Recently, I was contacted by Ken Picard of Seven Days VT who asked my insights into the seedy underbelly of indie publishing. (Ok, there’s really nothing seedy or underbelly-ish about my gig. Unless you take into consideration the dust bunnies under the desk in my office.) Check out the article here.
What do you think of the article? I’d love to hear from you.
Hey! This one goes out to indie authors. You’ve heard that advice to read a lot if you’re looking to up your game as an author. It’s a great way to learn your craft as you entertain your brain. (Not to mention support your brethren.) And, I don’t know about you, but I gain inspiration when I enjoy a well-written story. It’s some great advice. I read about 2-3 books a week. Not all of them are fiction. There’s some non-fiction writing craft stuff in there too.
Here’s a shout out to some books that I’ve recently “discovered” and don’t have enough good things to say about.
All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries) by Martha Wells – Refreshing POV narrator. Good world-building.
Disappearance At Devil’s Rock by Paul Tremblay – Fantastic style. Same author of A Head Full of Ghosts.
The Frozen Sky (the Europa Series Book 1) by Jeff Carlson – If Alien and The Expanse had a baby…
Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success (Helping Writers Become Authors Book 1) by K.M. Weiland – This writer’s energy and dedication to detail make we want to go take a nap.
How To Write A Novel The Easy Way Using The Pulp Fiction Method To Write Better Novels: Writing Skills by Jim Driver – Some good advice here.
Not all of them are science fiction. Reading outside of your customary genre is a great palate cleanser for the imagination. I hope you pick them up and enjoy them as much as I did.
And, just another mention in case you’ve not noticed or seen my earlier posts: Allies and Enemies is now available as a box set. This one includes exclusive content too!
Yesterday, I read a somewhat mean-spirited post by one of my favorite authors. Throughout his tirade, he maintains that he was speaking to a particular subset of independently published writers that release poorly written stories with zero editing and bad covers. He’s known for these spittle-flecked tirades laced with gruesome metaphor and massive doses of 6th-grade humor. I’m told that he’s actually a very nice guy in person. But posts like this are his shtick. It’s what he does. I get it.
This post struck a nerve with me, not just because he called out indie authors, but because he came off as a bit of a bully. I know one when I see one. Anyone that’s survived high school does.
There’s a phenomenon in nursing culture called “eating your young.” The older, more experienced nurses bully the new nurses. I’ve seen it and have been on the receiving end of it—quite recently, in fact. Some might consider it a traditional rite of passage, like hazing. (It’s ironic, really. An occupation that’s meant to foster healing and solace in the vulnerable allows a subculture of lateral violence amongst its own.) But it’s destructive and generally, makes people feel crappy.
I’m a newbie to indie authorship. In my journey, I’ve approached a lot of accomplished writers to ask them for guidance or advice. Not one of them has ever turned me away. The environment of the indie world has been in my experience a supportive one. We may be competing for the same audience of readers, but we recognize that in the Upsidedown of indie authorship that there are no hard and fast rules. And the ones that do exist seem to do so at the whim of capricious gods. Supporting each other goes a long way compared to going cannibal on our cohorts. There’s no room for bullies here.
I choose to believe that everyone has a story to tell. At the heart of every “book cover gone wrong,” there is an intent to bring that into the light. Every misplaced comma is a chance to learn from our mistakes and do better next time. Some might choose to pick apart these foibles of the indie world, but I won’t. I know they exist. No system is perfect.
Maybe as the indie authorship market evolves, this will change and turn on each other like the ravenous undead. Until then, I choose not to turn to cannibalization. Any younglings that approach me are not on the menu.
Here’s a theory—Chihuahuas have the souls of larger dogs (most likely dire wolves) wedged into those tiny little bodies. It would explain why these tiny pups think they’re big enough to take on a cat twice their size or why they always seem to shake. (The shaking is actually their molecules vibrating with the effort to keep all that “big dog soul” energy contained in such a small package.) Like I said, a theory.
Consider short stories. You’re trying to package an entire universe, complete with exposition and world-building into this teeny weeny manuscript that shouldn’t be more than 30,000 words. Forget dire wolves, you need to build a Chihuahua with the soul of a great white shark. For someone that writes 90,000-word novels, keeping it under 30,000 is asking a lot. (Weird, right?)
If you follow me on Twitter (@selatyron), you might have seen my occasional tirade, joke or weakly veiled cry for help as I blunder through this process.
So, why am I trying to torture myself this way? I’ve been tapped to contribute for a sci-fi anthology coming out this summer. Cool, right? (I’d mention its name here, but I’m not sure if that’s ok or not. Suffice it to say, it’s got some really awesome authors in this group. I was very flattered when I was invited to join in.)
I had an idea already kicking around—a backstory of a minor character in the Allies and Enemies series. It’s not as dark as some of the military sci-fi I’ve put out. And, if a newcomer likes the story, they might want to further explore the series. Win-win.
And then I realized I had to actually write a short story, something I’d never really done before outside of the occasional middle school essay (and come to think of it, those were hella-long too).
My inner George McFly started to panic, so I sat down and researched how to write short stories. (Believe me, I realize how strange that sentence sounds.)
So, here are my top four takeaways from this surprisingly daunting process:
Short stories don’t necessarily have to have a beginning, middle, and end. They can be the turning point or “moment of truth” for a character that’s part of a larger world. It’s this moment that is the meat of the story and not necessarily the rest of it.
This is a chance to take risks. Change verb tenses. Write it from the antagonist’s perspective. Try a genre you wouldn’t normally consider. It’s a short story, so even if it flops, you haven’t actually lost too much of a time investment.
This forced me to try to write in a less sprawling style. I learned to try to be succinct with my word choice.
Telling is “ok” in a short story. (I know. I know. You’re supposed to “show not tell.”) But in this condensed universe, it saves time, words and page space. Just avoid too many info dumps because that can be confusing to readers.
To prep for this, I started listening to fiction podcasts that showcase authors who have mastered the art of the short story. (My fave is the one offered by Lightspeed Magazine on iTunes.) Listening as opposed to reading, helped me to develop an ear for pacing and tone. Not all the author’s voices are the same when you compare their styles and genres, but if you listen to them back to back, patterns start to emerge. It was a huge help in constructing my story’s road map.
[And you’ll be pleased to know that the ‘comments’ field has been re-activated. Take that, spam bots!]
Recently, I was interviewed for the Rocking Self-Publishing podcast by the charming Simon Whistler. (The podcast should air on 3/30. I say should because I’d like to give Simon an easy out in case he realizes what a spaz I am.) This was a fantastic experience for me. Not only was it lots of fun chatting with Simon, but he asked some excellent questions. During the interview, I had the chance to discuss my personal philosophies on being an indie-author and ran through my Top 5 Elements of Middling Success or How to Fail Upwards. (I’m still working on the title.)
One of the elements on my list (#5) is “Don’t give up.” I think it goes hand-in-hand with the concept that you can’t judge your success by the what you see around you. Success is an internal measure. I think that’s where a lot of folks fall down. It’s easy to find reasons to give up when your self-pubbed book is not an overnight sensation like The Martian or Wool. Let’s get real. Before these two books became best sellers, they started out as ideas. They’re the result of a lot of hard work. They were not magically generated overnight. That’s crazy-think, right there. It’s pretty bricky to think right out of the gate you’re going to have a best seller on your hands without having to get those hands dirty.
You have set realistic goals. Ambition is great. It gets your motor running. But know where you’re motoring. If you continue to establish unrealistic goals, you’re heading for a cliff. So, there’s a method for figuring out your goals called the SMART technique. (What can I say? I’m a sucker for clever acronyms.)
Specific – Be specific about your goal. If you’re never written and/or published a book, instead of saying “I’m going to become an author”, a more specific goal would be “I’m going to independently publish a science fiction novel by the end of the year.”
Measurable – Decide on a way you can measure your success. For instance, “I’m going to write for 30 minutes a day.”
Attainable – Here’s where you ask yourself what’s actually physically possible. Don’t tell yourself you’re going to write 5,000 words a day when you know you struggle for the time to even write 500. Aim for what you know is possible for your steps along the way. Don’t say “I’m going to sell 100 books this week.” when you have no control over what other people will or won’t buy.
Realistic – Be honest with yourself here. It’s easy to say something fantastical like, “I’ll write a book a month.” (OK, I know there are people that really do that, but I’m pretty sure they’re cyborgs or genetically enhanced.) Try saying, “I’m going to self-publish on Amazon at the end of October.”
Timely – Making a deadline keeps it real. You’re making an appointment with yourself, be it 30 days or 300 days. Make yourself keep that appointment.
So, Murphy, you say, what’re your goals if you’re such an expert on this?
First of all, I’m many things, but not an expert. I only know what’s worked for me.
My goal is easy. Aim low. Well… not low, but I’m realistic. My motto: “Mid-list, at best.”
It was easy to get caught up in the excitement when my first book, Allies and Enemies: Fallen, caught some good traction. I never thought I’d be the next Weber or Scalzi. But my books have (temporarily) shown up on lists with their books which is/was pretty awesome. It’s also quite humbling. It made me realize how much harder you have to work to stay there.
And I’ll likely never receive a Nebula or a Hugo. But I am now a member of SFWA which was a goal I’ve had for quite some time.
Be real with yourself. Know what you can do to get to what you want to do. It’s not going to happen overnight. But, hang in there, kitten. It’ll happen.