This post is brought to you by not enough sleep, 4am, and the letter R (for rant).
I don’t know if it is the boards I frequent, the blogs I read, or what, but lately I see a lot of writers who put up an ebook or two and then bitch and moan when they don’t sell much or aren’t instantly successful and rich. I don’t get it.
I mean, I get the frustration. You take a book or some short stories that have been vetted, either by industry professionals (in the case of previously published work) or by trusted peers or professional editors you hired or what have you. You put it up. No one buys it beyond those three guys that live in your basement and drink your beer (or is that just MY three guys? I dunno). So then you throw up your hands and declare that no one can make any good money by self-publishing ebooks.
What I really, really don’t understand? Often times these are writers with publication history. They have spent years if not decades in the trenches getting rejected over and over as they struggled to get to a point where their work sold reliably. They know what perseverance is. They know what hard work is. These are writers who wouldn’t dream of only ever writing one story, sending it out to a single market, and then throwing up their hands and saying “oh well, I guess this doesn’t work” and quitting writing. Because the writers who make that decision are the ones you will never hear about. They don’t get published because this isn’t a business for quitters.
And yet, that is what I see, over and over, among professionals who decide to test the ebook waters. They take a single work, put it online (often with a terrible cover and boring blurb), and then throw their hands up and cry all over the net how only selling to big publishers works because no one but the very very lucky can make any money at this ebook thing.
W. T. F. I’m serious. I don’t get it. Why would people who should KNOW better do this? Writing as a business isn’t easy. It is, however, very simple. Heinlein’s Rules haven’t changed and they still work. Write. Finish. Get it out there. Keep it out there. Rinse. Repeat.
Ebooks are no different. Make them as damn good as you can. This means studying the covers, blurbs, prices, etc of the books that are like the ones you are selling. Put up a good product. Do it again. And again. Keep writing. Keep writing books that people want to read. If you aren’t selling, write better books, write better blurbs, get better covers. You know… work at it. The same way we all do going through the traditional publishing trenches. We slog through the rejections, the crits, the workshops, the endless query-go-round. And when we sell a book, we rejoice. But we don’t expect a single sale to solve all our problems forever and that we can instantly be rich and famous and awesome. Instead, the next day, we start another damn book.
So if you have put up a single work (or even two or three) and are sitting there whining about how you don’t have the time and energy to properly market, that you don’t have the budget to do what a big publisher can do for you, that no one will buy your book, that this ebook thing is failsauce… well… look at yourself. What are you doing? Are you pinning your hopes on a single work? Would you pin your hopes on a single book bought by a trad publisher? Or would you go out and write the next book? And the next. And the one after that. Would you take a single no for an answer? Or would you examine why a story/book/whatever got rejected and figure out how to do it better?
This is the same game as it was before. Why let one failure stop you? You wouldn’t let a single rejection stop you. Come on, guys. Be smarter than this. Fail better.
(This said, I need to go write some more books. Because winter is coming and I bet there will be millions of new e-reader owners all looking for awesome, well-packaged books to read.)
And we’re back! I’ve been letting blogging slide in the interests of finishing a novel (I’m about to mail query packages and would hate to get a full request and have to scramble, so getting this novel done is first priority). But now I have another neo-pro interview for you. Enjoy!
Who are you? What’s your genre/history/etc?
Brad: Brad R. Torgersen, full-time nerd, part-time soldier, and night-time writer. I came into science fiction and fantasy through the usual routes: Star Wars and Star Trek, both on the screen and in novelizations. In my early teens I got into techno-thrillers, but eventually drifted over to original fantasy in the form of David Eddings and Stephen R. Donaldson, as well as original science fiction like the “Sten” books from Allan Cole and Chris Bunch. Ultimately, I read Larry Niven’s two omnibus volumes, “N-Space” and, “Playgrounds of the Mind,” at which point my whole fan paradigm got rickrolled. I came up for air and said, “I want to be like Larry Niven!!” That was in 1992.
What’s your Race score?
Brad: My Race score tends to hover in the teens, with occasional spikes into the 20s. My goal is to try and drive it up into the “pro-zone” that Dean Wesley Smith talks about: 80 points or higher, but it’s possible I may sell too often to get it that high or keep it there. Especially in the new universe of electronic self-publishing. I liked your article you did on that with Amanda McCarter by the way.
When did you “get serious” about being a writer?
Brad: I got “serious” in 1992… the first time. I’ve gotten “serious” several times since. The best and most recent period of “serious” began in 2007 when I went back to work on my short fiction and begin to deliberately attempt winning Writers of the Future. There were many stops and starts between 1992 and 2007, and if I had to advise anyone, I’d advise them to not be so herky-jerky about their effort, the way I was.
What are your goals with your writing?
Brad: To pay off my house, put at least $500,000 in the bank, and quit my day job. In that order. That might sound rather mercenary, but the truth is, part of what made me get “serious” in 1992 was that I realized Niven was getting paid to do what I’d been doing for free on the dial-up bulletin boards for a couple of years already: write science fiction (and occasionally fantasy) stories and books. Once I decided that merely writing for fun was not enough, I switched over to looking at it like a business prospect. Now that I am selling, the business aspect is very front-and-center for me, beyond simply finishing books or stories.
Where do you see your career in 5 years?
Brad: It’s tough to say because there is no single road to anywhere in this racket. Just because I’d like a thing to be true by 2016 doesn’t mean it will be. However, if past paths of Writers of the Future winners are any indicator, if I bust my tail and get numerous manuscripts written, in five years I should probably have some novels sold and/or published, additional short fiction sold and published, and be generally working as a new “mid-list” man in the genre. Not a bad place to be. Going beyond mid-list is almost entirely up to the market and audience taste. No way for me to guess how that may shake out. I could crash and burn, or wind up on the New York Times list. Or maybe be an e-publishing breakout success? It would be nice, but I can’t count any of those chickens yet. I don’t even have the eggs!
Do you have a particular story or idea you are dying to write? Or, if you could write a tie-in to any established universe/franchise, what would it be?
Brad: Back in 1992 I daydreamed of writing a 5-book supernovel series in the Star Trek universe, detailing the exploits of Captain Sulu and Captain Chekov. I’d written numerous chapters on a fanfiction along these lines. Now? Now, I’d love to dabble in Larry Niven’s universe via the Man-Kzin Wars, with Baen. And I am currently collaborating with award-winner Mike Resnick, which is a whole unexpected but very welcome bit of fun. As for original projects, I would very much like to write an original science fiction series with the audience penetration of “Ender’s Game” and those books, or perhaps a rigorous military fantasy series. My imagination goes all over the place and I know I can’t write it all. I just have to hope one of these projects, somewhere, connects with enough people to earn me a following and (hopefully) a decent amount of money.
What are your hobbies outside writing?
Brad: Hobbies? I have given up many of them over the years, to be a Dad and to get “serious” about writing. Now and then I find a video game I like, though I haven’t played anything more modern than the TRON 2.0 game (from 2004) or the MECHWARRIOR game from before that. Once upon a time I used to scratchbuild starship models from paper, glue and cardboard. That was a lot of fun. Again, just can’t seem to find the time for it these days. Maybe when I am a big famous published author guy? But then, Kevin J. Anderson doesn’t seem to have time for hobbies either. He he he.
*(Nobu sez: squee moment… Mechwarrior 4 is one of my all-time favorite games!)
What’s your writing process like?
Brad: I am still trying to form a process, actually. Left to my own devices I am a “burst” person, with periods of intense writing and then long troughs with little or no writing. This is my “hobbyist” writing habit on full display. Currently I am trying to teach myself to put down words every single day, whether I want to or not. I’ve arranged my schedule so that every night come hell or high water, I am doing one hour before bed. Whatever words I can cram onto the page. It’s not the most inspired way to go about it, but in truth, the stuff I write when not inspired and the stuff I write when totally inspired winds up reading more or less the same. Hat tip to Dean Smith on that truth, as you well know.
What’s been toughest about your journey so far as a writer? How do you keep yourself going?
Brad: The toughest part has been ignoring the odds and the self-doubt. The odds are terrible. Just awful. Anyone coming into commercial fiction because they think the odds are good is fooling themselves. The odds are putrid. Which is a big reason it’s always tough for me to keep my wordcount and morale up, even after breaking in. Having climbed one “mountain” there is a whole Himalayan range ahead of me. Do I really want to keep doing this?? Surely there are better and/or less crazy ways to make good money and have fun. But I long ago consigned myself to this goal: of becoming a successful, well-paid science fiction and fantasy writer. It’s been my deepest, most sought-after dream for almost 20 years. Turning away or giving up is simply not an option for me. So I slog on. Not because I am especially inspired, but because I feel like if I quit now, I will be failing myself and my family, and I simply can’t do that.
Any tips or tricks you’ve figured out for improving your writing?
Brad: Best “trick” I can offer anyone is to just read frequently, and perk up when you see something you like. Doesn’t matter if you think it’s what will sell. Ignore that impulse. When you read a story or a book, and you say to yourself, wow, I really, really liked that, PAY ATTENTION! Try to figure out what it was in the story or book that hit your “cookies” and made you like it. Examine these things and try to figure out how to apply them to your own stories. My novelette “Outbound” in the November 2010 issue of Analog Science Fiction & Fact was like that. I’d read a wonderful novelette called, “Arkfall” by Carolyn Ives Gilman, and I really sat up and tried to figure out what in that story worked so well for me. When I sat down and did “Outbound” I had “Arkfall” kind of simmering in the back of my brain, as both template and inspiration. Both stories are very different in specifics, but I think they have strong, shared themes. I think new writers could do well to examine their favorite work by their favorite authors, and without copying per se, try to pick apart what it is those authors are doing — the size and scale of the stories, the emotional impact, the types of conflict — and bring some of that to their own work.
And finally, got anything you want to pimp?
Brad: If I can pimp anything it would be my on-line project the Emancipated Worlds Saga. It’s a big space-opera war story that I’ll be doing all year, with an eye towards consolidation and e-publication to the Kindle and other platforms by the end of 2011. (Here’s a link to the Prologue)
Thanks for the interview Annie! This was a lot of fun!!