D.I.Y.

Saturday at the Torgersen house usually means do-it-yourself home fix-up. I spent all day yesterday running brand new 12-2 through the studs on the south wall of my garage. As well as hammering up new switch, light, and gang boxes. Like any other room in my (perpetually being renovated) home, the garage offers me the opportunity to put an outlet (or two, or three, or twelve) anywhere I damned well please. If the original 1962 contractor put in far too few outlets, using the (for our time) inferior ungrounded “silver sh*t” wire, I am (in 2017) putting in an overabundance of outlets, using coil after coil of 12-2, and enjoying myself capitally. Because I know once the wall is finished, I will never in my life ever think the thought, “Gosh dammit, I wish there was a place to plug in here!”

When I finish re-wiring a room, there is a place to pug in, everywhere. 🙂

It occurred to me — as I snaked my way through the attic, running new line to the breaker box — that fiction publishing is, now, perhaps more of a do-it-yourself business than it’s ever been. We are all expected to do our own promotion (whether we’re trad, or indie, or hybrid) not to mention bringing our own platforms to the effort. On the indie side, we have to provide the editing, the proofing, the formatting, the cover art, and rustle up our own blurbage. We operate our own public storefronts. Create our own ancillary media. This is no longer an industry where you can simply write a good story, and that’s enough. Ours is now an industry which requires an author to develop half a dozen different professional skill sets. Including accounting, tax prep, and so forth. Do you know how to do a Form 8829, with your Schedule C? If you don’t, you probably should learn how. Same goes for tracking your paper inventory. And carving out a percentage of your take (from the conventions) so that you can file the money.

And no, I am not saying it’s any fun for me either. The only thing I enjoy doing (beyond writing) is building covers — because I’ve got graphic design chops, and years of experience going all the way back to high school commercial art classes. The rest? Especially taxes and self-promo? It’s work.

But if you expected this racket to be easy, you wouldn’t be reading Mad Genius Club. Right?

Good business is where you build it.

A friend recently asked me why I still keep my hand in with short fiction — despite having a ready road, where novels are concerned. I told him that I get asked for stories on a fairly frequent basis, almost always for anthologies, and I work really hard to not say no. Because I never know if or when those stories might turn out to be lucrative. Just recently I netted a very handsome payday (second in as many months) for a story I put into an indie anthology which offered zero up front. Yet that story is now worth $0.15 per word, and climbing. Just as all my other short fiction continues to increase its net value, in the form of the collections I do through WordFire Press. Everything earns. And while not every story can be a four-figure whopper (like my last novella for Analog magazine) they comprise a nice hunk of my annual five-figure cash flow. Not to mention the fact they keep my “brand” current in the marketplace, during the long Mt. Everest effort of novel(s). Keeping my brand current is a big part of promotion.

But it definitely takes work. There is no royal road to becoming (or staying) known as a quality short fic man.

A different friend recently explained to me the concept of WIBBOW: Would I Be Better Off Writing? I’d never seen this acronym before, but I liked the question it posed. Because we each have to find the sweet spot between creating fresh prose, and devoting time and effort to things which are part of the writing business model, without actually being writing. WIBBOW is probably something a lot of people enamored of workshops and seminars could ask themselves, simply because I’ve noticed (over the years) that a great many individuals adore the energy and atmosphere of a writers’ event, but never seem to get down to the actual writing part — which is the single most crucial element of creating and keeping a career. (In fact, SFWA is filled to overflowing with people who write very, very little, but who will devote untold hours to the social politics of the thing.)

I don’t belong to any critique groups anymore. Have not belonged to any, for a long, long time. I’m not sure I was any good at them, both in terms of what I offered, and also in terms of what I received.

I am also no longer part of any “closed door” writing forums, clubs, message boards, etc. For the same reason.

Is that bad?

Still another friend posted this interesting article. Are we — authors — too wrapped up in the concept of community? What happens when community becomes expected? Compulsory? Lord knows the SF/F sphere prides itself on having a long, long history of community. To a fault, one could almost say. But is the best work being done by the people who devote the most time to demonstrating fidelity to the flock? Or is the answer really out there in the lonely wilderness, where you can make the things you want to make, and not have to care if you’re being sufficiently community-minded?

I have told several people that I think the purpose of a good writing group, is to strengthen your wings to the point where you can fly solo.

I still think that.

Which is why, when people carry on about how essential their writing groups are to their creative process, I kind of draw a blank. Not that I doubt them. Heavens no. It’s just that my experience hasn’t been like that. In fact, I think I’ve been trending in the opposite direction for some while now, and may keep trending that way. I like my friends, and I like being able to talk shop. But I also think there is far, far more in the world, than writing. I happen to like that world. It’s where all the most valuable experiences — which have made me who I am, as a person — came from. And I also think it’s the place which has the most profound effect on the types and kinds of stories I create. Because those stories are not manufactured solely for the “inside” audience. They are stories which — I hope — can speak to the common person. Who may or may not be a SF/F fan. And may or may not be an avid reader. But who will respond to a compellingly-told yarn just the same.

Which takes me back to pondering the fact that publishing has become such a singles game.

On days like today, I feel like maybe that’s a good thing? Sometimes there is no greater pride and satisfaction, than in doing something for yourself, on your own terms, and doing it well.

34 Comments

Filed under BRAD R. TORGERSEN, WRITING: LIFE, WRITING: PUBLISHING

34 responses to “D.I.Y.

  1. paladin3001

    I don’t know what to say really. I do like this forum for giving us neat little tidbits and insights to what really goes on behind the scenes. Let’s me know what I need to do besides just write. Hmmm maybe that’s been part of my problem the past week.

    • TRX

      I bring my annoying presence to various writers’ blogs to try to urge them to write the kinds of books I like to read.

  2. I’d argue that there’s a balance between group/community and solo time. And that balance changes for each writer at each point in his career. There may be times when we need more solo time – writing, doing covers, glowering at tax forms, recovering from* Con appearances and (one hopes) award ceremonies. At other points we need more community involvement – critique groups for things that have hit walls or for new genres, mental and emotional support after Bad Life Rolls (book rights and royalties tied up in publisher’s bankruptcy, house fire, recovering our writing voice after illness), or just because.

    *I spent yesterday evening playing extrovert. Recovering is the operative word.

    • When I was over at Jim Curtis’s tonight, we batted this topic around. Okay, Jim also handed out another half a chapter on another Gray Man book, and a prologue start to the RimWorld sequel. And LawDog was only half-present as he’s been tagged by a “hunting zombies for a bounty” story, and was typing away on a little tablet’s travel keyboard. And LawDog’s lady and I put an open bottle of tempranillo out of its misery… but we also talked about community. And flat-shooting artillery to keep from being overrun. (It’s that kind of crowd.) And that my thyme has bolted, and would someone please come help themselves to the herbs running wild?

      And we agreed that having a community was a very, very valuable thing. Having someone to remind me that all-wheel drive cars, when they go over railroad tracks as much as I do, need to be aligned every 6 months, so my car’s overdue, or the group text that goes out of “Am at grocery store. Anyone need anything?” is as valuable as “Yeah, the way you introduce that flashback scene during the award ceremony works” or “So, here’s what this genre’s covers look like right now. You’re looking for something like this…”

      I’m just so lucky that I got a bunch of shooting buddies, some of whom write.

  3. Dorothy Grant

    There’s a positive value to a community that builds each other up – whether writing group, church, yoga studio, or MGC. There’s a negative value to any community that tears each other down, or spend time valuing inclusiveness and togetherness over excellence – and those can infest anywhere, because it’s about the people involved and their negative mindsets, not the forum for which they gather.

    And solitude, even when surrounded by other people who don’t share your career or its complaints, is a wonderful ground. There’s nothing to restore your faith in humanity like working with a contractor who is utterly honest, thoughtful, caring, and cheerful – and doesn’t believe in email or phone calls when he has a two feet and a truck to come ask you face to face what you want while looking at the potential project site, and a notepad to write it all down. Salt o’ the earth, God bless him.

    I absolutely understand on your wiring in extra boxes: when I re-covered my airplane’s wings, I put in two access ports anywhere I may need to work someday: one for the hand with the light, and one for the hand with the tool. Which is about three times as many as most airplanes have – but no mechanic asks why, not when they start looking at where they are!

  4. James Kramer

    Not really on topic but that photo at the top of the page show that fellow behaving in a very dangerous way. First you never use your hands to push wood thru the saw, that leads to amputation of parts most people would rather keep. You use a push stick.

    Second you never stand directly behind the wood that you are pushing into the blade. Those saws will shoot the wood backwards at high velocity, I’ve seen wood land 25 or 30 feet away from the saw. And you certainly never put your face in the danger zone.

    • You’re expecting stock photographers to actually abide common-sense shop rules? 😉

      This is the internet, man.

      Of course, I’ve violated most of those same common-sense shop rules on any number of occasions.

      To me, use of a fence means you don’t have to try to eyeball the piece as you’re ripping it through the table saw.

      • To me it looks as if he’s checking his marks, and making sure the fence won’t catch. Then he’ll get out of the way and use a push-stick, or stand to the side as he feeds the stock through the blade.

        (TXRed, who is mildly scared of table-saws and hates having to cut sheets of plywood because it is so hard to get to the kill-switch until a lot of the wood has already fed through)

        • TRX

          My Dad always used a table saw for cutting plywood, and gave me the fish eye for using sawhorses, guide strips, and a circular saw…

          • As the saying goes, “If one cannot draw the sword from the scabbard, draw the scabbard from the sword.” Some pieces are simply way too large for the table saw. No reason not to simply clamp a make-do fence onto the oversized piece, and put the circular to work. 🙂

      • James Kramer

        I’m paranoid about Table saws, and Radial Arm saws for that matter, since I ripped the index finger of my left hand down to the first knuckle. Right along the bone. That concentrated my mind ever since.

        • Since it IS out to maim us, I’m not sure paranoia is a bad thing.

          • My husband once helped install a click-board floor. Every time after someone would go outside to cut a piece to size, they’d come back in holding their hands up and wiggling their fingers. “See? I still have ten!”

        • Luke

          I feel much the same about Mr. Electricity.
          There are few things more memorable then feeling your heart start to beat again. And seeing your boots still stuck in the mud some 20 ft. away.
          (Btw, don’t coat the bottom of a steel pipe with rubber before sinking it into concrete as the corner post of a fence. It’ll keep it from corroding, sure. It’ll also create a really big capacitor.)

    • Mine heaved an inch thick piece of pine 6ft long, all the way across the driveway and dinged the car.

      Being willy and old, I was not standing behind it. When I used to use the machines at cabinetmaking school, I used to count my fingers at the beginning of the session and count them again at the end.

      Best story I ever heard was a shaper with those make-your-own-profile blades in it. They screw in to a holder. Well, this shaper chucked a blade all the way across the shop and buried it in a steel-skinned door. Ka-pow.

  5. Yeah the guy who built my house was allergic to plugs or something. And few other important things that we’ll eventually get around to fixing. But first, the roof . . .

  6. But the social side of writing and publishing . . . I’ve tried cons, even a little public speaking . . . I hates it. Never been in a writers group IRL. On line, yes. Well, obviously, I mean, here I am. I’ve found workshops useful. In person, with Sarah Hoyt teaching, is excellent. Online, DWS’s video classes, with homework, are highly recommended.

    But when it’s all said and done, it’s me and my computer in a quiet house working away and happy as can be. Unless I’m . . . speaking forcibly . . . to a cover that just doesn’t work, or a file I can’t fine or doing taxes.

  7. Interesting – the on-line indy writers’ group that I was a part of in 2007-2010 or so eventually kind of dissolved, as those of us who were in at the beginning got what we needed most from the group (guidance, support, fresh ideas and techniques in marketing, etc), carried on writing more books … and drifted away. It was a marvelously useful group – but we all got what we needed and carried on.

  8. I have to admit I’m a lone wolf. Never joined a writer’s group (lurking and occasionally commenting at MGC and the Conservative-Libertarian FB group are about as close as I’ve been as part of a community. When I went indie, I tried to do everything by myself, from covers to editing, and found out my limitations the hard way.
    Even now I’m at my most productive when I shut off the world and it’s just me, the screen and the keyboard. I haven’t been to a con in over a decade, and I don’t think I’ll ever be comfortable doing a public reading; I’ve done a few panels back in my RPG design days, and I found the experience fairly uncomfortable (it doesn’t help that I have a thick Spanish accent).
    I have learned a lot by paying attention to what others say, though. MGC has been a fount of wisdom, as well as Sarah’s blog. And I’m glad there is a community of sorts out there that isn’t interested in the witch-hunt du jour or imposing group-think.

  9. Christopher M. Chupik

    Community is good, but a healthy community is best. I think that part of the reason we see otherwise intelligent and talented people suddenly go full SJW is because they think they need the approval of the community, when in reality it’s the approval of a handful of ideological fanatics.

    • I sit in my chair and I type. Sometimes in my book, sometimes in the MGC comment box. If I want “community” I go to the store and buy ham or something. That’s about all the community I can handle these days.

      Although, tonight I hauled Young Relative to a rock concert in Buffalo NY, across the border from here. Got a shout-out from the band for being one of the Cool Moms drinking at the bar while the kids screamed and jumped up and down. I’m fricking tired now, let me tell you.

  10. Failing to seek the approval of the community is a cardinal sin — in certain (cough, progressive, cough) SF/F circles. This is how you wind up with people turning their manuscripts over to self-appointed “correctness” commissars, regarding all kinds of issues. Because the authors are terrified of being made the object of a digital witch-burning, if the book reaches print without being properly vetted and cleansed of badthinkery. Committing shameless badthinkery gets you a first-class ticket out of the Great and Spacious Building. Many SF/F authors would literally rather lose a hand or a foot, before being ejected from the halls of propriety.

    • Christopher M. Chupik

      If anything the last few years have taught me, it’s that there is no monolithic “SF community”. I might earn the disapproval of some, but they were never my audience to begin with.

  11. Draven

    uhm

    this is kinda a writer’s group, you know…

  12. Speaking of approval of the community… do local codes allow you to add those outlets? 🙂

    • James Kramer

      Here in this part of Florida, if you do the work yourself you don’t need a license. You still need a permit tho. I suspect the same situation exists in many non urban locations.

    • Codes? Permits? (blink) Don’t talk nonsense, man.

      • Seriously. What they don’t know can’t hurt me.

        Although, I will admit to having my work blessed by an electrician and the hydro inspector when I installed a 200 amp service. There is such a thing as hubris, after all. ~:D

        • Yep. Right up to the day your house catches fire and the insurance company says, “I’m sorry, but these wiring changes don’t match what’s on file at the inspector’s office, so we aren’t going to pay a cent on something caused by your non-standard changes.” “But that’s not the cause.” “Our expert says it was; where’s yours?”

          Until you can remove such inspection requirements from the law books, you really need to have the i’s dotted and t’s crossed.

  13. I’m running 1 of 3 for writing “groups” as far as useful. The old APA I was in was good in that we usually got good comments. The members, for the most part, tried very hard to be balanced in our critiques. (highlighting what worked as well as what didn’t work). The turnaround time was long, but it was somewhat helpful. Unfortunately it died out years ago. An on-ling group I tried worked as far as providing a “class” but not for feedback. Long time members of the forum were getting plenty of feed-back, but newcomers were left in the dark. The only in person writers group I attended left me a bit cold. Everyone seemed more interested in pointing out what was wrong than offering encouragement.

    I have all the social skills of a bobcat – on a good day. On a bad day, let’s just say I try not to interact with civilized people on those days. Being socially deficient, I have a hard time fitting in to any “community”. (20+ years in a Dragonriders of Pern group and I am still on the fringes.) The forum I mentioned above, I didn’t feel welcome. Ditto for pretty much every group I have checked out. I’ve joked that the fastest way to get a discussion to end is for me to join in. It is only within the past year or two that I have started to feel that I found some place where I don’t feel like the odd-man out: here and the Diner on FB. Now, if I can just get off my butt and actually get something folks might like to read finished.