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

I Quit!

I. Quit.

No, no, not MGC.

But I’m taking a hiatus from my big series and trying some new things this summer.

Now, why would I do a silly thing like that? Well, it’s pretty simple. I’m a (nearly) complete unknown and as such my sales numbers are low. And since I’m in this for the money–yeah, I’ve got an husband bringing home the bacon, but he’s teetering on the brink of retirement, and I’d really like to bump up the projected (post retirement) household income. That means I need to do a number of things. Marketing . . . I’m also working on. But another (and much more fun!) thing I can do is broaden my fan base by publishing in other genres.

But how is a writer of a huge series to break the bad news to her fans?

Well it depends. If the series is at a natural stopping point, it’s easy. This is one of the advantages of an overarching Mega Problem. Once it’s solved, you can give your readers a brief glimpse into the Happily Ever After and then quit.

Hahahahaha! As if!

And the more popular, the more fans will want you notice that there’s a problem behind the problem and keep going.

In my case most of the stories are stand alones . . . but it’s one big saga with a fair amount of background that builds up. But there’s no clear cut end point. It’s just a Cross-dimensional Multiverse full of potential. It has been mentioned that it would make a great SF soap opera.

So again, why quit?

There’s a dozen reasons.

I need to broaden my reader base, so getting out of this specific sub- genre and into Time Travel, Space Opera, and Urban Fantasy sounds like a good idea. I mean, Regency Romance may sell better, but I seriously doubt I could tempt any of those readers to try my older work . . . where SO and UF have plenty of overlapping interests with my old series.

And then there’s the challenge. Something that will stretch my knowledge base and send my research in a new direction. Time Travel hurts my head, BTW. And I have zero knowledge of how Law Enforcement actually works. Which is really necessary when you’ve got a thin blue line standing up against demonically engendered werewolves. Space Opera will be the easiest, what with me being a space fanatic. All I have to do is check that what I know really is so. Ouch! Our knowledge of reality changes so fast it’s easy to fall behind.

I recommend this to all writers. It’s too easy to get into a rut, to coast. “Oh, I know everything about this Universe, after all, I created it. I don’t need to research anything!” Too easy to depend on the character building you did in the previous books and leave your character flat and uninteresting. Or viciously attack and maul him, to give some space for Mr. Perfect to (re)grow. Kill her, because you’ve come to hate her.

It’ll be a good separation, a refreshing vacation. I’ll come back to the Wine of the Gods with a new perspective, new enthusiasm.

I’m breaking the news to my fans gently. Umm, because, being an addict of my own series, I seem to have, umm, let me count. Oh bloody . . . eight stories in the pipeline. Not counting the novella that’s out with the Beta Readers. That will be published next month. So while I’m going to write other stuff this summer, I’ll also get out at least one more big Wine of the Gods book sometime this fall, and the rest at reasonable intervals. So it’s just a slow down, not really quitting.

I can get over this addiction. I can stop any time.

Can you? Tell me how that works, eh?

And, being unfortunately well acquainted with my subconscious, as soon as I post this, it will pop a story into the frontal lobes, crack the whip and make me write it . . . What’s that? Xen teams up with Ebsa, Ra’d . . . and Eldon! To defeat the Cyborg Empire!

Oh, just kill me now!
But first, buy a 99¢ short story. I promise I won’t leave [spoiler] in [spoiler] for too long.

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Filed under BY THE MAD GENII, PAM UPHOFF, SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY

Lessons Learned In The Crossover

I’m not going to continue the business theme Amanda started and Chris Nuttall’s guest post continued. To start with, I’m balls at it, and thanks to the day job demands, I’m not really in a position to move past “hobbyist” by Chris’s definition.

Of course, the day job throws some interesting serendipity into things as well: today I stumbled across a bug that’s been in the system for at least 5 years (probably more like 10). It’s kind of obvious when it happens, but… it only happens under very specific circumstances (you know, if you chant the alphabet backwards while hopping anticlockwise around a summoning circle, and you get q and p in the wrong order, you’ll get an incubus instead of the succubus you were trying to summon). And hasn’t happened since it was introduced or we’d have heard about it (believe me, we’d have heard about it. If our customers don’t kick up the mother of all fusses, the customer service folks will).

What does this have to do with writing?

For a start, it’s damn near license to do whatever you want as long as you establish it as outside normal operations. So when Manly Hero tries to use the Sword of Rectitude to cut down the Tree of Ignorance, and it breaks, well, that’s not what the thing is meant to do. It’s meant to slice people open, for values of people that don’t typically include trees. You use a chainsaw for that.

Or the pirate crew flying a ship stolen from the mighty Slow’n’Steady Empire have your hero’s battered spaceship in their sights and they’re blazing away. You’ve taken too much damage to escape but the fellow from Slow’n’Steady is muttering about how they’re firing much too quickly and the guns just can’t cool down and might even… This of course is when the impressive Kaboom! happens, followed by the explanation that Slow’n’Steady don’t ever engage on a single ship basis. They have multiple ships firing at their target with a slow rolling pattern that gives each gun its 5 second cool-down time.

Or something. What it is and how it works is totally up to you.

That’s one lesson from today’s bug.

Another is that things change and people forget about things that used to be important, so you get some odd bits of stuff left over as changes accrete to anything that’s been around for any length of time. Which leads to odd corners and rooms with windows looking out to hallways or even other rooms. And years (or decades, or centuries) later, Young Hero is exploring the place and avoiding his tutors when he feels a bit of a breeze in the narrow corridor that seems to have been forgotten. He follows the breeze to find that there’s a spot where ancient mortar has crumbled, and if he works at it a bit he opens up a doorway that was bricked over long ago. So long ago, that the door itself is long gone.

Where Young Hero’s explorations take him is up to you. The point is that anything (including a culture) that’s been around long enough is going to have odd incomprehensible bits in it that hide things forgotten for ages, things which just might matter to your protagonist… Or she could be the fourth generation cutting the end off the leg of lamb because great grandma’s roasting pan wasn’t big enough to hold the entire leg (which is long enough for cutting the end off to become a Tradition and therefore not something you stop without a damn good reason).

Little touches like this where they don’t strictly matter add richness to your world building. Where they do matter you can use them to give your plots and characters extra depth.

Lesson three, though, that’s the big one.

Namely that – even though this bug has been around for ages and never happened to a customer – it’s wrong and it needs to be fixed. It doesn’t matter that it’s never happened to a customer. It could happen. The same thing applies to how we authors conduct ourselves. We may never have been famous, or even notable, but if we don’t do the right thing now when we’re nobodies, we won’t do it in the future when (hopefully) we’re making gajillions and we’re a household Name.

And on that note, I’m going to go mess with a tree stump in the name of getting used to using a practice sword.

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It’s A Job – Christopher Nuttall

*This is Sarah — my being very ill over the last few years caused me to lose a lot of my professional habits.  Regaining them is harder than acquiring them the first time, so listen to the man.  However this trick of taking a week off between books is new to me.  When my last book dragged and I kept getting ill, several friends recommended I take a week off between books.  I’ve just finished the second book of the year, two months late. The temptation is to roll right over to the next one.  I’m trying not to.  This time I’m trying to take a week off from writing.  Of course this means doing work on my hobby which at this time in my life seems to be being a wife and mother.  (It used to be full time but the kids are grown and we only have one sort of in the house.) So I’m doing spring cleaning and going over my edited manuscripts so I can put stuff that reverted back up for sale and getting websites designed and back up, after we changed providers.  Light work.  What is the difference between that and a normal workday?  The difference is that when I woke up this morning and was really tired, I had the option of rolling over and going back to sleep.  I didn’t DO it, but the option was there. Normally it isn’t, because it’s a job.  You don’t say “Today I don’t feel like going to the office.”  And neither do I.-SAH*

 

It’s A Job – Christopher Nuttall

 

As I may have mentioned before, I get asked a lot of questions about how I write – what’s the big secret.  And I say, as I always do, that the big secret is that you need to work hard, that you have to treat your writing like a job.

I’ve had a lot of interesting responses to that answer over the last few years.  Some people – mainly other writers – have agreed with me.  Others, people who aren’t writers or don’t see their writing as anything more than a hobby, have disagreed with me.  I devalue writing, it seems, by classing it as work.  I understand that attitude, but I don’t agree with it.  Here’s why.

There are generally three kinds of authors in the world; the wannabe, the hobbyist and the professional.

The Wannabe wants to be a writer.  He or she will happily tell you about their great idea that will sell a thousand copies and bring in a million bucks, but – for some strange reason – their portfolio is a little light.  They will probably never have completed a manuscript, perhaps, or they’ll talk for hours about how something they wrote was picked up in a minor publication you’ve never heard of.   In short, the Wannabe wants to be a writer, but is unable or unwilling to do what it takes.

The Hobbyist has a day job.  He goes to work, 9-5 (or whatever) and then comes home, where he sits down at the computer and churns out a few hundred words.  It doesn’t matter to him (much) if he loses a day because he’s tired – writing is his hobby, not his job.  Quite a few authors are hobbyists; they’ve written a few books, but they’re not bringing in enough cash to justify quitting their day job and writing full time.

The Professional also has a day job – it’s called writing.  Writing is his sole source of income – he needs to bring in enough cash to avoid having to find a second job.  And so the professional has to treat his writing as a job.  You cannot take more than a few days off, at a regular job, without your boss giving you the stink-eye and threatening your career.  Writing is the same, only you’re your own boss.  You have to force yourself out of bed and write because no one else is going to do it for you.  Even my wife doesn’t make me work.

A writer who wants to be a Professional has to treat his writing as a job.  I cannot repeat that enough.  He has to have the discipline to work every day, to overcome minor setbacks and writer’s block, to start a project and carry it through to the end.  He doesn’t get to goof off in front of the computer, any more than the average office worker gets to use Facebook more than a few times during the day.  (My old workplace was death on Facebook.)  He has to work.

The writer is his own boss, but also his own business manager (unless he happens to really hit it rich, whereupon he can hire a business manager.)  He must handle everything from hiring cover artists and editors to promotion and doing his tax returns.  (And if he wants to hire an accountant, he has to do the work of hiring one.)  Negotiating with agents and publishers … the writer must do that too.  The writer is fundamentally alone in the world.

In addition – and this is something I don’t think most of the Wannabes grasp – he has to maintain his professional reputation.  In a normal job, you don’t want to give your boss a reason to dislike you, let alone fire you and badmouth you to your next set of prospective employers.  In writing, you don’t want to acquire a bad reputation.  There are no shortage of horror stories about ‘indie authors behaving badly.’  If you’re a boastful braggart with nothing to boast about, people will start avoiding you; if you unload your frustration on reviewers who dare to criticize your books, people will start thinking you’re an idiot.   Going to a convention and acting badly – however defined – will impinge on your career.

The writing world is bigger than it used to be, I admit, but someone who makes a bad reputation for themselves will find it haunts them for the rest of their career.

The professional writer has to be professional.  He must write a manuscript, then have it edited … without losing his cool.  He cannot afford to blow up at an editor who is only trying to help, even if the editor is in the wrong.  He must approach his work in a professional manner, considering each suggested change carefully before accepting or rejecting them.  He must read contracts carefully – getting legal advice if necessary – and then stick to them.  A publisher who feels that an author did not live up to his side of the contract is one who will not offer another contract.  (And a publisher who feels that he can take advantage of the author is one to be avoided.)

Above all, a professional writer cannot afford to give up.

As a general rule, my alarm goes off at 7am.  I get up, stumble downstairs and pour coffee down my throat.  Ideally, by 8am I’m in front of the computer working on the first chapter of my current project.  If I’m lucky, my infant son will remain asleep until I’ve finished the first chapter; whenever he wakes, I get coffee for my wife and then feed my son his breakfast until my wife comes down to take over.  And then I get back to work.  I spend between four and five hours a day on my computer, writing roughly 9000 words.

After the first draft is completed, I check through the beta-emails and insert all the changes (or at least the ones I accept) and then send the book to the editors (or to kindle, if it’s a self-published work.)  I generally take a week off between books, but I have to work on plots and suchlike during that time.  I carry a notebook around with me to scribble down ideas, just in case something hits me while I’m out.

How you comport yourself often has a bearing on your career.  Disagreeing with the boss is fine – depending on the boss, I suppose – but being an a-hole about it is not.  Writers have opinions, just like everyone else; writers have every right to express those opinions, without being a-holes about it.  There are quite a few people who disagree intensely with me about politics, but I still get on with them because they’re not a-holes about it.  Picking fights over politics (or whatever) is pointless, when it isn’t destructive.  And picking fights with reviewers just makes you look like an ass.

Professional writers remain focused on their work.  Writing is good, editing is good, designing covers is good (assuming you have the talent to design a good cover.)  Going to conventions and suchlike is useful – I’ve made a few contacts there – but it’s not the be-all and end-all.  I’ve noticed that people pay more attention to your opinions after you’ve achieved something in the field – a couple of people I know seem to spend all their time going to conventions and none actually writing, despite which they still call themselves writers.  Let your work speak for you – offers of publication, collaboration and suchlike come in after you’ve proved you can do the work.

Like I said, professional writing is a job.

There’s nothing wrong with being enthusiastic about your job – or your writing.  I wouldn’t hold that against anyone.  But enthusiasm has to be tempered with hard common sense.  Most of the mistakes I’ve seen newbie writers make wouldn’t happen if they didn’t let their enthusiasm overwhelm their judgement.  Wannabes become professionals through learning from their mistakes.

It isn’t easy.  There’s a basic rule of thumb that suggests that each writer has to write at least a million words before he or she has anything publishable.  Too many wannabe writers have wasted too much time trying to find shortcuts.  (If you hear a story of someone’s first book selling well, I’d bet good money the author has quite a few unpublished manuscripts in his stable.)  There are too many shortcuts advertised on the web that are – at best – useless; at worst, they’re nothing more than scams.  I understand the desire to find a shortcut, but it doesn’t really exist.  The only way out is through …

 

… And the only way to go through is by treating writing as a job.

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It really is a business

Maybe it’s because taxes are due today. Maybe it’s something else. But, for whatever reason, the last few days have been spent looking at my writing from a business standpoint. I try to do this on a regular basis, but I know I don’t do it nearly as often as I should. Part of the reason is because I would much rather write. After all, I am a writer, not an accountant, etc. But the business aspect is a necessary evil.

It also includes much more than simply looking at sales and making sure taxes are paid.

But it does include numbers — ick — and looking at trends, seeing what other authors are saying about their sales and making determinations about what needs to be done, if anything.

So, the short version of what I’ve done over the last few days is simple:

  • Reviewed my sales for the last year
    • by title
    • by genre
    • by price
  • Looked at pricing for similar titles, including age of title
  • Reviewed blurbs and keywords
  • Reviewed covers and compared them with what is currently selling well, indie and trad published
    • looked at the art elements
    • looked at the font
    • looked at overall cover design
  • Reviewed my publication schedule for the next year
    • made determinations about what should be released when
    • made determinations about new titles (unrelated to current series)
  • Reviewed my meager promotion operation with an eye to expanding it

Now, don’t start running to the hills. I’m not going in-depth into what I did and what my plans are. For one, a lot of those plans are still being made. For another, right now a lot of it is subject to change, at least until I work some more on it. Still, some of the things that are factoring into my decisions are, I believe, things each of us need to look into when it comes to our writing.

Because numbers (ick) are involved, I’m still looking at my sales figures and comparing them with the last several years. In some ways, this is an exercise in comparing apples to oranges. In others, it is interesting. For one thing, I can definitely see a trend. Once I hit 10 novels, my sales across the board went up. Also, once I started linking my pen names with my name, sales across the board went up. Still, numbers are involved, so this will take several more days for me to winnow out all the information I’m looking for. (sorry, I’m a writer, not an accountant and numbers make my head hurt.O

The next thing I looked at happened to be my product pages. Oh my, there is so much there we have to take into consideration and we don’t tend to. At least I don’t. Sure, I want to have the best possible cover to draw the reader’s eye. I want a snappy and interesting blurb to grab the reader and make them want to buy the book. But I don’t tend to check the product page on anything other than my laptop. I forget to look at it on my Kindle Fire or Mom’s iPad. I sure forget to look at it in my phone. Or, more accurately, I used to forget it. After the last few days, I won’t. What I learned is that the longer blurbs will work on a tablet or computer screen but, on a phone, they are a pain because you have to keep scrolling. Not good. Scrolling for a screen or two is one thing but for screen after screen after screen — nope. Not gonna happen. Fortunately, most of mine weren’t that bad and those that were happen to be on two titles I am going to withdraw because they were supposed to be short term promo titles initially.

Another thing I don’t always do, and it is now on my list of must do, is check the preview function for my books. I’m not talking about the downloadable preview (although that should be checked as well) but the “click to see inside” preview. A number of readers, myself included, use this to determine if we want to buy or borrow a book. This is where they will get their first real impression of that particular title. It’s important to make sure the preview doesn’t appear to be poorly formatted. Even more important is making sure there are no misspellings or outrageous grammatical errors present. I can’t stress this enough. This is a free promo and so many of us don’t bother checking to make sure it is accurately representing our work and that, in turn, can cost us sales.

All that showed I have some blurbs to update. As a reader, one thing that will stop me from buying a book is a badly written blurb. If I find misspellings or poor grammar or punctuation in a blurb, I’m going to assume the book is written in much the same way. Also, look at the formatting of the blurb. If there is no white space between paragraphs, you are basically screaming one of two things. Either you are in newbie who doesn’t know how to format blurbs or you are careless and don’t care. Either way, it isn’t the image you want to put out for your readers to see.

I also need to update my keywords on several books. This is important because the keywords help with the search function. Also, in case you didn’t know it, keywords can also help determine what genres and sub-genres your work is listed under. Amazon is starting to crack down on what keywords you use because they had so many complaints by readers about searching certain keywords and finding books that were not “romance” or whatever. That means I need to go back and make sure I have not run afoul of the rule by mistake.

Also, the keywords change from time to time. So to sub-genres. That makes it imperative to regularly make sure we are using the best keywords we can. It helps sales by helping readers find out books.

While doing this, I also looked at my covers. Now, I’m not going to spend any time on the making of covers because, duh, I’m not an artist. I will say this. Don’t be afraid to periodically change your cover. Now, I’m not talking every month or even every six months. But, just as sub-genres change and expand, covers for those genres change as well. As indies, we need to be aware of what the trads are doing in our genres, both with images and with fonts. While we don’t have to copy them, it never hurts to at least have the same “feel” as they do. Why? Because if you write books with the same feel as the Mercy Thompson or Jane Yellowrock books, it will only help for your covers to have the same feel. Why? Because readers of those series will see something that is familiar when they look at your work and the cover might just entice them into reading the blurb and buying the book.

But there is something else to look at as well. If, like me, you write series, your covers within the series have to relate to one another. It is another way of cuing your readers that the new book is part of the series they are already reading and enjoying.

Finally, even if your cover worked when the book came out two years — or ten — ago, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will now. So look at what is selling well in your book’s genre and sub-genre and then look at your book cover with a critical eye. If it doesn’t feel fresh, if it looks and feels dated (or worse, amateur), then change it. But do your homework. Know what works — both in images and in fonts — in your genre and sub-genre.

Now you see why I said I wasn’t going in-depth today about everything. All this was just off the product page. More than that, it was off the product page of just one one-line store. More than that, it isn’t everything off the product page that I’m looking at as an author. By the way, I am also looking at it as a reader, trying to think about what strikes me and grabs my attention when I’m looking for a book to read. If you guys want, I’ll continue with this next week. Otherwise, the next scream of frustration you hear is me when I once again return to the task of looking at my numbers and trying to see if I can make sense of their arcane magic.

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Filed under AMANDA, WRITING: PUBLISHING

Fertile Ground

There is, of course, naturally fertile ground. Volcanic soils are good in this way.

I think you can see the small drawback in that…

It doesn’t stop people, but it does sometimes end in tears, or at least ash. Nothing really is free and without consequences.

Otherwise… most fertility – of the soil at least, and possibly other kinds require a lot of input and a lot of work. Some people are willing to make those inputs and that effort (yes of course that was a double entendre. This is me writing not some modern literary darling). Others get grumpy when it doesn’t come easy.

But really, whether we refer to politics, gardening, or writing – or even selling writing: the same applies – your results will depend on the ground you sow into — and that is something you can control and influence.

If you’re writing a book preparing the ground is actually the hardest and most important stage of the entire thing. If you prepare the ground well (and the ground in this case is the reader’s mind) the story simply seems to evolve naturally out of it – characters did what they did because you had prepared the reader to see that as a natural consequence of the circumstance you (the author) had created in the reader’s mind and the character that you, the author had created. Foolish people say ‘oh that was an easy read’ (implied: the author is too stupid to write a turgid convoluted and un-natural thing that we are assured is award winning literature). It’s a lot harder to do well than to write stodgy work people have to force their way through – rather like a skilled ballerina or gymnast makes something hard look easy and effortless.

It’s always a balancing act between too much and too little.

Too much… an infodump of many pages may explain everything you need to know about an alien Womblebottom landing craft, and how to sabotage it, and may tell you that the heroine’s defining characteristics are her love for reading Alien tech manuals, and her ability to do telepathic welding… But it’s like preparing your 10 by 10 foot garden buy digging in a ton and a half of fish-guts – which are good in very small quantities, but will probably poison the soil for years in that volume. Information needs to be trickled in, and without the reader realizing they’re being set up.

The opposite of course is true too. The reader has no idea how to disable an alien landing craft, or even what the author means by that, so to have heroine just do it, by her amazing power that the reader never knew she had until she used it… that’s barren soil. Rocks.

Characters react in the way they believably, logically would react for reasons that are 1) built in preparing the reader for that behavior. In CHANGELING’S ISLAND I started preparing the reader for the way that Tim would react to circumstances in latter half of the book in the first two pages. 2) plausible for their mindset, body type etc. Characters are not chess-pieces or PC tokens. They’re people. If you want one a classic example of preparing the ground to give yourself later problems: consider the PC prescription in the token checklist. The gay character is always the sanest, kindest, and most reliable character. Now, that’s possible, but it does not stem from being gay. That is like assuming your skin color or religion defines your character… oh wait. The PC checklist makes just that assumption.

This too is a kind of ‘ground preparation’. It was meant to make readers accept the narrative that these superficial things defined humans. That the pampered wealthy third generation upper crust academia black author is as abused and deserving of special support as a black author who grew up in poverty a housing project and survived real abuse.

The problem with such ‘ground preparation’ is that like the infodump, it poisons the ground. The inverse is likely to happen. I was amused by one of the Puppy Kicker Snowflakes whining that the Puppies had followed the same Playbook as the Alt-right to elect President Trump. I’d actually say the only commonality was that in both cases, was that the ground was largely prepared by the other side, successfully alienating people, who were not necessarily foes or even engaged in the subject before. They are now.

As a writer: sowing ground that detests you may well be a way to get others to like you. There are demagogues on both sides. That’s a kind of ground preparation too. The problem arises if – like modern Trad publishing you’re reliant on not being hated by 75% of your audience – but to get published you must be loved by the other 25% – who will only love you offend the 75%…

To return to the subject of preparing your ground: it also goes into marketing you book/s. Trust me on this, if you don’t prepare your ground – you’re stuffed. (which in theory your traditional publisher does, but in practice, actually they only do if the author doesn’t need it – unless of course they’ve vastly overspent on the advance, in which case they will be willing to sell sows’ ears as silk purses, let alone push your book). There are reasons for this – their fixed costs remain the same for Joe Bestseller, as for Jill Neverheardofher – but the end result is traditional publishers spending a million dollars on a promotional effort that will add perhaps 10% to Joe Bestseller’s sales. A hundredth of the cost, would quintuple Jill’s sales (adding more than 10% of Joes)  – but that’s actually hard work (promoting a well-known and widely read author is easy – money for old rope, even if it really isn’t very effective. The opposite is true of promoting an unknown). So let’s assume you want to market your book. Now I am not a master at this, by any means, but I can tell you what doesn’t work.

  • My book comes out tomorrow. I will suddenly send people I never ever spoke to before and don’t know the news. They’ll care (no they won’t). That’s unprepared ground the seed will land on. People who know and like you will care, and may buy. But that preparation started years ago, with finding people of similar interests, and… well, being entertaining. Writing well.
  • I will send the same people endless spam about my book. That’s poisoning the ground.

The truth is you need to prepare that ground, slowly sensitively and without infodumps about your book, with just as much care as you set scenes and build believable characters.

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Marvelous duh-versity

It’s been a long time since I collected any of the Marvel comics. When I see panels like this (now infamous) example, I conclude that I am not missing much.

When I was introduced to my first Marvel title — X-Factor, in 1989 — it was through a friend who knew the Marvel mutants series backwards and forwards. I enjoyed the universe, eventually picking up several Marvel mutant titles over the course of about four years. Not every issue was a knockout, but the storylines were consistently well-written and the mutant concept itself was intriguing. Especially since the entirety of the Marvel universe wove in and out of the space specifically given over to the mutant lines.

If I’d been greeted with a panel like the one above, when first someone handed me a copy of a Marvel title, I’m not sure I’d have gone on to invest all the money I eventually invested in Marvel products. Because I’d have felt like I — as the audience — was being so crudely condescended to, it was either a bad joke, or an insult.

So, what the hell is going on at Marvel these days?

David Burge (aka: Iowahawk) once posted the following:

1. Identify a respected institution.
2. kill it.
3. gut it.
4. wear its carcass as a skin suit, while demanding respect.
#lefties

The first thing I can see going wrong, is that Marvel has allowed certain time-honored characters to be switcheroo’d purely for the lulz. Gender, ethnicity, sexuality, they’re all on Marvel’s chopping block. And while it may be novel to flip Thor’s sex, flipping Thor’s sex and then having Thor utter lines as if Thor is a regular at Candace and Toni’s book store . . . is a great way to let the audience know that you not only don’t take the character of Thor seriously anymore, you don’t take the audience seriously either.

If you want to “diversify” your comics, A-OK. Do it with new characters who grow to inhabit their roles over time, and — this is important — don’t always sound like they spilled directly out of a grievance studies degree program from a trendy East Coast private university.

Last I checked, almost half the country voted in a way that the other half of the country did not. It might be nice to see some of this intellectual diversity inhabit a few costumes on the Marvel stage.

I won’t hold my breath, though.

The second thing I can see going wrong, is that Marvel is trading in audience loyalty, for quick-sales stunts. More switcheroos purely for their own sake, because these may knock the numbers — for a given title in a given month — up to double or even triple what they usually are. Remember when I wrote in this space about the marketing disaster of New Coke? I sorta see Marvel going down the same path. Whether or not Marvel has the good sense to resurrect Classic Thor or Classic Iron Man, remains to be seen. The minds at the top can either respect the core audience, or they can live in fear of being Twitter-shamed by Social Justice Zealots. Most of whom sorta don’t give a damn about comics anyway. Comics are merely a very visible institution that Social Justice Zealots want to take over and own, for their own political purposes. Ergo, kill it, gut it, wear it as a skin suit, then demand respect.

Hopefully Marvel jettisons the switcheroos, but again, not holding my breath.

The third thing I think Marvel may be messing up — and this is hardly a problem unique to the comics world — is mistaking internal in-house excitement for a thing, for external marketplace demand for that very same thing. This comes from creators on the inside getting bored with the same-old same-old, and deciding to get cheeky, or daring, or inflammatory, with a given line or character. The marketplace will just happily follow along, right? And if the marketplace doesn’t follow along, we’ll call them all a bunch of names, right? After all, it worked so well for the Ghostbusters reboot. Which — by the way — nobody asked for. And which never did domestically earn out its estimated $144 million dollar budget.

I am pretty sure they still call that kind of movie, a flop.

If confessions from within Marvel proper are to be believed, Marvel is getting mighty nervous that it might have a few flops on its hands. As if nobody could have predicted that arbitrarily messing with several characters and lines simultaneously, purely for the sake of politics — changes which precious few people in the core audience desired or said they wanted — was going to go badly.

Back to Burge: kill it, gut it, wear it as a skin suit, demand respect.

A huge step in the right direction, would be to STOP taking the Magic Unicorn approach to diversity. Don’t hang a damned blinking sign on the fact that your character(s) is gay, or trans, or a woman, or non-white, or whatever combination thereof you choose. “Hey, look everybody! The character of Tomahawk is both biracial and bisexual! Like, he’s really REALLY biracial and bisexual! We will go out of our way to make sure you ABSOLUTELY KNOW that Tomahawk is biracial and bisexual! Ooooo! Ooooo! So edgy! So diverse!” That kind of crap is the kindergarten version of diversity. It’s not even Diversity 101. It’s Remedial Diversity 077, for sheltered progressives who apparently don’t spend much time around anyone who is not also a sheltered progressive.

Ordinary people — even gay, trans, female, non-white — don’t broadcast their demographics like that. If they are broadcasting their demographics like that, just as with aggressive church evangelists, they’re usually assholes.

It’s hard (but not impossible) to sell a hero who is also an asshole.

(Lobo fans are excused, okay? Jeez, pipe down already.)

The next step would be to quietly jettison any and all switcheroos performed on time-honored characters, and let those characters go back to being who and what they were, before the Social Justice Zealots decided to ruin things.

Yes, you will endure howling mobs of Twitter users trying to hashtag your company into the ground. But if you’ve got even a little bit of spine, you can take the heat. After all, the hashtaggers are not the whole universe. Hell, a lot of people would respect and admire a creative entity standing up against a concerted Two Minute Hate. The American public especially seems to have reached its threshold for that kind of crap. They’re ready to support somebody — anybody — who looks like (s)he won’t roll over and say “Uncle!” at the first threat of digital arm-twisting.

The final step would be, naturally, to stay the course. Keep the time-honored lines secure. Make sure the venerable characters stay in character.

By all means, bring on your diverse cast of non-white, non-male, on-hetero, non-cis players. Give them their own lines. Spin mighty arcs of story wonderfulness around these individuals.

And leave the old-school characters OLD-SCHOOL.

Ya know, kinda like America itself? Old-schoolers and new-schoolers all walking down the same streets together, shopping at the same stores, watching the same movies, eating at the same restaurants, etc. Old-school and new-school, kicking it to their unique grooves. Because there’s room enough in the world for everybody.

Unless you’re a Social Justice Zealot. In which case the world before the year 2000 was a frightening wilderness of total and absolute oppression, and everything older than yourself must be sandblasted into an unrecognizable lump of nothingness.

I like to think the world of commercial creative arts has had its fill, where Social Justice Zealotry is concerned. That shit just doesn’t sell. No matter how much you harangue or lecture people. There are only so many consumers who will open their wallets as a matter of political duty. Everyone else . . . is going to go where the fun is.

I think Marvel may be learning this. But is the damage already irreparable?

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