Monday, December 23, 2013

The Gift Every Writer Can Give to Their Friends and Family This Year

Being an independent publisher isn’t easy. Not only do we have to deal with the struggles and insecurities of writing (See The Writer’s Road), we also have to deal with marketing, sales and customer service in the form of social media.

Knowing an independent publisher might not be the easiest thing in the world either.  Some of us want free services to help them get our books out into the world. Some of us want our loved ones to take the time and effort to read our work and offer critical (but not too critical) feedback. Almost all of us want support, whether it comes from actual sales or a boost of confidence. In short, an independent publisher often expects their friends and family to be advocates, cheerleaders and fans.

But do any of these expectations make sense?

The Missing Pieces
I’ve found that many of the people who are close to me aren’t really interested in my novels. At first, I saw this as a personal rejection. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that there are several reasons why a person that cares about you might not want to read or support you work for reasons that have nothing to do with malicious intent or negative emotions:
  • Lack of interest: Just because someone loves you doesn’t mean that they love your writing style, the genre you write in or reading in general. If you ask someone who watches mainstream TV to read your experimental novel, you’re putting a burden on them. They may or may not do it for you, but they might not be happy about it.
  • Lack of time: The people in your life have their own financial, social, professional and recreational interests that have nothing to do with your book. While some of them could have several hours a week to read your work at your command, many of them don’t. This might be hard to believe, but your best friend might not be able to appreciate your magnum opus if she is trying to keep her job, pay her rent and go to the gym on a regular basis.
  • Lack of perspective: When you ask a loved one to read your book, you are exposing yourself on an emotional level. A sensitive and thoughtful person will understand this and approach the request with the attention it deserves. This creates a dilemma for the reader.  If they don’t like the story, they have to find a way to say that without hurting your feelings or lie to you. If they do like the book, then they have to find a way to say that without making it seem like they would like whatever you wrote because of their relationship to you. Many people have a hard time with this. It is often easier to avoid the situation altogether.
  • Lack of expertise: Some people think that they need a certain skill set or background to help a writer with their book. Others feel like they can’t absorb or evaluate certain stories because they are unfamiliar with the genre. You might simply want the input or opinion of an “average reader” but some people might not feel they are in a position to do that.
  • Lack of comfort: Your friends and family have a certain image of you. Exposure to your writing could threaten that image and create an imbalance that undermines your current relationship. This is obvious if you write in a genre like erotica (See Erotica as a Literary Pariah) but it could be just as disquieting if you are writing about sensitive subjects like violence, religion, politics, or other deeply personal issues. Some people would rather avoid that journey into your mind, even if they have known you all their lives.

The Writer’s Gift
So instead of giving your friends and family another copy of your 200,000 word short story (See Why Do We Count?) or regaling them with stories of your trials and tribulations with the craft over your fourth glass of egg nog (See How to Talk About Your Writing Over the Holidays) why not give them a break?
  • Go out of your way to talk about their creative endeavors instead of your own.
  • Support their personal interests.
  • Thank them for all the help they’ve given you in the past and apologize if you sacrificed time and attention from them to focus on your work.

Your friends and family might not need any of this, but they will probably appreciate it. You might still have an eager cadre of advocates, cheerleaders and fans around, you so make them a part of your inner circle. When you understand that people can care about you without caring about your work, you will appreciate the ones who embrace both that much more.

Monday, December 16, 2013

The IPN Top Ten Books of 2013

Reading is one of the essential activities of being a fiction writer. We need to read in our chosen genre to understand its conventions and trends. We explore other genres to widen our palette and find unique inspiration. We read the non-fiction to acquire research for our work and to stay in touch with the reality that we avoid while we craft our artful lies. Stephen King said it well in his book On Writing "If you don't have time to read, then you don't have time to write."

I've been able to read about thirty five books this year through the magic of e-books, audio books and the Comixology app. Most of what I've read has been decent, a few I had to abandon before finishing (See How Often Do You Give Up On A Book?). The following ten books comprise the most outstanding writing that I've been exposed to this year.

Keep in mind that this is not a list of books that were released in 2013. This is a list of books that I have read this year. This list also excludes books that I read in the past and went back to during the past twelve months. It’s not limited by genre or format, it is as well rounded (or scattershot depending on how you look at it) as I am. I've provided links to my longer reviews if I wrote one. Otherwise I just provide a link to the Amazon page where the book can be purchased.
  1. Secret Pilgrim (thriller): John Le Carre closes the George Smiley series with an anthology of stories told during a dinner party for the next generation of British spies. Le Carre takes you through the Cold War and into the war on terror with emotional dexterity, dry humor, somber introspection and great insight into the mind of his fictional spies. This book might be just as good as Tinker, Tailor even if it isn't as well known.
  2. On Writing (non-fiction): This is a classic in the pantheon of how to write books. It reveals not only King’s insight on the craft, but his gift of storytelling as well.
  3. Delta of Venus (erotica): An anthology of short stories that explore various aspects of sexual expression with a delicate sensibility that doesn’t shy away from darker impulses
  4. Batman and Psychology: (non-fiction) This book perfectly balances fiction and non-fiction by using eighty years of Batman’s postindustrial mythology as case studies for various psychological conditions. 
  5. The Court of Owls (crime GN): This book blends a manipulation of the Batman mythology with some fanciful zoology about the animosity between bats and owls. The result is a fresh and enjoyable take on an icon that manages to retain all the things that make Batman interesting. 
  6. London Twist (thriller): A novella that marks a slight departure from Eisler’s established conventions and an expansion of his creativity with very pleasant results.
  7. Grendel Tales (crime GN): This book takes two minor incidents in the mythology of the assassin Grendel and unpacks them from the perspective of their doomed protagonists. Fans of Hunter Rose will appreciate the alternate resonance that these stories provide. New readers will be confused by who or what Grendel is, but that enigma will enhance rather than detract from the story.
  8. Merrick (horror): Anne Rice brings her Vampire Chronicles and her Mayfair Witch series together in this book that also includes ghosts, voodoo and magic from the Incas, Egyptians and Christian mysticism. The glut of supernatural forces can be too much at times, and the long flash backs were sometimes difficult to get through, but this was still an excellent Halloween read.
  9. The Killer (crime GN): This is a French book about a lone assassin who has to eliminate his targets, avoid being double crossed by his allies and battle the demons in his own mind in order to survive. It doesn’t push the genre into new territory, but it brings a minimalist flair to established conventions that recall excellent films like La Femme Nikita (See Bloody Inspiration Part 1: My Top 21 Films)
  10. Hawkeye (GN): In the wake of the blockbuster Avengers film, this is a light hearted take on the groups least powerful member. If you ever wondered what a superhero does when he's not saving the world or hanging out with billionaires and thunder gods, then you will enjoy this book.

So what are your favorite books of 2013 (besides the one you wrote, obviously)? Leave me a note in the comments and let me know. I’m always looking for new books to read in 2014.

Have fun.

Monday, December 2, 2013

What's Your Publishing Plan?

by Gamal Hennessy

The end of the year is a good time to look back on the progress you've made in your craft as a writer. It's also a good time to set goals for the New Year. For those of us who are predisposed to planning, the end of the year is the best time to set up a publishing plan. I'm going to try and show why this kind of plan is useful, what it is, how you can create one and what its limitations are.

Why Have a Publishing Plan?
The main benefit to a publishing plan is that it can help you manage your two most important resources; time and money. Few of us have unlimited hours to develop our craft (See Do You Really Need to Quit Your Day Job?) and while independent publishing is affordable, it's not cheap (See So How Much Does it Cost to Self-Publish?). Creating a plan can help you allocate enough time to reach your publishing goals in terms of output (See Why Do We Word Count?) and ensure that your costs for publishing don't interfere with any non-publishing expenses you'll have to deal with in your life.

What is a Publishing Plan?
The publishing plan is basically a projection of all your creative and writing business projects for a given period. It could be based on any goal you decide to set, and it can be broken down into any time period you like.

For example, my publishing plan for 2014 is to release two books that I wrote in 2013 and write two books that I'll release in 2015. Some people can break it down into quarterly, monthly or even weekly goals, but I prefer to work on an annual basis and have the goals from one year linked to the previous and subsequent years to maintain a steady output.

How Do You Create a Publishing Plan?
Creating a publishing plan is a three step process:
  1. Set your goal for your desired time period. Keep in mind that we're talking about publishing goals, not necessarily income goals. A publishing plan can help if your goal is 'publish one novel per year'. It is less helpful if your goal is 'sell a million copies'. I don’t have a plan for that yet.
  2. Breakdown your publishing efforts according to the four stages (See The Four Stages of Novel Development) so you give each project time for each stage it requires.
  3. Layout your activities based on your timing and goals. It helps to schedule extra time for each stage, since life has a way of disrupting plans.

Examples of a Publishing Plan
As I stated earlier, my goal for 2014 is to release two books that are already written (A Taste of Honey and Dark End of the Street) and write two more (A Touch of Honey and Smoke and Shadow). Based on that goal, my monthly plan gets broken down into a creative goal and a business goal and looks something like this:
  • Jan: Pre-launch Taste of Honey/ Production of Touch of Honey
  • Feb: Launch Taste Book 1/ Touch Production
  • March: Launch Taste Book 2/ Touch Completion
  • April: Launch Taste Book 3/ Begin Production of Smoke and Shadow
  • May: Launch Full Taste Novel/ Touch Post Production
  • June: Production of Smoke/ Touch Post Production
  • July: Vacation
  • August Production Smoke/ Post Production Dark End of the Street
  • Sept: Pre-Launch Dark/ Production Smoke
  • Oct: Launch Dark/ Smoke Completion
  • Nov: Catch Up
  • Dec: Catch Up

It helps to keep a few things in mind when looking at this plan. First, I’m planning to release A Taste of Honey in Four stages to test a marketing theory I discussed a few weeks ago (See The Case for Episodic Novels). Second, I give myself six months to write a book based on the fact that the plots are already done (See Building a Better Novel). I also build in two months to play catch up just in case life gets in the way. If everything goes according to plan (and it never does), I can use those two "extra" months to get a head start on the publishing projects for 2015.

What Can't a Publishing Plan Do?
For all the possible benefits of a publishing plan, there are some things it isn't good for:
  • You can't schedule pre-production creativity. Inspiration and ideas come when they come and no plan can force the creative mind to find its muse.
  • You can't anticipate non-writing emergencies. Things like illness, layoffs, family issues and other unplanned events can completely derail a publishing plan which can force you to start all over again.
  • You can't control third party responses. If you hire editors, cover designers and other professionals, you can influence but not control how fast they work. If you're looking for an agent or a traditional publisher there is no telling how long you might wait.
  • The plan can't make you stick to it. If plans are antithetical to your nature or if you have a PhD in procrastination, a publishing plan might be more trouble than it's worth. If you don't have any concrete goals and just write for the love of the craft, a publishing plan might be beside the point. This is primarily a business tool. It shouldn't interfere with your creativity.

So what are your publishing plans for 2014? Please let me know in the comments.

Have fun.