I'm planning to bring on some guest bloggers shortly to expand the dialogue and include other indie writers. In part, it's because I like these folks. In part, it's because I want to learn more myself. And in part it's because if I'm blogging, I'm not working on my books. I'm really looking forward to reading their stuff, and I hope you'll check it out!
If you’ve been following along, you know I’ve done a number of interviews about my books, myself, and my writing process – whatever that may be! One of the questions I get over and over and have even attempted to answer on occasion is, “What advice do you have for new authors?” The subject is so large that I vacillate between flippancy and despondency. Sometimes, as I’ve hinted, I don’t even try to respond. But it’s been four years since the release of Steel, Blood & Fire, and I do have a few thoughts.
First, if you’re an indie author in the first five or ten years of your career (as I am), put everything you make off the sales of your books back into your books, into advertising, critical reviews, better and better book covers. Using any of this so-called “profit” at this early stage is like expecting your newborn to chop the winter’s firewood. Your book/s will need all the money it/they can get, and then some.
Second, the internet used to be called the “World Wide Web.” Make your presence on the internet a web. Put your name and the name of your book in every location you possibly can, and, if possible, link it with similar works by more well-known authors. Put your name and novel(s) on LinkedIn, Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Snapchat, Google+, Ello, Niume, Pinterest (I could go on) … Make it easy for Google to find references to you. And register with Google. Get your own website, too. Join blogs and forums.
Third, don’t turn up your nose at Facebook. It’s given me the best bang for the buck over the past four years. And explore/join its many author and genre-related groups. You’ll make some friends, get some great – free! – advice and learn about your competition.
Speaking of which, fourth, join a competition. Don’t be shy. If you can write, it’ll show. If you can’t, you’ll learn. If you’re going to put your book out there for people to buy, you should have some confidence in it. Enter that contest! The worst thing that can happen is you’ll get bounced and everyone will forget you ever entered. But if you win…
Fifth, of course you must read other writers in your chosen genre. Learn from their choices. Think about what works and what doesn’t. But also read unrelated books. Find out what makes any sort of book readable or unreadable.
Sixth, be friendly with and supportive of other writers. I mentioned competition and competitions above, and I fully subscribe to what I’ve written. At the same time, I don’t believe I’m in specific competition with any particular writer or group of writers. My mission is to become the best me, to tell my best stories, in the best way I can. If I can do that, I do believe success will follow…eventually.
Seven, be patient. I have read that is it an author’s body of work and not a single work that sells. Understand that. Realize that you must have several books out there before you become recognized – unless your first book is a phenomenon, like Ready Player One. But even that sets a daunting precedent. Look at the guy’s second book and its reviews, and you’ll see what I mean. Sometimes, early success can set the bar too high.
Eight, be yourself. Some of my early reviews sound too author-y, as if I felt I had to prove I was legitimate. Screw that! Be yourself! Be your wonderful, weird, quirky self. I’ve been doing that more and more of late, and, if nothing else, it’s fun for me!
Best of luck, and feel free to email me with questions!
One of my favorite Shakespeare quotes is “Everyone can master a grief but he that has it.” Just like everyone can manage the local baseball team better than the man who’s currently doing it, everyone can quarterback the local football team, everyone can govern the city better than the mayor, etc., etc., etc. Or, as President Trump recently said, “Who knew healthcare is so complicated?” What has all this to do with anything? Well, essentially, I think one-star reviews are utter BS.
Not that I’m afraid of criticism, mind you. After 34 years’ experience as a professional actor, 25 years as a middle school teacher and nine as a stand-up comedian, I’ve become pretty thick-skinned. But I think people are too quick to give a novel one star. Call me crazy, but now that I know what goes into creating one, I’d reserve those single-star ratings for works of epic failure, works of dreck so loathsome or lazy that no other score is possible. And, to me, such works are nearly mythological in nature: I may have seen one or two over the years, but I can’t recall the circumstances or anything else about the books.
If you don’t like a novel, consider the possibility that it’s simply not to your taste, not “your thing,” your cup of tea. That doesn’t mean it won’t be wildly popular with others. Why spoil their party? If the book seems somewhat less-than-average, okay, give it a two. If it’s average, a three. One star reviews are excessively harsh and, from what I’ve read in various forums, can be seen as punitive, which is the last approach one should take with a young or novice writer. You want them to get better? ENCOURAGE, don’t discourage. Be generous and offer suggestions as to what might make the next effort better.
Anyone can criticize. Support creation.
One of the complaints I read most often about Grimdark concerns the use or overuse of profanity. Tolkien’s characters never swear, after all. Why should Martin’s or Abercrombie’s (or mine)?
Well, for one thing, a world without profanity is the very definition of fantasy – and not the good kind, but the syrupy sweet, black-and-white kind. Grimdark posits a world or worlds in which our “heroes” are morally ambiguous. To the Grimdark reader, this feels more authentic and is more reflective of the world in which we live.
Go ahead, google “Percentage of people who use profanity.” You’ll see it’s well upwards of sixty percent and, in some estimations, even as high as seventy-five (for men). Transitioning from a world in which we hear a fair amount of profanity into a world or worlds in which it never occurs can be too much to ask. But what about unicorns, you say. There are unicorns in fantasy but not in the real world (spoiler alert), and yet we have no trouble accepting that. I would argue there has to be some realism in our fantasy, or it becomes unrelatable. Adjusting the language seems the obvious place to start. Also, the judicious use of profanity allows us to make the coarse characters coarser and the refined characters more refined. Also, profanity is natural.
While scholars argue about its exact age, textual evidence tells us that the “f-word” is hundreds of years old. Hundreds. We’ve been using it for so very long that it’s become a part of the fabric of who we are on some level. Trying to pretend it isn’t part of our language limits our language, makes us, ironically, less expressive than we are.
I used to dislike David Mamet’s earlier plays for their excessive use of swearing. As I got older, I came to see how swearing can define a character. Watch Glengarry Glen Ross and see how Al Pacino uses profanity to seduce, whereas for Ed Harris, it becomes the primal scream of someone who lacks the tools to say more. Profanity also offers a way for a rough man to fit in with other rough men. And there aren’t many successful fantasies in which the protagonists are fops.
In the end, the profanity in Grimdark simply offers us an additional choice. Like the myriad ways in which coffee can be enjoyed, you can now take your fantasy without or without profanity. How is this a bad thing?
Well, if it works for Joe Abercrombie, I might as well give it a whirl, too.
Here’s my progress report on Book Four, the penultimate book, of Immortal Treachery. I’ve just passed the hundred-thousand word mark, which means I’m on schedule for a Christmastime release (it should hit my beta readers by late October or early November). This book follows the Emperor Mendis Staurachia as he invades Vykers’ homeland from across the sea. His empire has endured for generations and possesses the largest, best-trained army the world has ever seen.
Meanwhile, we learn a great deal more about Vykers’ origins, Alheria’s schemes, and Long Pete’s role in all of this. Book Four introduces a few new characters, while a couple of overworked characters get a little vay-cay, as they say in Nespharia. Not to worry, though, everyone who matters is back for Book Five’s grand finale.
I should also mention that I’ve changed the title from The Ruined God to The Abject God, so as not to be confused with Kate Atkinson’s popular novel, A God in Ruins. You’ll never believe the title for Book Five!
Anyway, thank you for your patience and support. You are the best!
I can’t add anything new to the story of Muhammed Ali, except to say that he’s been a lifelong hero of mine. I was a kid in the late sixties and early seventies – the prime of Ali’s career – and I followed his every move, his every word in every way I could. The same is true of Bruce Lee. Well, we lost Bruce far too soon (and his son, tragically), but we were blessed to have Ali for as long as we did.
Others will speak or write more eloquently about Ali’s impact on our world, his legacy. I can only say that I have always aspired to put him – Ali the warrior, anyway -- into my writing, in ways both subtle and obvious. There’s a great clip of him on YouTube, in a meaningless exhibition fight (and not in his best shape) dodging 21 punches in a row with ease. He had a gift for making his opponents swing where he wasn’t and for bringing his own punches from places they couldn’t predict. At his best, he was, as he famously suggested, invisible. He was not the hardest puncher in heavyweight history, but his combination of speed and tactical creativity along with the power he did possess was more than most fighters could handle.
When I reflect on him today, it occurs to me there’s the first of anything and everyone else is a follower – the first Disney, the first black President, the first international sports star and humanitarian. There’s no shame in being a follower; I’m a follower myself. But oh, how inspiring is the leader, that person without precedent or peer.
We lost one of those this week, and the world seems a little more ordinary for it.
Can you name all of the characters who have served as inspirations for Vykers?
It's that time again -- time to scrounge every penny I can beg, borrow or dig out of my couch to fund the cover art for my next book. You might think I could fund it myself from the vast profits off my first three books...and you'd be mistaken. Every penny -- and I do mean every penny -- goes back into marketing (per Shark Tank recommendations!). And often it's just not enough. The Immortal Treachery series is getting enormous traction online, as you can tell from the wonderful reviews we're getting from fans and critics alike. But we haven't quite reached critical mass.
So, here's a fun way you can participate and show your Vykers pride! There are already over fifty proud owners of these awesome hoodies, and now you can have one, too!
They're cozy, they're eye-catching, and I've literally been stopped in the street by complete strangers, wanting to know all about them!
The most challenging part of being an independent author is the marketing, and not just because it takes time away from writing, but also because it seems to offer frustratingly little benefit.
In my three years of marketing Steel, Blood & Fire, I have tried just about everything a cash-strapped teacher can manage. I’ve purchased flashy bookmarks and given them away at various Cons. I’ve handed out attractive, custom hoodies. I’ve advertised on Google, Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and others. I’ve promoted my book(s) on those same platforms, along with Instagram, Pinterest, G+ and others. I’m almost desperate enough to buy space on Farmersonly.com or womenbehindbars.com! Within all these platforms, I’ve purchased services from various groups that promise a dramatic increase in visits to my website (hasn’t happened) or improved sales (nope). Results have been poor, to say the least, even when I follow directions to the letter.
Perhaps it’s my books, then? Well, that was actually my first thought. But reviews have been great and some downright stellar. Despite the old adage (that shall not be repeated here), it occurred to me that my covers might be the problem, but, with the help of friend Shay Roberts, I’ve gone to great lengths to ensure my covers are as captivating as budget will allow.
So, what the heck is it? What’s the secret? How DOES one get the word out to the intended audience? Why is it so danged hard?
I think one of the issues is that there are well over 400,000 fantasy books on Amazon. In that sea of books, there is some very successful garbage and some shamefully unknown brilliance, and it seems at times that readership and recognition are almost arbitrary. It is nearly impossible to make noise in such a large group.
There is some good news, though. Groups like the folks at BestFantasyBooks.com can be very supportive if an author is willing to invest the time and express an interest in the genre beyond mere self-promotion. For me, though, and I suspect most authors, the most successful factor has been word-of-mouth. When readers love a book and share that with friends, it does more for sales and spirits than the most artful Twitter campaign ever designed.
Remember that when you find a book you love; you may be its greatest, its only champion.
I had the opportunity recently to beta-read two separate novels-in-the-works about vampires, werewolves and other beasties of the night. Both are fantastic, but in today’s blog post, I’m going to discuss the first to be published, and I’ll cover the second at a later date.
Heartblaze: Secret Soul, by Shay Roberts, is the first in a planned series about a young woman, Emma Rue, who discovers she’s lived a previous life. The story then exists on parallel timelines – past and present – in which Emma discovers supernatural allies and enemies in the form of vampires, werewolves and more. Indeed, Emma learns that the love of her lives might just be one of these creatures, and this raises a number of questions about her own nature and purpose in life.
This book is chock full of action, thrills, romance, humor, and even a healthy dose of meticulously researched and recounted history in which, it turns out, Emma may have played a not insignificant role.
Heartblaze: Secret Soul is what the Twilight series might have been if Stephenie Meyer had a bit more imagination and skill; it’s what Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles might have been if Rice had a more-evident sense of humor. I fully expect this series to be huge, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Check it out on Amazon!
Too many ideas, not enough time!