Kealan Patrick Burke reminds us that writing is just half of the job of a writer. The other half is selling.
“I was naïve and supposed that if the book was more widely available, the amount of promotion I would have to do would be minimal, that the exposure itself would sell it. Nothing could be further from the truth. One of the lessons I had to learn the hard way (and it’s same no matter what the medium), is that no matter how good a book is, nobody will read it unless you teach yourself to be a savvy marketer. It’s a simple fact that many people continue to ignore, and then they blame Amazon, or competing writers, or the publishing climate, when quite often it comes down to the world not being aware that your book exists.”
Just recently I read the news about Alters, a new comic book with a transgender superhero. It seems that media creators are starting to feel more and more comfortable with diverse characters. I think many authors have finally lost their fear to cast outcasts in their stories. It’s also a good idea to realize that (1) audiences are becoming more comfortable with minority roles 1 and (2) audiences are largely composed of minorities 2.
It is about time that we move past the default straight-white-male hero.
But this is just the latest chapter of man-boys whining about women in science fiction culture: Oh noes! Mad Max has womens in it! Yes, and Fury Road was stunning, arguably the best film of its franchise and of 2015, and was improbably but fittingly nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Oh noes! Star Wars has womens in it! Yes, and The Force Awakens was pretty damn good, the best Star Wars film since Empire, was the highest grossing film of 2015 and of all time in the domestic box office (not accounting for inflation. Accounting for inflation, it’s #11. #1 counting inflation? That super-manly epic, Gone With the Wind).
David Toussaint talks about when he realized he was a writer:
I’ve answered the question a million times, and it still confuses me. Truth is, I never discovered I “wanted” to be a writer in the same way that I never discovered I wanted to have four limbs, brown eyes, or food to eat. To invoke that perennial gay expression, I was born that way.
—David Toussaint, When Did You Realize You ‘Weren’t’ An Artist?
I’m an artist not a “writer”. I write as a form of self expression, but I don’t consider myself exactly a writer. Before writing fiction I wrote code, before I wrote code I painted, before I painted I took photos and before that, in a time now long forgotten, I made money as an illustrator. I constantly read about writers that “always knew they were writers” or how they “couldn’t be anything but a writer”. I very much understand that sentiment, but what I feel is a slight but noticeable variation.
I create because I have to, but I also find freedom in changing mediums. I do feel that I have to focus on a medium, but that’s slightly different than being loyal to it. Without focus there can be no progress, no growth of skills, and ultimately no mastery of the trade.
I’m a creator first. A writer second.
Being a writer is in my blood, like being gay or being white or having those brown eyes. There’s nothing I can do about my DNA, and I have no plans to suppress the urge.
I have just started writing a short sci-fi story about robots. It is the first time I write a story without having a title first. We’ll have to call it… Robot Dialogs #1, since this might be one of the stories for a short story book on robots.
Here is the word count for the week. This doesn’t account for the any of the blogging. This is just fiction writing.
Short story under 7,500 words Novelette 7,500 to 17,500 words Novella 17,500 to 40,000 words Novel over 40,000 words
I already have what technically constitutes a short story. Of course, I barely wrote pass Act I, so I am probably looking at another 10-20K word.I’ve been saying that I was writing a short story for a while now but It looks like I’m on my way to writing a Novella. I might be able to cut it down when I take this first draft and rewrite it all. James Patterson Bookshots seem to be about 30K words so that could be a good number to aim for.
If I write 7k a week, it will take me 4 weeks to write this novella. Which is too long I think. On top of that I have to add editing, etc. Hopefully I speed up this week.
“Wattpad is basically the YouTube of books”
Taran Matharu is a fantasy writer who published his first book on Wattpad before anywhere else.
“Wattpad is basically the YouTube of books where people can write their chapters and upload them to this website and then people from all over the world are able to access them. They can comment, read and vote on your writing, and you can see how many people have read a book or chapter. […] I uploaded a sample of The Novice onto Wattpad and after the first month it had been read 100,000 times, after four months it had been read one million times and now it’s almost seven million. […] I was very excited about the feedback that I was getting as no one other than family and friends had read anything that I’d ever written until I put my work on Wattpad. As an author it’s very hard to tell if you’re any good at first, so when people are responding it’s all very encouraging”
Taran also talks about what worked for him to hook his readers in Wattpad. Specially how compared to most authors whose chapters are about 8,000 words long, his are “between 1200 words at the shortest and about 2500 at the longest.”
First of all I was uploading a chapter a day on Wattpad for that first month. That meant that I needed to have a finished chapter by the end of the day, so I needed to write shorter chapters in order to do that. That’s why my chapters are so short to this day! It’ become a writing style of mine which people particularly enjoy it seems as I get a lot of reviews saying “I love how short the chapters are as you can just pick it up and put it down whenever you like”. Cliffhangers are a useful tool to use in Wattpad because if readers need to know what happens next they will wait until the next day to read or the next week to find out. It’s important to keep them hooked and I think that’s true in books as well, especially the first chapter where someone might read it in a bookshop so they say “I need to buy this and go and read the rest” so I think that Wattpad really helped me in that regard.
—Taran Matharu: ‘I think writing is like reading a story that you can decide’
Advice very useful for starting writers. The format of short content is something I find particularly relevant when reaching out to audiences exposed to the endless flow of the web. The whole interview is quite interesting.
It sucks being a total beginner, starting something new and having high expectations that you can’t meet. On the other hand being inexperienced at something is the perfect excuse to experiment and take risks without major consequences.
Ira gives some down to earth (and not very commonly heard) advice for the new artist/writer:
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit.” —Ira Glass
I like Ira’s honesty and directness. Here is the full animated quote regarding beginners:
“Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.” ― Carl Sagan
Watching the earth rise from the moon made humans finally understand what a small little fragile planet we live on. If we could keep more of that sentiment we would approach life and our relationships to one another very differently.
We, humans, believe us to be way, way more important than we really are. Both, as a species and as individuals. I have the theory that this is so because we live in cities. Large, noisy cities, which light obscures the stars at night. We have forgotten that there is a large, spectacular cosmos out there. An immutable universe that’s not concerned in the least with us. We could destroy ourselves down here, and the stars would notice nothing.
If we could not only understand, but feel like the astronauts did how small we are, we would look at the world with a very different perspective. And maybe, most likely, be a little better to one another.
“The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.” ― Carl Sagan
“You fail only if you stop writing.”
― Ray Bradbury
I hear so much about failing. In the startup world, in the tech world and in the writing world. I feel I have to address the topic. Look, there is no failing. It’s all in your head. Failing is just succeeding at a smaller scale. You can quote on me on that.
Writers we suffer from great deal of insecurity. So what if you didn’t sell as many books as you expected? Write another book and promote it more. Your next book will sell better. Believe me. Didn’t it sell more? Write another book and start again.
When thinking about success don’t think in absolute terms. Did I sell as much as that indie author sold with his first book? That’s a self-selecting, useless question. Think in relative terms. Did your first book sell? At all? That’s a success. After your second, third book look back. Did your overall earnings exceed your first book? Yes. So that’s a success as well.
Again, when thinking of about failure don’t think in absolute terms. Think about the investment concept of compounding. Success compounds. It doesn’t come overnight but it is built on top of all the efforts that came before it.
Same thing applies to that favorite, self publishing author you admire. That first success of them is not their first effort nor their first try. It is only the first success that we talk about.
Success is nothing but the golden child of failure.
Look at your own efforts and work as you would look a career. You wouldn’t expect a student of law to win a trial after his first semester of classes. Nor after his second or third. Not even his first trial after graduating. You are that student. You are on a path, success is at the end of the path, not at the first crossroad.
You won’t succeed until you have failed many times before.
Hustle your ass and good luck.
“Dream Big and Dare To Fail”
Here is where I bring the heavy artillery. If you ever feel overwhelmed with failure, remember to never give up and just let Janelle remind you of the power of yet:
“Find the voice that wants to tell your story. Once your narrator is there, the book will essentially write itself. All you have to do is show up at your desk, every day, and give that voice free reign. And don’t think about any kind of an end goal. Following that voice, and the writing itself, is the real reward.”
I prefer the term “writing industry”, rather than “publishing industry”. It’s about time we focus on what’s important in the larger picture. Writing is about storytelling, publishing is one component of that.
Storytelling is a critical component of what makes us human. The world of publishing is all about matching up storytellers with audiences, and this power has moved to the left coast and the world of ones and zeros. What matters most is what happens on either end, not in the middle. Can writers write? More than ever. Can they publish? Easier than ever. Can readers find and access stories? Like no other time in human history.