I apologize for the lack of a post last weekend and this tiny little one this weekend. We’ve just finished moving into a new place, so we’ve been extremely busy! But I promise to have a new blog ready for you next week!
Moving is never fun, and a lot of little things kept going wrong all last week. But thanks to some amazing people, we got all of the big stuff moved into our new place yesterday, and cleaned up/closed out the old place today. There’s still a lot of unpacking to do, but we don’t have a deadline for that, so we can do so at our leisure :)
A month ago, I read an article that, like so many others, bashes self-publishing. One of the biggest reasons? “When you’re self-published, you don’t spend a lot of time writing. You spend most of your time advertising, marketing, working with cover artists, basically anything but writing. You’re lucky if you spend 10% of your time actually writing.”
The author goes on to say that if you would rather be a writer, you should work on your craft until you are worthy of traditional publication.
That statement bothers me. “Until you are worthy of traditional publication.”
Why does it bother me? Well, partly it goes back to another recent article I’ve written where we explore major motion picture studios compared to smaller ones, such as Netflix. Big-name studios are less likely to go with a story that is unusual or different from what is currently mainstream. Netflix is more willing to try to break the mold and think outside the box.
Traditional publishers, even ones that claim they love searching for talent, all boil down to one fact: they want a story that will definitely make them money. Not because they are greedy, but because they are running a business, and cannot publish more books if they have to shut down. It’s just a fact of life, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
But the elitist idea that your stories aren’t good enough if they don’t get picked up by a traditional publisher? Hogwash.
Was J.K. Rowling’s story, Harry Potter, unworthy when it was rejected by a dozen publishers, before finally being picked up? What about Carrie by Stephen King (rejected 30 times before being picked up)? Or Dune by Frank Herbert?
A story can be brilliant and written incredibly well and still rejected by publishers. Just as a story can be horrible and poorly written and still picked up by publishers. It all depends on where the market is going, what is currently trending. IE: what will be the safest bet in the market, what will more likely make money, regardless of quality.
Now that I’ve got that rant out of the way…
Should You Self Publish?
Despite the generally negative tone the article had about self-publishing, it was right that being a self-published author means you have a lot of work outside of writing to do. And if you’re going to do it well and do it right, there’s more than I ever realized.
I’m not quite yet ready to divulge what my current project is, but I’m in the midst of a huge endeavor involving self-publishing, and the fact of the matter is, almost none of it is writing fresh content (lots of editing, though.)
And compared to the amount of work I put into the first run of The Sword of Dragons, it’s a lot more work, a lot is involved, and you could even say it’s taken years to get to this point. I still have months of work ahead of me.
I could be spending that time writing, instead. Writing and trying desperately to get an agent or publisher to pick up my existing stories. So am I hurting myself by doing all of this work?
Some people might answer with a ‘yes.’ There are those who say you should write something every single day to keep your craft honed. Maybe they are right, maybe not. I do agree that practicing is the only thing that will make you a better writer. There’s no secret trick, there’s no fast-path. Practice makes perfect. So the more you can write, the better.
Have you decided to self-publish? Then I’d recommend striving to write at least once a week, if not more. And by write, I don’t mean an entire novel a week. Just write something if you can, to help keep yourself in practice.
Having said that, self-publishing definitely is not for everyone. Marketing is hard. Cover design is hard. Book layouts is hard. And there’s even more I’m learning about this whole publishing trade, and it’s no wonder publishing houses have so many people on staff from so many different fields of expertise.
If you think you would enjoy learning all of these fields and practicing all of them, then I am a huge proponent of it. Go out there and publish your work! But if dealing with all of these different pieces of the puzzle, many of which I haven’t even touched on in this article, is not your cup of tea, then perhaps working more on finding an agent for your works is the better course for you.
I am not a hater of either. I think both have their places, and to be honest, if there came a day where I didn’t have to do all of the things involved with self-publishing, I’d be happy. I’d much rather write full time, and do other artistic things as a hobby on the side. But I AM enjoying most of the aspects I’m working on now. Not all, though. My biggest bane in self-publishing? Marketing. That does not come natural to me at all.
But the results are very much going to be worth it. I promise you, my silence about my writing lately has not been because I’ve been idle. Something big is coming :)
Thanks for reading everyone! I’d love to hear any feedback on this topic, what do you all think? Would you rather self-publish or go traditional publish?
I know, a weird question to start with. But that’s what I define as my day-to-day job, my work in I.T. that pays the bills. My Day Job.
And I’m going to steal a quote from Peter Dinklage: “I hated that job, and I clung to that job.” Except I’m still clinging to it. And I don’t know how to let go of it. I don’t know how…
Peter Dinklage Commencement Address
A few weeks ago, my fiancee sent me this video, a part of a speech given by Peter Dinklage at a commencement speech at his former university. And it struck a chord in my soul.
I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. In my waking moments. In my dreams. It’s a voice in the back of my head saying “these are the words you’ve searched for, they give voice to what you’ve felt for so long.”
Would you believe that Peter Dinklage was once in I.T.? He was in data entry, and as he said in his speech, he hated that job, and he clung to it. Like me, he clung to the job that gave him the freedom (outside of work) to live for himself, to not have to depend on others. And yet, from the sounds of it, for him it barely even did that.
Until one day, when he was 29, he decided he needed to do something more with his life. So he took the first acting job he could get, quit his Data Entry job, and went hungry for a while…but kept going. One job led to another, to another, to another, until now, he’s one of the highest paid actors on television.
And in his speech, he pleaded with the college students not to wait until they were 29, like he did.
29. I’m 33. He did Data Entry for 6 years. Counting my work study time, I’ve been in I.T. for 14 years.
Like Dinklage, who put on puppet musicals as a child and acted in school plays at least since the 5th grade, I’ve been a writer all of my life. No, strike that: I’ve been a story teller all of my life. Because funny enough, it was in 5th grade that I actually wrote my first story, but before that, I would tell anyone who would listen stories.
Clinging to the Job
Ask any of my friends or family members, for the past year or so, my desire to leave I.T. and write full time has been stronger than ever. I feel like my day job has been sucking the life out of me, and it’s only gotten worse.
There are days where I even allow myself to feel a little hopeless in that regard. I feel like I’ll never be able to escape it. I’ll never be able to write full time. I’ll never be able to follow my passion, to do the thing that has given me meaning since I was a child!
How do I escape? Do I take the plunge like Dinklage did, quit my day job, and just write and publish and try to get an agent, and hope that I land on my feet? What he did took courage beyond all measure.
Yet to do something like that right now would go against everything I was raised to be. Not that Dinklage was wrong, in fact I admire him for what he did. But I’m in the rabbit hole too deep. I can’t just throw caution to the wind and then go “oops, it didn’t work out right away, now I’m living on the streets until I can find a way to land on my feet.”
Whether it was skill, luck, or some combination, Dinklage was able to get through the rough beginning, and came out on top. But let’s face it, that’s a rare occurrence in life.
…So yes, that means I’m afraid. Terrified. Of what? Failing?
Yes…but what does failing mean? Dinklage covered this in his speech, too. He hated his job, he clung to that job, maybe he was afraid of change…are you?
If I were to quit my job and write full time, the chances are extremely high my entire life style would have to change. Quality of life would definitely go down the tubes for a while, and who knows for how long.
It would feel like a step backwards. It would be like all of my hard work until now was for nothing…
Would it be worth it? That’s the maddening thing, I can’t begin to calculate it. Just as I’m sure Dinklage couldn’t calculate it. I doubt he had any idea he would one day end up being one of the highest paid TV actors. Maybe he dreamt of it…but when he took that acting job… It would be worth it if I knew I was going to come out on top and someday make just enough from writing to live off of, to pay the bills, to have a roof over my head.
Honestly, I’d love to sit down with him and talk, to ask him how he felt as he did it, what he thought, how long he pondered over it before he made his decision. What was it that prompted him to take such a daring and dangerous course of action? What got him through the hard times that followed, the doubts as he struggled to pay the bills as an actor?
Hmm…maybe that’s the question everyone should ask those who have ‘made it.’ Not “how did you succeed.” But rather, “where did you find the courage?”
How do you learn to believe in yourself like that? Because that’s also what holds me back…my self doubts. I’m waiting for validation. I’m waiting for my novels to be at least somewhat successful, as if to prove that I at least have a chance. Does that make me a coward or prudent?
Honestly I don’t know anymore. In the commencement speech, Dinklage says “The world might say you are not allowed to yet. Please, don’t even bother asking. Don’t bother telling the world you are ready. Show it. Do it.”
Thanks for reading,
PS: if you’d like to see the full speech, click here. It’s worth watching if you have the half hour to spare.
There’s so much advice out there about what to do or not to do for self-publishing. Some of the most common include “Hire a professional graphic design artist to make your covers. Even if you’re a graphic designer, don’t try to design your own, it’s a mistake. Hire someone instead.” Or, “hire an editor. My god, hire an editor!”
That’s all fine and dandy, and perhaps even is sound advice. Except…that all costs money. And if you want someone who is actually good at it, it costs a lot of money. In fact depending on the size of your manuscript, an editor will probably cost you more than a graphic design artist. Worse still, if you want custom artwork made, hiring an artist will probably cost you hundreds if not thousands of dollars. Then that art still needs to be turned into a cover.
So, okay, you have a novel you want to self publish. You want to publish it as strongly as you can. But you don’t have a penny to spare, let alone $500 or more for just one of these services. Sure there are cheaper ones out there…so maybe you’re lucky enough to find a cover artist who will do it for you for $100. That’s still $100. Not to mention an editor. To speak nothing of advertising.
The fact of the matter is, if you want to self publish and you want to follow the advice of all of these people and pay for all of these services, you need a fair bit of money up front. But what if you don’t have that money to spare?
Before anyone says it, I’ll say now what the two most common responses are to that question. “Go traditional publishing” and “If it’s important to you, you’ll find a way to make it happen.”
To the first response, this usually comes from people, both those who are published and those who are not, that don’t seem to understand the challenges a writer faces finding an agent and/or publisher when they are an unknown. Even if you have an amazing story written extremely well, you’re an unknown, and as I wrote in my previous blog about prequels, these industry professionals need to make money. Not because they are greedy, quite the opposite: they need to live, just like you and I do.
So the other response, “You’ll find a way to make it happen.” If only it was that easy. Especially in today’s supposedly ‘recovered’ economy. Perhaps my viewpoint is unique to where I live, but it would take me years to save up the money to hire editors and graphic designers. For just one novel. Let alone more.
“What’s your advice, then?” Well, my advice is, if you have the skills, do it. Take the time to do it right. Research. Work on it. And if you have friends with the skills you need and they are willing to do it cheap or free, take advantage of that (but don’t expect them to, just ask, and if they say they can’t or won’t, don’t be offended by it. Both editing and graphic design are serious and time-consuming skills to develop.)
I’m fortunate to have started developing both of these skills early on. Editing for my love of writing, and graphic design when I was writing my fan fiction. I’m no professional at the graphic design end of it, and I’m always learning. But until I make enough money to hire these professionals, I have to rely on myself and my talented friends.
That is not a sin. That does not mean your heart isn’t in it or you’re not willing to make sacrifices to make your dream come true. It just means you’re willing to do whatever you can to work towards your dream.
Because if you don’t, if you say “I don’t have the money, therefore I’ll never get published,” then yes, you’re right, you won’t ever get published. But if you take the risk, and take the time and make the effort to make your self-published novel the best that you have the resources to make it, then you’re taking steps towards making your dreams come true.
Taking steps, even baby steps, is better than doing nothing at all.
My Dream for the Future
I had an idea, and I hope there comes a day when I can actually make this happen. I’d love to someday set up an organization that seeks out potential authors and helps them find affordable editors and artists, and even has funds to help them get their first novel off the ground right. I’m not talking about an agency, we won’t publish it or find a publisher for them, we’ll merely provide them the contacts and resources needed for them to do it. And education on how to do it.
Due to limited funding, I know we couldn’t help everyone. But maybe if there were enough people working or volunteering, they could at least read manuscripts from potentials, and if the potentials don’t quite meet the standards needed to qualify, at least give them advice on what they can do to improve and have a better chance the next time they submit.
At the very least, help give budding authors the tools they need to make themselves better and have a chance at getting their names out there.
Here’s hoping I can gather the connections and resources to get something like that off the ground someday :)
If you haven’t heard yet, Stargate is finally making a comeback! And I’m not talking about a reboot of the movie franchise, which has either been fully cancelled or at least postponed. Rather, this is the next ‘chapter’ in the SG-1 Universe.
…Except, it isn’t. Announced only a few days ago, it’s called Stargate Origins (click here to check the announcement on Gateworld.net.) It takes place…sometime before SG-1, though we don’t know when yet. And reportedly follows an adventure of young Catherine Langford as she defends Earth against an unimaginable darkness… More on why this is a problem for me further down.
Sci-Fi and the Prequel Trend
Back in 1999, George Lucas released the first Star Wars prequel, The Phantom Menace. At the time, I was extraordinarily excited about it, I’d always wanted to see those first three episodes, to see the origin story of Darth Vader, and, well, I was excited to see more Star Wars on screen.
What I didn’t know was the trend that it would begin…and that is a trend in Sci Fi that has endured for nearly 20 years.
Prequels. Though I don’t believe Phantom Menace was the first ever prequel, it was the biggest hit I’m aware of. Since then, here’s what we’ve seen…
Star Trek Enterprise (followed by the 2009 Star Trek reboot, and now Star Trek Discovery.
X-Men Origins and X-Men First Class
Prometheus (prequel to Alien)
Oz The Great and Powerful
And that’s just a small list of well-knowns. Now with Stargate Origins coming out, I find myself crying out “NOOOOO!” I for one have grown tired of prequels. Especially in Sci-Fi universes that are supposed to be about exploration and moving forward (Star Trek and Stargate both being examples.)
But why? Why is this continuing? Especially…well, do an experiment with me. Go to google.com and type in the search parameter “Why are prequels so popular?” I know that Google can tailor search results based on past browsing habits, but for me, the first 10 results talk about why the Star Wars prequels are so hated.
So if the first major prequel of a franchise was so horrible, once again, I have to ask…why is this trend continuing??
Theories of the Trend
One of the most common opinions I get when I ask people this question is “Hollywood can’t come up with anymore original ideas.” An interesting theory, but I wonder how true it actually is.
In fact, until recently, I didn’t really have a response except “maybe that’s true.” Until…Bright. The name of an upcoming, Netflix-produced movie, Bright is about modern-day Earth, with elves and orcs and faeries living side by side with us. Will Smith’s character is a police officer partnered with what appears to be a young orc. This is radically different from any major sci-fi/fantasy movie I’ve seen in recent years.
But it’s Netflix. It’s not a major motion picture studio, it’s a relatively brand new production studio. And I think this is a key point. Netflix broke the mold with movie rentals, and now is breaking the mold by producing it’s own TV shows and, now, movies. Like Amazon, Netflix seems to be all about trying new things, innovating, and moving its company in an unexpected direction. And it’s succeeding at it.
Major motion picture studios, however…it’s like an unknown author sending a manuscript to an agent or publisher. You’re a big, big risk. They are highly reticent to invest time and money into you, no matter how good your product is. So more likely than not, you’ll be rejected.
I think the same can be said about major motion picture studios and TV production studios. They want to invest money into something that has a proven history of making money. And even as reviled as the Star Wars prequels are, they made a ton of money. So prequels make money.
This, I think, is why we keep getting prequels and, for that matter, sequels, rather than truly original content.
This is also why I am becoming a big proponent of Netflix, and of self-publishing. It allows those with innovative or new ideas to get their ideas out there. They may not always succeed, but at least they can try.
Parting Thoughts on Stargate Origins
I’m really really sad about the direction they are taking to try to revive Stargate. I really want more Stargate, but a prequel? A prequel that, at least at first glance, blatantly ignores established timeline? For those who aren’t as familiar with it, before the Stargate was opened by Daniel Jackson in the motion picture, the Stargate was only opened one other time after it was unburied in Giza, with disastrous results. It was subsequently shut down for decades.
Yet this premise seems to indicate that Catherine travels through the Stargate, either before or after Ernest is stranded off-world, to confront some darkness that, apparently, SG-1 and the SGC are never made aware of.
In essence, it’s making the same mistake Star Trek and Star Wars made in their prequels: ignoring continuity.
Worse still, the series is being released as 10 episodes…each episode 10 minutes long. I can’t imagine why anyone thought this was a good idea…but then again…I’m kind of eating my own words now. I released 10 short stories which will later be compiled into an anthology (The Orc War Campaigns.) So…maybe this is a result of the trend of online and subscription based TV shows?
Anyway, I hope I’m wrong about Origins, but I really think this effort is going to fall flat on its face, and Stargate will once again be thrown into proverbial mothballs. :(
I’ve touched on the subject of 2nd editions and how reviled George Lucas has become due to his revisions of Star Wars. However, I wanted to touch on another aspect of that topic.
When is it okay to change the direction of a series, and when is it not? This specific question came up a couple of weeks ago while chatting with Wayne from Show X about Star Wars.
In fact, Star Wars is a very good example to use in this case, because it has made changes in two ways. The first is what was mentioned in previous blogs, how he took the original trilogy and modified it, much to the anger and angst of many.
However, what about the prequel trilogy? There seems to be a sharp divide regarding whether or not the prequels are good or not, some stating that they are not part of the Star Wars saga at all, others who loved them. It seems that there are few who, like me, like some of the prequels and their elements, but certainly not all (Episode 2…)
What came as a great surprise to me lately is that many of those who hate the prequels often say, “Had Lucas kept to his original plan for the prequels, it might have actually been enjoyable.”
When reading and hearing this from others, somewhere in my head something clicked, and I do recall that the prequels didn’t seem to follow the original plan. Furthermore, some other things didn’t make sense, so I started reading up on the development and production of The Force Awakens.
Sure enough, my vague memories turned out to be right: Lucas had outwardly stated in the early ’80’s that he had planned out both the prequel trilogy and a sequel trilogy. And based on the quotes, it was in no uncertain terms that he had these plotted out, and he even made statements about what those stories would be about.
And yet…later on, Lucas started stating that he never had any plans for a sequel trilogy, just a vague idea of ‘wouldn’t it be cool.’ These statements directly contradict his earlier statements.
This is just an example. There are other examples where Lucas had to give a back story during Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi to production staff, and apparently he was very clear about the origins of Vader and the nature of the Force.
All of which was contradicted in the prequels. For instance, the much-reviled idea of midichlorians being what grants people the power of the Force. Or the fact that only some people can use the Force (Lucas was once quoted as saying anyone can use it, some are stronger than others, but it’s only the Jedi who train and dedicate to become powerful in it…a statement Lucas later denied ever saying.)
Where’s He Going With All Of This?
The thing is, Lucas said all of these things about the nature of the Force and Vader long before he ever created the prequels. The stories weren’t actually created yet, the movies weren’t even in development, and nothing was ‘official.’ Yet people held Lucas to these statements as if they were gospel. And have since crucified him, so to speak, for changing that direction.
Why? Why is what he did so bad? Is it because the prequels really were as bad as people claim, or is it because people wanted the story Lucas had mentioned in off-hand comments, and were disappointed for not getting that story?
As a writer, this is a very important question I’ve been asking myself lately. Because, let’s face it, I change the direction of my stories all the time. I come up with better ideas as I develop or write a novel or a series of novels.
In fact, from what I can tell with all story creators (whether novels or movies or plays or video games), this is very common. As long as you don’t contradict what was explicitly stated or made known as fact in a previous story, because continuity IS important.
So at what point does it become a sin to change the course of your story from what you originally planned? Other than breaking established continuity, anyway.
The answer became somewhat apparent in my discussion with Wayne: when you’ve promised your consumers one thing but then delivered something else entirely. ESPECIALLY when it is something that has entered the hearts and minds of millions and is so important to so many people.
This, of course, makes me reticent to ever post any plans or ideas for future Sword of Dragons stories. I don’t want people to expect me to take the series in one direction, only to find I actually take it in another. The progression of the series has already changed considerably from my original plans (I had intended for Cardin and Sira to have a child at one point, but I’ve completely scrapped that idea, for many, many reasons.)
It may be a little less important for a series that isn’t yet well-known like Sword of Dragons, but it still is a good idea to avoid spoilers and promises. At least, I think so.
The Mass Effect Sin
I won’t go into too many details here, because I don’t want to spoil the story of the Mass Effect trilogy for my fiancee, but there’s another example of when changing things is a sin. And that’s the original ending for Mass Effect 3.
Those who are curious can find and read copious articles of how hated the original ending was. There even was an attempted class-action law suit over it. Personally, I think this was taking it too far.
However, it does make one good point: stay true to your stories, to the spirit of your stories and its characters. Mass Effect 3’s original ending did not in any way take into account your choices throughout the entire trilogy. Considering this was one of the key mechanics of the trilogy, that every decision, even small ones, come to bear later on, sometimes in very unexpected ways, to not include that mechanic in the ending was kind of a slap in the face to fans.
Another, less recent example: Willow and it’s “sequel” novels. I’ve not personally read the novels yet, I didn’t know they existed until recently, but they were pretty well panned by readers, and one of the many complaints was that the character of Willow was nothing like the character from the movie.
What do you all think? Am I right on the ball or way off the mark with my assertions?
Back when I first started writing blogs here, one of the earliest articles I wrote was on copyright protection for your novels. And actually, everything I wrote back then was true.
However, I’ve since become aware of some additional truths to copyright and court appearances, thanks largely to this article. I’ll try to summarize as best I can.
First and foremost, yes, the intellectual copyright law means that the moment you create something, it is copyrighted to you. And yes, it is still important to have some means of proving that you created the work when you did. If it should go to court in contention with another written work, this is extremely important.
However, and this is the big point that I didn’t know: as far as a court of law is concerned, it is possible for two people to create the same thing without ever being aware of each other or each other’s creations.
Let’s say someone wrote a book that is very close to identical to The Sword of Dragons and published it today. I have proof that I published The Sword of Dragons in 2015, and that I first wrote it before then (and even have proof of initial development going back over a decade.)
However, unless I can prove that this person was aware of my work, a judge will most likely rule in favor of “mutual co-creation” and neither person will owe the other anything. The only exception would be if it is an exact or near-exact recreation (IE: it was obvious they copied rather than came up with it on their own.)
This is where filing for a copyright comes into play…
Giving Yourself The Best Protection
When you go to copyright.gov and file an official copyright for your novel (or work of art or song), you are essentially giving notice to the world: this is my story. I wrote it, I published it on this date, and therefore it belongs to me.
As far as the law is concerned, that is the most important part: giving notice. It doesn’t matter if that other author knew of my book’s existence or not. It doesn’t even matter if they checked the copyright office before hand or not. If they publish their work after I copyright mine, I automatically would win a court case. The judge would simply say to them, “It’s your job to check the copyright office for notice, and you failed to do so.” In most cases (there’s always exceptions) I would win the case.
My Advice to Writers
If you are publishing your work, whether online for free or on Kindle or as a print book, pay the $35 and go through the process of getting a copyright. Should your story do well, this is a solid way of protecting you and your intellectual property.
Note that you CAN submit an unpublished, electronic document. But once your novel is published and has a physical copy, you need to go through the process of sending them a physical copy to obtain a copyright on your physical product.
I hope this helps my fellow authors! Let me know if you have any advice, or for that matter, questions on this subject :)
Thanks for reading,
Trials and triumphs of writing, finding an agent, and publication.