Almost anyone can be an author; the business is to collect money and fame from this state of being.”
~ A. A. MILNE
Good morning, friends and followers! Here we are again on another beautiful Wednesday morning, and once again I have to find something to write about; one must keep current if one wants to attract readers, you know! I have decided to update and reprint an old post from a long-defunct blog that asks you to think about your place in this big, wonderful world of writers. We’re all in it. We all love it. What do we do in it?
A number of events have transpired since I’ve been retired to impress upon me just what a hobbyist author I am . . . Not that my sales figures don’t keep that fact firmly in front of my eyes! But no, I speak of other things. I have a friend and fellow author who told me that he is so thoroughly immersed in writing that he left the work force in order to follow that pursuit 8-12 hours a day. Several people have informed me that a true writer can sit down and crank out 10,000 words at will, regardless of mood, illness, pain, surrounding aggravation, or whatever. Last year I was approached for an interview by a host from an internet radio show who said I had been recommended to him by a mutual friend, and that was the catalyst that got me thinking about all this as a whole.
Basically, I had to ask myself what I have to say to an audience expecting a guest to provide them with some profound insight into the life and philosophy of a writer. My honest answer has to be not much! The last time something like this happened to me was in January of 2014. Beyond the Rails had just been released, and I was offered a signing (not out of the blue; I had been talking with them before) at a local shop called Mysterious Galaxy, a San Diego bookstore specializing in fantasy and scifi. I thought this was cool as all get out until I looked at their calendar. In the month of January alone, they had scheduled a who’s who of the genres that included award-winners and best-sellers, some of whom had been my idols for years. If I owned a bookstore, I would consider getting their January lineup to be the crowning year of my ownership. And they were going shoehorn little ol’ me in between two giants of the field. Yeah, no thanks. The only question I could envision their sophisticated clientele asking me was, “How did you get in here?” I passed, as I have passed on the radio show. I’m not that guy.
You see, my life doesn’t revolve around writing. Blasphemy, I know, but there are too many other things that life has to offer for me to spend 8-12 hours a day with my nose glued to this keyboard. I have a family that I love very much. I was just getting good at blues harmonica when I had to get an upper denture; I have a lot of work to do to get back to where I was, not to mention move beyond. There are dozens of Xbox games I haven’t seen the end of, and hundreds, thousands of books and movies await my attention. There are places to see, dishes to try, and this keyboard isn’t going to provide any of them.
Due to my lunatic sleep patterns, I rise hours before the rest of the household. Well, except for Dude the Insane Beagle, and once I give him a couple of treats, he’s out for the duration. Anyway, I typically have up to three hours to spend at the keyboard, and that’s plenty to pursue a hobby. I can knock down a scene, turn out a blog post, or put up a review, and the girls never miss me, because they’re still asleep. Anyway, that’s about all I can do in one sitting. Right around the three-hour mark, my fingers go numb, my brain turns to mush, and anything I force myself to produce after that is just wasted material that I’m going to have to throw away anyway.
So you see, I’m a hobbyist. Writing is one of many things I dabble in. I don’t use professionals because I would be in the hole forever. $500 for a cover would equate to a couple of decades before my book made enough money to break even. I have a camera and some steampunk gadgets. You can see pictures of the gadgets on the book covers; they were taken with the camera. Likewise editors. My wonderful beta readers catch most of my mistakes, and I’ve painstakingly taught myself the rules of grammar and composition. I go with about three rewrites, after which I find I’m changing things back to the way I wrote them in the draft, and if the comments and reviews that the series has received are any indication at all, it’s working.
So, yes, I’m a hobbyist, and I’m good with that. I still get goosebumps when I check my dashboard and discover a new sale, and the thrill of reading a good review is positively orgasmic! I’m not convinced it would be the same if I was getting twenty a day. Most of my author friends are young, and still have stars in their eyes. I wouldn’t do a thing to take that vision from them, and I hope with all my heart that they succeed, but I’m where I want to be. If the series suddenly takes off, I guess I’ll have to reevaluate, but I don’t anticipate it, and I’m not unhappy right now, today. How many people can say that with a straight face?
View from the Blimp
To quote my childhood crush, Hayley Mills, “I just had the most scathingly brilliant idea!” Observing what a big item the fantasy genre has become, it occurred to me that I could spread my name to a wider audience by publishing in that genre. Accordingly, I dug out my old fantasy manuscript, The Wellstone Chronicles, polished it thoroughly for typos, grammar, and plot holes, and published it under the more appropriate title, The Stone Seekers. It has done nothing, and I mean almost literally nothing, and part of this I lay on the doorstep of Goodreads. They have a new-book promotion program that I used for all the Beyond the Rails books, and if huge sales weren’t generated, it at least made several hundred readers aware of their existence. The program still exists, but now they want $119 for the basic, stripped-down model, and if prior experience is any guide, that’s about what your typical indie can expect to make in royalties over the lifetime of the book. I already have the $119; why should I give it to someone else in the hope that I might someday just possibly, if everything goes right, earn it back?
All this talk of being a hobbyist notwithstanding, like any collector of stamps or breeder of dogs, part of the enjoyment of a hobby is sharing your accomplishments with others. And that brings up the real problem that all indies face; in a word, advertising. You could write the greatest book on earth, but if you aren’t independently wealthy, you just can’t get the word out. I will, nonetheless, continue to advertise on various platforms, Facebook, my Goodreads blog, here, for which I have apologized in advance, but part of my reason for doing this is to sell books. Along those same lines, I’m also no longer going to dilute my own efforts promoting authors who ignore my promotions when I post them; if you want your latest promotion to appear on my pages, then mine will have to appear on yours. I’m sorry to have to be that way, but part of being a writer is selling books, which is a business, and I’m given to understand that to be successful in business, you have to eliminate the programs that aren’t working.
To get back on topic, though. I’m afraid if The Stone Seekers doesn’t generate some interest soon, I’m going to have to cut my losses and remove it from sale, because a book doing this badly can only hurt my reputation and harm my brand. I’ll give it until August to move a few copies, after which it will vanish into history as a bad idea whose time never came . . .
The main project right now, and until it is finished, is The Darklighters: Hong Kong. This is my Victorian-era steampunk Man from U.N.C.L.E., and is a spinoff from Beyond the Rails, continuing the adventures of Abigail “Jinx” Jenkins, who visited the Kestrel a couple of times, bringing her own rowdy brand of enthusiasm to that otherwise sane and sensible crew. The first story is finished, and can be read in its entirety at the tab above. When I have completed four more, they will be collected in a book of adventures connected by a story arc. I am still taking applications for beta readers, and could use about four more. Read the story above, and if it looks like it might be interesting to you, drop me a line and I’ll send you the particulars.
In Other News . . .
David Lee Summers is back with yet another story in yet another anthology. After Punk is a collection of steampunk-themed stories dealing with various aspects of the afterlife. I can’t yet endorse the collection, but I can whole-heartedly endorse David’s talents as a writer, and I will be acquiring this book for my own collection soon. I guess that’s an endorsement in itself . . .
And that’s all I’ve got. See you in couple of days with a new book ad!