Wednesday, December 10, 2014

NINJA STUFF: Author, Year One (Part Two - Control and Being an Adult)

Last Time on Ninja Stuff: I wrote about adjusting your expectations as a debut author to match reality, not your dream. I also discussed the virtue of patience as books depend on word-of-mouth to build readership and that takes time.

And now the thrilling conclusion...

Today, I want to share with you some of what I've learned over the last year publishing 4 ebooks, 2 print books, 3 (soon to be 4) audiobooks, and a whole lot of afterwords that a surprisingly large number of people have read:) I don't want to repeat myself, but if you're curious, I've already discussed my reasons for publishing independently, the thrill of having my story ranked next to Stephen King's, my excitement about being able to make my stories available, my troubles with covers, and the making of my first audiobook.

I love being an indie author. It's not for everyone, but it's for me. I've had more fun this year as a writer than I've had in any year previous. Last post, I may have come off a bit negative and that's not my intention. There's a difference between being negative and being realistic.

When I say I'm not a famous, best-selling author, I'm not being negative or down on myself, nor am I precluding the possibility of either of those things becoming true in the future. I'm simply assessing the reality of my situation which is easily verifiable by anyone with internet access and is similar to the situation of many debut novelists: better than some, not as good as others.

I want to present a balanced view of being an author. Authors, like any professional, wish to appear successful and they are, after all, professional liars (I made up some lies, people paid me for them). In my time obsessively reading the K-boards and other sources of information geared toward indie authors, I've noticed a tendency for some writers to present the world of independent publishing in the best possible light.

In too many cases, I've caught writers in outright lies. You can write a blog post about how your ebook is selling more copies than the Bible, but I have internet access and it's not going to take me long to decide whether I should continue reading your advice or whether you're writing it in an alternate universe unrelated to the one in which I live where facts apply.

Typically, we focus our attention on the extreme outliers, as though being the world's second best-selling author would be so bad. If you're not first, you're last might be a catchy slogan for a T-shirt, but it's a silly way for adults to approach the world. I'll take 50th best-selling author any day of the week and so long as the royalty deposits arrive in my account, you'll never hear me complain:)

This first year as an author has been a waking-dream, probably because it's also been my first year as a parent and sleep and I have gone our separate ways. I've never been more distracted from my writing and I've never needed to pay more attention to it. If I hadn't published All Together Now two months before the birth of my son, I might have stopped writing, at least for the year if not for longer.

I don't think it's coincidence, these two major life events happening simultaneously, as together they're forcing me to become something I've long resisted: an adult. What I'm about say next applies only to me and my experiences. For ME, I think querying in the traditional publishing model was a form of extended adolescence.

Obviously, I'm not against traditional publishing (I am against bad contracts for writers, but that doesn't apply to all traditional models). I'm providing a whole host of interviews with agents and editors for writers to query. For the right project, a traditional deal is absolutely the way to go and a writer should investigate every option available for her manuscript before publishing it. Your book should be published wherever you think it will reach the widest readership.

I'm sharing my experience because I think it will be helpful for writers going through something similar and for writers considering publishing their own work. Remember, being a successful indie author has only just recently become a viable option, so I can't be too hard on myself for the decade and a half I spent querying agents and editors and I consider myself lucky to have had that time to hone my craft. If I had been able to publish my first manuscripts, I might have, and I'd have been shooting myself in the foot as I wasn't ready for readers. I'm glad those early efforts aren't available and haunting my Amazon page.

I'm also glad I stayed with the traditional system long enough to have signed with an agent and to have had editors tell me yes (committees said no). After 15 years of writing queries, it would've always bugged me not to have achieved the goal. That I hung around waiting an extra year or two after the writing was on the wall that there was a better option available for my books haunts me a bit, but life's too short to waste on regret when it could be instead wasted on Facebook:)

When I was in my twenties, I decided I would wait to marry until I had published my first book. I didn't want a family because I knew I'd have a harder time writing and I do. My first apartment had a desk in the center of the main room and after a shift waiting tables, I wrote all night and slept only a couple hours before my next shift. It would all be worth it, I reasoned, because when my first book hit big I'd have time to relax and start living my real life. And there was nothing for me to do but keep writing and waiting on some agent or editor to change my life for me and make my dream come true. I also planned to quit smoking and swilling Mountain Dew at 7 or 8 cans per writing session (not as exciting as the habits of young Stephen King or old Ernest Hemmingway perhaps, but certainly self-destructive). After all, soda and tobacco were just short-term necessities to keep me writing until the big break came.

It's ironic to me then that my first year as an author, not just a writer, finds me happily married with a family. What's more ironic is I wouldn't have it any other way. I don't drink soda or smoke cigarettes these days and my desk is shoved against a window in an office rather than dominating the front room, and those are all good changes. Behind my desk is an elliptical machine I'm going to hop on before my morning is done, because I've learned my mind needs my body in at least bare minimum working condition to keep writing:)

I'm more than just a writer and who I am is separate from my books. I didn't believe that in my twenties, the source of no small amount of misery, but I believe it now. I'm somebody's dad and somebody's husband and more important than my next book is my son's next bottle. I'm going to write today and everyday, but I'm also going to play patty cake and both activities will make me happy.

Publishing my books on my own has done something for me nothing else ever has: it's given me perspective on my writing. It turns out my books aren't half bad. I'd always hoped this was true, but it's been quite something to talk with actual readers who think so. Not everyone loves my stories, but some readers do, and that's amazing.

A younger reader was planning to go to "book character day" at school dressed as Bilbo Baggins, but after reading my book, has instead decided to go as Banneker Bones (see the image above). That might be the greatest compliment anyone has ever given my writing, and it couldn't have happened if Banneker Bones and the Giant Robot Bees was still sitting on my shelf unpublished. 

Doesn't change the fact that I have a diaper to change and soon the Diaper Geni will need to be dumped, which is hardly a task befitting a noble author, and yet he's going to do it anyway:) It also doesn't change the fact that I have to finish Banneker Bones 2 and Zombies 3. But I will finish them and publish them and by the time they arrive new readers will have read the first books and might be interested in reading more.

As Voltaire said, "the better is the enemy of the good." Having my books snatched up by a major publisher who loved them and was willing to put lots of cash into promotion would've been nice, but it didn't happen. It's not personal. It doesn't happen for 98% of writers (76% of statistics are made up), or whatever the actual, very large percentage is:) But letting that dream of ideal publication, which is extremely unlikely even if you get a contract offer, stand in the way of getting your fiction to readers is silly.

Although I'm not presently rich and famous, I am extremely happy and grateful for all my readers. And my writing royalties, though not enough to buy castles Nic Cage style, are paying for book production and providing a nice source of income that has allowed me to pay bills and justify the time spent writing more books. I didn't get an advance, but I've already earned more than the advance I was previously offered--I just had to accept it in monthly installments instead of a lump sum. And remember, my books will continue to earn something for the rest of my life (and I'm selling T-shirts and audiobooks). That money combined with not paying for daycare has allowed me to reduce my hours at my day job and stay home with my son during the week and I assure you that time is far more valuable to me than all the castles.

I want to end this post by sharing the most important thing I've learned this year: I control what I can control. I don't have any say in what reviewers think of my books, I can only make sure they're reading the best work I can produce. I can't make readers recommend my books to their friends any faster than they're already doing. There's no sense patting myself on the back when I get a great review or beating myself up when I don't. Those things are beyond my control and therefore not worth worrying about.

What I can control is writing my next book and promoting the ones currently available. And that's it. That's plenty.

And so my first year as an author finds me back where I started and where I always return: staring at my manuscript and trying to think of the next thing to type to keep the story going and hoping that when it's finished, readers will like it at least half as much as I do. What else could I expect from a writer's life?


  1. Love this! Especially since you referenced Nick Cage AND included that photo of him :)
    But seriously, it's been fun to watch your journey, even when it includes trips to the trash with the Diaper Genie. Congratulations on a good year!

    1. You too, Sherrie. It's been a good first year for both of us.

  2. Spot on post. "Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water." And I had a blast reading all of your books. Keep on a-writing.

  3. Am so impressed you did all this while starting your journey as a parent too. So true you are separate from your books. Glad your journey has been good for you.

  4. I just bookmarked this post. You hit on more than one topic that really resonated with me, so thank you!

    It's so hard when people romanticize being a writer, and I'm glad that you really showed both sides of the coin.

    Also, that little boy is adorable. Congrats on having such kick-butt fans!


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