Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Writer Reboot—The Search for Sales

80% of families in the US did not buy a single book over the past year.


If you look up the proliferating infographics available on the internet today, the picture of reading as a pastime isn’t encouraging for authors. Let alone authors of genre fiction. Christian authors of genre fiction? It’s no wonder so many of us are looking at our quarterly royalty checks and laughing in a way that makes the people around us a little uncomfortable.

Is it any wonder, with the statistics,
that bookstores are a dying breed?
It’s all just a matter of numbers. Of the 20% of Americans who bought ANY kind of book last year, how many bought fiction? Not the majority. Of those who bought fiction, how many bought fantasy? Of those who bought fantasy, how many tried something that wasn’t a George R R Martin book? Of that group, how many of them were looking for fantasy, specifically, from a Christian worldview? (Here’s a hint: the overall religious market—fiction and non-fiction—only represents about $2 billion of the $30 billion book sales industry, if my interpretation of Publisher’s Weekly’s financial reporting is to be trusted.)

Suddenly, I begin to see that my expectation of anything better than meager sales is mostly wishful thinking.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m at a bit of a reboot moment with my writing. The Risen Age Archive is in my lap, waiting for me to figure out when, how, even IF I should get it back out to market. The Windrider Saga is on (I hope temporary) hiatus while I make decisions and corrections on Risen Age. (And then it will be Windrider’s turn for the scalpel. Or the sledgehammer. Not sure.)

Writing the stories isn’t enough for me. Call me pedestrian, but I want to sell books. Enough to make some noticeable difference in my family’s bottom line at the end of the quarter. It has become clear to me that if I want to have much of chance of doing this, it’s time to cast a wider net than the CBA crowd.

What this doesn’t mean for me is that I intend to suddenly “scuff up” my stories for some kind of perceived general market palette. Frankly, while my stories contain a religious system, that system has already proven too loose in its interpretation of real-world Christian theology to get a pass with readers who prefer fiction that exhibits a mirror-image biblical worldview. (Which is fine. To each his own. We live in an age where we can choose what we want to read, and that’s awesome.)

Will my stories smell too much like church to secular readers? I have no idea. They haven’t reached that population yet. This broader audience I’m looking for may chew me up and spit me back out on the doorstep of the CBA, for all I know.

What I do know is that I want to keep writing the stories that are rattling around in my imagination, and I want as many people to enjoy them as possible. And that means taking a chance at putting them in front of people who will mock me for my effort and my convictions.

For the sake of the Realm Makers conference, which I intend to keep administrating as long as people want it to happen, I keep looking for that writer who will serve as my connection to the Christians who are writing for the secular market. It’s occurring to me—maybe I’m not supposed to find him or her. Maybe I’m supposed to BE that author.

Because sometimes there’s no way to know if you belong in a place until you go and try to live there.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Conquering Conference Gut

I have struggled with the momentum-killing effects of ulcerative colitis for 25 years, but never is it so bothersome as when I’m trying to attend writer’s events. I’ve not-so-affectionately renamed my flare-ups “Conference Gut,” because of the four conferences I’ve attended and the two I’ve run, I have never been able to attend a single one of these without the painful, exhausting, and stressful symptoms of my ailing gut rearing their heads. As I prepare to attend this year’s Greater Philadelphia Christian Writer’sconference (a last minute decision, because those are always supportive of digestive health!) my symptoms are getting a solid head start.

Frankly, I’ve had enough.

We went out to enjoy some sunshine at the lake on Sunday afternoon, as I’ve been feeling extremely sunshine-deprived this summer, due to my work schedule and my self-imposed butt-in-chair time as I press toward finishing The Risen Age Archive. My stomach has been up and down for the past few days, so I tried to choose reasonably digestible foods—or so I thought—for the trip.

Well, apparently, I chose poorly, because by the time we were schlepping our stuff back to the car, I was having a full blown intestinal spasm. In times like that, I just pray to be able to get to the comfort of my own home before disaster strikes.

On the drive home, in addition to trying very hard not to writhe in pain like Luke Skywalker being Force Lightning-ed by the Emperor, I suddenly broke out in hives. Hives? What the heck? That has never happened to me before. Was it something I ate? My sunscreen? Was it the probiotic powder I took on Saturday having some kind of weird interaction with the sun? It didn’t matter, it was the proverbial straw breaking the camel’s back. The flipper of some kind of ticked-off switch in my psyche.

I’m sick of being sick. I don’t want to plan everything at this weekend’s conference around having a swift exit, in case my gut stages a revolt. I’ve got stuff to do, and my flare-ups are getting in the way.

So, this week, I’m combining a very bland diet/semi fast with the elimination of some things from my diet, to include:
  • Soda: I quit this periodically, and routinely fall off the wagon. There’s no justifiable reason to drink Coke. I can admit this. The quitting is hard, though. I was raised in the late 70’s/80’s. If we weren’t drinking Coke it was Kool-Aid. Plain water is still a struggle for me.
  • Caffeine in general: This is going to be interesting (pronounced: miserable), given my fatigue issues that are also a battle in the health war. I expect my productivity at work may suffer this week. Thankfully, the crush of my very busy season is over. I can make no guarantee about the quality of conversation any of my coworkers will get from me. I will probably be napping during my lunch.
  • Gluten: There are people in my life who have been leaning hard on me to cut out gluten and “just see if it helps” for a long time. I will admit—I love bread. I will be very sad if it turns out eliminating gluten proves to make a huge difference. But I will also be happy to have some control over what my digestive system is doing.

So, I’ll probably be living on vegetables, rice, and water this week, while hunting around for some form of protein that isn’t Frankenfood.

If all goes well, I will have a quieted gut for this coming weekend, and I will be lucid and well-armed for my dastardly plans of:
  •  recruiting accomplices for the next Realm Makers conference,
  •  making a good impression with my art portfolio,
  •  and maybe getting some professional advice on how to reboot my writing endeavors.

Because you can’t do any of that stuff curled in bed, cursing the Alfredo sauce you know you shouldn’t have eaten.

Here’s to better health for me down the road—because ultimately, I want to serve my readers and other writers, and being healthy is a significant piece of that puzzle.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Publishing Independence

When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for an author to dissolve the contractual bands which have connected them with a traditional publisher . . .

As of last night, I’ve reached another milestone in this journey people call “being an author,” though I can’t really say this is one that I’m ready to break out the balloons and confetti over. What milestone?

My first book has been taken out of print.

Many of you have walked beside me on the journey of working on the book that was once called The Sword of the Patron. You saw me through the book’s involvement in Marcher Lord Select, through edits, and angst, and the excitement of interest from four separate publishers/agents (in 2011). Many of you supported the Kickstarter for the book’s release. You read and left reviews. You shared a sympathetic laugh with me as I received royalty checks over a few quarters. (At least the book earned out, right?) Thank goodness for mobile deposit, because some checks are hardly worth the gas to take them to the bank! I feel bad my publisher even spent the postage to send them.

But sometimes, you reach a point where it becomes clear that you and your publisher aren’t doing each other any good. The situation is far too complex to be able to point to one party or another to say why a book is struggling. Because the fact is, it’s probably a mixture of successes and failures on everyone’s part. But because it’s my nature, I will assume the full weight of responsibility for my book’s challenges; and therefore, I’m taking the initiative to make something better of the situation.

Now, to be clear, I’m the one who initiated the out-of-print status of Curse Bearer. The more I have looked at the state of my pursuit of writing, the clearer it has become that I have a bit of a reboot on my hands. Mostly due to my naiveté, I have gotten a stutter-start in this race, which leaves me with a story I want to see to its conclusion, but have no hope of seeing succeed though the traditional publishing model. Why can’t it?

Wrong publishing relationship—it’s not you, it’s me . . .
I won’t get into details here, but sometimes you and a publisher just turn out to be a bad fit. I’m an exacting pain, I can admit that. I’ve come to discover that I have too hard an entrepreneurial streak to comfortably leave some things in other hands.

Previously published, not-so-successful property
My understanding, from the publishing professionals I’ve bothered with this, pressing them for answers they kind of didn’t want to give (since who wants to be the bearer of bad news, after all?) is that in terms of traditional publication, The Risen Age Archive was “dead in the water” if I didn’t want to continue the relationship with Curse Bearer’s publisher. What acquisitions editor in his right mind would take on a Book Two of a series where Book One fizzled? If the series is going to gain any momentum, I need to start over, and it’s up to me.

Thankfully, the publishing climate is conducive to authors doing such things. Ten years ago? I would have had
Ironically, it may be doing so AGAIN this fall.
Just not with a Kickstarter attached.
to call this series a “lesson learned” and move on. I consider this an opportunity to see if I can make something bigger of a series that virtually only my friends and family know about. I can correct issues I’m unhappy with in the first book. Edit the whole thing, if I think it will help. It all boils down to elbow grease, and I’m not afraid of that.

So what’s the plan now?
Well, that’s still formulating. I’ve been hard at work on the continuation of the next Risen Age book, which I’m hoping to get out to a handful of test readers in a couple weeks. It’s a big, fat book, pushing 150,000 words at present. Now, lots of people say, “That’s cool, epic story, epic page count.” Artistically, I agree.

However, the reality is, the Print on Demand model drives the price per copy really high when the page count grows, which makes it REALLY hard for an independent author to offer a competitive price on a paperback book. This means the possibility of two books to follow Curse Bearer is (back) on the table. No decision made—I know half the world will cry foul if I release one big book, the rest will frown if I release two. In the next couple weeks, I plan to look at a breaking point between the books and decide if it’s just too unfair to make readers wait a few months between the middle section of the story and the conclusion, and whether that pain is greater than the pinch of a $20 paperback.

What I do know is that I will need to re-release Curse Bearer simultaneously with whatever book I choose to have follow it (middle installment or epic conclusion.) I’m batting around the idea of including my Kickstarter illustrations in the ebook version of the re-release. Plus a million other ideas. If I seem to disappear until late fall, you know it’s because I’m buried in edits.

All in all, I want to thank each of you for journeying with me thus far. Although I am overwhelmed today (let’s be honest), I’m also optimistic.  In the words of Jeff Gerke, now is a great time to be in the publishing business. My prayer is that I prove worthy of the test of stepping out in this daunting-but-burgeoning direction.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Teaser Chapters of the Sequel to Curse Bearer

Technology has not been my friend today.

We had power outages around my area last night due to gusty thunderstorms, and it's pretty amazing how much havoc a power outage can wreak, even after it's been resolved. All things digital I have touched today have been in a collective snit.

My goal had been to create a new page on this blog as a home for some teaser chapters for my upcoming book, the sequel to Curse Bearer. However, since that page doesn't seem to want to create a working tab on my blog homepage, I'm going to share these chapters with a work-around. We shall see if Google Drive is conspiring with the rest of my web and data sources to derail yet another attempt at this.

So, if you're interested to see how I think Danae Baledric is going to manage after having nabbed a supernatural sword from the evil fiend who had it, follow this link:
The Risen Age Archive, Book II: First Three Teaser

If the planets align, that should take you to the prologue and first two chapters of the book currently known as The Algondolith Portal. We shall see what ends up on the cover, given the wary response my writer friends have given me about having a "weird" word in the title.

I hope you enjoy! If you do, or if you don't, I'd love it if you'd leave a comment.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

A Recipe? What? I thought this was a writing blog...

Because I'm in the process of trying to make better use of a couple of my social media outlets (namely, Pinterest and Twitter) I'm going a little off the usual grid here and posting something completely unrelated to writing or fantasy or geekdom or faith. A recipe for pasta salad.

I suppose you could relate it to writing because, hey, writers eat too. And they probably want to eat things that are easy and tasty so that we can get back to the keyboard full and happy. Because when we're not, we do awful things to characters. Wait--we do that anyway. Theory busted.

Well, devoid of any connecting theory, here's the recipe some friends have been asking about. If I'm lucky, I can also figure out how to "pin" it over at the very mysterious hub of distraction.

Pizza Pasta Salad
This is pre-addition of the pasta and dressing,
 but the ingredient colors make me happy.
A Lowbrow Yum Recipe by Becky Minor

  • 3/4 of a box of your favorite pasta, cooked and cooled
  • One envelope Good Seasons Italian dressing, prepared per package instructions, but make sure you use olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Alternately, use whatever bottled balsamic vinaigrette you like, but it's better if you do the "mix you're own" kind. I'm not judging.
  • One bell pepper, color of your choice, diced
  • One can black olives (more if you're like me and eat half of them while you're preparing everything else)
  • One tub of pearl style fresh mozzarella (if you can't get the pearl style, just get a ball of fresh and cube it small. But the pearls are cuter.)
  • 1 1/2-2 cups pepperoni, diced. (Diced pepperoni actually comes pre-done in a bag, if you're pressed for time and you can get it. Slices tend to stick together, which I find annoying)
  • One container cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1/4 of a red onion, minced. (This is optional. Especially if you are serving it to Scott Conant on Chopped, since he will berate you for even considering raw red onion as an ingredient. I think he was beaten by red onions as a child.)

Combine all the ingredients. Consume right away, or chill for later. It's best served right around room temperature.


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Realm Makers: Reflections from the Director

Yes, it’s taken this introvert a week and a half to even begin sorting my thoughts on Realm Makers: 2014. Mental fatigue is a formidable foe for me. On any project, I tend to idle for a long time, or else just tootle around through the early stages at the task at hand, and then, once lateness is a real risk, I go full throttle until the end. This makes for a long cooling period after any creative sprint, but thankfully, this pattern hasn’t burnt me out yet.

A lot of that avoidance of burnout has to do with the steady flow of encouragement that has been coming through a long list of blogs and emails and facebook posts that have been cropping up over the past week-plus. (And if you’ve emailed me to say thank you or contribute ideas, please know I am not ignoring you. I just can’t write checks and dig out my office and answer emails all in the short space of my evenings yet.) Those who have reflected publicly on their Realm Makers experience have shared a refrain: Realm Makers is unique. It’s not just another option among other, more professional, bigger conferences. It speaks to a deep need for a community that only exists as a subset of other events. It’s all this positive feedback that gave me the courage to keep opening the PollDaddy results and digesting them. (Imagine receiving like 50 critiques on your manuscript in the space of a week, most of them from folks you scarcely know.)

Realm Makers continues to stretch me in ways I only scarcely imagined it might—in project management, in
Steve Laube and Clay Morgan, embodying the spirit of the
Realm Makers conference. Come as you are. Come as a zombie.
It's all good.
willingness to delegate, in party hosting, in coping with conflict, and I am grateful for each of the challenges the conference presents, because they are truly where the iron sharpens iron.

The challenges going forward are going to be numerous: finding ways to grow the conference, continue to attract excellent faculty, run it smoothly, and still keep the atmosphere of people getting together with a gaggle of new best friends. Size is needed in order to provide the quality of content we want to deliver to Realm Makers attendees. But there’s an intimacy I really don’t want to sacrifice, if there’s any way to avoid that. The shared vision of those in attendance will go a long way in preserving that “among friends” feeling, but careful management of the atmosphere will be central to my decision making down the road.

The main sentiment I want to express here is my gratitude to all of you who have gotten behind this effort to make it so much more than I could have ever designed on my own. Like a friend said to me in an email this week: some conferences are only as good as the team the director has around him or her. I know, that the combination of my small team and the energy of those who attend carry far more responsibility for the conference's success than anything I planned. Because of your great ideas and the momentum you create together, I am fully convinced that Realm Makers is viable as an annual entity. Will it get easier? In some ways. But knowing me, I will change enough from year to year that each conference will be its own, labyrinthine adventure.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Peek at the Process: Part II

Thanks for coming back! Of course, if you’re not “back,” but just joining me, here’s what you missed. On Tuesday, I decided to post the first part of a blog chain that gives a little insight to what us emerging authors are working on, how we work on it, and where we’re headed. Without further preface, here’s the continuation of that post.

Why fantasy—and where’s the “epic?”
My obsession with castles and creatures is an inescapable passion woven into the fiber of my being from as long as I can remember. Some will argue that medieval-style fantasy is warmed-over, but I disagree. I truly believe that it is a niche that resonates with enough lovers of the genre to justify writing it.

I tend to write “tight” to my characters in terms of plot because I don’t have a highly political mind. In order to write with the breadth of my current favorite author, (Brandon Sanderson) I think you need to have a greater grasp of and passion for political intrigue, and that’s just not who I am. Not that I won’t stretch that direction, because I think it will make my worldbuilding stronger, but my wiring is innately feminine in the aspect of wanting to focus in on individuals and their personal experience as the outside world messes with their plans and passions. There’s not much about me that’s terribly feminine, but I can recognize this tendency as likely tied to my chromosomes.

How I go about it…writing
My writing process, as much as I would like to say it is consistent, is not. It’s not that I’m drifting around, waiting for the muse to drop in. (Because I personally believe that it a mentality that locks many writers into the “never finished a manuscript” category.) My inconsistency has more to do with having too many pots on the stove at once, and sadly, writing lives on the back burners on a periodic basis. Realm Makers conference coordination has a lot of people wrapped up in it, so you can’t just let that sit off to the side. Writing, on the other hand, only involves me, since I’m in book-by-book contracts. It’s easier to put off the personal projects than to keep others waiting, at least for me.

All that to say, when I start a book, I have a character concept in mind, and I have a general idea what I want the character to accomplish externally. From that, I devise the general concept of what I want the character to experience internally. From there, I write from the seat of my pants, letting one thing lead to another in the plot. Throughout the drafting process, I tend to “plant” a lot of material that I may or may not “pay off” later. If I find a use for the plant, it stays in the book when I start to revise. If there was no satisfying “pay off” that comes in later (and by pay off, I mean a way to tie the element into a game-changing later event) the plant goes to the cutting room floor. I take this concept from my analysis of early PIXAR films. If you watch films like Toy Story or Monsters Inc., you see that every little element, seemingly thrown in as a whim early in the film, comes into play later in a plot-significant way. I love this method of “no waste” storytelling, and I hope I’m getting better at it as I go.

Once the book is done to the best of my perception, it goes through the wringer with my crit partner, then gets anywhere from 2 to 7 passes of more editing, then goes to Beta readers for that final gut check of “Do you like this?” If I run into stuff my crit partner and I didn’t see (because we are getting to know each other well enough that sometimes we make similar story assumptions), I fix that, and then the hunt for a publishing home begins.

Future plans
Originally, I had planned for Curse Reiver to be the second book in a trilogy, whose third book offered only the barest skeleton of what I thought might happen. But as I wrote through CR, I developed some pretty dramatic, high stakes, about midway through the book, tied to a plot element that was only a stop along the way to Danae’s ultimate goal, to free her father. So when I got to her return home, I faced a roadblock. The ending scene of the book was far too “small,” in proportion to the rest of the book’s conflicts.

The solution? Take the central conflict—the only element I had developed for book III—and use it for the climactic event in this book. What I thought was going to be a 90K word novel grew to more like 140k, but you know what? That feels about right to me in terms of story. There’s no rule that says it has to be a trilogy. The duology should be able to tie up most of the loose ends, and now I just have to decide if I should throw an epilogue onto the tale to answer a lingering question or two about Danae’s long-term future.
Eh, I’ll probably write it and let the critiquers tell me if I should drop it. They’re great for judging outcry about what you left out or shouldn’t have put in.

So there you have it, my extended version of the “My Process” blog hop. I hope this gave you some ideas on how you might tackle your own inspiration!