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Literary Anarchy

For someone who grew up always having to do things his way and attempting to rebel against authority of any kind, I sure have rough time accepting that since I’m an indie author who gets to break the rules.

I touched upon this a bit back in October when I talked about the wordcount of the Bardsworth novel, but I still have yet to truly take it to heart. I worry about things like my chapter lengths being too short or too inconsistent in size. I worry about my story structure lacking a traditional plot arc since it focuses more on characters. I worry that there’s too much dialogue and not enough description. I worry, I worry, I worry. Sounds like an app from Apple – the iWorry.

Sorry, bad joke.

A large part of my problem is that I started writing long before the internet made self-publishing a viable option. Sure, self-publishing existed back then, but it was mostly so-called vanity publishers, and God forbid you ever even think about considering that as an option. So I studied up on how to make myself look good to the agents how to conform my stories so that an agent wouldn’t feel like it was too great of a risk to take me on. And you know what my worry was back then? “What if they make me change the way I write my stories?”

Irony, my name is Pete.

Sure, there are things that should be kept sacred and rules that I should abide by. But there are a lot of things that I need to be able to look at and say, “You know what? I’m doing all the work, I can do what I want. If the readers don’t like it, they don’t like it.” And the fact is that readers are gradually becoming more and more used to the way things are becoming, not the way things have been for decades.  So why not be a part of the new culture and leave the old one behind?

I’m the punk rock of the writing world, baby. Deal with my three-chord stories.

A couple of weeks ago I made a decision that I had been waffling on for a while. I decided to make my first novella, Dark City, Dark Magic, free for downloading. I had left it at $0.99 for a long time because it was my best seller, and I had no proof that anyone who bought it ever actually went on to buy the other books. However, after quite a bit of deliberation, I decided to say, “What the heck.”

The following stories, Dames and Diviners and Angel in the Shadows, are still at their original price points in the hopes that if someone downloads and reads Dark City, Dark Magic they’ll want to spend the money on the next two. Or, better yet, they’ll drop a little more on Fantasy Noir to get the polished version of Dark City, Dark Magic as well as the other two.

Dark City, Dark MagicI think some of my hesitation stemmed from the fact that I was so proud of Dark City, Dark Magic that I didn’t want to just give it away. I earned the right to ask for mony for it. Plus, I had the – admittedly prejudiced – view that a lot of ebook stories being given away for free were not very good. A pompous way to look at things, I know, but I’m only human. At least until I get those microchip implants. But I digress.

My decision is partially a marketing decision, an effort to get my work in front of someone to tantalize them into buying the rest of my stories. And the other part of the decision is purely ego driven. I’m so proud of the story that I feel it’s in everyone’s best interest to get their hands on it. Again, I’m only human.

So, in summary, Dark City, Dark Magic is now available for free through Smashwords. If my sources are correct, eventually Amazon will catch on and lower the price (they don’t allow you to manually set something as free), but until then Smashwords is your go-to source. Enjoy!

One of the things that I struggle with as a near-perfectionist self-published writer is the fear of typos leaking into my finished product. And it’s happened, every single time. I do reread my own stories* and I’ll typically catch a wrong word used or a misspelled one or whatever. And I’ve learned to be okay with that.

My wife and I have discussed this on a few occasions, and we’ve both been finding more and more typos in traditionally published books that we’ve purchased. I remember when I was younger that if I found a typo in a book it was a rare occurrence and it made me question the infallibility of those in charge. Now it just makes me roll my eyes. I don’t know if publishing houses are trying to pump out books at such a rate that quality control has just gone down the toilet, or if the quality of the editors that they hire now has diminished, but typos have apparently become the norm.

I could be mad about this as a reader, but I’ve chosen to view it as the status quo as a writer. It doesn’t mean that I don’t try to find every mistake in my writing or that I don’t have someone else look it over for me, but I feel better about those few mistakes slipping through the well-looked-over cracks.

Hey, we’re all human, right?

(*I mentioned in my previous post that I like to write the stories that I would read, and I prove that to myself by rereading my stories and enjoying them.  Plus, I sometimes have to do it to remind myself of things because I’m terrible at keeping notes.)

Niche vs. Generic

Which is the hardest road to travel, trying to sell a niche book or trying to sell a generic book?

I’ll tell you right now – if I had the answer to that question, I’d be selling a lot more books.

I recently received a few reviews for Angel in the Shadows and Fantasy Noir, and while some of it was good, some of it really made me question what I was doing. It seems that some people can’t deal with how hardboiled the Rick Walker stories are, even though I make it clear in the descriptions of the stories that they are indeed hardboiled. I don’t know if it’s people wanting me to be Jim Butcher or if they think that fantasy can’t be gritty and crass, but it’s been a tough sell because of what it is – a niche meshing of genres.

And on the other side of things is Blood of the Mother, which is about as generic of a fantasy story as you can get. And that one sells poorly. To be fair, my lack of marketing has hurt that a bit, but I was just going over the pitiful sales that I made at a book fair last year and realized that none of my copies of Blood of the Mother sold at all, and I was right there promoting it.

So, it seems that I’m damned if I do, damned if I don’t. Perhaps it’s a case of waiting for lightning to strike the right spot. I don’t know what the right course to navigate is, but what I can do is to continue writing stories that I want to write.

I recently watched the documentary Harmontown, which deals with writer and creator of Community, Dan Harmon. In it, his friend and writing partner Rob Schrab mentions that they always lived by the mantra of writing television shows that they would want to watch. And I think that’s something I’ve always believed in, even if not consciously. I write the kinds of things that I enjoy reading.

If I didn’t, the editing process would be a whole lot of torture.

Just an Update

Figured it was time to give a bit of an update on my projects. I’ve finished my final paper edits for the Bardsworth novel (yes, even in this age of digital doodads, I still print my manuscript and take a red pen to it… or pink, whatever I have on hand), so now I have to go back and make the changes on the manuscript file. Then I will be handing it off to Katie for edits, as well as some beta readers (more on that in a moment). I’m in talks with an illustrator for the cover design, and then once all the pieces come together I’ll be able to get it out to your waiting hands.

If you’d like to read it before anyone else, let me know if you’d be interested in being a beta reader for it. Currently, I have several people who are familiar with the webcomic signed on as beta readers, so I’d like to get a few people who either have only a passing familiarity with it or – better yet – have never read the webcomic. I want feedback from both sides of the equation. So, if you’re interested, shoot me an email at pete@bardsworth.com.

Alongside the novel, I’d like to release the second print version collection of the webcomic. That’s a little more involved, though, so it’ll probably come after the novel. We’ll see.

Once the Bardsworth novel is over and out of my hands, it’s back to the world of Godblood for me. It’ll be tough to shift gears from a goofy fantasy setting to a more serious epic feel. But it’ll be good to get back into some serious writing. Maybe I’ll try doing a quick short story before that to bridge the gap. We’ll see.

Anyway, that’s what’s up in my world. The machine is constantly in motion.

When to Walk Away

I recently began giving my manuscript for the Bardsworth novel (which, frustratingly, still doesn’t have a title) another round of rewrites and edits. When I had last finished doing that, I had made a few notes of things to go back in and fix at the last minute, but had otherwise resolved to call it quits. But then I let the manuscript sit for a long time, untouched. And that’s a bad sign.

When I finally got around to taking another look at it and was about to make those handful of final changes, I realized that I had let the thing sit for so long because I wasn’t happy with it yet. And I can’t finalize something that I’m not at least 80% happy with.

Why 80%? To be honest, it’s just a figure of speech for me meaning that I need to be mostly happy with my work. Why not 100%? Why not totally happy? Because writers are creatives, and creatives are never 100% happy with their work (and if you claim you’ve ever been totally happy with something you created, you’re a big liar with pants aflame).

I remember having a conversation with someone long ago on old blogging platform about when to pull the plug on a writing project. She kept insisting that she never knew when to just stop fiddling with something, and that she was scared that if she did she’d be putting out something that wasn’t good enough. I insisted that it was just an intuition you build up over the years. You have to realize that nothing you do is ever going to be perfect, but that if you feel you’ve put in the best effort that you could, the work will stand on its own after you back away and wash your hands of it.

But it is a fine line between making sure that you don’t spend more time than necessary on a project and just throwing something out into the public that could definitely have used one or two more rewrites or editing sessions. I don’t think there’s any definite answer as to how to make sure that your decision is a right one. It really comes to whether or not you believe it’s a right decision.

As for me, I just don’t want to get caught in an endless loop of changing the adjectives I use to describe something minor. And it does happen if I’m not aware. As my favorite cooking guru, Alton Brown, likes to say when advising not to over-mix something: “Just walk away.”

"Just walk away."

“Just walk away.”

In Another Life Maybe…

I always knew I wanted to be a writer. Telling stories was what I did when I was younger, whether it was on paper, or playing pretend with my brother, or creating worlds with my Legos (at an age when I probably should have been doing other things like, I dunno, finding a girlfriend). And even though I’m not now what I once thought I’d be at this point – a published writer with works sitting on the shelves at Barnes & Noble amongst books by my favorite writers – I am technically a professional writer.  Goal achieved.

There’s another thing I always wanted to be, though. And unfortunately I don’t see it happening anytime soon, or ever, really. And that’s being a voice actor.

I never really wanted to be an actor actor. Being on screen or on stage never appealed to me all that much (I did briefly consider doing drama when I was in high school, but never followed through on it). But I always loved cartoons, and I still do. I love them so much that I would follow voice actors from cartoon to cartoon. In the days before the internet and Wikipedia, I would exclaim, “Hey, that’s the guy who does the voice of [character] from [show]!” Then I would wait until the credits to learn the names of the voice actors.

I have a knowledge base of voice actors and what they’ve done, and it’s definitely a topic that not many people I know care about. So it’s really been mostly of a personal passion of mine. Voice actors are becoming more and more well-known now, with some doing podcasts and many making appearances at conventions, but it’s still a pretty niche obsession for the most part.

Recently, I watched the documentary I Know That Voice which was produced by John DiMaggio (of Futurama and Adventure Time fame). And after watching it, I have to say that while I don’t have many regrets in life, one of those regrets, and the biggest one I can think of, is not ever pursuing my dream of being a voice actor. While no one does it for the money, it seems like a job full of people that I would love to work with, doing work that I would love.

Maybe it could still happen. Many voice actors admitted that they didn’t start until their late 30s or 40s. Perhaps if my writing doesn’t pan out by that point in my life, I’ll get myself a microphone and start putting together a demo reel.

In the meantime, though, I’ll continue watching my cartoons and putting my stories on paper. But I’ll still be talking to myself in silly voices.

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