Looking back, looking forward.

I had to look up something in Norse myth for the current WIP today, and it was actually easier to go to A MANKIND WITCH and look it up, than go grubbing in my primary sources. Yeah straight out lazy. And naturally seeing as I had got that far, I read the rest of the book. I enjoyed it… even if I could do it better. Yeah, the author needs to learn a few things. He assumes the audience knows too much Norse and Norse myth, and IMO rushed the denouement. I still enjoyed it, but really I can write better than that bloke.

Looking at your own work through the window of ten years is… interesting. Not altogether comfortable, to be honest! I’m older, more experienced, not necessarily a better writer, because to be blunt some of the fire is less… driven, by years and years ( I started trying to get published in ’92, succeeded in ’98) of kicking against the pricks (look at the original cover of AMW if you want some idea). A degree of stubborn endurance is visible in all authors who’ve been around for more than ten years. Even among the darlings, the chosen ones, there are signs of the stress load authors get tossed at them. Among the ordinary folk like me, if they there after 10 years… they’re exceptionally stubborn, and exceptionally tired. (I see signs of this in Sarah, and it worries me).

There is no doubt that, unless your publisher paid mega-bucks, and you have an editor with time, desire, serious power and influence actually able to drive ALL the parts of the system with whips that you –as an author WILL be disappointed. (Baen’s editorial is good, the marketing, and some of their admin, however I would drive with whips with broken glass studded in them. Pyr’s admin and communications are actually worse. Their marketing made a brief effort (yes, more than Baen. I have never ever had as much as an e-mail from anyone doing that. At least Pyr organized some interviews, and did touch base), and then vanished suddenly away. Lou was a good editor, and consulted me about the covers – which was kind but really not my field of expertise. ) I’m a fifteen year, twenty book veteran. No one will pay more attention and give more effort than you do to the process.

Guys, self-publishing at least means you are in control of everything that you can be in control of and you know that is your best shot – or at least it is all your fault if things go wrong. That said, it requires a LOT of skills and effort and most all time – because being a skilled story-teller does NOT make you good at social networking (and mediocre story-tellers who network and self-promote well, will outsell great story-tellers who suck at it, at least in the short term). There are rare instances of course of people who do both well, and can do great cover art and brilliant layout and have the promotional program all sussed… Well, it ain’t me. I’d love someone else to do that stuff really, really well, better than I could, let me get on with torturing characters. It’s not going to happen (not trad, and not, unless you have more disposable income than me, with Independent books. What I find I have to do is apportion my time, make lists, decide what I am going to spend, and work around that. I’m still trying for ¾ – ¼ split (writing and the rest), but I think I need to accept that needs to be 2/3 -1/3. Which brings me around to my starting point – time between writing and editing. Ten years is nice, but not realistic. I might get lynched, trying.

So what is realistic? What are your programs?

On another tack, I have been trying to put together database of the Hugo Novel winners (I’d love to do do the other categories, but it takes time and well, some things just aren’t available.) It’s going slowly because I’m working out how many years they’d been published, how many novels they’d done, their age, sex and – as this means I have to look up every single author, if there is any overt information on sexual orientation (with married to the opposite sex counting Hetero, unless specifically known otherwise), race, religion (if stated publicly) or political allegiance (I am keeping that to a simple L/R split). There are a lot of “U” (unknown), as well as the publishers.

What has been fascinating so far is the ages of authors I know and love, and the ages at which they wrote the books I know and love. There were certainly very few women in the early years, and some of the authors who were there I simply cannot imagine being on a modern Hugo list – few of the ‘literary’ type, and some just fun – Mark Phillips (Janifer and Garrett) spring to mind. Garrett’s behavior seems to guaranteed to lead straight to the modern PC fainting couch – and yet he seems to have been … um, popular enough with a lot of women despite it. It’s going to take a while, (and the data will be publicly available) and is a time-sink, but is fascinating. Things certainly appear to have been more demographically balanced in politics and religion back then, but not in sex or race. It’s interesting, and I’ll hold off on conclusions until I have a data set to work on.

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10 responses to “Looking back, looking forward.

  1. Realistic? Program? Wait, you mean, like an organized business? Umm, I generally set myself a goal of how many things I’m going to _finish_ in the next year. The starts? If anyone knows a way to put the brakes on, please tell me.

    Last year it was “publish a novel every other month.” Yes, I had that many stories that close to completion. And if you count two novellas and two short stories as the equivalent of one novel, I made it.

    This year, the program is “finish seven novels/novellas/shorts and publish them all at once to see if that boosts my author ranking on Amazon long enough to start pulling in complete strangers.” Can’t hurt, right? Says I as I watch my sales sink for lack of anything new . . .

  2. At the moment I am sidelined in writing by my day job – which is publishing other people’s writing. It pays the bills, I set my own hours and I work at home so … I really can’t complain at all.
    I try for a book a year – something substantial, at least 80,000-120,000 words, and I try and work on two at a time, so I can take two years for each of them. At this point, I am feeling rather inspired by the one I started just last month, so that might very well be the one I bring out in November, 2015.

  3. The difference between my reality and my programs is sometimes an awesome gulf. That being said… I’m shooting for writing and publishing two books a year. The ones I have out now – all 5 of ém – are doing better than I’d ever anticipated at this point. I’ll be releasing the sixth at the end of the month, and I actually bothered myself to do some advertising so we will see what happens. But because this has always been a long game for me, I haven’t been putting huge effort into marketing, other than the sweat equity of building a blog readership (which I messed up last week by moving hosts and orphaning all my blog subscribers). Plans may change when I leave school, but for now, the two books yearly looks like something I can do. And then, in twenty years when I’m ready to retire from the second career, I wil have the book income as my retirement income. While I continue writing. That’s my program.

  4. Laura M

    I’ve published two books so far, one per year. I now have two more drafted and would love to to publish both this year. I was going to wait and publish them together, but I’m too impatient. So I’m hoping to have another one out in two or three months, and the second by fall. I hope.

    Right now I’m trying to figure if an April NaNo will get me another draft. If there’s no NaNo, I just do about 500 words per day, or half an hour of editing. That’s what I can do with the day job going on. I like Cedar’s plan.

  5. I’m in a possibly unique situation, so others may not benefit from hearing how I do it: but in the hope that some of you will, here goes.

    Back in 2004 I suffered an injury that left me permanently partially disabled. Among other effects, it means that I can’t sleep for more than a few hours at a time, because my lower back and left leg ‘seize up’ – they become locked and very painful. That wakes me whether I like it or not. However, it’s also meant that I can structure my writing day around my twice-a-day sleeping pattern.

    It works like this. I’ll wake up at 2, or 3, or 4 in the morning, get up, make a cup of tea, and spend an hour browsing the weather, the news and other blogs while my back and leg unkink themselves. Thereafter I settle down to 6-8 hours of serious writing. I usually write 3,000 to 5,000 words in a morning; the best day I’ve had so far was over 8,000 words (but that was a VERY long and tiring session). I then go to bed and sleep for 2-4 hours from lunchtime to late afternoon. I get up, briefly read through and edit what I wrote that morning, then break to make supper for Dot and I (she gets home from work between 6.30 and 7 p.m.). After supper I edit the morning’s work, plan a little for the following morning’s writing, and prepare blog posts for that evening and the following day. Bedtime can be anywhere from 10 p.m. to after midnight, depending on how involved I get and how tired I am. Wash, rinse and repeat next day. Dot and I take at least one day off each week, or two half-days, to relax and enjoy ourselves.

    Because I’ve taken advantage of my enforced disabilities to structure my writing day around them, I find I’ve become pretty productive. I’ve been working on the second volume of the Laredo Trilogy for two and a half weeks now, and I’m already up to almost 58,000 words (out of a target of 100,000). I expect to finish the first draft by mid-March, after which it’ll go to beta readers. I’ll immediately begin writing the fifth volume of the Maxwell Saga (another 100,000 words), interrupting it after a couple of weeks to go over beta reader input and make changes to Laredo 2. It’s scheduled for publication in May. Maxwell 5 will hopefully come out in August, and Laredo 3 in October/November. I expect to publish 4 books, each of about 100,000 words in length, during 2015.

    That may sound like an extraordinarily high output, and for someone who has a day job, it is: but the circumstances of my life are such that writing IS my day job. So far, it seems to be working. I don’t know whether I’ll continue working at such a pace. It would be nice to have more time to relax. However, I really want to get my sales up to a high level before I start ‘coasting’ at (say) three books a year instead of four. It’s too easy to slack off. Also, I want every book to be better than the one before, and I want to provide a comfortable living for Dorothy and myself. Those challenges keep me hard at work.

    I must add that Dorothy is my strong right arm. I couldn’t possibly do this without her. I’ve handed over all marketing to her. She’s outstandingly good at data analysis, keyword selection, positioning and all those good things. (Indeed, she’s so good that since ‘Stand Against The Storm’ came out two weeks ago, it’s consistently ranked in the 500’s and 600’s in the Kindle Store on Amazon – the highest sales rank I’ve ever achieved. It’s also #2 on the ‘Hot New Releases in Space Opera Science Fiction’ list – again, a personal best. I put that down to Dot’s marketing abilities as much as my writing.) She’s so good I’m encouraging her to go free-lance as a marketing and positioning consultant to other indie writers. I think she could charge reasonable rates and make a good living at it, while helping others to achieve better sales results. If you like the idea, tell her – she needs the encouragement.

    This year I’ll be canceling my disability pension altogether. I’ve never forgotten a rather snooty neurosurgeon informing me loftily in 2005 that I’d never be able to hold down a job or earn a living for myself again. I think I might send him a copy of my latest book, with a tongue-sticking-out cartoon on the cover . . .

    🙂

    Peter

    • Our stories are the same in the disability aspect, at least. Mine manifested itself in 2004 (actually, much earlier, but wasn’t recognized), was diagnosed in 2005, and took me out of the work force in 2007. I also can’t sleep in a bed without suffering, although I do pretty well in a recliner (it’s just lonesome). And these are paradox situations: we would not have sought having our physical limitations, but that is what has made it possible for you to write, and for me to read and review (which is also writing). From reading “Walls, Wires, Bars and Souls,” I’m willing to state that you miss being able to suit up and show up to that job. I know I still my my job, after 7 years + of being away; I dreamed about still doing it last night. But, the bonfire also illuminates. I’m going to post that on my blog this morning, before I dive into the word pool.

    • Tell Dorothy she’s got one client, right here.

  6. I don’t know if it really fits, but at some point as I was reading the Monkey Man, I thought: what about the writers who do, essentially, ONE book, and then nothing or almost nothing ever after. The first sci-fi that came to my mind was Walter Miller’s “A Canticle for Leibowitz”, which I discovered in the 9th grade, and would live with me forever. The second that came to mind was Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Now, I gone to see the movie in Macon, standing in lines that went all the way down the block, and I was young enough that I was holding my mother’s hand. It affected me profoundly at that time, and when I read the story much much later as an adult, I found a plot line that had been left out of the movie: Scout’s reading to the old lady who had resolved to be free of morphine addiction. It’s something I did myself in 2012; but in my case, I was able to surround myself with support and I was under the care of my pain support doctors.
    The third one-shot is Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood,” and all of the fans of Miss Audrey Hepburn immediately want to stab their cigarette holders in my eyes, BUT the movie isn’t what Capote wrote. He wrote a short-story/ novella, that got transformed into the movie, and he didn’t particularly like it. “Breakfast of Tiffany’s.”
    After “In Cold Blood”, pretty much no more writing.
    So is that an appropriate career plan?
    And i will leave that as an exercise for the reader.
    Since Monday didn’t really seem to happen to me, I’m taking the opportunity to post on my blog two very – early reviews I did, which were the sorts of reviews someone might give if they missed the point. By a lot.
    Ind it here: http://habakkuk21.blogspot.com/