Enjoy this look into my brain. And, yes, I said all of these aloud. The cat and I are the only ones here. What I said to her is a million variants of “Not now, Bella!”.:
“Why is he pausing there?!”
“I need a name. Wait. I have a list of names . . . in my purse. Shit.” (My purse is apparently a bag of holding because I have way more in there than should fit. This makes finding the sheet of paper I’m looking for complicated.)
“Wait . . . would Bobby know the word saccharine?”
“Okay, let’s not use the word ‘sappy’ four times in two . . . two times in four . . . whatever, can’t count . . . sentences.”
“Oh, gods, Bobby.”
“‘Wearingly,’ is that the word I’m looking for?”
“‘Wearily,’ is that the word?!”
“‘I was the biggest idiots,’ that’s some good English.”
“Oh my gods, I can’t type.” (This was after misspelling every single word in a sentence. I concluded it was lunch time.)
“Oh my gods, that sentence is horrible.”
“‘Realizing’, there we go!”
“Okay, I made that worse.”
“How do you spell ‘statement’?”
“There we go.”
“I’m not digging this.”
“God, you are such a sleaze.”
“That . . . is kinda crappy.”
Welcome to a new, (supposedly) regular feature of this blog where I go through a list of some “things for writers to blog about”. Sometimes I will, amazingly enough, actually be blogging about whatever the suggested topic is instead of snarking about it!
Today is not one of those days, however.
Today’s topic — as the title suggests — is “story ideas I hope to tackle in the future.”
I will go ahead and share these ideas, as I have them recorded, so you can see how utterly useless this is as a blog topic for me:
- Kenodori ninja killing one of the Theocratic States of America’s theocrats.
- Vague thingy from listening to “Hairtrigger Colt 45” by Chris LeDoux. Try listening to it when wider awake maybe.
- Jar with 10,000 year old souls in it.
- Short about Kay
- Barely adult Ilzwokie assassin
- Fantasy travelogue
- (This and the next one aren’t actually recorded anywhere, but this is all I know about them, so same concept) Fairy urban fantasy thingy inspired somewhat by that dream with the purple winged fairy and the way Mount Greylock looks on snowy nights.
- Superhero thing that might be combined with above
So, does that help anybody decide “Oh, wow! I’ve got to follow this blog. This author has some cool ideas!”?
I didn’t think so. Supposedly, listing ideas I want to develop someday would do that. I can’t help but feel that this works so very much better for authors who start with ideas like “a story exploring what it means to be human” or “a story about racism, using alien felines as a metaphor” or other stuff like that that is completely alien to the way my brain works.
You see, some authors — and I’ve found more than one insisting this is the way we all work, which pisses me off immeasurably — start with some big idea, like the meaning of being human or racism in modern America using felinoids as a metaphor or whatever (I totally made this up, but it really wouldn’t surprise me if someone has written it.), then create a setting to support the way they want to explore the idea, and then create characters to tell the story.
First, I don’t deal in big thematic ideas. A couple keep finding their way into my work, but those are definitely not my starting point when I sit down to write. I get either full paragraphs, sometimes full scenes, that demand my immediate attention because they’ve so taken over my brain that I can’t do other things fully formed in my head or I get very vague things like the list above. (It doesn’t have any of the paragraph examples, by the way, because the most recent of those is already short story length and they haven’t even left the planet yet.) In either case, I record what I’ve got and either my brain keeps going so I end up writing the first chunk of the story already or I’ve got nothing else. If I have nothing else, I read over what I’ve got a few times to make sure I really don’t have anything else, then let it sit there until someday, hopefully, I’ll think of more. I start writing when I’ve got about half a scene in mind because I’ve found forcing things before that doesn’t work for me.
Second, while I adore worldbuilding, I can’t do it in a vacuum. Setting, plot, theme (if I’m bothering with thinking about it), characters . . . for me these all interconnect and grow from each other. This is why I snark so much about character questionnaires and have similar opinions on worldbuilding ones (and because worldbuilding ones all have religion questions that are far too Abrahamic-religion focused . . . polytheism is not multiple-choice monotheism in most cases, guys, nor is the main focus of many religions where you go when you die!). Before I can answer what my character’s favorite snack food is, I have to know what snack foods exist.
And, finally, when reading a story, I can almost always tell when characters were created to serve the plot and theme instead of being people in a situation. They, no matter how many of those fucking questionnaires the author filled out, no matter how much the author knows about their goals and motivations and what’s in their refrigerators, always seem to be lacking real depth.
And I think this discussion of my process and how it differs from what I’m “supposed” to do was far more interesting than a list of ideas that I may or may not ever get around to writing. That said, if you are interested in any of those ideas, feel free to tell me so. Or if you’re interested in what inspired them . . . for at least one of them I have an actual, non-sarcastic, answer!
I want more people’s opinions on the-gods-please-let-this-be-the-final-draft of No More Lies.
I know there are a million writer hangouts online where I can ask, but all of those have the expectation that I’ll also beta read the other guys’ stuff and, quite frankly, I don’t have the temperament to be a good beta reader . . . especially when a lot of the stuff out there from the people most eager to beta read reads like it was written using a list of “Stuff Shannon Hates About Modern Fiction” and has atrocious grammar errors.
Basically, I don’t give a flying fuck what people who have memorized every Thou Shalt Not given in modern writing courses/advice and that damned book by Stephen King think about my story. I know what they’ll have to say: I use too many adverbs, my sentences are too long and complex, and there isn’t enough conflict (because even my book that starts with somebody blowing up an enemy ship and completely revolves around trying to prevent a war has been criticized for not having enough conflict, so apparently I can’t do whatever it is I’m supposed to where conflict is concerned). Oh, and they’ll complain about my made up words, because apparently people on a different planet that was settled by people from another galaxy and that has only officially had contact with Earth for less than a hundred years shouldn’t have drinks or time units or animals we don’t. Silly me, I thought I was writing space opera.
So whose opinions do I care about you ask?
Easy: People who like good stories. Not people who can find every dangling participle and verb-tense error (though if you want to point those out you can; it’s just not what I’m specifically interested in right now). Not people who know what Stephen King said on page whatever of On Writing and hold it as holy writ. Not people who are going to tell me “according to AGENT-WHO-BLOGS-ABOUT-WHAT-THEY-LOOK-FOR, you need to have reached your second plot point by now”. People who like good stories. Not people who are beta reading only because they want me to beta read their stories. Not people who are beta reading because it’s a good way to network with other authors and magically increase sales. Not people who have degrees in writing related stuffs and therefore are “qualified” to give feedback (though if you do have a degree like this, so long as you meet the other criteria, it’s okay.) People who like good stories.
I’m serious. That’s what I want. I don’t care how my story is working in terms of marketability or trends or any of that shit. I want to know how it’s working as a story. Is it making sense? Did any of my convoluted sentences get too convoluted and tie your brain into a pretzel? Did you utter the terrifying sentence “I don’t care what happens to these people”? Did you laugh? Did you cry? Did you want to punch the narrator? (If I did it right, there are parts in this where you should; he’s a bit of a jackass sometimes.) In short, is it a good story so far?
That’s it. That’s really all I care about. As I’ve gone on about at length before, I’m not doing this for money, so I don’t give a damn about what I should be doing. I want to know if what I am doing is working.
Oh, right. I suppose I should tell you what the story is about, so you’ll know if you’re even interested in it:
No More Lies is, at the simplest, a boy-meets-girl story. But, because I can’t do anything the normal way, it’s really a romance for people who don’t like romances. It’s coming-of-age story in some ways . . . but the protagonist is in his mid-twenties. The protagonist is a ninja/spy/assassin/comic book geek/musician who is trying to balance a new relationship — his first serious one in about ten years — with reconnecting with his family and friends that have been through hell since he ran away years before while he’s being hunted by agents of the people he was spying on. Which sounds like some sort of super serious dramatic thing . . . but instead it’s funny.
So I guess the short version is: No More Lies is a light-hearted romantic, coming-of-age story, in a space opera setting, about a ninja/spy/assassin/comic book geek/musician and the problems he faces dealing with his no nonsense girlfriend, estranged family and old friends, and the people who want him dead.
Here’s the cover . . . or the most recent version of it I can easily find, anyway. I think I tweaked the font color some after this one, but I don’t recall where I saved that at the moment:
So, who wants to beta read it? (And if you don’t want to beta read it but do think it sounds interesting/cool/whatever, let me know and I’ll hook you up with a copy before it’s officially released.)
I recently tabulated how many copies of my books have sold and been given away freely across all sales channels in the entire time they’ve been out . . . and how much money I’ve made.
There seems to be an unwritten code amongst poorly selling self-published authors that we don’t talk about the money. You know me, I’m not one for obeying rules, especially ones only enforced by some nebulous Them I don’t recall ever talking to.
So I have no problem disclosing to you that, in the four years and almost four months that I’ve been a published author, I’ve made $14.86. That’s it. And I’m pretty sure most of that came from my mother buying physical copies of at least one of my books for people. (Thanks, Mom!)
Now, according to a certain sort of Serious Professional Self-Published Author, this is the point where I should either give up on the whole crazy career and accept that I just don’t have what it takes to make it as an author, or I should reassess my marketing strategy and do a whole lot of things with spreadsheets that I only vaguely understand.
I, as should surprise absolutely no one, am taking a third option. I’m going to keep putting my writing out there, going to keep writing full time, and I sure as fuck am going to keep calling myself a professional author, even if I decide not to charge for any of my books ever.
For a variety of interconnected reasons:
First, because I don’t give much of a damn about the money. Yes, I’d like to make money from my writing, but that’s, I know, partially because of fucked up societal expectations of what constitutes being an adult. And partially because I’d like to buy my wife more pretty things than I presently can.
And soon I’ll have more on how, exactly, I plan to make money going forward, despite seriously considering not charging for any of my stories any more. It’s going to be a big experiment that I hope at least some readers of this post will be willing to help me with.
Second, because I realized after an Arlo Guthrie concert I went to back in November that if I were to have a “mission statement” for my writing career, like some insist is essential, it would read thusly: I want my stories to move people — to tears, laughter, whatever is appropriate — as much as good music moves me. I can’t do that with one eye on the marketability of what I’m writing. Some can, but not me.
And third, and most importantly in my eyes, because while my stories don’t sell, as the pathetic amount I’ve made from them shows plainly, when they’re free, people want them. Jake’s Last Mission, which I consider the best of the works I’ve published (despite having recently finished a revision and expansion of it that I feel improves it quite a bit), has a few copies downloaded every week. It fairly regularly is making the Top 100 Free Space Opera list in Amazon UK and occasionally makes the American list.
“Once A Hero, Always A Hero” also moves pretty steadily, but less often makes the best-seller list because it doesn’t get as many downloads.
The Crown of Eldrete has yet to be price matched to free on Amazon — any country’s Amazon — and even where I have been able to make it free it’s my worst “selling” title now. And I am, in fact, considering taking it down — but not for any commercial reason. No. My reasons for considering taking it down are purely artistic: I view it as a pale shadow of what it should be. It embarrasses me, not because it doesn’t sell, not because people don’t seem to want it even when it’s free, but because it, to be blunt, sucks. (If you actually like it — I can almost promise you’ll like the re-written version I’ll do eventually better.)
Now, I’m not so naive as to think that everyone who downloads my stories for free reads them. I’ve read — never sourced, so I don’t know the authenticity of the statement — that Amazon estimates something like one out of three hundred free downloads is actually read. (Or maybe it was one hundred? Or four hundred? Or maybe I’ve seen all of these numbers . . . like I said, it’s never sourced.) I have my doubts that the number is that low but, well, I’ve got free stories I downloaded ages ago that I haven’t gotten around to reading yet. (Including at least one by the twin of someone who reads this blog regularly . . . sorry about that.) But, the thing is, I assume most people who downloaded my stories are like me: They fully intend to read what they’ve downloaded, someday.
And an earlier version of this post was going to start with this quote, but I can’t work it in smoothly now. It still awesome though, and a statement I agree with whole-heartedly, so I’m going to end the post with it:
“You’re an artist when you say you are. And you’re a good artist when you make somebody else experience or feel something deep or unexpected.”
Just because you don’t want your hero to have a peaceful walk through the woods every time doesn’t mean every single time he enters them he should end up up a tree, that’s on fire, with wolves surrounding the base of it.
For the less metaphorically minded, I’m saying give your characters a break every now and then. Raising the threat is not, contrary to what a lot of writing advice says right now, always the best thing to do. Doing so every single time your character is in danger is just as unrealistic as never putting him in danger.
You want the woods to not be safe, so every time he enters them something happens, to stick with my example? Cool. Sometimes keep it simple.
The book I’m currently reading has a serious problem with this sort of thing. The characters are never facing just one problem. Every time bad something happens, other unrelated problems come up.
Far from making me more compelled to turn the page by raising the tension, which I assume is what the author is going for, it’s making me roll my eyes and see how much book is left because I’m liking the plot and would like to find out how it resolves without all this unnecessary shit getting in the way. Yes, me, the person — as far as I can tell the only one in the whole world — who likes The Council of Elrond chapter of Fellowship of the Ring is complaining about unnecessary stuff in a book. You know how tedious and annoying you find all that fascinating history? That’s how I feel about every single conflict these characters encounter.
And it’s not just in this book. I see it in so goddamned much stuff that’s written in the past few years. It’s, I realized the other day, part of why I’m not reading much modern fiction.
Oh, this ties in nicely with something else I wanted to blog about, so I’ll switch gears and talk about it now. I love it when that happens.
The other day I was reading a series of posts where Ursula Le Guin was responding to questions about writing from authors and wannabe authors. The questions frequently were the current favorites of wannabe authors everywhere on the internet, stuff about whether or not outlines are essential, choosing a target audience, should setting or plot or characters be the first thing an author works on, all that sort of stuff. Her answers, without fail, stressed one simple thing: that what matters above all else is when writing is thinking of the story. Not the plot, not the tension, not the purpose of each scene . . . all of that, she said, is thinking more in line with critiquing a story than writing it.
I think, honestly, that that’s what’s wrong with so very much fiction these days. The authors aren’t thinking of the story when they write it. They’re thinking “Okay, the last scene raised the tension a little bit, but I need to raise it more”. They’re thinking “The best thing for this character’s arc is for him to face a threat to <whatever> here.” They’re thinking “The purpose of this scene is <whatever>.”
When I write, I’m thinking one thing “What happens next?” That’s it. Any other thoughts are for after the story is written and I’m revising it . . . and even then I don’t go too deep into the arcs and tension and shit like that sort of thinking. I’m writing a story. Far too many authors today aren’t. They’re building a plot.
I have a secret project up my sleeve. For this secret project, I need to have one of my longer stories fully revised and edited and all that fun stuff in the next month or so.
These are the ones that are completed but not yet published. Please either comment to tell me which one you are most interested in, or list the order you’d publish them if you were me (these are all, obviously, working titles):
- Jake’s Last Mission, Expanded: Jake, commander of the Sweytzian Fleet, just wants to finish the patrol and retire. Kristark, the new Emperor of the Mugdarans just wants the first bit of his reign to go smoothly. One Mugdaran captain trying to restart a war both fought in as much younger men complicates both their lives.
- Jake Becomes Mithoska: Jake just wants to go home. He loves commanding a ship, but he hasn’t seen his wife, kids, grandkids, or dogs in way too long. Suddenly, he finds himself in charge of the whole fleet, right as a war goes from bad to horrible.
- Quinn Love Story: Quinn and Renata have been friends-with-benefits for years. Then he moves in with her and her family out of necessity. Can he work up the guts to tell her how he really feels before it’s too late?
OR should I wait until I’ve finished writing one of these?
- Renata and Viktor Love Story: Renata is seventeen, the newest member of Darrien’s Daggers, and cocky as hell. Viktor is twenty-three, recently widowed, and utterly devoted to his toddler daughter. They fall in love.
- Zaphnell Story: Zaphnell, a Dagger turned “perfectly honest merchant ship captain”, has a cargo hold full of some things some people want back. Lyndsey and her uncle hire onto his crew in search of some adventure.
- Little House on Perlithis: Jake is nine-years-old and his biggest goals in life are to get through a whole school year without getting in any fights and to convince his ranch hand father to quit spending so much money on him.
All of these are prompted by things I have really seen or behavior I have really seen authors engage in.
- Have very basic grammar and spelling errors in your blurb. I hate that this even has to be said. If you can’t write a blurb without fucking up stuff I learned in fourth grade, then I’m not going to trust you to have written a book worth reading. (I made a very basic grammar error in one of my blurbs once, I admit. I fixed it as soon as someone told me about it and am more careful since . . . mostly I make sure I’m awake before posting blurbs now.) (EDIT: I should apply the same rule to blogposts. I had “right a blurb” when I first posted this!)
- Randomly capitalize the first letter of words in your blurb. I understand that starting important nouns with a capital letter was a thing in the eighteenth century, and that some (John Adams, for instance . . . reading something by him and wondering what the deal with the capitals was is what prompted me to research this) took it so far as to start all nouns with capital letters. This is the twenty-first century. Stop it.
- Have a blurb that tells me nothing about the story. I don’t care what awards it’s won. I don’t care where or when it was first published. I care about what I’m going to find in the story.
- Message me on Goodreads after I add your book to my “To Read” list about something unrelated. It’s bad manners, and it’s against their terms of service, and I will report you. Especially if I say I’m not interested in whatever you’ve said and you do it again a week later. Yes, this happened. I decided I didn’t care how interesting the book sounded, that author wasn’t getting my money.
- Send me a “critique” of one of my books that’s mostly you comparing it negatively to yours. I was messaged an unsolicited critique once by an author that read more like the author was saying “You did this wrong, but I did it completely right, as you’ll see if you read my book.” This is not a good first impression. Also, it helps if you’re comparing things that aren’t purely subjective if you’re going to try doing something like this. Though, if that guy happens to be reading this, thanks for pointing out that missing comma. That was helpful. Nitpicky as hell since the sentence did make sense without it, but helpful.
- Related to my last post: have a blog that’s more about marketing than anything else. It makes it look like you’re in it for the (laughable amounts of) money. The only book written for money more than love that I’ve ever read and liked was Little Women. Are you Louisa May Alcott? Didn’t think so. (If you are, I’m sorry about the way people pervert what your dad said about education. Also, I want to know where you got a time machine. Are you traveling with a very eccentric British-sounding fellow in a strange blue box, perchance?) (And now I want to write a Little Women/Doctor Who crossover fanfic . . .)
- Join in discussions with other authors on social media just to advertise your book. It’s tacky, and it makes you look stupid when you butt into a conversation on, say, the consequences of a Trump presidency on abortion rights with “Hey, could you retweet this link to my book? It’s a fantasy coming-of-age story. Thanks! You’re one of my favorite authors!” I don’t read books by stupid people.
- Call me illiterate when I misunderstand something you say in an online discussion with you. An rpg author did this once. Needless to say I have a hard time bringing myself to buy anything by him now. I mean, why should I, since I’m illiterate? He also once politically insulted me in a discussion about fudging dice rolls. I’m still trying to figure that one out. I’m pretty sure my fudging dice rolls only to avoid one-shot kills when dramatically inappropriate and my being a socialist aren’t related. Really, in short, don’t insult a reader directly if you want them to buy anything you write ever again. That’s just plain fucking dumb.
All of the above are probably general enough advice that they apply to getting anyone to read your book. Because I’m in a ranty mood, here are some more that are specific to me:
- Have the following phrase in your blurb “the last/only/lone survivor of”. I am so fucking sick of stories about the last survivor of some cataclysm. It seems to have replaced rape as the “instant drama without the author having to work on such pesky things as character depth” background. It can be done well, but it so rarely is right now that I’m not giving stories about this sort of character a chance at the moment.
- Be a sci-fi romance that’s got an alien dude kidnapping a female human. Look, I sometimes read Bertrice Small novels. I can’t argue against the occasional appeal of a cliché filled bodice ripper. But can we get some new fucking plots too, please? Or can we at least get more interesting characters occasionally? Ms. Small’s plots may have all been pretty much the same, but at least the characters were different! (And even her plots had more variance than some of the best-selling sf romances. I know (because I’ve seen the ads for ghostwriters) that some of these are literally churned out the same way Nancy Drew and the like were ages ago, but that’s no excuse for how horribly alike they are. There’s formulaic and then there’s “same, but with the names changed.”)
- Start with a very long intro to the setting. Get to the point. If I have to read a five page long (or forty pages in one particularly memorable example!) thing before the story starts that’s summarizing the entire history of the setting, then I’m not going to read your book. Start where the story starts. (This does not mean all prologues are bad, by the way. Sometimes they’re necessary — No More Lies has one, for instance, because the event that really kicks off the plot happens several months before the rest of the story. So it’s a prologue instead of chapter one.)
- Start with a long note about why you felt the need to write this book/about characters like this. Look, I understand the need for more diversity in sff heroes. But starting your book with a lecture on how <insert group> is under-represented and you felt compelled to fix that is not a good first impression. It makes it look like — and in every case I’ve seen it this has been obviously true within the first chapter — you weren’t writing for the love of the story you were telling, you were writing just so someone from that group had a hero like them in something. As a political, sexual, and gender minority with various mental issues, I fucking hate it when people do that. It strikes me as nothing more than tokenism. Representation is important, but it feeling natural instead of forced is more important. (And, yes, I’m including my political beliefs as part of what makes me a minority. Being a socialist in America, especially at present, can get fucking awkward . . . and I wouldn’t be surprised if it soon becomes dangerous.)
- Have workshopped your first sentence/paragraph/page/five pages much more than you worried about the rest of the book. I have seen so fucking many self-published books that start very, very strong and then have a sudden quality drop off after one of the above mentioned points. Three seconds on any writing forum makes it easy to figure out why: There is lots of discussion of the importance of all of those to getting someone to read your book. Apparently some people don’t realize that, yes, that will get someone to buy that book, but if you don’t want them to leave a bad review and never buy your next book, you should keep that level of quality throughout the entire thing. (And I do occasionally see something similar in traditionally published books, but, alas, with them it’s usually around page 50 or 100 — the bit the always already known author probably had to show to get the contract for that novel — where the quality nosedives.)
- Have a cover that looks like it was made by a five-year-old. I get that not everybody’s a visual artist. Fuck, I’m not; closest I come is being a decent photographer. I also understand that not everybody can buy cover art. Again, neither can I. But there are free photos available online and it’s not that hard to slap some words on them with some sense of what looks good and what doesn’t. Especially if you use Createspace, and I’d assume the other things like it. Use their cover creators if the alternative is a child’s drawing, please! You’re making all of us look bad just as much as you do when you use terrible grammar and spelling.
- Have an obscene number of grammar and spelling errors in your first page. This should be obvious, but apparently it’s not. I don’t mind a few errors — hell, good self-published books these days tend to have less errors than the things coming out of the big publishers, in my experience — but if you haven’t even run spellcheck, it’s going to show. And, as I said above, it makes all of us look bad when so many are doing it.
- Be an obvious ripoff of something else. Look, I don’t mind fanfiction. I don’t even mind fanfiction as the origin of original fic — it’d be damned hypocritical of me to do so, in fact. I do mind “original” stories that have only been changed from being fanfic by having find/replace done on the names and other copyright/trademark protected terms. Guys, try a little bit harder to hide what your story started as. (Besides, world building is fun! Those things you never liked about Star Trek? This is your chance to fix them! Confession: there is more than one Universal Nexus race that started from me fixing a Star Trek race to work more logically.)
There. I feel better for having ranted. I will now continue with my exciting day which will include such fun adventures as “have lunch” and “figure out where I put my other sock”.
If you’re following me anywhere just because I’m another self-published author, unfollow me, please. I don’t give a flying fuck how many followers I have . . . because I’m intelligent enough to realize that followers do not necessarily translate into sales.
If you started following me for that reason and have since fallen in love with my idiosyncratic approach to the English language, tendency to swear every other word, constant ranting, or very unique perspective on everything you’re welcome to stick around, of course.
But if you’re following me just because you think that following other authors will somehow get you more sales? Go the fuck away.
I want people following me because they’re interested in me and what I have to say, not what I can do for them.
I especially have no use for the people who follow me on social media in hopes of getting attention for their own books and don’t even buy mine. If you haven’t shelled out the ninety-nine cents for my book — or the zero cents, these days — then why the fuck do you think I’m going to buy yours when I know nothing about it or you besides “Oh, this is that person who followed me on Twitter the other day”?
You know what gets me to buy a book? Me being interested in the book. Yes, that does require I know it exists, and, yes, that can be quite a barrier for self-published books. That sucks. But you don’t fix it by randomly following other authors on Twitter/Facebook/Goodreads. I don’t know how you do fix it . . . all I can tell you is that, with no advertising at all, I’ve got a couple of two plus years old, not wonderfully reviewed, short stories that keep randomly hitting the Amazon Top 100 list in their subgenres . . . now that they’re free, so possibly they’ve gotten listed on one of those free book lists. But even before that they’d get random sales. Yes, very random . . . one went a year without a single sale anywhere once . . . but, well, are you in this crazy ass career for the money? If so, honey, you and reality need to have a Talk.
Yeah, sure, I wish I knew some sort of marketing secret so my stories would outsell Rowling and King. But there really isn’t one. And even if there was, randomly following other authors isn’t going to be it.
This is just like my prior rant about lists of what authors should blog about that aren’t things readers care about; they’re things other authors care about. Most authors are readers, but most readers aren’t authors.
And who are you trying to sell your book too? Other authors, or readers who might like your book?
Readers, right? So why are you trying to court other authors instead of trying to figure out how to attract the attention of readers?
(And, really, if you’re an author, please stop blogging about marketing and shit like that more than your stories. The occasional thing, sure. Hell, this post is for other authors so it’d be damned hypocritical of me to say to never blog for them. But I’ve found oh-so-many author blogs that only mention their books when they’re doing a marketing blitz for a new one and otherwise the blog is all “this is how to do a marketing blitz for a new book”, “this is where to advertise your book”, “this is how to use Pinterest/Twitter/Goodreads/Facebook/Tumblr/Whatever-the-fuck-else-exists to promote your book”, and so on, and, come on, use your brain: that’s not going to sell your book. It’s not going to keep readers subscribed to your blog either, so they’re not going to know when the next one comes out. Think, people. Just . . . think.)
WARNING: AUTHOR IS OVER-CAFFEINATED AND THEREFORE EVEN MORE RAMBLY THAN USUAL. THE AUTHOR ASKS YOUR FORGIVENESS FOR ANY LONG-WINDED TANGENTS SHE MAY GO OFF ON.
Today I was participating in a thread on the NaNoWriMo forums and had a sudden realization. (Yes, I’m participating this year. Yes, I know I wrote a whole blogpost last year about how I was never going to do it again. I’ll write one explaining why I changed my mind soonish.) You see, the thread was one where you shared the best line you’d written today. I could have, as most people seem to, have shared the most profound or most poetic.
I didn’t. I scoured the nearly 3000 words I wrote today for the funniest line I’d written that could stand alone. Yesterday, I did the same thing. (Except I was looking through the, frankly, mind boggling amount of words I wrote yesterday: 5684, or something very much like that.)
Today, however, doing this made me realize something: I’m writing a sitcom. Or whatever you call the written equivalent. I almost always am; I certainly am always happiest with my stories when that’s what they are. Even my darkest stories have some humor in them.
I don’t know why it took it me so long to come to this conclusion. I’ve been describing the rpg version of the setting as “a sitcom in a space opera setting” for years. Depending on exactly what’s going on, it ranges from The Cosby Show on a different planet, to MASH on a different planet. Because my brain is a very, very weird place. (And I watched too much TV as a child. Or listened to it in the background while re-re-re-reading the Little House books. Come to think of it, the intersection of 80s sitcoms and the Little House books is pretty much exactly what one of my works-in-progress is . . . except on a poor ranching world in another galaxy, 250 years in an alternate future.)
But the written stuff . . . I don’t know, I guess part of it is that when I think of funny books I think of things like Discworld and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and I’m no Pratchett or Adams. And, holy shit, they’re both dead now. That’s fucking depressing to think about. Anyway, I never thought of my written stuff as comedic, despite the fact that what thrills me the most when my wife reads what I’ve written any day is when she laughs, despite the fact that every single positive review for Jake’s Last Mission mentions the humor, most of them using some variant of “witty” to describe it. Despite this, I somehow labored under the delusion that I was a serious writer, writing military sci-fi, or slice-of-life space opera, or whatever.
Hell, just re-reading this post, especially the warning at the top, I’m wondering how the fuck I didn’t realize that “wit” is my natural mode of communication. Silence or sarcasm are pretty much all you get from me. Hmmm . . . maybe that’s why I didn’t realize I was writing any kind of comedy; to me, sarcasm is a much a basic part of life as oxygen is. It’s not something that stands out, in fact, I’m more likely to notice a total lack of it in a book or movie or whatever than its presence.
I’m wondering now if me trying so goddamned hard to keep The Crown of Eldrete serious was as much to blame for how much it, honestly, isn’t very good, as it being in third person is.
I also thought today about some of the bad reviews I’ve gotten and realized that the problem was, ultimately, that some of the reviewers were obviously thinking Jake’s Last Mission was a serious book, instead of a light-hearted tale of a guy who really just wants to go home and retire, but fate has other plans first. I mean, criticizing the lack of plot twists in something like that, or complaining that there’s no real tension, seems to be missing the point quite a bit.
I think, maybe, I’ll rewrite its description in one place to emphasize how light-hearted it is and see what that does to sales. Will be an interesting experiment, if nothing else.
But, really, mostly I just want to know why the fuck I take so goddamned long to figure out the bloody fucking obvious.
For my next amazing discovery, I bet I’ll realize that I swear a lot. 🙂
Oh, and here are the lines I shared, first yesterday’s and then today’s (or day before yesterday’s and yesterday’s, by now. Whatever.):
Yesterday’s (Whole short conversation because I couldn’t find a solitary line that stood alone well):
“Remind me again why I ain’t spaced you yet?”
“I’m your first officer. If you tried to space me, I’d have you removed from command, as you’d be unfit for it. So you’d never succeed.”
“So because you’re a clever bastard, got it.”
Some things need to be said in person. Like “Darling, we’re going to be taking the battle directly to the homeworld of the crazy, murderous asshole, and, oh, did I mention the fleet guarding this world is, by all accounts, undefeated for hundreds of years?”
The story these are from is the tale of Jake (he’s rapidly becoming my favorite person to use as a narrator) becoming commander of the Sweytzian Space Fleet pretty much right as a war gets desperate enough that taking out the entire leadership of the other side is seen as the best plan. Which, I easily see, would probably be something super serious in most author’s hands.
In mine? Well, you get conversations between the command crew like yesterday’s quote and thoughts from the narrator like today’s. There is serious stuff — Jake’s worried about his son-in-law who spent half a year enslaved by the bad guys and hasn’t quite fully mentally recovered, yet is still involved the war because he’s one fucking stubborn son of a bitch; Jake’s missing his wife and kids and grandkids; but for the most part? The story is people bantering with each other and Jake getting driven crazy by everyone in the universe. Maybe the other sort of story would sell better. Fucked if I care. I’m having fun writing this, and somebody’ll enjoy reading it, I’m sure.
I’m not going to bother with editing this to make it relevant to here. I just need to make some things clear everywhere I can right now. The last paragraph applies to anyone reading this blog too.
I believe whole-heartedly in freedom of speech. I think it’s, possibly, the most important freedom we have. That said, I’ve come to realize that along with your freedom to say things is my freedom not to listen to them.