MFA in Creative Writing in grad school.

If you’re looking to meet smart, creative women, an MFA program is probably the best possible place. I was already spoken for at the time, so I can’t claim any grand romantic encounters as a result of my grad school experience, but I’d highly recommend it as a girl-meeting environment. 😉 

 

A Portrait of the Author as a Middle Aged Man... AND a Middle Ages man. HAHA! See what I did there? That's comedy. Seriously, it is.

Above: The author actively withholding his dapper charms from swarms of smart, creative females.

 

Where has your writing taken you so far? What else have you published? What have you written that you’d most like to see published some day?

I’ve published about (counts on fingers) eight short stories or so in various markets and now a novel. The things I have written that I’d most like to see published are probably the half-dozen or so short stories I have on submission right now (fingers crossed). Barring that, I’m hoping I can convince my publisher to extend the Saga of the Redeemed for two more books, just so I can finish it off.

What are your favorite things to write about? Genres, character motivations, world building, etc.

I love character building and world building equally. My work specializes in character-focused stories borne out of complex alternate worlds (be they in the future or in a secondary world). Since I think where we come from is a pretty big slice of who we are, I think world-building and character relationships and motivations are tightly related things.

What’s your writing process like? Explain how you get some writing done during a typical day.

I write in two modes. Mode One (Default) is during the Fall and Spring Semesters (I’m a college professor) when I have scarcely any time. During this period I mostly do revision, write short fiction, and manage my submissions. In Mode Two (Summer), I get to write for most of my day. I go into my office at the university, lock the door, and write for six to seven hours (give or take, counting procrastination, banging my head against the wall, and random arguments on Facebook). I write an average of 3000-4000 words a day this way, sometimes more if things are really cooking, sometimes much less if it isn’t. I do that until the end of August, when Mode One takes over again (sadly). This summer, I wrote/revised a total of 168,000 words or so. Most of it, if not all of it, was utter garbage, but it was a good foundational series of drafts for a novel that I hope to polish up by this coming summer and have ready to sell.

What’s your chair situation? Explain to me your chair situation. I’m getting some great writing done on a Staples Turcotte Luxura High Back Managers Chair (Brown), but I know everyone is a little different when it comes to things like this.

I have a chair that leans back and has wheels. That is literally all I can tell you about it. (Looks) Oh, and it’s gray.

I will sit on anything to write, so long as it has a back. Writing on stools is for monks.

Who are your inspirations, past and present?

Growing up, the work of Robert Jordan inspired me a great deal, along with Frank Herbert, Neal Stephenson, and William Gibson. Currently, my favorite authors are probably Scott Lynch and Patrick Rothfuss, as they are two of the best the fantasy genre has to offer right now. Oh, and Chuck Wendig, if only for his fabulous writing advice he gives out on his blog.

Do you have any tips for aspiring authors who want to go the traditional publishing route?

Patience. Iron-clad, glacial patience is essential. Everything in traditional publishing takes a long time. It’s probably worth it in the long run (probably–your mileage may vary), but there is no rushing the machine. While waiting, work on other stuff. Always be working on other stuff.

Let’s talk about The Oldest Trick. What was the first thing about it that inspired you to write the book? Was it the world? The characters? Something else?

The Oldest Trick came into being from two different directions. The character, Tyvian Reldamar, came into being independently on some level (I first started writing stories with him as a main character in high school). The world crystallized somewhat later than that, in the early 2000s. The world and the character fit into each other nicely, so here they are. As for the source of my inspiration, I wanted to write in a post-medieval fantasy world that wasn’t static, but rather was always changing socially, economically, and so on. The world reflects that–it is in the middle of a massive social upheaval as magical stuff (magecraft) is becoming more and more available to the lay population.

 

A good book, but don't expect the author to reveal how the oldest trick works. I think you have to pay extra for that.

A good book, but don’t expect the author to reveal how the oldest trick works. I think you have to pay extra for that.

 

How long did it take to get The Oldest Trick published, from concept to contract?

Hmmm…hard to say exactly, since the book sort of congealed gradually. I’d say from the moment I started writing the MS that would become this book to the time I got the deal, it was probably 5 years, with me working primarily during the summers. So, call it less than that if you count each year as 3 months. The publisher did sit on the MS for 18 months before giving me a yes or no, though, so that was a big chunk of time.

Tyvian Reldamar. What’s his deal anyway? What made you decide to work with such a prick for a main character? Seems like a challenge. Was it?

Tyvian? Oh no–he’s a joy to write. He’s always been the nasty little voice on my shoulder, so letting him come out and be a jerk is really more cathartic than anything else. Maybe that speaks ill of me–I don’t know–but I’ve always loved the antihero and the scoundrel and always been disappointed when they stopped being scoundrels just because. Tyvian is a villain, but he isn’t a monster. And he can get better, if somebody presents him with the right argument. That was the real challenging part, actually–how do you get a selfish prick to realize he’s been selfish? That takes some doing. It’s a learning process.

Hool. What a great character. She’s clearly the heavy brawler of the story, with few people being able to face her in a stand up fight, but she’s also intelligent and highly motivated. What made you want to create such a character? And why a Gnoll?

The gnoll part is easy–I love dogs, I was a professional dog walker all through grad school, and Hool is a humanized (and weaponized) talking dog. As for her personality, well a lot of that is just dog stuff and a lot of the rest of it is my wife, who actually played a character named Hool in an RPG I ran. She was very impatient but also really, really smart and it was a ton of fun. I’ve sought to reflect a lot of that in her personality.

Not to be critical, but Myreon and Arlan seem a little under-served in the story. Can we expect to see them get a little more room to grow in future Tyvian adventures?

Arlan? Who the heck is that? Artus, I assume you mean. I’m sorry if you think they are underserved (and I happen to disagree). That said, Artus in particular has a lot more planned for him. Myreon does, too, but she’s not in as much of book three as I wanted.

The story is, of course, about Tyvian primarily, and on Tyvian I tend to remain focused. I get frustrated with the tendency in epic fantasy to abandon the main character in favor of following the ins and outs of all the minor supporting cast. As long as I’m writing this series, Tyvian’s exploits and his transformation will be center stage. The other characters are important, of course, but they aren’t the main character.

(Interviewer’s Note: You probably won’t believe this, but I actually HAD it as Artus when I first wrote out the questions for Auston and then I second guessed myself, because it had been a couple of months since I finished the book. So, I googled Oldest Trick to make sure. Of course, the first link I clicked on was a review – Goodreads, I think – where the reviewer called that character “Arlan.” Let that be a lesson to you all! Stick to your guns… but only when you’re right, of course.)

Any hints about what’s in store next for Tyvian and his band of reluctant accomplices?

Well, Tyvian has made a lot of very powerful enemies by the end of the first book and the ring basically forces him away from his normal profession (namely scheming with pirates and smugglers to fence stolen magecraft to unsavory persons). Tyvian is going to experience a long fall from quality of living he’s used to. He isn’t going to be happy about it, either.

What’s it been like working with Harper Voyager Impulse? Is it true they require you to sacrifice kittens in their name during unholy rituals of ancient eldritch sorcery before they agree to publish your work? How many kittens so far?

My contract dictates I owe them a kitten a week, but I’ve been slacking a bit lately. That reminds me–where’s my kitten-sack? (rummages around office)

Working with HVI has been good. I’m very small potatoes over there, so I don’t exactly get everybody’s undivided attention, but it has been a good experience overall. I mean, drowning kittens is not exactly fun, but you get used to it, you know?

 

"Will I dream?"

“Will I dream?”

 

Have you done any independent marketing of The Oldest Trick or has Harper handled all of it? What marketing has been done by you and/or them?

Harper did a fair amount of publicity for the first book (The Iron Ring, which is the first half of The Oldest Trick), a little bit for the second part, but the third part I’ve been mostly on my own. Being associated with a major publisher is a boost all by itself, of course, so that has helped and I’ve probably sold a lot more than I would have had I gone indie. One thing I was told (I think by the great Kevin J Anderson) was “you are the very best advocate for your own work.” That doesn’t change when you’re working with a big publisher–you still need to press the flesh, ask for reviews, write guest blog posts, do interviews, etc. You can’t wait around for them to do it for you. I did that with the second book, and it was a bad idea.

When you’ve finished re-watching Conan the Barbarian, built a model of the Devil’s Tower out of mashed potatoes and walked naked around your backyard at midnight, what else do you do to stir the creative juices when they’ve run a bit dry?

I don’t do anything specific, exactly. I try to take inspiration from daily life–people I see on the train, a story somebody tells me about their boss, music I listen to. In terms of hobbies, I still run RPGs all the time and I have a pretty substantial Warhammer 40K habit, but those are less points of inspiration and more ways to unwind. I do lift some concepts I come up with for my RPGs and stick them in stories, but Gamemastering isn’t that far off from being an author, anyway, so I don’t think that’s unusual.

You just bumped up a level and you get an extra attribute point. Where’s it going? NOT SKILL POINT. I know you’re dumping that crap into Spot. Everyone does that. NO. Attribute point. Dex? I’m betting Dex.

Charisma. I don’t need to dodge a lot of falling rocks, but I *do* need to make friends in this industry, and a big pile of charisma would do me some good at those meet-and-greets where I stand by the wall and drink my Sprite like a chump.

How will people find you when they reach the astute conclusion that this mere taste of you is not enough?

Website: http://aahabershaw.com/
Blog: http://aahabershaw.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/aahabershaw
Twitter: @AustonHab
Lnkedin: No thank you.
Pinterest: Nope
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Auston-Habershaw/e/B00O33E9NO/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_5?qid=1443034859&sr=1-5
Smashwords: Whuzzat?
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6893097.Auston_Habershaw

Book Links: (* American, UK, etc.)
Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00SRYV25I/ref=s9_newr_gw_d63_g351_i5?pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=desktop-1&pf_rd_r=1P8PQ3M0W7KPZ7SDRGS4&pf_rd_t=36701&pf_rd_p=2079475242&pf_rd_i=desktop
B&N: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-oldest-trick-auston-habershaw/1121123546?ean=9780062417220
Kobo: https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/the-oldest-trick-1
Harper Collins: http://www.harpercollins.com/9780062417220/the-oldest-trick
Google: https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Auston_Habershaw_The_Oldest_Trick?id=Gx1rBgAAQBAJ

 

Well that’s all the time we have folks! Thank you to Auston Habershaw for stopping by and playing nice with my goofball questions. Thanks to all of you for reading. Before we go, here’s a bit more about The Oldest Trick. Seriously, check it out:

Compiled for the first time, The Oldest Trick comprises The Iron Ring and Iron and Blood in the Saga of the Redeemed.

Tyvian Reldamar has just been betrayed by his longtime partner and left for dead in a freezing river. To add insult to injury, his mysterious rescuer took it upon himself to affix Tyvian with an iron ring that prevents the wearer from any evildoing.

Revenge just got complicated.

On his quest to get even, Tyvian navigates dark conspiracies, dodges midnight assassins, and uncovers the plans of the ruthless wizard Banric Sahand. Tyvian will need to use every dirty trick in the book to avoid a painful and ignominious end, even as he learns to work with—and rely on—his motley crew of accomplices, including an adolescent pickpocket, an obese secret-monger, and a fearsome gnoll.

Self-publishing services: mind your e-business

There seems to be a lot of concern in the self-publishing community that indie authors are being taken for a ride. There are some unscrupulous people out there who are offering “packages” of “self-publishing services” for exorbitant fees. What services? Well, basically, some of the things they are offering to do you can do yourself for free, like uploading a file to Amazon and Smashwords. So, that’s pretty bad. Still, some people don’t want to be bothered and are willing to pay for the privilege, but in that case I’d recommend those people take the time and patience it takes to find a traditional publisher, since they are obviously not interested in actually self-publishing, just in getting published. People who self-publish without wanting to bother with the details of that decision are kind of like “big game hunters” that are willing to pay for everything just so long as they don’t actually have to do any, you know, hunting.

 

"This sucks. I don't know why I couldn't have shot him from my laptop. Worst. Safari. Ever."

“This sucks. I don’t know why I couldn’t have shot him from my laptop. Worst. Safari. Ever.”

 

And yes, there are services that will even write the book for you. Don’t get me started.

However, these package sites are also offering to do services that most authors can’t do for free. Namely, proofreading, editing (line/copy), formatting and cover design. So, while you might be throwing some money away on buying the free stuff included in one of these “packages” you will be getting some things you’d have to pay for anyway. Therefore, the bone of contention is mostly over how much they charge and less over what they are charging you for.

Now, I’ve read a couple other blog posts about this by other self-published authors and they come across as indignant over this slight to their profession and outraged by the actions of these “vultures” who prey upon the innocence of the naive. More or less, I agree with them, but I’ve also noticed something about these authors. They tend to do their own editing and also have access to extraordinarily cheap formatting and proofreading and art services. They usually proudly list the people who they use and the low prices they pay.

I don’t know how they found these people, but I’m willing to bet they hooked up with them a few years ago, before the big boom in e-book self-publishing. Thus, they got some good prices for their services. Now that these services are much more in demand, new authors are facing higher prices. That’s just how it goes. An author who has been self-publishing with his editor and artist for a few years is likely still paying the same amount he did when they started, but that doesn’t mean that editor and artist are charging OTHER people what they charge him. Even if they are, I guarantee you they are overloaded with work.

For instance, I tried to secure the services of Konrath’s editors and artists when I finished my internal revisions on Dead Empire. First of all, it took each of them at least a month just to reply to my email. Secondly, they told me they would be happy to work for me, but they were booking three months in advance. Lastly, they quoted me prices that were more than what Konrath was paying them (although not much more, to be fair).

One of the main selling points of self-publishing is not having to wait to publish, so I was not inclined to book with them. Also, I wasn’t terribly impressed with the services, quite frankly. Konrath pays (the last he mentioned, at any rate) about a hundred bucks to each of his contractors, give or take. He has three. One does proofing, another does formatting and another does cover design. While I found the formatting of his e-books quite good, the proofing was of debatable merit since he does his own editing and the cover art wasn’t at all the kind of thing I wanted. I had a very vivid image of my book’s cover in my head and I knew a typical one or two or three element e-book cover wasn’t going to cut it. I wanted the reader to get in my head and see my world the way I see it right there on the cover.

 

Okay, maybe not all the way inside my head.

Okay, maybe not all the way inside my head.

 

So, I went to E-Lance to search for contractors. I never considered looking for a package deal. Wasn’t even aware they existed. I just wanted to hire professionals to do a professional job. Guess what? That’s what I found. I’m not trying to sell people on using E-Lance or anything, I’m just going to say that I could put my projects (one editing/formatting/proofing project and one cover design project) up for bid and then looked at all the contractors’ profiles as they bid on them. I eventually chose the best candidates that did the best work at the most reasonable prices.

I guess my main point that I would want anyone who is interested in self-publishing to realize is this: It’s a business. On the one hand, if you shovel a lot of money at someone else to do your business for you (like these packaged services) then you’re most likely going to be disappointed and frustrated. On the other hand, if you insist on doing everything yourself or using bargain basement contractors, you’re probably also going to be disappointed and frustrated. But the reality is, it’s what’s right for you. Just don’t let anyone else tell you the “right” way to publish your book, because the truth is there isn’t a “right” way currently. The market is growing and changing on an almost daily basis. If you have a great idea for your cover, but don’t have any design skills, then don’t skimp on the artist. But at the same time, maybe you feel your writing is strong enough so you don’t need an editor and you can save a couple hundred bucks skipping that expense.

I will say you should always (always, always) get your manuscript proofread. Spend money on that at the very least. Your proofreader will be the one who will make sure every “too” isn’t a “to” and every “you’re” isn’t a “your.” Think you can do it yourself? You’re wrong. You always see your writing the way it is meant to be read, not actually how you wrote it. Important difference.

 

"Did you mean to use the word egregiously thirteen times in this paragraph or were you just having a seizure?"

“Did you mean to use the word ‘egregiously’ thirteen times in this paragraph or were you just having a seizure?”

 

But seriously, you should probably hire an editor. Just my two cents. Because, if you’re like me and you’re not confident in your grammar and punctuation and you don’t have design skills and you still want to publish a book that people will take seriously, then set aside some money to hire professionals. You have to keep in mind that these people are running their own businesses just like you. It’s not unreasonable for them to demand adequate compensation for their services. If you want to give money to one company to take care of everything for you, then go ahead and do that, but for the love of your friends, family and supporters CHECK THEM OUT. Make sure you talk to customers and get a look at their work. Whether or not the books they help people publish actually sell is besides the point. Just make sure you like the work that they do and that most other customers are satisfied with their experience.

But seriously, if you can’t be bothered to find your own editor and artist and you don’t want to deal with the insanely easy KDP program or the Smashwords interface, then just be patient and find a publisher to publish you. Don’t pay anyone. If you’re in earnest about being a writer, eventually someone will publish you.

However, if you’re in earnest about self-publishing, then do yourself a favor and put the time in and do your homework and also realize it’s going to take some money. Even Konrath had to spend thousands of dollars in legal fees just to get the rights to his books back before he could self-publish them. Know what happened to him? Millionaire. Just saying. That’s business. You have to spend money to make money.

Oh, and I guess I should close with the important disclaimer that you shouldn’t do what I’m doing, because I don’t know what I’m doing. But I’m beginning to get the sneaking suspicion that most other people don’t either. Cheers. 😉

Standing in a field, yelling at the sky

 

…Also known as the Business of Self-Publishing.

Year One (of many, hopefully)

I’d like to take some time to talk a little bit about what goes into the business of being a self-published author. Before I begin, I want to make it clear that these opinions and observations are entirely my own and I am not advocating some kind of universal truths or stating that I know all about “the way things are.” My goal here is to tell you why I decided to self-publish and what has been my experience with it thus far.

Also, my books are on sale this week. That’s mainly what made me think to write this post. Dead Empire is FREE and Troubled King is $0.99! Check out those links in the sidebar on my Home Page when you get the chance.

I absolutely guarantee my books won’t make you violently ill. What have you got to lose? 😉

 

buyforadollar

 

When I started writing in earnest, I was 39 years old and already washed out of three different careers – bookselling, computer game design, and programming. I knew writing was the only marketable skill I had left that I hadn’t truly tried to parlay into a way to make a living, so I thought I’d dive right in and give it a shot. But, how to make writing a full time occupation? At first, I tried a somewhat realistic approach of writing articles for on-line zines. I found this to be boring, non-lucrative and a frustrating waste of my writing energies. I felt like I wasn’t writing what I actually wanted to write about. If I was going to be a writer, I was going to do it on my terms, else why bother?

So, I decided I’d concentrate on writing Grant Scotland full time. But what should I do when I finished the first book? How was I going to go about publishing it? Should I get an agent? I thought about this for a while and did quite a bit of research and asked both traditionally published and self-published authors what they thought. There were various opinions, of course, but everywhere I looked I saw one common thread: You have to decide what your goals are and then proceed from there. I decided I had three main goals:

1) To write full time. I would let nothing else claim more time than my writing career.

2) Never give the rights to my creations to anyone anywhere ever. I went through that in the games industry and vowed never to let it happen again.

3) To not wait on anyone else. When I think my book is ready, I’ll publish it. If the market says they hate it, the responsibility is mine. I’ve worked with publishers before and I know for a fact that they don’t know any better than I do what’s good and what sells. That doesn’t mean I don’t use an editor and don’t get feedback and advice from other professionals – it just means the ultimate decision of how and when to publish will always be mine.

So, I was pretty sure I was headed for self-publishing. I devoured Konrath’s blog, which is a great resource for getting started, and hunted through KBoards and Goodreads for tips and strategies. The more I read, the more convinced I became that self-publishing was right for me. However, at the same time, I discovered that there was very little chance I was going to make any money at it. At least, not in the short term. This was somewhat disconcerting, but not at all surprising. Although Konrath found a gold mine in relatively little time when he decided to self-publish, he already had developed a small but loyal following and also entered the market with an impressive backlist. I had neither of those things. I did have a chair, though…

 

A disturbingly accurate depiction of the author.

A disturbingly accurate depiction of the author.

 

Nevertheless, I pressed forward and published Dead Empire a year ago this May and then Troubled King in October. My initial spending on promoting Dead Empire was restrained, since I reasoned that trying to get people to buy book one in a series with no proof that there would ever be a book two was an uphill battle not worth fighting. Here are the details of my spending on promotions and production in the first year of my self-publishing enterprise. It’s pretty dry reading, but I haven’t seen any other authors release this info, so I thought I’d do it for posterity. Hopefully, you’ll find it helpful and educational.

Spy for a Dead Empire
Production:
Cover art: $275 (E-Lance contractor Thomas M. of Writely Designed)
Editing/Formatting/Proofing: $650 (E-Lance contractor Joni Wilson)
Promotion: (May ’14 to July’14)
Facebook community ad page and initial promotion: $50
Yield: About 125 page likes, around 4,000 appearances (?) and 250 page views. A few sales.
 
Book Review Broker purchase: $110
Yield: About 200 Amazon reviewers were contacted through this service and invited to review my book (they would receive a free “reviewers copy”). About a dozen responded and no one was interested. Massive failure for me, but others have had some success with it. The guy who invented it is a good guy, but I think his program still needs some tweaks, not to mention a much lower price point.
 
Goodreads advertising campaign: $100
Goodreads site will advertise my book to audiences I select that use their site until a certain number of clicks is reached. I purchased this in June and about 1000 readers have “seen” it, but have not received one click. I asked for my money back and stopped this a few months ago in favor of running the same kind of thing on Amazon, where I’ve received more traction.
 
Boosted Facebook post after 1 month: $30
“Have you reviewed your copy…” post on community page.  Reached about 4000 people. Generated a few sales and page likes.
 
Re-Boosted Facebook post: $30
Reboosted prior post and reached about 3,000 people. Generated a couple of sales and page likes.
 
Boosted Facebook post re: twitter: $30
A boosted post on the community page announcing the author’s twitter stream. Reached around 4500 people. No noticeable effect on twitter or in sales. A couple of page likes.
—————————————————————————————-
At this point, I stopped all promotions and decided I wouldn’t spend any more money until Troubled King came out.
————————————–
Troubled King
Production:
Cover art: $275 (E-Lance contractor Thomas M. of Writely Designed)
Editing/Formatting/Proofing: $650 (E-Lance contractor Joni Wilson)
Promotions (combined with Dead Empire, October ’14 to present)
FBpage release announcement – $60 (OCT)EBookBooster – $40 (for the three day free giveaway of book 2 on Kindle Select) (NOV)
-generated around 200 free downloads on Amazon
FBpage boost announcing promo – $20Booksends – $30 – 1 week of .99 of book 1 (NOV)
-generated around 20 sales on Amazon

FBpage boost announcing .99 book 1 promo – $20 (NOV)

At this point, I determined that Facebook ads are a waste of money. The sales I generated were mostly from friends and family, as far as I could tell. I read somewhere that the page likes are automatically generated from Facebook employees or bots. It buffs your community page likes, but doesn’t do anything for sales. However, I also read that the $5 basic boost is worth it, since it makes sure that all the people who like your page (your core supporters) will see your announcement. These are your prime word-of-mouthers, so it pays to keep them in the loop (that’s the theory anyway). Without the $5 boost, they might miss the announcement of a release or sale.

Big December ’14 Promotion push:

Signed up for free ebook promo for book 2 on ebookbooster ($40) 12/19-12/20

Signed up for .99 ebook promo for book 1 on ebookbooster ($25) 12/19-12/24

SweetFreeBooks – $5 per bargain/freebook promo

Indie Book of the Day – 50% off promos = $25 bargain promo for 1 month for book 1 and $15 KDP Select promo for giveaway days for book 2.
Also submitted book 1 and 2 for review. (no review yet)
The book 1 promo through this site did nothing in sales.

bargainbooksy – Typical bargain book newsletter service.
Signed up for a promo on 12/13 at $40. Includes email to subscribers and
book cover featured on site.
12/13 – Sold 7 copies of book1
12/14 – sold none
12/15 – sold none
12/16 – sold none
12/17 – sold none

genre pulse – fairly typical scheduled promo site, $10 or $30
BOUGHT $10 ADS FOR BOOKS 1 and 2 FOR 12/19

 

In the middle of arranging the above promotions, I found conclusive evidence from other self-published authors that stacking various ad-buys together during the same promotion can have a magnifying effect on the algorithm that Amazon uses to determine which books it chooses to display in peoples’ “You may also like” field. I have no idea why it took me about seven months to finally dig up that little gem of advice, but I’m not sure it would have helped me much in the fledgling campaigns I was doing for Dead Empire alone. At any rate, I was able to stack some, but not all, of my ads during December and noticed a marked improvement in distribution. The next promotion, I got everything together correctly, including getting this blog up and tweeting regularly and making sure the Author Central page was playing nice with both.

 

February ’15 “Spy Who Loved Free” Giveaway event:

PROMO DATE was 2/11 + 2/12 TWO DAY GIVEAWAY
THESE PROMOS RAN:

RIFFLE SELECT – Wednesday, Feb 11th ($40)
Ebookbooster – Wednesday, Feb 11th and 12th ($40)
Booksends – Wednesday, Feb 11th ($50)
ebooksoda – Thursday, Feb 12th ($10)
Amazon Ad Campaign – 2/3 to 3/8 ($100)

 

This was all promotion for book 1, since book 2 was still ineligible for a $0.99 promotion. Many of the ebook sites with big subscribers don’t like it if you try to promote a bargain book too soon after it has been promoted for free. Book 2 had been free for a little bit in December. This was all right with me, since I was curious about sell through. I wanted to see if the book 1 giveaway would result in people buying book 2 at full price. Some did, but the numbers weren’t staggering. What was undeniably successful was the free giveaway itself. In one two-day giveaway event, around 2500 people downloaded Dead Empire! This was the kind of number I had been looking for.

So, what did I learn so far?

1) Only do $5 boosts for FB

2) Stack Ad Buys

3) Don’t run promotions any more often than once every three months.

4) POSSIBLY – start moving away from free giveaways and concentrate on bargain and bundle promotions (when book 3 releases). This was more from some stuff I just read yesterday than from my own evidence, but I’ve seen several authors move away from free giveaways since it just isn’t generating the sell through it once did.

 

I’m treating my self-publishing as a business. All businesses are expected to lose money in AT LEAST the first two years of operation. What I’m doing is carving out market share. I’m creating my brand and I’m putting together a customer base. Would I rather be concentrating on writing and letting some publisher worry about the business side of things? No doubt. But the truth (as far as I’ve seen and heard) is that a publisher is never going to invest as much time and effort (not to mention money) into me as I need and deserve.

I’ve read in several places that a self-pubbed author has no realistic chance at making any money until he has at least four books out, but I think it more likely that the number is closer six. Six GOOD books, by the way. And by GOOD, I mean actual novels that have been professionally produced. The actual writing quality is largely subjective. For example, I’ll never understand how people think Dan Brown’s writing is good – that’s a matter of opinion – but it is undeniably professionally produced.

So, I’m thinking I’ve got another couple of years before I can realistically expect returns on my investments, but PLEASE don’t look at what I’ve reported here as some kind of blue print for success. I’m not successful yet and might never be (financially speaking, anyway). But I’m realistic about what it’s going to take to have a shot at being successful. The next couple of years are going to be scary, but I’ve got plenty of old clothes and ramen noodles are still pretty inexpensive, so I’m feeling prepared.

I hope you found something interesting or entertaining in my recap of Year One: My Own Year of Living Dangerously.  Here’s hoping there will be a Year Two.