Saturday, December 12, 2015

Professional and Artistic Goals for 2016.

Louis Shalako

While we never quite know what the future holds, it’s not a bad idea to set some professional or artistic goals for 2016.

It would be a very good idea to write at least one, and probably two books in the Inspector Gilles Maintenon Series. With six already out, a couple more wouldn’t hurt the passive discoverability of the series.

This year I wrote five novels ranging from 60,000 to 70.000 words. With effective time management, simply by working on a project, (any project), every day, we can probably do the same again. I published four of those myself and the fifth one is currently under submission.

With five pen-names, it isn’t always possible to go strictly by the roster. If I had an idea for a Harold C. Jones story, and maybe Constance ‘Dusty’ Miller’s turn is next, I would probably go with the idea I had rather than stall and delay and wait for inspiration to hit just to keep things in proper rotation.

I read something recently on boredom, and how a writer might reveal it in the work without being properly aware of it themselves. There might be something in that.

There are times. Having taken the exciting leap, and having written some erotica in various sub-categories, it no longer feels risky to write for heterosexual women, gay men, or the more macho, he-man stuff that Ian Cooper is known for.

It’s just not that hard to write military fiction. Not once you learn how to produce routinely, not after reading history all my life, and watching a thousand documentaries over the years. The ideas are there. You just have to create some fictional characters and put them into play and see what happens. Zach Neal has been doing pretty well for us, outselling all the other pen-names and the thing to do is continue to support that side of the operation. (That’s not exactly the same thing as saying I have a production schedule.) Over the course of the last year, I regularly wrote one or two thousand words a day, and yet getting much more than that was pretty rare. In that sense, writing has come down to a routine. Being retired, it gives me something to do, which isn’t always the best motivation. Also, for me it’s more of an end-of-life thing. Look, I’m not dying, but I have a place to live, a car, a bit of food in the fridge. I’m not a youngster trying to break into a tough industry—and as far as the industry goes, I can kind of take it or leave it. 

That kind of objectivity is a new thing.

Rejection isn’t nearly so bad as when I first started submitting stories and there were rejection slips in the inbox, ah…several times a week. Back then we had some pretty high hopes.

The other thing is sales. To write a novel, and then see it quickly die, only to sell a handful of copies a year is very un-motivating. How do we stand it? I don’t know, but some of us are stubborn enough to find other reasons to do it. Even then, yeah—there are days when it’s definitely drudgery, sheer misery in some of the administrative jobs like pricing, proofreading, blogging when you have nothing to say, or whatever it is, that one job that really sucks.

The risks are still the same, but nothing really bad has happened, and maybe it’s just a matter of perception. It might be a good time to load up on some additional risks. That’s probably one reason why I wrote a novel to submit this time. It ups the ante if nothing else. Being productive gives us that luxury.

There have been times when it seems as if I have lost some of the early enthusiasm. Let’s be honest, sometimes it really is work to write a story. To work at it is the only way to produce anything.

Way back when, I was jamming them out just as fast as I could. I was also submitting them. 

Some of those submissions were inappropriate to the magazine, the market or the genre. 

Some of them were just plain shit stories. They weren’t going anywhere, and maybe that’s the difference a few years later. I’m still spending just as much time sitting in the chair, but (possibly) putting more time into the quality of the original idea. If you don’t have an idea, you have essentially nothing to write. Where would you possibly begin, right?

Our goals for the year are guided by a few years of experience.

In 2016, it might be a good idea to write more short stories. Generally, I finish a novel, and then write short stories for a while until I get another substantive idea, something that might come in at book length.

Last year, I didn’t place a single short story, although I have sold some small ones in the past.

While the professional markets are one thing, very competitive, with thousands of submissions a month, picking off a few stories for one or two or three cents a word wouldn’t hurt my feelings too much. All you have to do is to wait until their publication license expires, and then you can submit it elsewhere as a half-price reprint or use it yourself, in which case I make a cover worth about $8.00 and publish it. Once you have the stories in the can, they are your property and you can do anything you want with them.

We answer only to ourselves.

I see lots of people having fun with their poetry, and I have been sort of neglecting it. No promises on that one, but.

Other than that, we’ll see what happens in 2016 and just try and have some fun with it.


Editor’s Note: We need to give Ian a middle initial, and then his author page would have a dozen titles anyway. So just cleaning up certain aspects of the operation is another goal.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

When In Doubt, Write a Blog Post.

Louis Shalako

When in doubt, write a blog post.

I’ve just finished a romance, a short story of about 13,000 words. At some point we have to start a new story, but until I know what it is, it’s kind of hard to get going. What you can do is to create a doc file.  I take it from Calibri, 11-pt and set it up as TNR, 12-pt. Set that on the desktop and it’s a reminder that you need to keep moving.

What I learned in 2015.

I learned I can write five novels in a year. I had never done more than three before that. I learned quite a few things, some of which are personal and some of which pertain to the business and craft, the art of writing.

When I first started writing short stories, they really were short—six or eight thousand words seemed like a lot. All of the early stories were meant for the submission market. There are markets where the word count is only one, or two, or three thousand words.

Writing a short, tight story for submission is a skill. The trouble is, when you’re not getting any action and you want to publish it yourself.

On virtually all of the available platforms, the minimum price is either zero or $0.99. I’ve seen people charging $2.99 for a 200-word children’s book (an ebook).

I’ve got stories that are less than 2,000 words set at the same price.

While it is true we give a lot of books away for free, and we do have to make at least some of our costs back, the person that does actually purchase a book has to overcome their reservations.

They could just as easily buy a $0.99 full-length book as your short story. This is why I always put that in the product description. "A short story of love and murder," or whatever.

So at some point I had to learn how to take the nugget of an idea, and pound and hammer on it, to heat it up and draw it out into a long, fine wire. I had to weave that into a tapestry, and rear up a great fabrick, if I was going to sell it for ninety-nine cents. Most of my more recent short stories are in the 10,000 to 15,000-word range. I don’t have a big moral problem with marking that at $0.99.

People will scream when I say this, but for the really short-shorts, there’s no reason why there couldn’t be a 49-cent price point. I would use it without hesitation. I might be making more sales than I presently enjoy, and the fact is that we need to get some results once in a while.

In 2015, I decided to throw off a lot of hero-worship or something, and to learn to think for myself.

Why was I following a lot of famous writers on Facebook, for example? I couldn’t afford their workshops. I didn’t agree with some of their marketing advice. I did in fact take the writing tips to heart, I listened for all I was worth, and in the end, I ended up making a lot of decisions based upon what other people were saying. For the most part, they were all traditionally published, and trained, and had all of those expectations. They had the experiences that I probably never will--and might not actually need, in order to succed in an indie and evolving market. They're always giving advice on the mass market--where the indie market might be just a bit different from trying to produce big-budget blockbusters, time after time, trying to appeal to the broadest possible audience, because that was the only commercially-viable way to do things...their logic is as circular as mine, possibly even more so.

I wanted to do some non-linear, intuitive, marketing experiments. For that, I really don't need them guys. The funny thing is, they know a lot.

They were talking about a lot of things, from pricing, and layout and formatting, and covers and agents, and contracts. They talked endlessly about traditional and indie publishing.

At some point I just got tired of it. The other thing was, what exactly, did I expect some of these guys to do for me? I never got into any really long and involved discussions with them. It’s not like some really big hand is going to come down from the sky and lift you up—that’s just not the way it works.

As far as making myself useful to them, they were all traditionally published authors, with careers going back twenty, thirty, forty or even more years in one or two cases. I was clearly incompetent in their eyes, and that was probably true on some objective level as well. They clearly wouldn’t want to waste too much time on a guy like me.

The fact is that I really didn’t know much when I started. I was brash, and untutored. I was also a hard worker, fairly well organized, and showed all kinds of heart right from day one.

And still, what in the hell did I expect them to do for me?

There really isn’t much of anything they could have done—with our mutually-irreconcilable points of view.

Some guy comes along on their Facebook feed and he’s editing his first two books for self-publication.

Any number of them must have thought I was either a total idiot or the complete asshole, whichever one fit better into their world-view. It must have comforted some of them greatly indeed to know that I must inevitably fail.

That hasn’t happened yet, but oh, well.

I took the better influences that I got from them and used them to the best of my ability.

Throw in a pinch of showmanship, put a little mustard on there, hit the first fuse on the pyrotechnics and you really got something.

Now start singing your lungs out baby, because these nice people are going to feed us…


Photo by Louis. Perch Creek Habitat Management Area.