The Everyday Author

For authors who can't quit their day jobs...yet

Month: August 2015

To Beat the Devil

Note from D_Sidd: In an effort to keep the Everyday Author fresh, you may see an occasional post that’s out of the box from what we normally publish. I’m kicking things off this week with the lyrics to a Kris Kristofferson song I recently heard. Although it was written for singers, it definitely applies to writers as well. I hope it resounds with you like it did for me. Keep on creating, everyone.

To Beat the Devil – Kris Kristofferson

It was winter time in Nashville, down on music city row.
And I was lookin’ for a place to get myself out of the cold.
To warm the frozen feelin’ that was eatin’ at my soul.
Keep the chilly wind off my guitar.

My thirsty wanted whisky; my hungry needed beans,
But it’d been of month of paydays since I’d heard that eagle scream.
So with a stomach full of empty and a pocket full of dreams,
I left my pride and stepped inside a bar.

Actually, I guess you’d could call it a Tavern:
Cigarette smoke to the ceiling and sawdust on the floor;
Friendly shadows.

I saw that there was just one old man sittin’ at the bar.
And in the mirror I could see him checkin’ me and my guitar.
An’ he turned and said: “Come up here boy, and show us what you are.”
I said: “I’m dry.” He bought me a beer.

He nodded at my guitar and said: “It’s a tough life, ain’t it?”
I just looked at him. He said: “You ain’t makin’ any money, are you?”
I said: “You’ve been readin’ my mail.”
He just smiled and said: “Let me see that guitar.
“I’ve got something you oughta hear.”
Then he laid it on me:

“If you waste your time a-talkin’ to the people who don’t listen,
“To the things that you are sayin’, who do you think’s gonna hear.
“And if you should die explainin’ how the things that they complain about,
“Are things they could be changin’, who do you think’s gonna care?”

There were other lonely singers in a world turned deaf and blind,
Who were crucified for what they tried to show.
And their voices have been scattered by the swirling winds of time.
‘Cos the truth remains that no-one wants to know.

Well, the old man was a stranger, but I’d heard his song before,
Back when failure had me locked out on the wrong side of the door.
When no-one stood behind me but my shadow on the floor,
And lonesome was more than a state of mind.

You see, the devil haunts a hungry man,
If you don’t wanna join him, you got to beat him.
I ain’t sayin’ I beat the devil, but I drank his beer for nothing.
Then I stole his song.

And you still can hear me singin’ to the people who don’t listen,
To the things that I am sayin’, prayin’ someone’s gonna hear.
And I guess I’ll die explaining how the things that they complain about,
Are things they could be changin’, hopin’ someone’s gonna care.

I was born a lonely singer, and I’m bound to die the same,
But I’ve got to feed the hunger in my soul.
And if I never have a nickel, I won’t ever die ashamed.
‘Cos I don’t believe that no-one wants to know.

Polish like a boss: tips for revising a manuscript

Author’s Note: As fate would have it, one of our Author Origins guests, Michael Fletcher, published a great post on this subject at almost the same time I wrote this. You can check it out here.

In today’s publishing scene, authors are under more pressure than ever to produce at lightning speed. Given this PUBLISH OR DIE mentality, it’s easy to get impatient or rush the process, especially when comparisonitis flares up and it seems like everyone around you is releasing a book every other day. But rushing the process is the last thing you should do.

While cable surfing one night, I came across a TV program featuring a reunion of aging songwriters. As they dispensed career wisdom, one line stood out above the rest: “More good songs are ruined by people trying to finish them.” In other words, sometimes no matter how bad you want to, you can’t rush great creative work.

More good songs are ruined by people trying to finish them.

Don’t be hasty, grasshopper. Don’t shoot your muse/book in the foot just because you’re trigger happy.

But how do we know when we’re there? When is enough enough and when do we need to put in more elbow grease?

As foolish as rushing an unready manuscript to publication is, revising a book a thousand times (especially if you haven’t even finished it all the way through yet) is just as bad. The best solution is to work at your own tempo and develop an instinct for when a book’s “just right.” It will be ready when it’s ready. And once it’s good to go, get that tasty little piggy to market.

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Although that sounds fine and dandy, it’s harder than it seems. You’ve got to be honest and disciplined with yourself. There’s no absolute rule that your book will be ready after X amount of drafts. That said, here are some guidelines I’ve found helpful for revising a manuscript.

Don’t be lazy.

The most important. If you need to do another revision, just do it. If you need to make the big change requiring a massive rewrite, make it. Rewrites can just plain suck, but ya gotta do what ya gotta do. If your writer’s intuition tells you something isn’t quite right you’d better do whatever it takes to fix it. The worst thing you can do in this situation is ignore your instinct. There’s nothing worse than reading over a book you’ve published and kicking yourself in the butt for shortcutting it. Your book deserves better. Don’t cheat your work or yourself.

Outlining is your friend.

Not only does outlining help you write faster, but it also gives you a bird’s eye view of a clean slate, where you can brainstorm and throw in what-ifs to your hearts desire. Outlining also allows those “ah-ha” moments a chance to show themselves much earlier in the process. It’s also helpful to compare your outline to your rough draft, especially if you feel like you’ve missed the mark somewhere along the way.

Understand your man(uscript).

I love Anatomy of Story and am working my way through the Story Grid (you can check it all out for free here) as we speak. Both provide fascinating insights on character development and story structure. Understanding how a novel works and the particularities of your genre are a must. You can’t fix something if you don’t know it’s broken.

Marinate your manuscript.

Stephen King recommends letting a rough draft sit for at least six weeks before you go back to it. I’ve done anywhere from two weeks to six and now usually schedule in a month away from a manuscript when I’m figuring out my production schedule. This gives me enough time to forget what I was going for and see what I actually ended up with. It also helps to spot those pesky typos.

Be a butcher.

There is nothing worse than hitting backspace on a highlighted section of 1,000+ words…or an entire chapter. Even so, there comes a time when we have to kill the fluff. It’s okay — they’re just words. You can write more. Words are cheap. Another Stephen Kingism: 2nd draft = 1st draft – 10%. While it’s not a hard and fast rule, this formula makes a good measuring stick. There’s always fat to trim, making for a leaner, meaner manuscript.

Know when to show and tell.

I’m a firm believer in the power of beta readers and (of course) editors. Even so, I don’t let anyone see my work until I’ve wrapped up the second and sometimes third draft. Input is good, but not when you’re still figuring out the story for yourself. Too many opinions too early on only muddy the water. Once you work out most of the kinks, THEN it’s time to share. I’ve got a trusted group of 3-4 beta readers, a developmental/continuity editor and another editor who looks at both copy and structure. You can bet by the time a manuscript passes through THAT gauntlet, it’s ready to roll.

wpid-imag0065_1-e1410915663557-960x913Derek Alan Siddoway ( D_Sidd) always thought he wanted to be a paperback writer. Instead, he broke into the self-publishing world in 2013 when he realized there had to be a better use of his time than writing queries to agents. Converted by the fellowship of indie authors, he never looked back. Now, he’s the Founding Father of Undaunted Publishing, a hybrid publishing house combining the best of traditional and self publishing, and the author of Teutevar Saga, an epic/historical fantasy series with a “medieval western” twist. Learn more at derekalansiddoway.com.

My response to Marc Aplin’s “Why I don’t generally recommend self-publishing to beginners”

First of all, I want to preface this response with the following:
  1. I’m just your Average Joe self-published author, not some superstar. I am not the aforementioned author who has sold “as many books as Mark Lawrence, Brent Weeks, Kameron Hurley, Wesley Chu, etc.”…yet.
  2. I’m a big fan of Marc Aplin and Fantasy Faction.
  3. I would never want to pick a fight with Marc Aplin because he’s a retired MMA dude. That said, I’m sure he’s not the kind of person who goes around beating  up people anyway…but still.
  4. Marc brings up a ton of great points that I wish someone had told me when I first decided to self-publish. These are things many starting/failing self-published authors have not heard or refuse to hear.
  5. Marc doesn’t generally recommend self-publishing for begginers. He’s not saying it’s an evil overlord hell-bent on destroying the publishing landscape as we know it, he’s just asking us all to take off our rose-colored glasses.
  6. Be sure to read the entire post, found here.

With that being said.

MA: Well, I don’t think that any aspiring author out there would turn down the chance to be published by the likes of Harper Voyager (who print books by Robin Hobb, George R.R. Martin and Mark Lawrence) or Gollancz (home to Patrick Rothfuss and Brandon Sanderson).

I’m going to skip over the little prelude about having George R.R. Martin as my colleague. How many midlist authors at Harper Voyager have ever seen, let along shared a sentence with George R. R. Martin?

MA: I also don’t think that any individual is egotistical enough to think that they can do the job of agent, editor, marketer, production manager, distribution manager, sales person, etc. all by themselves and to the high standards of trained, experienced professionals who have earned their jobs in the top publishing houses around the world.

I can’t speak for the egos of other authors, but I know I can’t be an “agent, editor, marketer, production manager, distribution manager, sales person, etc” all by myself. However, I can and have assembled (just like Captain America) my own team of editors and other assistants to help me out. Let’s not forget that these “trained, experienced professionals” in top publishing houses have their fingers in a lot of pies. Sometimes, that means they ignore you if your sales aren’t sexy. Sometimes it means the bigger fish in the pond take more of their time. I know this from masquerading as a public relations professional by day.

MA: Finally, there just isn’t good money in being a self-published author. Yes, there are exceptions, but if you want to take the chance that the next one of those will be you then you’re playing with odds not too far away from getting a good lottery win.

No, starting out and for many years in some cases, there isn’t good money being a self-published author. But if you take out the heavy hitters, there isn’t always great money in traditional publishing, either. You’re playing the lottery either route you take as far as I’m concerned.

And now, the reasons Marc says people self-publish:

MA Argument #1: AN EDITOR / AGENT TURNED THEIR BOOK DOWN.

I admit, starting out this was me. It got real old real quick getting form responses or no responses back from agents. I decided I’d rather spend my time writing books — books better and more awesome than the one I was pitching.

MA: Imagine you want to be a professional football player, you don’t walk on the pitch and start playing for Manchester United. Imagine you want to be a movie star, you don’t automatically get cast in the next Avengers movie. Similarly, if you write a book there is no reason you should assume you deserve to be on shelves next to Trudi Canavan or Peter V. Brett, etc.; you need to put in some practice, allow yourself to fail a few times, get to a professional standard through hard work and dedication.

Yeah, but…you don’t get good enough to play for Manchester United by kicking a soccer (yes, I called it soccer) ball against a brick wall.  You don’t get cast in the next Avengers by rehearsing lines in front of  a mirror, without audiences seeing you in smaller films. Maybe your book doesn’t deserve to be on the shelf next to Trudi Canavan, but once you’ve got the knack for it (more on this later) there’s no reason your book doesn’t “deserve” to be enjoyed by readers. You’ve got to hit the stage before you can be the star.

Right or wrong, here’s what I did. Although my picture doesn’t show it, Out of Exile also went through several rounds of revisions, beta reads and was also edited by a professional copy editor and structural editor during the process

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MA Argument #2: AN HONEST BELIEF THAT THE AUTHOR CAN DO ALL THE WORK REQUIRED TO A PROFESSIONAL STANDARD AND OBTAIN THE SALES FIGURES TO MAKE IT ALL WORTHWHILE.

I concede a point to Marc here. He’s right and says something every aspiring indie should remember, nay, tattoo on their chest so they can read it upside down every morning before they get out of bed to go check their sales report on KDP: “self-publishing isn’t as easy as writing a book, putting it on Amazon and watching your bank get tasty little bonuses.”

No matter how you publish, you need a professional editor and cover designer. We can haggle about price and what makes a professional another time.

MA: If you write a book and self-publish it you get people like me who instantly approach your book with suspicion.

It’s 2015, not 2010 and the stigma around self-published books is fast-fading. People look at covers and they look at reviews, they don’t look for a publisher’s logo. But I get where you’re coming from, Marc. Every bad rap against self-published books has been justly earned by us indies. We blew it with the word garbage many of us poured down people’s throats, claiming it was a “book.” We’ve got to keep fighting to fix this. If done right, a person browsing online shouldn’t be able to tell your book is self-published unless they REALLY want to know.

In summary

MA: The dream of every writer should be to do it full-time so that they can become a full creative and indulge themselves within their worlds and provide the reading public with as many works that have had as much of their time as possible, surely

Testify to me, brotha! I can’t agree with this more, but whether an author gets there strictly through self-publishing, hybrid publishing or writing something other than books (like games, screenplays, etc.) is a different matter altogether.

What Marc fails to address, in my opinion, is that self-publishing is not the end-all-be-all destination, but  instead as a stepping stone for the dream he’s talking about. Ultimately, no matter how an author wants to publish their book, their goal should be for that book to be read and enjoyed by fans, regardless of who is listed as the publisher. That’s what I want, anyway.

As a stepping stone, I believe self-publishing (*done right, that is) can be a fantastic way for an author to get his or her work read and enjoyed by fans as he/she continues to progress toward the glorious paradise we call “full-time authorness.” And by done right, I mean ruthlessly revised and edited and given a proper cover, among other things, to ensnare the reader with the best story possible. Don’t live in the awful purgatory that both Marc and I agree comes when an author refuses to admit his work sucks. Keep growing!

Sure, you need practice, but that doesn’t mean all of your practice books up to the “big break” are garbage, either. Where does “beginning” end and “intermediate” begin? Once you feel — and here, “feel” means being brutally honest about said book and also getting feedback on it from someone other than your grandma —  you’ve got a book worth reading, why not share it with the world?

Are you afraid it will ruin your shot at the big leagues some day?

As Mark Lawrence estimates in his own response to Aplin’s post, somewhere around 1 in 2,000, authors who pitch his agent will get a publishing deal. From there, Lawrence crunches some rough numbers and guesses that 1 in 20,000 writers succeed in being traditionally published and making it “big”. No matter how good your book is, traditional publishing is not a linear, guaranteed thing where if you do A, B will follow. See Lawrence’s supporting diagram:

Mark Lawrence publishing venn diagram

Fancy diagram credit goes to Mark Lawrence

With these numbers in mind, is there anyone who can say with a straight face that only 1 in 2,000 self-published books were as entertaining as the worst traditionally published book they’ve ever read? I don’t think so.

Self-publishing is hard work, the payouts are often small and it’s easy to get discouraged and want to give it up. Even worse, as Marc with a “c” says “ some writers who were destined to write great novels that they were going to sell to hundreds of thousands of readers will instead self-publish, get discouraged at a lack of sales and give up writing.”

This is a valid point, but I would argue that these writers  would have given up just the same when they failed to secure an agent and a traditionally published deal. I would argue that those who persevere rise to the top in either scenario.

It takes a special person (read: a stubborn glutton for punishment) to find success in publishing period, regardless of the route you take.

The difference and deciding factor to me is this: in self-publishing, I can write, revise, edit and publish a book that some people, however few, will read and enjoy. I can then go back to my desk, do everything in my power to write a better book and repeat the process. Ten years down the road, if I continue to improve my craft, stay savvy with my marketing and continually produce better books, lightning might strike. If not, I should at least be able to bring in enough money to drown my woes in delicious Mongolian BBQ once a month.

On the flip side, I can continually write books for ten years, pitching agent after agent and shoving manuscript after manuscript into the back corner of my desk drawer, dealing with even longer odds. This is a bleak, lonely road. Maybe at the end of those ten years I get a deal. Maybe not. If not, I’ll  pay for my monthly Mongolian BBQ binge out of my own pocket and so be it.

The master plan either way is to write a book, then more books followed by better books until you’ve got something special on your hands that will make you a self-pub star or an agent’s new best friend (hopefully). Unless you’re some kind of other-world author prodigy, your first few books will suck. Some of the ensuing ones might suck too. The question is, what do  you want to do with the good books in between suck and special?

In either scenario, nothing is a sure thing, but I’ll take my chances with the self-publishing route for now. Why? Because if nothing else, I know I have a small band of readers out there who enjoy my writing and stand by my side on this long, crazy journey. Their support is often the only thing that keeps me from being another writer who quit.

It’s hard to get that kind of encouragement from the dust bunnies in the bottom drawer of my desk.

Author Origins: Joseph Lallo

Joseph LalloJoseph Lallo, though having written several novels, was slow to consider himself an author. Educated at NJIT, where he earned a Master’s Degree in Computer Engineering, the world of Information Technology is where most of his bills were paid until Sept of 2014 when he finally became a full-time author. His books include the popular Book of Deacon series, as well as a sci-fi adventure series called Big Sigma and a steampunk series called Free-Wrench

His most recent release is a collection of his Book of Deacon stories, The Book of Deacon Anthology and in November that series will continue with The D’Karon Apprentice.

You can find him at www.bookofdeacon.com and he is @jrlallo on twitter and tumblr.

Introduction: Tell us who you are, how and why you decided to be an author and where you’re at right now in your career.

My name is Joseph R. Lallo (still haven’t earned that second R that seems mandatory for us fantasy author types). I’m originally from Bayonne, NJ, and until recently I was working IT for the healthcare industry through a complicated sequence of sub-contracts that isn’t really worth explaining.

I’d never really had any plans to be an author, though from a very early age I knew I wanted to write a book. Basically I just knew as early as second grade or so that I wanted “wrote a book” to be on my list of things I did when I was a grownup. There were a few abortive attempts around that time, but eventually I discovered a game called Dragon Warrior, a title for the NES which was a fairly standard RPG involving knights, dragons, descendants, and prophesies. My buddies at the time decided to create our own characters and stories to act out within the setting of the game. (As far as I know this was prior to the advent of the term LARP, but we were almost there.) The others eventually moved on, but the creative juices continued to flow and ferment in my head until in high school or so I started jotting down notes. By college I’d graduated to typing those notes, and in 2010 after two years of rejection from literary agents I let my friends talk me into self-publishing.

In September, 2014 I finally quit my day job (a week before they laid off my whole department—first rat off the ship!). Since then I’ve been writing a few thousand words a day, and working with Jeff Poole and Lindsay Buroker on a podcast dedicated to the intricacies of marketing for indies in our genres. I’ve got somewhere north of 13 books out—the exact count is a bit blurry because there’s an anthology and some short stories and contributions to collections in there—and the sales have been more than enough to buy the bills, not to mention put the down payment on the house I’m living in.

What was the hardest thing about balancing writing with a day job. What’s still the hardest thing to balance with everyday life?

The hardest thing about balancing the writing with the work was remembering to sleep. In the early days, before I published, writing was an escape from the frustration of the IT world. I would write on my phone during my train/bus commute, type for a few minutes before I left for work, and type for a few hours after I got home. Let’s be honest, I also typed more than was really morally appropriate while I was at work, since running reports and compiling code meant some days there would have otherwise been a lot of thumb twiddling.

After self-publishing, writing continued to be a mildly disappointing hobby for about a year and a half. After that things picked up and I started to treat writing as a second job which grew to eclipse the main one.

Tell us about your schedule and habits from this time (or what you’re doing now if it hasn’t changed).

Back then, depending on shift, I would get up at either 4:30 am or 6:30 am. After the normal morning ablutions I would have about 10 minutes to do some quick outlining or writing, then I was out the door and onto a bus/light-rail/train commute. That was usually an hour, during which I would use my phone or a pad to write some more. I was at work until 4 or 6pm (again, depending on shift) and would write during my lunch hour and during those moments when there was little else that could be done work-wise (which didn’t come up as often as I would have liked). Then came the reverse commute with a little more phone writing, then dinner and another hour or two of typing. Weekends generally had three hours of writing each day as well, assuming I didn’t have other plans.

Nowadays I’m up at 7am or 8am (or whenever my brain decides to stop ignoring the daylight). And I write until I’ve got at least 3k words, however long that takes. Most days I get closer to 5k, and then I spend the rest of the day doing chores, taking walks, and handling emails and other book biz.

If you don’t mind, would you tell us how your sales first started out? How many books did you have out before you started seeing traction?

I released my first book in January, 2010. Between then and May 2011 I made about $19. Which was something like eight sales, because I had a widely varying price structure at the time. It wasn’t until I had 3 or 4 books out that I saw traction, and only then because I’d made the first book in the Book of Deacon trilogy free.

At one point in time did you make the decision to support yourself/your family as an author? What was that decision like and how did you feel afterward?

I’d like to say I made the decision to quit the day job when I did my taxes one year and found that my day job’s salary was barely enough to cover the taxes on my self-employment income. In reality it took a year and a half longer than that. I ended up sticking at my day job out of the ironclad belief that the success I was enjoying was temporary and as soon as I stepped onto the rickety lifer raft of my writing career it would sink and I’d be ruined. Things at work continued to get more and more unbearable though, and for months I was hemming and hawing about maybe quitting the job. Then, after 9 years, the people who had subcontracted me finally made an offer to hire me as an employee. Their offer was generous, but would have almost certainly come at the cost of 10-20 hours a week unpaid overtime, which aside from destroying my sanity would have entirely eliminated the time I’d been spending writing. At that point I knew I had to either quit the job or quit writing. Framed in that way, it wasn’t a difficult choice.

By then I’d been earning good money with the books for almost three years, and banking most of it, so I had a big enough nest egg to take some of the anxiety out of the act. What I felt, mostly, was relief that I wasn’t agonizing over a decision anymore. My dad almost had a heart attack though. He’s from a background where you don’t quit a job, ever.

What is one thing about your author career that not many people know of? Alternatively, what are some of your other hobbies/interests outside of writing?

I think a lot of people who are thinking of going into writing full time don’t realize that, especially for self-pub and increasingly for traditional pub, it isn’t just a job, it’s a business. You’ve got to handle everything from lining up editors and artists to planning advertising and doing book keeping. If you go as far as I did, you’ll even be setting up a PO Box and handling some inventory. Writing is only about half the job.

As for interests outside of writing, I’m into video games. I also got a Master’s Degree in Computer Engineering, so sometimes I like to solder together some doodads or toy with 3D printing.

What’s the single best piece of advice you have for authors who can’t support themselves with their writing yet? What should they be focusing on?

It may sound trite, but just keep writing. There are things that will help you get noticed, and to sell more books, but you can’t make use of any of them if you don’t have books to sell. The more titles you’ve got out, the more chances you’ve got to win the “discovery lottery” and have people realize how good your book is. And if you’re writing a series, having a bunch of stories means if you can hook them with the first book, you can sell through the whole series. All of the other stuff, from getting good covers to getting proper editing, comes second to actually finishing the story and, ideally, starting the next one.

Is there anything we haven’t asked that you’d like to touch on?

Once you get rolling and you’ve got some money (assuming you’ve already gotten top notch covers) consider getting some reference drawings or illustrations of your characters. There’s something magic about giving your characters a face, and giving your fans someone to picture (and maybe someone to draw their own pictures of).

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