Camp! Camp!

 

I love NaNo and Camp NaNo.  I get excited each time it rolls around, tomorrow is no exception.  The clock starts at midnight!

Thankfully, I’ve been able to finish every time… this will be my… fifth?  Very cool.  Hopefully I can keep the trend up with my next project.

Here’s a sneak peak and a draft cover I made:

Last Rights

There’s a diner at the intersection of two remote highways that also correspond to the crossroads of the afterlife.  After having a cup of coffee, maybe flirting with Carla, Ghosts can pick a direction and start walking down the lonely roads.  No one knows if one road leads to a pleasant place, or the fiery one, or something in between, or whether direction even matters because no ghost has ever come back.

Until one does.

Also deserving an honorable mention here is the cover I made for a friend who I cajoled into participating.  It’s the least I could do, right?  Turned out pretty sweet if you ask me.

third 5.1 sized M

A Sense of Childish Wonder

Some of my all time favorite books are the ones I read in late Elementary and Middle School.  There was this sense of genuine ridiculousness and wild imagination that was so natural at the time.

A book about a kid with a magical cupboard that brings his figurines to life?  Or the castle in the attic?  What about the kids who realize their teacher is an alien?  Or the one where the back of the wardrobe is a doorway into another world?  Or the horror stories where a kid gets turned into a bee and has to figure out how to get back?  Calvin and Hobbes?

Fantastic!

That’s what’s so wonderful about those early stories, that anything, anything was possible.  The more ridiculous the better.  Some were truly ridiculous but at the same time they were so genuine.  They were somehow real and yet unpredictable.  There were no rules except to inspire wonder.

When I decided to start writing stories I knew at least some of them would be for my daughter and I really wanted to emulate the feelings that I got from books at her age.  However, I also wanted to bring some of that into the other stories I was doing too, which isn’t easy.

It’s more difficult with adults because stories need to have enough grounding, adults have a lot more established beliefs and opinions.  There can be an element of wonder, of the unexpected, but too much and they don’t like it.  We know what we like and we tend to pick out books that fit within comfortable niche.  They don’t have to follow all the stereotypes but neither can they stray too far.

Family and friends that I’ve shown my work to, people that know me, have been very pleased and accepting but I have to say that I get some strange looks from everyone else when I describe my stories.  Sometimes, I’m not sure how to describe them or even what genre they are.

Geeks, Greens and Guns… A normally stoic enforcer for the mob in Las Vegas gets sucked into a light hearted UFO story outside Area 51.  It’s kind of funny, nobody dies and there’s a happy ended.  I suppose it counts as Sci-Fi?

The Apocalypse Gazette: After an epic apocalypse a guy is all alone in his small town, goes crazy with nerves and loneliness, and decides to write a newspaper documenting it all.  I did a whole post before about how I’m not sure what genre this story should be.  It’s funny, it’s light hearted, it’s weird and it’s got a talking cat.  Apocalyptic humor?

Still Life, with Zombie:  I can’t remember if I’ve written about this one here, it’s a story about a retired doctor living in a remote area and the zombie apocalypse.  It’s dark humor, a little scary, but has what I consider the most heart warming ending of all my stories.  It needs a lot of work, I’ve been editing it for a while, but where does it fit in with readers?  It’s nowhere near the usual zombie story, very little action.  Horror, I suppose?  But that doesn’t really seem to fit.

front draft 2

I’ve written some stories for my kid that she’s really enjoyed and I’ve written some others that are more “normal”, but that ones that really stick with me are the weird ones.  While I might struggle with them, or even what to call them, I’m imminently pleased with how they’ve been turning out.  They represent some of that childish wonder but in unexpected places.  They’re fun to write and they’re the kinds of stories that I want to read, they don’t fit into neat categories.  They open the doors to all the impossible possibilities.

The Cost of Writing a Book

Like many writers, I spend a lot of time in coffee shops though maybe not for the atmosphere.  I’ve been a member of a couple writing groups for the last year or so, they help keep things interesting, and, of course, they meet at coffee shops.

Whenever I go to these groups I buy something.  It doesn’t seem right to sit down, use their WiFi for a couple hours and not spend some money.  Usually it’s just two or three bucks for an iced tea but once a week or so I’ll add a sandwich or snack.  Plus a tip, of course.

Today, after paying for my iced tea and a veggie wrap, as I tried to find an unoccupied table to write at, I wondered how much money I’ve spent at these various shops.

This turned out to be a far scarier topic than I thought it would.  I did the math.

It takes me about two months to finish a very rough first draft, with two group meetings a week.

Two hours of writing costs me about $5 on average.  In two months I’ll have visited 8 times, spending a minimum of $40 just to get through a first draft.

That adds up fast, $240 a year for writing in coffee shops.  Now, it’s not just writing, there’s networking and commiserating with other writers, but still.  As Indies we’re always hearing about the costs for good covers, editing, marketing, etc.  But how many people talk about the cost of coffee (or iced tea)?  Maybe that should get figured into more Indie budgets.  I mean, $240 could pay for a lot of marketing.

But then, of course, if I didn’t spend so much time at coffee shops I would never get anything written.  I guess it just comes with the territory, the cost of writing a book.  😉

Free to Pirate

I had a thought today while reading through some posts.  One writer mentioned how he was playing with advertising his ebooks on various places and how the most success he had was when he broadcast the days his books were free.  That day he had a lot of new downloads from other countries, including a large number to India.

Hmmm…  That got me thinking.

Piracy has been a problem for a long time but it’s only recently, with the advent of the ebook, that authors have had to really worry about it.  It’s becoming a bigger and bigger issue, almost every week I read about how a writer googled their own work and found it on a pirate site.

Free books are a useful tool for gaining new readers, it gives them a chance to check out your work before paying anything.  Cool, right?  But I wonder whether those free days are giving pirates a chance to easily steal writers’ work.

Think about it like this, if you were going to pirate a hundred books… are you going to pay for them first?  A hundred books at $3 a pop?  Uh uh.  I wouldn’t, I’d go to amazon every day and download all the free books.  Every day.  Then convert them and put them up on my site.

So, are those five free days offered by KDP select (or other deals) making it easier for pirates?  They grab our work on one of those days without paying for it, then turn around and sell it.  It’s what I’d do if I were morally bankrupt and looking for easy money.  (It’s possible that Kindle Unlimited could also be a contributor, but I imagine anyone in the Unlimited program that downloaded too many books a day would get flagged really fast.  I don’t know though.)

That thought right there makes me hesitant to ever discount my books too much.  The only way I can see to avoid having our work vulnerable would be to never put it out for free, that way at least the pirates would have to pay for the first copy (which I doubt they’d do unless you’re top in your genre or something).

But what about getting your work out to readers before they have to pay for it?  Sample chapters would be one way.  But the best option I can think of is to put a single book perma-free, accept that it’ll probably be pirated (but it’s free already, so you’re not really losing anything), then keep all your other books at regular price.

Just a thought for the day.

The Future of Publishing

I read a fascinating post today about the difficulties all of us indie, or self published authors face.  If you just take the basic facts, how many books are being put out, how few copies sell well, how few authors are making a decent income, it looks really depressing.

However, and this was the comment I left on the post, it’s also a really exciting time.  We’re seeing the old system fail to evolve fast enough, unable to find a way to make money in this new landscape and struggle to maintain the status quo.  But all of us looking at them can see the writing on the wall, if they don’t adapt fast they’re going to lose all relevancy.

Right now, publishing is going through a massive shift.  Anyone who has ever wanted to write a book can do so and put it out.  Thousands of books are being published every single day, many of questionable quality, which means that while we’re able to put out books easily the supply far outweighs the demand and it’s only getting worse.

In some ways that’s scary, but in other ways this is the growing pains of all of us trying to figure out a new system.  That means there’s a lot of opportunity right now for all of us to try new things and the ideas that are successful will shape the future of publishing.

What I think is going to happen:

1. Traditional publishers will shrink.  Period.  Even those that can adapt, they’ll never be what they were before.  The self publishing age has come.

2. Working with a different model, new publishing companies will be very successful.  Enterprising, talented people will get together and form new publishing companies that operate in new ways.  They’ll take networking to a new level.  They’ll take lessons from what the traditional publishing companies used to do well, services that indie authors still require, like editing and promotion, and base themselves on providing those services.

3. Talented indies will band together.  Maybe they form a company like in #2, or maybe they just come up with a guild, whatever, but they’ll come together.  Mutual marketing, mutual promotion, advice and networking.  They’ll build a huge platform together out of their combined bases.  Instead of a million authors clamoring for a limited audience, those that band together will have a louder voice and as long as their work is solid the readers will follow them.

4. People complain about the lack of quality in some self published books.  Those authors will either join one of the guilds and improve their work, or they’ll be a solitary voice competing with the groups/guilds of solid writers.  Their books will not succeed in comparison.  The cream will rise to the top.

So, while traditional publishing will never be the same, there is tremendous opportunity right now.  Try new things, get together with other writers, we’re all in this together.  And personally, I’m excited to see how things evolve.

Start with a Cover

One of the things that I like to do that probably seems strange to other writers is early on in the process of writing a story I like to make a cover.

The first reason is that I like all the arts, sketching characters or scenes from my stories is just as natural as writing about them in the first place.  It’s fun, it’s creative, it keeps all the juices flowing.  I’m a decent cartoonist-style artist and an amateur with graphics programs but it’s fun to see what I can come up with.

The second reason is something that other writers might consider, a cover is good motivation.  It’s a symbol of the end-goal of writing.  I’m not just playing around, writing something for a lark, this is going to be a book.  It makes me visualize the completed project which helps keep me motivated to finish it.  Out of all the stories that I’ve started or worked on over the last year, I’ve completed the first draft of 80% that I made a cover for (Sadie’s story is still in work).

Whether or not the covers actually get used for the books doesn’t matter, I’ve had fun and they’ve helped keep me going.  That’s something that other writers should maybe consider doing themselves.  Why leave it to the end when there are benefits to doing it in earlier?  Something to think about.

Here are a couple of the ones I’ve done over the last year, newest to oldest.

Geeks-greens-and-guns 3 s cover draft 2.2.1 s cover draft 2s front draft 2 larry's dead cover draft 1.1.1.2

Happy writing!

Does it feel right?

Done with Camp NaNo, a couple days early even!  Woo hoo!  Now that I’ve found myself with a bit more spare time I thought it might be a good time to write about an interesting little experience I had during this project.

The first week of April I was on a trip overseas.  I knew that it’d be hard to keep my word count up but I had almost two days of flying involved so I figured that’d give me a chance do some writing, even if I didn’t get much done the rest of the week.

On my return flight, the story was feeling a little slow so I write this really intense action sequence.  It was fast paced, lots of back and forth, it was awesome.  Probably the best action scene I’ve ever written.  I ripped out six or seven pages in no time.  Word count, smerd count, I’m the man.

But about an hour later, something was bugging me.  I wasn’t sure what it was, I just knew that there was something off about the scene.  I kept tweaking it, trying to make it feel better, but there was some underlying problem that unsettled me.

One of the things that I have learned as a writer is to pay attention to those gut feelings.  Often the subconscious will pick up on something before the conscious mind does.  So I paused the story while I tried to understand out what was going on.

It took me a while to figure it out but when I kind of stepped back and looked at it, it was obvious. I had wanted to write a certain type of scene so bad that I forced the characters into it.  My main character was way too savvy to get sucked into that situation, it should never have happened.

It didn’t fit, I’d forced it.  No amount of tweaking was going to change that.  So, with reluctance, I chopped the entire seven pages.  Seven pages!

This was so frustrating because that’s one of those holes that writers are often advised to avoid.  If you’re true to your characters than the plot flows along, if a character makes some decision that doesn’t make sense that’s probably a sign that the writer is forcing the characters to fit into a specific plot point.  I’d always thought that wasn’t a problem for me since I’m more of a pantser, but now I know better.

My word count suffered, it felt like all that work went down the drain, I had to rewrite pages and pages, but in the end the story was so much better for it.  I’m glad I listened to my gut, figured out what was wrong and fixed it.

(Side note: I saved the pages in another file and was later able to salvage some of it in a more appropriate place in the story.)

An Observation

It’s been about a year since I started writing seriously.  I’ve ‘finished’ five big first drafts in that time but have hesitated to publish anything.  One of the reason is that I haven’t had the time or money to put into getting good edits done but the biggest reason is that every draft is a learning experience.  Writing so much, then reading and revising, has taught me so much about the craft.  Every time I look back at one of my early drafts I realize how far I’ve come.  As I want my first published work to be the highest quality I’ve been focused on learning rather than publishing.

An excellent example is my Camp NaNo project.  I hesitate to call it a ‘throw away’ novel but it didn’t have a lot of promise going into it.  Whenever I get involved with NaNo I pick out one of my ideas that light, easy to write, and doesn’t have a lot of depth.  The idea being that it should be easier to keep up the high word count daily.  If it sucks, no big deal, it’s just for fun (I’m even posting it on Wattpad as it gets written).  However, even with the not-so-serious premise and some edits I know I need to make, I can still see how far I’ve come in the last year.  Even writing something I’m not that invested in, the quality of the writing has improved dramatically.

While I still consider myself a student of the craft, it’s awesome to see the difference.

If you’re curious, it’s available on Wattpad (and getting closer to completion every day).  Feel free to leave comments or critiques, I’m always looking for feedback.

http://www.wattpad.com/story/35668423-geeks-greens-and-guns

A Fun Little Experience

Some of you might remember I participated in NaNoWriMo last November.  Within the month I finished a first draft of Summerton Blues.  Some of you might also remember that as soon as it was done I put it away and started my next project.  That was advice put out by Stephen King’s that has been really valuable.  When you come back to it later it’s easier to spot the issues.

Well, in my excitement over Camp NaNo next month I decided to read Summerton Blues.  I haven’t looked at it in almost six months and figured it would probably be awful.  During NaNo I never did any revisions and I hadn’t touched it since.

cover draft 2s

What I read surprised me greatly.  I got caught up in the story and finished it in a single sitting.  At the end I got tingles.  It was actually pretty good.

Does it need work?  Definitely.  Does it need a good editor?  Definitely.  But I kind of surprised myself, it’s a solid story.  With some effort I think it’ll be a good novel.

What a great way to get pumped up for Camp NaNo.

 

 

Why I’m not editing my NaNo draft this month

One of the fun things about being in a few writing groups is that you get to hang out with other people doing the same kinds of things you’re doing.  Last month it was NaNo, we were all obsessing over word counts, racing each other, and generally just having a good time.

Now that NaNo is done, most of these writers have turned to finishing their incomplete draft (50K words didn’t quite do it), or they are in the process of editing their complete first draft.  Most of those writers shook their head at me when I told them that my NaNo draft went on the shelf and I had immediately started my next project.

Why am I shelving Summerton Blues for now?  Because Stephen King is my hero.  In his book “On Writing” he suggested that instead of editing a project, start the next one.  When the second project is done, then edit the first.  That process gives us some mental, emotional distance from the first work that lets us get far more critical and spot all the things we missed the first time through.  Following this advice has made a big difference I’ve found in the overall quality of the work.

It’s also the same reason that I write a lot of draft posts, let them sit a while , then go over them before posting.  A bit of time and distance does wonders for spotting problems or things that could be clarified.

Additionally, I’m not in any hurry to publish anything, unlike some NaNo writers (I’ve already seen a few popping up in my reader).  I’d rather let Summerton Blues sit on the shelf for six months, work on a few things in the mean time, spend plenty of time editing it before even considering publication.  There’s no hurry, I’ll take my time until I think it’s ready, the same as I will with anything else I’ve written.

So, I’m already twenty pages or so into my next project.  I could talk about it but then I’d have to kill you.  Kidding.  But really, it’s kind of a surprise project, I don’t want to get into it until I’m closer to done.  Until then, Summerton Blues can wait, it’s not going anywhere.