Anthony Trollope on Speed Writing

At every turn, indie writers are encouraged and urged and pressured to write faster. Quality seems to be a second thought. Just as long as thousands of words are written every day, the indie writer is told he or she is on the first step to success.

Books abound telling us how to write faster. The following appeared on the first page of an Amazon search: 2K to 10K, Fast Fiction, Write Fast, 5000 Words Per Hour. And of course the authors of these books are making money hand over fist by telling us how to write faster. But none of the authors of those books are in the same league as Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope, Stephen King, Sandra Brown or Dean Koontz. Generally speaking the writers of how-to books don’t make their living by writing fiction. They make their money telling wannabe writers how to write. And that should be a warning to us all.

There is no secret to writing fast. To put it bluntly, all one needs to do is to park one’s butt in a chair for a set amount of time, cut the distractions, and write. As Australian science fiction and fantasy writer Patty Jansen has said, 1000 finished words each day will produce at least four novels per year. At the end of three years a writer could have four three-book series for sale. That is a solid step in the direction of writing for a living.

Four weeks ago I mentioned Anthony Trollope’s method for producing three-quarters of a million words per year. In his own day, the Victorian novelist was known as The Writing Machine. In an era when artists were supposed to work by inspiration, Trollope quite baldly and boldly showed that successful artists work by perspiration. Let’s expand a bit on Trollope’s method.

Anthony Trollope viewed writing just like any other business. To be successful, one had to have goals and then set up a plan to meet those goals.

In several different chapters of his Autobiography, Trollope gives us a window into his working life as a successful author. I recommend that every writer read Anthony Trollope’s Autobiography. It’s available for free at Project Gutenberg.

Goals

Trollope’s overall goal was to be a successful author, which by his definition meant he had to earn a livable wage from writing.

The first step in achieving that goal was to write books. For each novel, Trollope set a date for the novel to be completed and submitted to a publisher.

To hold himself accountable, he kept a writing diary and recorded his progress in it. In that way he didn’t have to guess if he was making progress towards his goal. He knew how much he had written every day. He also knew if he was slacking off. The diary was his production manager.

By setting a goal, Trollope had made a commitment. We all know the benefit of setting goals. We also know the benefit of being held accountable to reach those goals. Trollope held himself accountable by means of his writing diary and his desire to earn a livable wage from his writing.

In the end, we are the ones who are responsible for our own success.

Write Every Morning

To achieve his greater goal, Anthony Trollope set smaller goals. Goals that could be achieved every day, and thereby be an encouragement to him.

He set aside three hours every morning as his writing time. This was a daily goal.

He got up at 5:30 AM, spent the first half-hour reviewing the previous day’s production, then wrote for the remaining 2 1/2 hours. Afterwards, he dressed, ate breakfast, and went to his day job at the post office.

Why write in the morning? Why not in the evening? Trollope doesn’t specifically tell us. However, he was a very busy man. He had a family and a full-time job. He was a social person and, after a day at the post office, he’d go to the club, visit with friends, play whist, and two or more times a week he’d go fox hunting.

Practically speaking, that only left mornings in which to write — and early mornings at that.

Psychologically, though, writing first thing in the morning says something else. It says we value it above everything else in our day. It’s so valuable that we make sure we get it done before we do anything else. Even eating breakfast. Whether Trollope realized it or not he was telling himself that writing was the most important thing in his life.

Lawrence Block noted he was fresher first thing in the morning. The issues of the day hadn’t filled up his mind yet. So in addition to the psychological value, writing first thing in the morning means we get to start with a clean slate — and thereby hopefully produce our best work.

Write To The Clock

It’s one thing to get up at 5:30 AM to write and it’s another thing entirely to produce something in the three hours you’ve set aside to write.

Trollope left nothing to chance. To sit and stare at the wall or out the window, waiting for inspiration to strike, was not the Trollope way. He was a busy man. He had to make the most of his time. And make the most of it, he did.

After reviewing the previous day’s work, Trollope took out his watch and set it on the table. He took out a sheet of paper, dipped his steel dip pen into the ink pot, and commenced writing.

Writing 250 words per page, he turned out one page of his novel every 15 minutes. One thousand words per hour. Two thousand five hundred words, or 10 manuscript pages, by the time his morning writing session was over.

By setting both a daily goal and an hourly goal, Trollope could gauge his progress. And we all know how exhilarating even small successes can be.

By writing to the clock, Trollope produced 47 novels, 17 works of nonfiction, 2 plays, 44 short stories, in addition to numerous articles, lectures, and letters. And all that in the span of 35 years, from 1847 (when his first novel was published) to December 1882 (when he died).

Summary

How did Anthony Trollope produce a full-time writer’s output only writing part-time?

He made efficient use of his time. In a nutshell, this is his method:

  • Write at a set time every day.
  • Write for a set amount of time every day.
  • Write a set amount of words in that time every day.
  • Set a deadline for the work to be completed.
  • Keep a diary of your progress to inspire you or chastise you.

Two thousand five hundred words each day will give you 912,500 words a year. That’s seven 120,000 novels. Or eleven 80,000 word novels. Or eighteen 50,000 word novels.

Honestly, does anyone need to produce more than that in one year?

As always, comments are welcome! And until next time, happy reading (and writing)!

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Anthony Trollope: The Writer’s Writer, Part 2

Last week I wrote that the Victorian writer Anthony Trollope is my writing mentor. He is the one who keeps my feet on the ground when it comes to writing and advice and writing fads.

This week I would like to continue exploring what today’s indie authors can learn from Anthony Trollope. Let’s look at a few more areas where he can teach us valuable lessons.

Gadgets

Lots of writers spend lots of money on all manner of gadgets and software to help them write. I think it is an age thing. Those who grew up with computers are more likely to be attracted to gadgets to help them write.

But gadgets do not make the writer.

Trollope wrote with a steel dip pen, ink, and paper. That’s it. No Scrivener. No Dragon. No Hemingway Editor. No classes to learn how to use Scrivener. And certainly no computer.

We don’t need gadgets to write well. We might think we do because we live in an age filled with gadgets. What we really need to write well, is to know how to tell a story. And sad to say, gadgets can’t help us with that.

There is plenty of evidence that shows writing by hand will produce a superior product. And Trollope has shown us that we can produce 10 books a year simply by using pen and paper.

We don’t need gadgets and we don’t need to spend the money to buy the gadgets or learn how to use them. Writers write.

Beats, Structure, and Formulae

Many of my fellow writers obsess over how to tell the story. They get all wrapped up in making sure they have all of the story beats that somebody told them they needed. Or they struggle to fit their story into three-act structure or five-act structure. Or they slavishly follow Lester Dent’s formula or Freitag’s Pyramid.

To my mind this is all crazy. It’s a waste of time. Most of it anyway. We all know conflict drives a story. The conflict can be external or internal. The conflict can be subtle or violent. We know we have to batter our protagonist until he or she reaches down deep to draw on that inner strength that enables him or her to triumph.

So do it. Just tell the doggone story.

Once again, Trollope shows us how to do it. In his Autobiography, Chapter 5, he wrote:

“[The Warden] has a merit of its own,—a merit by my own perception of which I was enabled to see wherein lay whatever strength I did possess. The characters of the bishop, of the archdeacon, of the archdeacon’s wife, and especially of the warden, are all well and clearly drawn. I had realised to myself a series of portraits, and had been able so to put them on the canvas that my readers should see that which I meant them to see. There is no gift which an author can have more useful to him than this.”

Characters. Well drawn and believable characters. That’s what it’s all about. They’re the secret to telling your story. Not beats or formulae. Ray Bradbury put it this way: create your characters, let them do their thing, and there’s your story.

We can spend all the time we want making sure X happens at the one fifth mark of the book and that Y happens at the one third mark of the book. That the mirror point happens precisely at the 50% mark. Etc. etc.

None of that makes for a good story unless one has good characters. As Trollope noted in the seventh chapter of his Autobiography:

“A novel should give a picture of common life enlivened by humour and sweetened by pathos. To make that picture worthy of attention, the canvas should be crowded with real portraits, not of individuals known to the world or to the author, but of created personages impregnated with traits of character which are known. To my thinking, the plot is but the vehicle for all this; and when you have the vehicle without the passengers, a story of mystery in which the agents never spring to life, you have but a wooden show.”

Sure there has to be a story, and Trollope admits this, but the story, the plot, is secondary to the characters. Plot exists in order to bring out the characters of the story. Characters that come across as real. Characters that make us laugh and tug at our heartstrings.

Therefore, create good characters, throw problems at them, and let them do their thing. Letting a story unfold organically will always lead to a better story then one forced into some kind of mold.

Reviews

Writers today obsess about reviews. If they get one bad review, their world seems to fall apart.

Let’s face facts. There are going to be people who don’t like what we write. There are going to be people who love what we write. And there are going to be people who think our writing is okay but no great shakes.

That’s the name of the game. And to top it off, the public is a very fickle creature. What’s hot today will be cold tomorrow.

Trollope had his share of adverse publisher and reader reactions. His first three books sold nothing. As in zero copies. At least that Trollope was aware of. In fact, he didn’t even get paid for the first two because apparently the publisher didn’t make any money. For his third book he received a £20 advance. And that was all the money he ever saw for it. Again, because the publisher didn’t make any money on it.

After those debacles, Trollope didn’t doubt that he should try to be a writer. He accepted the public’s opinion that they didn’t like those books and decided to try his hand at a play. When his friends told him to go back to novel writing he accepted that too. But he never doubted that he could be a writer. And that’s important. He had self-confidence. He just had to identify what the problem was that other people were signifying that he had.

And the problem for Trollope turned out to be subject matter. Apparently the English public wasn’t ready for Irish novels, or historical novels (at least how Trollope wrote them).

So Trollope turned to writing a contemporary novel set in a fictional English cathedral city. With The Warden, his fourth novel, Anthony Trollope finally made some money. In two years, he made a little over £20 from royalties. Or about $2700 in today’s money. Two years later, Barchester Towers was published, for which he received an advance of £100.

Trollope had finally achieved success. He hit on a subject the English reading public liked. His strength was in writing contemporary novels about the people in his own class. And he did it well. Mostly because his characters are so delightful.

The lesson for us is if we wish to make money writing, then we need to write what we know and write what resonates with the market.

Many writers eschew writing to market. They somehow think that sullies their reputation or the literary quality of what they write. But stop and think about this for a moment. Shakespeare wrote to market. Dickens wrote to market. Longfellow, about the only poet who ever made a living from poetry, wrote to market. There is nothing wrong with writing to market, unless one does a very bad job of it. And unfortunately there are writers who do.

Writing to market simply means you’re writing books or short stories that people want to read. Trollope’s Irish novels are very good, but no one in the 1840s wanted to read them. Trollope loved Ireland and could have written lots more Irish novels, but he wanted to make a living from writing and knew that if he persisted in writing Irish novels he would not be able to accomplish his goal. So he eventually turned to writing about the other thing he knew — his own class, and the reading public devoured his books.

Regardless of what he wrote, Trollope’s goal was to write the best book that he could. Shouldn’t that be our goal? And does the genre or subject matter truly matter that much?

If you like science fiction, and military science fiction is all the rage, then write the best military science fiction novel that you can. Trollope didn’t especially love English cathedral cities. But he knew the setting would enable him to write about the people he knew and from that produce good books. If we want to be successful, doesn’t Trollope’s attitude and approach make sense?

When we get bad reviews, we should look at what the people are really saying. Maybe they’re telling us something, and maybe we need to take heed of what they’re telling us. Trollope did, and went on to become a very successful author.

Anthony Trollope is a person who can show us how to triumph in adversity, set a dream for ourselves, and through perseverance and astute observation achieve that dream.

You can get Anthony Trollope’s Autobiography for free at Project Gutenberg. It’s a marvelous handbook for success.

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

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Anthony Trollope: The Writer’s Writer, Part 1

The Victorian writer Anthony Trollope is my writing mentor. He is the one who keeps my feet on the ground when it comes to writing and writing fads. For even though he lived in the 19th century (1815-1882), he was very much a 21st century indie author in sentiment.

In his own day, he was a popular novelist. Not on par with the likes of Dickens or Thackeray, nevertheless his name was more or less a household word. He wrote what would probably be called today slice-of-life mainstream fiction. Novels about the goings on of upper-class English society, for the most part. His books tend to be light, have plenty of humor, and a healthy dollop of social satire.

What can today’s indie authors learn from Anthony Trollope? Just about everything to guide and direct our attitude and to developing a methodology towards maintaining a writing career.

Let’s look at a few areas where I see my fellow authors struggling to come to grips with the writing life and where Trollope can teach us valuable lessons.

Quitting the Day Job

On Facebook group after Facebook group, I see my fellow writers in a frenzy to write and sell enough in order to quit the day job and write full-time. And in this frenzy they fall victim to all manner of hucksters selling (operative word here) services and advice. (NB: I don’t mean all the middlemen catering to writers are hucksters. Just remember, though, PT Barnum’s quip: a sucker is born every minute. We should strive to not be the suckers.)

Anthony Trollope, on the other hand, shows us we can write full time by writing part-time.

Anthony Trollope was a busy man. He worked full time at the post office (he invented the iconic British pillar mailbox). He was a social man. He went hunting at least twice a week, frequently played whist, visited with friends, and spent at least six weeks out of England on holiday. He was also married and had a family. He was a very busy man indeed! He did all of that and devoted three hours every day to writing, which he did in the morning before going to work.

And from those three hours each day of writing he produced a large body of work. In the course of a 35 year writing career he produced 47 novels, 44 short stories, 17 books of nonfiction, 20 articles, 2 plays, plus numerous letters.

Anthony Trollope proves one does not have to quit the day job to be a full-time writer. Because one can be a full-time writer writing only part-time.

Productivity

Go to any Facebook writer’s group and at some point a discussion will arise regarding writing speed and daily word production. One can find books on how to produce 5000 or 10,000 words a day. Of course those books are for sale, which gives us an idea as to how those authors earn their living. One of the latest fads on how to get more production is dictating one’s novel. And the fads keep on coming.

In the end, the only way to produce a high word count each day is to put your butt in your chair and write. Avoid distractions and write.

One hundred sixty years ago, Anthony Trollope showed us a very simple way to produce enough words in a year to be a prolific author. In his own day, Trollope was known as The Writing Machine.

He got up at 5:30 AM to began his three hour stint at writing. The first half-hour was spent reviewing the previous day’s work.

Then he put his watch on his desk and began writing for 2 1/2 hours. Trollope’s goal was to write one page, 250 words, every 15 minutes. At the end of his writing session, he’d have 10 pages or 2500 words.

If a writer today maintained Trollope’s pace every day for a year, he or she would have written 912,500 words. That’s very close to what Dean Wesley Smith calls “Pulp Speed” (which is writing over 1 million words per year). Those 912,500 words are enough for ten or eleven 80,000 word novels. Seriously folks, do we need to produce more than that in a year?

Trollope proves no writer needs to resort to Herculean efforts to produce a sizable body of fiction. Ten novels a year writing part-time is nothing to sneeze at.

Rewriting

Part of the key to high word counts is not rewriting and minimal editing.

Anthony Trollope did not rewrite. He also essentially did no editing. When he finished a manuscript he was for all intents and purposes finished with it. He sold it to the publisher as is. If the publisher did any editing after they got the manuscript, we don’t know. I doubt they did a lot, because mid-series in The Barchester Chronicles Trollope changed the name of one of his characters. He didn’t catch it and neither did the editor, if there was one.

As Dean Wesley Smith points out in his blog post on pulp speed writing, prolific authors don’t rewrite. They basically don’t have time to invest that much effort into any given manuscript. The prolific writer writes, it’s as simple as that. The goal isn’t perfection, the goal is production of decent and acceptable work.

I hear writers all the time talking about the number of edits they put a manuscript through, the number of beta reads, and how many professional editors they hire. Whereas, if they had gotten the manuscript right the first time they could’ve saved themselves a lot of time and money. And maybe even written another book.

Now I’m not advocating for sloppiness. I take pride in my work and while I don’t rewrite I do perform a modicum of editing. I make sure that I catch as many typos as I can and get rid of as many clunky sentences as I can. Which is basically what the pulp fiction writers did. And Anthony Trollope was setting the pattern long before the pulp fiction era.

Get in practice to write it right the first time. Academicians, who don’t make their living by writing, have spun the myth that the first draft is crap. There are scores of writers who made and make their living writing who say that advice is crap.

Write so your story is right when it goes on paper the first time. It saves time and money in the long run and time and money equals more books, which means more money — for you.

Next week we’ll continue our look at what Anthony Trollope can teach us writers in the 21st century.

Trollope is a person who can show us how to triumph in adversity, set a dream for ourselves, and through perseverance and astute observation achieve that dream.

You can get Anthony Trollope’s Autobiography for free at Project Gutenberg. It’s a marvelous handbook for success.

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

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The Mars-Venus Thing, Part 2

                             Mars vs Venus

Men are from Mars and women are from Venus, so it’s said. Mark Gungor’s “Tale of Two Brains” humorously describes this difference.

Last week, I began taking a look at these differences and how they affect fiction writers. I concluded with the idea that men who read fiction are the collateral damage of the contemporary fiction scene.

This week, I want to look deeper into the notion men don’t read fiction. Before I do, I’d like you to read two articles. They are excellent and describe the problem eloquently. The first is by Jason Pinter and the second is by Porter Anderson.

Okay, now that you’ve gotten the background material, let’s look at what those two men have to say about men and fiction and what the ramifications are for indies.

Big corporate publishers believe the maxim “Men Don’t Read”. Consequently they don’t publish for men or market towards men. As Pinter points out, when there aren’t many books on the market for men to read, they’re going to do something else with their time.

While Pinter excoriates Big Publishing concerning men and reading in general, Anderson focuses on fiction. Where the bias is even greater. In fact, Anderson’s statements regarding his own and men’s attitudes in general are supported by Kate Summers in her study. (Here’s a pdf version where the tables are visible.)

As Mark Gungor would say, men have a drawer labelled “fiction”. As writers, I think we need to fill it.

Since men prefer men authors (prefer is the operative word here), it seems only logical men should write for men; at least some of the time. But do they?

Hugh Howey’s protagonist in Wool is female.

Felix Savage’s protagonist in the first three books of his Sol System Renegades series is female, and a lesbian to boot.

Michael Anderle’s protagonist is female.

TS Paul’s protagonists are female.

The list can go on and on. If men readers say they prefer men writers and men main characters (as Summers notes in her article), why aren’t we men indie writers writing for them? That is the question we need to be asking ourselves.

Mark Dawson’s survey of his mailing list (some 60,000 persons at present), revealed that readers of his John Milton series are evenly split amongst men and women. Proving Summers’s survey to be spot on: while men favor men, women are much more eclectic in their reading preferences. As Mark Gungor notes: men are not as flexible as women; it has to do with how our brains work. And we all know men are lousy at multi-tasking.

Today’s cozy mystery field is, like romance, dominated by women. Women writers and women protagonists, with the requisite love story.

However, once upon a time men wrote cozies and with men as the protagonists. A few examples:

  • David Crossman with his Winston Crisp series.
  • William L DeAndrea’s Matt Cobb series.
  • Edmund Crispin and his Gervase Fen mysteries.

And there are others. Today, however, men have abandoned the field to women. Or perhaps the big corporate giants pushed the men out and indies followed suit.

Mark Coker’s Smashwords is heavily biased towards romance. From his own survey, half of his catalog consists of romance novels and 73% of the top 200 bestsellers on Smashwords are romance. It is well-known that Coker is cozy with romance writer organizations. Why? Perhaps he, too, believes men don’t read fiction. And wants to go where he thinks the money is.

It’s my desire to see us indies get out from under the publishing bias of the corporate giants and start catering to both sexes. After all, if half your potential market is men and the other half women, why not write for both? I mean, seriously, who wants just half a pie?

One way to do that is to have a man and woman as a dual protagonist. Men will go for the combo and so will women. Certainly a win-win to my thinking.

For cozy mysteries, the female amateur sleuth can hook up with a guy in the first book. And then in subsequent books, the two solve the crimes together. That would satisfy the romance part and would provide a strong draw for men readers.

The problem this attitude of everything for females in the fiction world causes for young men and boys is that they are turned off to reading. “It’s for girls.” “It’s for sissies.” And the drawer marked “Reading” remains closed. And perhaps never opens.

As Anderson points out in his article, ebooks just might be the best thing that could happen to men. We can read anonymously. Which is really what most of us men want. Yet, indie authors, who primarily publish ebooks, seem to be mainly writing for women. ‘Tis a pity.

Or perhaps indie men authors genuinely think men want to read about kick-ass hot women main characters. There might be some truth to that.

The pulp market of the 20s, 30s, and 40s certainly understood the power of a scantily-clad heroine being rescued by the hero. However, today’s writers seem to forget the hero. Adolescent boys and young men are into wish fulfillment. As Kate Summers notes, almost half of the men surveyed need to identify with the main character. If there is only the heroine, where is the wish fulfillment? If there isn’t any, the guys go elsewhere. Once again, reading is for the female of the species.

Independent authors are independent. We are the ones to buck the corporate giants and their preconceived notions. Unfortunately, the “get rich quick” crowd has flooded the indie field and lost somewhere in the quagmire is the male reader. Because we all know men don’t read fiction. BULL.

I have a friend who says he prefers non-fiction. Then he’ll go on and list novel after novel he’s read and asks if I’ve read it. He prefers non-fiction. Yeah, right.

The male reading public awaits. From grade school readers to us old guys. Give us books men can relate to.

One more example. Of the nine cozy mysteries I’ve recently read, all of the protagonists were women and three of the four writers were women. I enjoyed most of the books. They were light entertainment. Disposable reading.

I recently read a short story with a male protagonist, “01134” by Crispian Thurlborn. The story was profound. It was profound because mano a mano I saw something of myself in the main character and Thurlborn’s powerful writing made the experience alive. The story was “entertainment” in a philosophical, thought-provoking, and emotional manner. Definitely not disposable reading.

Indie writers, please don’t forget us men who love to read fiction. And there are a lot more of us than you think.

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

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The New Pulp Era

 

Are indie authors the pulp fiction writers of the 21st century?

That question came to me in response to a comment JazzFeathers made on my May 2nd post about indie author TS Paul. She wrote that it seemed to her the indie movement is “a new incarnation of the pulp magazines”. I think she’s on the money.

Before I start, let me emphasize that as a reader I find that most authors, the vast majority of authors, are average. They tell a decent story and that’s about it. It doesn’t matter if the author is published by the Big 5, small press, or is self-published.

We readers, I think, operate under the delusion that the big corporate publishers publish only good books. However, that’s not so. Why? Because most authors in their catalogs are mid-listers. Which means the publisher is taking a gamble on them that they might, possibly, maybe make a buck for the publisher. Most don’t and the publisher is not shy about giving those authors the boot.

The big corporate publishers are ruthless. The bottom line is king. Money, money, money.

The pulp era was a golden age for readers and writers. The pulp magazines were cheap entertainment and they proliferated like mushrooms after a rain. And every wannabe writer rose to the challenge to provide the magazines with stories.

We remember the giants. The Lovecrafts, the Howards, the Blochs. We’ve forgotten such as Seabury Quinn, Donald Wandrei, Frank Gruber, Carl Jacobi, Manley Wade Wellman, and Mary Elizabeth Counselman. And the list of the forgotten would go on for far too many pages.

But we don’t even have to go back as far as the pulp era to find forgotten authors. Who today reads E.M. Delafield, or Shirley Jackson, Pearl S Buck, Patricia Highsmith, Margaret Millar, Jay Flynn, or Cornell Woolrich? None of them are bad. They’re just mostly forgotten.

Most writers are average; and, dare I say, mediocre? But that doesn’t mean they can’t deliver a decent and entertaining story. I still remember Stanton A. Coblentz’s Hidden World 45 years after reading it. I still remember Men, Martians, and Machines by Eric Frank Russell — a book I read in elementary school 50+ years ago. They still have a hold on my memory.

Today’s indie authors are the reincarnation of the pulp era writer. They write fast, publish often, and don’t care about perfection. Why not perfection? First, it doesn’t exist; second, it gets in the way of producing lots of decent work; and third, it gets in the way of making a buck. Indie authors are writing to make money. Just like Shakespeare. Although few authors anywhere reach the lofty heights of The Bard.

From a reader’s perspective, a writer’s being average isn’t bad. Those average writers produce the bulk of the fiction we read. If the book is decent, then we feel satisfied. I mean, how many movies or TV shows are stellar? Most are ho-hum to average. And a great many, let’s face it, suck.

As a reader, I love the indie revolution. I’ve discovered great writers out there. And I dare say not a single corporate publisher would have gambled on any of them. I’ve also discovered writers who didn’t inspire me and who I won’t buy anymore books from. The market does tend to weed out the chaff.

Conversely, I’ve gotten sick of being taken for a ride by the corporate giants. I won’t read anymore Lee Child. Uninspired and boring. The same for the Quiller novels. The first couple were okay. After that they’re all the same. I’m finished with Sara Paretsky, Marcia Muller, Cara Black, and Sue Grafton. They started out great and quickly went downhill. The books are simply too expensive for the little they deliver.

This is a great time to be a reader. I love it. There are so many good books out there. Many of them quite cheap, making for satisfyingly inexpensive entertainment.

Instead of TV or the movies, read a book with your family, spouse, partner, kids, or a friend. Books truly are the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Comments are always welcome, and, until next time, happy reading!

Oh, here is the link to Cinder — it is a #mustread!!

 

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The Writer’s Magic Marketing Machine

We writers are constantly looking for the magic formula for success. We want to quit our day jobs and live off of the bucks flowing from our pens or keyboards. The success of J K Rowling, Stephen King, Danielle Steel, Tom Clancy, and others, fuels our imagination and dreams.

But what is the key to success? What is that magic formula? Is it social media? Or Facebook ads? Or maybe Amazon ads? Perhaps it’s paid reviews, such as Kirkus.

Or maybe indie success story Hugh Howey is right: there is no magic formula and success is just dumb luck. Keep writing and hopefully you’ll sell something.

I jumped into the self-publishing pond in 2014. Mostly because I’d read too many horror stories of writers getting screwed by publishers and agents. But also because being 64 I don’t have time to wait around for someone else to decide if I’m good enough or not. Let the public decide.

So in November 2014 I published 4 books and 2 more in December and waited for the money to roll in. It didn’t. It dribbled in and the dribble gradually turned into the occasional drip.

I looked for the magic formula to jumpstart sales. Unfortunately, I quickly discovered magic doesn’t exist.

However, amongst all the noise pretending to be magic, the successful indie authors continued to be of one accord. To have any hope for success, writers need to:

  • write well
  • write lots, preferably in series
  • publish often

What wasn’t said was how to put those things into a coherent plan and they didn’t mention anything about a mailing list. In the early days, I don’t think a mailing list was necessary. Today it is. The independent author/publisher is basically no different than a mail order company. And they succeed or fail on their mailing list. I spent $700 to learn that tidbit. Now I just saved you some money.

Nevertheless, how to do what the successful writers did remained a mystery.

About a month ago, I discovered author Patty Jansen’s key to success. It is the best formula I’ve found in the couple of years I’ve spent looking for the magic marketing machine. Her post — The Three-Year, No-Bestseller Plan To A Sustainable Income From Self-Publishing — is a must read for any writer who wants to make a living from writing.

There is no magic wand, my writer friends. There is only hard work and maybe, possibly, hopefully success. What I found encouraging — supremely encouraging — in Patty’s post was she has never had a bestseller. Yet, she makes 3K-5K/month (2016) and noted that her income has doubled every year. I have lived comfortably on 60K/year.

I don’t want to rehash her post here because it’s best if you read if for yourself and contemplate on it. However, I do want to emphasize a few points. Patty wrote that in order to succeed writers need to

  • write well
  • write lots
  • write in series
  • publish often
  • build a mailing list

It goes without saying writers need to write well, and the only way to learn how to write is by writing. Not rewriting, not editing, but writing. Edgar Rice Burroughs (the guy who created Tarzan) supposedly said if you write one story you have an almost 100% chance of failure and if you write 100 stories you have an almost 100% chance of having at least one success.

An indie writer needs to write lots. We are the 21st century’s version of the pulp fiction writers of the ‘20s, ‘30s, and ‘40s. Those writers had to write lots if they wanted to pay the rent and put food on their table. They didn’t have time for oodles of rewrites and edits. Robert Heinlein noted that one should never edit unless the editor makes you. Writers write.

Indie authors need to write in series. Doing so generates traction and keeps one’s name in front of the reader. As does publishing often.

And we need to build a mailing list. After all, what would we do if Amazon suddenly changed the rules and was no longer indie friendly? Most of us would be in a world of hurt. But not so much if we had a mailing list of devoted fans.

Patty’s post gives more detail and you, my writer friends, need to read it and embrace it.

In fact, her post completely revolutionized my thinking. Suddenly I had a workable game plan to follow. Where I had been wandering in the wilderness, I now had a GPS with destination keyed in. Hopefully, by 2020 I’ll be making some bucks from my writing.

I’m lucky. Being retired I have a lot of time in which to write and work on marketing. Being retired also means I have an income coming in that I don’t have to work to get. Which means I can get by very nicely with 20K or 30K from my writing. It would make a super supplement. I won’t turn down more by any means. After all, my dream car is a Rolls Royce.

Read Patty’s post and follow it. Save yourself some time and a pile of money. It’s a super simple solution to the question ‘What do I need to do to make a living from my writing.’

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

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Spice In The Writer’s Life

Today, the Big 5 Publishers want writers to write one thing. If I write private detective murder mysteries, that’s all the Big 5 want me to write. Why? Because they want a known commodity in their stable. Especially if my mysteries sell.

For a very long time now, writers have gotten around that particular publisher restriction by using pen names. Or by going to a different publisher. Although as publishing houses merge, that option is vanishing.

Of course, the independent author/publisher has no such constraints and can publish whatever he or she wants. Although “conventional” wisdom argues that it’s easier to create a “brand” if one publishes only in one genre. I think branding is hogwash, but that’s a subject for another post.

The question is are there multi-genre authors? And the answer is a resounding — YES! In fact, there have pretty much always been multi-genre authors.

Who are some of these writers? Let’s name a few:

H.G. Wells, Georgette Heyer, Iain [M] Banks, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Ken Follett, Stephen King, Roald Dahl, Arthur Ransome, Isaac Asimov, Dan Simmons, Anthony Trollope, Doris Lessing, George Orwell, Margaret Atwood, Nora Roberts/JD Robb, John Updike, Walter Tevis, Jerome Charyn, Ardath Mayhar, Lucius Annaeus Seneca

And the list goes on.

So why do writers write in more than one genre? I can only answer for myself. The reason I write in more than one genre is so that I don’t get bored.

Variety, as they say, is the spice of life. It shakes things up, it broadens our horizons, gives us a larger perspective on life.

I have a wide range of interests. My reading reflects that range and I talked about that last week. And so does my writing. Because I basically write what I like to read.

Currently, I write private detective mysteries, post-apocalyptic fiction, dieselpunk alternative history action/adventure, and horror (both psychological and supernatural). In the future, I have plans for writing space opera, historical science fiction novels, cozy mysteries, fantasy, and non-fiction, as well as more of the above.

Of course the rub comes when we talk about marketing, because not all readers are the same. Some just devour romances, or mysteries, or mainstream novels. Others do read more than one genre. So with readers having their expectations and writers wanting to do their thing, what’s the answer?

For myself, I have to write what I’m interested in and what I like to read. I also have to take into consideration that I rapidly lose interest if I have to do the same thing over and over again. I love Tina and Harry in the Justinia Wright mystery series, but if I only wrote about them I’d soon get bored.

And then there is the idea machine. It never stops and is constantly stimulated by everything going on around me. Just the other day, while preparing lunch, I got an idea for a post-apocalyptic novel and a forbidden love novel. That happens all the time. Do I throw those ideas away? No. I save them and often sketch out the idea so I don’t forget it. Because even though at present I have four projects I’m working on, I won’t always have those four projects and I’ll want to start a new one.

Hopefully my readers will like all that I write because they like my style and relate to my worldview. Hopefully. However, I realize a good many will not. And that’s okay.

Another reason writers might write in more than one genre is to capture a larger share of readers. If I write mysteries and horror and science fiction, I have three large reader audiences, as well as those who might cross over. More readers, potentially means more money. And most writers write because they want to tell stories for a living.

Please take a look at my novels page and see the range of what I write. Hopefully, if you haven’t already, you’ll find something to pique your interest. And hopefully in the next year or two some of the other ideas that are in the cooker will be ready to serve up for readers’s enjoyment.

Lawrence Block writes mysteries and thrillers. But over the years he’s begun and ended many series. He says all he can through a character and moves on to a new one. Frustrating as it is for me the reader, it’s what Block has to do to stay fresh in his chosen genre. Which really isn’t any different than a writer who writes in two or more genres or simply switches genres.

Let me know if you read more than one genre and know of authors who write in more than one. Your comments are always welcome! And until next time, happy reading!

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Good Writing Means Good Reading

Don’t you love a good book? One that draws you in and lets you forget the day to day? I certainly do and I think you do too. In fact, reading is my preferred form of entertainment. I’d rather read than do just about anything else, except perhaps eat and drink tea.

But what is a “good book”? That is a difficult question. It’s like trying to define “beautiful”. There is no objective answer. Which means the answer is subjective. In other words, it’s personal.

What is a good book for me, may not be for you.

But in order to have good books to read, there have to be books that are well written. On that I think we can agree.

Good Writing = Good Reading

But what is good writing? And we are back to the same old conundrum, aren’t we?

I read a fair amount of self-published books and stories. And I have to say there are some very good writers out there. And you’ve probably found that true as well.

I also read quite a few traditionally published books. There are some really mediocre writers that give me cause to wonder where the editor’s head was when their books crossed his or her desk. You’ve probably wondered the same. Maybe even said, “Shoot! I can write better than that!” You’ve said that, right?

I’m noticing more and more a disturbing trend, especially among self-published authors, and that is bling, glitz, and flash are taking the place of good writing (IMO, of course). Into the inbox come wonderfully flashy emails and some of those websites are awesome. But when I read one of these author’s books, it’s all I can do to keep my eyes open or not barf. For all the glitz and flash, these authors haven’t mastered the basic craft of storytelling. Have you had the same or similar experience?

In the race to be noticed and become a best-selling author (whatever that means these days when every nobody is one), writers are, it seems to me, forgetting the first rule of writing; which is, to write well.

As readers, we want good books to read. Not publisher hype. Not flashy emails. Not techno-wonderful websites. We just want a good story. A story with fabulous characters we love and love to hate. A story with a beginning, middle, and end. A story that moves us at some level other then to put the book down.

Over the past year I’ve run across a few authors who I think know how to craft a good story. Who know how to create characters I end up thinking are real people. Writers who I think are a cut above. And I’d like to share five of them with you. Let me introduce you to them.

Crispian Thurlborn writes fantasy and horror with such lyrical finesse I have to admit I’m jealous. His style is literary and magical. The humor is subtle. He can tug at your heartstrings. He can give you much to ponder. My only complaint is I’d wish he’d publish more. Take a look at Crispian Thurlborn’s website and do buy his books. They are truly reader heaven.

Ben Willoughby writes horror and fantasy, but I’ve only read his horror. And not even all of that, for which I’m glad — because that means more good reads are ahead of me! Willoughby has a crisp, no nonsense style. He knows how to tell a suspenseful story, with characters I care about, that keeps me on the edge of my seat. Check out his Amazon page for his titles. Please, don’t miss the treasure this guy has given us.

Steve Bargdill writes literary fiction that is dark, gritty, and edgy. He knows how to write a story and he gives us characters that are real. We care about these people, even if they are very flawed. His Wasteland reads like a modern Winesburg, Ohio. Take a look at his Amazon page. This guy is good. Don’t miss him. You’ll regret it.

Janice Croom writes romance and the Kadence MacBride cozy mysteries. I haven’t read her romance novels. I have read the first Kadence MacBride mystery and loved it! It’s a winner — and I don’t especially like cozy mysteries. But I love Kadence. She is thoroughly lovable. Croom is a master craftswoman at giving us wonderful, wonderful characters. If you don’t love the people in Kadence’s world, then you probably don’t like fried chicken either. And the humor! OMG, Croom’s writing is hilarious! I laughed my head off. Visit her website and treat yourself to Kadence MacBride. You won’t be sorry.

S.J. Rozan is a traditionally published author of the Lydia Chin/Bill Smith private eye mysteries. These are superlative reads and she has many awards for her writing. That usually doesn’t impress me, but in Rozan’s case I can clearly see why. Her writing has just the right amount of everything. It’s not too lean and it isn’t at all flabby. With an economy of words she paints the most beautiful pictures. Her characters are so real. Their world is so real. IMO, she is one of the best traditionally published authors I’ve run across in a very long time. She is truly a cut above.

These are five writers who I think are fab and think you’ll agree. No glitz, no bling, no flash. Just doggone good writing. And that’s what we readers want.

As always, your comments are welcome and until next time — happy reading!

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What Type Of Writer Are You?

Not everyone is a writer, but every one of us has a book within. Of course, some of us have more than one book and even then there may not be enough for us to be professionals. But that is alright. Because in this wonderful day and age, we can get our books published and not worry about anything else other than sending them out into the world.

Every occupation has hobbyists, amateurs, and professionals and that includes writing. Let’s take a little deeper look into each of these categories and see what they mean.

Hobbyist

What is a hobbyist writer? A hobbyist is one who engages in an activity for the fun of it. I enjoy playing board games. They’re fun. They constitute one of my hobbies.

People can write for a hobby, as well. I think most fan fiction writers are hobbyists. They write for the fun of it. So too many writers who are on platforms such as Wattpad.

These folk enjoy writing. However, they have lots of other interests and little to no desire to make writing number one in their life. Perhaps like bike riding for me. I enjoy it, but I have no desire to go on a road trip or engage in racing or participate in a club. I just like to ride my bike every now and again.

Writing as a hobby twenty or more years ago was pretty much a solo activity. Perhaps you shared your poems and stories and novels with family and friends. Perhaps got the shorter works published in magazines or fanzines and got a couple contributor’s copies for payment. Anything beyond that was pretty difficult.

Not today, however. Today, it’s easy to share your work with the world. If you want to. And who knows? You might decide you like writing enough to move to the next level.

Amateur

I’m not referring to someone who’s a bad writer. As in Oh, my God. He’s such an amateur!

No, I’m referring to a dedicated person who loves writing, has to write, but chooses not to make a career of it.

Many vocations have people who make an interest an avocation instead of their vocation. Why? For any number of reasons. For one, unless you are a tech writer employed by a company, you will probably be self-employed as a writer. And not everyone wants the uncertainties of self-employment. Others may truly love their day jobs and don’t want to give them up for a career as an author. So writing may become a part-time job for them.

For many years the Victorian novelist, Anthony Trollope, was an amateur writer. Even after he started achieving critical acclaim and a sizable income from writing, he held onto his post office job. He liked working at the post office and he liked the security a regular paycheck gave him. It wasn’t until he was passed over for promotion that he became disgruntled and quit the post office. By that time, however, he was earning a very large income from writing and felt secure to make his living solely as a novelist.

Being an amateur isn’t a bad thing. It simply means you don’t want to write for your day job. Not that you aren’t good enough.

Professional

Many writers, however, dream of earning their living via the pen (or keyboard as the case may be). And many people do indeed support themselves by writing. But most do so by writing non-fiction, rather than fiction. And this has been the case for many, many years now.

I remember back in the ‘80s the sage advice, if you wanted to be a freelance writer, was to write articles for the women’s magazines. The market was large and the demand was high.

When Woman’s World was new, I recall an article on growing orchids. At the time I was a serious orchid grower, with hundreds of plants. What was quickly obvious was that the writer of the article didn’t really know anything about orchids. He made too many factual errors. I began tracking that particular writer’s articles and noted two things: he was good with a camera and he wrote lots of articles. He was a pro writer. Making his living selling to women’s and other non-fiction magazines.

Making a living from fiction is difficult. It isn’t impossible; there are, though, far easier ways to make a buck.

Recently, I’ve noticed more and more indie fiction writers moving over to non-fiction by offering lessons on how to write or market your books. Claiming Amazon or USA Today bestseller credentials, they offer to tell you (for a hefty price tag) how you can do it too.

Why are they doing this? Because it’s easier than writing and publishing and marketing 4 or 5 novels a year. All you do is create a course, video record it, and you’re done. Simply advertise said course, collect the fees, and press “play”. And then “repeat” for the next group and the next one after that.

Now I don’t mean to be cynical. I’m simply saying these writers have found it’s easier to make a living via non-fiction than fiction. Something pros have known for over half a century.

What Kind of Writer Are You?

I make no bones about it. I want to be a professional novelist. Hopefully, one day I’ll succeed.

However, I won’t be sad if I end up being a serious amateur. Why? Because, due to today’s technology and opportunities, even as an amateur, I can publish and market my books and make at least some money doing so. And which I’m doing right now. Every month I earn a few buck from Amazon and the outlets I’ve signed up for through Draft2Digital. And that is a nice feeling. A very nice feeling.

What about you? What kind of writer are you?

A hobbyist? Nothing wrong with that. Have fun and share your fun with the world.

An amateur? Good for you. Self-employment is not for everyone. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be serious about your poetry, short stories, or novels. And who knows? You might end up just like Anthony Trollope.

Maybe you’ve scaled the mountain. You’re on the peak. You’re a pro. Congratulations! Your hard work paid off and you deserve your reward. I envy you and also am inspired by you. Onwards and upwards!

As always, I look forward to your comments. And until next time, happy reading!

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Robert E Howard: A Writer For All Seasons

Robert_E_Howard_suit

 

In the early 1970s there was a brief revival of Weird Tales magazine. Because of a letter to the editor I wrote, I made contact with a group of Lovecraftian and pulp-era aficionados in Minneapolis. And through that group became acquainted with Robert E Howard’s work. The writer who invented sword and sorcery fantasy. Howard’s best known creation is Conan the Cimmerian (or Barbarian), but there were many other characters that came from Howard’s typewriter who set the stage for Conan.

Lovecraft and Howard were clearly the two giants of the ‘20s and ‘30s pulp fiction era who have had a lasting impact on the fantasy, horror, and science fiction genres. Which, to my mind, makes them great writers. And of the two, I think Howard was the greater.

I know I stand in the minority with that opinion, but I do think it true. Of course, what constitutes “greatness” is always up for debate.

As a storyteller, when Lovecraft was good he was very, very good. And when he was bad he was horrid. Quite honestly, Lovecraft wrote some truly hack stories. Awhile back I started re-reading Lovecraft and I found what I was reading to be tedious, melodramatic, and dated.

I’ve never felt that way reading Howard. Which isn’t to say everything he wrote was stupendous, because it wasn’t. However, using consistency as a measure, I’d say Howard was the more consistent of the two. Pick up a Howard story, doesn’t matter the genre, and you’ll find plenty of action and plenty of atmosphere. Howard’s writing flows. Granted it’s not all superb literature — but his intention wasn’t to write superb literature. He was writing popular fiction to make a buck. And make a buck he did.

As a writer/publisher, an indie author, I look to Robert E Howard for inspiration. Why? Because, had he lived today, and I think he would have loved today’s indie revolution, I believe Howard would have been a phenomenal success. He knew how to tell a story and knew how to tell it well — without any training. He was prolific, and he was versatile.

Let’s take a look at each of these aspects.

STORYTELLING

Howard learned the craft of storytelling from sources that are all around us: songs (particularly folks songs and ballads), poetry, and fiction. In other worlds, he was a good listener and an eclectic reader who absorbed the structure of story. Sure he read for entertainment, as all readers do. But Howard, from his reading (and listening to his grandmother’s singing), learned what makes a story tick.

We writers — myself included — generally don’t do that. We are entertained and that’s it. A pity that, because reading and learning storytelling from a great book is about as inexpensive an education as one can get.

Back before YouTube, Artist Workshops, and Master Classes, back before this and the last centuries, and perhaps the one before that, wannabe artists learned how to paint by becoming apprentices to a great master and copying — yes, copying — his work. In that way they learned technique and also their own individual style began to emerge.

Some time, many years ago, I read a book or article on writing that advocated the same approach. Take a novel you like and copy it — by hand — word for word. Why? To feel it.

The majority of us are kinesthetic/tactile learners. That is, we learn by doing. And writing by hand is the most tactile experience you can have when it comes to writing. The pen or pencil in your hand, your hand moving it and forming letters and words, is a far more tactile experience than typing (which is really primarily visual), because more of you is in the writing.

So copying a story or novel by hand helps us to focus on the words and how they flow together to form story.

I’ve read the work of novice writers and I ask the question, “Would you actually read this if someone’s name other than your own was on it?”

We generally love our work or we hate it. We aren’t very objective. Those of us who tend to be haters (we’re probably perfectionists too), aren’t the problem. We throw our writing away — both good and bad.

The problem lies with those of us who love our writing — even if it’s crap. Writing we wouldn’t read if anyone else’s name was on it.

Robert E Howard learned how to tell a story by reading stories, listening to the story in folk songs and ballads, and then imitated the flow, atmosphere, characters, pacing, and showing not telling. He wrote what he liked to read and did it well.

PROLIFIC

Howard, in a letter to H P Lovecraft, wrote he wanted to be a writer because of the freedom it gave him. His schedule was his own and he had no boss. From the beginning, Howard wrote fiction as his job. He had no delusions about being a literary author. He wrote popular fiction to make a buck. That was his sole aim.

To do that, he needed to be prolific. When you’re paid by the word and you only get paid when a story is accepted or published — you have to write a lot of stories and you have to do so quickly. And Howard did.

Today’s author/publisher is no different. We indies cater to a specific reader. Our readers are

  • Genre readers,
  • Voracious readers, and
  • Readers who frequent used bookstores to buy lots of books cheaply.

If you desire to be a successful author, you must know who your audience is — and then write lots of books, preferably in series.

The pulp era was very similar to today’s publishing world. There were the literary giants and then there were the popular fiction writes. Today we have the literary giants and some big name genre writers who are published by the traditional publishing houses. Then there are the indie authors. Today’s indie writer carries the mantle of the pulp fiction writer of 80 and 90 years ago. And being prolific is the name of the game.

VERSATILE

Howard was one of the most successfully versatile, genre-hopping authors of any age. He created the sword and sorcery fantasy sub-genre with characters such as Solomon Kane, King Kull, Conan, Bran Mak Morn, and Red Sonja. He created Breckinridge Elkins, that genre-busting hero of many of Howard’s westerns. Elkins is a character much like Conan and just as Conan transcended the fantasy of his day, so Elkins transcended the western. In fact, Elkins is so unique he hasn’t been copied and no name’s been given to the Elkinsesque Western.

Howard started out selling stories to Weird Tales magazine. But when the magazine (which paid on publication) got behind on its payments, Howard switched to other markets. Aside from horror, Howard wrote action and adventure, fight stories, mysteries, westerns (both weird and conventional), historical fiction, and he even wrote spicy stories (the erotica of his day) under the pseudonym Sam Walser.

Many of these stories featured serial protagonists: El Borak, Sailor Steve Costigan, Dennis Dorgan, Cormac Mac Art, as well as the above named characters.

Robert E Howard was truly a writer for all seasons. He wrote for money. And to be successful, after numerous rejection slips, he studied each magazine and the stories they accepted. He then tailored his writing to fit the house style, so the editor would send him a check instead of a rejection slip. Of course, his writing had to be good to begin with and it was. Once his work began to find fans, editors started coming to him and asking for stories.

Howard is the writer’s writer. He is my model and my inspiration. I doubt I’ll create any fictional subgenres. Although Howard didn’t intentionally set out to do so either. But what I do hope to learn from REH is his adaptability to the market, his ability to write prolifically, and all the while tell a good story.

As always, comments are welcome! Until next time, happy reading!

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