Welcome back, folks!
This week’s episode is on the subject of writing for the market. Whatever the market wants, the market gets, but are you the writer to feed it? I talk a little about my thought processes on why I choose what I choose to write. I also talk about why it is perfectly okay to write for the market or to ignore the market completely.
It’s your career, folks. Do with it what you want.
I am also recording in a new office setup, so gonna be good to hear what it sounds like.
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I have had a hard time coming up with topics to write for this blog. Honestly, it has been a thorn in my side. It’s not that I don’t have opinions, because I have plenty.
The thing is, most of my opinions are of a societal, political, cultural nature. They aren’t necessarily writing related. I have some seriously deep insight into the current climate of the USA and why it is ten kinds of fuckerooni. But, those thoughts are best left for my Tumblr blog. Which I have been neglecting for a long while due to time constraints.
So, why don’t I have opinions on writing?
In part, because there are other authors out there that have already expressed their opinions and I don’t think I’d do a better job than them. They talk about gender, about genre, about the grind of the writer’s workday. They talk about marketing this and promoting that. They talk about what you should always do, what you should never do, what others have done, what they have done. They talk about issues this and issue that.
And to be completely frank- I could give a fuck.
I know, I know, this sounds harsh. Some will read this and think I’m callous or just conceited. They’ll read this and think “Who is this guy to act like he’s above it all?” And everyone is entitled to whatever opinion they form or conclusion they draw from this.
But before you draw a conclusion or form an opinion, let me explain a little further.
I don’t give a fuck because I have a job to do. That job is to write novels. That job is to complete manuscripts in a timely fashion so that my publisher sends me some cashola. I have zero time for the noise that is the internet of opinion. I really need to focus on my work, need to focus on the story in my head, need to ignore the blah blah blah of all the opinions, posts, reviews, tweets, forums, etc.
I do not think I am above all of that. I think I am outside of it. Intentionally.
I try to stay outside of it because it is a distraction. While I always need to work on my craft, I do not believe the noise will help me do that. I have a pretty strong style of writing, I have my voice. I know what I want to write and how to do that. I mainly know that I have to sit my ass down in my chair and get that word count out. That is the key: sitting my ass down and getting my daily word count.
The noise keeps me from doing that. And the noise, in the long run, makes absolutely zero difference on my career.
Here’s the thing, folks, no one in the writing/publishing industry knows what sells books. They have ideas based on past performance or personal observation, but none of that past performance or personal observation can be transferred. What works for one author may or may not work for another author even if it is perfectly replicated. That’s just the truth of the business.
So, while I love to have a good dialogue about the business of writing and the craft itself, I just don’t feel it is my place. I have other work to do and doing that work is what has brought me success, not distracting myself by puking out an opinion.
Does this mean Views From The Captain’s Chair will go away? No, of course not. I still sit in the Captain’s Chair everyday; I still have views. It just means I’m no longer buying in to the notion that an author must have a blog to be a success. I’m no longer buying in to the notion that by contributing to the noise I will be a better writer than I already am.
And I certainly don’t buy into the notion that by contributing to the noise my fans and readers will be better served. Writing more books is how I will better serve my fans and readers. Writing more books is how I will attract new readers. Writing more books is how I make my living and how I have achieved the level of success I already have.
But, in order to write more books I have to step outside the noise. I have to be true to myself and follow my instincts. Right now, my instincts are telling me that a weekly blog just isn’t my thing. And the load that just lifted off my shoulders as I typed that sentence only reinforces that decision.
So, keep reading those other blogs out there. There are plenty of good ones. I’ll more than likely be reading them along with you. I just won’t be the one writing any. For now. Maybe once I have more time for the noise. Maybe. We’ll see.
Last week I posted about my YA novel, Intentional Haunting, being nominated for a Bram Stoker Award. It’s all pretty cool, I do admit. While I am honored to be included with so many amazing writers, I am also a little confused as to what comes next.
Does this mean anything, the whole nomination thing?
Quick answer? Not a clue.
There are a million things that go through my head as I think of what a Stoker nomination means for my writing career. But the one thing that really stands out is whether or not I can capitalize on this and perhaps get an agent again.
Back story! I had an agent, the very wonderful Adrienne Rosado of the Nancy Yost Literary Agency, and she was actually representing me when I wrote Intentional Haunting (now on sale for $2.99!). She shopped it around and it never found a home. After some time, and a serious career shift for me, I decided that I needed to make a break and go it alone. I was no longer the single manuscript writer, but a churner of pulpy goodness and that isn’t Adrienne’s game. Totally amicable split.
Since that split I have negotiated all of my own contracts and I ended up making a decent living in 2014. I actually made more from full time writing in one year than I had made the year before working at a full time job and writing on the side. This is good. It means my leap of faith (and by my I mean my family’s leap of faith) paid off.
But, I have a fear that my writing career might be stuck in one gear. It’s not a bad gear and I am not complaining, I just happen to be one of those people that is compulsively driven to keep rising. I despise complacency and every fiber in my body screams to move on to the next level.
What level? I don’t know.
Which is why I am seriously thinking of hunting for an agent again.
There is one major problem, though: I don’t have a manuscript to shop.
I am no longer a spec writer. I already have a contract in place to write eight novels this year. I have no need, nor time, to worry over a manuscript that may or may not sell.
What’s spec? It is short for speculative or speculation. It means a writer writes a novel and speculates whether or not it will sell. It is also known as gambling, except instead of gambling with money the writer is gambling with time/labor. Which, as we all know, equals money. This is the traditional way many writers work and there is nothing wrong with this.
And agents want spec manuscripts. That’s how agents work. They sell manuscripts to publishers.
But, being a full time writer with a contract in place, I am no longer one of those writers. Sure, once a writer is established with a publisher, the agent can then sell pitches instead, but I am not in that position. I sell my own pitches to my publisher and get the contracts worked out, but I am in the small press world and I’d love to get into the big press world.
So how the hell do I get an agent without a product in hand that they can sell?
And this is when the eyes roll. I know, I know, I am very lucky to be where I am. I also know that big press publishing is probably not going to treat me as well as small press publishing does. I get that. I also know that small press publishing does not have the reach that big press publishing does. And I like reach (please see my comment above about being compulsively driven to rise).
I want my books to be on billboards and in multiple print ads. I want to have a shot at the NY Times Bestseller list even if it is rigged and decided by an archaic algorithm which involves chicken entrails. I want to see my novels on the front table at Barnes & Noble. I want the possible increase in income that goes with an increase in visibility.
But, most of all, and this is important, I want my novels themselves to take that next step: TV and/or film. I am a huge fan of visual media. Back in high school I wrote my ass off all the time, but my desire was to be a filmmaker. Then I saw the reality of what that meant (this is pre-digital, folks) and decided I neither had the means nor the desire to sell my soul and move to Hollywood.
Yet, now, I could have a sweet hybrid dream of writing full time and seeing that writing end up on the big or small screen. No soul selling (right?) and moving to or really dealing with the Hollywood machine. If I have an agent. If I have someone that can shop my rights around to producers. If I have someone that is willing to be the intermediary between me and the Hollywood machine.
Which brings me back to my original question: will the Bram Stoker nomination help get me an agent? Is it one of those things that agencies look at? Are there people in New York reading the list of Stoker nominees and thinking, “Hmmm, this Jake Bible guy sure is cranking out some books and constantly in and out of the Amazon bestsellers charts. Maybe I should shoot him an email…”. Do those folks exist?
Or is this nomination really more about peer recognition (which is awesome too)?
I have zero answers and I have zero idea what happens now. And what if I were to actually win the award? Is that the golden ticket? Do golden tickets exist in my world of small press genre pulptacularness?
And if I do get noticed by agents, am I willing to hand over 15% of my income to them? That’s a sticky issue right there!
Shit, I actually think this post has raised more questions than answers. Good one, Bible. Good one.
Anyhoo, this is what’s on my mind as I continue my journey through the land of full time writing (the land is not on Google Maps, so don’t bother looking). Maybe one day I’ll stroll this land with an agent by my side. Or maybe not.
I’ll keep y’all posted.
So, the 2014 Bram Stoker Awards have been announced. Yep. They have. Holy crap. Seriously. Holy crap.
That’s pretty crazy. Honestly, I never thought this novel would end up on a Final Ballot. It was a novel that my former agent tried to shop around, but couldn’t find a home for. When it was picked up by Permuted Press, it was bundled in a contract with my YA zombie novel Little Dead Man and my forthcoming middle grade scifi/horror series (think Goosebumps meets the Scooby Gang in deep space) ScareScapes. I knew it would be published, but the focus was more on LDM and ScareScapes than on IH.
Not to say I didn’t think IH was a great novel. It has always been a personal novel for me. It hits that John Green meets Stephen King note. Lots of teen angst with plenty of good, old fashioned spooky horror. And gore. Plenty of gore. Plus, because it’s a Jake Bible novel, a nice smattering of snarky humor. I can’t help but bring the humor, even in a dark novel that’s full of horrible parents, abuse, alcoholism, bullying, neglect, love, strength, passion, and Good vs Evil.
Now, with all that said, I am in a bit of a quandary. What the hell do I do with this honor? I’ve never been on a final ballot before. I’ve been in prelims, but those are usually chock full of recommendations from fans, readers, writers. It those long lists that the finals are chosen from. I have now been chosen and I have no idea what to do.
I’ve updated my bios to say “Bram Stoker Award nominated-novelist”, but when dealing with a trillion different websites in this social mediapalooza reality, I know I have missed approximately 999 billion websites. Too much to keep up with, yo!
Okay, so bios updated (maybe) and I have tweeted and done some FB posts. Now what? Do I contact my local bookstore? Would they care? Do I put out a pres release? Is that over the top? Do I try to capitalize on this by promoting the shit out of this novel? Will that do more harm than good? Do I just keep my trap shut and be all humble and suppress the “Holy shit I’m nominated for a Bram Stoker!” feeling that’s coursing through my veins?
What the hell do I do?
The short answer: I do not know. The long answer: I do not know.
I’m sure there is some sort of etiquette to this whole thing. I just don’t know where to find that etiquette. It’s always prudent to follow the mantra of better to keep your mouth shut and look the fool than to open your mouth and prove it. Lord knows I have done plenty of proving it in my writing career.
But, if I keep my mouth shut then am I missing a golden opportunity? Am I passing up a chance that may not come again?
FUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK! I DON’T KNOW!
This is the problem with being successful enough to write for a living, but not successful enough to be in the inner circles of the publishing biz. I’m kinda on my own here.
So, for now I’m going to sit on this, let it marinate in my brainpan, and just enjoy the honor. I’ll watch other more experienced authors that have been nominated and see how they act. Sure, lots of them have publishing juggernauts behind them, but I can at least emulate their cool, if not their marketing reach. Best to play it safe, right?
Shit, I’m more confused at the end of this post than I was at the beginning.
Oh, well, no one said it would be easy being a writer. In fact, everyone says it’s hard as hell. I guess this is one of those moments. Huh.
Shit, I need a drink…
But, one last thing, thank you to everyone that has supported me over the years. I do know that I would never have made it this far without all of you! I never say it enough, but y’all rock!
The idea is what starts it all. Without the idea then the project never happens. Every novel or story has to have that spark, that catalyst that drives the creation of the work. Without the idea you are flying blind. (Unless flying blind is the idea, but that’s a whole other post).
So…where does the idea come from?
Good question. For you? I have no idea (see what I did there?). For me? Read on!
Everyone’s idea generator (available at Home Depot for $99.99 after rebate) is different. Some folks wake up in the middle of the night and write it down only to get up the next day with zero recollection of the nocturnal inspiration. Some get inspired by other works or by the Muse (available at Pier One Imports for $35.99 plus tax). Many struggle through several variations on a theme of an idea until the final one solidifies. Others it just “comes” to them fully formed. And drugs. Let’s not forget drugs. Each artist is different.
For me, I tend to get my ideas right before bed. They slam into my semi-awake head and I write them down. I always write them down! There is nothing more disappointing than knowing you had a great idea the night before but can’t figure out what it was. I actually had that happen a couple weeks ago. I wrote down the title, without any description, then had no idea the next day what the actual meat of the idea was. Bummer.
Now, pre-sleepytime ideas are not my only source of inspiration. I’ll have conversations with friends and they’ll be talking about something unrelated to horror or scifi and my brain will latch on and say, “Huh. What if blah blah was actually blah blah?” Many times I get blank, but polite, stares. Sometimes I get head nods. Every once in a while I get the “you should totally do that” high five. Hell, I have an idea right now that will probably become a series next year that I got from a friend. He had an idea, gave it to me, and I fleshed it out and will be running with it! Yay for friends!
Oh, and don’t start whining about “being original” because that is bullshit. There hasn’t been an original idea since man started telling stories around the cave fire. And even back then the stories were probably handed down by our alien overlords that seeded the planet. Derivative is fine, as long as it is good and it is marketable.
And, being in the scifi/horror/thriller genre, which are all pretty derivative, I have been known to get my ideas by mashing up two or three other ones into a new form that hasn’t been done before.
Case in point: Dead Mech (available on Amazon for $2.99).
When I got the idea for Dead Mech, I was watching TV and the Transformers 2 commercial came on. Regardless of your opinion of the franchise, those freakin’ robots are pretty awesome. Seeing those guys led my brain to connect to the old MechWarrior and BattleTech games that I never played, but always wanted to. Gundam probably hopped in my noggin as well. Those thoughts instantly melded with my desire to write a zombie novel, but in a way that hadn’t been done before. Bing, bang, boom, a few seconds later it all coalesced into the idea of what would happen if a mech pilot died in his/her mech and turned into a zombie. Dead Mech was born!
Other times the ideas come from outside sources. Take Z-Burbia, for instance. My publisher, Severed Press, wanted a “straight up, Romero-esque” zombie series. My first reaction was that it had been done so much there was no way I could bring anything new to it. Then the “write what you know” adage smacked me upside my head and I realized that the beauty of Romero is that he is commenting on the American Way, using zombie horror as almost satire. Dawn of the Dead was set in a mall to mock consumerism. What if I set my series in the same type of suburban subdivision I lived in and mocked the pointless crap that goes with that?
Bam! Z-Burbia, baby!
Mega (available at Amazon for $2.99)? How did I get the idea for Mega? Again, Severed Press wanted some deep sea thrillers and sea monster horror novels. Giant, prehistoric sharks are always a good fit for that kind of stuff. But, I didn’t just want the same old “scientist finds shark, shark eats everyone until scientist kills shark” novel. (For the record, despite some of Mega’s reviews, I have never read MEG by Steve Alten. Didn’t know it existed until well after I wrote the first Mega novel and saw it mentioned in a review).
Again, as with Dead Mech, I decided to meld genres. I took the giant shark, deep sea horror novel, and mixed it with the elite team of badass fighters novel. Team Grendel was born. Why did I go that route? Because I saw how successful the elite team stuff was for authors like Jonathan Maberry and Jeremy Robinson, just to mention a couple. I turned a horror novel into an action adventure thriller novel and it has certainly paid off.
This brings up another way to get ideas: the charts. No, seriously. If you aren’t sure what to write, but are burning to write something, then look at the bestseller charts on Amazon. See what is selling there and if anything piques your interest then go for it!
Which leads me to my last part about ideas: it’s okay to think of marketing. I have dozens and dozens of ideas for novels, but only a couple are worth pursuing. For me, there is zero point in wasting my time writing a novel if I don’t think it will sell. And I’m not talking about it selling to a publisher, I’m talking about it selling to readers. Because that’s what really matters.
Think of it like this: you’re a chef and you have an amazing idea for a dessert. You know it will be delicious, you know once folks try it they will be blown away. Only problem is it is banana cheddar spinach pudding. It may be the most awesome pudding ever made in the history of awesome puddings, but no human being is going to order that off the menu. Same goes for novel ideas. Thinking of marketability is totally cool.
Are there more ways to get ideas? Hell yes! The ethereal idea machine hovers above us all and drops little nuggets constantly in an infinite number of ways. The trick is to tune your senses to pick up those nuggets. Just like the act of writing, the act of generating ideas takes practice and patience. You have to be willing to churn out some crap ideas before you find that golden nugget. And it is okay to churn out crap as long as you keep on churning!
Still don’t know how to get an idea for your breakthrough novel? Then maybe that is the idea in of itself right there. Think on that for a second and see where it takes you. You never know what you will find in the most unlikely of places. The real point is that ideas come from everywhere and eventually, as long as you don’t quit, “your” idea will happen!