Tuesday, November 10, 2015

What Did I Do? And What Am I Doing?

So I've reached 227 published works, and now that I've had a chance to sit back and watch the dust clear, I'm wondering, "What did I do?" I have a bunch of shorts, no novels to speak of, and most of what I've published are children's books.

Is there something wrong with this? And should I be made to feel like something is wrong with what I've produced?

Due to changes in Amazon's payout system, the operative advice is to make your books longer. Write more, if you can, especially if it fits the story. In this, I don't really have a problem. I actually have a couple novels that I haven't published yet, and I will eventually change gears and finish them off. Eventually.

But I love short fiction, and based on reader feedback, they seem to like it, too. Should I give up short fiction for a while and put everything I have into novels?

Not so fast…

Picture books need to remain short--around 30 pages--so that young readers can actually finish them. Although extending stories might seem like a great idea, I've received complaints about some books being too long. That's right--a picture book that's too long. Is that even possible? But the readership is speaking, and I do not necessarily disagree with them.

All stories have a desirable length that they fit in, and each is different. Writing longer simply doesn't apply to children's books as it does to other genres.

So what's a children's book author to do? What they always do: produce more books, not stretch existing ones.

Can you imagine if Dr. Seuss tried to extend the Cat in the Hat to make a few more pennies from borrows? It might have a disastrous effect on the final product. Money has a way of muddling things, and that's exactly what I think this is: a muddle.

Some readers like my picture books because they're short and sweet. More complex works, like the 16,000 words I poured into Bubblegum Princess: Pinkberry Patch, create an entirely new reading experience. Forcing one to become the other isn't always in the book's best interest. Since the book is a showcase of our efforts, you would think an author would take a more guarded approach.

Such is not the case from what I've seen, and I worry that authors might screw up perfectly good stories to make a few bucks.

While each of us has to do what we need to survive, I'm going to avoid the temptation of extending anything and simply write more stories. I'll write as long as I can, but not at the expense of the work at hand. I'll also tackle larger, more complex books, such as Secret Agent Disco Dancer, which I've avoided for one reason or another. (Which is a nice way of saying that I've been lazy.)

Another thing I read about is authors getting stuck writing in a particular genre. I'm a free spirit, and I understand exactly how this feels. I love the challenge of producing something new and following my instincts. The thought of rehashing something or continuing to write a series that I'm no longer fond of doesn't appeal to me, but even that's secondary.

What writers seem to forget is that they're getting the opportunity to write what they want and make a decent living off of it. Some of us will even become rich off of our endeavors. That's not such a bad deal.

But forget about the money or what you'd rather be writing instead. Just write. Write as much as you can whenever you can. Let your universe explode!

While it might sound like I'm advocating scattering one's focus, I'm not. I'm just of the mind that if other writing projects are important, you'll find a way to fit them in. You'll wake up an hour earlier, etc., just for the chance to live in that world.

And why not? If you have an idea, go for it. Don't put limitations on yourself that you can only write certain types of books, etc., because there's no money in certain genres. Your desire to write other things may be an indication that you need a break, and will give you the opportunity to test out new waters.

Just yesterday I finished up Bubblegum Princess. "But the picture book has been available since 2012," you say. Yeah, but I wasn't satisfied with it. It didn't represent my best effort or fulfill reader expectations. So I vowed to write a little each month, a chapter here and there, until it was done. Although the project dragged on, I never forgot about it, and forced myself to sit down and extend the lines a little further. I'm proud of what I accomplished, even if there's no financial reward.

I kept my promise, that's the important thing. I gave the reader something closer to what I had in mind. And it feels good. So very, very good.

Now I'm presented with a challenge: Do I work on Story A or Story B? Why do I do this to myself? Isn't the intention to write all of them? Just dive in and take them all on. Be fearless! Challenge yourself, don't limit yourself! If all of us acted on our instincts rather than getting lost in the benefits of writing one book versus the other, we'd produce a lot more content, and thus, make more money.

That's what I'm trying to do right here--to break out of this narrow mindset. If I can even accomplish one tenth of what I set out to do, I'll do far more than I would otherwise.

Sure, a successful series brings with it obligations, but that doesn't mean that we can no longer be creative or try out new things. We just need to mix them in: a sequel here, a brand new picture book there. And by all means, none of us should ever feel stuck. Enjoy all of the writing, even if there are other things that you'd rather be writing at a particular moment. Give it a chance, and you'll be surprised at the results.

So at 227 published works, what am I doing? Starting over. And moving on to #228.

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