Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Chasing the Rabbit of Success

Believe me, he's faster than he looks.
Yesterday, I had conversations with three writer friends of mine. We discussed pricing, promotions, writing our product descriptions, cover art and design, tracking sales, royalties, and other writing business minutia. Some good discussions with nice guys, talented writers all of them.

It wasn't until this morning that I realized, the one thing we didn't really discuss was the writing itself. We didn't talk about plot hooks, or character concepts, or cool scenes we were working out in our heads. We didn't bounce ideas for new stories off each other, or ask questions about the progress of current projects. In short, all we focused on was the business side of writing, and we all but ignored the writing itself.

In the movie Pacific Rim, a new Jaeger pilot can find themselves caught up in the memories that flood their minds when they enter "the drift" and join consciousnesses with their co-pilot. The pilot "chases the rabbit" and pursues a fleeting memory, getting lost in the conjoined memories and becoming distracted, disoriented, helpless, or even a danger to themselves and others. When I realized this morning how much time and energy I spend on scrutinizing and micro-managing the business side of writing and publishing, I know part of it is because I can see that rabbit ahead of me, that dream of becoming financially self-sufficient off of my royalties, quitting my day job (which, by the way, I loathe) and becoming a Full-Time Writer. I want to catch that rabbit more than I care to admit, and there are times when that feeling of wanting becomes akin to desperation.

When a new title goes live, I'm checking the sales page fifty times a day. When it starts to sell, I'm still checking the page while thinking of what I can do to spread the word and all but click the "buy" button for people. When a title flops, I look at it like a houseplant that's slowly withering and dying, no matter how much water and light and plant food I give it. Tweaking the cover, re-writing the description, playing with pricing, hitting the social media marketing pavement, launching promos - I'll do anything I can think of to get the word out there and sell sell sell. The only thing that keeps my promotional drum-beating in check is the fear of being "that guy" - the jerk on Twitter or Facebook who does nothing but spam followers with links to buy their books over and over again.

And the problem is, of course, that the rabbit is real. Becoming a financially successful author isn't some fantasy no one achieves except the luckiest of a lucky few. This post over at the Passive Voice Blog is filled with people who've either gone full-time or are anticipating doing so in the foreseeable future. The new publishing paradigms of the last few years have made it possible for more people than ever before to make a living - or at least, create an appreciable second income stream - from their writing. And the harsh reality of it is, you do have to pay attention to things like your cover design, your pricing strategies, your marketing, your product description, and so forth. If you don't, even the best book will languish in the doldrums, and you'll get discouraged, perhaps giving up the idea that you're any good, that you should keep at it despite a poor start.

What makes matters worse, of course, is seeing the real A-listers crushing it time and time again, and hearing the "Coffee is for Closers Only!" speeches they throw around. This Passive Voice Blog post discussing an article by powerhouse author Russell Blake became so incendiary, the blog owner had to turn off comments, because once Blake showed up and began kicking people in the junk over their own wishy-washy definitions of "effectiveness" and 'success", the knives came out. That's not the only example of such advice, of course - plenty of the more successful indie authors have thrown down the gauntlet, inadvertently or not, and made less successful writers question everything they're doing. Can't write for two hours every single day? You're a slacker. Can't get a new "book" out every month? Slacker. Your book can't stay above the "dreaded" 10,000 marker on the Amazon best-sellers list? It's a failure. Not willing to pay out $500+ for a book cover? You're just not taking this seriously, go wade in the kiddie pool with the other wannabes. And, oh, by the way - this business is only getting more cut-throat by the minute as the "tsunami of swill" covers the world, so if you're not selling a hundred copies a day right now, just give up, because the next new dino-porn craze will mean your novel will go unnoticed forever.

Chuckle at that last paragraph if you will, but I've seen all of those statements, and many more, over the last year or two, and no matter how hard you try to ignore the negativity, it's going to eat into your soul a little bit every day. You're going to start thinking to yourself, "Hmmm...maybe writing Bigfoot erotica isn't that hard...I can just use another pen name...", or paying out to professional marketers in the hopes that your poorly-selling book will finally find its audience, and some journalist will be interviewing you to ask about the secret of your success, and your story will cause other writers to furiously jot down notes, because hey - you caught that rabbit! That means it's possible after all!

Ultimately, I have to come to terms with the fact that I may never become a Full-Time Writer. Right now, my royalty stream is roughly equivalent to working a part-time job for 20 or so hours a week at a coffee shop or grocery store. It is definitely a solid, substantial source of income, and I appreciate every dollar. Over time, as I write and publish more, I hope that income stream grows, but there's no guarantee. My latest book has pretty much performed a face-plant a yard from the starting line, And I can already feel the first twinges of despair over it joining the pile of "failures" in my portfolio. That despair, of course, fuels the drive to figure out what I can do next to write something more profitable - the rabbit has gained more of a lead, and I'm pushing myself harder trying to catch up.

But what about the joys of writing? I actually love writing my Commando novels. Hanging out with Lynch, Bowen, McTeague, and the rest is a blast for me. I had a great deal of fun writing Renegade's Revenge, as well, and despite its abysmal performance over the years, I do want to write another Nanok short because I had a ton of fun writing the first story, and I want to get back to that goofy pastiche-y world I created. And of course, there's the sequel to Killer Instincts, which I do, in fact, want to write, but so many other projects come along and push themselves to the front of the line because I've decided to put success first.

This article on writing has gone on so long, it's becoming a book in its own right, so I'll conclude by saying that although someday I hope to write for a living, I never want to care more about promotions and marketing and price points than I do about my characters and their stories. Those two forces - the urge to create something I love to write, and the urge to create something I hope will make me money - will need to find a point of balance if I'm going to continue down this road without driving myself (and everyone around me) crazy.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Click the Cover to Visit on Amazon
The first book in this series of hard fantasy novels (no magic, elves, dragons, etc.), The Pirates of Alnari, was an excellent debut effort on the part author Dan Eldredge. A long-time fan of fantasy fiction as well as the maritime novels of Patrick O'Brien, Eldredge's first book was a blend of swashbuckling, seafaring adventure with the kind of cutthroat political intrigue that fans of George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series have come to enjoy. There was also a buffet-sized portion of grim, brutal violence, displaying the author's keen understanding of medieval hand-to-hand combat.

Now, Eldredge has just released the second book in the series, The Grand Masquerade, and while there are a few seafaring chapters, the bulk of the story takes place on land. This story is, if anything, even more reminiscent of GRRM's storytelling, but in all the ways in which GRRM's books make for great, highly engaging reads. An assassination during a masquerade ball, coupled with the fallout from the events of the first book, results in nobles and generals maneuvering against each other for the fate of four nations. Knights charge home with lances couched and blades held high, as warships hurl deadly incendiaries and flights of arrows at each other in massive fleet actions ending the lives of thousands. War on a grand scale is always difficult to get right, but in this book, Eldredge has done an excellent job of making the narrative thrilling and fast-paced, but at the same time, delivered with great attention to detail.

Of course, trapped between the crushing jaws of nation-states locked in mortal combat, protagonists Martyn, Arycke, and Starissa try to stay alive and one step ahead of their foes, no mean feat in a world where no good deed goes unpunished, and death can come at any time, in any form, and from any direction. A number of major and minor characters get ground into mince-meat by the wheels of war and politics during this novel, and I found myself turning the pages as quickly as I could during the most intense moments, hoping that characters I enjoyed would make it through a particularly perilous scene. More often than hopes were dashed to bits, like a skull shattered by a warhammer.

If you like grim, hard-hitting fantasy fiction that doesn't need to rely on elves, dragons, and fireballs to get the job done, I think you'll really enjoy The Grand Masquerade. Although it can be read on its own, you're better off reading The Pirates of Alnari first, as the events of the first book lead directly into the second, and if you're not up to speed, it might be a little overwhelming.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Len Levinson's THE SERGEANT - Great D-Day Weekend Reading
Click the Cover to See This on Amazon
I am a huge fan of Len Levinson's THE SERGEANT, as well as his Pacific Theater series THE RAT BASTARDS, and the folks at Piccadilly Publishing were kind enough to work with Levinson and bring the former series to the Kindle. The WW2 European Theater exploits of Master Sergeant CJ Mahoney make for great, pulpy, Men's Adventure wartime action reading, at a price that just can't be beat.

So if this D-Day has you reflecting on those historic events from 70 years ago, instead of popping Saving Private Ryan in the DVD player for the umpteenth time, give THE SERGEANT a try. The first few volumes are available now, with more to come as time goes on.

Monday, June 2, 2014

HANGMAN #1: San Francisco Slaughter - Available Now
Click the Cover to See on Amazon
My '70s-era Men's Adventure novel SAN FRANCISCO SLAUGHTER is now available on Amazon for the Kindle, with a trade paperback format to follow later this month. I'm copying the Amazon product description below. Thank you again to everyone who gave feedback and support to this project - I couldn't have done it without you!

Amazon Book Description:

California, 1973. Back home after three years in the jungles of Southeast Asia, former Green Beret Jamie “Hangman” Lynch is enjoying the good life, drinking beer and chasing skirts along San Diego’s Mission Beach. But Lynch finds himself growing increasingly restless, and dreaming of getting back into the fight again.
Lynch asks his former commanding officer for guidance, and is offered a chance at some excitement: a private sector job working for the CEO of a San Francisco tech company in need of a man who’s not afraid to get his hands dirty. The assignment? Hunt down a man named Roth, a whiz-kid engineer in debt to the Vegas mob. Roth has stolen an advanced military prototype and is looking to sell it to the highest bidder.

Lynch accepts the job and finds himself working with Richard, an enigmatic Texan mercenary, and Blake, the company’s head of security. The three men face off against Cranston, a murderous ex-cop turned enforcer-for-hire, who’s got an army of ruthless thugs turning San Francisco upside down looking for Roth. If Cranston gets to Roth before Lynch and his partners do, Roth can kiss the prototype - and his life - goodbye.

SAN FRANCISCO SLAUGHTER is a hard-edged action-adventure novel. There's drinking, profanity, and sex. There's fast cars and big guns, sharp knives and loose women. Arson, torture, and murder are just tools in the hands of men who’ll do whatever it takes to get the job done. And while the good guys aren't so great, the bad guys are even worse.