Looking Forward: Contemplating a Writer’s Living, Contemplating the Passing of an Old Dream

I’ve been thinking a lot, lately, about what the future might look like, if I continue down the path of trying to become a published author.  I’ve been thinking about what it would take for me to be a professional writer; what path I might follow to success.  I’ve been thinking about what it means if I never pass that threshold.  This post has been gestating inside me for the better part of a month or two, and has taken me several weeks to write.

Since I was very young, it’s been my dream to be a full-time author.  It’s what I’ve always wanted to do.  And for much of my youth, this seemed an attainable dream.  There were lots of popular fantasy writers, and as far as I knew they were all making pretty comfortable livings by writing books.

But lately, my thoughts on the subject have been a tad more… not really pessimistic, I think, so much as resigned to reality.

I’ve blogged a bit, off-and-on, about some of the challenges I’ve learned face someone interested in a writer’s career.  Some time ago, for instance, I blogged about the story of author Steph Swainston, who put a premature end to her writing career to go into teaching, and what her decision says about the difficulties of a writing life.  More recently, I blogged a link to new author Myke Cole’s explanation of how he makes the finances of an author’s income work for him.

Several authors have blogged about the decline in author advances across the industry.  Some, including Tobias Buckell, have even done surveys of fellow authors to try to glean some empirical data.  (Here’s Tobias’s survey.  And here’s a separate survey by author Meghan Ward, which includes a lot of non-speculative fiction data points.  And here’s some thoughts by Constance Hale and Gianmaria Franchini.  There’s lots of good, crunchy data)  If you make your way around the various author and writing blogs, you’ll likely have seen one or more of these before.  Meanwhile, authors like Jim C. Hines have regularly blogged about the vagaries of their writing income.  The take-aways from these various links: the stability and dependability of writing compensation is weak, and in many cases it’s completely insufficient to support even a single person living alone, much less a family – especially if you write genre fiction, it seems.

In another recent Jim C. Hines post, author Benjamin Tate/Joshua Palmatier talked about how declines in available shelf-space at brick & mortar book sellers has significantly impacted an author’s ability to break out and make a living doing the writing thing.  Another author, Kameron Hurley, in a long post about her own personal challenges and self-doubting also talked about the difficult realization that having a day job will be necessary for her having a successful writing career.

All of this is just the tip of the iceberg.  I could go on, trawling the internet for more posts and more links that touch on the subject of writing income or the challenges of the writing life.  They are legion.  These are just some of the more prominent and/or more recent that I’ve come across. Continue reading

Writing Progress: Week Ending February 25, 2012

The tide comes in… the tide goes out:

Book of M:

  • Background Notes Wordcount: 526 words

Grand Total: 526 words

And this week the tide was going back out.  A combination of an extremely tough week, day job-wise, and a heavy ramp-up on the home project left me little writing time this week.  I only spent time writing on one day this week.  Every other day, by the time Dear Wife and I had finished our various home project-related tasks, I was too exhausted both physically and mentally to consider writing.

Instead, Dear Wife and I took up a little television-watching for when we did have downtime.  We just needed to kick back and let go.  Consequently, in the last two weeks Dear Wife and I burned through all 7 episodes of the first season of Downton Abbey on Netflix.  We’ve enjoyed that show thoroughly, so far. 

I must admit, though, that I was a tad bothered by the fact that one of the central plot points of the first season was based on a historical inaccuracy – which is to say that the scandal over the death of a Turkish diplomat in Downton Abbey sometime between 1912 and 1914 was quite impossible, seeing as how Turkey as a country didn’t exist until 1923.  Further, in that time the English wouldn’t have referred to Istanbul by that name, but by Constantinople (though an ethnic Turk from that city might well have called the city Istanbul).  I owe this curmudgeonly reaction, at least in part, to having visited Istanbul last year and learned a lot about the city and the nation of Turkey as a result.  But this historical faux pas is easily quelled by mentally substituting all references in Downton Abbey of “Turkish Diplomat” with “Ottoman Diplomat”.  My history-nerdishness somewhat annoyed Dear Wife, who is not as interested as I in such things, when I tried to explain all this midshow.  My own bit of TV-watching faux pas.  Mea Culpa.  Still… I enjoyed the bits of history that were sprinkled throughout the show as the season built its way up to World War I.  Anyway, as I said, we enjoyed the show quite a bit – it’s a rare show that appeals to the tastes of both Dear Wife and I.  We may end up watching Season 2, which is still available online, sooner rather than later, even though the laptop screen is not ideal for television watching.

As for the writing I did manage this week… it consisted almost entirely of killing off one of the main characters of the story.  (I’ve killed off several of them, now.)  You’d think that killing a character off might only require a couple lines in an outline.  Simply state that the character died, and maybe some notes about how and why.  In this case, though, I decided to retroactively kill the character – that is, although I was at the climax scene in my notes, I’d decided that this character was already dead before the climax.  So I had to go back and change my notes to reflect when the character died, and why.  The circumstances of the character’s death actually stretched out over several scenes. 

Anyway, now the deed is done.  And I feel that, when writing time comes my way again, I’m poised at last to outline the penultimate scene of the book – that fateful climax.  I’m very nervous about it.  In many ways this story has really come together in the outline.  But the ending still eludes me.  I won’t know it until I write down what’s supposed to happen, I suppose.  But I’m a little afraid, because I’ve put a lot into the story, and I want the payoff to be worth the investment.

That’s a bridge I’ll cross when I come to it.  When that will be I can’t say.  The first  half of this week I’ll likely be very busy putting some finishing touches on the home project, and then Dear Wife and I will likely call this, Phase I of our home project, done for now.  We dont’ have a firm schedule on when we’ll start Phase II, but I expect that will eat quite a lot of writing time when it comes.  I rather expect I’ll go several weeks without a word.  But that’s yet another bridge for yet another time.

So, how was your writing week?

The Fate of “Story of G”

A little over a year ago, I was very proud to reveal that my novelette-length short story, here code-named “PFTETD”, had earned an Honorable Mention in the Writers of the Future contest.

Then sometime in April of last year I started on my next short story idea, what would eventually become the code-named “Story of G” (the final, actual title: “Resurrection Spell”).  My goal was to try to one-up my performance on “PFTETD”, and maybe make a Silver Honorable Mention, or maybe even a Semi-Finalist. 

I worked hard on “Story of G”, I got some really good feedback, I did some deep revision with a few significant structural changes and quite a bit of polishing.  By the end, I was very proud of it.  The overlap of people who had read both “PFTETD” and “Story of G” is quite small – I believe it consists almost entirely of myself and Dear Wife and maybe one other person – but Dear Wife and I both agreed: “Story of G” was a better story than “PFTETD”.  Not that “PFTETD” is a bad story – far from it, in my humble opinion – but the characters in “Story of G” are more engaging, and the ending more satisfying.

So it was not without a strong sense of hope that I submitted “Story of G” to the Writers of the Future contest. 

I learned the true fate of “Story of G” around the middle of November, but contest results for the 4th Quarter – in which I entered “Story of G”, have only now been made public.  If you click that link, you will notice the curious omission of my name anywhere on the page.  Actually, it’s not all that curious, because “Story of G” did not place nor earn an Honorable Mention in the quarter in which it was submitted. Continue reading

Management Lessons From a Failed Galactic Empire

If you’re reading this blog, you likely know that I’m a speculative fiction nerd of a pretty high order.  And yes, this includes a certain soft spot in  my heart for Star Wars.

If you’ve been reading for any length of time you likely also know that I fairly recently completed my Master’s Degree in Business Administration

And so it is that I was tickled by this convergence of my education and daytime career interests and my personal interests: “Management Lessons Learned from Star Wars“.

More Amazon Pricing Horror Stories

I wrote a while ago linking to a story in which Amazon had arbitrarily reset the price of an e-book published by a self-published author.

Today, I’m linking to another such story, this by established, traditionally-published author Jim Hines whose self-published book of short stories has been given the Amazon pricing treatment.

The punch-line?  Amazon has added a term to their Terms of Agreement that specifically absolves them of any liability for their own mistakes

As Jim Hines says:

I’m not telling people not to publish through Amazon; I am telling you to go in with your eyes open, and to understand that despite what the cheerleaders might suggest, Amazon is not pro-author. They’re pro-Amazon.

Let me second that sentiment.  I’m a long way from being in a position to tell anyone how to publish anything – I’m a long way from being able to publish anything I’ve written.  And I’ve consistently said that I’m glad that these new publishing options exist, insofar as they change the publishing paradigm sufficiently to tip the balance of power ever-so-slightly towards the favor of writers.

But were I in a position to self-publish something now, while I certainly wouldn’t discount the market position of Amazon, I’d make sure I put in the effort to make my book available in as many non-Amazon venues as possible, and to promote those venues, in order to try to insulate myself from getting the Amazon treatment myself.  Because to keep the balance of power tipping back toward authors, a singular publishing hegemony must be prevented.

UPDATE:

Jim Hines has updated his thoughts on his experience with Amazon here.

And as Jim points out in the link above, it looks like Amazon has been in the news in other ways lately.  Here are some links of possible interest:

Amazon Removes Kindle Versions of IPG Books

The Author’s Guild on Amazon

UPDATE 2:

Writer Beware takes on some of the recent Amazon news

Writing Progress: Week Ending February 18, 2012

My wordcount is back up again, this week, despite another tough week of work and home projects:

Book of M:

  • Background Notes Wordcount: 2,040 words

Grand Total: 2,040 words

First of all… apologies to any readers who are actually looking forward to these little weekly updates of mine.  A combination of the local (US) holiday on Monday, which was spent mostly immersed in the afore- (and oft-) mentioned home projects, and a very tough day at work have left my blogging time somewhat constrained.

As for the writing?  It was a good week.  I finished the last of the major character bios that I needed to work on.  It became necessary to write it up when I realized I was stuck in the overall outline trying to figure out how to end that major character’s story arc.  So, I solved that plot problem, and I gave the character what I hope is a fitting ending for his arc.  And then I made the necessary adjustments to the outline, adding new scenes for the character and trying to include sufficient foreshadowing.

This puts me one important step closer to tying up this outline and calling it finished.  I’m now poised to face down the final climactic moment of the book in the week (or two) ahead.

All I can say is: outlining is a lot harder than I anticipated it being.

So tell me, then, how was your writing week?

Interrogating the Text #3: Michael Corradi Wields a “Ghiling Blade”

This is a continuation of my occasional series on what I can learn on the craft of writing from reading the stories of accomplished professionals and examining and understanding my reactions.

For an explanation of what I’m attempting in this series, go here

Michael Corradi’s “The Ghiling Blade”, which appeared in the January/February 2011 issue of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, is a story that stayed with me and haunted me for some time after I finished reading it.  It was a powerful story taking place in a world that was rich with wonder and amazement.  Unfortunately, as it appeared in a print mag, I can’t link you to it (but if you can track down back issues of the magazine for a reasonable price, I’d recommend it just for this story), so after reviewing the story I’ll try to provide a little context about the story before getting to the writing lessons.

So, the review:  I absolutely enjoyed this story.  Oftentimes, though, when I enjoy a story I can still find some little thing that wasn’t quite right, that didn’t set well with me.  That is not the case with “The Ghiling Blade”.  I can honestly say that this story was a nearly perfect execution of style, ideas, theme, character, and plot.  It surprised and delighted me, and its world has already wormed its way under my skin.  It has been quite some time now since I read this story, and I still think back to it, and have already been comparing my ideas and my stories against the sheer wonder this story induced in me.  My only caveat to this uncompromisingly positive review relates to the main character’s name, which falls into the trap of the fantasy-cliche-pointless-apostrophe.  The only other word of caution: this is a dense story filled to the brim with things fantastical and amazing.  The world it portrays is very far from the mundanities of our own reality.  If you’re familiar and comfortable with fantasy fiction in general, or with the unusual and the bizarre, this will be a comfortable and exciting read.  But if you’re not, there’s a lot to take in and process in this story.

So, that dispenses with that.  But what was this story about?  Well, for starters, it was a fantasy.  There was magic.  There were epic battles between the massive armies of powerful nations.  There were bizarre and alien gods inhabiting otherworldly temples. Continue reading