Luck & the Ladder

This morning, author Chuck Wendig posted a really nice Twitter thread about maximizing your luck as an author. Here’s the first tweet:

If you click on it, you can then read the entire thread.

Chuck (if I may be so informal) makes a lot of good points. Writing isn’t a meritocracy. You can work really hard and still not succeed. In a society that has shown us again and again in movies, television, and yes, books, that hard work always pays off, this can be a bitter pill to swallow.

Luck plays a pretty significant role in success . . . of any kind, really, but we’ll stick to writing for now. But as Chuck also notes, you can maximize your chances. Write a really good book, or better yet, write several.

Now, I’ll admit I always bristle just a little when an already successful person tries to pat me on the head and give me advice. I suppose they think it’s helpful, but it’s a little too diffuse to be truly useful. “Go write some more” isn’t some great kernel of knowledge. Still, I know Chuck and his ilk mean well when they hand down their opinions and musings like gods spitting peanut shells from their thrones in the clouds. So I try to take it in the spirit it’s intended.

One piece of advice he gives, however, is to write more. And besides the fact that pretty much everyone gives that advice, it only serves to kick people like me—slow, deliberate crafters of tales—in the gut. I write 1-2 books a year. I know I should write more and faster, but I simply cannot. It’s not for lack of trying, but you might as well tell a fish to climb a tree. It isn’t going to happen.

Does that make me a bad writer? It’s an honest question; I have no idea.

Chuck also points out that writing to market rather than writing what you want to write is probably not the best choice. And he talks about helping other writers by talking about them and their work, introducing them to agents and editors, building community . . . But I’ve written in the past about how a bunch of new writers can’t really help each other much. They need established authors, editors, agents to reach down the ladder and pull them up a bit. And yet it seems like once someone gets a few rungs up the ladder, their interest in helping those below wanes. There are a few reasons for this. Some people, once they’ve made it over the hurdle, feel like others should have to do it themselves. I did it and no one helped me, so why should I help anyone?

Others feel like it’s a zero-sum game. They think if they help anyone else, they’ll lose their chance at making it all the way to the top. They’re afraid helping others will pull them back down a rung. They’re afraid of losing the tenuous position they’ve worked so hard to establish. They begin defending their territory rather than opening the borders.

And some are just frightened and overwhelmed by the cries for help. I imagine it looks a bit like a scene from a zombie movie. Say there’s a mass of people trying to make it to the ladder that leads to safety. They’re swarming around the bottom of this ladder, desperate. And if you make it partway up, and you look down into this mass of humanity, it looks pretty scary. You wouldn’t even know where to begin to help any of them. If you reach down, they’ll hungrily grab at you, may even rip your arm off. As it is, they make break the ladder before you can get to the top. So maybe this feeds into the previous observation, that need to defend your space lest you be dragged back down.

Then again, maybe you build more ladders. Maybe you throw some ropes over that wall so lots of people can climb.

Actions, amIright? I know we’re writers, but sometimes we still have to do instead of relying on our words.

It’s one thing to post a long Twitter thread cheering people on. That’s nice and all, but even if the thread is true and reasonable and posted with the best possible intentions, it’s no ladder.

It’s fair of you to ask at this point, “Okay, so what do you do to help other authors?” Well, I’m not all that successful yet, but I still try to help those coming after me, or even my peers. I give workshops on the writing and publishing process. I let fellow authors know of opportunities I think they may be interested in. And I’m an editor, so I help my selected writing groups by giving feedback that I’d normally charge for. I do what I can, and hopefully one day I’ll be in a position to do more. If the zombies don’t get me, and so long as no one pulls up the ladder before I can get there.

SFWC 2018: Reach Readers All Over the World without Leaving Your Desk

Some of these are pretty basic, but we can all use a refresher from time to time.

Claim your about.me page. Even if you don’t have a blog or other sites to link to it, it’s a place to start an online presence.

Use email signatures—but keep them short! Don’t list every link or form of contact. Use a picture of you rather than your book.

Post videos. Google gives preference to videos in searches. 80% more people will watch a video over reading an article. A good editing software for videos is Camtasia.

Buy your domain name. It should be your name, not the title of your book. If you do buy the domain name of your book title, have it redirect to your author domain. Remember that you are the brand; you’re selling YOU. If you have a common name, or your domain is already taken, try adding “-author” or “-writer” to your domain name.

Title your posts clearly so that they can be found in a Google search. That is, think about what people might search for and title your article accordingly so that it will come up in that search. Also, give names to your images so they turn up in image searches.

Join LinkedIn writing groups.

Blog consistently. Check your stats so you can see which articles get the most hits. That way you can write more of what people want. For fiction authors, some possibilities are: cut scenes that didn’t make it into the final book; cool research tidbits or facts you discovered while writing; info on your writing process itself.

If you’re targeting a teen audience, you have to go where they are: Snapchat, Instagram, Tumblr. One suggestion is to have an online scavenger hunt.

Short and sweet, but I hope these tips help! I, for one, hope to try putting videos up sometime . . . maybe not “soon,” but soonish? Stay tuned!

False Hope

I think I’ve reached my breaking point.

On Twitter this morning I saw this tweet . . . I don’t want to name names here, so I’ll be somewhat vague, but the gist was that she had been close to giving up on being a writer but then her book or script or something was turned into a major motion picture! “Dreams really do come true!”

Gag.

I’m sorry, but I’m sort of done with all the false hope that successful people like to pedal. I’m a realist. Dreams come true—for some people. Not everyone. That would be amazing, but think about it: Are we all successful? Are we all getting movie deals and making big bucks as writers or artists or [insert personal passion here]? I can wish that for everyone, but I can’t promise that if I (or anyone) work really hard, I’ll reach my goals.

That’s the big lie.

Sometimes we try and still fail, no matter how good we are or how badly we want to succeed.

And it’s nice for someone who has “made it” to encourage the rest of us lowly wannabes. But it would be nicer and more helpful if she’d lend a hand.

That’s how the system works, if and when it works at all: People who’ve climbed up reach down and help someone after them, and then that person reaches down and helps someone, on and on in a chain.

But many times those who have reached the top, or even the penultimate level, are too worried about guarding their position. They’re worried about balancing themselves on that tiny pinnacle.

Words of encouragement are cheap, easy, and safe. They don’t cause the pendulum to swing.

ACTIONS, however, are the only thing that have impact. And this is true in every walk of life. Go ahead and post all your political anger on Facebook and Twitter, but if you don’t go DO SOMETHING, it won’t make a lick of difference.

So thanks, lady on Twitter, for the kind words. But until you prop that door open a little wider to allow more of us in, they mean very little.

Death of a Newsletter

I’ve made attempts to build my newsletter, and I still send one out every month, but I think I’ll be ending that soon. Despite many authors insisting that newsletters are the best way to find readers and sell books, I’ve never seen much ROI. I did what many do and offered giveaways and free, exclusive content but . . . As soon as people signed up and got whatever was being given, they unsubscribed. Maybe I don’t have a knack for it. Maybe I’m doing it all wrong. I don’t know. But with so many outlets to choose from and only so much actual time, I have to be picky about my tactics. I enjoy posting stuff for my Facebook followers, and I even enjoy Tweeting now and then, or posting the occasional Instagram photo. I like blogging here, and reviewing on spooklights and Goodreads. That is, I think, more than enough. When you consider my editing jobs and, you know, actual writing, I stay plenty busy! And based on interest, or lack thereof, readers have shown me my newsletter is the least of my efforts. They’d rather I do other things in other places, and I’m happy to drop the excess weight.

If you’ve been following The Adventures of Sel & Am, well, I hope to find another venue for posting it. Right now it’s not a particularly active project, more of a side hobby that I’m tinkering with. I have so many other things that need to get finished, and I want to be able to do right by Sel & Am, both of whom I adore. Seladion in particular would surely be angry if I were to let him languish, or worse, be sloppy with him. Their adventures span centuries, too, so there’s lots to tell. I promise I’ll do so when I find the right home for them.

ETA: I did put the first part up on Wattpad.

#trypod

I resisted podcasts for a very long time. I don’t generally like talk radio, and I can’t do audiobooks* so I didn’t think I’d like podcasts either. Turns out, I was wrong. After getting kind of sick of the songs on my iPod, I decided to try “Serial.” Remember when that was a big deal? I came into it really late, but I was hooked. And once it was over, I was desperate to find new podcasts to listen to.

I mostly like entertainment podcasts. I listen to “Pop Culture Happy Hour” most weeks and “Little Gold Men” every week. (I used to listen to PCHH every week, too, but in recent weeks I’ve found the topics less compelling, and the hosts began to get on my nerves a little? I don’t know if that’s just a result of overexposure or ???)

Other podcasts I’ve enjoyed include the now defunct “Mystery Show.” And I listen to occasional episodes of “RadioLab” and “Reply All.” I like the Crack’d podcast, too, and sometimes “Bullseye” or “Fresh Air” or “Stuff You Missed in History Class.”

Still looking for some good author/book marketing podcasts. If you know of any, please comment! (I did guest on “She Wrote a Book!” a couple times, which is a nice one, but there must be more, yes?)

So. Do you listen to podcasts? If so, which ones? If not, why not? I want to hear!

*I can’t listen to audiobooks because I find I can’t absorb the story in that form. I need to see the words.

Politics in Sci-Fi and Fantasy

I participated in a panel that discussed politics in science fiction and fantasy. Which books (and TV shows and movies) do it well? Which don’t? And is it always necessary to have politics in SFF world building? What do you think? Have you ever read a SFF book that didn’t have any kind of politics? (I would say The K-Pro doesn’t, but it is set in contemporary England with only fantasy underpinnings, so . . . Does that count? Or would you argue the politics in that book are more about the mythology?) Lots to think about and discuss!

Me In 3

So I guess the latest thing going around social media is to pick three fictional characters that you feel represent you. Well, here are mine:

macgyver-pilot-cbs methos_at_joes img_0394

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the left there is MacGyver. The original, not this remake thing. “Mac” was one of my nicknames in high school because I watched MacGyver and was good at physics. In the middle is Methos from the television series Highlander. That was my college nickname: Methos. Relatively quiet and mild-mannered but mean when cornered, I guess. Finally we have Sherlock Holmes. I grew up reading Sherlock Holmes stories, watching the Jeremy Brett series, and (as many of you who frequent the blog know), Young Sherlock Holmes is my all-time favorite movie. My best friend and I would play Sherlock Holmes often, and I do know how to read people. I just never know how to behave around them. Because empathy is difficult for me, I tend to go into an analytical mode instead. Makes me come off as cold sometimes. But I’m the person my friends seek out when they need an honest opinion or a new way of looking at something.

“People don’t come to me for sympathy, John. They come to me to solve problems. I don’t have to be nice about it so long as I get the job done.”