Writing Life: On Being an Indie Author During #GrabYourWallet

So this one is a bit thorny and I suspect a lot of us are dealing with it. It is no secret by now that politically, I am firmly against the Predator-Elect and all for resistance. One of the ways in which we can enact that resistance is with where we put our hard-earned and sometimes difficult to come by cash. Shannon Coulter brilliantly began something called the #GrabYourWallet campaign, a call to boycott all business carrying the Trump brand. An up-to-date list can be found here.

If you opened a link you will note that one of the first companies listed is Amazon.

Amazon is where you can find my recently released book, “Getting On With It.” It is currently the only distribution platform for that book.

The plan to publish there was made before the election, and I chose to follow through for the sake of consistency, the ease with which the Amazon as a platform makes it available to potential audience. I’m not going to pull my book, though the conflict of interest is quite painful to me. As an indie author the difficulty is obvious. Amazon is still the distribution platform with the largest reach.

I am also aware that during the #GrabYourWallet campaign, it is very likely that my numbers through that platform are likely to be lower than anticipated. Folks who might be drawn to read my work are very likely the same people engaging in #GrabYourWallet. Career-wise, I should be concerned about this, and I am, except not really. Some of this has to do with my perspective on writing and getting the work out. Slowly building an audience has been the expectation since I started self-publishing. The kind of success authors dream of is not something that happens overnight, it is even slower when you have very little budget. But there will be other projects, other work, other paths, other things to try. So I’m worried but not. Maybe it is more accurate to say that I am concerned more for this particular work than I am for my career overall.

That said, I hope that audience who were anticipating the work will not forget about it, and of course make the purchase eventually. (Link, for ease of discovery.) Digitally there will eventually be a release through Smashwords. Keep an eye on my various digital spaces for that.

I mentioned already that I can’t be the only indie-author using Amazon for distribution and struggling with this particular conundrum. But I also think that the situation we are facing offers something useful, at least for the #GrabYourWallet campaign. That useful thing is an argument. It might be a weak one, since corporations are not well-known for their conscience, and since individual indie authors have little impact on Amazon’s practices as a whole. However, as a collective our value to Amazon is more significant. The longer they carry the Trump brand, the longer our livelihoods might be impacted negatively. That is something that Amazon should consider. If we don’t make money, they don’t get their cut. I just mention this as something you can use when you speak up and tell Amazon why you aren’t shopping with them this year. Do I think it will contribute to a desirable outcome for the #GrabYourWallet campaign? I have no idea. But it is something to think about. It is something that can be leveraged.

So my question is, who has data? Because that would be useful going forward.

 

 

Random Bloggery: One of those writing days….

So today is one of those days in the writing life when I open up ye olde work in progress, stare at the screen, position my hands over the keyboard ready to write and then…. nothing. Most of the time, I just write without worrying about the outcome (something I learned how to do, in part by participating in NanoWrimo.) Most of the time, I am able to squeeze something out of my head and onto the page when I have set aside time to work on fiction, but these days do happen. As I write this blog it is still early in the day. Not even noon. But my brain seems to be spinning out a bit for some reason.

So, I take a deep breath, a step back, and consider where I am with the work.

And then I remember that I have a novel that is just about ready to be published. All I need is cover art and a few tweaks to the back cover blurb and BEHOLD A BOOK SHALL BE UNLEASHED UNTO THE WORLD.

Then I think, “Holy crap!”

And I remember how creative endeavors have their own cycles. When a project is this close to completion, it makes sense that I need to relax for a few beats about productivity  with first drafts. I always hit this moment and try to push through in spite of myself. And I also hit the same moment of frustration each time. There’s a moment when I have to put a lid on the self-generated pressure to produce. I have to remind myself that the words and ideas will still be there and it is okay to take a break.

It is kind of strange that this moment hits on the first day of NanoWrimo, the month in which word count is king. Maybe there is something there, though. Yes, push through, hit those goals, do your best to finish the thing, but its good to remind ourselves that we are human and need breaks. Take those five minutes, get a coffee, do that chore that you’ve been procrastinating on. Then come back to the writing work happy that you no longer have to do that irritating chore.

It seems counterintuitive but it is true that sometimes increasing productivity means taking a little break when you hit the wall. As a person with workaholic tendencies I can tell you that I have wasted time trying to push through when my brain simply would not co-operate. When I am self-aware enough to understand what’s going on I take that needed break and end up producing more and better work than I might have without it. The thing is that it’s hard to recognize when that moment hits sometimes. Everyone’s cognitive/creative process is different, nuanced, and only we can know when a break will benefit us and when it will not. Advice? Pay attention to yourself to figure out when that is. I said before that you can learn a lot about your own process when you participate in NanoWrimo. This could be one of the things.

 

 

 

Hey Look! A Blog Post! And a Song! And Me on a Stage in Chicago! WUT?

Hello interwebs, are you out there? I am still here. DESPITE THE ODDS, I’M STILL STANDING! *somebody queue the Elton John*

Right now I am listening to Peggy Sue and considering all of the things that have happened so far in 2016. A lot has been going on in Reggie-land. There has been a unbelievable mix of amazing and terrible things here this year. There has been a lot to process, I’m still not sure it has all registered which is a long way of saying that if I have been silent in this space for too long, there are Reasons. Yes, that capital r is intentional. For purposes of this post, I shall set aside the terrible for the moment and focus on the amazing.

It might be a bit late, but can we talk about the Nebula Awards from May of 2016? BECAUSE I WAS THERE AND IT WAS AWESOME. There have been more timely write-ups of the event than the one you will find here. I can’t even begin to tell you how incredible it was to be there. The SFF community is a vibrant, welcoming place and I was lucky to be able to attend. The conversations alone were well worth the trip to Chicago. It was a once in a lifetime experience. This is literally true as it was the SFWA’s 50th anniversary.

In honor of that, Henry Lien, aka Emperor Stardust, composed and performed an anthem. I am honored to be able to say I helped, a little. And yes, it does mean that for a few glowing seconds of my life, I shared a stage with some of SFF’s luminaries, and John Hodgman. Yes. THAT John Hodgman.

There is videographic evidence of this help which can be viewed here.

And, for purposes of more visual fun, here is a gratuitous still shot:

Nebulas2016dance

 

 

I am perhaps most proud of the fact that I managed NOT to pee my pants.

I think that’s a good note with which to end this post. A pee-free pair of pants is always a good thing. Right?

 

…So here’s something kick-ass that happened…

13 Morbid Tales by Devon Miller HAS BEEN RELEASED INTO THE WILD!

The officially official release date is meant to be October 1, but for all intents and purposes it is available.

You might be asking why I’m bouncing around like a kid with a serious sugar buzz. Mostly I am just really excited for my friend. And, uh, I edited it. Which is also cool.

She also put my name on the cover which is a huge honor. I am proud to be tangentially a part of this collection, and excited to say, CONGRATULATIONS, DEVON!

WOOO!

13MorbidCover

 

Random Thoughts: Writerly Despair and Other Cold Treat Flavors

Oh my. It seems to be going around. I got hit with it this week. You know, that thing that happens when you wonder what the point of doing this work is. Despair. The only thing you can really do is wait until that giant wave of mutilation recedes back.

I was lucky this time. It only lasted a day. Sometime around the middle of a bout of writerly despair there’s this stage where I start to panic about how much time I wasted and what on earth am I going to do NOW?

Then you calm down, if you are lucky, and eventually the sense of despair (which comes in may forms, for many reasons) goes away. (In my case, the despair was brought on by how far behind I am on projects because of a week and half of computer issues. Holy crap, you guys, I am MONTHS behind. But you know, I’m the boss, so maybe I am being a bit of an asshole.) Of course you keep writing because really, if you are a writer (and I think this is true for other artists) what else IS there?

But I wonder if this cycle happens for non-fiction writers, too?

I wonder if this happens in other kinds of work, and maybe, we just don’t see it because it manifests differently, or for different reasons, or people in other careers just don’t talk as much about their Astrophysicisterly Despair. Is there an anhedonia particular to, for example, parking attendants? It sounds silly, but I’m being perfectly sincere about this.

I wonder about this because while it seems obvious to us that some careers would naturally have serious moments of darkness and despair, we don’t think about whether other types of jobs have those same moments.

I am fairly certain that those of us with day jobs in the service industry experience career-related cycles of despair daily. Probably once about every five minutes.

What do you guys think?

 

The Love/Hate Blog Challenge: The Top Ten Things I Love/Hate About Balancing Day Job with Writing

I have been TAGGED! Lillian Csernica invited me to participate in the Love/Hate Blog Challenge. She wrote about what she loves/hates about being creative here. The challenge is to write a list of top ten things you love/hate about a thing. I HERETOFORE ISSUE THE CHALLENGE TO Emma Leigh and Devon Miller!

Love:

1) Even if I have a slow writing day, I can at least feel like I have done something productive.

2) Paychecks are good. They pay bills.

3) The day job provides structure, which forces focus and sticking to a writing schedule which, in my case, usually helps with productivity.

4) Retail enables you to witness all kinds of mundane and bizarre behavior and forces you into conversations with folks, both lovely and awful, you might not speak to otherwise. This can be great for the writer-brain.

5) You learn weird stuff. Writer-brain loves learning weird stuff.

6) Unlike the act of writing, in the day job you are not alone in terms of making stuff happen.

7) That feeling when you finally get to clock out for the day and you can’t wait to get back to the writing.

8) As an introverted writer-person, there is a very real possibility that without someplace I am obligated to be I would isolate a little too much. Human beings are wired for contact with other human beings no matter our level of introversion. It helps the brain stay relatively healthy.

9)  When you work for someone else there’s a certain amount of control about what you are going to do with your day that you, necessarily, give up. Sometimes (not often) that can be a relief.

10) It forces much needed distance between me and the work. When I come back to the writing project, sometimes I find that the forced distance was exactly what I needed to move forward.

 

Hate:

1) OMG! I’M HAVING ALL OF THE BEST IDEAS RIGHT NOW BUT ALL I CAN ACTUALLY DO IS STEAM THIS EFFING SHRIMP!

2) GAAAA!!! If I didn’t have to pay bills I could be writing instead!

3) Sometimes the schedule changes and writer-brain cannot always adapt quickly, which causes frustration.

4) Sometimes you’d just rather not interact with the public for the very same reasons that you like to interact with the public.

5) When a shift is busy/arduous enough that by the end of it, you don’t have the energy or focus to write, like you planned to do.

6) In the day job you are not alone in terms of making stuff happen. (Oh, where is my sweet, sweet solitude!)

7) When a shift is too slow and you feel like, except for the money, you are wasting time that could be more productively spent writing.

8) *grumble grumble* Obligations. *grumble grumble* People wanting things.

9) When you work for someone else there’s a certain amount of control about what you are going to do with your day that you, necessarily, give up.

10) It forces much needed distance between me and the work. When I come back to the writing project, sometimes I find that the forced distance makes it harder to recapture what I was trying to accomplish.

Random Thoughts: Recent Internet Kerfuffles

So in recent days there have been a lot of authors chased off the internet and out of genres due to an increase of internet hostilities to creative folks. It’s sad and disappointing. It has always been true that the second you do anything in public you open yourself up to criticism, but there’s a kind of cruelty about it that is disheartening. It’s particularly disheartening for those of us who have yet to garner enough attention to make bank on our books. We use the internet, partly, to get the word out about our work. It is necessary, not just for authors and creators, but all businesses to engage in some sort of internet signal boosting activity.

Folks are not getting chased offline for advertising their wares.

They are getting chased offline for having conversations.

Self-imposed rules about what is okay to talk about online, personally, won’t save you.

Having a lot of friends online in your corner won’t save you.

I don’t know what the answer is to keep this kind of thing from happening. I do know that without some of those bolder authors willing to have earnest conversations about serious issues, the quality of my online reading is lessened. Most of the time, I like to be silly, or talk about writing (which is serious but doesn’t seem to be as rife with conflict). But when other folks are working to unpack serious topics I pay attention. I sit on the sidelines a lot, taking it all in. It’s part of my personality to observe and assess and take the time to gather my own thoughts before weighing in on something. Sometimes, what I see prevents me from saying anything at all. Caveat, if I am honest, serious conversations are something I would rather do in person, not in front of a blinking screen. That isn’t new to me either.

But it might be new to some other folks whose first instinct is to dive into the fray. This bothers me, because I gain from their discourse. I think we all do, if we absorb it thoughtfully.

As an author, I have yet to reach a level where I have a ton of strangers paying attention to what I’m doing. I’ve been lucky, not faced with the hostility or melodrama that some of my friends have had to deal with in the online sphere. I hear stories that verify it makes no difference what level you are at in terms of making your creative work public.

It’s making me think about how to go forward with what I’m doing online. I probably won’t change too much. Silliness and writerly check-ins, book-talk and enthusiasm about music shall continue. But I do think about when that will change. If it will have to.

But I’m not sure there’s a way to prepare. As knowledgeable as story tellers are about the power of words, I’m not sure there’s a tried and true strategy to use against the hurtful ones.

Some of this, for me, comes back to the whole etiquette of gift-giving. When someone whose work you love is willing to engage in this sphere as openly and earnestly as some of the authors who have been targeted, that is a gift. These are busy people, some of them do not have to do this.

And there are some folks who like to poop on gifts.

Pooping on gifts = gross.

Thank you, that is all…

…for now.

 

Random Thoughts: Amazon and the review system

Okay, so before I begin this little rant, I need to clarify that I don’t hate Amazon. I have my books available through Amazon services, and I love that this is something I can do. There have been a few changes to services lately that are hostile to authors. (Not new in Amazon’s history as a business.) And there have been a few changes that seem a bit hostile to customers.

Before I unpack all of that, I need to provide context. So here are some links outlining the issues I am about to discuss.

First, we have changes to how authors are paid through the Kindle Unlimited feature available to consumers through Amazon Prime: http://www.inquisitr.com/2221623/kindle-unlimited-kenpc-explained-self-published-authors-could-be-looking-at-massive-pay-cut/

Next, we have the increased importance of reviews to the Amazon ratings system: http://www.reddit.com/r/Fantasy/comments/3bsuig/amazon_changes_its_rating_system_now_its_more/

Then we have Amazon deciding what reviewers relationships to individual authors are: http://imysantiago.com/2015/07/02/amazon-a-virtual-marketplace-or-big-brother/

Before the changes to Kindle Unlimited payouts went into effect, everyone who publishes through Amazon received an email detailing what those changes would be. Basically, KU will pay out according to pages read. It stinks for some of us, but we knew it was coming. As an individual, I can tell you that most of my sales do not come through KU. I am not stressed about this, but for a lot of us it eats a significant chunk of change. My stance on that was a sort of grumble and a shrug. Amazon, whether we like it or not, is free to change its business practices and we can always change where we distribute our work (even though right now it is the distributor with greatest visibility.) At the very least it’s a significant point of data for indie publishers to consider when making decisions. It is certainly a sign that it is not wise to rely on Amazon as a sole distributor. But we’ve had plenty of those signs in the past. I hope most of us are strategizing accordingly. I know I am. (The strategy to offset this stuff is to diversify channels of distribution. I enroll in kdp select for the first three months of an e-book’s life and then spread out.)

On the heels of this, however, we were made aware that Amazon plans to make reviews a lot more significant to a book’s rating. Okay, so reviews weigh more heavily the more recently they were posted, and how many up-votes the review received. It will also mean reviews from verified purchases matter more. I get the verified purchase thing. It helps to maintain the integrity of the review system if it comes from someone with a verified purchase. That part makes a lot of sense to me.

Okay, so the response in adapting to this, is to scramble for more reviews, if that’s a thing that worries you. I mean, scrambling for reviews is not new to indie publishers. We submit to bloggers and ask our friends who have supported the work by purchasing a copy to leave reviews when and where they can. It helps boost the signal of a book, spreads word of mouth, etc… Again, review systems being fluid and subject to change, for some weird reason, I don’t get anxious about them. I am grateful when they show up, because holy crap! Someone cared enough about this to take time out of their day to write a review when they were under no obligation to do so and what a gift! Hooray! Coffee for everyone!

Except here is where it starts to get weird and I think Amazon gets into some ethical gray area. (By ethical gray area I mean some seriously out-of-bounds shitake.) Here is where Amazon can say, “Hey, you know that thing we are always asking our customers to do? That feedback stuff? Yeah. We think you know the author so your gift isn’t good enough.”

Um. What?

I don’t think this kind of policing is okay. If that sentence sounds familiar that’s because it was part of a mini-twitter rant I had about this yesterday. How does Amazon figure out how you know someone well enough to invalidate feedback? Some of my harshest critics are people I know very well. Aren’t they telling a customer they just wasted their time? And why is Amazon defining relationships for you? It seems weird and hinky.

To be fair, there are author collectives that leave reviews for each others work, there are paid reviewers, and I’m sure there are a lot of other things that happen on a whole other level of shade that I am not familiar with. Here’s the issue, though. I have left reviews for other author’s works, some of whom I interact with via social media, some of whom I know IRL, some I do not know in any context except through reading, and some of whom I’ve since gotten to know better. I left those reviews because I had positive things to say about the work. Maybe it does look sketchy, but it was a way of showing support. Is it naïve to think maybe that I was doing a good thing? No one actually asked me to leave those reviews. I just did it. But I feel discouraged from doing so now. And if I feel discouraged from leaving reviews in the future, that suggests to me that there are other folks strictly on the customer side of things who might be reluctant to leave reviews because of the possibility that they will be wasting their time.

Oh sure, we all waste some time every day, but I don’t think we like to aim for that.

Another thing that I’d like to point out is that indie-publishing is not easy. It is difficult to generate buzz. We all start by making connections with other people, and let’s be real about this, our audience starts with our friends. If we work really hard, we can move beyond that circle, but our real life human connection is where all art begins to meet audience. That has always been the case. The internet has not changed that. It has perhaps made certain points of connection public,  but since when is it okay for a corporation to make a value judgment about the connections that you make?

My concern isn’t that Amazon is taking steps to enhance the integrity of the reviewing system, it is that it also appears to be making judgments on relationships between authors and reviewers. I get the motivation, I just don’t think it’s ethical.

 

Random Thoughts: Rites of Passage for Writers Part the Second

So in part the first I talked about losing work to whims of fate (okay, technology.) This time I’m thinking about a few other uncomfortable firsts.

We’ve all been at that place where we are perhaps overly enthusiastic about a piece of fiction. I’m talking about early on, before we really know anything, like how to figure out whether or not what we’ve done has any real merit. I kind of miss those days of relative ignorance, when your excitement about a project overreaches your skill and whenever you talk to someone you’re like a child discovering their own creativity for the first time, shoving coffee stained papers into people’s faces with the proud declaration of “Look! I made this!”

And then your friend, because they are your friend and as such are equally excited, begins to read the nascent piece of work out loud, in front of other friends and you realize for the first time how deeply “not ready” the piece is. It is so not ready, in fact, that you want to bury it and yourself inside of some undiscovered cave until most of the people on the earth have forgotten your name. Ah! The shame! The beautiful golden glowing story you thought would change your life forever is filled with overwrought prose and inconsistencies and resembles the scribblings of your pre-k self. You have unleashed this piece of dreck, in however limited a way, on the public because you’ve yet to figure out how to express the story that resides, perfectly, brilliantly, inside of your skull. You THOUGHT you managed to convey it well on the page, but alas… the opposite is true.

You are made aware of your painful status as a novice.

Part of your brain says, “But I have talent! I know I do!”

That’s probably true. But without putting in the work and learning stuff about craft, it’s all still scribbles on a page.

This is one of those testing moments. Do you love crafting stories enough to continue? Do you take that moment of terrible realization and turn it into  an opportunity to learn? Do you dig in and work harder or do you give up?

I know what the answer was for me. I kept going. But what about you guys? Have you had a moment like this? How did you respond?

Random Thoughts: Rites of Passage for Writers: Part the First

So, there are a lot of things that writers go through that are shared with anyone working at other professions that kind of suck, and then there are the things that for writers feel like the end of the known universe.

Last week, I was catching up with Devon Miller, who just moved to the other coast, and she experienced the dreaded LOST BOX OF MANUSCRIPTS.

I’ve done that. Lost whole manuscripts. Once to a computer meltdown, once to wind. Yep. That scene from Wonderboys where the main character watches thousands of pages ride the wind into Pittsburgh’s three rivers? That happened to me. Except it was a much shorter piece, it was not in a major PA city, and there were no rivers. I was later able to reconstruct the story. The second version was probably better. (That particular piece was the novella, Fork You, which appears in Panverse One as well as Aliens in the Soda Machine in Other Strange Tales.) That first piece? I did recover it, but you know, that was my first novel  so it is probably best as something that disappeared. It is easy to say that now. If I recall correctly, when it happened there was weeping. Probably drunken weeping. Of course, having gone through this I’ve learned my lesson, always back your stuff up, and do it in multiple ways. Also, maybe next time don’t drink so much when upset. Friends REALLY don’t like the drunken weeping. Unless it’s in a rom-com or something.

The novella I lost was a different story though. The first draft had been written on scrap paper at a job I was working, many moons ago. It fell out of a hardcover book I was reading at the time. I lost it on the way home where the plan had been to enter it into my computer. I didn’t weep that time, I just re-wrote it. I was frustrated but not devastated. I suppose that’s progress?

One of the worst things that can happen to a writer is to lose the very tools with which we ply our craft. In olden-times, that meant you broke your typewriter ribbon or there was perhaps no ink for your quill. “Egads! I’ve run out of parchment!” one might have exclaimed. You can see where I am headed with this, right? THE COMPUTER CRASH OF DOOM!!!

That’s what’s going on with me right now. No computer. Right now, I’m doing this on a borrowed device. It feels kind of wrong. My work is backed up, but I still feel a bit lost. It seems like I should be able to just shrug it off, pick up a pen and a notebook and perform the writing work as scheduled while I wait for Ye Old Compy to get fixed. I’m surprised by how anxious I am without it, even though I’ve been through it before. Here’s the likely scenario going forward: it will take a few days to get used to working without a net (see what I did there?) and then just as I am getting comfortable again, the problem will be resolved.

How about all of you other writer peeps out there in the blogosphere? What are some writerly rites of passage that send you running as if from the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?