To the Stars

Astounding Science Fiction August 1940 cover for Lester Del Rey’s “The Stars Look Down”

Non est ad astra mollis e terris via.

The sentence translates to “There is no easy way from the earth to the stars.” It is line 437 of Seneca’s play Hercules Furens, and is spoken by Megara, the wife of Hercules, to Lycus, the tyrant who usurped her father’s throne.

The meaning is clear: there is no easy path to fame, to glory.

Recently Jackson Dean Chase posted a link to a blog article, “Stop ‘trying hard’ and produce more if you want to smash it as a writer”. The article could not have come at a more appropriate time for me.

In brief, the article notes that creative people have no concept of the quality or value of their own work. In fact, a creative’s own estimation is often at odds with that of the public.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s hatred of Sherlock Holmes immediately comes to mind. He thought the great detective frivolous and the stories not at all great literature. Yet history has proven him wrong. Of the vast number of novels and stories that Doyle wrote, it is Holmes who is associated with Doyle’s name and by which he’s remembered.

George Frederic Handel loved Italian opera and continued to write and produce operas for a London audience that no longer wanted them. He ended up bankrupt and in ill health. Forced by circumstances, he turned to English oratorio and wrote Messiah. Which by the way was hated by the librettist because Handel produced the sacred drama in concert halls!

Handel did learn his lesson and milked Messiah for every shilling and pound he could get from it.

HG Wells thought his greatest work was the world history he wrote. Today, no one knows he wrote one.

I observe my fellow writers frantically following one success guru after another in the attempt to become bestselling authors. They look like sheep in search of a shepherd. Like parrots, they repeat the supposed mantras of success over and over. Usually without giving them any thoughtful consideration.

Every now and then, I find myself caught up in the stampede until a friend graciously pulls me back to reality. It’s easy to follow the crowd. After all that’s what lemmings do when they run over the cliff into the sea.

Seneca is right. The path to the stars is not an easy one. Why? Because there is no easy formula to follow. There is no one how-to manual that works for everyone.

No one knows how a bestseller is born. No one.

What does that mean for us writers? Quite simply, it means we must write. And write a lot. Write until that bestseller is discovered.

Margaret Mitchell is very much the exception and not the rule. In spite of us writers wanting to make her the rule.

Shakespeare wrote 37 plays and probably had a hand in at least 10 others. But how many can we even name? Let alone the number that are regularly produced?

Because there is no one-size-fits-all formula for success, there is no external help for us writers. As Rainer Maria Rilke noted, there is no one outside of ourselves who can give us strength, encouragement, and support. It is all inside. We must look inside ourselves for what we need to succeed.

Of all that Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote (and he wrote a lot), the one character that stands out is Tarzan. The same for Lester Dent. He wrote hundreds of books and stories. His name, however, is forever tied to Doc Savage.

Handel wrote 42 operas and 29 oratorios (amongst many other works). Mention his name and everyone says, Messiah.

Burroughs did not set out to become famous by writing Tarzan. Nor Dent, Doc Savage. Nor Handel, Messiah. It was the public who decided what would be their claim to fame.

Because we writers, and creatives in general, are very bad at predicting our own greatest work, our only recourse is to write lots and give it to the public and let them decide.

In my own case, I expected Festival Of Death, with my private detective Justinia Wright (who I dearly love), to be my “bestseller”. Imagine my surprise when The Morning Star, the initial book in my post-apocalyptic cozy catastrophe series, has to date, outsold Festival of Death by an almost 5 to 1 margin.

Never in a million years would I have guessed that to have happened. So my writer friends, keep writing. The public will find your best book for you. That is one thing you don’t have to worry about. Just write and trust your public.

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

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The Parasitic Middleman

During a Gold Rush, Sell Shovels.

In 1848, Samuel Brannan ran through the streets of San Francisco with a glass bottle filled with gold dust, yelling gold had been discovered out at Sutter’s Mill.

He is generally credited with starting the California Gold Rush. And became California’s first millionaire. Yet he never panned or mined for gold.

A few days prior to his hype with the bottle of gold, having learned gold had indeed been discovered by the American River, he’d bought every pickax, pan, and shovel he could find. In nine weeks, by selling his goods at exorbitant prices, he made $36,000. That’s equivalent to the economic status 18.5 million dollars would bring someone today.

Many icons of American business got rich in the Gold Rush and never touched any gold, except to take it from the miners.

Levi Strauss had a dry goods business by which he did quite well for himself. He also sold miners the forerunners of what became Levi jeans. He eventually left California, went home, and became exceedingly wealthy selling jeans.

Phillip Armour opened a meat market in Placerville, then took his profits back to Chicago and founded Armour Meats. And increased his wealth many times over.

John Studebaker sold wagons, made money, and returned home to make wagons for pioneers and later on Studebaker automobiles. I remember those cars and I still love them.

Henry Wells and William Fargo started a bank for miners, at least the ones who made some money. Today, Wells Fargo is a leading American bank.

During the California Gold Rush, the middleman, the merchant, the one who offered services, that’s the person who really made the money. Not the prospectors.

Fast forward to today and a different kind of Gold Rush. The indie author/publisher revolution. There are thousands of writers and hopefuls and wannabes all clamoring for the dream of writing and publishing the Great American Novel. That one book that will let them quit the day job and retire to the Bahamas.

Sounds a little bit like the Gold Rush, doesn’t it?

Today’s indie authors are the prospectors and an army of service providers are making money hand over fist off of these poor and sometimes naïve dreamers.

So who are these service providers who’ve convinced so many, many writers they can’t live without their services? Let’s name a few of them.

Sellers of Writing Software Programs. Seriously? I need software to write my book? Whatever happened to pencil and paper? Or the keyboard and the word processing program on my computer?

Now I’m not going to say Dragon, Story Mill, Easy Writer, or Story Weaver can’t help you write. But before you spend money, maybe money you don’t really have, ask yourself if you really need a software programmer and his toy to help you write your book. Just think of the thousands of writers before you who didn’t use such programs and got along just fine. Some using an ink pot and a steel dip pen or a quill even. Maybe you can too.

Grammar, Spelling, and Editing Software. I see some value to this. But honestly, can’t people do a better job? Give me one serious beta reader with an ear for cadence and a knowledge of grammar and who can spell. I’ll pit that person against an army of programmers and software running simply on rules.

Formatting Services. When I started in the indie writing business. I’ll admit I was loathe to spend money. First off, I’m not rich. Secondly, I already had the California Gold Rush scenario in the back of my mind. So I spent $25 for Legend Maker to make my ebooks. It’s a simple program and requires only simple formatting of my typescript. In less than an hour I can format my text and in less then 10 seconds get an epub and mobi file. Now if I had to pay a formatter for my 20 books… Hm, probably a lot more than $25.

Cover Artists. Yes, we all need covers. But seriously, have you taken a look at indie book covers lately? They are so genre similar, they all look just the same. Like the ticky-tacky houses and people in Malvina Reynolds’s song “Little Boxes”. It is no wonder Mark Dawson’s readers said the incentive to buy his books didn’t come from the covers — but from the blurb! By a 5 to 1 margin! The lesson here is simple: don’t spend big bucks on a cover. Spend time crafting your blurb.

Professional Editors. Recently I’ve heard all manner of arguments as to why I need a professional editor to edit my book. It’s as though the editor is going to teach me how to be a better writer. But editors aren’t writers. They’re essentially critics. They served a need for traditional publishing to make sure a manuscript, if accepted, was salable. In other words, that it met the publishing house’s criteria for salability.

Which means, an editor is not primarily a teacher of writing — but a fixer for the publisher.

Now I’m not saying an editor can’t be helpful. But if you need a content editor to massage your manuscript into something that is genre and reader acceptable, maybe what you really need is time spent learning the craft of writing.

Stephen King shows us the path to becoming a writer: “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” I don’t see the word editor anywhere in there.

The indie movement is direct from writer to reader. The reader will tell you what he or she likes. So recruit them to be your “editors”. Not some academic or someone the Big 5 laid off. Trust your readers. If they don’t like your book, no amount of work from an editor is going to help it.

And I can’t see spending money on a line editor. Find a beta who will do that for you. Preferably someone older who knows how to spell.

We indies broke free from the tyranny of the corporate publisher. Why do we want to saddle ourselves with all the crap the corporations imposed on us? Makes no sense to me.

Review Services. Kirkus is making money off indies to the tune of $500 per review. Wow. That’s incredible. So are outfits like Reader’s Favorites. Pay them money and get a review. They won’t guarantee a 5 star review. But honestly, you think they want to give less than 5 stars and have disgruntled writers bad mouthing them?

I’m not saying these services can’t help sell books. But are they truly any different than the now discredited practice of buying 5 star reviews? Organic and honest reviews by readers are what really sink or float a book. And to get them takes time.

Discount Book Marketers. These outfits are more prolific than mushrooms after a rain. For a fee, they will tweet your book and post about it on Facebook and send it out to their mailing list (along with scores of other books). The problem I see with these outfits is that they encourage indies to constantly offer their books for free or 99¢. And in the long run that trains readers to expect from indies nothing but free or 99¢ books. Very bad for business that mindset.

I’ve come back to the position that if I don’t value my work, who will? If I offer everything I write on the cheap, what does that tell readers? If I barrage my mailing list with free offer after free offer, how can I expect them to buy my books? I’m competing with myself by offering them free books! Not a good business practice at all. Save your money and stay away from these folks. This writing business is really about building a reader base. Not selling books.

Writing Courses. Writing courses have been offered since ever. Everyone who thinks he or she can write has at one time offered one. There are good courses and bad courses. Just like everything else.

However, I do think you are better off taking a good writing course than resorting to an editor for every book you write. Learn the craft of writing. If you don’t know the basics of storytelling, a writing course can help you with that. And that’s about all it can do. The rest of it is back to Stephen King. Read lots. Pay attention to what you like and don’t like about what you read. And write lots. Putting into practice what you’ve learned from reading.

Writing is hard work. Fun work, but hard work. Writing is not a get rich quick scheme. It takes time to develop the craft. A potter doesn’t throw a perfect pot the first time on the wheel. Take the time to learn the craft.

Marketing Courses. These are legion now. Many, many successful indies are putting together courses to teach their fellows the path to success. And charging big bucks to do so. And, as with anything else, some are good and some are bad.

One so called expert got her claim to fame by being a New York Times bestseller. The problem is, the book that did it for her was in a multi-author box set and her name wasn’t even in the advertising! Cheating if you ask me. Yet, she is a respected expert on marketing. Go figure.

Another novelist wrote a few books that apparently sold well or made number one on some list. Now he no longer writes fiction, just sells his course on fiction writing success. Ugh.

So be careful. Vet the person you are going to take a course from or buy books from or get advice from.

The best advice for the money I’ve gotten to date was free. A blogpost by Australian indie novelist Patty Jansen. Wish I’d had that information 3 years ago. You can read it here.

Not everything that shines is gold. Not everything of value costs big bucks, although sometimes you do get what you pay for. We indies are the prospectors. So remember this: the worst time to buy a shovel is on your way to the gold field. Get it before you leave home and take it with you.

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

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Professional Editing — Is It Necessary?

From the New Yorker on Charles Dickens’s 200th Birthday

Is professional editing necessary? The short answer is no. The long answer is maybe.

But before we get into this subject, we need to define what is meant by “professional editing” and what is meant by “necessary”.

What is Professional Editing?

A professional is one who does something for a living. An editor, in our context, is a person who “corrects” a typescript for a novel or story.

Broadly speaking, there are two types of editors: content editors and line editors, or proofreaders.

Content editors edit a book’s content. They look for continuity issues, plot holes, structure issues, character defects, and the like. This is high level editing.

Line editors, or proofreaders, look for typos, misspellings, grammar issues, punctuation problems, and the like.

The purpose of an editor is to alert the author to problems with the book so the author can fix them and supposedly improve the book. However, a professional editor isn’t the only person who can do this. As we’ll see.

Necessary

Webster’s New World Dictionary, Second College Edition, defines necessary, in our context, as something “that must be done; mandatory; not voluntary; required.”

Is an indie author required to use the services of a professional editor? Obviously not, since they are voluntarily hired in the first place. Therefore a professional editor is not necessary. Is one recommended? Maybe.

The Problem with Editors

The problem with editors is the same problem with any professional: they’re human. They’re people like you and me and that’s the problem with them.

Professionals charge money for their services — but in the end can really guarantee nothing. When I hire an editor, I’m simply hiring one person’s opinion. That’s it. Nothing more. Nothing less.

This goes for any professional. Whether your doctor or your mechanic. We all know there are doctors who make bad decisions (I was the victim of one) and mechanics who are unscrupulous. We who are the non-professional need to be as informed as possible, so we aren’t taken for a ride.

Every editor I know, puts his or her pants on the same way I do. Sure he or she may have gone to school to learn the craft of writing. But I know of few editors who make a successful living from writing fiction. If they can’t make a living from writing fiction, then how valuable is their advice?

“But so-and-so — an award winning author — has John Doe for an editor. So John Doe must be good.” That’s assuming the writer’s success can be directly attributed to the editor. And if it can, then I question the writer’s ability to write. If a writer can’t succeed without an editor, then in effect the editor has become a co-author.

At the end of the day a professional editor has biases, prejudices, agendas (just like everyone else) that have nothing to do with my writing or me as an author. Yet those biases, prejudices, and agendas can adversely affect me as author.

The Problem with Writers

We writers, as many in the creative arts, are plagued with a host of self-defeating problems. They seem to go with the territory. I know I’ve had my share. Here are a few:

  • Insecurity issues
  • Inferiority complex
  • Low self-esteem
  • Lack of self-confidence
  • Procrastination
  • Perfectionism
  • The need of approval by others and from those in authority

These problems open writers up to be easy marks for the unscrupulous.

Writers fall victim to people who provide them with approval. Writers who seek approval from authority figures lose their sense of self.

I think that’s one reason why we still have traditional publishing today. Because the insecure writers need to get “approval” from the “authorities” in order to shore up their self-esteem. Getting a publishing contract makes them feel worthy. And let’s them look down their noses at the indie author “who just couldn’t make it”.

Traditional publishing is an ego trip. My agent. My editor. My publisher. And many writers want that ego drug.

And many indie authors seek the same high. “I couldn’t have done it without my editor.” Or my cover artist. Or my formatter. Or what have you. These people sound just like their traditionally published counterparts.

The point of being an indie is independence. Freedom from all that crap. The indie movement is about the producer marketing directly to consumer. Cutting out the middleman. Kind of like the farmer’s market versus the grocery store.

Solution

Are indie authors therefore free from the task of editing? Heavens no! Not if they’re concerned about putting out a quality product. The question is, do they need to hire a professional editor? And the answer is, no they don’t.

If a writer knows how to tell a good story, there is little need for a high-level edit. The content editor has little to offer. If a writer is concerned about the craft of storytelling and is in the lifelong process of honing his or her craft, then a content editor will have little to offer.

Now that same writer might benefit from a proofreader. But one doesn’t need to hire a line editor to get those services.

If a writer is not very good at telling a story, then a high-level edit may be of great help. But what may be of even greater help is simply more writing. If you’re going to an auto mechanic, do you want the one who is fresh out of school with little to no experience? Or do you want the guy who’s been doing it for 20 years?

It’s the same with writing. Practice makes perfect. It’s why Edgar Rice Burroughs advised writers to write lots. One story has little chance of getting published (in a magazine). But write a hundred and one or more will probably be accepted.

Robert Heinlein’s Five Rules of Writing operate on the same principle: lots of writing and the constant submission to market of that writing.

Writers can only improve their writing by writing. No amount of academic learning or professional editing can improve a writer’s work. Bad writing can’t be edited into good writing. It’s just well edited bad writing.

The first novel I wrote, Festival of Death, way back in 1989, was not ready for publication when I finished writing it. I was honest with myself. I read the manuscript and it just did not compare with the novels I was reading. I put it away, also realizing I didn’t have the stuff to rewrite it and make it better. Twenty-five years later, I had that stuff, rewrote it, and was pleased with the finished product. I didn’t need an editor to tell me all that. In the interim I did lots of writing. I gained confidence. I became a better writer.

We writers don’t need to spend any money to edit our own work. There are many tools available to help us and even without all those tools, there are people who won’t charge anything to proof our work and offer constructive suggestions for improvement. And I heartily recommend the people approach.

Here are a few suggestions based on my own practice:

  • Read your story with a critical eye. Put yourself in your reader’s shoes.
  • If your characters don’t make you laugh or cry, they won’t make the reader laugh or cry.
  • Read your story aloud for flow. It’s a great way to catch clunky sentences and sections that are confusing.
  • Have the computer read to you while you follow along. The computer reads exactly what’s there. A great way to catch typos and misspellings.
  • Have someone read the text to you. This combines reading the story aloud and having the computer read to you — with the added advantage of the reader being a human other than you.
  • Use the spell checker and grammar checker in your word processing program or something like Hemingway or Grammarly.
  • Use good beta readers to catch issues you didn’t catch. A good beta reader is worth his or her weight in gold. What is a good beta? One who likes your genre and ideally your writing, who has a good understanding of what makes a story work, is someone you can trust will be honest with you, understands grammar, and knows how to spell. These people exist. Go find them.

That’s all you need, and none of it costs money. Unless you choose to buy some editing software — which isn’t at all necessary. But a nice little luxury.

One other caveat: don’t be in a rush to publish. We’re indie authors. We set our own schedules. There’s no one to tell us what to do except ourselves.

We indie authors are independent authors. Don’t become a victim of the Should Mentality or the You Have To Mentality.

We write for readers, not editors.

Enjoy your freedom from the man. I do.

Comments are always welcome. Tell me what you think. And until next time, happy reading!

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Writer TS Paul – Does He Really Break The Rules?

This past Friday, I listened to Mark Dawson’s podcast which was an interview with indie sci-fi and paranormal writer TS Paul. You can catch the podcast on the SPF website and I’d encourage you to listen to it.

The initial hype was that Paul is a short story writer who’s crushing it with sales. Sorry, folks, that’s false advertising. Paul primarily writes sci-fi novellas and shorter paranormal novels. The visions of waltzing to the bank on my short stories quickly vanished.

The interview then went on to show all the things Paul did that were “wrong” and yet he still managed to reach a point where he’s seeing a half-million a year in sales.

Obviously, TS Paul is doing something right. So what is it?

Last week I wrote about The Writer’s Magic Marketing Machine and presented indie sci-fi and fantasy author Patty Jansen’s road map to success. Very simply, it is:

  • Write well
  • Write lots
  • Write in series
  • Publish often
  • Build a mailing list

As I noted last week, this is standard indie advice. Virtually all the successful indie authors do the 5 points above.

Dawson and his cohort, James Blatch, were dumbfounded by Paul’s success. They couldn’t explain it. On reflection, I think Paul’s success is very easy to understand — and, in fact, I’d say he’s doing most everything right.

First of all, TS Paul writes lots. A short story a week and 31 books in a couple years. Writing lots is crucial for every indie author who even hopes of being successful. It’s the key to not being forgotten.

Secondly, he writes in series. This is also critical for indie authors. Because indie readers are series readers.

Third, he publishes frequently. Publishing often keeps your name in front of readers and helps to pump up the Amazon algorithms.

Fourthly, he knows his audience. He targets the YA crowd. There is no sex or bad language in his books and the covers appeal to the eye of a young audience. I’d also hazard a guess that the shorter lengths of his books appeals to the YA folk, who primarily read on their phones.

So what does he do that is actually controversial? In the big picture, not much. He doesn’t believe in freebies. So he doesn’t give away his books. But he’s not the only writer in that camp.

He doesn’t do a lot of advertising, although he does more now than when he first began. About a $1000/month on Facebook.

He doesn’t have a mailing list. However, he’s not alone here either. What he does have is an active blog and Facebook page. Effectively, they are taking the place of a mailing list. Through his blog and Facebook page he keeps in touch with his readers and lets them know of new books.

The most controversial thing, in my opinion, about Mr Paul is his cavalier attitude towards the quality of his writing and the physical product.

He doesn’t give a fig about typos or bad grammar or lousy formatting. He says so in the interview. And the critical reviews testify to his devil may care attitude. It also appears his writing style is not all that stellar, according to the reviews.

I noticed in looking at his offerings, quite a few book blurbs note the book is newly re-edited and formatted. So maybe Mr Paul cares more about what readers think than he’s willing to admit.

The mystery for me is how a brand new nobody writer can go from $150/month in sales to over a $1000/month in the span of a few months — with no advertising. Paul didn’t say. Blatch didn’t ask. Too bad.

Based on what Mr Paul did say, my thought is that his friend, the popular author Michael Anderle, who encouraged Mr Paul to start writing in the first place, gave him a boost. Just a guess, but if correct it shows that who you know is still a very powerful means to success.

The bottom line is, TS Paul is doing everything he should be doing — except writing well and producing a quality product. But in spite of all the criticism he’s received, and there is a lot on Amazon, he’s laughing his way to the bank.

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

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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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A Reader’s and Writer’s Life

I love to read. Give me a book any day. I’ll take it over TV, movies, and video games. Nothing can replace my imagination. TV, movies, and video games give me someone else’s imagination which may be truly fabulous, but it isn’t mine. With my imagination, I can interact with a book’s author in a way that’s impossible through other media.

My love of reading goes back to the beginning of my life. My mother was not a good reader, by her own admission. But she did think reading was important. She read to me before I could read and once I could read on my own, she did not stint on the books I could have.

And I had all manner of books: novels, books on science and technology, the World Book Encyclopedia, books on archeology and history and ships and the sea.

To this day, my choice of reading material is still broad. I read novels and short stories in a wide range of genres. Books of history and biography. Poetry. Philosophy. Science and technology, mostly online. Cookbooks. Travelogues. Art.

Currently I’m reading Zeppelin: The Story of Lighter-Than-Air Craft by Ernst Lehmann, who was an important figure in the history of the airship. But that’s not all I’m reading. Also on the pile of works in progress are 2 short story collections, a book on criminology, and one on the famous Route 66. And as if that wasn’t enough, also on the pile is a post-apocalyptic cozy catastrophe novel. And the occasional letter from my favorite philosopher, Seneca, might just start my day.

I almost always have a book with me. And the reason I so love my iPad is because at present it contains over 600 books and that’s a lot of books! And I can carry them all with me wherever I go. What a wonderful age we live in!

Most readers don’t have so many books going at once and that’s certainly okay. Everyone needs to read at the pace which is comfortable for them. Just as long as people read. Lots of people.

I think my love of reading played in to my desire to be a writer. Why not create the books I so loved to read? Pretty much ever since I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a writer. And now I am!

Being a multi-genre reader pretty much dictated I’d be a multi-genre writer. I write what I like to read. I read private detective novels and I write them. I read post-apocalyptic cozy catastrophes and I write them. I enjoy dieselpunk and I write it. I like a good psychological or supernatural horror story, and I write those too.

But that’s not all that I like. So sometime down the road, if I live long enough, I intend to add space opera, historical novels, fantasy, poetry collections, and philosophy to the mix.

Isaac Asimov wrote over 500 books on all but one of the major Dewey Decimal System divisions. I’ve always thought that to be a wonderful accomplishment. Something I’d like to do myself. After all, variety is the spice of life!

The reading life and the writing life are the best of lives, in my opinion. Only the imagination is the limit and the imagination is limitless.

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

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Goldrush

We’re familiar with the California Gold Rush of 1848, or the Klondike Gold Rush of 1896, or the Victorian Gold Rush of 1851 in Australia, or the Witwatersrand Gold Rush of 1886 in South Africa.

Today we are in the middle of another gold rush. It’s called self-publishing.

Every gold rush has a life-cycle that moves from low investment, high return to high investment, low return. The key to success is to get in big at the beginning of the cycle. When panning and placer mining are effective. Simple tools and big returns.

Amazon introduced the first Kindle on November 19, 2007. It sold for $399 US and sold out in 5 1/2 hours. On April 2, 2010 Apple released the iPad and sold 300,000 on the first day. These two devices were the game changer that spawned the self-publishing gold rush.

Authors such as Amanda Hocking, John Locke, JA Konrath proved self-publishing was a viable money making enterprise. Now the ability to become a millionaire was for the first time in the hands of the self-published author. No need for agents and no need to battle publishers over draconian contracts. The gold rush had begun.

All one needed in those early and heady days of self-publishing was to offer your book permafree or for 99¢. And write your series as fast as possible.

By the time I got involved with self-publishing, in late 2014, the easy money was gone. Now, like the old Smith-Barney commercials, if you want to make money writing books, you have to earn it.

As with any gold rush, once the easy money is gone, the people who begin to profit are the ones who do so at the miner’s expense. These are the people who sell things to the miners. The infamous middleman.

We see it in the self-publishing world. Writers, hungry for virtual shelf space and recognition, are making loads of money for the middlemen. Everywhere I read about this, I read figures such as $500 or $600 (or more) for editing, $500 for a cover, a couple hundred for formatting. And the list can go on.

That’s a lot of pressure to put one’s self under coming out of the gate. To date (2 years of receiving royalties), I’ve made $533 with virtually no advertising. I made back my investment in initial website cost and copyright fees. If I had editing and cover fees for 20 books to add to my expenses, I’d have to seriously consider becoming a middleman to “help” writers instead of being a writer.

The people who are getting the “easy” money today are:

  • Editors (often self-proclaimed)
  • Cover Artists (many using nothing more than stock photos and Photoshop or Gimp)
  • Review Services (like Kirkus and Reader’s Favorite)
  • Other authors “selling” the secret of their success so you can be successful (usually by means of high-priced courses)

And success hungry writers, dying to leave their day jobs, are shelling out big bucks for all of the above.

So let’s be honest, shall we? The easy money is gone. We now have to earn it.

How We Earn The Money

The path to self-publishing’s success in 2017 is not unlike trying to drop the ring into Mount Doom. It’s simple, but not easy.

I am obviously not making big bucks writing. But I’m retired. I’ve already dumped the day job. My monetary goal is a bit more humble. Nevertheless, the path is the same for all of us.

Mindset. The first thing we author-publishers must remember is that we are writers and publishers. We must think business. And the first thing we must realize is that self-employment ventures generally take 3 to 5 years to get established — if they even survive.

The second thing is we are direct mail marketers. The mailing list has now replaced permafree and 99¢ books as the building block of our business.

Mail order businesses can’t survive without their mailing lists. And we author-publishers are at base mail order businesses.

Once we have that mindset, we can start to go places. There is no quick money anymore. But there is money to be made. Mark Dawson makes around half a million from Amazon. A nice bit of pocket change that.

My Plan For Success

Plan your work and work your plan. Based on my observation of what universally works for authors, coupled with sage advice from the greats, this is my plan to work:

  1. Write well. This should go without saying and yet needs to be said. Write a good story. Many writers forget to do so.
  2. Write lots. Prolificity is key. No backlist = no sales over the long haul. All successful writers, traditionally published and self-published, say this.
  3. Publish frequently. The reading public that buys indie books tends to be voracious readers. Feed their habit. Frequent publishing also helps to keep you in the forefront of the reader’s mind.
  4. Follow Heinlein’s Writing Advice. The master said it best. In a nutshell — persevere.
  5. Build your mailing list. We are essentially mail order marketers. I wish someone had told me this 3 to 5 years ago. It makes sense, but the reality was obscured by the early success of writers in the Gold Rush. Now that the easy money is gone, the mailing list is the direct marketer’s — and indie author’s — best friend.
  6. Don’t resort to gimmicks. Today there so many authors I never heard of who claim to be New York Times, USA Today, or Amazon bestsellers that the claim is virtually meaningless. There are so many authors winning so many awards, the words “award winning” are equally meaningless. I’ve read plenty of crappy best-selling and award-winning books. And some that are really good that made nobody’s list and have received no award.

That’s my roadmap to success. Which for me is pretty modest. I don’t need beaucoup bucks. Anything from $25K to $50K a year will be just jim dandy. Those of you who need more than that to quit your day job — well, it’s just going to take a bit more work. But you’ll get there.

As always, comments are 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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