The Everyday Author

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

Category: Inspiration

Guest Post: Adventures in Self-Publishing w/ Michael Fletcher

Note from D-Sidd: Michael first joined us for an Author Origins interview back in June of 2015.  He then returned in March of 2016 to give us a sobering update on his author career.  He’d just been dumped by his major publisher and was working on a sequel to his critically acclaimed dark fantasy/grimdark book, Beyond Redemption and wrote about it in this post. Since then, Michael turned to self-publishing for the sequel, The Mirror’s Truth. (FYI, the above picture is not Michael, but he lives in Canada so it’s not completely out of the question that it could be him)

Hey Folks,

Yep, it’s me sneaking in here again for an update on all things random and insane. There are a couple of earlier blog posts you can check out if you’d like some background, or I can just give it to you now in a trippy drug-fueled flashback.

Crap. I’m all out of mescaline. Awrighty. Here’s the fast version:

I wrote a book (Beyond Redemption), got an agent, and sold that book to Harper Voyager. The book received rave reviews and made over a dozen Best-of-2015 lists. Secure in the knowledge HV would want more of my madness, I wrote a sequel (The Mirror’s Truth) and another novel taking place in the same world but with new characters (Swarm and Steel). I then learned that reviews do not always equal sales, and HV passed on the next book without even looking at it. In their words, Beyond Redemption wasn’t selling enough to warrant investing in a sequel. Gut punch.

Okay. We’re kinda caught up.

After spending several weeks drunk and lying in a pool of my own tears, I finally picked myself up, dusted myself off (really needed to vacuum), and realized I still wanted to write.

But it turns out success is a sneaky bastard. And my decision not to self-publish, I later came to realize, was a trap.

Many years ago—back in 2008—I stated in no uncertain terms that I would never self-publish. The few self-published novels I’d read were garbage. I believed whole-heartedly that if my books weren’t good enough to sell to a publisher, they weren’t good enough to publish. That was how I defined success. Well, by that metric, in 2014 (when BR sold to HV) I became successful. But it turns out success is a sneaky bastard. And my decision not to self-publish, I later came to realize, was a trap.

It turns out publishers are not interested in a sequel to a book held by another publisher. No one wanted The Mirror’s Truth. Having sold a book to a Big 5 publisher I now felt fairly confident (well, as confident as a writer ever feels) that I could write at a professional level. I’d spent a lot of time on TMT, and while it was different that BR—more internally focused on the characters—I was pretty sure it was just as good. But it wouldn’t sell. I faced a choice: Self-publish it, or let it die.

I am so glad I chose to self-publish. The Mirror’s Truth has been out a little over a month, has already landed on several Best-of-2016 lists, and earned back what I spent publishing it.

I went in knowing nothing, made just about every mistake along the way, and learned some amazing lessons. Super fast summary, ‘cuz this post ain’t about those lessons: Hire a good artist. Hire a good typographer for the cover text. Hire a reputable editor. Understand your deadline is self-set and change it if you need to rather than rushing to meet it. Oh, and self-publishing costs money!

Swarm and Steel, on the other hand, was not a sequel. My agent found a home for it with Talos Press (an imprint of Skyhorse/Night Shade Books) and it’s being released in August of 2017.

So now we’re caught up with today.

What does life look like for me right now? Well, I have a job, a family, and have to sneak in the writing wherever I can.

“How do you do that?” you might ask.

I have never been a morning person. The first time I got up at 5 am I thought I was going to puke. But when you want something bad enough, you make it happen.

I realized right away I was too tired—too burned out—in the evenings to write. After work, there was cooking dinner, doing homework with my daughter, spending time with my wife, and of course, whiskey. The only time I might be able to write was early in the morning. So I changed my schedule around. I’m now up by 5 am every day, even on weekends. This gives me two solid hours of writing/editing time before everyone else rises and the day starts. At 7 am I get my daughter up, and at 7:30 am I leave for work. And yeah, I’m in bed before 10 pm most nights. I have never been a morning person. The first time I got up at 5 am I thought I was going to puke. But when you want something bad enough, you make it happen.

More recently I realized there were writing opportunities at work that I was missing. Breaks, lunch time, and the occasional slow-time when nothing is happening. This coincided nicely with my daughter jumping up and down on a cheap Acer tablet I’d bought her a while back. The screen cracked and I didn’t want her cutting herself, but it was still useable. After installing Dropbox and Word, I took the tablet to work. After two days I realized my plan was crap. The damned thing was an utter bastard to type on and kept creating “Conflicted Copies” in Dropbox. But as they say, peanut butter is the step-mother of adversity. Or something.

I couldn’t work on the novel I worked on each morning while at work. That sentence needs the word ‘work’ in it a few more times. But what if I worked (aigh!) on something different? For the last year or so I’d been thinking about experimenting with hand-writing a novel. I couldn’t ever quite bring myself to do it because I love the flexibility of digital and dread retyping the damned thing. But here was the perfect excuse/reason!

In the last week, I brought a binder, paper, and a lovely pen to my place of employment. I’ve started world-building a new project. Gods my writing is messy! I don’t care how long it takes, but I will finish this hand-written novel.

As writers we face adversity. It’s part of the business. But we’re like sharks: if we stop we drown. (Note: Yeah, yeah, apparently this isn’t true for all breeds of shark. Or might not be true at all. I write fiction. I’m allowed to make shit up!)

The future is less certain than a Terminator movie. I don’t know where I’ll be tomorrow, never mind next year. Will I someday be able to quit my job and write full-time? Dunno. I hope so, but if not, it doesn’t really matter. I love what I’m doing.

And writing keeps me sane.

Are your hurt or just tired?

At the office gym the other day, I found myself trying to slack off. I’d just finished the first half of my workout (squats and Romanian Dead Lifts) and was moving into the second half (six rounds of lunges, box jumps and leap frogs). I had a couple of afternoon appointments as soon as I left the office, and was tempted to quit twenty minutes early. By this point I was already dripping sweat and my legs were dead after just one round of lunges and jumps.

My brain started thinking up excuses to get me out of there.

Call it good. You don’t want to strain your right calf, you know it’s been stiff lately.

Then I remembered a late summer morning my senior year of high school. It was Hell Week — five days of brutal relentless training to kick off the football season. We’d ran I don’t know how many 50 meter sprints and some of the younger guys were dropping like flies — walking off the track with various “injuries”preventing them from running any more.

There were a few — maybe even half — obviously faking it. Even more tapped out when we started doing laterals in front of the home team stands. The coaches and the rest of us still running were understandably pissed, but to our head coach’s credit, he didn’t force anyone to run. Instead, he said something like this:

“I can’t tell any of you that you’re not hurt and make you run. But you know yourselves, you know the difference between being hurt and just being tired. If you’re not hurt and just sick of running, you’re cheating yourself and your teammates.”

I know all this gym rat/jock-speak might be a turn-off for some of you, but the same rule applies to writing: only you know if you’re giving it your all or if you’re slacking, if you need a break or if you’re just being lazy.

It’s easy when you’ve got a day job and a thousand other responsibilities to feel drained and skip writing. To make it worse, the guilt starts setting in, messing with your head and stressing you out. It’s easy to beat yourself up and get trapped in a cycle that can seriously screw with your creativity.

On the other hand, sometimes you really do need to take the night off. Sometimes you need to take a week or even a month off! Overworking will mess you up just as much as slacking will. Knowing which is which can be more complicated than following Taylor Swift’s latest relationship.

There are an infinite number of ways to go at this author business and the only way to figure out the best process is through trial and error. But first, you’ve got to know your limits. Recognize the difference between doing half-assed work and legitimately needing a breather. Nobody but you can determine what you’re feeling.

Many authors advocate writing every day and that’s great if it works for you. For many, however, it’s impractical or even impossible. When I’m deep in the middle of a first draft, I usually only take off Sunday and sometimes Saturday. Not counting those days, my string of writing usually only lasts a month or so. I set a weekly wordcount to hit but my day-to-day output varies based on what’s going on with the rest of my life.

My revising/rewriting process is even more skiwampus. After too many tight deadlines and stress-filled weeks, I’ve learned to put some padding into my schedule to ensure I release the best work possible. The only way I figured this out, though was by testing my limits.

Don’t sell yourself short. You’re capable of achieving more than you think. On the flip side, don’t be too hard on yourself, either. Everyone needs breaks.

The next time you feel like quitting, be brutally honest. Cut out the excuses and all the other bullshit. Are you hurt or are you just tired?

Like an Olympian

Note: Hat tip goes to Joanna Penn, who often talks about this concept and inspired this post.

Watching the Summer Games this week gave me pause to reflect on the awesome and inspiring competition between Olympic athletes. These men and women have trained all of their lives for what can amount to a single defining performance. It doesn’t get much better than that.

There are many lessons we authors can learn from these athletes but the perhaps the most important are discipline and perseverance.

The day-to-day life on an Olympian athletes involves a constant grind of training, training and more training. When you’re competing against the best of the best, all those hours, weeks and months add up to small but vital dividends: you’re a fraction of a second faster, you can jump a half inch farther or higher — tiny little improvements that make the difference between a gold medal and last place.

For Olympians (and authors) it can be extremely discouraging to be trapped in a daily grind, working for such small changes without any immediate results. To keep their sanity, Olympians plan, prepare and measure their progress in four-year intervals.

As authors, it’s easy to get discouraged when our week-to-week book sales aren’t improving, when we’re not producing more and when our newsletter subscribers crawl up by one person every other month. At times like this, it’s vital to look at the big picture, at the change that’s taking place over the long term, not in the short run.

Four years ago, during the 2012 London Games, I was entering my senior year of college. I had a book I’d tinkered with since I was a teenager, writing and re-writing whenever the mood struck me. In August 2012 I made a goal: come hell or high water, I would finish the rough draft of that book before I graduated.

Out of Exile - Store Cover finalOut of Exile was finished in November 2012 and published in 2013. Four years later I’ve published three books in the Teutevar Saga series, a couple of short stories and a multi-author anthology. I’ve also started a hybrid publishing group and launched a service to help authors get reviews for their books. By the end of the year, we’ll be release another anthology and I’ll have outlined and started another trilogy.

Big change in four years, huh?

I don’t share this to brag or one-up anybody. There are hundreds — maybe thousands — of authors who’ve done 10x more than me in the last four years. In the same span, these men and women have become New York Times bestsellers, gathered thousands of fans and made writing their full-time occupations.

Most months, I still sell less than a dozen copies of books a month (although that number is climbing) and feel like I’m closer to the moon than becoming an author full-time. Until I look back on where I’ve come from, that is.

We’re each on our own journey, working at our own pace according to our own individual time lines. Day-to-day, it can feel like we’re spinning our wheels in the mud: like no one is reading our work, like the words we type up flow worse than a bowl of alphabet soup.

During the next two weeks, as the world celebrates Olympian achievement, take a moment to reflect on your own journey. Appreciate where you’ve come from and what you’ve accomplished in the last four years. You’ve probably come further than you realize.

Then make a plan and get to work. 2020 will be here before you know it.

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