Tag Archives: publishing

Can A Writer Live Off Of Writing?

Hi everyone!

In just a couple of months, this blog, A Writer At Heart, turns 3!  I’m excited that I’ve kept this going for all of that time!  There’s been ups and downs, and I know I haven’t always been able to keep up on posts, but it’s been an enjoyable medium to write in.

I know I’ve talked about this before, but one of my goals that I wanted to work towards when I started writing this blog was that I was going to make a living off of writing within 2 years.  3 years later, I’m nowhere close to achieving that goal.

Despite that apparent failure, my attempt to achieve that goal is why I worked so hard and was able to self-publish 2 novels in 2 years, and finish writing The Orc War Campaigns within a year (even if barely).

I may not be raking in the cash, but I am so much more accomplished as a writer than ever before!

Still, I’ve wondered lately, is it even possible to make a living off of writing?  Can only the big names make it, the ones who make the top sellers lists and make millions?  Was it a lofty, unobtainable dream of mine?  Should I let that dream go?

The Market Has Changed

With this question in mind, I decided to do a little digging and research.  Just going to google and typing in the question “Can writers make a living off of writing” yields apparently mixed results, or so I thought at first…

There were a lot of articles that enthusiastically said “Yes!” and a lot that unequivocally said “NO!  It’s a pipe dream!”  Who was right?

But the content of the articles, as well as their dates, is what started getting me to wondering about it.  You see, most of the ones that said it was a one in a million occurrence for a writer to live off of writing were either, A: 7 years old or older, or B: were talking about traditional publication only.

The ones that said it was possible?  They pointed out the change in the market.  Everything began to change as the internet grew and took on new characteristics.  eBooks changed the market, because suddenly you didn’t have to do a huge print run.  Self-publishing was a rare and very risky thing, and cost a lot of money up-front before eBooks.

Furthermore, as things continue to evolve, print-on-demand suddenly is no longer prohibitively expensive, and in fact is at a point where it can compete with traditional print runs.

Suddenly there are all of these avenues, and just about anyone can get published with little or no up-front cost!

Does This Mean Lower-Quality?

I want to state something important before I continue: I am neither bashing nor supporting either method (traditional or self-publishing) above the other.  In fact, even being a self-published author, it is still my dream to get picked up by an agency and publishing house.

Having said that, I’ve been scoffed at by some traditionally published authors in the past.  They think of self-publishing as an evil, and the most common reason behind it: “Anyone can get published without even trying, so a lot of garbage makes it onto the bookshelves.”

I respectfully disagree, this is something that hasn’t changed.  Before the internet, eBooks, and Print-on-Demand, there were a lot of good books that were published, true…but there were also plenty of bad.  No, I’m not going to cite examples, but I’m willing to bet you can think of a few on your own.

Despite the risk publishers took doing print runs, and therefore despite how careful they were in who they published and the content of their publications, not everyone in the world agrees on what is a quality piece of work.  And many trade publishers followed the market.  One of the articles I found while researching this topic said it right: a lot of bad books were published for this reason, and a lot of quality books were overlooked for any number of reasons, such as not being right for the market at the time.

So now that it is easier than ever to self-publish, what does that mean?  It just means more of both – the good and the bad.  Lots more.

Market Saturation?

So is this bad, then?  Does this market saturation mean readers are more picky, because there’s too much, and therefore it is harder for all writers to live off of writing?

Strangely enough, it seems like the answer is no.  I’m not an expert, but I have a lot of theories as to why things are better than ever, rather than worse, and the biggest one is: audience.

If you get published by a trade publisher, your book goes out to stores.  Depending on how much your publisher likes your work, it may just be your local market, or it might be out to a handful of countries, depending on what international deals they have setup.

But now?  Well, I’ve had people from all over the world read my books!  I only know this because of how Kindle Direct Publishing tracks sales and royalty currencies.  I’ve seen Canadians, Australians, Brits, and a few others buy my eBooks and even some print copies.

Suddenly it’s not just specific locations.  It’s whoever has an internet connection and the means to the right kind of currency.  Suddenly there are billions of potential readers rather than millions.

On top of that, people who are voracious readers don’t have to worry about physical books taking up space or waiting for them to be delivered.  Most people I’ve talked to outside of friends and family have read my first book in a single sitting.

Voracious readers are, if you’ll pardon the pun, eating up the increased volume of works to be read!

The Bottom Line?

The bottom line is that it is possible to make a living off of writing, more than ever!  However…that does not change the fact that it requires hard work.  A LOT of hard work.  You don’t have to have that one best-seller anymore like you used to, but from what I’m reading, those who DO live off of it, write a great volume of stories.

And that is no guarantee, either.  That’s an important thing to remember about writing: it doesn’t matter how good you are, you are not guaranteed to succeed.  In fact, Picard once said it perfectly in Star Trek The Next Generation:

Image source – fanpop.com

“It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose.  That is not a weakness, that is life!”

So what should you do?

It all boils down to one thing: do you love to write?  Is it your passion?  Your calling?

If you can answer yes to that, then my advice is the same advice I’m giving myself: don’t give up.  Don’t stop.  Keep going.  Never stop.

Believe.

Inhabiting Your Characters – Cosplay

Hey everyone!

If you keep up with my fiancee’s blog, you’ll have read that we recently attended Anomaly Con, a Steampunk convention in the Denver, CO area.  And as part of our time there, we were in costume!

Tinker and L3GEND. Photo by Death’s House Productions. Makeup by Beck Stewart.

Specifically, on Saturday Beck painted us up to be like robots!  In fact, if you’ve never heard of them before, we were specifically ‘fan bots’ from the Steam Powered Giraffe music group and their fictional universe.

And I’ll say this…it was a unique experience for me, for many reasons.  A couple of weeks before, Beck did a test run of my bot’s makeup on me, and it was a surreal experience when the makeup was done and I looked in the mirror.

I was someone else.

That’s how it felt.  Like, for a moment, I seriously felt like I was the fictional character we had made up together, named L3GEND.  And then interviews with characters from sci-fi and fantasy movies started playing through my head, about how they felt the same when they first got into the full makeup and costume from their characters.

In fact, we just went to the Denver Art Museum’s Star Wars Costumes exhibit, which is part of why I’m a day late on this weekend’s post.  While waiting in line, they showed videos about the costumes, including Natalie Portman talking about how she felt donning Padme Amidala’s costumes, and it sounded like she had a similar experience.

And it got me to thinking something for writers…

Inhabiting Your Characters in Cosplay

I’ve toyed with the idea in the past, and Wayne Adams has even mentioned trying to find cosplayers to portray my characters at conventions when I have a booth.

Photo by PixieGoddess Cosplay and Art. Wig styled by Beck Stewart.

But what if I worked on creating costumes for some of my characters, and actually wore them?  Would this allow me to ‘get into their heads’ so to speak?  More than I already am, any way?

In and of itself, that might not be enough reason to, but then there are the reasons of being ‘in character’ at cons when I have tables, not to mention, if the costume is impressive enough, it might garner more interest in the novels.

But I want to go back to the original point: inhabiting my characters.

Maybe doing so would give me ideas about different directions I could take their characters.  Maybe even totally change the story direction, as has happened more than once already.

I can’t do this for all of my characters, but maybe the primary protagonists.  Cardin Kataar being the most immediate character I’m thinking.  But which costume?  His tattered rags and worn out, mismatched armor from The Sword of Dragons?  Or his newer armor from Burning Skies?

Cover by Christian Michael

To be honest, that matters a little less than the actual prop itself, the Sword of Dragons…how in the world could I construct such a large weapon?  Especially to make it acceptable to take to places like conventions, where they have very strict rules on what they will allow for prop weapons?

And then the armor itself…thanks to an artist I hired last year to start doing character sketches, I actually have a sketch of Cardin Kataar I could go off of for the armor.  Could I learn to make the leather pieces myself?

It’s an exciting idea, but also a time-consuming one.  I am intrigued enough at the idea that I might at least do some preliminary research into it.

What do you all think?  An intriguing idea?  Any authors out there ever do this before?

Thanks for reading! :)
-Jon Wasik

Who Do You Write Like?

Hi everyone!

Who are some of your favorite writers?  Can you point to why they are your favorite?  There’s probably a lot of reasons, anywhere from the stories they write, the characters they create, and so on.

One thing to consider, however, is how they tell their stories.  I love JK Rowling’s writing style, especially watching it evolve over the course of the Harry Potter novels.  I also really enjoyed Michael Stackpole’s writing style.

I know I’ve touched on this more than once in the past, and every writer has a distinct voice of their own…

…Right?

I mean, that’s what I’ve always thought: we all have our own writing styles that are unique to us.  However, according to an interesting website that analyzes text to compare it to ‘famous’ writers…my writing style seems to change over time.

My fiancee first mentioned it, that she once found a website that compared her writing to another author’s.  We searched and found it, and started putting excerpts from our stories into it…and were a bit surprised by the results.

The “King” of Horror

Her results were relatively consistent, and for someone who has never read Stephen King, according to https://iwl.me, she writes an awful lot like him.  Very consistently.

Myself, however…

I started by putting in the first page of chapter 1 into the tool, and was pleasantly surprised when I apparently write like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  The same man who wrote Sherlock Holmes.  That was kind of cool to see!

However, I had the idea to see how much my writing changed after my 4-year writer’s block that was in the middle of the Sword of Dragons, so I took an excerpt from chapter 31 and put it in.

…and according to the website, my style matched that of JK Rowling’s.  This didn’t surprise me a whole lot, because during my writer’s block, I had read all of Harry Potter.  And all of my chapters from book 1 after the writer’s block period came out as JK Rowling.

That pleased me, because I really really liked her writing.

Then I began to wonder, how different was my writing style for Chronicles of the Sentinels?  I intentionally tried to write it differently.  So I put in the first page of chapter 2, and was not surprised to find I wrote that chapter, and action sequence with military-type action, like Dan Brown.

…However, a later chapter came out to say that I wrote like Stephen King.  That caught me a bit off guard.

So again, wondering if things were different in later books, I started putting in excerpts for Burning Skies.  And according to the website, I write like Ursula K. Le Guin, the same author who wrote Earthsea.  I’ve never read any of Le Guin’s work, so this also surprised me.

While some other chapters had other authors’ names attached, mostly book 2 was written like this author.  And when I put in excerpts from my work in progress for book 3, it again is coming out as being like Le Guin’s style.

This got me to thinking something…has my writing style matured?  Have I found my voice?  At least, for high fantasy?  Where as my style changed in the first novel, and my style changed throughout Chronicles, my latest two novels are giving me Le Guin as the result.

Is this good?  I think I might have to pick up Earthsea to see if I can pick up on the similarities, and see if I like her novels.

But if this is an indication that my writing style has matured, that’s kind of amazing…because it took 20 years to find my voice!  I wonder if that’s normal for a writer, or not.

I also can’t help but wonder…I’ve always thought it is important to try to improve my writing all the time.  Will this mean that, over time, my style will change and become comparable to someone else’s?

I guess time will tell :)

Thanks for reading!  Let me know if there’s a particular writing style you like.  Or if you’re a writer, check out https://iwl.me and comment below who’s writing style yours is similar to!

-Jon Wasik

2nd Editions – Should Stories Be Changed?

Hi everyone!

As I mentioned in the past couple of posts, due to delays and the desire to re-brand/re-cover the Sword of Dragons novels, I’m planning on releasing what would essentially be a 2nd edition of the first two books in the series.

While talking about this plan with some friends, one of them made a suggestion that I could add in new parts, new sections, new characters to tie in later novels, etc.

I DO intend to do a complete read-through for proofreading and to ensure sentence structure flows (and to make sure there are no glaring errors I missed during all of the other edits.)  However, I hadn’t originally planned to make any story changes.  And I still don’t.  But the suggestion made me start looking at other stories that have done so…

The Hobbit – Gollum Was Not Nasty

Image Source – Wikipedia

What if I told you that in the original version of The Hobbit novel, when Bilbo and Gollum had their little game, Bilbo won and Gollum willingly gave over the ring?  Not only that, but they parted on relatively friendly terms.

“NO WAY!”

It sounds ridiculous, given what we know about that magical ring and Gollum.  But it’s true!  Back when Tolkein first released the novel, that’s how the scene played out.  However, when Tolkein was encouraged to write a sequel and he started developing Lord of the Rings, he changed the nature of the ring, and by extension, changed how it affected Gollum.

So prior to the release of Lord of the Rings, Tolkein reworked parts of The Hobbit to be in line with Lord of the Rings, and his publisher released it as a 2nd edition.

Honestly I have no idea how well this ‘revised’ version of the story was received by hardcore fans, and I’m very curious.  And I can only imagine how valuable the 1st edition of The Hobbit is now.  Anyone who has a copy of it today is beyond lucky!

But did people react to that change back then the way so many have reacted to a particularly popular Sci-Fi today?…

Star Wars Special Editions and Prequels

Image Source – https://theexportedfilm.com

If you talked to someone who saw the original Star Wars trilogy before 1997, there is a good chance that something would become very evident: they hate the Special Editions, and they hate the prequels.  This is not universal, because I for on enjoy the Special Editions (except for one addition in the Blu-ray release of Return of the Jedi…), and I enjoy Episode’s 1 and 3 (but 2 is by far the worst Star Wars ever made…)

A quick search on the internet, and you’ll find that not only do thousands of people despise these, but those who once looked to George Lucas as a great creator now look to him as a reviled destroyer of their beloved Sci-Fi.

Image Source – http://www.techtimes.com

Why?  Because of everything he changed in the Special Editions, and because of how much of the prequels went against what they knew to be the established back story.  There are other reasons, of course, but I’ve noticed that this is the prevailing feeling.  So much so that many people, if you ask them what they think about the prequels, will say, “What prequels?  There are only 3 Star Wars movies.”

Image Source – http://www.geeksversusnerds.com

The most vehement response, oddly enough, was to one simple scene in Episode 4…when Han faces the bounty hunter Greedo.  In the original version of the movie, Han blasted Greedo without Greedo ever seeing it coming.  But wanting to appeal more to children and not to ‘sully’ Han, Lucas changed it, with a bit of ‘movie magic,’ so that Greedo shot first, and Han fired back only to defend himself (rather than cold-blooded murder.)

A great movement began, and bumper stickers started showing up, “Han Shot First.”  To which Lucas replied, “Greedo Shot First.”

Should Stories Be Changed?

All of this brings up the question: can and should an author change their story in a 2nd edition if they have ideas to do so?  To clean up scenes or change the history of a character?

This is a question I seriously have to ask myself when I begin to go through the Sword of Dragons books to revise them.  Should I only clean up typoes and sentence structure, or should I actually add/change things to flow better with future stories?  Should characters from The Orc War Campaigns make brief cameos?  Would those who read the original versions of my novels hate and revile me for doing so?

What do you all think, dear readers?  Is it a sin to change a story after it’s been released to the public?  Today, almost everyone accepts the 2nd edition of The Hobbit as canon, I’ve never heard anyone complain about the changes Tolkein made to it.  But is that because it was published in the 1930’s, so few who read that original edition are still around to complain about the difference?  If so, will that eventually happen with Star Wars?  In 50 years, will the Special Editions and Prequels be accepted as canon and no one will complain except a few old-timers who ‘remembered how it was’?

Thanks for reading!  And if you’re at Anomaly Con this weekend, look for us!  :D

-Jon Wasik

An Unfortunate Delay – Regrouping

vegasHi everyone!

I’m back from Las Vegas!  Yes, that’s where I went for my short vacation :)  I’m not exactly a Vegas kind of person, but it was neat to see the strip and Lake Las Vegas.  My Fiancee and I shared a Yard Long while we were on the strip, that was definitely fun :D

But now, on to the title for today’s blog…

Delaying Book 3

This is perhaps the hardest announcement I’ve had to make: there is just no way I can get book 3 of the Sword of Dragons series out by May.  In fact…I really have no way of predicting when I will be able to get it out.

Image source - google.com
Image source – google.com

I’ve known about this for a little while now, but have been trying to figure out how to tell you all.  I am really saddened by this announcement, and I cannot begin to convey how sorry I am.

The reason for the delay?  I am only 4 chapters into writing the first draft, and have not been able to make any progress since the end of December.  Things have been really busy, and I am due for a certification at work that I need to focus on or risk losing my job.  Simultaneously, I have been looking for a new job, due to the insane, non-stop stress of my current job (and that really is an understatement…)

This is where I really wish I could just write full-time.  I have so many ideas, and just no time at all to work on any of them right now.  The Sword of Dragons, Chronicles of the Sentinels, and the slew of other series ideas I have.  I am so incredibly sad that I cannot work on writing more right now :(

An Idea for the Future of Sword of Dragons

Cover by Christian Michael
Cover by Christian Michael

As I posted in a previous post, I’ve been considering creating new covers and rebranding the Sword of Dragons, including giving a more unique title to the first book.

One of my friends commented on my facebook that this might not be necessary, and that I should instead focus on advertising book 1.  To that end, I’m going to begin promoting it once again and promoting Burning Skies a bit less.

However, I do think that I can present a stronger product with some additional work.

Image Source - http://geistig.deviantart.com/
Image Source – http://geistig.deviantart.com/

So my first plan?  Try creating a cover that is a similar style to what I would do with books 1 and 2 for the print run of The Orc War Campaigns.  I know that this is a bit of a risk, because it will mean spending money on buying the rights for an image for the cover.  But it will help me determine if I can do the kind of presentation that I want, both for the cover, and inside.

If things go well with the Orc War Campaigns, and it gets a good reception, I’ll rebrand the first two books, and publish their 2nd editions a month apart as a run-up to the release of book 3.

When will all of this happen?  …I don’t know yet.  And I know, it’s not good marketing to state that publicly.  But at least for the next few months, I won’t be able to direct much time and attention to my own novels.

I hope you all understand.  This is the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make in my writing career, but it is necessary.  I really am so sorry for the delay, but I hope you all feel it will be worth it.

Thank you for reading :)
-Jon Wasik

What Does Your Cover Say?

They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past couple years, the cover of your novel can make or break you.

Recently my fiancee found an article that we read together today, found here, and it made me think of a lot of things, and I think even helped me answer one very important question: why have sales for Burning Skies been so much worse than The Sword of Dragons?

It boggled my mind, because almost everyone who has read Burning Skies told me they loved it as much if not more than The Sword of Dragons.  So it wasn’t that it was poorly written or a bad story.  And my advertising campaigns for Burning Skies have all tanked.  Fewer clicks than my ads for book 1, and no purchases.

Your Cover Describes Your Book

I’ve said this in a previous blog, long ago, but what’s the first thing a person sees when perusing either a book shelf or an online book store?  The cover.  “But don’t judge a book by its cover!”  So the expression goes, but frankly, everyone does.

David Penny's original covers...Thriller or Historical Mystery?
David Penny’s original covers…Thriller or Historical Mystery?

So what does your cover tell potential buyers?  What does it tell people your book is about?  The one time I went to a writer’s convention, one of the panels I went to covered this very idea, and again in the article I mentioned earlier.  An example writer, David Penny, had a well-crafted cover for his historical mystery series, but what he was shocked to realize one day was that his cover made readers think it was a thriller.

David Penny's redesign.
David Penny’s redesign.

So he had his cover redesigned and re-branded his series, and suddenly sales skyrocketed!

Why?  Not because the original covers were bad, quite the opposite.  But because the original covers weren’t attracting the right readers.  Those looking for a thriller would click on the cover to see what the novel was about, only to find it wasn’t what they were actually looking for.  And those looking for historical mysteries didn’t look into the book because they thought it was a thriller.

Target audience.  Who is your target audience?  All of your marketing should reflect who your target audience is.  If your book is a fantasy adventure but the cover makes it look like a teen romance, you are very unlikely to attract readers.

What Does This Mean For The Sword of Dragons?

Cover by Christian Michael
Cover by Christian Michael

Well…….I’ve been thinking.  A lot.  Lately I’ve felt like a failure as a writer.  A failure in a lot of things.  And I’m a bit lost as to where to go.

But…maybe the author David Penny is on to something.  Maybe this article was exactly what I needed.  The original cover for The Sword of Dragons was great, Christian Michael is a talented artist.  But for one thing, I didn’t do a very good job as a client helping him create an appropriate cover.  I was, to put it mildly, an amateur at being a client to a cover artist.  The article helped me realize my short-falls in that regard.

I also didn’t have maps ready for the release of books 1 and 2.  Not to mention I’ve since come up with some ideas to make the book as a whole even more attractive.

But the cover…I know some people say a cover isn’t that important, but everything I’ve been seeing and reading in the past year completely disagrees with that claim.  And I think I need to take a step back and reassess some things.

I am very strongly considering doing a re-brand.  Designing new covers for the first two novels using the tips and advice in the referenced article, as well as giving book 1 it’s own unique title.  Since this is the Sword of Dragons series, book 1 needs a title to indicate it is the first in a series.

Burning-Skies-Digital-FinalAnd the more I look at book 2’s cover, the more I think: this does not in any way convey that this is a fantasy adventure novel.  Even book 1’s cover, as well-crafted as it is, does not necessarily convey that it is a fantasy adventure.

In other words, I need a 2nd edition of the series…

I have some thinking to do.  What do you all think?

Thanks for reading,
-Jon Wasik

Interpreting Stories – Personal Biases

Hi everyone!

campfire-story-tellingIf I’ve never said it before, I’ll say it now: I love hearing from readers!  I love hearing what they like about my novels, what they don’t like, and especially discussing the various aspects of the stories and characters, the complexities, the nuances.

Of course, I always have to be careful with my responses, because there is so much I’m setting up in the early novels that won’t really be explained fully or come to be important until later novels.   I don’t want to spoil the long-term story for anyone!

What’s been really cool and interesting to see is how different people interpret different aspects of a story.  In fact, parts of the stories that I thought I’d written very clearly as meaning one thing, they interpret as meaning something else entirely.

Does this mean I failed to write clearly?  Does this mean I failed as a writer?

Nope.  In fact, I think it’s really cool!  In fact the only aspect I worry about is disappointing those readers in later novels when it is revealed that what they thought was really going on, isn’t actually going on.

Burning-Skies-Digital-FinalOne example I’ve already discussed in an earlier blog, about the difference between how the necromancers raise the dead in book 2 versus how the Staff of Aliz resurrects someone.  Of all of the reactions I expected from readers for Burning Skies, that was not one of them.

More recently, another reader talked to me about Dark Magic in the Sword of Dragons Universe, and how some characters seem to exhibit the use of Dark Magic before anyone else.

I’m hesitant to discuss it too much here (spoilers,) but suffice it to say that no one actually uses Dark Magic until the 2nd half of Burning Skies.

So why have readers interpreted something in a completely different way than I intended?  Again, it’s not because I failed as a writer, but rather because everyone, including myself, come to the table with different personal biases.  Every individual pays attentions to different details, sometimes in different ways.

The readers who have talked in detail with me about my novels aren’t citing broad examples in the novels, they are giving very specific examples, sometimes a single word, as evidence that their theory is true.  Words that I didn’t think were important when I wrote them, and that other readers either don’t think is important, or interpret differently due to their own personal biases.

Image Source - http://gallery.yopriceville.com/Fantasy/Dark_Magic_Master_Wallpaper#.WJXpRfJHTDc
Image Source – http://gallery.yopriceville.com/Fantasy/Dark_Magic_Master_Wallpaper#.WJXpRfJHTDc

For instance, associating color with certain types of magic.  Or because how Cardin senses the presence or absence of a presence in a character in book 2 compared to how he felt in book 1.

Which brings up another thought that literally just occurred to me as I write this blog: while we as people bring our own biases to a story, so too do the characters.  The example I just gave, about how Cardin senses a presence, that changes between book 1 and book 2, because of how his powers have changed so drastically.  Therefore how he interprets what he feels in book 2 does not have the same underlying meaning as it does in book 1.

It’s an evolution, for the characters, for the readers, and for me.  I think I wrote a blog about it before, about how when I release a novel ‘into the wild,’ potentially hundreds of different Universes are all created, as each reader sees and interprets the stories in their own way, and picture them in their head in their own unique way.

Image Source - hdwallpapers.in
Image Source – hdwallpapers.in

This is both exciting and terrifying!  Terrifying because how could I possibly remain true to every single reader’s interpretation of my world, without disappointing someone?

The truth is, I can’t.  And I think that’s something every writer out there should realize: if you try to cater to every single person’s view as you write your stories, you’ll go nuts.  It’s impossible.  So do what you know best: remain true to your story, and enjoy hearing how everyone interprets it.  Stick to your vision.

Trust yourself.

Thanks for reading, everyone!  I hope you all have a wonderful weekend!

-Jon Wasik