Saturday, January 11, 2014

My Crazy Writing Life - Day 11: It's the Novel, Stupid!

When I first got serious about writing, the first thing I did was write a 77,000-word draft of my fantasy novel The Key of Neverhence, which still has yet to be published. Afterwards, I made a strong push to write my vampire thriller Enura, but got sick of it after 45,000 words and never returned to it (to be fair, I overdid it with the editing). Then, by a combination of curiosity and circumstance, I began writing shorter works, which were profitable for a brief period of time, but ultimately sank to the current levels today. These days, my children’s books and short stories don’t pull in much—certainly not enough to live on even though I have 118 titles to my credit.

If I continue this way, I might be able to reverse my fortunes, but I suspect that sales will eventually slide back to where they currently are. Without a true novel, sales will falter and never reach the level that I hope to achieve.

For some time I’ve heard that novels are the way to go. Joe Konrath has mentioned this numerous times, and backed it up with sales data. I’m also seeing this bear out with my friends’ numbers, so perhaps it’s time to reevaluate. With shorter works comes short-term success. Perhaps it’s time for the main course. (Besides, when is the last time you’ve heard someone rave about a short story? For novels, this happens all the time.)

That’s not to say that I’m abandoning children’s books or my other short stories. I just won’t expect to make money off of them anymore. The fact that I’ve put all of my effort into short works and none into novels is troublesome. The smartest thing to do (yes, I’m challenged in that area) is to finish one of my incomplete novels or flesh out an idea in my head.

One such idea that I accidentally stumbled across yesterday is a science fiction action adventure called Dunderwhlep. Essentially it’s a comedy, featuring a reluctant superhero that can’t be killed (at least, not easily) and bumbles through life, getting himself into heaps of trouble, and perhaps, the girl in the end. It’s the very definition of pulp fiction and will be written under my new pen name Rockenweiler Gulch.

Why am I reluctant to start such a project? First off, I don’t have a cover and can’t think of a piece of stock imagery that would be suitable for it. I may need to find an artist, and that will cost money. Second, the pen name isn’t established. I don’t have any other works associated with it or a backlist to fall back on. And even though it will be filled to the brim with action, it very comic book-oriented in nature. It’s going to require a huge leap of faith on my part.

There’s no telling who will take it seriously. It’s not a detective novel per se, and although it is set in the future, it could turn off many diehard science fiction fans. What it does have is personality, foul language (which got me in trouble with Netherstream) and humorous situations. “Take a chance on me!” it screams. Would I be a fool not to take a chance?

Remember what I said about just writing and not worrying about the money? If I see it working in my head, I should just write it, right? Eventually I’ll need to establish the Rockenweiler Gulch brand name. It may as well be now.

But it’s different with novels. Unlike short stories, there’s a large investment of time and energy, and I don’t want to choose the wrong project and only earn one sale per month versus 50-100 per day. Some thought has to go into it.

I know, I know. Stop thinking about money!

Let’s take a step back for a moment. How long is your writing career? From today till the day you die, right? So what are you worried about? Regardless if it’s a failure or a success, as long as you give your best effort, you’ll do fine. Have some faith in yourself! If you like what you’re writing, keep going. In the end, there’s no guarantee that any of it will sell, and projects that I thought would sell in the past were total busts. You may as well choose something enjoyable.

And what if it’s successful? Wouldn’t it be fun to write a sequel to Dunderwhelp? There are worse things that you could get stuck writing. Like a cookbook. Or a basket weaving guide. Or a basket weaving cookbook. Don’t get stuck writing something you hate. Are you willing to tell your readership that there won’t be another book in the series if it succeeds? Worse yet, will you have a choice?

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed everything that I’ve written thus far and would be honored to follow up a successful work. For me, that’s not a problem. On the other hand, I have an acquaintance who writes what’s popular at the moment. He’s willing to write anything and everything, from children’s books to erotica, scruples me damned! There are things he’s written that I wouldn’t dare write in a million years.

Unless it were a comedy.

That’s the one exception I will make. With humor, you can get away with anything and the work is always more enjoyable because of it. Comedic works also tend to be written faster and readers are more forgiving when it comes to mistakes and logical errors.

That doesn’t mean that you can write bad. No, I’m afraid the angry mob of the literary elite will have your head for it. But it does illustrate a point: First, you must entertain. Although your story may be putrid with cardboard characters and clichés galore, if you entertain, you might just convince them that you did it on purpose, further elevating your legendary status. It’s a strange irony that also carries over into other art forms. Entertain them with something that is uniquely you and that they can’t get anywhere else and they will look for you next time they’re in Amazon.

This also takes me back to a previous discussion about editing. If you want to produce something that’s authentic, is it in your best interest to polish it mercilessly? Would it be better if your writing remained rough so that it didn’t sound like everything else out there? I’m not suggesting that you ignore mistakes and write poorly. I’m just wondering if it’s beneficial to scale back the editing a bit.

For this, I’m afraid I don’t have the answer. I’ve always been the type who writes something over and over again until I get it right. I wish I would be one of those writers who writes something once, does a few minor edits, and gets it out the door. I guess I write in a perpetual state of writer’s remorse, so scared that the reader will find an error that I pour over it in an apologetic eye until I convince myself that everything is as it should be. Of course, what I could be doing is making my work more cliché (i.e., it has the same ring to it as something I’ve previously read).

Novel writing is something that should be taken seriously. The majority of an author’s income is generated from it (just not mine yet). While it’s good to be productive, it’s better to produce something that pays the bills. If you’re struggling, try something new. You have no choice!

Also consider the reader’s expectations for a moment. If you were the reader, wouldn’t you prefer a novel to a 2,000-word short story? Sure, there’s nothing wrong with short stories, but it’s hard to justify when you can purchase an entire novel for the same price. Readers want novels, not one of the millions of short stories available today. Focus on novels exclusively and write a short story whenever you need a break.

Of course, if I had all of my free time back, I’d seriously consider writing more than one novel at a time. It’s kind of like writing multiple columns in a newspaper. When your motivation languishes in one, jump to the other. I’m sure if you told yourself to write a thousand words for Novel A and then another thousand for Novel B each day, you could do it. Juggling multiple projects keeps the writing fresh and makes it feel like less of a burden.

Many prolific writers recommend this approach for maximum productivity (oh no, here I go again). If your goal is to write as much as humanly possible, then this technique could be the goose that lays the golden egg. But it isn’t for everybody—just erratic authors who like to take on far more than is wise.

Ok, that’s all fine and dandy. Is there a point to this long-winded post?

Oh yes, it’s all about the novel, stupid!

Write one, then another. Mix in a few short stories to keep readers interested, but make novel-writing your primary focus.

This does not change my focus on children’s books. It just means that I must expand upon my original plans. So why not make Secret Agent Disco Dancer and My Little Pet Dragon full-fledged novels? For once, I might find success that sticks.

Day 1: 1,035 words
Day 2: 1,045 words
Day 3: 1,035 words
Day 4: 1,560 words
Day 5: 1,193 words
Day 6: 1,157 words
Day 7: 1,102 words
Day 8: 1,643 words
Day 9: 2,057 words
Day 10: 1,038 words
Day 11: 1,560 words
Total: 14,425 words

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