Author Archives: Cedar Sanderson

About Cedar Sanderson

Writer, mother, reader, gardener, cook… artist.

Trendy Trendsetters, All

There are trends, and then there are trends.

Look at it this way: you could be trendy and buy jeans with fake dirt on them, for $425. Frankly, I raised an eyebrow when I first saw this go viral, because it’s an interesting psychological study. We are, culturally, fetishizing the working man. Think about it. It’s like guys buying used women’s underwear. It makes them feel like they’re sexy. Dirty pants? Sexy also, I guess. I mean, look at this book cover, and tell me that guy isn’t wearing dirty pants. For that matter, it you scroll through the romance listings, you’ll quickly note that there are some strong trends, and two of them are rich guys (who presumably could afford the fake-dirty jeans) and tough guys (who presumably don’t need no fake-dirty jeans). There are a LOT of writers putting out stories for the trends. But what happens when the trends end?

I suspect there’s a growing market segment that would like to see more sweet romance. I know I hear that from people I talk to – and the one romance I’ve indulged in, I kept sweet. Not just because my Mom and grandma were going to read it (Hi, Mom!) but because it worked better for the characters. I didn’t see a need to write to a trend. I’m not knocking it – there are writers making a ton of money because they are playing to the market and surfing the wave. I just can’t do it myself.

But then there are other trends. The ones that slowly build, and build, and then suddenly take off like a rocket. Susannah Martin interviewed Brad Torgerson and I about the self-publishing trend, and I highly recommend you click on over to her article.

But don’t forget to come back here after!

It’s not that I have anything else exciting to say… Oh, who am I kidding. I have a book.

Persistence has paid off, and two long years after the publication of my last novel, my seventh novel is now available for sale. It’s not out in print yet – that will be about two weeks from now. I could probably just not bother, but it is rather nice to hold this hefty chunk of paper in one’s hand and say ‘I wrote this.’ Right now, I’m looking at all of you out there, readers, because I know most of you are also writers. Two things: one, don’t give up on the story even if you feel like you can’t do this, or you can’t do this fast, or life is in the way of it happening. Keep working on it when you can. I got to a few points with this book where I was doggone good and ready to give up on it. Even my First Reader couldn’t help much, he was too close to it. In the dedication I thank my Mom, and one of my best friends, who both read it as alpha readers (before it was done) and egged me on to finish it. Mom actually was reading it as I wrote the end, because I was working on it in a shared Google Doc file. It was funny to see her colored cursor following mine as the words came out on paper, er, screen, and to have the comments in the side bar when I goofed up, or she wanted clarification on a thing. I wouldn’t recommend that for most situations, but it really did help me finish. I had to, so Mom could read it all!

Second, whack your inner perfectionist on the head and gag her. This book isn’t what I started out to write. Which is not to say that I don’t think I’ve produced a good book – it’s not the book I’d intended. It grew organically in ways I didn’t expect. But Cedar, I can hear you say, you’re a pantser, don’t they all go that way? Sort of. Only they don’t all take two years to finish. I think the longest I’ve taken before this is the Eternity Symbiote, and it’s got issues, being my first novel written and with a half-assed ending. I changed, as a person, my life was radically different, by the ending of the tale. That affects my writing. And that’s why I needed the reassurance from early readers that yes, I was on the right track, and no, I didn’t need to scrap it all.

My main concern was that the pacing was too slow, and that the characters would develop erratically. In the end, I think that although there’s not a lot of action – and by that I mean exciting combat scenes – the pacing does work. And I think that the growth arc is consistent. But I couldn’t see that while I was in the middle of it. I encourage you to not rely on your own perceptions if you are working on a similar problem with your writing.

Oh! Check out the awesome blurb Dorothy Grant created for the book!

When the starship’s captain died midway through a run with a cargo of exotic animals, the owner gave first mate Jem one chance, and one choice. The chance: if he successfully runs the trade route solo, he’ll become the new captain. If he fails, he’ll lose the only home he’s ever known.

And the choice? He’s now raising an old earth animal called a basset hound. Between station officials, housebreaking, pirates, and drool, Jem’s got his hands full!

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Filed under CEDAR SANDERSON, WRITING: CRAFT, WRITING: LIFE

Persistence

You won’t be successful at writing. 

You will never be successful at writing as long as you measure yourself against someone else’s yardstick. Your success has to be yours, no one else’s. You can’t write like Heinlein/Correia/Nuttall – only they can (or could, since I don’t think zombie Heinlein actually exists, no matter what Sarah says). Sure, you can go look at Larry Correia’s list of writers, and figure out where on the alphabet you fall. But the honest truth of the matter is that the only way for you to be successful is for you to write. You don’t have to write 10,000 words a day to be a success, or even a thousand. If, like most of us, you are juggling the writing, family, and a career or something, then you know that there are days you can’t keep all your balls in the air.

Some writers are really spectacular jugglers. They can keep six flaming torches aloft, and spin ’em under their legs and the rest of us are all gaping, or peering through our fingers with hands over our faces flinching because dang, that’s gonna hurt if he misses… Look, I know some folks who eat fire, or juggle with it, and they didn’t pick up the chainsaws and say ‘look, Ma, no hands!’ and not mean it. They started out slowly, with things like scarves that float a little and give you plenty of time to get your hands in the right position before you have to grab.

Writing is like that. Sure, there will be days your wordcount is in the thousands, but there might also be a week with no words at all. Instead of beating yourself up, pick up the balls and start again. Keep your eyes on the balls in motion, because if you’re looking at the floor all the time, you’re going to miss them. If you’re looking at the dude with the flaming chainsaws, you’re going to feel like a failure, and you’re not.

For one thing, we don’t all write the same stories. Thank goodness. How boring would that be? Each one of us has a different voice, a style all our own, and only we can tell that story in that way. Is there a market for it? Who knows? You won’t, until you put it out there. The beauty of Indie Publishing is that you can put it out there, for very little or no capital expenditure, and find out if there’s a market. If there isn’t, you shrug and move on. But you’re still a success. Why? Because you wrote that. You finished it, and you put it out there. Success is not about how much money you get, it’s about the completion.

Money is good, I’m not saying we shouldn’t be trying for money. It’s a great milestone of ‘readers like me!’ and ultimately it’s what tells us how successful a story is. But you, the writer, are a success when you write something. When you don’t write, or when you ditch all your stories before they are complete, then you fail. It’s what makes you a writer, not how much money, or who publishes you.

Now that you’ve succeeded in writing a story, what comes next? Write another one. And another, and…. you get the idea. If you want to make money, if that’s the goal of this juggler’s act, then you need to have more than one story out there. Simply put, readers want to read, and having read, they move on to the next book. One is not enough. I’m not sure where the point comes in that volume creates it’s own momentum – at six novels, I had it for a while, and then lost it when I didn’t keep publishing. Momentum is important.

Does that make me a failed writer? No, I think not. I still have fans. I have a book that should be out already, but has been delayed while I added a new career to my juggling repertoire. I have more stories in progress (including a children’s book that unfolded in my head today nearly fully formed. Weird how that works, after years of saying I’d never be able to write one). I am a successful writer. I’m a slow writer, now, managing a thousand words a week rather than a day as I once did. But I’m not trying to make a living as a writer – that would change my goals. I want to up that wordcount, but for the moment other things have priority. I’ll creep slowly back up to adding the writing ball into my daily juggling.

In other words, don’t beat yourself up if you can’t manage pro-level output on a daily basis. Push yourself, but don’t burn yourself out. Set a manageable pace, and don’t quit. When you drop the writing ball, pick it back up, and instead of rushing, slowly work up to speed. If you rush, you’re more likely to make mistakes. And you don’t want that with a flaming chainsaw, really you don’t!

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Filed under CEDAR SANDERSON, WRITING: LIFE

Cover Art: Fractals

I promised a cover post, and this is one. I’m not going to re-cover old ground (much) and talk about how the cover is not a representation of some exact scene from the book. The cover is meant to convey a sense of the book, to grab the reader’s attention, to draw them in and compel them to begin reading the blurb. The blurb then hooks them into buying the book and reading the first chapter… you get the idea. The cover also ought to signal the genre, loud, clear, and proud.

As an artist, I had long lamented that my personal style was not suitable for the kinds of books I write, or the people who hire me to create covers for them. I spent a lot of time working on becoming better, using the tools at hand… and then one day I discovered Apophysis.

Apo is a fractal flame generator, and it’s capable of an impressive array of special effects, including stunning star fields and nebulas. Suddenly, I could create a lot of space art that was cover-worthy. So in this post, I’m showing you how I do some effects, and where you can find the program (It’s free!) and a ton of tutorials that will help you learn more. If you want to see some of the things you can do with it, check these out: Last Exhalation, Zygotes, Apocalypse Rose, and Hydrangeas.

Explosion

here’s the workspace for Apophysis 7x, my preferred version of the program. You can start by clicking on one of the random flames that are in the left column, as I’ve done for this.

For very simple effects, all you need to know is that those triangles control the ‘shape’ of the flame. The gradient (icon in the top toolbar) controls the colors. I’ll show that later. if you click on one of the triangles and drag it, you’ll see your flame in the tiny editor box change shapes.

explosion 2

note that there are ‘variations’ and I have the red triangle (#1) set to: flatten=1, spherical 0.79, and swirl=0.20

This doesn’t work for an explosion, which is the element I’m working on for a cover. Too much geometry! It needs to be more fluid and abstract, since it’s going to be an exploding spaceship. I’ve dragged the triangles around a bit more, in the image below, to get the look I wanted. You’ll also note I’ve changed the colors with the gradient tool, using ‘summer_fire’ to get flame colors.

explosion 3

Now this is more like it. Here you can see in the editor window a few things: the gradient, which can be used to ‘paint’ the flame by sliding the center bar around. Also, I’ve changed the scale, so I can see what the ‘splosion will look like far away, and so I make sure I’m not clipping off bits when I render this.

You’ll note that it still looks very fluid. In space, an explosion is going to release gases and they are going to glow, and to behave differently than in atmosphere. Check out images of nebulas (like this one of the Crab Nebula), and you’ll see what I mean. You might want to keep in mind that a nebula is a space explosion, just on a really large scale, and that a LOT of the nebula images on google were actually created with a fractal flame generator. Anyway…

explosion render

Rendering is the most important part.

You’ll have to render your flame to use it, once you are happy with what you have. I keep mine set to a fairly low working render (between 15-20, you’ll see the drop-down selector for this on the top tool bar) so I don’t have a huge lag when I’m working on a flame. This means that the final render will be both smoother, and brighter than the view on the screen. Keep this in mind if you like (or hate) the grainy appearance. I set my elements to a reasonable pixel size – in this case 3000x2000px. I’m not usually using them for a full 6×9″ cover, so I can scale as I want to. The bigger you go, the longer the render. The density is important, this allows you to faithfully render tiny details. I usually set mine to 5000 or 10000, and the filter radius to 0.2 (you could make this bigger if you like the graininess) with the oversample at 2. Don’t increase the oversample unless you plan to render overnight. I have my computer set to use 2 cores, you could set to one (the default) or more if you have a bigger processor. This element took about 40 minutes to render. I’ve had renders run 13-14 hours. For some reason star fields can be freaking huge. Not all of them, and I haven’t figured out why yet.

oh, you may have noticed the flame moved and got bigger. I didn’t want to render it tiny – I’ll scale it on the image later – and I wanted to rotate it (same editor window as the gradient) to fit the image size better. Finally, while I have Apophysis set to a black background, the completed render is a png with transparency, making it super easy to set on an existing image without having to delete unwanted background. It also has some drawbacks, but I’ll show you what to do about them.

roughed in explosion

This is the thumbnail sketch I sent my client. He approved the layout, knowing the weird splashes of color will be replaced with a cool explosion. By the way, the ship and the starfield in the background are both fractals.

If you want to be able to make your own cool starfields and nebulas, check out some tutorials.  Bear in mind there are several versions of Apophysis. I have two loaded on my computer, along with three of Mandelbulb, which is what I rendered the spaceship with (I’ll do another post on MB3D at a later date. it’s awesome, but holy heck the learning curve is steep).

Capture

it’s not about the size, it’s about the placement.

I’ve dropped the fractal element on the image (having made my silly splashes disappear) but as you can see, you can see right through it. Hardly what you’d expect when a very solid ship blows up.

I’m going to scale the image by dragging on the corners, tilting and maneuvering it until I’m happy with the placement, and then I’ll duplicate the layer, so I get some opacity from it.

explosion

And here we have a classic exploding spaceship, at the moment of utter destruction.

I’ve duplicated my explosion layer, rotated it, set one layer to color dodge, and chopped up the edges with a smoke brush set to eraser tool. I also toggled back on the splashes (what, you thought I deleted them? Never throw anything out, you might need it!) and they add a little something under there, so I’m keeping them.

After some discussion with my client, we chose fonts for the author name and title (he’s using Counter Strike, from dafont, for the title). I applied those to the finished art.

Sabrecat cover3

Tom’s comment on seeing the cover “that right there is full of win.”

And hey, presto! All original art, all explosions, all science fiction. I could have spent a LOT more time on the ship, but it took me a month just to get this far. And I’m happy his book will have a cover that ought to enhance his sales a touch.

Feel free to ask questions in the comments! I don’t think WordPress supports image comments, but I’d love to see your efforts if you play with Apo, so try putting them up with Flickr or facebook or deviantart, and linking here.

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Filed under CEDAR SANDERSON, cover design, WRITING: PUBLISHING

Writing on the Go

I write to you from the Itty Bitty writing set up, to assert that you can write anywhere, any time, in any way. I have friends who swear by dictation (I’m looking over my shoulder to see if saying that has summoned Martin Shoemaker, it usually does). I believe Amanda Green has spoken of her travails with the book (or was it books) that insisted on being written longhand on yellow legal pads. I’m not judging. David Pascoe has a sweet raspberry pi set up that looks amazing. Me? Well, I decided if I were going to write at lunch, with no place to sit down… the entire lab crew shares a cubicle, and our de facto IT guy actually sits in it. You don’t sit at someone else’s desk, that’s like sleeping in their bed or something. Anyway, at lunch I can sit in my car and veg, or I can sit in a quiet conference room and do this.

So what is this, you ask? I’m glad you asked. I’m currently writing on my phone, in an email, since my theoretically ‘offline’ documents in Google Drive refuse to open. I’m a trifle annoyed by that, but if I have time once this post is complete, I’ll see if the settings are switched so I can’t work outside WiFi (I don’t have that at work, either). But the email works, I don’t even have to send it, it’ll be here when I’m back on the home network. I’ll probably even have time for a bit of fiction, since I have an hour to do this.

And no, my thumbs are not flying over the screen a million miles a minute, as amusing as that mental image may be. I could take lessons from the daughters, but what I’ve got instead is a little bitty Bluetooth keyboard, slightly too large to stuff into my lunchbox (more’s the pity) but just big enough for my medium sized hands (I know their size, that’s the size nitrile gloves I wear) to type on in my hybrid touch/look style. I never did master touch typing, although after hundreds of thousands of words (nearing a million? I haven’t added them up) I do tend to know where the keys are. Of course, autocorrect thinks it knows best, and while that’s handy when I’m all thumbs, it’s annoying as heck when I’m actually typing. The keyboard doesn’t work for my First Reader, his hands are a bit too big for him not to be constantly bashing two keys at a time. So your mileage may vary. There are squishy roll-up keyboards that are full-sized, but I don’t like how they feel.

However you do it, writing on the go is a necessary Evil. If I waited until the moment was perfect, my back fully supported, the monitors at just the right angle, the optimal selection of music playing… I’d never write again. A kid would knock on the door. “I have a question… how do you clean up toxic waste candy? Will it stain the floors blue? Can you please look at this? Did you know if you drop the bottle of Katsu Sauce, it exploded and glass slides all across the tiles and under the fridge…?”

So yeah, writing when I can cram in a moment of relative peace is the only way to go, anymore. Eating doesn’t take long, after all, and an hour is generous. I know for the longest time David Burkhead was posting his daily lunch-word count, and it was inspiring. I probably won’t manage this daily, but I had to do *something* with my changed schedule. I’m working Fridays and Saturdays, and my usual time for writing the MCG vaporized. I also don’t have time to keep up with publishing industry news, so you’re more likely to get thoughts on writing from me. And at some point, the now long-delayed post on covers, which requires the Real Computer (TM) and more time than I have been able to carve out of my schedule as of yet. It’s ok. It’s all good.

Life changes, and if you can’t roll with the waves, you’re going to get worn down to a nubbin. Sometimes you have to give things up entirely, but I’m stubborn. I’m not giving up on writing. I just have to work at finding the time, the place, and the equipment that fits the first two requirements. I happened to have the keyboard (I got it originally to pair with my tablet, and I could be writing with the tablet, but I don’t have much space at all to stow anything here. Took me a week to find out there’s a hook in the cubicle we share for my coat) so I didn’t have to lay out cash, but I think it was less than $20 on Amazon. The phone is, well, the phone. I practically have my entire life on this phone by now. If I had to carry a notebook, I would, but I can write faster this way, and I’m trying to cram as many words in as possible. Which reminds me I do want to create some fiction words today, as well.

Feel free to comment and talk about your writing-on-the-go improvisations, or any other topic that tickles your fancy. I won’t be on to comment much (maybe lunchtime) until evening after work, so be kind to one another!

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Filed under CEDAR SANDERSON, WRITING: LIFE

Unwarranted Assumptions

Some men give their wives jewelry. Others proffer chocolates, or flowers. My husband? Gives me blog posts when he sees that I am tired, overwhelmed, and stretched to the snapping point. I started a post on covers, but after serving as referee in a three-sided sibling war (now, there’s the plot for a space dynasty saga) I was exhausted and listless. He surprised me with a post, and that means I get back a lost hour of sleep. So I’ll get the cover post done for next Saturday and you get a Reader writing on reading today. 

We all make assumptions about life “This is the way things are done”. The problem with that, especially for writers, is that our assumptions are sometimes wrong. For example, I recently read a story where a brother was offering his sister a morning glass of juice, which she refused because she hadn’t brushed her teeth yet. For most of us that is a jarring misdirection. We are taught in the U.S. to brush after meals, not before.

 

    There are many other things we take for granted that aren’t necessarily so. Many younger people assume that any girl can beat most boys physically because so much of our media tells them so. Even older adults often buy into that nonsense to a degree, those who see a FaceBook video with a young woman beating up the bikers molesting her is a prime example, many older men didn’t realize that it was an obviously scripted event that was physically impossible as shown.

  Even in our personal lives we learn things that just aren’t true, not for the majority. I used to think that all our social instructions through books and movies were deliberate misdirection. Our social norms say that men propose and women accept or reject. Every romantic movie seems to have a guy nervously proffering a ring and waiting with baited breath for the girl to say “Yes”. I knew that was false until I was in my mid thirties when I found out that it was probably true for the majority of people. I honestly though all men got proposed to three of four times a year on average, which fiction told us wasn’t true. Then I found out that it was true for most guys.

 

  Since we know that some of our assumptions are wrong it behooves us to keep this in mind when writing. If your hero thinks that he is weird because he is straight you’d better have a good bit of worldbuilding going on and be writing fantasy or deranged SF. Normal humans realize that homosexuals comprise a very small percentage of the population, not the majority.
   Similarly any other minority position in the real world cannot comprise the main thrust of your story without some given reason for believing it. A story with no men in it at all could happen, if you place  it in a convent or other limited slice of life that doesn’t contain the majority of the world. If your character doesn’t interact with the people of the opposite sex, or differing orientation that is fine. Having them not exist takes a lot of back story.

  Since we have to make assumptions to live go ahead and make them, just be aware that everyone may not share your particular assumptions and it may throw them out of the story. This is where writers need beta readers, to point out such oddities. And it is why the rest of us should be open to changing our minds if we find out our assumptions are wrong.

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Filed under CEDAR SANDERSON, reading

The Madness of Editing

I’ve reached that point in the construction of a novel where beta readers have kindly pored over my words, let me know what is wrong with my baby (nothing fatal, thank goodness) and now I have to pick out parts of the design and rework it. I tend to create metaphors for stories that akin them to tapestries, or needlework. It’s not like stone-carving, you can fix a mistake once it is made. Mind you, if you pick at one thereafter you might suddenly find yourself holding a whole lot of where-did-this-come-from and a plotline unravels before your eyes.

This book is a new experience for me. I started it as I always do, with a clear burst of story, a panoply of images in my head, i wrote feverishly… And that is where it went sideways. It took me two years to finish it. As an extreme pantser, keeping the story alive in my head that long was difficult. For one thing, when I first wrote what was then called Puppies in Space, I didn’t have any idea that I’d later write Jade Star, which turned out to not only be in the same universe, but a direct prequel (by a century, but a central character)  to the story in the re-titled Tanager’s Fledglings. Now, I am having to go over the beginning, which was intended to be a short story, and foreshadow the weight of the tale to come, the appearance (Midway through the book) of a very strong character, but not tie it so closely to Jade Star that TF won’t stand alone.

Editing is madness, I tell you. And it isn’t helped much by my starting work this week, slowing the editing to mere pages a day, and some of that conscious time spent re-reading what I did yesterday to get back into the story. It’s not that this job is tough, it’s demanding mentally and physically and I’m loving it, it’s just what I needed. It’s just… I’m a writer. I’ve spent the last few years either sitting in classes, or on my tuchis in front of a keyboard. My step-tracking app is telling me I’m doing between 4-6 miles a day. And on top of that, I’m learning new stuff daily, and this is Science (I really love this job, have I said that yet?) So if I screw it up, bad things will happen. So I’m focused on absorbing absolutely everything at once. That does not leave much room in the noggin for words.

Words are important when editing. I’m not the kind of writer who feels a need to massage her words into something elegant and refined. My characters aren’t that fancy and will give me funny looks. But I do feel the need to find the right word for the situation. Harder to do when you’re fog-brained.

On the other hand, editing is a process that requires you to read your own work, something I quite frankly am terrible at. I feel all self-concious and awkward. Like the first day at work when you are mostly trying to stay out of people’s way and not break something. Editing runs the risk of breaking the story. Keeping a light touch is just as important as finding all the necessary shadows to cast a faint outline of what is coming for your hero. Much of the story magic is made in the unconscious mind, and you have to trust that too.

I’ll keep this short today, because I’m rambling on. I’ll be at work today, but will check in when I get a lunch break, and again in the evening to answer comments. Play nice!

 

 

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Filed under CEDAR SANDERSON, Uncategorized

Give and take

I can’t speak for everyone, but this writer is socially awkward and uncertain. Last week I talked about networking as an Indie author, and creating a barter system that would help those with no budget, but time, get off and running. What if I don’t have a network? Was asked.

Well, here’s the thing about networking. It’s a mixture of being willing to ask, and being willing to give. The system is one built on trust, like any other relationship, and that makes it a delicate balance for those of us who aren’t terribly socially ept. I can’t help much, other than to talk about my experiences and how I tend to feel like a clumsy ox when it comes to human interactions.

Writer’s groups are the best place to start building this network, of course. I first joined one when I was submitting bits of stories for critique to an online forum, and was invited to take part in a small group. That didn’t go very well. I hear horror stories about the impact groups can have on delicate young writers egos, but for me it wasn’t an impact on my writing, it was a terrible feeling of having to pretend to be something I wasn’t, in order to keep from being attacked and flamed. Because I didn’t trust them on one level, I couldn’t take seriously their criticism of my work –  and most importantly, looking back, I couldn’t fully critique their work. That meant I wasn’t giving my best to them. I was afraid that if I pointed out flaws, they would come back at me saying that I was only bashing them for other reasons (I was not the same religion they were, and much of the OT chatter was bashing my religion). Later still, after I’d moved on from that group, I did hire one of them for editing, only to have to hire another person to revert those edits… It was a nightmare.

Lest you think I’m trying to discourage you! I am not. I am saying that if you don’t fully trust the people in the group, it’s a sign to bow out and move on. I got lucky, for values of luck, when I did at last wind up invited to a group mentored by Sarah Hoyt and Dave Freer. The group was run by another writer, Darwin Garrison (whose stories are worth looking up) and it was a far better structure than the small group (remember the song in the Music Man, with the women singing “pick a little…” That was the first group) in that it was targeted at becoming better writers. Not that there wasn’t off topic chatter, it’s the first place I saw in-depth discussion of what the publishing world was really like. And ultimately it led me here.

That group went the way of most communities – the attrition of time washed some of us away. I stopped writing for some years, dealing with illness and depression as my marriage spiralled into darkness. I reconnected with some of them on Facebook, and in time I started writing again. At that point I also started to consider the writing as a business, once I’d finished a novel. I had a bunch of stories, not all finished, in a drawer. I had very little money, so I knew I’d be on my own for things like covers and formatting. I decided early on that I would hire an editor… The first time I used money I’d saved and set aside from my other business. After that, all monies from sales were put back into the writing biz until it turned a profit.

I’ve always worried about asking too much of my friends, who were accomplished writers when I was struggling to begin. I’ve been blessed with good friends, but I try very hard to give as much as I get. I took a workshop on cover design (Dean Wesley Smith, it was $300 four years ago) so I could do my covers and help others. Later there was a class on design at college. I spent countless hours on art, learning how to take incoherent elements and make something that would sell a book. At this point, I have a skill I’m confident has value, which I can trade with others, towards editing my writing. I can edit, but I enjoy the art and design. You get the idea – if you are confident that what you are offering in trade is worth it, you’re more likely to ask for a barter.

Bartering is a trust relationship. If you’re trading loaves of bread for a chicken, it’s very physical and immediate. Trading skills takes time, and you may not see the results immediately. It’s important to know the other person well. And building that kind of relationship is not a quick and easy process. I suspect there’s a reason money has remained so popular over the ages. Friendships come and go, the work remains. I suspect that a more formal barter network for Indie Authors would be of use, some way to offer a skill you have, and say “I need x done” and there would be recommendations that paired you up. Pitfalls exist (don’t they always?) In that cliques would form, monetary values would have to be set (if someone is convinced their editing ought to be $500 per novel, they might not be happy to receive a $250 cover in return), and people who fail to deliver would have to be removed from the list (see the first pitfall).

So how to start forming your network? Start talking to people who are like-minded. Don’t limit the conversation to writing, only. Be an encouraging voice. And when you need help, ask. When help is asked for, offer to help. If you worry that you are asking too much, say that.

I’m bad about some of this. When I am deeply stressed, I tend to retreat from human contact. Some of this is a relic of my past, so when I feel I’ve upset someone, I go into full retreat mode with profuse apologies, which used to be the only way I could defuse an explosive rage. I know that this is not that, but if I’m not thinking clearly it is breathtakingly difficult to stop, open up, and reach out again. I’ve been trying to do this recently, and if you are like me, I encourage you to crack the shell a little, and take a risk. Writing may be a solitary occupation, but writers are healthier with friends.

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