(WARNING: I HAD CAFFEINATED TEA WHILE WRITING THIS AND THIS GOT REALLY FUCKING RAMBLY IN PLACES BECAUSE OF THIS.)
The problem is, to find an excerpt to post I had to re-read it.
I found half a scene I liked enough to share with the world.
Yeah, that’s in a book I’ve published.
And here’s where I relate an embarrassing anecdote, one I’ve alluded to before but never really talked about:
Years ago, as it became clear that there was no publisher who wanted stories of the type and length I write (the market for novelettes and novellas for an unpublished sf author is basically non-existent), I started reading advice on self-publishing. I found out about a blog that was highly regarded at the time. The author of said blog advocated writing and releasing quickly instead of aiming for perfection . . . handling things like the old pulps did (according to him, I’ve since learned this wasn’t universally true), in other words.
The author’s advice — and this was an author who was self-publishing and upfront about how much he was making, so I assumed he knew what he was talking about — boiled down to “write and publish lots of things very quickly, and the money will start pouring in, so long as your stories are pretty free of basic grammar and spelling errors.” (I later learned that he had been trad published and gotten a bit of a fandom years before, which makes his sales atypical.)
It was phrased in a way that made his advice seem logical instead of fucking stupid. And, Jesus Motherfucking Christ, I just realized I fell for a con artist, basically . . . he offered $500+ workshops on various aspects of writing and marketing too. I think maybe his shitty advice, cleverly phrased, was mostly just a way to convince you to take his workshops and buy his writing advice books which were updated and re-released just about every fucking year, so you could learn why the money wasn’t pouring in yet.
Also, I’d spent over a fucking year working on just the original version of “Once A Hero, Always A Hero”. I was so sick of the story by the time I released it that I couldn’t even tell if it was good or not any more. (And that version wasn’t good. The new one isn’t great, but at least it’s good.) The idea that the right way to handle things was to write fast, do one editing pass, publish, and then move on to the next thing sounded fucking awesome. (I should probably mention that at the time I was much more concerned with making money from my writing than I am now for all sorts of reasons that I’m not getting into here.)
In case you haven’t realized it from other things I’ve blogged about, one thing I constantly deal with is the conflict between my being a perfectionist and being utterly fucking lazy. It takes forever for me to get around to doing things, but once I do them, they are going to be done right, goddammit! I’d finally published “Once A Hero” when I ran out of places where I thought I needed to fix the punctuation.
Yeah, I should’ve thought about places where I needed to fix the story instead. I think, honestly, I was so thrilled to have finished something for the first time in a decade that I didn’t even consider the possibility that the story might not have been that good. My beta readers were useless. One knew that she didn’t like it much, but couldn’t figure out why. The other had the weirdest advice, like telling me to use a word that was one syllable shorter in a fight scene so it would move faster, and a tendency to get so caught up in explaining what some of my grammar and punctuation errors were that my eyes were glazing over by the time I got to their feedback on the next sentence. (For future beta readers, your explanation of why I need to use a different verb tense somewhere shouldn’t be over a paragraph. Also, if it keeps showing up in one character’s dialogue, assume maybe it’s deliberate!)
So, anyway, I found the advice that said to, basically, turn myself into a story factory and thought it sounded good. So it took only two months — maybe a little less — to go from a finished draft of The Crown of Eldrete to the product you can buy.
How did I revise it so quickly? I pretty much didn’t. I read through it a few times and fixed the worst errors. There is very, very little difference in the first draft and the version I put up for sale. (I think I’ve made more changes to this post in the past fifteen minutes than I made to that whole novella between first writing it and publishing it.)
This is fine for some authors. Louis L’Amour, who usually only did a single draft, wrote so quickly that he convinced his publisher to put out two of his novels a year instead of the industry standard one. And he’s never been out of print.
But, J. R. R. Tolkien released very few books in his life, and he’s still in print too.
So which is the best way to do things?
There isn’t one. Any author can only answer what’s best for them. For me, that seems to be a quickly written first draft that gets the plot and characters and such in place — maybe more of a zeroth draft, as I’ve seen some call a dashed down first draft that pretty much serves the same purpose as an outline — and then a series of end-to-end revision passes until it doesn’t suck any more. And then another proofreading only pass because, holy shit, I overuse commas. (My wife leaves commas out a lot. I joke that every comma I delete from one of my stories, I add to one of hers.) I hope to streamline this process in the future so I need less drafts because I’ve got so many works-in-progress at any time that I sometimes feel like I’m never going to finish anything, and I’ve done some experimenting with a method that might help — fixing the worst problems while writing my first/zeroth draft — but since none of the stories written that way have gotten revised at all yet, it’s too early to tell if it really will.
But, I stress for the several-th time in a recentish blog entry, I’m not in this for the money. If you’re in this crazy ass career for the money, then I think your best bet is to write and publish formulaic romances as fast as you can. Hell, I’ve considered doing that. More money would be nice, I admit. But I couldn’t look myself in the eye if I did. Maybe, hell, probably, I could do it if it was a choice between that or starving. It’s not, so I can’t bring myself to do it. I understand that this, in the eyes of some, makes me a pretentious ass. Apparently an artist should always be willing to do anything that makes them money from doing what they love. I think that sounds a little too close to prostitution for my liking.
Anyway, the point of this long ass rambly thingy was to say that I’m going to take The Crown of Eldrete down soon, so if you want it, go grab it now. Someday it will get redone in some fashion or another, or the bits of it I like will get incorporated into something else.
If it had sold well, I wouldn’t do this; I’d assume that it had found a market even if it didn’t include me. But as it is, I can account for all but two of the copies that haven’t been free downloads. And there have only been about 100 free downloads . . . many of which, I think based on one site where I can see what it’s frequently bought with, were from people who download every free thing in their favorite genre. Right now, it’s an embarrassment to me that’s probably hurting the chances those 100 people will ever read my other stuff. (The print version will still be available because it’s print-on-demand and it’s, from what I’ve read, a wretch to get CreateSpace to take something down. But I’m pretty damned sure no one but my mother has bought a print copy, so that shouldn’t matter.) So it’s going away.
(This is non-negotiable, by the way. Quite frankly, I don’t give a fuck what you thought about the book. I consider it an embarrassment, and I’m the one whose name is on it. And, because I know there are corners of the internet where any time an author takes down a book with mostly bad reviews, especially an author as unabashedly leftist as me, it’s seen as a sign the author is a sensitive snowflake who can’t take criticism, something something triggered, something something safe space, I feel I must state outright that I’d have made the same decision if all the reviews were five stars. It’s called integrity, something your side of politics is supposedly big on.)