Jack Reacher, Lydia Chin, and U-Boats

Today I thought I’d share with you some of the books I’ve been reading. Specifically a couple of traditionally published authors whose books I’ve been exploring, as well as a return to an old interest.

Jack Reacher

In the thriller world, Lee Child’s creation, Jack Reacher, is all the rage. Sometime ago I picked up Number 15 in the series in a used bookstore. I’d never heard of Lee Child or Jack Reacher at that point and since the book was the fifteenth in the series and because I have a penchant to read series books in order, I set it aside until I could get the earlier books.

Then I learned of the Jack Reacher craze and bought the first two books just to see what all the fuss was about. I bought them used because I have a policy not to buy any new books published by the Big Five. Mostly because the Big Five charges way too much for books, especially e-books.

And without a doubt I’m glad to say I didn’t pay anymore then the two cents plus shipping that I paid for the books, because I’m not at all impressed with Jack Reacher.

What I actually found most helpful was Mr. Child’s introduction to the first book in the series in which he explained how he created Jack Reacher and a bit about his philosophy of writing. That was valuable information and should be read by all writers.

So what didn’t I like about Mr Child’s writing?

  • Mediocre writing. The books are over 500 pages long in the paperback versions and that’s about 200 pages too much. They are wordy and Mr Child continually defuses the suspense with lengthy descriptions and explanations. Which seems odd that one would want to kill suspense in a suspense novel.
  • Technical inaccuracy. The first two books are riddled with inaccurate terms and information regarding firearms. Mr Child clearly knows nothing about guns — and he apparently didn’t bother to do sufficient research.
  • An unbelievable main character. Jack Reacher clearly fulfills Mr Child’s intentions as to what he wanted to achieve in a main character. Child wanted someone who never loses. A wish fulfillment for everyone who’s suffered at the hands of a schoolyard bully. The problem is, Reacher is boring. He is never in any real trouble. He’s always in control and the few times he isn’t he always knows he’ll get the upper hand eventually. He has a few quirks which come off as more stupid than interesting. And Reacher’s personality is about as interesting as a cold fish.

Personally, I think the only reason Lee Child got a publishing contract is because he was a TV writer before he turned to fiction. It’s all about who you know.

Needless to say, I won’t be buying anymore Jack Reacher novels. I might read more if I were to get the books for free. But even then that would be iffy. Just too many better books out there.

Lydia Chin/Bill Smith

S J Rozan was an architect who decided to try her hand at novel writing. She’s garnered numerous awards and nominations for her mystery detective series featuring Lydia Chin and Bill Smith.

The series currently numbers 11 novels and since the last one was published in 2011 it may be at an end, as her two latest books our paranormal thrillers which she co-authored.

The series is somewhat unique in that the odd numbered novels are told from Lydia’s point of view and the even numbered ones from Bill’s.

I’ve read the first 3 and number 4 is in the queue.

Ms Rozan’s style is exquisite. Very polished. No extraneous anything. Lydia and Bill are well-drawn. They end up winning, but aren’t infallible. They come across as real people. By way of contrast, I’d say Jack Reacher is about as complex as a comic book character.

Lydia’s and Bill’s world is New York City. And Ms Rozan makes their world come alive for us. Her word painting is superb.

Of the two characters, I prefer Lydia Chin. She is more colorful and her Chinatown world is fascinating. Even Bill Smith is more interesting in the books where Lydia is the point of view character.

When Bill tells the story, everything is duller and somewhat darker. At least in the one Bill Smith point of view novel I read. We’ll see if that changes in the next one I read.

As of right now, I plan to get all of the Lydia Chin/Bill Smith mysteries. They are pretty much as good as it gets.

U-Boats

U-Boats? Why U-Boats, you might be thinking. I’ve studied history all my life. Majored in it for my B.A. and continued with courses in grad school. There are many aspects of history one can study and technological development is a very intriguing aspect.

Most know I’m crazy about airships. What most don’t know is that I’m also fascinated by submarines. The two are very much the opposites of each other. What it takes to fly a rigid airship is the same skills it takes to navigate a submarine. The one is in air, the other water.

I’m also fascinated by the losers in history. It isn’t always the good guys who win, unfortunately. They do, however, get to write the history books.

Recently, I watched a World War II movie about an Allied force that captures a German U-Boat in a stealth operation. Complete fiction. And complete propaganda. All the typical war movie tropes: all the Germans get killed and only one American does; the Germans can’t fix their diesel engine but the Americans can; the Americans in the middle of a tense situation with only one person able to speak German, figure out all the German instructions on how to run the boat; the German sub trying to recapture the U-Boat has all its torpedoes miss, but the Americans with only one torpedo left are able to sink the pursuing German sub; and on it goes.

What the movie did do was spark a renewal of my interest in submarines. Currently I’m reading two books from the German’s perspective on the Battle of the Atlantic. One from World War I and the other from World War II.

To me, the most interesting thing is if you were to simply change the perspective the books could have been written by the victors. In other words, the motivation behind the Allied and Axis troops to fight was the same. A vague sense of patriotism mainly. Rarely a devotion to ideology

To achieve balance in one’s understanding of history, one needs to read both sides.

We, as individuals, are the sum total of not only our past, but the past of our people. The more we understand the past, the more we understand ourselves. Our past defines who we are at this very moment. It may or may not define the future. That usually depends on how well we understand past drivers.

To read the exploits of the U-Boat commanders and their crews is giving me an appreciation for those men who have been so brutally demonized by Allied propaganda, but who in reality were no different than those men they were fighting.

A study of history quickly shows the historian people are people, no matter where they are found.

 

That’s some of what I’ve been reading of late. I’ve, of course, been reading other books and reviews of some of those will be forthcoming.

As always, comments are welcome! And until next time, happy reading!

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No Plot, No Problem

 

no-plot-no-problem-image

The plotless novel, story, or movie seems an oxymoron. After all, weren’t we told in high school, college, and grad school by every English and creative writing professor we had to plot out our stories? In every literature class we took, didn’t the instructor talk about plot?

So what the heck is a “plotless” story?

Perhaps, though, we should talk a little bit about plot before we talk about no plot. So what exactly is a “plot”?

Webster’s New World Dictionary, Second College Edition defines plot as “the plan of action of a play, novel, poem, short story, etc.” However, Ronald B Tobias, in Twenty Master Plots and how to write them, would seem to disagree. He notes, “Plot isn’t a wire hanger that you hang the clothes of your story on.” He goes on to declare, “Plot is a process, not an object.” And “Plot is dynamic, not static.”

Basically what Tobias is attempting to say is that the writer has a story to tell. How the writer tells the story, what pattern he or she uses to tell the tale, is in essence the plot of the story. Story is a chronicle of events for Tobias and plot answers the question, “Why?” Why is this particular series of events played out this way? Plot gives story form, according to Tobias.

And yet for all Tobias’s arguing against planning, he is essentially planning. Plot imposes structure on story. Take a simple story. Say the story of Adam and Eve. According to Tobias, what we have is a chronicle of events. Adam has a garden, he is given a partner, they are told don’t eat the fruit of a certain tree, the partner convinces Adam to eat the fruit, and they get kicked out of the garden. According to Tobias, depending on which of his twenty plots you choose, you impose structure on the story and give it form. You could impose a puzzle plot and make it a mystery. Or an adventure plot or a quest plot or a forbidden love plot.

To my mind, we are back to Creative Writing 101. The story is an idea and plot gives it form.

Now one can certainly approach writing that way and that approach does work for many. But it doesn’t have to be that way. There is another way. One which I think is organic and was mentioned by Ray Bradbury.

Bradbury supposedly said, “Create your characters, have them do their thing, and that is the story.” It seems to me, Bradbury is turning Tobias on his head. Story is not a series of events upon which the writer must impose structure. Story is the natural result of what the characters do. Story is the chronicle of the characters living out their lives.

So how does this all relate to the plotless novel, or movie, or short story? Good question.

Recently, my wife and I watched the movies Piku and Love Actually. Both films have exceedingly simple story lines. In fact, one could say the story in both films isn’t even very interesting. But what is interesting and captivating in both movies are the characters. Without the characters doing their thing, neither movie would even have a story. The storylines exist so the characters can do their thing. Both movies are hilarious and touching and make telling statements about life. Yet nothing much happens in either one. Yet momentous decisions are made by the characters which have a profound effect on themselves and those around them.

The movie Little Big Man, one of my favorites by the way, also has very little plot. It is the story, told in vignettes, of a man’s life. And yet it is one of the most moving and poignant movies I’ve ever seen. Little Big Man does his thing and the result is a fabulous story.

The plotless story has been around for a long time. In the 19th century it was called the “Sketch”. A sketch has no discernible plot. It’s purpose is to evoke emotion in the reader. Sketches aren’t so popular today and I can’t understand why. They can be highly effective tales. Wonderful for blog posts. Here is modern example, which I think is simply brilliant: “A Fluttering On The Floor”.

You won’t find the plotless story as much in genre fiction as you will in literary fiction. However, Bradbury’s story “The Highway”, from The Illustrated Man, is an excellent example of a plotless sci-fi story. Very little actually happens. But the protagonist’s thoughts and reactions to what does happen are thought-provoking.

The same can be said for Kazuo Ishiguro’s foray into sci-fi, the novel Never Let Me Go. There is some action, but it too seems to exist as nothing more than the stage upon which the characters stand. It’s what the characters do and don’t do that make the movie and book so poignant.

In some ways, I’d class The Maltese Falcon, if not plotless, at least placing little importance on the murder mystery. Even though the falcon is supposed to be the McGuffin, it is in actuality a symbol of how we live our lives. We chase something and chase it and sacrifice everything for it and when we get it, we find out it’s nothing. It’s an illusion, a fake. To my mind, the murder is in a sense the real McGuffin. It’s the event in the background that drives Spade. I don’t think he really cares who killed his partner or even if the killer is caught. What he does care about is clearing his name so he doesn’t take the rap for the murder — even if he has to throw people under the bus to do it. Which in my opinion he does.

The Maltese Falcon isn’t about murder, it’s about Sam Spade. The murder and the falcon are simply Spade doing his thing. And in the process we learn he isn’t very likable. In some ways, he’s a little bit too much like us.

The plotless story isn’t really plotless. It’s just that the plot isn’t all that important. The plot exists but doesn’t drive the story. The characters doing their thing is what drives the story — and them doing their thing is what is important. Because what they do and how they react gives us a glimpse as to who they really are and, if the writer is worth his or her salt, who we really are. After all, isn’t that at least partly why we read fiction? To see ourselves in the main characters? To vicariously experience through them what we can’t actually experience? To be who we want to be and to see condemned in them what we don’t often condemn in ourselves — at least publicly?

Characters, like the play, are the thing. All of this emphasis on plot and outlining and structure is to my mind missing the point. We don’t read books for the great plots. We read them for the characters. How many plots stick in your memory? Contrast that with how many characters are there.

As always, comments are welcome! I’d love to read your thoughts on the plotless novel. And until next time, happy reading!

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The Male Reader

A few weeks ago I wrote a post entitled “Do Men Read Fiction?”. The answer is, yes, they do. However, they may not do so to the degree women do — or, they may simply not admit they do. Because in America, reading is for girls and sports is for boys.

I’d like to revisit the data Kate Summers presented in her article for the Spring 2013 issue of Reference & User Services Quarterly. And I’d like to do so in the context of fiction writers and the male audience.

So what in general do men like to read? The three top genres according to a survey of 11th grade males were:

Adventure  81%

Humor         64%

Horror & Science Fiction  57%

One might question extrapolating from 11th grade males to adult males. From my own experience, I can say I don’t read fiction as an adult that I didn’t read as a boy. The genres, nor the subject matter hasn’t changed all that much — if at all.

What I’ve seen of late, especially amongst male indie writers, is the use of female protagonists in great numbers. In fact, I’m finding it difficult to find male protagonists anywhere in some of my favorite genres amongst new writers and new books.

I have nothing against a female protagonist. Certainly in the period from the twenties to the fifties, they were welcome — because there were so few. Today, the situation seems reversed. It’s difficult to find a strong male lead. I think that is why Lee Child’s Jack Reacher is so popular. He’s a strong male lead who allows men to fulfill some of their fantasies.

Perhaps the new wave of men writers have been seduced by the myth that men don’t read fiction. So they write what they think their female readers want to read. Or perhaps this new wave of men writers are of the opinion men want to read books with strong female leads. Perhaps.

However, the data would suggest otherwise.

Above I cited the top genres men like to read. Those genres do not occur anywhere near the top for female readers. Women prefer these genres:

Romance (no surprise here) 68%

Realistic Fiction Dealing with Relationships 65%

Mystery 59%

Realistic Fiction Dealing with Problems 57%

Humor 51%

So right off the bat, men writing science fiction with strong female leads, for example, have immediately narrowed their market. They aren’t tapping into their potential male audience, nor their potential female audience. Women tend not to read science fiction and, as we’ll see in a bit, men tend not to prefer female protagonists.

This is not to say men shouldn’t write science fiction with strong female leads. I’m just noting that in the quest for market share, one should be at least aware of what each gender reads and prefers. Why pick a narrow segment of readers, when a broader one exists? Especially for those crucial first few novels.

So what gender of protagonist do men and women prefer? Summers found in her survey of books cited as favorites by men that the gender of the protagonist was

Male — 64 books

Female — 8 books

Male & Female — 8 books

Men, it seems, tend to prefer books with male protagonists. Contrast this with the female readers surveyed

Male — 32 books

Female — 24 books

Male & Female — 6 books

The women surveyed were more evenly divided, although male protagonists also had the edge with them.

Another piece of interesting information Summers uncovered was that of the 60 authors the men in her survey chose as their favorite, 57 were men and 3 were women. On the other hand, the women’s favorite authors were 44 male and 19 female. Quite clearly, men have an almost total preference for male authors. While women are more fluid, but still prefer male authors over female.

I found this data quite surprising and the more I ponder it the more I’m convinced that this is a good day and age for men writers and protagonists who are men.

Which isn’t to say women authors don’t have a voice, nor is it to say women shouldn’t be protagonists.

What I think this data shows, is if we want to attract men to fiction we need to write what men want to read.

Men prefer adventure and humor by large margins. They also prefer male authors and male protagonists by very large margins. This is important data to keep in mind.

Lee Child became a best selling author with his Jack Reacher novels. Indie author Mark Dawson, who modeled his character John Milton after Jack Reacher, in the short span of three years went from nothing to gross receipts in the 7 figure range. That is something to think about.

Of course we can contrast that with, say, Janet Evanovich and her Stephanie Plum novels, which are immensely popular best sellers. However, note the genres: Jack Reacher and John Milton are adventure/thrillers and Stephanie is mystery. The first ranks high with men and the second with women. Although Mark Dawson’s research into who comprises his audience has found the numbers of men and women who read his John Milton novels to be evenly divided.

When I took a look at the protagonists in my own stories and novels, I found a preponderance of male protagonists. That written, The Rocheport Saga is populated with many female movers and shakers. The Justinia Wright mysteries feature a female private eye and her brother as “Watson”. A combo protagonist. And, of course, the Lady Dru novels have a female protagonist, with a female and male as secondary protagonists.

As a writer, I found the Lady Dru novels to be the more difficult to write. I wanted to write a convincing female protagonist and joked about having to get in touch with my inner woman. Whether or not I was successful, I’ll leave you to decide.

So what can we take away from this data? First, we must keep in mind that Ms Summers’s survey was small. As was the survey she cited by Constance Schultheis. Small surveys mean there is a possibility of a high margin of error. More surveys are needed to verify or reverse her results.

However, when I look at myself and my reading habits — I tend to follow the same preferences that were found in the surveyed males.

Secondly, I think we can take away the rather obvious observation that men and women have different preferences when it comes to reading fiction. As writers, paying attention to those differences and identifying who our primary audience is will be critical to our book marketing success.

Thirdly, men do read fiction. We men who are writers should not shy away from writing for men. To do so will limit our potential audience and who wants to do that?

I don’t know if there is a one size fits all solution. If there is, my guess is that it would be a combination of adventure and romance, with a touch of mystery and a dollop of humor. One could possibly substitute for romance realistic fiction dealing with relationships, as half the male readers surveyed by Schultheis cited a preference for that category (as well as a high percentage of female readers).

Otherwise, we writers might want to simply focus on two approaches: one oriented towards a male audience and one towards a female audience. Indie authors will be able to pull this off much more effectively than traditionally published authors, as publishing companies tend to put their writers into straightjackets when it comes to genre.

I hope you found this article of interest and help. As always, comments are welcome! And until next time, happy reading!

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The Brained Writer

A couple months ago, fellow author Jack Tyler wrote a blog post entitled “The Right-Brained Writer”. Part of the post dealt with Planners versus Pantsers. That is, those writers who plan the story out ahead of time and those who “fly by the seat of their pants”.

Jack wrote he was in the former camp. (I, by the way, am firmly in the latter one.) He went on to write because he was a Planner, he was right-brained. Could be. I don’t know. Supposedly, right-brain dominant people are creative and left-brain dominant are logical. I think writers are simply brained. They must be creative and they must be logical. Writers must be creative to make up their worlds and they must be logical, because in the real world things don’t have to make sense — but readers demand that a fictional world make total sense.

I think whether one is a Pantser or a Planner has more to do with one’s approach to life than whether one is creative or logic dominant. I don’t like authority. I strongly resist being told what to do. I like structure, but it must be organic rather than imposed. I see outlining as imposing structure, which to my mind is counter to the organic creation of story.

Planners, though, it seems to me, dominate academia. Plot your story is all I ever heard in writing classes. For Planners, outlining is a way to organize unruly thoughts. However, if you have to tell yourself the story to outline it — why don’t you just write it down?

I’ve tried outlining my stories. After all I was told I had to. My mind, however, totally freezes up. I can’t even finish the outline. I’ve tried brief sketches of chapters and scenes. I’ve tried storyboarding. Again, my mind freezes up and I can’t even finish sketching out the story. Trying to plan my writing nearly destroyed my nascent “career”. (I put career in quotes because at present I’m a hobbyist. Which means I ain’t making any money yet.)

I have more aborted writing projects than Carter’s famed little pills, or leaves to be raked off the lawn on a Minnesota autumn day. Planning didn’t work for me. In spite of all those well-meaning How-to books on writing.

The realization I was a Pantser came slowly. It started several years ago when I saw the movie The Remains of the Day. I liked it so much, I got and read the book. Then I read about the author, Kazuo Ishiguro, and learned about the “plotless” novel. That is, a novel that isn’t constructed around a plot, but is an extended character study. An extension of Ray Bradbury’s advice: create your characters, let them do their thing, and that’s your story. In other words, story is the outcome of who the characters are and their reactions to the problems we, the writers, throw at them. When I realized a novel could be “plotless”, I felt a burden fall from my shoulders.

In reality, let it be said, there is no such thing as a “plotless” novel. Why? Because plot = story — and all novels (or movies) tell a story. However, the focus of the so-called plotless novel is on the characters. The actual story is pretty thin and sometimes irrelevant. Watch a movie or two by Yasujiro Ozu. The story in each movie is pretty much the same. The focus is on how the different characters react to the circumstances. That is where the power and emotion lies.

After I learned about the plotless novel (or movie), I realized that as a reader I didn’t really care about the plot. I was fascinated by the characters in the story. If the author didn’t create compelling and memorable characters, I stopped reading.

Then I learned of Pantsers and Planners. Those terms didn’t exist, to my recollection, 50 years ago. Once I learned them, however, I realized right away I was a Pantser — and that I wasn’t alone! That realization was also very freeing.

There is no right or wrong way to write a story. There is only the particular author’s way. The one that works for that writer. I’ve read of writers who write chapter one, then write the last chapter, and then all the ones in the middle. I’ve read of writers who use a formula (like Lester Dent) and those who write a 100 page outline. There are those who sketch their idea out on the back of an envelope and then start typing. Each method works for that author. It won’t, in all likelihood, work for me. Doesn’t mean I shouldn’t give it a try, but the odds are I’ll either abandon it or adopt it with my own twist.

In the end, all I know is that — for me — outlining and planning out my story on paper kills the Muse.

So how do I write? Good question. One I’ve asked myself. Usually I just sit down and start writing. I have no problem coming up with story ideas. They are like falling rain or snow. I just have to collect them. A blank sheet of paper has never intimidated me. Back in high school and college I was very active in forensics (competitive speaking, debate, and the like). My particular strengths were extemporaneous and impromptu speaking. I guess that applies to my writing also.

However, the more I’ve thought about how I actually go about creating a story, the more I realized I do a fair amount of thinking and planning in my head. It’s all up there in the ol’ noggin, just not on paper. And it’s all very, very fluid.

I start where Bradbury advised: with the characters. For me, they are what drives me to write. Those people in my head clamoring for me to tell their story. Basically, I see myself as a stenographer who simply listens to the the tales I’m being told. Then with a little editing, fashion them into a coherent whole. Because no one tells their story in a coherent linear fashion.

Stories come to me in one of two ways: either a character springs forth, like Athena from Zeus’s forehead, or the germ of an idea or scene appears which I then people. I may do a little research to clear up points about the character or the setting. Then once I have that basic information I start writing. I’ll do additional research if needed along the way. I often joke I have one hand on the pencil writing and one on the keyboard doing research.

Lady Dru Drummond, for example, came to me after reading about the very real Lady Grace Hay Drummond-Hay, who was a Hearst reporter in the ‘20s, ‘30s, and early ‘40s until she was captured by the Japanese. Lady Dru is Lady Grace on steroids, as it were. A phenomenal woman made even more so for fiction. I then came up with a world to put Dru in, one in which World War Two never happened and the cold war is between the Allies and the Axis powers. I picked 1953 as a starting point for The Moscow Affair because that’s the year Stalin died. What a great time for the Czarists to attempt to take back the government. And then I started writing.

The Rocheport Saga began with a sentence that popped into my head. Out of the blue someone suddenly said, “Today I killed a man and a woman.”

I thought on that a bit and then a second sentence came to mind, and then a third, and a fourth. Pretty soon I had a whole paragraph given to me by my as yet unnamed protagonist. So who was it who was talking to me? Once I got that figured out, the rest of the story began to tell itself.

Justinia Wright and her brother, Harry, came to me after reading the Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine editor’s comment about the dearth (at that time) of female detectives. They are Holmes and Watson, Wolfe and Goodwin in the 21st Century Midwestern city of Minneapolis, with a touch of Phryne Fisher thrown in for good measure.

Writing mysteries, to my mind, are pretty easy. The detective either solves the case or he or she doesn’t. And readers usually demand that the case is satisfactorily solved. Do I write puzzles? Not intentionally. In fact Tina and Harry poo-poo mystery writers for coming up with all manner of unrealistic storylines. Real detective work is boring, they say. Yet, I don’t think they’ve had a boring case yet. Imagine that.

I love mysteries, but only those where the detective is an intriguing and realistically portrayed quirky person. Holmes isn’t “real”. Who do we know who is like him? Yet we love him. Nero Wolfe is even more removed from reality than Holmes, yet his adventures are still in print. In fact, Stout was a pretty hack mystery writer. What saves the day is that duo of Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. Their antics and escapades and run-ins with Inspector Cramer. Hercule Poirot is a refugee and yet he lives a very sumptuous lifestyle. How does he manage that? In addition, he is fraught with oddities and a whole lot of vanity.

The characters are what I love about mysteries. The puzzle is just there, in my opinion, to give them something to do. And I like just watching them try to solve it.

In the end, I think we writers are not left- or right-brain folk. I think we are simply brained. We use both sides in the creative process. And whichever side gives me those delightful people I write and dream about, doesn’t really matter. I’m just glad it’s there. My life is all the richer for their appearing. And I hope the same can be said for those who read my little stories.

Comments are always welcome! Until next time, happy reading!

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Two Year Anniversary

This month I celebrate two years being an independent author/publisher. Since November 2014, I’ve published 11 novels, 2 novellas, 2 collections of shorter works, and 6 short stories. Plus one flash fic was published by One for a Thousand ezine. I’ve had over 220 downloads of my books and stories and have made a wee bit over $500. Certainly not bestseller status nor am I making a king’s ransom.

However, I am published and I am selling books. If I’d gone the traditional route, I very well could still be looking for an agent. And most likely would be, as traditional publishers accept less than 300 new fiction authors each year. If one thinks the competition is stiff being an indie author/publisher, at least we’re competing for sales — not the “privilege” of being allowed entrance to the “club”.

So I’d have to say that my numbers are pretty decent. Especially considering I’ve done little advertising. And another thing to consider is that a mere 15 years ago, viable self-publishing on a large scale didn’t even exist. Thank you to Amazon and their Kindle and Apple and their iPad for making all this possible. Today we truly have desktop publishing.

However, as one can also see, if anyone is thinking self-publishing is the path to riches, think again. I know of indie authors who sell one or two copies a month. A lot of work for very small returns. As with any self-employment venture, it takes time, hard work, money, and patience before you begin to see a return. One writer recently told me it takes 5 to 7 years before a self-employment venture takes off — if it’s going to take off. Given that, I have 3 to 5 years of work ahead of me.

Aside from publishing books, I’ve spent the past year boning up on marketing. I had a bit of marketing in an economics class in high school some 50 years ago. Needless to say, I don’t remember much. I sunk over $600 into Mark Dawson’s Facebook Advertising for Authors course and I learned a lot. I think the course was worth the money. I’ve also taken numerous free courses and read a few books.

What I’ve realized is an indie author/publisher is a business. A self-employed business. A self-employed direct marketing business. Therefore I must think like a self-employed direct marketing businessman. Not as an artist. Otherwise, I don’t stand much of a chance of succeeding. And I certainly don’t want to not succeed. At the very least, I hope to recoup my initial costs and be able to break even on the ongoing costs. Sure I’d like more, but I’ll be satisfied to at least break even.

What does the next year hold? I’ve been giving it a lot of thought. Certainly more writing and publishing.

Early in the new year, I’ll bring out the seventh volume in The Rocheport Saga. I’m also hard at work on the next Justinia Wright novel. In addition I have two adventures for Lady Dru I’m champing at the bit to get written. Plus I have a partially written time travel adventure I’d like to finish. That’s on the fiction side.

Over the past year I’ve been thinking about non-fiction. My sister racks up at least 10 sales a month on her art therapy book without fail. And she does absolutely no advertising. Statistically (data from AuthorEarnings.com) non-fiction is the second largest category after romance for book sales. Very old advice from back in the day before the internet said non-fiction was the way to go if one wanted steady income to put food on the table, pay the rent, and buy clothes. Apparently that advice is still valid.

So I’ve been thinking about writing some non-fiction. What would I write about? That is a good question. For many years now I’ve been fascinated by the concept of simple living and how groups and individuals have gone about simplifying their lives. I’m also very much interested in silence and solitude, both as a spiritual exercise and one to simply bring tranquility to one’s daily life. And ever since high school I’ve admired Stoic philosophy. Stoicism not only touches on simple living and inner tranquility, but I believe holds the key for how we in the 21st century can best realize our potential. I think Stoicism is a far better practice for we Westerners than the eastern philosophies and faiths.

If I decide to go the non-fiction route, I’ll probably write on what I’ve noted above. Self-help books related to silence and solitude, simple living, and Stoicism for the 21st century. Stay tuned!

The past two years have been fun, a bit frustrating, an educational experience, and very rewarding. There is nothing that can beat being your own person, in control of your own destiny.

Mark Dawson started publishing a year before I did. He now pulls in seven figures. That’s a lot of cash. He’s worked hard and invested a LOT of money in his self-publishing enterprise. So the rewards are out there, if one is willing to work at it.

I’m also going to work on the business end. Because that’s what Dawson did. He wrote books and advertised the heck out of them. But first he built up his mailing list. So that is my next step. Grow my mailing list from the 21 it’s currently at to… Well, as high as I can. Two, three, four, ten, twenty, thirty thousand. However high it gets.

Write and publish books — keep the product coming, build the mailing list, and market. That’s what’s in store for me for next year.

And I’m very excited about it!

As always, I look forward to your comments! Until next time, happy reading!

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