Journaling as an Author

Hand Writing by djking from FlickrIf you Google journaling, as I just did because auto-correct insists it is not a word, you come up with tons of sites discussing how much journaling can help your inner peace.

How, exactly, it helps one’s inner peace is a little up in the air. I only skimmed the search results, but I’m not sure I found anything I’d deem too scientific. There’s also a lot of different definitions for what journaling even is. Is it a photograph of your day in words? Is it a page of rambling? Is it a structured rendering of your conscious thoughts on paper?

I guess these are all true, but when I talk about journaling, I’m talking about the middle example. The page of rambling.

When I decide to journal I open a blank page in a notebook, put my pen to paper, and I write non-stop until the page is full. My handwriting is atrocious and what I create is basically illegible, but that’s okay. I never intend to reread it anyway.

No, the key concept is forcing myself through an entire, college-lined sheet of paper.

It’s weird. The times that I perform best at writing are the times when I’m not thinking about it at all. Most of my best ideas, if not all, have come about when I’m nowhere near my keyboard. My best ideas often come when I’m cooking, or walking, or in the shower. I’ll be doing something else and then *KAPLOOOF* I’ll suddenly know exactly how to work out a tricky plot point.

The problem is, how do you seek these moments actively? How do you get those ideas lurking in the back of your head to come out? If you try to focus on them they hide even deeper. And it isn’t very practical to stand in the shower for hours on end, hoping for a breakthrough.

Well it may not be a perfect answer, but sitting down and forcing out a page of freehand writing seems to capture those thoughts, or at least clumsy replicas of them.

I’ll start by writing about the problems I can’t resolve in my current project, and then my plans for the weekend get mashed in and a bill I need to pay get written about, after all I can’t stop my pen. And then back to the problem and then I debate how I write the letter Q and then back to the problem and then I’m writing a possible solution to the problem only it’s pretty stupid but what if I took that first part of the solution and tied it in to that scene I didn’t really like from earlier…and so on and so on. For an entire page.

My hand hurts like hell when I’m done but my brain feels clearer. Sometimes I come up with very real answers to the questions I’m forcing myself to think about, but that’s rare. What does always happen, though, is that I come away with some directions I can head off in when I next sit down to write.

It’s a strange mix of absurd pressure and complete freedom. The pen has to keep moving, but I’m never going to read what I’m writing so my thoughts feel that it’s safe to come tumbling out.

Now I’ve had bouts of journaling where I’ve accomplished absolutely nothing. But that’s because, like most things in life, you get out of it what you put into it. Some effort has to be made to address your current problems, but after that it’s just a free for all.

Too often I hear authors worrying about proper outlining ,or structuring, or knowing exactly where everything is going to go before writing. But what if you’re trying to outline something and you don’t have all the pieces?

Maybe take the opposite approach and let your pen go completely nuts for one whole page. You’d be surprised how many somethings you can produce out of nothing.

With Apologies to Chuck Wendig

Year Two Day 81 Waking up Screaming by Bryan Gosline from flickrOver at terribleminds.com, Chuck Wendig has published another guide to finishing your novel. The latest installment is titled: HOW TO KARATE YOUR NOVEL AND EDIT THAT MOTHERFUCKER HARD: A NO-FOOLIN’ FIX-THAT-SHIT EDITING PLAN TO FINISH THE GODDAMN JOB.

Capitals are original to the author. As you might be able to tell, Mister Wendig and I have slightly different writing styles. I’ve never read any of his work, there are a few of his titles on my to-read pile, but the point of this isn’t to discuss style. He’s found his voice, he’s working that voice, and he’s a terrific advocate of independent authors with one of the largest online databases of how-to articles and helpful tips for authors just starting off. Good for him I say.

No, the point of this post is to provide an alternate stance to the many how-to-write-your-book posts that Mister Wendig has on his site.

First, though, I want mention that there are plenty of things I agree with from Mister Wendig’s overall philosophy. A couple of quotes of his will illustrate this:

– “A finished first draft. That is the brass ring, the crown jewels, the Cup of the Dead Hippie God.”

–  “And that is our goal: to defeat the specter of Nothing.”

Basically what he wants to instill in his readers is that you have to actually write your god-damned book if you want to write your god-damned book. Otherwise you are just someone who has spent a lot of time thinking about a book. And that isn’t quite the same thing. There are a lot of people who sit around thinking about being football players or ballerinas or winning the lottery and, in the end, that does not result in them becoming what they are trying to attain.

This is very sound advice.

But there are plenty of times when I would suggest that you ignore it.

In the end, the goal shouldn’t be to finish books, the goal should be to come into your own as a writer. I know that sounds hokey, but it’s the truth. You have to learn to teach yourself with respect, to acknowledge that you have a voice, to grasp how it is that you tell stories. That’s what writing is all about and doing nothing but ordering yourself to hammer at the keyboard year after year doesn’t allow much room to converse with yourself, to take note of who you are and how far you’ve come.

It’s just your hands on the keyboard and a drill instructor in your brain.

That doesn’t allow much room for growth.

Every so often, it’s good to ask yourself why you’re doing this. Why do you write? What is it that you want to produce? Maybe you want to try something different from what you’ve been forcing yourself to hammer out. Trust me. It happens.

I just mentioned the concept of a mental drill instructor and that brings me to another point I’d like to make. Again, I’ve had plenty of books that were finished with the help of that mental drill instructor. It’s a good tool, but it’s not the only tool. And it has plenty of downside. I’ve spent a lot of time, way too much of my life, beating myself up for not writing enough. I’ve piled on anxiety and stress and self-loathing because I wasn’t meeting my word count. Yes, it helped me to finish some of my earlier books, but I’m not entirely sure it was worth the costs. Especially because, and I can not stress this enough, there are other ways to write. You can take breaks from your word count and not beat yourself up over it. You can sit and type without adrenaline or pressure. You can step away from your book and not instantly consider it a failed effort. That’s allowed.

I honestly find myself wondering these days if my earlier books would have been finished in roughly the same time-frame even without that mental drill instructor. Whether they would have slowly been typed and edited if I hadn’t applied tremendous pressure on myself to finish them, if I had had a little self-respect and let myself be at peace while I was away from them. Part of me thinks that I would have worked my way back to the keyboard at about the same time whenever I took a break, and the books would have come out of me either way, I just would have been less riddled with anxiety.

And that anxiety adds up. It can leave you hating your keyboard, slogging through your books, loathing every step. I mean, if that’s the goal…well maybe that shouldn’t be the goal is all I’m trying to say.

Mister Wendig’s philosophy also seems to overlook the fact that writing will change for you over time. I hinted at this earlier but what writing is, what it means to you, why you do it, and how you do it…that’s all up in the air. It probably doesn’t seem like it now, but life lasts a pretty long time and you won’t write your fifth book the same way you write your first. You’ll acquire new tools, old tools will go blunt, you’ll experience new authors and art that will effect what you’re trying to create. And, most importantly, you’ll continue through your life. You’ll change as a person. And that should come to be reflected in your process. Which means that your process should change as well.

I know a lot of authors who have written some impressive things but continue to flog themselves along on the drill instructor’s path.

I would like them to know that there is more than one way to write.

Maybe take a fresh look at things and see if that isn’t true.

I suppose that’s my over all point. Turn off the drill instructor now and then and take a breath. Please.

Look I’ll put it this way.

Painters are supposed to paint a certain way. They’re supposed to use pencil strokes, or pen strokes, or brush strokes to produce an effect as multiple brush strokes compile. It sounds ludicrous to think that a painter would paint pictures, say, using only one line, that someone might paint a picture by applying pen to paper and not lifting it until their painting was finished.

But that’s painting too. It’s important to recognize that there can be more than one process.

Oh, I know what you’re saying. That’s just silliness, right? I’m making a broad point but it’s pretty facile. Yes, technically drawing one, and only one, line is painting. But no one would ever actually do that. Why would anyone, not to mention an expert, pursue such a method when it’s so obviously not going to create something brilliant or popular or interesting, right?

Right?

picasso one line paintings

Progress Without Milestones

ASDA Suede Notebooks - Stacked with Moleskine by pigpogm from FlickrWords continue to pile up for the first draft of book three. A title? That’s nowhere in sight. A notion of how all these stories come together? That’s…well that’s also murky. A clear idea of what happens next? Not so much.

And yet I continue to sit down every day, shut down all distractions, and write. The scene I’m working on unfolds, the next scene is hinted at, and the next day I continue this exercise. And the next. And the next. And, when all of these mysterious bouts of writing are strung together, definite progress is being made.

But it’s really freaking weird.

Every book I’ve written I’ve taken a different approach to. And every time, the approach I chose was a direct result of where I wanted to be with my writing.

I felt I was becoming far too constrained by outlines and planning, and so I started the 26 Stories in 52 Weeks project, which spawned Probability Angels.

I became nervous about my reliance on first-draft readers, so with Persistent Illusions I did not let anyone read anything until well after a first draft was finished.

For this book, though, my notions of how to write are much more informed by my notions of what I want writing to be.

Writing used to be stressful, painful, slave-labor with myself chained to my keyboard. I used to yell at myself for not hitting my word counts and have anxiety attacks that my story wasn’t good enough. I would sit down to write and a voice in my head would yell at me constantly. And if I wasn’t all keyed up then I would worry that I wasn’t “feeling things” enough and I would try to hype myself up with music or caffeine so that I could write dammit.

This book I’m not doing any of that. I do worry about the story, but I also constantly remind myself that my past five books all came together somehow, and that I actually had a proof copy of Persistent Illusions ordered before I knew what the ending was going to be. So I think about the story a lot, but I don’t let myself panic about it.

And I try for a word count every day, but I don’t beat myself up over it. I know that some days will be less and some days will be more. It’s far more important to chip away at it for many days over time than it is to stress one day in particular.

And I don’t need a loud voice in my head yelling at me; I actually aim for the opposite of being keyed up. I flip my phone over and and shut down all distractions on my computer and say to myself, “Okay. You can either write, or you can sit here, but you are not allowed to open any internet pages or look at your phone. There’s the Word document, and that’s it.” And when I say that, I’m calm. And when I hear that, I listen. And I sit and I relax and I do nothing for the first five minutes, and then sure enough I start typing.

Words appear and pages pile up but the hallmarks of progress, all the little goodies I used to savor, like reaching a big exciting scene I was looking forward to or finishing up a section, none of those exist.

It’s just me and my Word document.

And as I said, it’s pretty strange.

So progress? Progress is being made.

I just have no way of measuring it.

Advertising on Reddit

New York Times Square at Night by Werner Kunz from FlickrReddit calls itself “The Front Page of the Internet.” After months of screwing around with it I can safely say that this is an accurate statement.

Months. Literally. I’m old. It took me awhile.

When I first hopped onto the page I had no idea what it was or why I would want to go there. It was just a bunch of stuff being thrown at me.

Again. I’m old.

But since I was checking it out for possible marketing purposes I stuck around and eventually created an account and began to filter what, exactly, the stuff was that it was throwing at me. Now I love it.

Here’s a quick walk-through. Then we’ll get to the advertising.

Basically it looks like this:

Front Page of Reddit

It’s just a list of headlines that you can click through to see more. Hence, the front page of the internet. If you look under the headline you can see who submitted it, when, and to which subreddit (i.e. category).

This link, of some iphone drawings, was submitted by icheban to the subreddit: “pics.”

Submitted to pics

It’s a popular link as its positive votes outweigh its negative votes by 2591.

Votes

When you create your account on reddit, you can choose which subreddit’s (category’s) links will appear on your personalized front page. My front page gets headlines from the Bacon subreddit, the Funny subreddit, and a bunch of other stuff that entertains me while I finish my morning coffee.

To the right is the button you can use to submit your own links.

Submit a link

You can write a headline and link to a picture or article or whatever and submit it to the proper subreddit and then hope for lots of upvotes, making your link appear to more and more people. The whole thing is generated by users.

At the very top of the page is a “sponsered link.”

Sponsered link

This link is for a new show on Cinemax. Clicking that link will, I have to imagine, take you to the show’s main website.

These sponsored links are how advertising works on reddit.

You probably already guessed that.

If you scroll down to the bottom of the screen, and click the tiny little “Advertise” button under the “About” column, you can begin your advertising experience.

advertise button

First, very simply, they ask you to write your headline and pick what page you are linking to. Obviously you are directing traffic to…well to wherever you want people’s eyeballs to go. For me I chose Probability Angel’s page.

The link is simple enough. The headline requires more thought. This is what appears in larger font in dark blue. This is your advertising copy. This is what will compel people to click through or not.

This post isn’t about writing great advertising copy. Frankly I’m still experimenting plenty with that. Just keep in mind that this is the first contact you’ll be making with people and you need to hook them and give them some idea of where your link will be taking them.

That is the shortest description of advertising you will ever read.

Right. So then you click “Save” at the bottom and things get a little weird as we move on to this screen.

Campaign Dashboard

Some of this is easy. You can see, in the middle, my headline (called a “title” here) which is “I love cheese.” Then comes the url that people will be sent to when they click on my link, “http://josephdevon.com/.” Then comes the “look and feel” section, which lets you upload a 70 x 70 picture to appear to the left of your headline. Why they don’t label that section “upload a picture” is beyond me.

Then comes an option to allow or disable comments on your ad.

We’ll come back to the comments in a second, but that lower chunk feels self-explanatory to me.

The upper part with the bidding is a little tricky, at least compared to other Internet advertising. Over at the reddit site they have a comic by The Oatmeal that explains everything. Only, after reading the comic I didn’t understand anything. I had chuckled a lot, and I knew that the example-person in the comic was selling pork chop milkshakes, but nothing else sunk in.

It seems simple.

You pick the number of days that your campaign will run and you pick the total amount of money you are going to pay. Then you pick if you want your ad to appear before all of reddit, or just one subreddit.

Thus far we have some simple math and a single choice between advertising to the entire page or advertising to one sub-category.

So where does it get tricky?

With most other advertising I’ve tried, you have a total bid per day and your campaign can never exceed that. Same here, your budget will never exceed your bid per day, which is the total bid you are entering in divided by the number of days your campaign will run (there’s that simple math).

However, with most other advertising you bid per click and then, every time your ad can appear, the advertising program runs an auction between you and other interested advertisers to see if your ad will be displayed. You win some of these auctions and you lose some but they happen thousands of times a second so you have plenty of chances to let your bid rise to the top. So if you bid $0.15 for a click, and your daily budget is $10, and you manage to spend that entire $10, then you will received $10 / $0.15 = 66.6r clicks. You may be outbid a lot and your ad will not appear as often and you will not spend all of your money and as a result you will get less clicks. Or you may be able to pay less per click, if your ad performs well or other higher bidders run through their budget before the day is out, and receive more clicks for your money.

That’s how I thought this advertising would work, and there’s all that data on the right of the above screen-shot showing CPM (cost per thousand views) and CPC (cost per click) and the count…I didn’t know what the count meant when I started. So I thought that these familiar numbers were implying a familiar advertising system and I plowed right ahead.

The thing is, reddit doesn’t perform an auction for every click. Instead they take your total bid per day, compare it to all other bids for that day, and then grant you a percentage of traffic based on what percentage of the total your bid is. Is your bid for the day 17% of the total amount of money they were bid? Then you receive 17% of the traffic for that day.  How many clicks you get is not a part of that equation. You’re only guaranteed a percentage of views, a slice of the traffic, not of the clicks.

That data on the right of the above screen-shot is the recent, site-wide, history of advertising over the past week. And then there’s the count, which is how many other ads were running that day.

promo history

You have to combine all of these numbers together to figure out what you’re willing to pay per click, how many other ads you think might run, and what you want to bid for the day.

Plus, keep in mind, that the data they give is always for the entire site. If you’re submitting your ad just to one subreddit (category) there might only be two other ads running there so your bid can be much less to garner much more of the total pie.

Basically, when I first decided to give this a try I posted an ad to the fiction subreddit, paid my $20, and received like three clicks. The fiction subreddit is not highly targeted or trafficked, so my twenty dollars was a huge bid for a slice of a tiny pie. How tiny? I have no idea. There is no data on individual subreddits at this point.

Three clicks was not a great return.

Lesson learned. After that I took a closer look at the whole process, started using the history, worked out estimates for how many clicks I was hoping to buy, and tweaked from there.

One major tweak is that I now no longer target individual subreddits since I have zero idea what sort of traffic or competition I’m dealing with there.

Okay, so, results?

Results have been good.

Ads have most certainly led to clicks, and clicks have most certainly led to sales.

A lot of the success of your ads will depend on the headline and the photo you use, as well as your landing page. Again, I’m using my Probability Angels page, and that page has been worked on quite a bit to catch the eyes of new readers who click through from somewhere on a whim.

Whether it’s “worth it,” as a lot of people ask me, I can’t tell at this point.

All of my marketing is focused on the idea that one can hit a critical mass with readers, ideally readers who purchase via Amazon, and that once this happens your readership can produce its own growth. I’ll write a post soon discussing this notion more.

But for now?

Hmmm.

The traffic generated has been well worth the costs of advertising compared to other methods, and this traffic is resulting in people purchasing my books. The cost per sale is still high, however, and my proceeds from sales do not cover those costs. But I don’t think advertising is supposed to actually pay for itself at first. It’s supposed to seed readers. And the readers I’m gaining may or may not produce more readers. And the sales I’m getting on Amazon may or may not garner their algorithm’s attention. All of that remains to be seen and I am still futzing and tweaking my reddit ads.

But I do think it has been worth it.

I’ve said this a lot, but advertising is extremely cheap compared to the days before Ye Olde Internette. I highly recommend setting aside a few bucks to try it out. You will learn a lot about how to market yourself in general just by writing your ad copy and figuring out your landing page. You will learn a lot about how to best target an audience for your work. And you will learn a little bit about something called love.

Okay maybe not that last part, but you’ll learn plenty and you’ll get at least a few new eyeballs on you and that’s not a bad thing. Especially for a few bucks. Look at it as a cheap class on marketing.

I want to close out here by discussing reddit’s ability to allow comments on your ads.

This is a very weird concept.

But, take a look at the ad on my front page again:

Sponsered link

See? This ad has 7 comments on it.

Comments are an integral part of the internet that no sane person should ever look at ever.

Well, some comment sections are interesting, but some are horrible places where trolls dwell and ass-hats spew hate.

That being said, I think allowing comments on your ad is the right choice. It shows that you’re not aloof from the community, and I think people are more likely to treat your ad as a real part of Reddit if it has some comments on it.

Just don’t think you can respond to the comments on your ad.

Seriously. Don’t do it.

My ads have received a few comments, and most of them are people making puns about my book’s title (Probability Angles anyone?) or people ripping into my books as well as some people ripping on me simply for choosing to advertise. One commenter said that he would probably buy my book, but warned people not to click through to my website because the positive quotes I’ve included there turned him off.

I don’t even know what to make of that. For that person, effective advertising would be, what, to put up a bunch of bad quotes about my book on my own page? I mean, I often tell people to read the favorited reviews on Amazon to get an impartial opinion, but why would I put those on my page? It’s my page. That’s the one place that’s supposed to…ohfuckit just don’t read the comments.

And let me know if you learn anything about love.

Hydra Headed Problems in Writing

Helsingør, Herkules kæmper mod hydraen by ЯAFIK ♋ BERLIN from FlickrHercules was a demi-god…I think. We’re going off of memory here because that’s more fun.

Anyway, Hercules was a demi-god with some rage issues. One day, for reasons I can’t remember, he killed his wife and kids.

This was bad.

He wanted to atone for this bad thing that he had done, or the gods demanded that he atone for it, and so he set off on his labors. The Labors of Hercules. They’re sort of famous in mythology.

He had to kill the lion of Numedia (we’re guessing at names too…but I know he had to kill a lion). He had to capture Cerberus. And he had to clean some stables.

Yes he had to clean some stables. They were the gigantic stables of some horse-crazy land with horse crap caked on three feet deep. Hercules had to divert an entire river just to clean the stables. Big stuff.

He also had to kill the Hydra. Who on earth made up this list of chores is beyond me. One day he’s cleaning stables and the next he’s killing a mythical creature. I guess it was sort of like a decathlon, testing as many different skills and pushing as many buttons as possible.

So anyway, the Hydra. The Hydra was a nine headed monster. That doesn’t sound too bad. I mean Hercules was able to clean that stable by diverting a river so we can assume that monsters are sort in his wheelhouse.

The only problem was that every time you managed to lop off one of the Hydra’s heads, two more would sprout up in its place.

This is a problem. In fact, this is such a common type of problem that it is now known as a hydra headed problem: knock one down and it only serves to introduce two more problems.

This is where I’m at with book three. It feels like I’ve been here for awhile. Every time I figure out a kink in this book it opens up two more ideas that I have to toy with and examine and decide where, or if, they belong.

I began with a fairly basic idea for the plot. The plot is no longer basic. I have story-lines that range from Bartleby’s life as a human to a serial killer causing unrest in the world of the testers to a coup in the Council to Gregor’s rise as leader of the zombies.

It’s possible that I can tie all of these together, most likely weeding a few out, and create a single cohesive book. But right now? Right now it just seems like every step forward I take results in two more paths I have to sniff out and examine. And it’s getting really annoying. I have no idea if this is progress. It feels more like a hamster wheel.

In order to defeat the Hydra, Hercules found a giant log and heated the end and after he sliced off one of the Hydra’s heads he cauterized the wound, cooking it shut by applying the glowing red end of the log to the open cut. No more Hydra heads.

It’s possible that I’m allowing myself too much exploration. It’s possible that it’s time to start cauterizing story lines, that once I figure out one bit I need to start ignoring the inevitable questions that crop up about what else that bit might be hiding.

Or it’s possible that you can beat a hydra by wearing it out, that eventually the stupid thing just runs out of heads.

With the holidays coming up and a massive disrupt to my work schedule bound to happen I’ll probably take that opportunity to step back and more properly assess what the hell I have on my hands right now.

Until then, I’m just glad I’m not cleaning stables.

Thoughts on a Sales Spike

Apples by msr from FlickrOn October 7th a new ad went live for one week for Probability Angels. I would link to the blog where the ad went live, but I can’t find it. It seems to have been taken down. I’ve emailed the owner and am trying to figure that out.

At any rate, on Sunday the 7th the ad went live and when I checked sales on that Monday there was an impressive spike in my numbers. I should add here that this ad was solely for the Kindle version and the resulting sales have only shown up for that version so far.

So that’s my first bit of information. An ad directly caused a sales spike. I have yet to have this happen in any meaningful way, especially for an ad that was comparatively inexpensive. This is a pretty large bit of information considering the number of different ads I’ve attempted with flat sales as a result. It’s proof of concept for what, up till now, has only been a theoretical idea. An ad saying (basically) “Here is Probability Angels, here are some review quotes, click here to buy it,” resulted in just that.

The ad was a banner ad and I was charged for a week. I was not charged per click or for impression, as is done by many ad campaigns. No matter how many views or clicks I got, the ad stayed up and my original fee was all I paid. So that’s too, was, different.

Now it gets…annoying. Since the sales spike my numbers have flattened out again. This is to be expected. The question is, what are they flattening out into?

As I mentioned, the spike was pretty large. I was one of the Kindle’s top 250 authors in Horror that week. A somewhat hyper-specific title, but for someone who has existed in the ether for awhile as far as titles go, a very welcome one.

But was this spike large enough to impact sales after the ad was taken down?

I don’t know yet. Which, as I said, is annoying. But initial numbers make me want to say, yes. I have had almost as many sales since the spike flattened as I did during the spike itself. In other words, sales have flattened off, but not to their pre-spike levels. They’ve flattened off at a higher level. Instead of X number of sales a day, I have Y number of sales a day, and Y is decently larger than X.

This concept is oddly missing from so many blogs and marketing articles I read. It’s there in some, but not to the degree I’d expect.

This concept being: the spike isn’t what’s important; it’s where you return to post-spike.

Odds are, and certainly for the kind of campaign I am running for my work as a whole, I won’t have a constant stream of ads being shown. I have to pick and choose and so far, for paid ads, I have seen zero results.

Now, though, there’s this spike. Great. But if, after the spike, after the ad comes down, my sales return to exactly where they used to be, did I really accomplish anything?

I would argue no. Granted, with only a week or so having passed, I can’t really make that call. It takes people time to read a book and then, possibly, tell a friend or review it or pass it on or do any of the things that would foster a real growth in audience.

But let’s say a month passes and my sales are exactly what they were pre-spike. I’d say that wasn’t a spike, it was a fluke. And that does nothing for me.

And yet I see so many people chasing spikes instead of studying the baseline numbers. Spikes are nice and they’re important to chase but…

Apple fruit by Doug88888 from FlickrI mean, pretend you’re lost in the wilderness and you’re looking for apples. I don’t know why you need apples, not important, you just really have to get some apples. That’s your goal. So, naturally, you start looking for apple trees. I mean they’re easier to see, obviously, and they’re a great sign that apples might be around. And then you spot some apple trees. And you rejoice. And then you do nothing else.

The apple trees are spikes but the apples are really what’s important. You can’t swap out your goals like that, but a lot of people start to mix the two up. You have to then verify that they are indeed apple trees. You have to see if they’re poisoned…or something. And that they’re fruiting or…look I’m not a freaking apple farmer. The point is that the search for apple trees, the search for spikes, is only a temporary goal. You still have to find those apples. And a spike doesn’t mean you’ve widened your audience.

Savvy?

So that’s where my head’s been. Ludicrously high after the numbers came in during the ad campaign, and then every day after has been a sea of anxiety and overthinking things and queasily awaiting the next day’s numbers so I can try to verify if I have apples, or if I only found a dead apple tree.

It’s kind of annoying.

Sometimes I don’t think I really have the personality for this marketing thing…

Now, is anyone else have a weird craving for apples?

The Tale of Joseph Devon and NYCC

comic books, bagged and boarded by arellis49 from FlickrSo the New York Comic Convention is coming. It’s about a month away. And I have purchased tickets.

In the past I have attempted to boost sales through conventions, but I did so by hiring my friend Tracy to man tables or spread the word about my books. I’ve never attended a convention myself. This is because me and crowds are not on friendly terms. And me plus crowds plus travelling plus most likely rooming with someone to save on hotel costs…yeah that’s sort of a big leap.

And the notion of sending someone else in my stead still seems like a viable option, but while that was happening we were mainly experimenting with smaller conventions to get a sense of what might work. We decided that larger conventions, without a real game plan, would probably contain too much noise to get any sort of signal across.

It never occurred to me to look into the large conventions in my area…I had a bit of a blind spot there. I mean, why not buy tickets? I can attend from the safe jumping off point of my own apartment, so that’s a huge plus. I can bail if I start to feel overwhelmed by the crowd, which is an even bigger plus. And, frankly, tickets were way less expensive than I expected.

I only have two reservations about my ticket purchase.

First concerns the general nature of this entire experiment I’m running with my work. Everything I’m doing here: the plodding along with nonprofessional marketing, the DIY of every element, the constant stopping to reassess and examine, all of that is because my goal here is not just to break as an author, it’s to understand how it is that authors break. And the reason for that is because I want to be able to turn around to the author in line behind me and say, “Hey. So here’s what I did. Tiny step by tiny step. Here’s where I saw results. Here’s a decent game plan for you.”

I’m trying to build a mechanism.

So, why would I have reservations about branching out into conventions personally?

Crowd by Andrew Pescod from FlickrBecause this is something I never would have done a few years ago. Hell, I’m not sure I’d have been ready for this one year ago (or this year). There’s a lot of psychology and history and whatever behind that statement, but I can sum it up like this: I didn’t start sitting down and writing three-hundred page books in utter solitude because I love being the center of attention. Quite the opposite.

And I imagine that many struggling authors out there feel the same way. If we loved crowds, we’d have become public speakers. If we could express what we wanted to express in social settings, we probably wouldn’t type so many stories with no one around.

Now, granted, there are plenty of authors out there with Rachael Ray-esque personalities.  But that’s not who I’m trying to build my mechanism for. If you have the personality of Rachael Ray then you don’t need my help. You also probably will never write anything I’d want to read, though, either.

I’m trying to figure out how authors very similar to me can market books, and if attending a convention is something I, myself, would have a hard time doing, then it feels somehow wrong to incorporate it into the list of suggestions for other authors.

That being said, I am going to give it a shot, and I think that’s partly because over the last few years the audience I’ve built up has slowly begun to raise my level of confidence. So maybe it all fits together after all. Early steps are to find scraps of an audience. And a later step is to let that audience lead you to places where you’ll feel welcome. Or maybe I’ll step into the convention hall and immediately break into a cold sweat on the first day and never go back.

Point being, I would very much like any steps I take in marketing to be easily follow-able by authors similar to me. And that puts attending conventions in an odd gray area.

The second reservation I have is that this is a comic convention and my proven conversion rate so far has been with gamers. But I do think there’s enough overlap between those crowds for this to be worthwhile. I would draw a Venn Diagram but I can’t draw.

Plus, it’ll give me some sense of what even goes on at a convention. I have no idea if I’ll manage to hand out a single business card, but at some point this first time has to happen and I think I want to go and see what’s up.

So, I’m tentatively looking to be in attendance at the New York Comic Convention next month.

At least I know my t-shirts will fit in…

Embracing Failure

Stop Sign by Derek K. Miller from FlickrOne of the hardest things I’ve come across to discuss on here is, ironically, one of the areas where I have the most experience: marketing books.

I’ve tried countless methods and advertising campaigns and tours and to promote book sales; I should, in theory, have plenty of blog posts about all this stuff to share with hopeful authors out there.

The problem is it’s incredibly hard for me to share any of this stuff because none of it has worked. I am not an author with a successfully sustainable line of books. Yet. None of the methods I’ve tried have caused me to blow up, wherein “blowing up” is a good thing, as in the number of readers I have increases drastically.

The key to all this is the one word sentence I added to that last paragraph after much debate. The word, “Yet.” That word implies that finding my audience will happen in the future, and what I’m doing now is working towards that success.

It’s a very important word.

Take away that word and I am not working towards a goal, I’m wasting time in a meaningless effort.

And, more on topic, the presence or absence of that word changes everything I know from either helpful data about what is not effective in the marketing of books, or a bunch of useless failures that a dreamer who will never make it has accumulated.

One word, lots of implication.

This whole experiment, this whole direction I’ve taken over a million of my written words in, this is all based on the fact that there is a better way for authors to find their audiences than the current methods. And that this way is far more basic, less prone to the whims of luck, and not at all based on your average notion of, “Oh well if the book is good then the audience will automatically appear.”

Is this idea right?

Beats me. It depends on who you ask. There are plenty of people more than happy to believe that “good” books make it, and that’s that. If your audience doesn’t explode right away then you’re obviously never going to find an audience.

But that’s…that’s just so wrong. Every bit of information just screams that such a notion makes no sense.

Look, if every book that was going to be a success automatically became one, then the authors of those books would have no problems finding publishers. But that, in no story I have ever heard, has been the case. Every best-selling, “Duh, of course this will be a hit,” book that has come along was rejected by countless publishers. Most of them were rejected an absurd amount. Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October was finally, after tons of rejection, picked up by a small publisher that dealt solely in naval books.

At the beginning of the path for every well known book out there, there was nothing but rejection and struggle. Granted, some tap into an audience freakishly fast, but I still think that there’s something that happens before that self-sustaining runaway reaction that isn’t given enough credit.

There is also the notion that these runaway hits aren’t actually quality books. That a “quality” book will be recognized by real readers, like reviewers, and pushed by those readers, despite what’s going on in the pop world.

But then there’s F. Scott Fitzgerald. He went to his grave labeled a nice little short story writer but an utter failure as a novelist. It took decades for The Great Gatsby to find it’s audience and be recognized.

I think about that a lot. The Great Gatsby has become possibly my favorite book ever. I always wonder if I even would have read it if I had been living when it was published. Odds are? No. It’s not like anyone else was.

So…”Yet.”

It’s a big word and one that deserves a lot of thought.

One the one hand there are the naysayers who believe that if it doesn’t happen quick and fast then success will never come.

And then there are hundreds of people who I actually respect. Those who built foundations slowly in the companies they created, or who patiently worked away in labs to revolutionize the world, or who quietly chipped away at problems until great cracks formed.

Edison always pops up in my head: “We did not fail 1,000 times. We eliminated 1,000 methods that did not work.”

(this is the popular paraphrasing, the actual quote is sort of technical)

I have, after a few years of self-marketing, not found a sustainable audience.

Am I a failure? Or have I just not hit upon the correct formula yet? Time will tell and I know plenty of opinions exist.

My overall point, though, is that I would like to use this site to discuss what does and doesn’t work. But I’ve been remiss to do that, since all I have right now is the “What does not work,” part.

But I would like to share more often, I just need to shake off that notion of failure.

What I Have To Offer

GiftSo this month, actually this summer, has been a lot of me trying to figure out what to do with this site. When I’m not focused on writing a book I can manage to blog, sort of. And during that time there’s marketing to discuss and new ideas to try out and an audience to find.

All of that tends to be muted while I’m working on a larger project. It’s still there and if some new marketing idea comes along I’ll be sharing, but it’s not where my head is at. My head is in Book 3. So that’s what my brain wants to blog about.

I do think that writing about writing serves a purpose. I would have loved to read more writers discussing their struggles and problems when I was trying to write my first book. That was over ten years ago and, frankly, I still need to read other authors discussing their problems, if only to remind myself that I’m not alone.

However, I don’t think that can sustain a blog over a long period of time. I mean, the weird fact is that writing a book comes down to a  lot of me not knowing what’s going on, and then suddenly me knowing what’s going on. That’s it.

Imagine watching someone solve a riddle. It’s fun if you can see the riddle and solve along with them. But to do that I’d have to write: “Currently I’m struggling with how to write Mary dealing the loss of her childhood while organizing the anti-zombie raid in blah blah blah.” And if I did that then you’d be getting the story in a crappy, diluted, unpolished, BLECH form. No way I’m doing that. I hate spoilers. And that’s like…spoilers with cancer.

Thus, I wouldn’t be able to illuminate the problem I’m grappling with in any detail. So imagine watching someone solve a riddle that you can’t see. Or, better yet, imagine watching your favorite game show only you can’t see any of the questions, puzzles, obstacles, etc. Not very entertaining is it? It’s just a shot of some person’s face changing expression as they yell out meaningless words. Not exactly riveting blog material.

So what do I have to offer here? I’ve got:

  1. Humor – the occasional humorous post about Daylight Savings Time or Hangovers or Exotic Bird Stores.
  2. Photography – Photography is still my biggest hobby and one that feels very natural to share. And I’m starting to think about it on a more than “point and shoot” level again. I’m not saying I’m Ansel Adams, but I have my moments and taking photos is something I’m going to be doing anyway so why not share? Remember the point is to figure out how to best use this site when I’m writing a book and don’t want to talk about it. Except I tend to do my sharing already on Tumblr. So…yeah.
  3. Marketing Thoughts – I’m still marketing and I’m still searching for my audience and I’m still trying to find other authors taking this same route…I’d rather like to pool thoughts and results. I think this could be a good space for that.
  4. Writing Thoughts – Yes, I just said that these are boring. But I meant boring all the time. The occasional insight or update seems likely.
  5. ???

Can a web presence be based on the fairly random and unconnected items above?

Yes. Probably. There’s a site where people take pictures of cats and add text to make it seem like the cats are asking for cheeseburgers. And it’s like the most popular site on the web. Anything is possible here.

Can I make a web presence based on all of this?

I dunno.

 

Does the Internet Have a Front Page

Beach by davidjmarland on FlickrI’ve heard writing for the internet described as, “Scratching in sand that is constantly being wiped clean by waves.”

Which is to say that “fresh” content is always the rage on the internet and you rarely, if ever, see an old article or post go viral.

Okay. Fine. I not only understand that but I enjoy it. The immediacy of the internet allows for topical posts, popular song parodies, and humorists to riff with one another from all over the world until the funniest of the funniest shit finally makes it onto my Twitter feed.

But is that all the internet provides? I mean every single “How To Blog” post emphasizes fresh content, new comments, daily discussions. Which, again, I understand.

But that’s not what I do.

I write novels. And novels aren’t a daily sort of thing. They aren’t even a weekly sort of thing. They are, if I were to start plopping out garbage without care, maybe a yearly sort of thing. And I hate plopping out garbage.

And, yes, there are short stories. But short stories aren’t  immediate sort of fare.  They’re stories. They’re meant to be discovered in time. They can sit and wait on the shelf until the reader is ready for them. It’s great if you can drop a story into a waiting audience and generate some buzz. That happens. I’m not saying that stories have zero ability for immediacy or viral-ness…but for an author building an audience from scratch that doesn’t happen. And yet I have tons of short stories up online. Good ones. Really good ones actually, some of my favorite work. But they were released, so to speak, when I had a bare minimum of readers.

And they’ve sat there, in my archives, for years now.

Does that make them no longer viable as internet material? Does that make them not worthy of being read online?

I have no idea, but my gut says no. Absolutely no.

Febuary 24, 2012 The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám by guidedbycthulhu from FlickrIn fact my gut says that if the internet is going to be a place where fiction writers can thrive, then the archives of fiction writers have to be redefined. For a vast number of the sites online, the archives are dusty places that you only visit to settle bar debates.

But for those of us writing fiction that just can’t be true. The demand for content the internet generates can’t be met by writers of fiction. Seriously. Maybe a few writers can churn it out like that, but I have to imagine that many authors have looked into the ever digesting maw of the internet and said, “Woah! To hell with that. I can’t possibly write enough stories to keep my site fresh.”

To put things in perspective, I currently have more short stories up online than J.D. Salinger had published in his entire career. Sort of. Depends on how you define “published.” But whatever, my point is that the numbers are comparable.

Obviously the quality of these stories is objective. Yet, when it’s phrased like that, I find myself questioning the very basic idea behind this website.

Is it possible for those seeking fiction to embrace a writer’s archives?

Or is the internet just not the place for authors of fiction?