The world is against you. There’s no point in denying it. When you factor in the sheer number of things that can harm you in many different ways, I think that should make it obvious. Physically, emotionally, mentally – Life is a constant struggle. It’s a battle to survive.
But in writing, it’s a bit different. The world doesn’t really care if you want to write. There’s very little stopping us from sitting down and writing. It’s an isolated, intimate venture, one that doesn’t require approval or permission from anyone. Yes, there’s a few external factors that can deter you, like a bad review, but for the most part that can be ignored.
But that isolation and intimacy can be a struggle in itself, because your deep in your own head. You analyze, pick apart, and examine every part of yourself. You become your own worst enemy. Doubt clouds your head. Uncertainty leads to crippling procrastination. Insecurity leads to negativity. You question your skill, talent, and drive. You wonder if you’re wasting your time. You beat yourself up.
The world may be against you, but there’s no worse critic in this world than yourself.
Writing can be a harrowing thing. It’s certainly not easy. If it was, then everyone would be doing it. There’s no template you can follow that’ll show you the steps. There’s no singular, universal rule that’ll lay out the way before you. You simply have to find it on your own. You have to fight through the fog. There’s no easy way to muffle the dissenting voices in your head. You just have to simply put your head down, and get ready to fight. You have to embrace the struggle, because it’s going to happen one way or another. But if you manage to write out a complete draft, never mind publishing one, but just completing a draft, then that speaks volumes about the type of person you are. It’s an affirmation that you’re ready to fight, that you won’t buckle under the struggle. Sure, you’ll come out of it bloodied and beaten at the end of it, but at least you’ll know you’ve made it.
Writing is a journey, and often times a discovery of oneself. Do what you can with the struggle, and you’ll learn a thing or two about yourself.
The one thing a lot of prospective writers and authors crave is attention. I myself am like this, because I want my writings to be known, my stories to be passed down, and my works celebrated in the years to come. It’s what pays the bills, or what we’re hoping pays the bills, so it makes sense that we want to be renowned. It’s a little ironic in a way, because the act of writing is often an isolated and solitary activity, where you’re huddled in front of your laptop alone, mashing out the words brewing in your head, often times with little to no input from the outside world. But make no mistake, when it comes down to it, we desire attention.
However, our desire for attention can manifest in ugly ways, where you begin to think of writing in terms of a competition, where you believe shelf space is limited, and the attention span of potential readers even more limited. You think of success as a rare commodity that only a select few can experience, so you start to denigrate other authors, maybe even get your friends and/or readers to leave bad reviews for other authors, all because you think of publishing as a zero-sum game, where you believe that someone else’s success comes at your own expense.
It’s a terrible way of looking at things, but there are authors out there who absolutely think like this. It shouldn’t be like that, especially in this day and age with the advent of digital media and e-books. Shelf-space in the digital world is virtually limitless. There will always be room for your works. There’s no danger of your books being push aside in favor of the next hyped-up bestseller. Your books will be found. There are billions of us on this planet, with each one being a potential new reader. Barring any unforeseen disaster, we’re basically a renewable source, with a new generation constantly being ushered in that may find your works in the future.
Rather than trying to compete with other writers, just write. Write, publish, market if you want, and then rinse and repeat. Everything else — the lack of sales, the lack of attention — don’t even worry about it. Just write, and let things work itself out. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the same goes for your budding book empire.
Joe Abercrombie just released his newest book, A Little Hatred, and I’m excited. Big fan of Joe’s work, and in particular, his writing. Love his style. His prose is, simply put, delightful.
It’s been a while, hasn’t it?
Two whole years. Wow. Didn’t mean to neglect the blog for that long. But during those two years, I spent a lot of it writing the sequel to the Evolution Trigger, so I suppose you could say I had good reason for my negligence. Well, re-writing it to be more accurate, as writing the first draft actually didn’t take long. It was the re-writes that got me. I’ve lost count the number of revisions Human Superior had to go through. A trial to be sure, polishing a novel. If I hadn’t forced myself to take a step back, and accept the fact that it wouldn’t be perfect for every single reader, then I might still be sitting here laboring over it.
I’m thankful it’s done though, and even more thankful once it was published back in July. I wasn’t expecting much however. The Evolution Trigger didn’t exactly light the world on fire, which I honestly never expected it to, considering I was a no-name writer dipping his toes in the water for the first time, so expectations for Human Superior weren’t particularly high. Mine was just another book dropped in an ever-growing pile of books that was the size of the all oceans combined. I felt if even five people bought it, I’d be extremely fortunate.
As expected, sales were slow to nonexistent for a couple of days. I shrugged my shoulders, exhaled, and went about constructing an outline for my third book. A writer’s job never ends, as they say. But then something funny started happening. My sales numbers and KU borrows started going up exponentially. A nice surprise, I thought, and when I dug into the numbers, there was an even bigger surprise waiting for me: a lot of it was driven by the Evolution Trigger, not for the sequel I had just released. A few people did buy and borrow Human Superior, but it couldn’t really compare to the first book I released nearly three years prior. I couldn’t understand it. I did zero advertising and marketing for either book. What was happening? What was causing this uptick? I did revamp the cover for the Evolution Trigger, as well as clean up the blurb for it, doing both in tandem with Human Superior’s release, but I found it hard to believe doing just those two things generated that much interest. I knew book covers were important, but were they really THAT important?
Maybe it was because I finally released a second book, and an unknown number of people decided now was the right time to jump in. Or maybe Amazon was doing some sort of marketing on my behalf. I really don’t know. I’m thankful, of course, but ignorant as to how all this happened. Maybe that’s the point. Maybe all of this is just blind, stupid luck. Maybe there is no rhyme or reason to success. Maybe it just simply happens.
The task, now, is to see if I can maintain this blind, stupid luck.
When the word “exposition” comes up, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Whatever it is, it’s most likely negative. Many people see it as an info-dump, an unnecessary avalanche of boring information that the author was too lazy to finesse into and simply threw out there to fill up time. It has an incredibly bad rep, and a lot of it is deserved, admittedly . . . if we’re talking about it in terms of film, at least. Movies are largely an audio-visual experience, emphasis on visual, so they’re supposed to be the ultimate display of “show, don’t tell,” where it’s biggest advantage over books is that they can literally show you what’s going on. But a lot of filmmakers have an itching need to just simply explain, and they can often ruin the flow and pace of their movie by having two of their characters sit across from one another and literally tell you what the world is about and what’s going on. Bad, bad move. If there’s a zombie apocalypse going on, then show us the apocalypse, don’t tell us about it.
But books, in my opinion, have a lot more wiggle room with exposition, mainly because it’s everywhere in every book. Exposition is the description you use to describe a setting or person, or when you reveal a character’s history. Exposition is world-building. Exposition is necessary. And yes, exposition can also be an info-dump. The last part is often times the hardest part, because sometimes a book will just need it. So how do you go about utilizing an exposition info dump without making it seemed forced? Every writer has their own rules on how info-dumps. Some embrace it, others do their best to exclude it. The one principle I follow in determining whether or not an info dump is needed is this: if you and the character don’t know something and need to know, then it’s okay. Like for example, a lot of things have been happening to a character, events that he just doesn’t understand, and then he finally comes across someone who can finally explain to him what’s been happening. Logically, at this point, your character will want to know what the hell has been going on. There’s no reason for him to think, “hmmm, you know what? I don’t need to know right now. I’ll just ask later.” Any one of us in that person’s shoes will want to know what’s going on, right here and right now, and so will you, because you’ve been on this mysterious journey along with him, and you’re dying to know the why and how behind it too.
Really, the trick behind it is trying to make the info-dump as interesting as possible. With that, always keep one thing in mind: “brevity is the soul of wit.” Keep it simple and concise. Make it as less dumpy as you can. Leave out any unnecessary detail and just give us the pertinent stuff, because that’s what you–and your character–are here for.
I just finished up with a free book promo for the Evolution Trigger, and I ended up giving away close to 3000 copies over a three day span. I like to think that’s pretty decent for a debut novel from a no-name author, so I’m pretty happy I was able to reach that number of people. If I can retain half of that , or even a third, for future sales, I’ll be ecstatic.
What’s really interesting, however, is that actual sales seemed to have picked up after the free promo ended. My book was floundering for a few weeks before I did the free book giveaway, ranking usually somewhere around the 200k-300k mark, but since last Friday it’s been around 30k – 75k, the rankings I was seeing post-debut,. The number of KENP read through Kindle Unlimited is at its highest ever, also. I expect the rankings and numbers to taper off again, but for now I’m pleased that the free book promotion seemed to have provided an additional boost for actual sales.
So, hooray for free books!
A good philosophy to keep in mind when writing books is this: you’re not selling the 1st draft. Whatever plot holes, spelling & grammatical errors, or inconsistencies you have in the 1st draft is more or less a moot point, because it’s not the version you’re going to sell. The purpose of the 1st draft is to finish the book. Get that foundation set, and then once you do, you can roll up your sleeves and do what’s really important: rewrites and edits. That’s where the magic truly happens.
Unlike a first draft, which I believe you should finish within a reasonable amount of time, I urge you to take your sweet, sweet time with the rewrites/edits. You’re applying a fine coating of polish with the rewrite, and you don’t want to mess that up. You want to make sure it’s perfect, or as perfect as you can get it.
Don’t worry about how long it’ll take with the rewrites. If it takes as much time, if not longer, than it did to write the actual thing, well, then, that’s okay. You can’t rush perfection. I finished the Evolution Trigger several months before its actual release, but it took me an almost equal of time just to buff the hell out of it. Huge chunks of it were taken out and changed, and in the end, it came out much better than I could have imagined.
A trap a lot of writers fall into is attempting to write a novel that tries please everyone. They want to write that perfect novel that everyone can agree is awesome. The 5-star novel, rave reviews across the board, impeccable and flawless.
It wont happen.
You need to constantly remind yourself that you can’t please everyone. If you constantly worry about how everyone is going to perceive your novel, then you’re going to end up writing a novel that pleases no one. Every single book in history, successful or otherwise, had their detractors. Tolkien has detractors. George R. R. Martin has detractors. H.P. Lovecraft has detractors. Philip K. Dick has detractors. Stephen King has detractors. No one is free of criticism and naysayers.
Taste is subjective. Remember that. Just write the book you want to write. Don’t write the book you think everyone else wants. Writing what you want, how you want = authenticity. Give it your voice, make it real and raw, and the fans will (eventually) follow. And if you get a hater, well . . . so what? You can’t prevent it, so don’t worry about it. Haters are (unfortunately) a part of life. Tune ’em out, put your head down, and get to writing.
Should you write what’s popular, or should you write what you want to write? In my opinion, if you’re writing and self-publishing to Amazon (and other vendors), then most likely you’re hoping to earn some money off of this. But sometimes, when you’re looking to make money, you have to make a few compromises, especially with writing, because making money while writing is not easy. If it was, then the entire landscape wouldn’t be littered with writers who quit when they only made $15, or are barely making enough just to scrape by. As I said before, if making money is your sole reason as to why you’re doing this, then you’re better off looking elsewhere. Making videos for Youtube will most likely net you a bigger gain than writing.
That’s why it’s not uncommon to see self-published authors chasing genres. By that, I mean writing books for popular genres, like romance, erotica, or vampires, because of the huge built-in audience voraciously buying books. Most authors will rationalize it as: “I write X amount of books in this specific genre, so that I can afford to write books in my preferred genre a.k.a. what I really want to write.” It’s a solid strategy, so no hate from me, but for a lot of us, we don’t have the patience to dabble in something we don’t want to write about.
So, what do I propose? Tweak your story so that it does fall in line with a widely read genre. I’m not talking about wholesale changes, but just adjustments here and there so that familiar tropes are present. Like I said, some compromises have to be made if you want your book to be marketable, because let’s be honest, your story about a dinosaur who does pizza delivery service is not going to sell. But tweak your story a bit, where it solidly falls in line with a genre, where it tickles the fancy of what people are looking for and expect, and you could be in a very good place. And luckily for us, a lot of genres are popular. It’s not just the 3 aforementioned genres I listed. There’s horror, sci-fi, fantasy, contemporary, etc. Yes, some genres are more popular than others, but you won’t lack an audience.
So it’s definitely possible to write what you want, and still make money for it. And who knows, maybe tweaking your story can give you ideas on how to progress/expand/elucidate your story.
Every author in the world, no matter how famous and rich, will inevitably encounter what many of us lovingly refer to as “writer’s block.” Essentially, a symbolic wall that blocks the progress of the story we are writing. George R. R. Martin is famous for this, as he’ll willingly describe how he’ll often times struggle with his writing (which, in turn, explains his long multi-year delays between book releases). A friend of mine went to an author panel at a book fair, and one of the authors described how she spent months stuck on one single chapter. It’s a real, debilitating thing, and it effects all of us in many ways.
Unfortunately, there’s no magic pill that can solve writer’s block. It’s in individual struggle, one that we’ll have to overcome on our own. But I can suggest a few things that I hope can help you move forward.
1.) Create an outline before you begin to write. Detailing what’s going to happen can give you a clear sense of where the story is going and what it needs. The road ahead is paved for you, in other words. The outline doesn’t have to be super detailed, where you have to explain in intricate every piece of dialogue and action, but it should be enough where you have a clear waypoint of the path ahead.
2.) Change what you wrote previously. The one reason why you might be stuck is because you might have ultimately written yourself into a corner. If you truly cannot see a way over the hump, then you might have to revisit what you already wrote and change some aspects of it so that you can finally move forward. This has happened to me more times than I can count with The Evolution Trigger.
How that story looked in the beginning is vastly different than how it looks now.
3.) Barrel through ahead. If all else fails, just brute force your way through. If you have an awesome story planned out after this bump in the road, then just write whatever so you can continue ahead. I mean it. Just write something like, “This happens and then boom, we’re done.” Anything to move forward, you know? You can always revisit this bump once you’re done, and I’m certain you’ll think of something plausible while you’re finishing up the rest of your story.
I can’t guarantee this’ll work splendidly for some of you, but I’ve employed all 3 in varying ways, and they’ve helped me overcome my struggles. Give it a shot, it might just work for you.